The Epistle Reading (Second Reading) for this coming Sunday is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Most of us have heard this reading over and over again at weddings as if it were some sort of recipe for happiness between lovers. So often we hear it as an impossible recipe and cast it aside as something nice but unattainable. What would happen if we could hear this passage not as a prescriptive recipe but as a descriptive revelation of the LOVE that is God. Couple this revelation with the knowledge that God dwells in, with, and through us and it becomes a description of the possibilities for each of us being LOVE in the world. The knowledge that LOVE dwells in us might just open us to being the love that the world so desperately needs.
Johnny Barnes is a Bermuda native who embodies the LOVE that dwells in him. How might we embody the LOVE that dwells in us? What does, would, could, will the embodiment of LOVE look like in you?
Last week, as part of my preparation to teach a class on myth-making I spent some time exploring the creation myths from cultures other than my own. What I rediscovered was the power of story to help us make meaning of and in our lives. It is an exercise that I highly recommend!
Sand Artist – Marcus Winter is an indigenous artist of New Zealand who brings the Maori Creation Story to life with his performance painting of sand art.
“When God Was a Girl” “Handmaids of the Gods” & “War of the Words”
So much of the history of women has remained hidden and when it comes to religion the suppression of the stories of women has produced a kind of misogyny that shapes modern cultures. This splendid, sumptuous, and provocative BBC series explores the stories of goddesses, priestesses, saints, martyrs, and ordinary women and men that reveal the power of the divine feminine. It is well worth watching! First telecast as part of a partnership between the BBC and the Open University this series features historian Bethany Hughes quest to uncover our forgotten history.
Myths are created in the context of a culture – shaped by the characteristics of the culture in which they are born. Over time myths have the power to shape culture. However, as our cultural context changes we must continue the process of making meaning and creating new myths.
Here are the video clips we used to explore the process.
Since becoming a pastor, the questions that I hear more frequently than any others concern the subject of prayer. “How do I pray?” or “What should I prayer?” used to be the most often asked questions. However, since speaking and writing about giving up the idol of the “Big Santa-God-in-the-Sky” who grants requests or doesn’t answer prayers as if they were wishes, people have added “To whom should/do/can we pray?” to the list of most the asked questions. While I am tempted to offer answers to these questions, I suspect that my answers will not satisfy those who insist that there must be some secret formula that will make their prayer life successful.
I can say that when prayer ceases to be a laundry list of wants and desires, it has the power to open us to the awe and wonder of being a part of something far greater than ourselves. When we allow ourselves to be opened to more than what and who we are, the sense of gratitude that wells has the power to make us lovers of creation and partners with our sisters and brothers in this grand endeavour we call life.
In the stories handed down to us of Jesus of Nazareth, we are told that his followers asked him how they should pray. When I read these stories I see a frustrated Jesus whose followers insist that John the Baptist’s followers have a formula for prayer and Jesus ought to give them one as well. In these stories its as if Jesus says, “Oh well if you insist, then when you pray pray like this.” The prayer that results has become known as The Lord’s Prayer, and although there are many translations and interpretations of this Abba Prayer, these days the one I am becoming fond of is the one provided by Neil Douglas-Klotz in Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus.The video below provides a beautiful interpretation of this interpretation. Enjoy. May it move you toward prayer without words so that you can pray without ceasing and let your life be your prayer!
Sometimes, Meister Eckhart’s plea echoes from the very core of my being and I too, pray God to rid me and the world of God. The other day, someone told me that theology is not important, that the world is beyond caring about the preoccupation’s of religious organizations. I must confess that a part of me wished that the theologies of world were indeed irrelevant. Sadly, old and destructive theologies are being exported from the so-called developed world to the developing world with catastrophic consequences.
The Gospel of Intolerance is a filmmaker Roger Ross Williams glimpse into the scandal of Evangelical Christian efforts to influence Uganda’s lawmakers to step up the persecution of GLBT people.
Dare we give up God for Lent? Are we ready to expose ourselves to critiques of Christianity so that we might move beyond “God as a crutch” toward an experience of the absence of God? I find myself intrigued by Peter Rollin’s attempt to move us beyond our carefully held images/idols toward a deeper understanding of Christ’s experience on the cross. Atheism for Lent is a daring idea; a real journey into the wilderness.
Back in November, I had the privilege of attending a series of lectures given by Phyllis Tickle who describes the current reformation that the church is experiencing as part of a cultural phenomenon that happens about every 500 years, which she calls “The Great Emergence”. When asked what skills religious leaders will need to navigate the information age, Tickle insisted that the best advice we could give to anyone considering a religious vocation was that they should study physics. Inwardly I groaned, remembering my feeble attempts to come to grips with the most rudimentary theories of quantum physics. But I also nodded in agreement, knowing that so many of our religious narratives strive to make meaning of the cosmos as it was perceived by ancient minds. When our ancestors looked into the heavens they had no way of knowing the wonders of the cosmos that we are beginning to discover. While physicists can ignore theology, theologians who ignore physics will find themselves stuck atop Job’s dung-heap impotently shaking their fists at the Divine. Perhaps Tickle is correct and the clerics of the future will out of necessity need to be physicists. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku speculates that the universe is “a symphony of strings” and the “mind of God would be cosmic music resonating through eleven dimensional hyper-space”. If you have the courage to climb down from the dung-heap, take a look at Michio Kaku’s “The Universe in a Nutshell”. If the Divine bollocking that Job endured makes you wonder if ignorance might just be bliss, then take a peek at “Is God a Mathematician?” or “The Mind of God”. Who knows, maybe if a few more of us dare to dwell in the questions we might just come up with imaginative narratives to help us fathom what it means to be human.
Having worked our way through the Living the Questions 2 and Saving Jesus dvd series, our Adult Education Class is using the book: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity as a frame for our review of progressive Christian theology. Each week I will post the video clips that were used during the class. This week’s class consisted of an introduction as well as an exploration of what it means to move beyond definitions of the Divine toward the reality of unknowing.
“We must get away from this theistic supernatural God that imperils our humanity and come back to a God who permeates life so deeply that our humanity becomes the very means through which we experience the Divine Presence.” John Shelby Spong
I made the mistake of watching the evening news. Sometimes the actions of our sisters and brothers make it difficult to give thanks for our life together on the amazing spinning ball. Music serves as an incredible antidote for our stupidity. When you combine music with the beauty of the earth it is sweet medicine that reminds us that we are indeed miracles! Enjoy!
Nahko Bear (Medicine for the People) Aloha Ke Akua
Bill Moyers’ six-part series exploring the work of Joseph Campbell on the Power of Myth first aired back in 1988 and remains one of the most popular series that PBS has ever aired. I still remember watching it for the first time in 1992 in a Religious Studies 101 class. It opened my mind to a whole new way of understanding our desire to make meaning of our experiences. I post it here for the benefit of the class I’m currently teaching on Progressive Christianity. As we attempt to move beyond the doctrines and dogmas that have held the church captive to a new way of being church, it is helpful to understand that so many of the mysteries we encounter in life cannot be contained in thoughts, ideas, or doctrines precisely because they transcend words. To speak of eternal mystery we must use the language of myth.
The video below is the one in the series: The Hero. I suspect that once you’ve watched it, you’ll want to search out the other videos in the series.
Barbara Rossing’s book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation changed the way I approach the material in the Book of Revelation. After reading the book and using it as the basis of an adult study the loathing and trepidation I always felt about dealing with the content of this troublesome tome was replaced by a desire to encourage people to take another look at what this book might offer us as we struggle with the awesome task of treading the earth lightly.
Rossing sees both a critique of our culture and a message of hope for creation in this all too often abused piece of scripture.
Whenever the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana comes around in the lectionary, our congregation pops a cork and substitutes the sweet wine we use for communion with champagne. It is our attempt to enter into the spirit of outrageous hospitality that Jesus exhibited in this story which the author of the Gospel According to John uses to begin his tale of Jesus public ministry. However, the last time this reading came up in January of 2010, our living rooms were being inundated with visions of the disaster in Haiti. So, we put away our champagne and turned our hearts and minds to questions about what we might do to respond to our neighbours in need. Below you will find the sermon that I preached. I post it here, three years after the disaster because here in Canada we have heard from Julian Fantino (Canada’s Minister of International Cooperation) that the Harper government may be about to pull the plug on disaster relief to Haiti which continues to suffer. Fantino’s attempt to justify such a move demonstrated his complete lack of knowledge of the history of the worlds abuse of Haiti. As our sisters and brothers continue to suffer, perhaps this old sermon will inspire some to take action to lobby our governments not to abandon those in need.
Sermon for Epiphany 2C – John 2:1-11 (Jan. 17, 2010)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Katherine this week. I’ve been trying to imagine how she’s coping with the scope of the disaster in Haiti. Katherine and I worked together for a large tour operator in Vancouver. Katherine worked in the accounting department. I should say that Katherine ran the accounting department; even though her title only indicated that she was the assistant to the comptroller, the truth is that without Katherine the department would cease to function effectively. I’d been with the company for several months before we actually met. We saw each other in the hallways, but Katherine was quiet and shy, and her English was difficult to understand.
Christ Church Cathedral was right across the street from the our office and on Wednesday’s at noon this flagship of the Anglican Church offered a full communion service for people who worked in the downtown offices. I used to see Katherine quietly sitting in the pews. Sometimes during the peace we would shake hands. But we never spoke more than a few words to one another. Then one day, my secretary said that Katherine from accounting had asked to see me. I assumed that it had something to do with my inability to get my expense reports in on time, so I told my secretary to tell her I was busy. That evening, long after my secretary had gone home, Katherine caught up with me.
I looked up and there she was hovering over my desk. “You Christian?” she asked. I must have hesitated in answering, because Katherine turned as if to leave. “Yes, I’m a Christian?” “You eat dim sum with me?” Now this time I know I hesitated because I hate dim sum. “What mean no like dim sum? I teach you like, we eat, God be with us.”
There was no escape, the next day Katherine lead me down a back ally and into the basement of a building I would never have gone to on my own. Katherine introduced me to the waiter with the words, “she Christian” which brought a smile to the waiter’s face and we were ushered to a table full of people. Over the course of the meal it was made clear to me that all my dining companions were Christian. They chattered away in a language I soon discovered was a Malaysian dialect. Katherine was ethnically Chinese, but she grew up just outside the city of Jakarta.
Katherine explained that she was a Roman Catholic but her fiends were Dutch. They sure didn’t look Dutch and it would be several dim sums later before I realized that by Dutch, Katherine meant the Dutch Reformed Church. “They no like bread wine, Katherine explained, Calvin angry man what about Martin Luther, he likes bread wine?” He sure does like bread wine. “I just take bread, no wine that’s for the Fathers.”
I learned that, Katherine’s family sacrificed a great deal to send their daughter to a Roman Catholic school. Katherine was proud of the fact that she had been taught by British nuns. “They teach me good English no?” “You teach me good Canadian and Lutheran yes?”
It was a command not a question and if the truth be told Katherine taught me so much more than I ever taught her. I lent her a copy of Here I Stand, and when Katherine finished reading about Martin Luther’s life she said, “Germans just like Dutch not smiling.” So, I took Katherine to my church so that she could see us smile.
Katherine liked Luther’s theology of grace, but she said it was dangerous, because people might forget to say thank-you. Katherine took me to her church, it was a Chinese Pentecostal church, I never understood a word but I sure felt the Spirit in that place. Katherine said that was all I had to understand, that the Spirit is alive in us, we could go for bread wine with the Anglicans on Wednesday the Spirit is quieter over there, not so scary.
One morning Katherine was waiting in my office when I arrived. It was clear that she’d been crying. She wanted to know what we were going to do about the earthquake. I hadn’t even heard that there’d been an earthquake. But it had struck just outside of her hometown and we had to do something. “I suppose we could make a donation somewhere.”
Katherine looked at me as if I’d gone mad. “God lives in us! We have lots! We’re Christian. We help!” she said, “It is as simple as that!”
Katherine dragged me off for dim sum with her friends and we spent most of the next few months raising money and collecting stuff for victims of the quake. All because as Katherine would say, “God lives in us! We’re Christian. We help!””
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about Katherine this past week and wondering how she’s coping with the news about this latest earthquake. The earth shakes, the ground trembles and the people die. Put away the champagne, the hour has not yet come, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and bitter weeping. Rachel weeping for her children, refuses to be comforted, for her children are no more.”
“God lives in us! We’re Christian, we help!” The estimates are based on educated guesses; some say 50,000.00 some say more than 100,000.00 are dead. All we know for sure is that at least 3 million people have been impacted by the quake. Technology allows us to hear them cry and wail and beg for help. Images are flashed into our living rooms and we quietly weep and people the world over are left wondering why. That is except for the people who know exactly why these children of God are suffering.
Pat Robertson’s sure and certain knowledge has been transmitted all over the planet as people of every race and creed shake their heads in astonishment. “The people of Haiti entered into a pact with the devil.”
Jeeessssuss wept! Once again our tribalism rears its ugly head. That Pat Robertson should have said such a thing doesn’t really surprise us. That the news media should spread his primitive outrageous venom is a travesty. As the earth continues to shake, the dead and dying remain trapped, we see the fear and anguish in the faces of the few Haitian representatives, that the media can find to interview, turn to anger as they are asked to comment on their opinion of Pat Robertson’s theory.
The Haitian Ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph could barley conceal his rage. His carefully chosen words revealed the seething bitterness of generations. Listen to what he said barely 24 hours after the quake:
“I would like the whole world to know, and America especially that the independence of Haiti, when the slaves rose up against the French and defeated the French army, powerful army, the United States was able to gain the Louisiana Territory for 15 million dollars…that’s 3 cents an acre. That’s 13 states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slave revolt provided America. Also the revolt of the rebels in Haiti allowed Latin America to be free. It is from Haiti that Simon Bolivar left with men and boats to go deliver South America. So, What pact the Haitians made with the devil has helped the United States to become what it is.”
These words don’t lend themselves to a sound-bite and so the Ambassador was cut off and we were left to wonder what exactly he was talking about.
Fortunately, the technology that brought his words to the world allows us to find out more. Over the course of the past few days I’ve been reading the history of Haiti as the Haitian people themselves have recorded it. That history goes a long way to helping me understand a question that haunted me from the very beginning of the coverage. Over and over again we have heard that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The abject poverty of Haiti is being blamed for the lack of infrastructure. Rescuers are pointing to the lack of infrastructure as the primary reason why so many Haitians will die in the aftermath of this horrendous quake.
I’ve been to Haiti. Back in the days when I worked in the travel industry the Dominican Republic was emerging as a tourist destination and so I often traveled to Santo Domingo to purchase hotel space. The Dominican Republic is the nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The Dominican Republic is the busiest tourist destination in the Caribbean. The tourist industry is responsible for the Dominican’s economy being the largest in the Caribbean. Things are by no means rosy in the Dominican but relative to Haiti the comparison is a stark one.
So, why is Haiti the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere? Haiti is just, if not more beautiful than the Dominican and yet its people have suffered in poverty for generations.
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He landed near the city of Cap-Haitien and claimed the island he called Hispaniola for Spain. In the 16th century the first African were brought to Hispaniola as slaves. The colony was taken over by the French and by the 18th century Saint-Domingue as the French called it was the most lucrative of all of France’s colonies.
In the middle of the 18th century an uprising by Haitian slaves successfully defeated the French. But the French did not go quietly into the night. While Haiti did become the first Republic founded by slaves, the world refused to recognize the Republic.
Following the independence of the United States, Thomas Jefferson convinced the new nation not to recognize Haiti. Without official recognition the economy suffered. A nation cannot conduct trade unless it has diplomatic ties to other nations. But the world would not even consider recognizing a nation founded by salves. And so Haiti was forced to accept a deal that saw the fledging nation agree to pay France reparations for the loss of its valuable economy. In effect, Haiti was required to pay a ransom to the slave owners for their freedom.
The ransom payments put a huge burden on the people of Haiti. Over the years the Haitian people often rebelled against the burden. Several times the United States had to intervene on behalf of the French to ensure that the payments continued. The ransom was not paid off until 1947. By then the fragile nation was vulnerable to the rise of all sorts of unsavory leaders the most notable of those the father and son team of Duvalyehs other wise known as Poppa Doc and Baby Doc. These dictators favored the corporations who were exploiting the natural resources of Haiti and so both Poppa Doc and Baby Doc enjoyed the political and military support of the United States government. They borrowed all sorts of money to support the regime and when the US could no longer tolerate their excess and drove Baby Doc into exile, the Haitian people were left with a debt to the World Bank in excess of a Billion Dollars.
The world could have forgiven Haiti’s national debt. The legal term for this debt is “odious”. Apparently, according to the United Nations “odious” debts cannot be demanded from nations because they were incurred under repressive corrupt regimes. But under the influence of the United States, the World Bank refused to forgive Haiti’s national debt.
Not surprisingly, Haiti fell into arrears and in July of 2003, Haiti was forced to send 90% of its Foreign Reserves to the United States in order to pay off those arrears. But lest we as Canadians point the finger at the US, I should tell you that the Quebec Declaration of 2001 is where the fate of this island nation was sealed and where Canada as a member of the Summit of the Americas worked hand in hand with our American cousins to ensure that the payments continued to flow.
In recent times leaders have emerged in Haiti who have tried to shake off the horrendous burden of debt. Jean-Bertrand Aristide who currently lives in exile is a case in point. Aristide or should I say, Father Aristide for this former president of Haiti is a Roman Catholic priest; a liberation theologian who called for the end of economic oppression. A Roman Catholic priest Aristide was officially silenced by the Vatican during Pope John Paul’s purge of Latin American liberation theologians who called on churches and governments to remember God’s preferential option for the poor. Aristide would eventually be ousted from his Franciscan order, but to this day the church has not defrocked him.
Newly declassified documents, tell us that the Regan Administration instructed the CIA to support the military coup that ousted Aristide from the presidency after only 11 months in office. Aristide’s liberation theology was labeled communist because it threatened to use Haiti resources for the benefit of the Haitian people and not international corporations. But Aristide’s pronominal popularity with the people of Haiti forced a reluctant Bill Clinton to restore him to the presidency.
But alas, when the political tide changed in the United States the Bush administration, once again employed the CIA only this time, according to their own documentation, the CIA kidnapped Aristide and fly him to Central Africa where he remains in exile.
Aristide may not have been up to the task of leading Haiti. Most clergy that I know are woefully ill-prepared to lead a nation. So, I’m not suggesting that the current state of affairs in Haiti were helped much by Aristide. What I am trying to get across to you is the reality that the poverty in Haiti is not of their own making and it certain has little to do with a pact made with the devil. Unless of course, the devil is the evil known as the western economic system?
Now I didn’t tell you all of this to suggest that the current disaster is a result of politics. I told you this to let you know that the lack of infrastructure that has left the people helpless in the face of disaster is a result of policies supported by the governments of Western democracies like the United States and Canada.
The Haitian people are helpless in the face of this disaster. And so we see images of them doing the only thing they can do, they are begging for aid. This is not the time for pointing fingers or attaching blame. This is the time for us to rush to their aid.
There will be plenty of time down the road for us to ensure that some measure of justice is achieved for the people of Haiti. There debts must be forgiven. All future aid must come in the form of grants and not loans. For as recently as the hurricanes of 2006, we saw the World Bank issue loans instead of grants and they by increase the indebtedness of this impoverished nation.
Yesterday, Haitians we seen marching and singing in the streets of Port a Prince. They were praise God and begging God to help them. If you really believe that God has come to dwell with us. If you believe that the Spirit of God lives and breaths in us, then you know that God will come to their aid through us!
We are the body of Christ. Christ lives in with and through us. We need to hear their prayers and open our hearts and minds and yes our wallets. That’s the immediate need. We who have been so richly blessed, we who live in abundance, must share our blessings. They need cash and we have plenty of it! So, give. Give and keep giving.
But money is not enough. We need to seek justice. And not just for the Haitians, but for every tribe and nation that has suffered from the exploits of the economic system that has worked so well to benefit us. If there is a devil, it is the systemic evil of a financial system that relies on the exploitation of the weakest to sustain the life-styles of the strongest. And if anyone has made a pact with this devil it is those who have benefited from this system.
Rachel is joined in weeping for her children, by the cries of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers of all those who have been held in poverty by the rich and the powerful. Sisters and brothers, God lives and breathes in us, hear their cries and be God’s response. Let justice be our guide. Give. Dig deeply. Keep giving.
Don’t take my word for the reasons behind the injustice and the suffering. Do your own research. Ask questions, gain wisdom, work for justice. Lobby politicians, lobby corporations, speak-out, get involved. Hear the cries of the children of God. Be God’s voice, be God’s hands. Usher in God’s reign of justice and peace.
Or as my friend Catherine would say, “God lives in us! We’re Christian. We help!””
Although the World Bank eventually cancelled Haiti’s debt, the legacy of poverty continues to haunt recovery efforts. As politicians grow weary and threaten to cut needed aid, they continue to condemn Haitians for their slow recovery as an excuse to abandon relief efforts. Our failure to understand Haiti’s history threatens to once again punish the most vulnerable. We must continue to help! It may not be easy or swift but the recovery of Haiti is our shared responsibility!
As I begin to look at resources for this coming Sunday, this old sermon preached in 2007 reminds me that sometimes the world forgets just who it was that turned water in to wine! The theology about grace in this sermon is from Edward F. Markquart “Sermons from Seattle”, who has saved me from myself on many a late Saturday night!!! The story about my Nannie is best when it is served up with a big dollop of an Irish accent, preferably of the Belfast variety!
Last summer my family my family threw a wedding feast of our own. It was my niece’s wedding and in addition to attending I had the privilege of presiding. Working a family gig, as a pastor is an unusual experience; especially where my family is concerned. These folks knew me back in the day. So seeing me up there in my working duds, doing what we clergy do, well it’s a bit of a stretch for the folks you grew up with.
At the wedding feast, I ran into some folks that my brother and I went to high school with. Every once in a while I would catch him looking at me as if he was trying to figure something out.
Now fortunately, this particular wedding feast had an ample quantity of wine and over the course of the evening, my old classmate eventually sauntered over to my table and sat down. We exchanged a few pleasantries. Je told me a little about his life, reminding me that he had 3 kids, and explaining how he liked his work as a salesman for a manufacturing firm. It was a pretty dull conversation, until we got around to the part where I said, “Do you remember the time when we….” And then he said, “Yeah, but what about the time we…” And then I said, “Yeah, but that was nothing compared to the time we all….
So, we laughed together about those two crazy kids that we used to be all those years ago. And then Je just blurted it out. “How do you stand it?”, he asked. For a moment I thought he was asking me about getting older. It took me a while to figure out that he was truly mystified by my chosen profession. “How can you stand being a minister?”
“Well I….” He didn’t let me answer before he launched forth. “Don’t get me wrong! I don’t mind all that religious stuff. I mean Jesus was a really great guy and all that, but how can you stand to be around all those Christians all the time!”
It wasn’t the first time that someone had asked me such a question. And I really didn’t want to get into all this at my niece’s wedding, so I asked my old class-mate if he would like to dance. To which he replied, “Do they allow you people to dance?”
I didn’t dignify that one with an answer. I just grabbed my old frined’s empty glass and told him we were going to need to fill our glasses and on our way to the bar, my friend said he thought that they frowned on people like me enjoying themselves! To which I replied, “Have you heard the one about Jesus and the wedding party?”
Who was it that turned water into wine in the first place? My old friend wasn’t the first and I expect that he won’t be the last person who thinks that just because I wear a collar that I’m some sort of religious fanatic, whose forgotten how to have fun!
You see my old classmate’s understanding of Christianity is based on a few scattered childhood memories, together with a whole lot of what “they” say. You know, that grand and glorious “they” who seem to frown on everything that even remotely smells like it might be interesting, or fun, or even remotely useful. That ever present, humourless “they” who scream and shout about family values, and the Judeo-Christian tradition that must be maintained at all costs, regardless of what science, or common sense or decency, or kindness, or hospitality, or even Jesus tells us. That ubiquitous “they” whose message about Christianity, sounds more like bad news than the Good News that Christ proclaimed.
“They” who if they did manage to recognize grace because it had the audacity to fall into their laps, would probably make up some sort of rule so that people wouldn’t dare to expect that grace would ever come their way again. The almighty “they” who have managed to reduce the Good News of Jesus’ life death and resurrection to a list of thou shalt nots or else God’s gonna roast your sorry you know what in the fiery pits of hell forever and ever amen! So, wipe that silly smile off your face, and fall down on your knees and never ever forget that you are nothing but a lousy disgusting creature that God would just as soon smite rather than have to listen to. And the only chance you have of escaping the pits of hell, is if you open up your wallets and send a cheque right away so that “they” can send you a copy of the rules, so that you’ll be sure to know who’s in and who’s out, and how to go about making sure that when the end of the world arrives, your on the right and I do mean “right” side of Jeesuus!
Sisters and brothers if you’ll only empty your wallets, Jeesuus will be see to it that what ever you touch will turn to gold. Cause God wants you to be healthy, wealthy and wise, so if you just check your brain at the door and follow “them” you too can be on the path to glory!
Those are the kind of Christians that my old friend was talking about. The kind of Christians who have managed to give Christianity such a bad name. The kind of Christians who seem to be getting all the attention these days. And I’m with my old friend on this one: I can’t for the life of me figure out how people can stand to be around that kind of religious fanatic. If there is a hell, and just for the record, I don’t believe that there is such a place, but if I did believe in hell, hell for me would be to spend eternity with a bunch of religious fanatics. As for me, its just like the song says, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints!” Cause if heaven is full of religious fanatics then I don’t want any part of it. Angels and fluffy clouds simply don’t appeal to me.
I’m with Mark Twain on this one, there’d better be good scotch and amazing conversation or I’m simply not interested. Choirs of angels is one thing, but I’ll be over with the Grateful Dead, and we’ll be jamming and that party will go on forever, cause there’ll have to be numbers from the likes of Louis Armstrong, John Lennon, Elvis, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, and Chicofsky! Yeah, and when we get around to Vivaldi and the music is sweet and low, I want to have a word with Gandhi, and Einstein, Madam Curie, Bodacia, Simone de Bouveria, Emmerson, Tennison, and I’ve always wanted to find out exactly what Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad, have to say for themselves and what they really think about the mess we’ve made of all that they tried to teach us. And then, I want to hear from Sarah, Hagar, and Mary and I want to know what they think about all sorts of stuff. So, it’s a good thing that eternity goes on forever cause there’s so much to learn, to taste, to experience and to enjoy.
The Good News is that Jesus came so that we might have life and live it abundantly. Abundant life! It boggles the imagination! So, why oh why do so many people try to turn the Good News into bad news? How do we get from I want you to live abundantly to stop, wait, stand over there, don’t do this and definitely don’t do that and wipe that smile off your face cause the end is near?
Is it any wonder that the writer of the Gospel of John, decided to tell the story of Jesus’ turning water into to wine right up front? I mean really, if somebody asked you to tell the story of who Jesus is and why Jesus matters would you begin by telling them the one about the day Jesus turned water into wine. Well, maybe you would if all the religious types around you were so busy making rules and pointing out the rule breakers, worrying about who’s in and who’s out and telling everyone that God is gonna smite them if they don’t behave themselves.
The writer of the Gospel of John describes Jesus efforts at the wedding feast as a sign. He deliberately doesn’t call it a miracle. The writer of the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ, says that this is the first of Jesus signs. A sign does not draw attention to itself but rather points us toward something else. The wonderful thing about this sign is not that Jesus was able to turn water into wine, but that Jesus gave us a sign to point the way.
Jesus took 180 gallons of water and turned it into 180 gallons of wine. 180 gallons of water; but not just any water; water that was used for rites of purification. Purification rites, things dreamed up by religious types to make sure that people who had broken the religious rules could make themselves right with God. Jesus takes these gallons of water that were designed to wash away the guilt of those who had broken the law; water that was designed to wash away guilt and Jesus transforms these gallons of water into the best wine you can imagine. Jesus first sign points to a new way as Jesus transforms gallons of guilt into gallons of grace. Gallons of grace and gallons of forgiveness! This new way of Jesus’ is a way of joy and happiness. It’s gallons of joy! (Edward F. Marquart)
Being a Christian is like going to a party. Have you heard the one about the party; you know the one that Jesus told? It seems that a whole bunch of people were invited to a wedding feast but they couldn’t come. They had all sorts of excuses why they couldn’t come like they had to fix a new house or take care of their stuff. People had excuses about why they couldn’t come to the party so the fellow giving the party had to put the word out and invite all sorts of other people to come. (Edward F. Marquart)Being a Christian is like going to a party. Maybe that’s why we followed Jesus and not John the Baptist. Cause if John was the founder of our religion, then discipleship would be all about rigorous fasting, with no good wines, and only repentance never grace. But we follow the guy who turned water into wine, guilt into grace! Christianity is not for sour pusses. Christianity is not for legalists. Christianity is not for people who love to wallow in their guilt like pigs like to wallow in the mud. Some religious people are like that; God forgive them! They just can’t seem to get enough of wallowing in their guilt. But the new way that Jesus’ signs point to is full to the brim of grace. This new way makes us free to love. (Edward F. Marquart)
This new way helps us to understand that we may indeed be a crummy Christian; we may not be very good at all, but the Gospel of grace insists that despite our tendency to fall short of what God created us to be; God refuses to give up on what God has created. But rather than make it all about the rules God has decided to try and love us into the fullness of life. Grace is God’s solution to the evil in the world. And in spite of our stupidity, our bunglings, our mistakes, our brokenness; God is going to keep on loving us, not because of who we are or what we can accomplish, but because of who God is and what God can accomplish through loving us.
Gallons and gallons of grace, designed to overwhelm us with the sheer magnitude of God’s love so that we can’t help but love in response to all that amazing grace. That’s the Good News!
God is love and God loves us, and you don’t have to look any further than Jesus to understand just how much God loves us and when you look at the life of Jesus and the way in which Jesus embodied that love you can see the way. The way to respond to all that grace with love; love for God and love for the world that God loves.
Jesus came that we might have life and live it abundantly. There’re gallons and gallons of grace to go around. That’s Good News indeed. News that needs to be shared.
But people have all sorts of excuses for not coming to the party. We’ve made such a mess of Christianity, and some of our wine has turned to vinegar! One whiff and people remember that their allergic to what we’re offering. So we’re going to have to do more than simply just invite folks to stop by for a taste of what we have to offer. It’s not enough for us to wait around for folks to drop by for some wine. We’re going to have to pack up some wine and go out into the world where the folks are at and ask them to take a sip to see for themselves. And we’ll need to remember Jesus’ warning not to put new wine in old wine skins. We’re going to have to find some new wine skins.
The News is Good! Abundant life, life beyond our imaginations. Life that defies our limited vision. Life that will not be bound by petty rules; small minds or weak temperaments, life that is abundant, filled with love that is steadfast and sure enough to be in the world active and loving, transforming the sorrows of this world into joy. And as for those sourpuss religious folks, how will we put up with them? Well there’s enough grace for them too. And when their rhetoric gets us down, we can take refuge here at Holy Cross, where the wine is sweet and good.
I’ve told this story before. But incase you’ve forgotten just how amazing the grace is around here, let me remind you. A few years ago my grandmother, Nannie came to visit me for a few months. Now Nannie has had her fill of Christians and so she doesn’t like churches. So, even though I’m the pastor here, no amount of invitations could convince my Nannie to come to church on Sunday morning. But when the Sunday of the Church Picnic rolled around; well back then we used to have our worship service in the park and then party after worship. So, rather than invite Nannie to come to church, we told her that we were going to a church picnic.
Nannie wasn’t sure at first but she loves a picnic and when I assured her that there’d probably be potato salad and that there’d definitely be wine; well Nannie agreed to come. She had a lovely time and that evening my Mother called to talk to her Mother and when I told Mom that Nannie had been to the church picnic my mother was more than a little intrigued. I handed Nannie the phone and Mom must have asked Nannie about you folks cause I heard my Nannie say this: “Auch Joyce, sure they were lovely; auch they were that nice sure you wouldn’t even know they were Christians.”
“They were that nice, sure you wouldn’t even know they were Christians.” It didn’t take you folks long to let my Nannie know that everything she believed about how horrible Christians are is not true about you. There are lots and lots of folk out there who can’t get past their distaste for Christianity and all the horrible things they’ve heard have caused them to assume that we are all about inflicting guilt.
It’s time to pack up some wine in new wine skins and take some of that grace out there into the world that God loves. So that the Good News of God’s grace can be heard, and felt and lived. So that the miracle of Holy Cross can be a sign pointing to the way of Christ; and all may know that Christ came because God wanted to remind us of the gift of abundant life.
“The Qur’an gives a greater number of honourable titles to Jesus than to any other figure of the past. He is a ‘sign’, a ‘mercy’, a ‘witness’ and an ‘example’. He is called by his proper name Jesus, by the titles Messiah (Christ) and Son of Mary, and by the names Messenger, Prophet, Servant, Word and Spirit of God.” [i]
The Qur’an shows Jesus as a prophet, and “just as in the New Testament John the Baptist is Jesus’ precursor, so in the Qur’an Jesus is the precursor — and highly encouraging example — for Muhammad. To be sure, the Qur’an says that Jesus (in contrast to the Prophet) was directly fashioned by God”. [ii] “The Qur’an leaves no doubt about the fact that Jesus preached the truth; but the language that it has him speak is altogether different from that of the gospels.” [iii]The story of the birth of Jesus in the Qur’an seems to draw from the stories found in the gospels. The Qur’an refers to Jesus as the Son of Mary. “Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the only woman who is called by her proper name in the Qur’an. Other women are mentioned but not named.” [iv] The Qur’an includes stories of the Immaculate Conception, the Presentation in the Temple, the Annunciation and the Virgin Birth. [v] Mary is revered as the mother of Jesus.
And when the angels said,
Mary, God has chosen
thee, and purified
thee, He has chosen
thee, above all women.
Mary, be obedient to
thy Lord, prostrating
and bowing before Him
whose name is Messiah,
Jesus, son of Mary;
high honoured shall he be
in this world and the next,
near stationed to God.
He shall speak to men
in the cradle, and of age
and righteous he shall be (Surah 3:37-41)
The story of the annunciation and birth is detailed further in Surah 19 and Surah 3. Mary is visited by an angel who tells her that the Lord will make her a “sign” and she will bear a son who will be a great prophet. The story resembles those told in the gospels of Luke and Matthew and includes elements found in the early apocryphal writings (The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of the Childhood in Arabic). There is however, an emphasis in Surah 112, that denies that God is the father of the child. God is responsible for the birth, but in the same way as he is responsible for the creation of Adam.
When Mary presents her child to her family, the baby silences any reproaches toward Mary by speaking directly to them, “Lo, I am God’s servant: God has given me the Book, and made me a prophet. Blessed has he made me.” (Surah 19:16-33)
The Qur’an depicts Jesus as a prophet of God:
And when Jesus came with the
clear signs he said, ‘I have
come to you with wisdom, and
that I may make clear to you
some of that whereon you are
at variance; so fear you God (Surah 43:63-4)
The signs of Jesus’ prophecy were the miracles that he preformed. Although Muhammad’s only miracle was the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an attributes many miracles to Jesus, beginning with the miracle of Jesus speaking from the cradle (Surah 19:30; 3:41). As in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, the Qur’an includes the story of the young Jesus breathing life into clay birds (Surah 3:42). The Qur’an attributes miracles of healing to Jesus who cures a man, blind from birth and a leper (Surah 4:110), and states that Jesus raised the dead (Surah 3:43). In the Qur’an, Jesus brings down a great table from heaven on which is a meal (Surah 4:115). This story has been compared to the gospel accounts of the Last Supper, the miracle of the loaves and fishes as well as Peter’s vision in Acts.
According to the Qur’an, Jesus came to confirm the Torah:
Likewise confirming the
truth of the Torah that
is before me, and to make
lawful to you certain
things that before were
forbidden unto you (Surah 3:43)
The Qur’an does not go into detail about the teaching of Jesus but seems to refer to the Gospel or “Injil” as confirming the Torah, through which God entered into a covenant with Abraham. Jesus indicates in the Qur’an, that while confirming the Torah he is also expanding upon it:
I have come to you with
a sign from your Lord;
so fear you God, and
obey you me. Surely
God is my Lord and
your Lord; so serve Him.
This is a straight path. (Surah 3:44)
The Qur’an does refer to Jesus as “Messiah”, but the meaning of this word must be understood not in it Christian translation as “Christos” or Saviour, but in its original Jewish context of an anointed one. “So Jesus was one whose touch purified from faults, being himself provided with the protection of the divine blessing anointed with the blessed oil with which former prophets were anointed. Jesus himself anointed the needy, healing the blind, laying hands on the sick, and using oil for blessing.” [vi] The Qur’an clearly states that “the Messiah, son of Mary, is nothing but a messenger” (Surah 4:79), and as such “The Messiah will not disdain to be a servant of God” (Surah 4:170). This subordination of Jesus to the supreme God is important in the Qur’anic references to Jesus as “Word”. Jesus came into being because God willed him to be (Surah 3:522-59). In the Qur’anic annunciation the Angel announces “good tidings of a Word from Him” (Surah 3:40). Unlike the Word or Logos of the Gospel of John, the Word in the Qur’an is not equal to God but exists because God willed it to exist.
As God’s messenger Jesus announced the coming of Muhammad:
And when Jesus son of
Mary said, ‘Children of
Israel, I am indeed the
Messenger of God to you,
confirming the Torah
that is before me, and
giving good tidings of
a Messenger who shall
come after me whose
name shall be Ahmed. (Surah 61:6)
Although this resembles Jesus’ promise of the Paraclete in the Gospel of John, Islam asserts that the name of Ahmed is a direct reference to Muhammad. Various revisions to the text suggest alternate readings, such as the rendering of “bearing the name Ahmed” as “god will put a seal on the prophets” [vii] or reading the word Ahmed not as a proper name but as an adjective meaning worthy of praise. [viii] Regardless of this debate, Islamic tradition sees Jesus as the Prophet who foretold the coming of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad.
Concerning the death of Jesus, the Qur’an maintains that Jesus did not die on the Cross but was raised to heaven by God. The Qur’an states that the Jews did not kill Jesus but a likeness that had been shown to them (Surah 4:156). Since Jesus did not die on the cross but was raised up to heaven by God (Surah 4:155-7), Islamic tradition has suggested many possibilities regarding his return or second coming. Islamic tradition holds that Jesus will return and reign as a just king and that the second coming will be a sign that the end of this world is near. However this is not found in the Qur’an.
The Qur’an describes Jesus as being close to God, but cautions against the Christian Trinitarian belief in Jesus as a manifestation of God. The Christian concept of the Triune God was anathema to the strongly monotheistic Muslims. The Qur’an speaks directly to Christians when it warns them against seeing Jesus as more than just a prophet:
People of the Book, go not beyond the bounds
in your religion, and say not as to God
but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary,
was only the Messenger of God, and His Word
that He committed to Mary, and a Spirit from
Him. So believe in God and His Messengers,
and say not, ‘Three’. Refrain; better is it
for you. God is only One God. Glory be
to Him — that He should have a son! (Surah 4:169)
Early Christianity had problems in defining their orthodox position on the Trinity and it is not difficult to see how the worship of a Triune God could have appeared as worshipping three gods. Even today the concept of the Trinity is difficult for the average Christian to understand or explain. The Qur’an was written against a background of Arabian polytheism and Muslims struggled to maintain the supremacy of Allah against this backdrop and the concept of the Trinity was too easily confused with the worship of three gods. The Qur’an described Jesus as a creature created by the will of God, to be honoured as a prophet but not worshipped as God.
According to the Qur’an God bestowed “the Book” upon Jesus who passed its messages on to the Christians. Christians are referred to as fellow People of the Book and, “There is no suggestion in the Qur’an that the Gospel given to Jesus was different from the canonical Gospels held by Christians.” [ix] The Qur’an does speak of the Gospel in the possession of the Christians (Surah 7:156-7) and advises the Christians to follow the messenger spoken of in it. [x]
Christians, or followers of Jesus are referred to in the Qur’an as Nassara. The term is thought to have originated from the word Nazarene or Nazareth. The Qur’an says that “all who truly believe in God, Jews, Christians and others will be rewarded on the Last Day.” [xi]
Those who have believed, those who have judaised,
the Nassara and the Sabi’in, whoever has believed in God and
the Last Day, and has acted uprightly, have their reward
with their Lord; fear rests not upon them, nor do they
grieve. (Surah 2:59-62)
The Qur’an address the problem of disputes among the various People of the Book:
The Jews say, “The Christians stand not on anything”;
the Christians say, “The Jews stand not on anything”;
yet they recite the Book. So too the ignorant
say the like of them. God shall decide between them
on the Day of Resurrection touching their differences
The exact nature of the Jewish and Christian communities in and around Arabia at the time of Muhammad is not known. It is clear however that much of Muhammad’s revelation was influenced by these communities. We do know that various Christian sects were present in the area and Muhammad’s encounter with them explains many of the Qur’anic warnings to Christians concerning what the Church now sees to be heretical concepts about the nature of the Trinity, the veneration of Mary, and the worship of saints and relics. “The Qur’an denies Christian heresies of Adoption, Patripassionism, and Mariolarty.” [xii]
The Qur’an differentiates between the various types of Christians explaining that:
“The Messiah is the Son of God”
That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming
with the unbelievers before them. God assail them!
How they are perverted!
They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords.
The Qur’an seems to call Christians back to the original Gospel message, warning against the perverted teachings of theologians and yet it also recognizes that there are among them priests and monks, who are “nearest in love to those who have believed” (Surah 5:85)
The history of tension and violence between Christians and Muslims is a long one. More often than not the differences between the off-spring of Judaism have prevented each from exploring the Jesus of the Qur’an. Perhaps a closer adherence to the words of their founders would help to ease current world tensions. The Qur’an admonishes Muslims to:
Dispute not with the people of the Book
save in the fairer manner, except for
those of them that do wrong; and say
We believe in what has been sent down to you;
our God and your God is One, and to Him
we have surrendered. (Surah 29:45)
The Qur’an explains that:
Had God so willed, he would have made you
one community but (he hath not done so) in
order that he might try you in regard to
what has come to you; so strive to be
foremost in what is good. (Surah 5:53)
The Christian theologian Hans Kung has written that: “If contemporary Christians and Muslims want to understand each other better, they have to go back to their origins (and apply a discriminating critique to later developments). At our origins, all of us — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — are closer to one another.” [xiii] If this is true then perhaps through careful exploration of the scriptures the “People of the Book” can together, gain a better understanding of one another and perhaps begin to solve some of the political problems that plague the globe.
([i]. Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an (London: Sheldon Press,1965), page 15.[ii]. Hans Kung, Christianity and the World Religions, (New York: Doubleday, 1985), page 110. [iii]. Parrinder, page 60. [iv]. Parrinder. page 98. [v]. Anawati. page 81. [vi]. Parrinder, page 31.[vii]. Parrinder, page 96. [viii]. Parrinder, page 99. [ix]. Parrinder, page 145. [x]. Parrinder, page 145. [xi]. Parrinder, page 153. [xii]. Parrinder, page 137. [xiii]. Kung, page 122)
As one who seeks to encounter the Divine by following Christ, I am often astounded and saddened by the ways in which many of my sisters and brothers misunderstand those who seek God by following the teachings of Islam. I offer this PBS documentary series as a window into the ways of our Islamic sisters and brothers.