What’s a Meta FOR? – a sermon for Easter 4B – John 10:11-18 and Psalm 23

John chapter 10 causes me to remember Mrs Tanner, my grade ten english teacher. I can still see her handwriting all over my carefully crafted compositions. Red ink everywhere as she constantly admonished me not to mix my metaphors. Clearly the writer of the Gospel of John never had the benefit of Mrs. Tanner’s guidance, or he would not have dared to record Jesus words the way he does in his long and rambling I AM passages.

Before we even get to chapter 10, we read that Jesus says:  “I AM the bread of life.”  and “I AM the light of the world.”  In chapter 10, we read, Jesus says, “I AM the gate,” “I AM the Good Shepherd.” Later we will read, that Jesus says, “I AM the Resurrection”, “I AM life.” “I AM the true vine.”  “I AM the way.” “I AM in God.” “I AM in you.”

But in the tenth chapter the writer of the Gospel of John goes all out and has Jesus using not just a metaphor but a mixed metaphor. For in chapter 10, we read that Jesus declared: “I AM the Gate. The gate through which the sheep must pass.” and then mixes it up by saying,  “I AM the Good Shepherd.”

Which is it? Gate or Shepherd, come on, I know your Jesus but I’m trying to understand how Jesus, who is after all, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is both the Gate and the Shepherd.

I wonder if Mrs. Tanner ever took her red pen to the Gospel According to John? If she did, the letters MMX would have appeared all over this Gospel. MMX = mixed metaphor wrong! Looking back, I know that Mrs Tanner was just trying to help us to be more careful about our ideas. But today I would have to ask of her, and indeed of the writer of the Gospel of John, “What’s a meta for?” Continue reading

Christ Appeared on the Road to Emmaus and I Almost Didn’t Recognize Her – a sermon for Easter 3B – Luke 24:36b-48

emergencyMy most memorable journey on the road to Emmaus was taken behind the wheel of a 1981 Oldsmobile, Cutlass, Brougham. I loved that car. It was a thing of beauty. It was a gift from my home congregation so that I could travel back and forth across the country to and from seminary. Despite its propensity to guzzle gas it was the perfect combination of power and elegance. It had the most amazingly plush interior with every imaginable power amenity of its day. It handled like a dream and even though I loved driving that car, neither it nor I faired well on our journey on the road to Emmaus. Five weeks into my Clinical training at the Grand River Hospital and I’d just completed one of the toughest weeks of my life when I set off for Emmaus. Clinical Pastoral Education is what the Church calls it but seminary students have other names for it, like boot camp, torture or hell. Twelve weeks of on the job training in a busy hospital combined with daily psychotherapy, group sessions, and sleep deprivation. It’s all designed to help seminarians put two years of academic study into practice before sending them off on a yearlong internship. Ask most pastors about their Clinical Pastoral Education and they’re likely to sit you down and tell you story after story about how intense an experience it was. Many of my colleagues will tell you that it almost broke them into little pieces, or that it almost destroyed their faith, or that they didn’t think they’d survive, or how they never thought that it was possible to be that scared or insecure for that many hours every day. Boot camp, torture, or hell, it all depended on whether or not you were able to get any sleep or if the demons you faced on the wards managed to destroy whatever self-confidence you might be able to muster.

The week before I set off on the road to Emmaus, wasn’t as bad as all that. I felt like I was just beginning to get the hang of things. I thought that the worst might be over. I’d managed to conquer my fear of being called Chaplain and being expected to help people who were sick, in pain, in distress, or dying. Why that week I’d even managed to help one or two of my patients. Those nagging doubts that haunted me during the first month of Clinical training were beginning to fade. It was becoming easier to believe that God was there in the midst of all the turmoil. I thought that maybe just maybe I could do the job and the terror wasn’t quite so intense when my pager went off. I remember saying to a colleague that maybe we’d be able to get through our Clinical training without coming up against the inevitable crisis of the faith that so many of our fellow students had warned us about. I wasn’t even nervous about having pulled the short straw for the long-weekend shift. 72 hours as the on-call emergency chaplain for the entire hospital. I felt like I was ready; that with God’s help, I could face anything that came my way.

I wasn’t particularly nervous when my pager went off and I calmly dialed the operator who announced that there’d been an MVA and six patients were on route; two of them were vital signs absent. MVA – Multiple vehicle accident. Vital signs absent = that usually means dead, but only a doctor can actually pronounce death so patients without vital signs are transported to the hospital before being pronounced dead. Continue reading

Emmaus is Nowhere because Emmaus is Everywhere: a sermon on Luke 24

Road to EmmausThis sermon was inspired on my own journey to Emmaus where in the space of the same afternoon I heard a stranger declare: “Christianity is dead!” and Karen Armstrong’s now famous TED talk about her call for a world Charter for Compassion.

Has anybody here ever been to Emmaus? Which one? According to the latest issue of Biblical Archeology there are at least nine possible locations that are candidates for the Biblical town of Emmaus. Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source. We simply don’t know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition, tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg suggests that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.

I know that I have been on the road to Emmaus most of my life. I’ve had lots of company on the Road to Emmaus. I’ve had many conversations along the way discussing, with anyone who’d care to accompany me, the ifs, ands, and buts of Christianity, of religion, and indeed of life. If you haven’t traveled down the road to Emmaus you must be very skilled in the fine art of turning off your brain and if you check you just might discover that your heart isn’t actually beating.

It’s so easy to imagine, those two characters striding down the Road to Emmaus that we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing about what happened. What on earth were they to make of all this! Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. Jesus was the One who had come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. Jesus was the One who was supposed to draw the people back to God, restore the relationship between God and God’s people. Now Jesus was gone, and what had changed? Now, Jesus was gone, and the Roman Empire was still oppressing them, still inflicting such pain and hardship, still killing them. Was it all a mistake? Was it all a lie? Had they been fooled by some kind of cruel hoax—were they wrong to put their hopes in this man from Nazareth? They had trusted Jesus believed in Jesus, followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed. They had seen the lives of others changed and they had expected even greater changes to come. Jesus had confronted corrupt powers. Jesus had charmed great crowds. Jews and Gentiles alike responded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Rich and poor had come to Jesus, believing in Jesus’ healing power. But Jesus had been shamed, and ridiculed, and humiliated, and crucified and now Jesus was dead. Well, was Jesus dead? Some said they’d seen Jesus, alive! Not that Jesus had survived the crucifixion by some miracle of strength, but that Jesus had risen from the dead. They seemed so totally convinced by their own experience…were they confused by their own grief? Were they delirious? Had they loved this Jesus so much—invested so much hope in Jesus life and leadership—that they simply could not let him go? And what did ‘resurrection” mean? Apparently it was not the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus wasn’t revived to resume his former life; to take up his broken body until the day he might die again. No, somehow this was some new mode of being that seemed to be spiritual to some and yet real to others. And, if Jesus were risen from the dead, what would be the point of all that? What was the point to a Messiah—to a presumed political and religious leader—if Jesus wasn’t able to lead people here on earth? How could Jesus restore Israel when he had so easily been defeated by a handful of Roman guards? How could he bring release to the captives, how could he bring justice for the poor, how could Jesus advocate for the widows and the homeless? How could Jesus call people to account for all the ways they had strayed from God’s intent, now? What good could come from some kind of spiritual ghost? We can hear these two friends wrestling with each other and with their own hearts on the road that day! Continue reading

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness – a sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Practicing Resurrection pastordawnOur first reading was the traditional gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter in which we heard the story of Doubting Thomas for John 20:19-31. This was followed by a video in which Richard Holloway retells the story of Peter’s denial and the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. You can view the video here . This was followed by the gospel reading from John 21:15-20

Listen to the sermon here

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas

leap of doubt pastorDawnIt happens every year as Doubting Thomas makes his Easter appearance. It’s a kind of resurrection of a glimmer of the faith that I long to recall in my flesh. I harken back to the time when I could embrace those wounds as proof. Oh how that faith comforted me. Resurrecting the memory of Thomas, who for years functioned as a trusted hero in my scant faith, now sends me into the dream of belief as the answer in and of itself; a kind of innocence that once gone is never forgotten. My nostalgia for my faith in belief will pass. But for just a moment or two, I pause to embrace the wounds, waiting for my doubts to open me to the evolving reality of now.  Jump!!!

Nickel Creek – A Doubting Thomas

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? – an interactive sermon (Easter 2)

Leap of Doubt pastorDawnThis sermon is an interactive exploration which was recorded last year. It provides a timely reminder of the journey we have been on in our progressive Christian community. Below, you will find the text of my introduction to this powerful conversation which took place in the midst of an internet furor that erupted on the internet following several posts in which I denied the resurrection of the body.  Many thanks to the people of Holy Cross for their participation and to Peter Rollins for his beautiful words from his book Insurrection. Readings:  John 20:1-18, Philippians 3:10-14, John 20:19-31

Listen to the sermon here 

“They gathered in an upper room and the doors were locked because they were afraid of the religious authorities.” While I struggled to write this morning’s sermon, I was tempted not to lock the doors but rather to make sure that the recording device was turned off when I preached on the resurrection. I thought that I might just have a bit of a lock in, just you and me, no recording for our followers on the internet, so that together we could explore the ways in which some of us are beginning to understand the meaning of resurrection. Whenever I have posted anything on the resurrection, traffic on the blog goes up. Some visitors are just like us, trying to find ways to understand resurrection in light of all that we are learning about the nature of the cosmos There are some visitors who stop by the site to confirm their suspicions that I am a heretic and they take great delight in reporting my heresy to the religious authorities.

When letters are written in which charges are made and discipline is demanded those letters usually make reference to something I’ve posted on the subject of resurrection.So, rather than incur the wrath of those who know for sure that Jesus physically rose from the dead, I thought why not just turn off the recorder and have a private conversation among ourselves about the nature of the resurrection, not because we are afraid of the religious authorities, but just because we’d be able to go much further if we didn’t have to worry about the people who know exactly what happened But then I remembered an email that I received during last year’s Easter season. The email came from a life-long Lutheran who had been struggling to believe in the resurrection; let’s call him FRED…

Fred lives in Alberta of all places. Fred is tempted to leave his congregation, because every time Easter rolled around and he heard the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, he knew that if he’d been Thomas he would have stuck his fingers in those wounds just to make sure that they were real. Fred wrote that during the Easter season he feels like a hypocrite because for the life of him he cannot bring himself to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Fred’s pretty sure that the people sitting in the pews with him each Sunday are also struggling to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse but none of them are willing to take the risk of saying anything about their struggles for fear of the religious authorities. So, even though it’s tempting to turn off the recording and lock our doors, so to speak, let’s throw caution to the wind, trusting that the wind; the breath, the Ruach, the Spirit will live and breath in, with, through and beyond us. So, I hope that you are willing to engage in as open a conversation as we can have together about the nature of the resurrection, knowing that people will be listening in to our conversation.

Now we have been blessed in this congregation by having enjoyed multiple visits from two of the world’s leading progressive Christian thinkers; John Shelby Spong has been here three times and John Dominic Crossan has been here twice and we have learned a great deal from both of them. But despite all the work we’ve done studying the historical and theological materials that have been generated about the resurrection, I suspect that just like Fred, some of us, myself included, are left wondering exactly how a 21st Century Christian can reconcile our expanding knowledge of the cosmos with the church’s teachings about resurrection

So, I’m going to stop talking for a bit and take a big risk here and ask you to be brave and share your thoughts about the resurrection…..Now I realize that this is a big subject, so let me help you with a question: Do you think it necessary to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead in order to call yourself a Christian?  What do you think happened? Is resurrection physical, or more than physical?

Conversation. At the end of our conversation I reminded the congregation of Peter Rollins powerful words on Resurrection

 Peter Rollins: “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think… I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out,  I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.”

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again and again. This is the mystery of our faith. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen in you and in me and beyond you and I. In the words of Martin Luther:  “This is most certainly true!” Can I get an Amen?

Other sermons for the Second Sunday in Easter: 

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas click here

Practicing Resurrection click here

PRACTICING RESURRECTION – a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

resurrectionFor this sermon I used a video within the sermon to help illustrate resurrection. You can view the video within the written text of the sermon below or listen to the audio version provided. I am indebted to the work of James Rowe Adams for much of the New Testament Scholarship in this sermon.

The Scripture texts were John chapter 20:19-31 and Acts 4:32-35

Audio Version of the Sermon click here

Practicing Resurrection

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!  Alleluia! So, Christ is Risen!  So What???What can it possibly mean to you and to me, that a rag-tag bunch of Jesus’ followers gathered together in an upper-room and talked about their experiences of Jesus and decided that not even death could extinguish the life that they experienced in Jesus? What difference does it make to you or to I that Christ is risen? The truth is that it can make absolutely no difference what so ever. Now there are a whole lot of people who will tell you that the important thing about resurrection is that you believe it. Those same folks absolutely love the story of doubting Thomas. And so every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of doubting Thomas as a kind of inoculation against Thomas’ disease.

I sometimes think that the designers of the lectionary were trying to build up our resistance to doubt. Having problems believing in resurrection, well don’t do what Thomas did, don’t doubt, because you’ll be proven wrong. Jesus is alive, the wounds in his hands proved that to Doubting Thomas, so have no doubt about it the resurrection happened!  Believe in the resurrection!

The trouble with believing in stuff is that it belief can make absolutely no difference what so ever. I can believe in justice for all, but unless I’m prepared to seek justice, to be fair, or to resist injustice, it makes absolutely no difference what so ever. You can shout, “Christ is risen!” all you want but unless you are willing to live it, the resurrection means very little at all. In order to live the resurrection you have to begin practicing resurrection. In order to practice something, you have to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, or what it feels like.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to show you what resurrection looks like in the flesh. Then I remembered a video that’s been doing the rounds on the internet, so I want you to watch this modern miracle of resurrection.

WATCH THE VIDEO CLIP FROM:  Alive Inside

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Almost 2000 years ago, a bunch of rag-tag Jesus followers were huddled together in fear. Their beloved leader had been brutally executed by the powers that be and they were terrified that they would be next. Paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened that gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. Continue reading

Words Will Always Fail Us: an Easter Sermon

Christ Is Risen in Us pastordawnLast year Michael Morwood preached an Easter sermon at Holy Cross in which I was reminded that the followers of Jesus, in all likelihood, told their resurrection stories using details they found in the scriptures of their ancestors. Michael’s words (you can listen here to Michael’s sermon here) provided the inspiration for this sermon. Our readings included Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 and John 20:1-18. The reference to the prophet Hosea is found in chapter 6:1-2. 

You can listen to the sermon here

Is God Coming Back to Life? – an Easter Sermon from 2014 – with links to previous sermons

time god coversThis sermon is the second of a two parter which began on Good Friday (you can find that sermon here). It is the fruit of conversations that have been going on at Holy Cross Lutheran Church for a number of months. I am indebted to the members of the congregation for their courage, wisdom and curiosity which they so graciously share. I am indebted to Dom Crossan, Jack Spong, Barbara Brown Taylor, Michael Morwood, and Dick Rauscher whose work has inspired and emboldened me in my preaching. You can listen to the sermon below and I have also provided the manuscript (which is never quite the same as what comes out from the pulpit) Shalom. 

Links to previous sermons:  Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh – here 

Easter: The Greatest Story Ever Told – here

I Plead Guilty to Denying the Resurrection – But I aint’ leaving – here

Preparing to Preach on Resurrection: Giving up the notion of a physical resuscitation. here

Approaching Resurrection: What Did Paul Actually Say – here

A Resurrection Story In Memory of Nellie, My Gran – here

On Good Friday we gathered here to grieve the death of God. I began my Good Friday sermon with the Parable of the Mad Man that was written by Frederich Nietzsche back in 1882. The mad man in the parable goes around announcing that God is dead. The parable gained notoriety 1966 when an issue of Time Magazine asked the question: Is God Dead? The question appeared on the cover of the magazine and created quite a stir. It referenced Nietzsche’s parable as the inspiration behind the “God is dead movement” which insisted that “man” has killed God because “man” has evolved beyond our need for gods.

So, on Good Friday my sermon took a long hard look at the god who is indeed dead. In my sermon, I grieved the death of The Father-god, the Sky-god, God the grand puppeteer, who watches over us like a kindly shepherd, and listens to us, and interferes on our behalf, and judges us and longs to welcome us into heaven, but is willing to let us languish in hell if need be.

I pointed out that parables like the parable of the mad man are stories that tell us what we already know and Nietzsche’s Mad Man was right, this god that so many of us have loved and worshipped for so many years is indeed dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality.All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god that we once worshipped and adored.

I looked upon the cross and I wept because the death of the personified god is not easy to bear and I miss the Father-god because I really did love him, and he really did save me. For most of my life the personification of God was the only way I had of knowing anything of the Force that lies at the very heart of reality. God is dead; the Father God, the Sky God, the kindly Shepherd that I was counting on to make me lie down in green pastures, is dead. Our science, technology, philosophy, history, and our theologies have killed this personified deity that we both feared and adored.  God is dead and we have killed him.  Continue reading

Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation: Good Friday sermon 2015

rough crossI am indebted to Marcus Borg for once again guiding me through Holy Week. Marcus’ words echo throughout this sermon. His last book (sadly his last book, what shall we do without him?) Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most provided me with a way of seeing beyond the cross for which I am grateful. I am also grateful to James Carroll whose book Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age, remains a constant source of inspiration.

Listen to the Good Friday sermon here

I Will Remember You – Maundy Thursday sermon

Maundy Thursday

Pastor Tom Doherty’s Maundy Thursday meditation opened us to the pain and joy of memory. Listen to the sermon here

I Plead Guilty to the Charge of Denying the Resurrection – But I ain’t leaving!!!

I am reposting this particular post because it remains the most visited post of this blog.  It first appeared during  my first months of blogging and I am often asked about this post. Its contents continue to invoke the wrath of some and the appreciation of many. I offer it here, mindful that in the intervening tree years since I first posted it, I have had the opportunity to explore progressive and evolutionary theologies which have nourished me in my efforts to proclaim the Easter story in ways that move beyond the tired debate over the physical resuscitation of a corpse toward an understanding of resurrection that permeates my daily quest to know the unknowable ONE who lies at the heart of reality. 

Peter Callesen's Papercut Resurrection

Peter Callesen’s Papercut Resurrection

Blogging is sometimes a very strange medium and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to my recent posts about resurrection.  While many have emailed or posted their ardent “amens” others have been scathing and some hostile to my remarks.  I am grateful to everyone who has responded.  All of your comments help me as I continue to ponder the theological and practical implications of the Easter story.  For those of you who have suggested that I have no business calling myself a Christian or a pastor and have suggested that I ought to consider leaving the church, I offer the following.

A while back, I got together with clergy colleagues to talk about the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. When the subject of the crucifixion and the resurrection came up, the conversation became very lively as the traditionalists challenged the progressives. Toward the end of our conversation, it became clear that because I was unwilling to concede to the notion that Jesus corpse was physically resuscitated; I stood accused of having denied the resurrection.

Some colleagues rose to my defense and insisted that I wasn’t saying anything different than what we all learned in seminary. But they also insisted that most lay-people simply don’t want to hear it. So, I asked them if they were going to preach about what they had learned in seminary and beyond and the general consensus was that there are too many guests on Easter Sunday to tackle theology.

Some said, they were simply too afraid of the fundamentalists in their congregations to ever even attempt to preach what they knew. A few confessed that they were working up to it; but not on Easter Sunday.

The traditionalists in the group were disgusted. One colleague went so far as to insist that I had no business being in the church because my very presence puts the beliefs of the faithful at risk. He wondered aloud, “Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe?  If the church’s theology no longer works for you, why don’t you just leave?” Continue reading

Preparing to Preach on RESURRECTION: Giving up the notion of a physical resuscitation.

resurrectionChrist is Risen! Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia! Let me follow that proclamation up with a good Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”  What does it mean that Christ is risen? What does resurrection mean? The truth is that there are about as many different explanations of Christ’s resurrection as there are Christians.  And that’s a good thing, because the question of the resurrection is a question that lies at the very heart of Christianity. So, is it any wonder that Christians have been struggling to come to terms with resurrection since the very first rumours that Christ had risen began to circulate. Over the centuries the various responses to the question of resurrection have divided Christians as various camps work out various responses.

For many Christians and non-Christians alike Resurrection is the dividing line. But this is nothing new.  Indeed the drawing of that line can be seen in the earliest Christian writings that we have. The Apostle Paul himself, wrote to the community of followers at Corinth: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless—and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless.”

There are many believers and non-believers alike who point to these line’s in scripture and say, “Ah ha, there it is, either you believe in the resurrection or you don’t!”
Continue reading

Good Friday Sermons

Good Friday2015Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. From comments, messages, and emails I hear from fellow preachers who, like me, are daunted by the task of preparing the Good Friday sermon. That task is even more daunting for those of us who serve progressive communities. My fellow progressive-christian-preachers tell me of the dearth of progressive-christian Good Friday sermons to be found on the internet and encourage me to re-post my own attempts to rise to the occasion. So, here are the links to some of the Good Friday sermons I have preached over the years of my journey with the progressive community which I serve. The people Holy Cross Lutheran Church has over the years provided an invigorating space for me to pursue my questions. They have also provided the resources which make this blog possible. So, if you find the work posted here  of value to you and your community, please consider supporting this ministry of Holy Cross. I rarely solicit donations. But Holy Cross is a small community that continues to give to others in so many ways and your encouragement is greatly appreciated!!! (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3)

Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost

2014 God Is Dead? click here

2013 Giving Up the Theories of Atonement in Order to Move Toward an Evolutionary Understanding of Jesus. click here

2012 Good Friday Rituals or Crimes Against Divinity? click here

God Is Dead? – Good Friday Sermon April 18, 2014

time-is-god-deadThis Good Friday sermon (preached 2014) was born of the theological struggles our congregations has engaged in over the past few years. It mirrors our theological journey. This year members and friends of our congregation engaged in an “Atheism for Lent” study and so the sermon begins with a parable from an atheist critique of Christianity. I am grateful to the members and friends of Holy Cross Lutheran Church for the courage and wisdom they have shared with one another as together we seek to know the unknowable. You can listen to the audio of the sermon or read the manuscript.

Jesus of Nazareth taught using parables. So, in the shadows of the horrors of the cross, let us turn to a parable; not one of Jesus’ parables, but a modern parable. This parable was first told in 1887. It was reprinted in 1969, in the Time Magazine that bore the iconic “Is God Dead?” cover.

“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed.

The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?  That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?  There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”

This parable first printed in 1882, is known as The Parable of the Mad Man.” It was written by Friderich Nietzsche. One of the characteristics of a parable is that it surprises us with a truth that we already know. God is dead and we have killed him! Continue reading

PREPARING TO PREACH ON GOOD FRIDAY. Searching beyond the talk of sacrifice to see the Good News.

The Church’s Good Friday obsession with talk of  “sacrifice for sin” has been breed into the bones of this particular preacher.  I have been trained to speak the language of the Church.  I know full well the many doctrines of atonement that have been proposed to explain the reasons Jesus died upon a cross.  I’ve been studying the historical context and the theological consequences of Jesus’ death for more years than I care to admit.   Yet every year, I find myself wanting to book a vacation or call in sick so that I can avoid the awesome task of preaching on Good Friday.

I’ve put it off tackling the Good Friday texts as long as I dare.  So, I picked up my copy of “The Last Week” by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, together with my copies of John Shelby Spong’s “Resurrection: Myth or Reality” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” as well as Marcus Borg’s final book “Convictions” and Dom Corssan’s new book “How to Read the Bible and Still Be Christian and spent the day in pursuit of a sermon.

What follows is not the sermon I will preach on Good Friday, but rather, the notes I made a few years ago to remind myself not to fall into the trap of talking about the events surrounding Jesus’ death in the way I was trained to speak of those events.  I offer up my notes hoping that those who are engaged in the struggle of grappling with how to talk about the cross in the 21st century might find some solace in a fellow struggler’s ruminations.  For those of you who don’t have to come up with a sermon for Good Friday, I offer these notes as my humble attempt to see beyond the rhetoric about the cross to the Good News. As always I am indebted to Marcus, Dom. and Jack for their scholarship. 

There are many ways in which our focus upon the cross is disturbing.   Not the least of which is the way in which we as Christians tend to talk about the crucifixion as Jesus’ passion.  I have always thought it a tragedy that we should describe the events of Jesus’ crucifixion as Jesus’ passion. I’ve always understood talk of an individual’s passion to be concern with those things that people lived for. And so to insist that Jesus’ lived to die a horrible death might sooth those who seek to turn Jesus into some sort of preordained blood sacrifice.

But for those of us who look to Jesus in search of the face of God, such talk seems is indeed a crime against divinity. For what kind of petty, sadistic god would engineer the birth of, foster the life of, and then engineer the death of a beloved child. Surely such a god is no more than a wicked illusion of our own making. I wonder what Jesus himself would make of the god we have created. I wonder what Jesus himself would make of our Good Friday commemorations? I suspect that if Jesus is anything like the accounts of his life suggest, he would be mortified, and I mean that literally…I think that Jesus would be mortified …mortified ie shamed to death…of what has become of his life’s passion; for if Jesus’ was passionate about anything, he was passionate about life. Jesus declared, “I have come so that you may have life and live it abundantly.” Jesus’ passion was about living. Living fully, abundantly.  Continue reading

Preparing for Maundy Thursday: When you don’t believe that Jesus was a sacrifice for sin!

MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMONS:

Click here for Two Suppers – Maundy Thursday- A Strange Night

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Click here for Is This A Big Hoax?

I was asked by a colleague: “So, if you do not believe that Jesus died for your sins, then why bother celebrating the events of Holy Week?” Behind this question lies the assumption that the only way to understand Jesus’ death is to frame it within the context of the theology of “penal sacrificial atonement” ie “we are judged to be sinful creatures, punishment is required, God sends Jesus to pay the price for our sin”. That Anslem’s theory of sacrificial atonement was formulated in the 11th century and continues to hold sway in the minds of so many followers of Christ is a testament to the power of our liturgies and hymns to form our theology.  However, Anslem’s theory is not they only faithful way to understand Jesus’ death. 

When one seriously engages the question, “What kind of god would demand a blood sacrifice?” the answers often render God impotent at best and at worst cruel and vindictive. I have often said that atonement theories leave God looking like a cosmic son of #%#%# ! Progressive Christian theologians are opening up new ways of understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus that empower the faithful to see new possibilities.

To my colleague, who fears that I am leading the faithful astray, and to those who find little comfort in the theories of an 11th century monastic, I offer the following:

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.”

That we should love one another is not a new commandment. There have been many before Jesus and many who came after Jesus who have commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved. Which begs the question:  How exactly did Jesus love?

I believe that Jesus loved in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE that is God; that Jesus was able to live his life fully without fear.

I believe that Jesus wanted more than anything else for his followers to be so open to the power of LOVE that is God so that they too would live their lives fully without fear.

I believe that that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.”

I believe that Jesus lived life abundantly and that means that he loved abundantly and without fear.

Jesus was so open to the power of LOVE that is God that Jesus would not let the powers of darkness stop him from loving and living fully.

The kind of LOVE that Jesus embodied and taught has no boundaries.  No darkness, no power, no fear, not even death can limit the power of LOVE.

For if LOVE is limited by death, then love will always be qualified and quantified.

That Jesus was willing to LOVE without boundaries, came at great cost to himself.

But Jesus was willing to pay that price in order to show  others the way.

The way to LOVE without limit, without fear, without boundaries.

LOVE without boundaries is abundant life.

That Jesus’ LOVE endured the worst that the world could send his way, that Jesus’ LOVE was for all the world, dead and buried, and yet bursts free from the grave, bears witness to the power of LOVE.

That Jesus LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself, saves us from the need to fear death.

Jesus has shown us the way.

We can live abundantly lives that are free from the fear of death. Because Jesus has shown us the way we are free to live fully, to love extravagantly and be all that we were created to be.

LOVE shines in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome LOVE.

If Jesus, life, death, and resurrection teach us anything, surely they teach us not to be afraid.

Not to be afraid of the darkness.

Not to be afraid of living fully.

Not to be afraid of loving extravagantly.

Not to be afraid of the powers of evil.

Not to be afraid of the power of death.

LOVE will endure.

All will be well.

Jesus can’t save us from life.

There is evil to contend with.

There will be darkness and there will be death.

Jesus couldn’t save himself and he cannot save us from life. Darkness and death are part of life.  Each of us must walk into the darkness that lies before us.  We can beg God to take the cup from us!  But the darkness will still come.  And there will be days when the darkness will triumph.  There are good Fridays too many to mention out there.  We can shout all we want for Jesus to save us, but in the end we too will have to take up our cross and find a way to follow Jesus into the darkness and beyond, trusting that even though it feels for all the world that God has forsaken us, we will make it beyond the darkness.

The cross will not look the same for each of us. But there will be crosses to bear. Jesus has showed us the way. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must love one another they way that Jesus loved.  It is the way beyond the darkness. Do not be afraid of evil, of death, or of the darkness. Follow Jesus who by love frees us from the power of darkness to hold us captive to our fears so that we can have life and live it abundantly.

How exactly did Jesus love?

Without limit.

What did Jesus save us from?

Our fears.

Journeying Toward Resurrection: John Philip Newell


snowdropsA powerful series contemplating resurrection in ever deepening ways in order to explore what a risen christianity might look like in terms of its offering of healing and blessing for the earth. Created by John Philip Newell a poet, pastor and scholar who opens our eyes o a vision beyond doctrines and dogmas that fail to proclaim the wonders of the universe in which we live.  “Christianity will rise again to the extent that we remember the sacredness of everything that has been born in the universe.”