Reading Luke 13:1-9 – listen to the sermon here
Our Lenten journey continues even as the news of the day challenges us. Listen to the sermon here
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 – Musing About Genesis Bloody Carcasses
From time to time, the prescribed readings from the Common Lectionary fill me with dread and despair. Something about those bloodied, split, rotting carcasses that sealed the deal between God and Abraham makes me wonder about the nature of the god we have projected into the heavens and ask: Have we evolved or has God? The story of God’s promises to the “Chosen People” portrays God as a churlish player in humanity’s game of tribal rivalry. While I’d rather not preach on the text from Genesis this Sunday, I know full well that simply reading this text during worship without elaboration, will if folk are paying attention, leave a distasteful oder in the sanctuary that will surely spoil our appetite for our common meal of body and blood disguised as bread and wine.
The readings for this coming Sunday have me thinking about tribalism. There’s always more than one way to look at things. Tribalism has served us well. New people to meet can be exciting or it can be frightening. Taking comfort with your own people is wonderful, but taking too much pride in your own kind is dangerous. One minute you’re cheering for your team the next minute you’re hurling insults at the other guy and one too many insults and the next thing you know you’re at war. A little tribalism is a good thing, but how much tribalism is too much? Tribalism is a basic human survival instinct. Tribalism is lodged deep within our psyches and has been from the very beginning of time. Tribal is part of our primordial selves. Tapping into this basic human instinct can mean the difference between survival and death.
Tribal thinking exists on almost every level of human life, from the international to the local. Attack a human on any level and that human will resort to instinctive behaviour. When threatened humans have two basic instincts, fight or flight and the choice between the two often comes down to tribalism. If you have enough people to back you, you’ll probably choose to fight. Not enough people and you’ll probably choose flight.
Human kind has evolved a great deal over the centuries but we haven’t evolved very far from our basic instincts. You don’t have to scratch a fan too deeply to find the primitive tribal mentality. Tribalism is seen in the way we portray our rivals. I once heard a Kiwi say, “I root for two teams, New Zealand and whoever is playing Australia.” Sporting competition is all well and good, but when tribalism is carried to its worst possible conclusion, wars beak out. Tribal feeling is then exacerbated in times of war, and tribal propaganda is used to dehumanize our enemies to make it easier to hate or kill without any qualms of conscience. We don’t kill human beings in war; our victims are not someone’s child, spouse, or parent. NO, one kills either, the Huns, the Krauts, the Japs, the Nips, the VC, the insurgents, the fanatics or the terrorists.
There is within us all a basic, dominant, intrinsic fear of those tribes different from our own, a predisposition to be on guard against them, to reject them, to attack and even to kill them. This tribal tradition arises out of our deep-seated survival mentality and it feeds something at the heart of our insecure humanity. We are tribal people to our core. Far more than we will consciously admit, the religions of the world including Christianity rise out of and undergird our tribal thinking. Continue reading
Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.
Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first day of Lent. Oh goodie! We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”
Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent and I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century.
It is so easy for us to lean not on the ever-lasting arms of Jesus but on the scales of St. Anslem and find ourselves not looking forward to the promise of resurrection and the gifts of eternal life, but rather dreading judgment day knowing that the scales of justice must be balanced and fearing the moment of truth when our sins are piled onto the scale and knowing that our only hope for reconciliation with our Maker is that Jesus is sitting on the other end of the scale.
“Woe is me. Woe is me for I am sinful. My sins are too numerous to count. There are all the things I have done and all the things I have left undone. Thank God Jesus died for me. Somebody had to pay the price for my sinfulness. Jesus died for a reason, and you and I dear sisters and brothers are that reason. A blood sacrifice had to be paid. God’s justice demanded it and Jesus paid the price with his very own blood. Jesus took our place up there on that cross and the least you and I can do to say thank-you is to spend some time shouldering our own crosses as we retrace Jesus steps to Jerusalem.”
The season of Lent with all of its liturgical trappings makes it so easy to fall back upon St. Anslem’s theory of atonement. St Anslem the 11th century English monk, a legal scholar who came up with the theory about why Jesus died on the cross known as substitutionary satisfaction. Jesus stood in on our behalf to satisfy the debt that had to be paid.
St Anslem’s theory may have satisfied the minds of worshippers in the 11th century but a lot has changed in the last ten centuries. Take for example the sixteenth century — Martin Luther a name near and dear to the hearts of Lutherans everywhere. Good old Martin Luther was so obsessed with his own sinfulness that he spent many a long night agonizing over those things that he had done and left undone that he often found himself flagellating of an evening. You don’t hear much about flagellation these days; at least not in church. But flagellation was all the rage among the religious of Martin’s day.
Why Marty would whip himself into a positive frenzy just thinking about his sinfulness; and I do mean whip himself. Flagellation is the fine art of punishing oneself for ones’ sins by stripping down to the waist and whipping one’s back to the point of drawing blood so that you could bleed just like your Saviour bleed for you before he was led through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Golgotha. Martin became so obsessed with his own sinful nature that his own priest feared for his life. Father Staupitz, the priest to whom Martin was constantly confessing his sins to is said to have become so frustrated with Martin’s obsession with trivial sin. I mean how much can a faith monk, living in a monetary have to confess. Legend has it that Staupitz grew weary of Martin’s confession of every trivial sin, that in desperation he once told Luther to go and sin boldly, perhaps hoping that Luther would at least have something to actually flagellate for.
Happily for Christendom, Martin Luther eventually came to the realization that far from being a harsh judge of our sinfulness, God is actually a gracious God and thus the Luther’s theology of Grace gave birth to the Reformation. No longer did the faithful have to worry about balancing the scales with acts of piety because God’s grace is sufficient. God in Christ freely forgives us all our sins, not because of any merit we might gain from acts of piety but simply because in Christ, God took on human form and travelled to the cross and paid the ultimate price. Thanks to Luther we all know that we are justified by faith through grace. We are made righteous in the eyes of God through Christ and there is nothing that we can say or do about it. Continue reading
Here’s an Ash Wednesday homily for the 21st century!
We’ve all been there. Driving down the road – distracted by thoughts of this and that, when all of a sudden it happens, a car comes at you out of no where and you slam on the breaks or you quickly swerve to avoid a disaster. You could have been killed. You could have killed someone. Your life or someone else’s life could have been radically changed in an instant. As you pull back into traffic you are ever so conscious of the weight of you foot on the accelerator and you swear that you’ve got to be more careful. You begin to scold yourself. What were you thinking? Why weren’t you paying attention? Wake-up you could have been killed.
Welcome to Ash Wednesday. What have you been thinking? Why weren’t you paying attention? Wake-up — you are going to die!!! Ash Wednesday is your mid-winter wake-up call. Some of you may not need the wake-up call. Some of you know all too well that death is all around us. Some of you have lost someone dear to you. Some of you have felt that fear in the pit of your belly when the doctor suggests a particular test. Traditional Ash Wednesday worship would require us to focus on the brevity of life and remember that none of us will get out of this life alive. Our ancestors in the faith, entered into a morose season of Lent by via the awesome reminder that they came from dust and soon they shall return to the dust. Continue reading
Readings: Exodus 34:29-34 and Luke 9:28-36 Listen to the sermon here