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

resurrectionThis Sunday worship services will begin with the proclamation that: Christ 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

Moving on from the Tragedy of Good Friday

When tragedy strikes, we have this innate need to know the facts. What happened? It is as if the facts about what happened can save us from the horrendous impact of the tragedy. Tell us the facts. Tell us what happened: where it happened? when it happened? how it happened? Give us the facts and we will be able to figure out why it happened. If we figure out why it happened we can make sense of the tragedy, we can put the colossal impact of the tragedy into context. Once we put the tragedy into context we can get some perspective on it and begin to manage it, so that we can move on from the tragedy.

So, what are the facts? Well, what happened is, they executed Jesus. When? close to 2000 years ago. How? They nailed him to a tree, trusting that the weight of his body would in time cause his body to shut down in the most horrendous way. These are the barest of facts. In the nearly 2000 years that have passed since the tragedy of one man’s execution at the hands of a cruel Empire, we have been given many more facts about this particular tragedy. Indeed, we have been given facts, stories, legends, myths, conjectures, creeds, rituals, testimonies, and sermons about this particular tragedy. Whole libraries exist full of books written over 20 centuries trying to make sense of this tragedy, trying to put the horrendous details into context, giving us all sorts of perspectives and still we cannot make sense of this tragedy, let alone move on from it. So, we gather together, and we ask ourselves, Why? Continue reading

LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! – with links to previous Easter Sermons

Easter sermons – click on the links

Is God Coming Back to Life here

Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh – here 

Easter: The Greatest Story Ever Told – here

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

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

Approaching Resurrection: What Did Paul Actually Say – here

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

Words Will Always Fail Us – here

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is risen indeed – SO WHAT! Today, we gather to proclaim that the LOVE that we call God is more powerful than death. On Good Friday, we gathered here in this sanctuary surround by images of death. I had posted all sorts of photographic images of the kind of human failures that proclaim the power of death; images collected from the news of the day. On these walls, hung examples of human failure – graphic representations of the reality that the embodiment of LOVE, which is what we call Christ, continues to be crucified. The crucifixion did not happen once and for all when Jesus, the embodiment of the LOVE that we call God, was executed by the powers that be.

Today, over and over again, the embodiment of LOVE dies at the hands of the powers that be. The embodiment of LOVE, which is what we can the Christ, continues to be crucified each time LOVE is impoverish, starved, bombed, executed, imperiled, tortured, neglected, murdered, or forsaken, by the powers of death; powers that put selfishness, greed, indifference, and lust for power above LOVE. And so, on this Good Friday you would have seen examples of modern crucifixions in which the Earth was being ravaged and abused by our greed and indifference, animals driven out and killed by pollution and climate change, children starving in parts of the world we would prefer not to think about, First Nations people suffering without adequate housing or drinking water, homeless people neglected on our streets, war-torn ravaged villages, and a collection of modern martyrs who like Jesus, have been crucified as a result of their passion for justice. These disturbing images formed our Stations of the Cross as we lamented so many crucifixions. 

 After our Maundy Thursday service when we’d finished remembering Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another, I hung the evidence of the death of embodied LOVE upon these walls. One of the images, reduced me to tears. I suspect that the image that undid me, lies in each of your minds because this image was beamed all over the world. Continue reading

I cannot and will not worship a God who demands a blood sacrifice for sin. But the residue of atonement theories still causes me to tremble – a Good Friday reflection

“Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Absolutely, I was there when they crucified my Lord. For so very many years, my affirmative answer to this quintessential Good Friday hymn was based on what the church had taught me about the death of Jesus. I, like many of you, was taught that Jesus died upon the cross to save humanity from sin. I was also taught that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. I was taught that I was born in sin, that sinfulness is part of what it means to be human and that God so loved the world that “He” and I do mean “He” sent his only son to die, because someone had to pay the price for sin. This quid pro quo portrayal of God the Father, led me to the undeniable conclusion that I was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. My guilt, my shame, my sinfulness, compelled me to declare, “Yes! I was there when they crucified my Lord! I was there when they nailed him to the tree! I was there when they pierced him in his side! I was there when the sun refused to shine! I was there when they laid him in the tomb?” The sheer horror of my culpability in the Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin, caused me to “tremble, tremble, tremble. I was there when they crucified my Lord.”

The doctrine of atonement permeated my being and even though, I have long since stopped believing that Jesus died to save me from sin, the residue of atonement theories continues to cause me to tremble. Even though I have learned to look beyond the stories found in the scriptures in which various followers of the Way portray the crucifixion in ways that spoke to their particular communities, I still tremble. Continue reading

Good Friday Sermons

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

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

2016 I’m still working on getting my body out of the tomb in which it was laid all those years ago – reflecting on everyday crucifixions click here

2015 Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation click here

2014 God Is Dead? click here

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

2012 Good Friday Rituals or Crimes Against Divinity? click here

Preparing to Preach on Good Friday click here

Maundy Thursday Sermons

MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMONS

Two Suppers – Maundy Thursday – A Strange Night

Scuffed Up Reddish Pumps

MAUNDY THURSDAY – When you don’t believe that Jesus was a sacrifice for sin!

We must peer beyond Passover lambs and scapegoats if we are to understand the LOVE that we call God

We must peer beyond Passover lambs and scapegoats if we are to understand the LOVE that we call God – a Maundy Thursday sermon

Every Sunday I stand at the altar and preside over a mystery. A mystery that has its roots in the events we remember this Holy Thursday.  On Maundy Thursday, we gather together to contemplate mystery. But just because we know what will happen tomorrow, we cannot fully comprehend this mystery.

The various gospel writers have created a record of Jesus’ last evening that is filled with bittersweet images. Our mystery begins with the foreshadowing of what is to come as we hear the name Judas Iscariot. Judas, son of Simon, is perhaps the most trusted of Jesus’ disciples, after all Judas is the one who is trusted with the financial resources of this struggling little group. Even though we know Judas’ role in this unfolding mystery, we must remember that Judas is among those who Jesus loved to the end. But long before the silver changes hands, we already know enough to dread the betrayal.

Our mystery continues with the tender intimacy of a teacher washing the dirty feet of his beloved bumbling students, as Jesus breaks the bonds of decorum to demonstrate the fierce tenderness of loving service. The image of Jesus washing the feet of his followers still seems undignified all these centuries later. So, is it any wonder that the intimacy of Jesus’ tenderness is more than Simon Peter can bear? In order to get beyond their inhibitions, Jesus must spell it out for them.  “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Sovereign —and you are right, for that is what I AM. So, if I, your Sovereign and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you and example.” Jesus has washed their feet; all their feet, even Judas and the talk of betrayal continues as Jesus returns to the meal.

The writer of the Gospel of John does not record the details of the breaking of the bread or the passing of the cup. These details are recorded by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and by the writers of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke: “on the night he was betrayed, our Savior Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying, “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper, he took the cup and said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do it in remembrance of me.  For every time, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim Jesus’ death until Christ comes.” Week after week, year after year, generation after generation, century after century Christian priests have presided over ritual communions using what have become known as the words of institution. In remembrance of Jesus we eat and drink. The body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And therein lies the mystery. The mystery of communion. Sometimes the meal has transforming power, nourishing power, restorative, profound power. At other times the meal is just one more religious ritual carried out by rote, experienced without feeling, or impact. Sometimes the meal seems foreign to us, almost alien, perhaps even barbaric. Continue reading

Marching to Our Jerusalems – Palm Sunday and Our Passions

Sermon inspired by the March for Our Lives!

The notes used for this sermon can be found here

PROCESSION OF PALMS

Palm Sunday Sermons

Trading Our Palm Branches for Tomahawk Missiles or White Helmets?

Hosanna! Hosana! Hosana! Yada, Yada, we’ve heard it all before…

Jesus: Human or Divine?

Marching in the Wrong Parades

On Palm Sunday, An Inconvenient Messiah Parades Into our Midst

Jesus Sets Us Free to Save Ourselves

Jesus is still up there on that ass making a mockery of our hopes for a Messiah! 

Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.

 

Teach Us to Pray! To Whom Shall We Go? Pray Without Ceasing! – Giving Up God for Lent 5 – Luke 11, John 6, 1 Thessalonians 5

This sermon is set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the congregation who respond with song and observations.  Some technical difficulties – so the video does not begin until Part III – a rough transcript is provided of the missing video sections. I am indebted to the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, especially his new book “Unbelievable” 

Part 1                                We worship as we live

                         in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,

                                       a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.

                                         May the Spirit of LOVE

                                    breathe wisdom and passion

                                             into this gathering.

On this the fifth Sunday in Lent, let us continue to repent:  repent from the Greek metanoia – think new thoughts. Let us think new thoughts about prayer. Let our repentance begin with a story from the anonymous gospel-story-teller we know as Luke:

“One day Jesus was praying, and when he had finished, one of the disciples asked, “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba God, hallowed be your Name! May your reign come. Give us today tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the test.’”

Not much of a prayer. No flowery words. Not much passion. Very plain. Very simple. There’s a part of me that wants to say to Jesus, “Is that all there is?”  “Is that the best you can come up with?” What kind of teacher are you? What kind of prayer is this? Come on Jesus put a little ump in your work! Show us some razzle-dazzle!

Of all the questions I am asked as a pastor, questions about prayer are the most common. People what to know how it is done. As unsatisfactory as I have always found Jesus’ teaching about prayer, I’m pretty sure that the answers I have offered have been even more unsatisfactory.  I remember once, a wise teacher asked a room full of eager prospective pastors to try to imagine this story about Jesus in a new way. Imagine Jesus, John the Baptist’s younger and cousin, always competing with his older cousin for followers. John was pretty good as fire and brimstone preachers go. People would flock out to the desert to hear John call people to “Repent!” to think new thoughts! Imagine how miffed you would be if some potential parishioners showed up on a Sunday morning touting the preaching of your colleague down the street. Pastor so and so, she sure can preach up a storm and her prayers, wow, if only you could teach us to pray like she prays. Come on, Pastor, teach us to pray.

Our wise professor asked us to consider the possibility that Jesus reluctantly taught his disciples how to pray. Like any good teacher, Jesus would have known that if you teach your students something you run the risk of them believing that they always have to do that something just the way you taught them. There is always the risk that people will mistake an example for a template. Our wise teacher cautioned us not to read just the words that were on the page but to imagine the story behind and between the words on the page. “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  “All right!” Jesus said, “All right if you insist.” Try this, Abba God, hallowed be your name! May your reign come. Give us today Tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the Test.”
It was just an example. Sadly, the example became a template. Then one follower, told another follower, who told another, who wrote it down. Trouble was it wasn’t much, so the church types, they added some fancy words to the end, “for thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.” and suddenly, it is a template for all time.  Repent!  Metanoia – think new thoughts! Teach us to pray!

Part II

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts.” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  Let our repentance, our new thoughts flow from a story told decades after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; a story written down sometime around the turn of the first century by an anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John. This John is quite the storyteller and paints quite the picture of Jesus as the kind of teacher who can draw a crowd and annoy the authorities. This John, wrote it this way:

“Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Many of his disciples remarked, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk! How can anyone take it seriously?”  Jesus was fully aware that the disciples were murmuring in protest at what he had said.  “Is this a stumbling block for you?” Jesus asked them. “What, the, if you were to see the Chosen One ascend to where the Chosen One came from? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh in itself is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet among you there are some who don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the start, of course, those who would refuse to believe and the one who would betray him. Jesus went on to say:  “this is why I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by Abba God.”

From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and wouldn’t remain in the company of Jesus. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Are you going to leave me, too?” Simon Peter answered, “Rabbi, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go?” During this season of Lent we have been engaged in the practice of “Giving up God for Lent.” We have tried to give up all the images of God that we once treasured so much that we can to worship those images as idols.  We have embraced the truth about the ways in which our evolving knowledge of the cosmos together with our evolving understanding of what it means to be human…all this evolving knowledge and understanding have shown the idols that we had become so comfortable worshipping as but pale imitations of the ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very core of reality.

We have tried to unpack some of the ways in which the god we created is too small, too limited, and far too capricious to ever fully encompass the MYSTERY that we call God.  We have tried attempted to peer beyond our personifications of the Divine so that we can begin to give up our desire to mold and shape the MYSTERY into our own image. To those of us who have peered beyond the beyond, for hints of the MYSTERY there comes more than a little grief.  Like the disciples in the gospel-story-teller’s story, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk!” Bereft of the personified, far away, sky-god we’d come to know, to love, and to worship, is it any wonder that we now cry out, “To whom shall we go?”

The reality that once you give up the notion that God is some far-away sky-god, willing to respond to our prayers, to do our bidding, or not to do our bidding as this sky-god wills, then, “to whom shall we go?” You can talk and teach all you want about progressive Christianity, but, “to who shall we go?” “Now, how are we supposed to pray?” “Now, to whom shall we pray?” “What is prayer anyway?”  “To whom shall we go?” “Now, teach us to pray!”  Repent. Metanoia. Think new thoughts!  

Part III

Repent:Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. Giving Up God for Lent, we began our Lenten repentance way back on the First Sunday of Lent, by turning our attention to the first religious response. The response of awe and wonder at the nature of reality. That awe humbles us, opens us to the truth that we are part of something so much bigger than we can even begin to imagine. So, to bring us back to the first religious response, I offer you all of these lovelies. I can’t tell you the names of all these lovelies, so let me just begin by drawing your attention to the astonishing array of yellow. There is an old Hebrew expression:  deanu which translates as “enough”. It would have been enough just to have a daffodil. Daffodils in and of themselves are quite simply, awesome!

            Sacred Conversation on the beauty of Nature

Now, we could offer up…and I do mean up…we could resort to the old ways…and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for the awesome beauty before us…or we could take a deep breath and repent…metanoia…think new thoughts and realize that this conversation in and of itself is prayer. It is in this conversation that the meaning of God was shared between us; it was in this conversation that the boundaries we humans erect to keep ourselves safe from the threat of another were transgressed and we shared our common humanity. It is in the sacred conversations where we are able to cross the boundaries and be vulnerable to one another that prayer emerges in our midst.

I chose these lovelies as an example, because nature provides us with a non-threatening example of our common humanity; for who among us is not awestruck by such loveliness. But I could have chosen any aspect of our common humanity – a pain we all share, a fear that haunts us, a joy that inspires us, a passion that delights us, or a longing that drives us. It is in the sacred conversation in which we share our experiences of our common humanity that prayer emerges; the conversation is holy, for in our common humanity our shared divinity is revealed.

Our friend Jack Spong insists that, “To be able to live the meaning of prayer, rather than just to “pray”’ ought to be our goal. Jack writes that, “Prayer is the sharing of being, the sharing of life and the sharing of love.” For, prayer is, “far more about “being” than it is about “doing.”   Repent….metanoia…think new thoughts.

Part IV

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. In the decades that followed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, somewhere around the year 52, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the community of people known as followers of the Way that gathered in Thessaloniki.  Our gospel today is found in the first letter of Thessalonians, St. Paul writes:   “ We ask you, sisters and brothers, to respect hose who labour among you, who have charge over you in Christ as your teachers. Esteem them highly, with a special love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, and be patient with everyone. Make sure that no one repays one evil with another.  Always, seek what is good for each other—and for all people. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for everything—for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Spirit; do not despise the prophetic gift.

But test everything and accept only what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil. May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May you be preserved whole and complete—spirit, soul, and body—irreproachable at the coming of our Saviour Jesus the Christ. The One who calls us is trustworthy: God will make sure it comes to pass. Sisters and brothers, pray for us.

Greet all the sisters and brothers with a holy kiss. My orders, in the name of Christ, are that this letter is to be read to all the sisters and brothers. The grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ be with you.”  The Gospel of Christ…

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul. Now, let us hear the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong.  Our friend Jack writes: “Before prayer can be made real, our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. Before prayer can have meaning, it must be built on an honest sharing of life. Before prayer can be discussed in the age in which we live, it must be drained of its presumed manipulative magic. It must find expression in the reality of who we are, not in the details of what we do…  Prayer is not and cannot be a petition from the weak to the all-powerful One to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Prayer does not bend God’s will to a new conclusion. Prayer does not bring a cure where there is no possibility of a cure. Prayer does not create miracles to which we can testify publicly.”

I hear you Jack, but I cannot help but respond, “To whom shall we go?” I miss the far-away-sky-god! I want my comforter. Like every other human who has come before me, I long to reach out and connect in some way with the MYSTERY, that something that is so much bigger than I can begin to imagine, that something bigger that we are part of. How do I experience that? How do I share in the MYSTERY?

Our friend Jack writes: “Is prayer, as we have traditionally defined it, a holy activity, or is prayer the preparation for a time of engaging in a holy activity? “Increasingly,” writes Jack, “I am moving to the latter conclusion.”  Prayer is the preparation for a time of engaging in holy activity. “It is life that is holy. It is love that is life-giving. Having the courage to be all that I can be is the place where God and life come together for me. If that is so, are not living, loving, and being the essence of prayer and the meaning of worship? When Paul enjoined us to “pray without ceasing”, did he mean to engage in the activity of praying unceasingly?  Or did he mean that we are to see all of life as a prayer, calling the world to enter that place where life, love and being reveal the meaning of God? Is Christianity not coming to the place where my “I” meets another’s “Thou,” and in that moment God is present?”

Jack’s questions, our questions, move us beyond our child-like notions of prayer to a deeper, more mature awareness of the reality that the MYSTERY is revealed in the prayers that emerge when we move beyond the boundaries of decorum, to traverse the landscape of our common humanity. When we share the wonders of life and love with another, we are engaged in prayer so sacred that the MYSTERY is revealed. For it is in our shared humanity that our own Divinity is revealed and the LOVE that is God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us. I no longer pray expecting miracles to occur, or lives to be changed, or for reality to bend to my will.  I do pray expecting that I will be changed, made a little more whole perhaps, set free to share my life more deeply with others, empowered to love beyond the boundaries erected by my fears. I pray trusting that in the sharing of our humanity our divinity is revealed as the MYSTERY that we call God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us.

As our friend Jack puts it, “Prayer to me is the practice of the presence of God, the act of embracing transcendence and the discipline of sharing with another the gifts of living, loving, and being.”

Let us pray without ceasing!

Let us see all of life as a prayer!

Let us repent…metanoia…think new thoughts …Let us live trusting that the Mystery is revealed in living, loving, and being. Let all the people say: AMEN!

 

St. Patrick’s Day Blessings: The Inner Landscape: John O’Donohue

Blessing for Love pastordawnOn this St. Patrick’s Day it is fitting to receive a blessing from a grand Irishman whose writing reaches into my soul. Followers of this blog know that John O’Donohue is one of my favourite sages. I am indebted to a follower of the blog for sending me this podcast of Krista Tripett’s interview of John O’Donohue recorded shortly before his death in 2008. O’Donohue’s words continue to open my soul.

Treat yourself to a listen:

What Can We Learn from Jesus? sermon 4 – Giving Up God for Lent – John 3:16

Part I                                             We worship as we live

in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,

a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.

May the Spirit of LOVE

breathe wisdom and passion

into this gathering.

The appointed Gospel reading for this the fourth Sunday in Lent includes the passage from John 3:16. This verse has been dubbed by many evangelicals as “the gospel in a nut-shell.”  So popular is this verse that in certain parts of rural North America you will still find billboards that read simply John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Traditional interpretations of this verse have painted a particular picture of who Jesus was and why Jesus died.

Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance. So, let us repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia “to think new thoughts”. Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts about who Jesus was and why Jesus died. Repent Metanoia – let us think new thoughts so that we might ask:  What can Jesus teach us?

The way that the Jesus story has been told has crafted, molded and shaped the idol that masquerades as the MYSTERY we call God. The stories about Jesus have been told in ways that paint a particular picture of what it means to be human.  According to these traditional interpretations humans were originally created in a state of perfection to live in a perfect creation. These perfect humans enjoyed a perfect relationship with their Creator. Then one day that perfect relationship was severed when for one reason or another the humans disobeyed the rules established by the creator.

You all know this story. This story provides the raw material for the idol that we have created to serve as our god. According to the story humans are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Humans were cast out of the perfection of the garden and alienated for their creator. Humans have tried in vain to get themselves back into the garden, to restore our oneness with our creator. But try as we might we are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We need a saviour to rescue us from our sinfulness. And our Creator needs us to pay for our sinfulness. We must be punished.

Traditional interpretations of the life of Jesus insist that Jesus sacrificed himself, took all our respective punishment onto his shoulders, died for us, upon a cross, so that our relationship to our creator could be restored. We’ve heard these interpretations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection so many times that they have almost become indistinguishable from the idol that we have created to stand in for the Mystery that we call God. The trouble is, we all live in the 21st century and we know that the definition of what it means to be human that these stories rely upon no longer rings true. We know that humans have been evolving over millennia. We know that humans were not created as perfectly formed creatures who fell into sin. We know that humans are continuing to evolve. Humans are incomplete beings.

We are not fallen creatures. This knowledge has to change the way in which we see our relationship with the MYSTERY that lies at the very source of our being; our Creator if you will. This knowledge has an impact on how we interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we look at the stories that have been told about Jesus, the stories that have contributed so much to the creation of the idol that masquerades as the Mystery we call God, we discover a narrative that seems preoccupied with Jesus’ death. It occurred to me the other day, that it is quite peculiar that most of what has been written about Jesus in the New Testament and indeed our liturgies, even the hymns we sing about Jesus they tend to shift our focus to Jesus’ death.

Imagine if you will, trying to understand the life of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi simply by focusing upon their death. Imagine trying to understand who Dr. King was and focusing your attention upon his assassination.  Imagine knowing everything there is to know about that final day in Memphis, about the motel, about the people who were on that balcony when Dr. King was shot, about the shooter, the gun that was used, about the funeral procession, the grieving, and about the people who tried to go on walking in the ways of Dr. King. Imagine all the information you would miss if you simply focused upon Dr. King’s death.

You wouldn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, about Dr. King’s dream, his vision of equality, his struggle for inclusion, his cries for justice for the poor, his vision economic equality, or his passion for peace, and his commitment to non-violent resistance.

So, this morning I’d like us to take our focus off Jesus’ death and all we may have heard, or learned about why Jesus died so that we can see what it was about Jesus life that endeared him to his followers. What can Jesus teach us? What can we learn from Jesus life about who, or what the MYSTERY we call God is?  What can Jesus teach us about God?

Part II

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

Take a few moments to walk across the sanctuary and have a word with someone about who Jesus was?  What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?

 Part III

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

Share as a whole group some responses: What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?

Part IV

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts”. Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  The Gospel this morning comes to us from the anonymous Gospel storyteller that we know as John. This gospel was written some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The storyteller writes: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Today, when each of us is coping with the loss of an hour’s sleep, perhaps it is easier for us to understand that the way in which we describe reality does indeed change over time. Yesterday, when the sun was in the same position in the sky as it is now, we insisted that it was an hour later. Today, thanks to daylight savings time, the earth hasn’t quickened its course around the sun. The sun is in the same place at the same time as it was yesterday, but today all our clocks insist that it is actually 11:00 and not 10:00.

When we focus upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth rather than the death of Jesus, we can begin to hear some of the things that Jesus was passionate about. Jesus’ passions reveal to us the image of the Mystery that we call God that Jesus worshipped. When we set aside the institutional narrative of atonement that the church has relied upon to interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the idol that masquerades as god, the idol whose contours are reinforced in our worship services, by our hymns, prayers, creeds, choice of scriptures, and rituals, this idol begins to crumble. When we forgo our obsession with Jesus death and open ourselves to the passions of Jesus life, we begin to see new ways to understand the new images of the HOLY ONE that Jesus encouraged his followers to see. Jesus’ life reveals images of God that point far beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to the Ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all reality. The apostle Paul who was the first to write about Jesus, portrays Jesus as a doorway into the ultimate. For Paul, Jesus was not God but a human in which God was revealed.  For us, Jesus can be the medium through which the Mystery we call God can be imagined. Continue reading

Beyond the Serpent. Beyond the Idol Jesus. Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that Also: a sermon Lent 4B – John 3:14-21

bronze serpentA sermon that attempts to peer beyond the mess we have made of John 3:16. Listen to the sermon here

I don’t like snakes. No. Let me make it perfectly clear, I hate snakes. I hate snakes because I am afraid of snakes. Snakes terrify me. I know that my fear of snakes is unreasonable. But when it comes to snakes, I could be described as a biblical literalist, because thanks my mythical fore-mother Eve, there shall be enmity between this particular woman and the serpents who are confined to slithering about the dark corners of my imagination. So, perhaps it is my fear of snakes that has prevented me from seeing beyond the literal words on the page when it comes to this morning’s gospel text. That a snake could lead me to a new understanding of the words put into the mouth of Jesus, by the anonymous gospel story-teller that we call John, comes as a complete surprise to me.

You might be able to tell that I am struggling to fight off a cold; the full effects of which hit me during the course of our congregational retreat on Friday night. So, when I arrived home late yesterday afternoon, I took a decongestant and went straight to be.  Decongestants have a strange effect on me. Sometimes they zone me out and sometimes they send me to this strange place where my brain races around at a million miles an hour. Yesterday, I was hoping for the latter, because all week long I have been struggling to figure out what to do with this gospel text and try as I might, I’d been stymied by a wall of doctrine that I simply couldn’t see my way past and despite all my hard work I had no idea what to do with this text.

I was kind of hoping for a bit of a medication buzz to get me past the wall of doctrine so that we could move beyond the line of text that strikes fear into the heart of this particular progressive Christian preacher. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   John 3:16, or as it’s popularly known: THE GOSPEL in a nutshell.

These days, ardent fundamentalists don’t even bother writing out the words of the text, they just wave about their signs emblazoned with the mere mention of John 3:16 as a kind of declaration of what it takes to judge the content of one’s character. Either you believe John 3:16 or you don’t; one way or another you will be judged. Bow down before the Gospel accept that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Bow down and worship, believe or else.

Believe what you say? Believe that God sent his only son to die, to die for you, to die for your sin, to die a horrible death on a cross, so that God your heavenly Father, could be satisfied, and muster up the grace it takes to forgive you, you wicked sinner that you are. Bow down and believe or face the wrath of the Father. Bow down and believe John 3:16 lest ye be judged. Bow down and believe John 3:16 or face the fire torment that awaits you in Hell; damnation! Bow down and believe.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only song so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Untangle that one, you progressive Christians, wangle your way out of that particular piece of Good News.

In my drug induced haze, I considered the possibility that the wall of doctrine is just too high to climb and far to wide to go around. Maybe I should just give up, surrender and stretch out in the shade provided by sheer size of a wall that seems impregnable. Lying there in my bed convinced that the walls of my room were actually closing in on me; I began to wonder if I’d made a crucial mistake. Could I be that stupid? Oh, my dear God. I’m an idiot. I found the strength to get out of bed and there on the bathroom counter was the proof of my stupidity. I hadn’t actually taken the daytime cold medication. No buzz for me because I’d taken the nighttime dose. Just burry me beneath the wall of doctrine, cause I am done for. Help me Jesus, Help, Help, me Jesus! Help me Jesus, yeah get me out this mess! Where oh where is the great sky-god when you need him?

There was nothing left but to sleep. Sleep, sleep perchance to dream. Lord let there be a way through that wall of doctrine. Wall made of bricks, bricks forged in fiery furnaces of hell, fire and damnation. Bricks and mortar, plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. Continue reading

GOD IS DEAD! LONG LIVE GOD! – reflections upon the Death of God – Lent 3

These reflections are part of our Lenten journey in which we are Giving Up God for Lent. They are set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the songs. The work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, most particularly his latest book:  Unbelievable, permeates my thought process. I hear Jack pushing me farther and farther.  What followers are the reflections and copies of the songs:

We worship as we live

in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,

a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.

May the Spirit of LOVE

breathe wisdom and passion

into this gathering.

Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance.

So, let us repent.

Repent from the Greek word metanoia

“to think new thoughts”

Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

A reading from 1st Corinthians chapter 13:  “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old.  It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.

“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered.
“Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?”
“So, he would die?”
“What?
“You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?”
At this point my mother had had enough!  So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”

“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”

“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”

By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there.  I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?

I remember watching the guy up at the front. I didn’t even want to ask why he was wearing a dress.  And he kept doing this X (crossing himself).  And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X  and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.

Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this  X.  “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” 

Now for those of you who don’t recognize it, I stole that routine from the great Irish comedian Dave Allen. I hoped it would make you laugh. But I also hoped that it would help you to think how ridiculous Christianity can be. Most of us have been hanging around Christianity for so long that we can’t or won’t see the humour in it. 

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

  • Opening Song God Within Our Deepest Thought – Shirley Erena Murray 
Words © 2004 Hope Publishing Company; LiscenSing 1975

REPENT                      God Loses His Home

Repent:          Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

            The Bible was written by men who believed that they lived in a three-tiered universe. The Earth was flat. The flat Earth was surrounded by the waters. The flat earth was supported over the waters on pillars. Above the sky were the Heavens. One of the authors of the Book of Genesis described creation like this : “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven.”

            The Earth, the Heavens, and the seas.Now even though the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the Earth was round in the 6th century before the common era. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the flatness of the Earth was seriously challenged by the likes of Columbus.

            I don’t know about you but for most of my life I have been taught that the place to learn about God is the Bible. Certainly, in the church the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority of the nature of God. For the most part, the Bible points to the Heavens above the firmament as the home of God.

            In his new book, Unbelievable, our friend, Jack Spong writes: “The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history.” Jack has a way of reminding us of the obvious. None of us believe that we live in a three-tiered universe. Unlike our ancestors who succeeded the writers of the bible and went on to develop the theology of the church, we don’t believe that the round earth is the center of the universe.  The writers of our creeds firmly established that God lived in heaven. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven…”

            Most of us have travelled far above the Earth, we have sailed through the clouds and we know that there is no heaven up there. As far back as the sixteenth century, a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus calculated that the Earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei a personal friend of the Pope, published a paper demonstrating that the sun could not possible revolve around the earth. This despite the fact that the biblical author of the book of Joshua wrote that God stopped the rotation of the sun around the earth in order to provide Joshua with an extended period of daylight in which to kill his enemies. It took the Church until 1991 to concede that Galileo and not the writer of Joshua was right and that the Earth did indeed revolve around the Sun. Continue reading