I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for his insights into the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Without Jack’s thoughtful portrayal of Gomer, I would not have recognized her as the Leanne Battersby of her time. Also, thanks to Marcus Borg for his definition of the verb “believe”!
Listen to the sermon:
I must confess that I am one of the millions and millions of people across the globe who enjoys a guilty pleasure about five days a week. It’s a habit that began back when I was but a wee child. From time to time, circumstances have forced me to give up this guilty pleasure, but over the years, as technology has improved I’ve been able to indulge myself on a more regular basis than I would have thought possible back when I was just a little girl and only able to enjoy this pleasure during the summer holidays. Now a days, I can delay my indulgence to a convenient time. So about 5 times a week, I find myself relaxing in my favourite chair with a mug of tea, ready to enjoy a episode of my favourite soap opera.
To commemorate this festival day, I repost this not-so-long-ago encounter with a visiting New Testament scholar to entice you to follow Mary out of her tomb and beyond the streets to her place at the head of the fledgling community that became the church:
He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!” He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says, “she is a “prostitute!”
My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where? Where? Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”
As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”,
I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”
He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”
“A sinner not a prostitute.” I respond.
He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”
“Where?” I ask.
Again he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”
I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”
He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”
I lose control, “How do you know? What words does the author use to say that his woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”
He still doesn’t get it, “What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”
Once again I push, “Show me. Show me where?”
He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”
I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”
He replies, “amartolos”.
I push, “Does that mean prostitute?” We both know that it does not.
He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”
Still pushing I ask him to “Show me. Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual. Show me where it says so in the narrative.”
He says, “It’s clear.”
Clearly we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you. Show me. Show me!”
As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay. Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute. Show me!”
He couldn’t show me. It’s simply not there.
Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute. But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute.
In the years that have transpired since than day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I’ve delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of Mary’s resurrection as the first Apostle. Continue reading →
Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel reading Luke 11:1-13 leaves me wondering what an enlightened 21st humanoid is supposed to do with Jesus 1st century ideas???
Cast you minds back to another time and place and tell what the numbers 33, 45, and 78 have in common??? Vinyl Records anyone? When I was a kid music came from a portable RCA record player. The sound quality wasn’t all that great, but somehow we didn’t seem to care. Later when I was a teenager, my parents got a fancy state of the art Phillips stereo cabinet and suddenly sound seemed to be coming from booth ends of the room. I never did understand how those old record players managed to pick up sound from the grooves in the vinyl to produce music. I still remember my father’s first reel-to-reel tape recorder, and then there were the eight-tracks, followed by cassettes, followed by CD’s. I can remember these things, but I have no idea how they made music. It doesn’t matter how many times people try to explain it to me, I still think it’s a miracle that such beautiful sounds can come out of machines.
These days I don’t use records, tapes or CDs to listen to music. My music is stored in “the cloud” and when I want to hear I song I make sweeping motions on my iphone screen and presto, I can make music fill the room. I don’t know what the cloud is. I asked the personal assistant on my iPhone, her name is Siri and she told me she was sorry but she couldn’t tell me because Steve told her not to tell anyone. Some people think the cloud is located in a 225-acre facility that Apple built in North Carolina. Continue reading →
Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of God to those of a cosmic superhero who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what God is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the One who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.
Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about God. Continue reading →
Here’s a sermon I preached a few years ago on this Sunday’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Just as the people of Israel’s images of God changed over time, my own images of the Divine have changed since I preached this sermon. However, I still resonate with ways in which the Book of Hosea seeks to broaden the reader’s understanding of God away from traditional notions of anger and wrath toward images of steadfast love, for I too have had to broaden my own understanding of the Divine many times over the years. I suspect that I am only just beginning to imagine the contours of the steadfast Love that God Is.
Tommy was one of those kids that, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. I was never quite sure whether or not Tommy was rotten or whether trouble just followed him wherever he went. Whatever the reason, Tommy managed to live up to the reputation of the typical middle child. His older brother seemed to be perfect in every way, the model child and his younger sister was the cute and adorable baby of the family, leaving the field wide open for Tommy to become the black sheep of the family. And as black sheep go, Tommy was a doosey. Tommy was also the son of my friends and so even though, I would have rather not have been part of this kid’s life, the fact that he was the Karen’s beloved son, meant that I had to learn to deal with him.
I can still remember an afternoon, long ago, when Tommy was barely three years old. A bunch of us had gathered to celebrate Karen’s birthday. Tommy was in a foul mood. I decided that he just didn’t like the fact that on this particular day he wasn’t the center of attention. He seemed to do whatever he could to upset his mother.
Her patience with him was beginning to get on my nerves and I was relieved when Karen announced that it was time for Tommy to take his nap. After a very long and loud temper tantrum, Tommy was eventually quiet in his room; a little too quiet, it seems. It wasn’t until I got into my car to leave and happened to glance up toward Tommy’s bedroom window that I realized just why he had been so quiet. Hanging outside of Tommy’s bedroom window was the evidence of this little boy’s stubborn streak. Somehow, to this day I still don’t know how he managed to do it, but somehow little Tommy had managed to stuff the mattress from his bed out the window.Continue reading →
In this coming Sunday’s gospel reading Luke 11:1-13, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. As a pastor I have been asked to teach people to pray. Each time I have been asked to teach someone to pray I have cringed inside because I do not feel up to the task. For some reason the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” keeps playing in my mind. I keep telling it to, “Shush!” so that I might hear the “bath qol” but the daughter of a sound eludes me. Below is a portion of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject of prayer. If nothing else, it reminds me to shush!
I began this sermon by asking the congregation to sing from memory the old hymn: I Come to the Garden Along. Feel free to sing it to yourself!
I think my earliest memory of prayer is a distant memory I have of skipping along the sidewalk chanting a familiar refrain: “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Most of us can remember a moment from our childhood when a superstition was instilled in us that caused us to perform some ritual in order to placate the unseen power that could determine our fate. Whether it was avoiding cracks, or walking under ladders or black cats, we were trained from an early age to believe that there were powers out there that could determine our future. Continue reading →
The next few Sundays will include readings from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. To say that this is a strange little book is an understatement. However, I’m tempted try my hand at writing a sermon on this ancient soap opera. For those colleagues who are considering doing the same these short videos provide images to get you in the mood. Of course you could just tune into a modern soap opera to get your creative juices flowing.
The eightenth chapter of the book of Genesis provides us with is a great story of a marvelous genesis! Everytime I hear this story it makes me laugh! I laugh and then I wonder, what are we supposed to do with a story like this? Are we supposed to believe it? Is it true? Is it history or is it myth? Is it an exaggeration or is it a fairytale? If were supposed to believe it, tell me how? I can just about believe that a 99 year old man could impregnate a woman, but I’m not likely to believe that a 90 year old woman could give birth to a child; not in the desert, not in a time when healthy young women died in childbirth; I mean its laughable really. And maybe that’s the whole point!
I’d ask all the women in the congregation who’ve successfully completed menopause to put up their hands, but I’m smarter than that. So, let me just ask the women in the congregation who’ve got all that behind them, what would you do if you overheard a bunch of men who claimed to be God suggesting that you were going to give birth. There’s precious little to do but laugh! I’m nowhere near 90 and I can tell you that I’d laugh so hard I’d be on the floor in hysterics! Hysterics please don’t pardon the pun; the pun is definitely intended; for hysterics comes from exactly the same Greek word that we get hysterectomy from; and there’s about as much chance of me believing that a 90-year-old woman could give birth as there is of me believing that a woman who has had a hysterectomy could give birth. So, obviously I’m not about to suggest that we should take this story literally.
When we reduce the stories of Genesis to the level of literal history, we tend to reduce the story to the ridiculous and we make them all the more unbelievable. Notice I said reduce the stories, because I really do think that we do the stories an injustice when we try to literalize or historicize them.Indeed, not only do we do the stories an injustice, but more importantly we do the story-tellers and injustice. For I am convinced that those ancient story-tellers told these stories they way they told them for very important reasons. I’m willing to conceed that there may indeed be a trace of history in this particular story, but that over the generations the storytellers embellished the history more than just a little. There are a great many biblical scholars who suggest that Abraham and Sarah weren’t really that old. They insist that Sarah was simply past the normal childbearing age. We know that the average childbearing age in the ancient near east began just after a young girl began menstruating at about twelve and ended sometime before the young woman died. The mortality rate for women in the ancient near east was high precisely because of the risks of childbirth, so most women didn’t make it out of their 20’s. A 30 or 40 year old woman was a rare creature indeed, so a 90 year old Sarah was positively miraculous. About as miraculous as a 99 year old Abraham. Men did live longer than women in Ancient times but not that much longer…40 was considered old, 50 was remarkable and 60 was amazing, so 99 would have been a miracle indeed.
So, if this is a case of exaggerating the facts, well then the Hebrew storytellers, were a lot like the Irish storytelling I grew up listening to: full of blarney. Every good exaggerator knows that if you are going to exaggerate, you will only get away with it if you exaggerate a little. Think of all the fishing stories you’ve ever heard, if the fish that got away is this big, your less likely to believe the story than if the fish is this big. This big you can get away with. A forty-year-old woman giving birth would have been something, but a 90-year-old woman giving birth well as they say in the south, that dog just ain’t gonna hunt.Continue reading →
You can read the academic paperhereand the sermonhere
I am usually on vacation at this time of the year. So, I have only had a couple of opportunities to preach on this coming Sunday’s gospel text (Luke 10:38-42). The story of Jesus’ sojourn at the home of Mary and Martha is such a familiar text, which over the years has been used and abused by preachers to inflict such harm on their listeners. During my seminary years, this text awakened the feminist in me in ways that I am still unpacking. So, I went back to my seminary years to uncover an academic treatment of this text that I included in my Masters Comprehensive paper in 1998. Reading the paper took me back to a time when I seriously doubted my call to ordained ministry. Back then I was unsure about my ability to tolerate the institutional church or indeed whether or not the institutional church would be able to tolerate me. I am happy to report that there are pockets of the institutional church were feminists can thrive and I have been blessed to be called to serve in one of those pockets.
I preached on this text was in 2004 and I post both the academic paper and the sermon based on the paper as a resources for those of you who will take up the text this week. I have not edited the sermon, despite my inclination to do so. Old sermons provide a snapshot of old preachers. Like most snapshots, I’m not altogether happy with the picture of myself. I’ll post a copy of a more recent sermon on this text in the next blog post…stay tuned!
During my visit to Chautauqua last week, I was introduced to Fr. Gregory Boyle. As the Chaplain for the week, Fr. Boyle introduced us to his work at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. “Homeboy Industries provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community. Each year over 10,000 former gang members from across Los Angeles come through Homeboy Industries’ doors in an effort to make a positive change. They are welcomed into a community of mutual kinship, love, and a wide variety of services ranging from tattoo removal to anger management and parenting classes. Full-time employment is offered for more than 200 men and women at a time through an 18-month program that helps them re-identify who they are in the world, offers job training so they can move on from Homeboy Industries and become contributing members of the community – knowing they count!” Fr. Boyle’s work in and of itself is astonishing. But his ability to share the wisdom his work has taught him through the art of storytelling is miraculous. It was a joy to sit at this master’s feet!!! Here’s a talk he gave back in 2012. I’ve already ordered his book Tattoos on the Heart and look forward to gleaming more from this wise holy man!!!
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories of all time. The trouble with such a familiar story is that we all know it so well that we hear it on autopilot. We know the characters almost as well as we know how we are expected to respond to this story. We can point to the priest and the Levite and explain why they acted the way they did. We can even explain how shocking it would have been to a first century Jewish audience to hear a Samaritan described as “good.” Most of us have heard this parable interpreted so many times that we already know exactly how we are expected to feel when we hear it and what we are expected to learn from it. “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself” and who is your neighbour, why even the lowly Samaritan, the one you would least expect is your neighbour. We know this story backwards and forwards and yet like any good story, there is always something that we can learn from it or it wouldn’t have been told as often as we have all heard it. But just in case familiarity with the story is getting in our way of hearing the radically outrageous truth to which this story points, let me tell it one more time with a slightly different twist.
Like all parables this didn’t actually happen but then again it is always happening. Last week on my way back from Chautauqua, let’s say somewhere near Buffalo, I was attacked by a band of thieves. They stole my car and left me lying by the side of the road. A bishop happened to be passing on her way to Toronto, she saw me lying there bruised and battered, but she had people waiting for her, meetings to attend, and she could not be late, after all she is a bishop and people are counting on her. So, she put her foot down on the accelerator and hurried past me. Later, a bunch of pastors who were car-pooling home from a spirituality retreat came tooling down the highway. They saw me lying by the side of the road and they considered stopping to lend a hand but they had congregations to return to, members to visit, and sermons to consider. So after much consideration the pastors decided to hurry past lest they be waylaid by my problems. Suddenly, travelling from the opposite direction came a sleek, decked out bus with the words “TRUMP Make America Great Again!” in bold letters along the side. Lo and behold it was the orange fellow himself, Donald J. Trump heading up to Buffalo to appear before a “huuuge crowd” of adoring fans. Without hesitating for a moment, the Donald appears with a first-aid kit and begins to dress my wounds. I recognized him right away, and wanted to crawl away and die, but the Donald just loads me into the back of his bus and off we go to the nearest casino, which he just happens to own. At the casino the Donald puts me up in a room fit for a queen and instructs the staff to take very good care of me. It sure wasn’t easy being helped like that, by such a loathsome, despicable man. You know that I’d have to be in a very vulnerable state to accept help from the likes of Trump and his merry band of nut-bars. Thank goodness that this didn’t actually happen. But I can’t help wondering what I might learn about my own prejudices from such an encounter, or what I might learn about his woundedness, or indeed what we both might learn about our shared humanity. (stop it now!!! I know what you’re thinking…just try to remember the Donald is human)
Over the years, I believe that I have played most of the characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I suspect that most of you have as well. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the lawyer, trying to get Jesus to explain the secrets of life to us. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the priest when we see a broken down car on the side of the road, with its occupants standing around looking desperate for help, but we pass by, not because we are bad people, but because the rules of our society tell us that only fools would consider stopping on the side of the road to help strangers. After all it might be a trap, and surely they have a cell phone so they can call the police who will surely come soon to help them and all of you have surely played the role of the Levite. Oh, you may want to be a good Samaritan, but there are just too many street people, too many requests for money, too many people sleeping out in the cold, and to many vacant faces staring up at us. It’s so difficult to know how or who to help. So, we strike up uneasy compromises with to salve our consciences. We give away whatever coins we happen to have as if a few coins can really help. We go about our business failing to even bother asking how we might help, for fear that from the vacant face, we might hear a voice that demands more of us. Continue reading →
Thanks to the generosity of my congregation, I am provided with time for Continuing Education. So, last week I journeyed down to the Chautauqua Institution to listen to Jack Spong articulate the thesis of his latest “last” book: Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy. Jack’s 85 years have afforded him much wisdom when it comes to exploring the sacred texts of Christianity in ways that can open us to new visions of a Christianity capable of nourishing 21st century minds. I’m happy to report that Jack has yet another “last” book scheduled for publication in 2018 under the working title: “Charting a New Reformation.” As always it was a blessing to be guided by Jack!!! Thanks to the Chautauqua Institution for making Jack’s lectures available to a wider audience.