Sacred Downtime: Barbara Brown Taylor

BB TaylorNow that Holy Week has come and gone and we are shouting our Alleluias, perhaps we can begin to turn our minds to the expectation of some sacred downtime. Barbara Brown Taylor is a preacher from whom I have learned so very much. I am currently enjoying the luxury of enjoying her latest book for the first time. Taylor’s earlier books are like old friends that I return to often. So her latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark holds all the promise of a new treasured friendship. While searching for a video to introduce her new book, Learning to walk in the darkI came upon this video, recorded in the spring of 2009 and only recently posted online, in which Taylor offers a welcome reminder of the contours of downtime.  Looking forward to a few busy weeks, and longing for those lazy, hazy days of summer, Taylor has reminded me to stop and luxuriate in the splendour of springtime. So, rather than speed through Learning to Walk in the Dark, I shall take my time and write about it when we’ve become better friends. In the
meantime enjoy Sacred Downtime…..

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection – John 20:19-31 – Easter 2A

humpty dumptyChrist is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Here we are still in the early days of the fifty daylong celebration of Easter and I’m already wondering how long we should keep chanting that Christ is risen! Sometimes, it seems that after the first flush of Easter Sunday’s excitement, our shouting that Christ is Risen sounds a little like we doth protest too much. The crowds of Easter are pretty much gone and churches all over Christendom are trying to keep up the excitement with the remnant of believers who turn up at church more often than Christmas and Easters. Our shouts of Christ is risen seem a little feeble; almost as if we are trying to convince ourselves that the celebrations of last Sunday actually mean something. After all it’s pretty safe to shout that Christ is risen in church. Nobody is going to challenge us in here about what we mean by that. But what if we were shouting that Christ is risen on the street corners or at work? Would we be comfortable telling people what we mean?

Christ is risen! Are we really willing to shout when it comes to declaring our belief in the resurrection? And if we are willing to shout about the resurrection, what is it that we would be shouting about? After all people have been arguing about the resurrection ever since the rumors about the empty tomb first began and after 21 centuries we still can’t agree what happened to Jesus after he died. Over the centuries the word resurrection has taken on so much baggage that it is difficult for many of us to talk about resurrection because we all bring so much to the conversation whenever we try to discuss it. Most of us grew up believing that we needed to believe in physical resurrection in order to belong. So we have learned to accept that resurrection means the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Yet even the stories that we tell in church don’t necessarily insist that Jesus physically rose from the dead.

The Irish novelist who wrote the famous book about his childhood in Ireland called Angela’s Ashes, also wrote a less famous book about his early years as a teacher in the United States. The book was called T’is and even though it didn’t sell quite as well as his first novel, McCourt’s I love it because it lends some keen insights into a teaching and teaching is one of the things I love about being a pastor. McCourt tells a story about Humpty Dumpty that illustrates some of the difficulties we face when we begin a discussion of the resurrection. McCourt tells his class the story of Humpty Dumpty to his class and for a whole class period there’s a heated discussion of “Humpty Dumpty” itself. (I’m using the term “itself” because no where in this English nursery Rhyme does it indicate what gender Humpty Dumpty is) In McCourt’s class Humpty Dumpty’s gender was automatically assumed to be male. But it was the sixties and so nobody argued about Humpty’s gender when McCourt recited the well known rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the kings horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Then Frank asked his class what is going on in the nursery rhyme and all the hands shot up to say things like: This egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know that you can never put an egg back together again. I mean it’s common sense really. That’s when Frank asked the question that set the class at odds with him. “Who says it’s an egg? Of course it’s an egg! Everyone knows that! Where does it say that it’s an egg? The class is thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They just won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never any doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis. McCourt insists that he’s not destroying. He just wants to know where they got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Because the class insists, it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture must have known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg. So Frank says, All right. If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be but I know the future lawyers in this class will never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg. And so by tacit agreement Humpty Dumpty becomes now and always an egg. (I am indebted to Bernard Brandon Scott’s reminder of the story about Humpty Dumpty in  Frank McCourt’s novel “T’is”)

For me the subject of the resurrection of Jesus has a great deal in common with Humpty Dumpty because by some sort of tacit agreement it was decided long ago that the resurrection of Jesus just has to be a physical resuscitation of a corpse; this despite the fact that the earliest writer on the subject of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul denies that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resuscitation of a corpse. Continue reading

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

Is God Coming Back to Life? – Easter Sunday sermon – April 20, 2014

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. 


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

Scuffed Up Reddish Pumps: a Maundy Thursday Sermon April 17, 2014

red pumpsThis year’s Maundy Thursday commemoration at Holy Cross included: hand washing, soup supper, eucharist, intimacy and this story from the Reverend Susan J. Thompson who, along with Pastor Tom Doherty presided over our worship.

It was a dark and . . . windy night. The swinging doors into the sanctuary were banging, the tree branches scraping against the stained glass windows, and casting eerie shadows.

It was then my colleague and I decided to make the place a little cosier for our Maunday Thursday service. We scrambled around the balcony storage and found all our Christmas tea lights and holders, and both of us had plenty of candles in our studies. We placed all of them around the chancel, and on the window sills where the shape-dancing trees seemed a little less intimidating in the warm candle glow.

In a kitchen to the right , Session members were preparing warm scented water and gathering the tubs in which to immerse people’s feet. The towels were at the ready. All we needed now was the chalice and plate for the elements, so I raced downstairs to the cupboard.

I was stopped in my tracks by a pounding on the door. My heart sank as I went to it, for there was (let’s call her Louise) a client of our food bank. I opened the door, exchanged pleasantries, and politely informed her that the food bank would be open next Tuesday.

“Oh, I don’t want food, she said”. Just a pair of shoes”. Continue reading

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

time-is-god-deadThis Good Friday sermon 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

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

I have been asked to repost this particular post. 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 two 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

Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh, Laugh – an Easter Sermon

Easter Roll away the stoneWhen my niece Sarah was born, I was amazed at how quickly I fell in love with her. Just as soon as my brother placed her in my arms, I was consumed with a love so great that I thought my heart would burst. But as great as that love was, as the weeks and months passed and that love grew deeper and deeper. When Sarah was about 11 months old, my best friend gave birth to a daughter and when she placed her child in my arms for the first time, I fell deeply in love with darling little Rebekah. Fortunately, Sarah and Rebekah lived quite a distance away from one another and I was able to carve out enough time to spoil each of them separately and in their own unique ways. In fact, these darling little girls who were the apples of my eye never actually met until one Easter weekend, when Sarah was about 3 years old and Rebekah was almost 2. It was absolutely the worst Easter egg hunt I have ever attended. It was horrible. Every time a paid even the slightest bit of attention to one of those darling girls the other one would fly into a jealous snit. They vied in the most undignified way for my attention all afternoon. If I even so much as smiled at one of them the other one would feel the need to do something, anything to get my attention firmly focused back on them. If I picked one of them up, the other one would begin to moan and complain about something until I put the other one down and picked up the complainer. If one of them found an Easter egg the other would cry until the focus was returned to their quest for an egg. If one of them crawled up on my lap, the other one would try to physically remove that one so that they could crawl up in their place. The parents in attendance just laughed at my predicament and left me to the task of trying to assure my darling little girls that just because I loved one of them didn’t mean that I didn’t love the other.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the jealousy that I bore witness to on that long ago Easter weekend was born of a fear that lives inside each of us. For who among us has not worried about whether or not there’s going to be enough love for us. That fear lies at the very heart of who we are. Child psychologists describe the phenomenon of fear in children as coming in three basic forms: the fear of falling or failing, the fear of loud noises or catastrophe, and the fear of abandonment. They suggest that at the bottom of all these fears is the fear of death. We human’s are a strange lot, driven by our fears to commit the most outrageous acts. So many of us live lives controlled by our fears, and we wrap ourselves up in the fear that there just won’t be enough love for us; or enough success, or enough money, or enough time. So we become jealous of others, and we grab all the success and all the money we can before time runs out. We allow our fears to drive our emotions and so jealousy, greed and eventually hatred drive our actions and poverty, violence and war come to dominate our world. The fear of death is the primal terror that what awaits us at the end of our journey here is nothing but chaos or even judgement or punishment. Continue reading

Giving Up the Theories of Atonement in Order to Move Toward an Evolutionary Understanding of Jesus: a Good Friday sermon

eloi eloi lamaI am indebted to Michael Morewood for the theological insights in his book “It’s Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith” for helping me to see beyond the idols in my head! This sermon was preached on Good Friday 2013 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Additional Good Friday sermons can be found here and here

The account of Jesus’ execution that we have just heard from the Gospel according to John lacks the rawness of the earlier accounts of Jesus death. The author of this account wrote at the turn of the first century, some seventy to eighty years after the Romans executed Jesus. That’s enough time for two, maybe three, or possibly even four generations to have pondered these events. The first account of these events, the Gospel According to Mark was written slightly earlier, sometime after the year 70. Most scholars date it between the years 70 and 85. That’s still 40 to 65 years after the execution; still time for one or two generations to have pondered these events. Perhaps it’s the closer proximity of the Gospel according to Mark that gives it much shaper raw feeling when it is read. Or maybe it’s the decision of translators down through the ages to preserve the intensity of Jesus’ cry from the cross in Aramaic. I don’t know about you, but I cannot begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, and all the horrendous moments that have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” In most of the films depicting the crucifixion that I can remember seeing, Jesus looks up, up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God.Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died.This question has left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries as our ancestors in the faith have struggled to offer up answers to the questions of the faithful. Why did Jesus have to die?

In pulpits all over the planet, preachers are struggling to help their listeners cope with the realities of the violence that murdered the One whom we seek to follow. I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers that have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can recite chapter and verse of the various theories that have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I can tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the fall and original sin and the need for reconciliation. I could recount the various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. Continue reading

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.”

Jesus: Human or Divine? a Palm Sunday Sermon

palm brsThis year we altered the usual Palm Sunday Readings so as to focus on verses that are rarely explored which question Jesus’ authority.

Readings:  Matthew 21:1-11; Matthew 21:12-16 & Matthew 21:23-27 


Good Friday Rituals or Crimes Against Divinity? – A Good Friday Sermon

A Good Friday Sermon preached at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in 2012

it is finished 22The memory of it still haunts me to this day. I was 18 years old. Some friends of mine from church convinced me to go to a big youth gathering. I don’t remember who sponsored the gathering, I do remember that most of the Lutheran youth groups in the greater Vancouver area were in attendance and various Lutheran pastors were involved in the leadership. At some point near the beginning of the event we were each given a small nail, divided into groups and asked to line up behind one of the three wooden crosses that were laying in the hall. We were then given our instructions. We were about to hear a dramatic reading of the Gospel According to John’s account of the crucifixion. When the reading was over we would be invited to proceed to the cross nearest us, knell down, take a hammer, and drive our nail into the cross. With each blow upon the nail we were asked to remember our own responsibility for the death of Jesus. We were asked to remember that it was we who had crucified Jesus, for we were the guilty sinners for whom Jesus died. It was a powerful, gut wrenching experience that still haunts me to this day.

I wasn’t the only young person who wept buckets that day. I immersed myself into the ritual act as I recounted inwardly the list of my own sins. Together with my friends, we left that hall believing that Jesus died because of us. We left judged, convicted, guilty, tormented, anguished, and full of hope, for we knew that Jesus had died to save us from our sinfulness. Like so many who have gone before us and like so many who will gather on this Good Friday, we left that hall believing that God sent Jesus to die for us; to pay the price for our sin.  Continue reading

When you don’t believe that Jesus was a sacrifice for sin, why bother with Maundy Thursday???

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.

Click here for a Maundy Thursday sermon

Atheism for Lent Class 5: The New Atheists

Our final class in this series provided an opportunity to explore the so-called New Atheists: Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. The video below includes the keynote and videos that were used to stimulate conversation in the class.

Religionless Christianity: Commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Reposted today as the Church commemorates the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

When I was just a teenager, I was introduced to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by a wise Lutheran Pastor. I remember devouring Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” and “Letters and Papers from Prison”. To this day, I credit Bonhoeffer for making me a Lutheran.  While a great deal of water has flowed under a good many bridges since I was first enamoured of Lutheran theology, to this day I am grateful to that wise old Lutheran pastor who gave me my first taste of Bonhoeffer.   Of late, there has been much ado about a little phrase that has been extracted from Bonhoeffer’s work: “religionless Christianity”.

(click here for full quotations from Letter and Papers from Prison)

“It is not for us to prophecy the day when men will once more ask God that the world be changed and renewed. But when that day arrives there will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious. But liberating and redeeming as was Jesus language. It’ll shock people. It’ll shock them by its power. It’ll be the language of a new truth proclaiming God’s peace with men.”  Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace

Tragically, Bonhoeffer was executed before he had the opportunity to expand on his idea of Christianity beyond religion.  The phrase “religionless Christianity” has intrigued agnostics, atheists, humanists, liberal christians and progressive christians.  Eric Metaxas, author of “Bonhoeffer” dismisses the idea that Bonhoeffer was anything but a serious, orthodox Lutheran pastor right up to the end.

Despite the historical evidence of Bonhoeffer’s religious orthodoxy, the notion of religionless Christianity will not die. Bishop John Shelby Spong is among those who have tried to build on Bonhoeffer’s phrase and his book “Jesus for the Non Religious” has certainly moved the conversation along among progressive christians.  

The dream of religionless christianity has moved well beyond Bonhoeffer as twenty-first century christians wrestle with archaic images of God and move beyond the religious trappings of traditional christianity. The notion of moving beyond religion has always intrigued me. Years ago, while studying Hinduism my professor offered a definition of God from one of the Vedas: “God is beyond the beyond, and beyond that also”.  As I continue to explore the life and teachings of the man none as Jesus of Nazareth it becomes more and more evident that such a definition is compatible with his portrait of God.  Jesus of Nazareth attempted to move his co-religionists beyond their religious images of God. What might our images of God become if we move beyond the idols offered to us by the religion of Christianity?   Might we move toward images of God that more closely resemble the teachings of Jesus by moving toward a religionless christianity?

Sometimes we can better reflect upon our own tradition from the perspective of another tradition. In the video below, twentieth century philosopher and theologian Alan Watts explores the concept of the Religion of No Religion. 

“Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that also.” Letting go of our images is the gift of faith that moves us beyond religion. I can hear Jesus call us to let go!

Jesus Sets Us Free to Save Ourselves: a sermon for Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-11

palm brsIn our parish, on Palm Sunday our liturgy stays with the commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Trusting that our members will join us on Good Friday, we have not adopted the practice of rushing to the Passion of Christ. This allows us time to linger over our Hosannas. Our worship began outside with the reading of Matthew 21:1-11, followed by a procession of palm waving, hosanna cheering congregation. This year I changed the first reading to the story of Jacob’s wounding during a wrestling match with God in Genesis 32:22-31, followed by an feminist interpretation of Psalm 118, and the Gospel text John 12:12-15. I am indebted to Michael Morewood’s book “Is Jesus God” for the inspiration behind this sermon and to John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The Last Week” for the historical details. 

For previous Palm Sunday sermons click here, here, or here

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! Save us from who? Save us from what? Save us for what? What is all the shouting about?

Two millennia ago, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, when Jesus mounted that donkey it was pretty clear who needed saving from who; it was clear what they needed saving from and it was fairly clear what people longed to be saved for. The people longed for freedom: freedom from the brutality of their Roman rulers, freedom from the ravages of poverty, freedom from the strict oppression of their religious authorities, and freedom from the fear of illness and death. Life among the conquered peoples of first century Palestine was cruel, oppressive, impoverished and filled with fear and suspicion. Whatever hope of deliverance there was all too often false hope. Among the oppressed there are always calls for revolution and the conquered people of first century Palestine had seen more than their fair share of wanna-be saviours.  Some of their young people had fallen prey to the incitement of the Zealots and in youthful, exuberant, impatience had taken up arms against their Roman oppressors. Some of their neighbours had betrayed their own people and taken up whatever crumbs the Romans were offering, sold their souls and become collaborators, lining their own pockets at the expense of their own people. But far too many people had given up and given in, settling for whatever life they could eke out under the cruel regime hoping against hope, that someday, someone, somehow would come along and save them from the horrors of life. And so, they longed for the good old days; The days when their people and not the Romans dominated the land, the days when one of their own was king. But not just any king, they wanted a king like David; a king who would ride at the head of their army full of pride and power and conquer all their enemies. The elders, the wise ones, pointed to the past and heralded David as a Messiah; an anointed one; anointed by God to lead the people. How they longed for such a messiah to rise up among them and lead them; lead them to victory against all their foes and save them from their miserable existence. One by one, they’d hear these wanna-be messiahs, these trumped up saviours, call the people to rise up. But they knew, with each successive saviour, there was no hope that they could triumph over the mighty Roman army and so over and over again, they hunkered down, waiting and watching, longing and hoping for the one who could save them. Continue reading

How To Be An Idiot: Christ and the Symbolic Order

rollins idiotRecorded on March 15, 2014 – Those familiar with Pete Rollins work will recognize some familiar themes and stories at the beginning of this video which then moves into some interesting new ideas about “morons, idiots and imbeciles.” Rollins provocative ideas about the relationship of Christ to the symbolic order challenges us all to move beyond our moronic ideas and practices into the roll of idiots so that we might become imbeciles. Well worth a listen for those familiar with Rollins work and for those who have never encountered him before!!!