As the resurrection stories continue, the story Jesus’ encounter on the lakeshore explores forgiveness in ways that open us to our own moments of desperation as we too long to be forgive or to forgive. Richard Holloway, the former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, interprets the story of the resurrection not as an historical tale, but as our own story. Holloway has written of his longing for a humbled and broken church. His own humility and brokenness shines through this video as Holloway embodies his own longing.
Just some disconnected stories, scant stories, light on details and yet powerful in their truth. It has been said that, “The shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.” It has also been said that the greatest story ever told is the story of resurrection. Like all really good stories, the story of resurrection has been told over and over again as storytellers attempt to convey its truth. We have heard Easter’s story of resurrection so many times that you would think the truth of resurrection would be obvious to us all.
Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar stories. Some of us have been shaped by these particular stories. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about these stories. Some of us have rejected these stories and filed them away with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from these stories convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear these stories because they take us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with Easter’s stories until they release all the truth that we can find in, with, and between the lines; truths that call us toward a new way of being, a way of being that we long to embrace.
I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with Easter’ familiar stories determined to get from these ancient tales not just truth, but an inkling of the DIVINE ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories. Every year, after the excitement of Easter Sunday, the stories of a community locked away in fear come to us. Every year some element of these stories, touches me in ways that open old wounds and awaken familiar fears.
I remember long ago, when I was an intern trying to learn what it is to be a pastor. I’d never been to a visitation at a funeral home before. I remember putting on the uniform of a pastor. Back then, I wore the collar and the black-shirt not so much as someone wears a uniform, but rather as someone who puts on a suit of armor – hoping against hope that the uniform would give me an air of competence and perhaps even hide the fear that so often wells up in me.
I don’t really remember much about that particular funeral home visitation. I couldn’t tell you who it was who had died. I remember being relieved to see a familiar face in the long line up to greet the widow. I remember sticking close to that familiar face trusting that she would show me what was expected of me.
As we waited for our turn to greet the widow of the dead man, I wondered what on earth I could possibly say to ease her pain. Back then, I believed that this was the job of a pastor, to ease the pain. I hadn’t yet learned to be in the pain, to be with, to share in the wounding. Standing and waiting I kept asking myself, “What can be said when a lover dies?” The magnitude of such loss is immense. I don’t think I was the only one in that crowd of mourners who felt ill at ease.
Then suddenly it happened. I was confused as to why it was happening. It was like we were a sea parting as we made way for a woman who strode into our midst with such purpose. People stepped aside, got out of her way and then we all watched as this woman, this widow opened up her arms to embrace the newly widowed woman. Their wounds were not the same except perhaps in their depth. No words were spoken between these widows and yet the magnitude of their touch was a kind of miraculous healing.Continue reading →
It happens every year as Doubting Thomas makes his Easter appearance. It’s a kind of resurrection of a glimmer of the faith that I long to recall in my flesh. I harken back to the time when I could embrace those wounds as proof. Oh how that faith comforted me. Resurrecting the memory of Thomas, who for years functioned as a trusted hero in my scant faith, now sends me into the dream of belief as the answer in and of itself; a kind of innocence that once gone is never forgotten. My nostalgia for my faith in belief will pass. But for just a moment or two, I pause to embrace the wounds, waiting for my doubts to open me to the evolving reality of now. Jump!!!
Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see
Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here
Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here
Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here
Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here
This coming Sunday, in churches all over Christendom, worshippers will hear the gospel story of Doubting Thomas. The story of Doubting Thomas is prescribed gospel reading every year for the Sunday after Easter. I’ve never understood why Thomas should hold such a prominent place in our lectionary: I mean, as the stories have been handed down to us, when the chips were down, and Jesus could have used their support, Thomas and the guys deserted Jesus; they left him alone and spread out across the city to hide from the Romans and the religious authorities. According to the anonymous-gospel-story-tellers, it was the two Marys, together with the other women who had financially supported Jesus’ ministry, and who stuck by him to the bitter end. Also according to the anonymous-gospel-story-teller, we know as John, it was Mary, the one they call Magdala who brought back the news that Jesus was not dead, but had risen. Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene was the one chosen to be the Apostle to the Apostles, (the word apostle comes from the Greek for “the one sent”) our lectionary quickly moves on from the empty tomb to the upper room so that we can all once again explore the story of good old, doubting Thomas.
So here, let me honour Mary the Apostle to the Apostles with this my imaginary account of Mary’s story. Remember the power of our imaginations to breathe life into what appears to all the world to be dead.
Shalom. I greet you in the name of our risen Christ. My name is Mary. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. I am not from around here. I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing. But I was not happy. I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair.
Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation. From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus. He was teaching outside of the synagogue. At first, I just stood back in the crowd and listened as he spoke about a new world which God intended to create. It would be a world where the sick are healed and prisoners are set free. I wanted to taste this freedom which Jesus spoke about. I wanted to ask him so many questions. But the crowd pressed in upon him demanding that he tell them more and I was pushed farther away from him. In despair, I turned to leave. Continue reading →
On the heels of Peter Rollins visit to our congregation, I preached this Earth Sunday sermon which flows out of Peter’s work. You can listen to Peter’s sermon which is the jumping off point for this Earth Day sermon here
The video of the excerpt from Chief Seattle’s Response is below
Today, this planet celebrates Earth Day; a time to pause and celebrate the wonders of this planet and to consider the fate of this planet. The church has no day on its calendar to either celebrate the Earth or to pray for the survival of the Earth. Indeed, there are churches in Christendom that actively pray for the demise of the planet, so as to hasten the arrival of Christ. When I preach about the plight of the Earth, I usually point out some ecological disaster and encourage us all to take better care of the planet. While there are plenty of ecological disasters that I could point to that’s not what I’m interested in today, because let’s face it, if you’ve read this far, I’d only be preaching to the choir. We all know that the planet is in grave danger and that we all have a role to play in saving the planet. Today, I want to talk to you about something that lies at the very heart of our abuse not only of the planet but of one another. You see all week; I’ve been haunted by a line from Pete Rollins sermon last week.
Peter was talking about the gift that Christianity has to offer the world a gift that has the potential to move us beyond religion toward a more connected holistic way of being in the world. The line that has been haunting me all week came near the end of Peter’s sermon. It was almost a throwaway line and with Belfast Peter’s accent and the speed with which he speaks, I almost missed it. Peter said that all too often what we see in religion is our desire to have some sort of holy experience; a burning bush experience like Moses. We want to find this place where the Holy is and there always seems to be things getting in the way of our having this holy experience.
There are people getting in the way and structures getting in the way of this burning bush experience. Pete insisted that in the what he described as the Apostle Paul’s conversion of bedazzlement, in this incomprehensible blinding revelation that seems so incomprehensible, so transformative has the power to transform us so that we can see inside of ourselves and we can begin to see that every bush is burning. We can begin to see that the sacred are everywhere; that the persecuted ones are the place of our transformation and our conversion.Continue reading →
This time last year I was in Belfast. Many of you know that I lived in Belfast when I was a child. When I visit Belfast, I always stay in the part of the city that is known as the Cathedral District. From there you easily get around to most of the attractions that Belfast has to offer. Sure, there are plenty of tourist attractions in the Cathedral District but the real attractions are the pubs in this splendid part of Belfast. Trust me I’ve walked, some would say crawled, to some of the best pubs in Belfast. Which is not surprising because you see, I do come from a long line of pub-crawlers. My Grandad was a legendary pub-crawler. Grandda loved a wee dander about, as long as that dander took him to either a pub to the dogs. Fortunately, for Grandda there was always a pub at or near the dog racing tracks. So, when I wander the streets of Belfast city, I do so haunted by images of my Grandda all done up in his best, walking with such purpose and determination at first and then with a little less of a sense of direction as he crawled the pubs. Grandda has been dead for almost 40 years but in Belfast I can still see him in all his old haunts. So, when I’m in Belfast, every pub I go into, I enter with expectation and I wonder what it must have been like when me Grandda came in here. Sometimes I actually see my me Grandda. I know he is long dead and gone. I know that he can’t possibly be there. But I can’t help myself, the feelings are so overwhelming.
We don’t really have a word in the English language that captures the emotion that I feel when I walk the streets of Belfast. There is a word that I learned a long time ago, it is a Portuguese word: “saudade.” Saudade doesn’t actually translate into English. The best translation of saudade that I have ever come across is, the presence of an absence….the presence through absence. It doesn’t appear to make any sense. How can you experience presence through absence? Something is either present or it is absent. And yet, if you speak to anyone who has ever lost someone they love and they will tell you that that person’s absence is so intense that they can actually feel them, right here, deep inside.
When a mother loses a child, the pain of that absence is so intense that she can feel the child she carried in her belly right here, inside. When a lover loses their beloved, the pain of that loss is so intense that the lost love is felt here, right her deep inside. When someone we love is gone, they are still here. We see them here there and everywhere. We catch glimpses of them on the streets. Sometimes we shake our heads knowing that what we see can’t be real, and yet we know it’s real. A loved one’s absence can be very present. Saudade, through the absence we feel a presence. Saudade.
Now I suspect that some of you are thinking and why wouldn’t you, it is Easter after all, so some of you are thinking, “Aha, I get it…this is this progressive preacher’s way of explaining the resurrection.” Pretty good ha??? Well know, there might have been a time when I would have tried to explain the anonymous gospel-story-tellers’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. I am after all a progressive Christian pastor, and you are all enlightened 21 century people, with a pretty clear understanding of reality. There may be one or two of you who believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But I’m guessing that most of us don’t hang our Christianity on the concept of the physical resuscitation of a corpse.
As for this preacher, I’m with the Apostle Paul when it comes to the resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection were annoying to Paul. So much so that the Apostle Paul used pretty strong language in his letter to the church at Corinth, “Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have? What a stupid question!” Like the Apostle Paul, my faith in the reality of resurrection does not hinge on the physical resuscitation of a corpse. “The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.” So says the earliest explanation we have of Jesus’ resurrection.
Saudade is not my way of trying to explain the stories of Jesus resurrection. Saudade is my way of describing what it feels like to be a progressive Christian during Holy Week. After abandoning the notion that the DIVINE source of all that IS is actually some sort of far-away person in the heavens, who orchestrated the life and the execution of a person purported to be “His only begotten Son, begotten not made,” via an execution so vile that we shouldn’t even begin to contemplate it lest we tremble, tremble, tremble; well once you come out of the closet as a 21stcentury progressive Christian, Holy Week is like a saudade festival!Continue reading →
Let me begin where I believe we must begin on every Good Friday. Jesus did not die upon the cross to save us from sin. Jesus is not some sort of cosmic bargaining chip offered up in our place to a wrathful, judgmental quid pro quo god, who demands a blood-sacrifice in order to forgive us so that he and I do mean he can usher us into heaven. Jesus did not die alone on that first Good Friday and we have not gathered here simply to grieve something that happened nearly 2000 years ago. On this Good Friday, we stand in the shadow of the cross to grieve the death of LOVE; and there is one thing we all know about LOVE and that is that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day. Each and every day people all over the world grieve the death of LOVE. Indeed, the death of LOVE is omnipresent. The death of LOVE causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. So much so, that as LOVE dies all around us, something in us knows that we must insulate ourselves from the reality of death’s omnipresence or the sheer intensity of trembling will surely cause LOVE to die in us. Good Friday is the day that we set aside to lament the death of LOVE; an attempt, if you will, to confine the trembling to a more manageable time and place. On Good Friday, we gather together to tremble, tremble, tremble.
I was barely five years old the first time that I can remember this kind of trembling. These early memories of the trembling are lodged deep in my psyche and I confess to not knowing what actually happened. All I can tell you is how visceral these memories are and how formative they have been when it comes to shaping who and what I have become. It was 1963, I was just five, and my personal memories are but flashes that over the intervening decades have lodged themselves in and amongst the black and white footage that has become our collective remembering of this particular death of LOVE. There’s a surreal image, not exactly an image, more of a feeling prompted by my own mother’s sobbing and the impression of my Dad’s tear-filled eyes as together, with millions and millions of others, we attended the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Reflecting on my first experience of the death of LOVE, I can see now that the hopes and the dreams of my parents’ generation died again, just like LOVE had died for my Mom when the bombs fell all around her childhood home and again and again each night my Dad sought shelter from the bombs. As children of World War II, my parents’ generation witnessed LOVE’s death over and over again. They were all too familiar with the trembling that accompanies LOVE’s death.
As I was growing up, as each of you grew up, LOVE was assassinated, executed, snuffed out, bombed, napalmed, starved, murdered, and left to die over and over again. There were far too many funerals, too many opportunities to lament as LOVE fell victim to death. We all share countless collective memories of LOVE dying over and over again. We can add to that our own personal memories and it is clear that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day.Continue reading →
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. We know what will happen tomorrow as Good Friday plunges us into darkness. So is it any wonder that 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 →
Years ago, long before I ever became a pastor, I had a friend who was nearing the end of her life. During my last few visits with her, Clara would ask me over and over again, “Am I going to be alright?” I would always answer her with words designed to assure her that all would be well. Unlike some people I have known since, Clara never asked me what was going to happen to her when she died. Instead she would ask, “Am I going to be alright?” At the time, I thought that she was worried about the pain she might encounter or the fear that she might feel. So, I would assure her that the care that she was getting was the best there is and that the doctors and nurses would make sure that she could manage whatever pain came her way. I also assured her that her loved ones would be there with her, and furthermore I believed that the very source of her being, would be there to embrace her. My friend wasn’t particularly religious, so the words that I’d learned in church to offer as comfort, were not words she wanted to hear. So, I spoke of God, in vague and general terms. Even though back then, I still imagined God as some sort of supernatural being.
The last time I saw my friend Clara, I knew that the end was near. I was feeling woefully inadequate I wasn’t sure how long I could bear to be in the same room with my friend. I remember hearing a rattling sound as she struggled with each breath. My own breath slowed and became quite shallow as if my body was trying to mimic hers. It is a moment in time that lives in my memory not because of the intensity of my feelings at that time, but rather because of the way in which our parallel breathing took me to a place of knowing where the wizened dying body in the bed was transformed into a beautiful young woman.Continue reading →
This 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 →
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. For this reason, our Easter worship services ought to include reading from 1 Corinthians 15!!!
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 have 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) Donate via CANADA HELPS click here
Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost
Moving On From the Tragedy of Good Friday click here
2017 I cannot and will not worship a god who demands a blood sacrifice. But the residue of atonement theories still causes me to tremble click here
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
Two images have vied for my attention this week. The first image resembles the shadowy figure on your bulletin cover. It’s the image of a person sitting atop a donkey heading toward what must be Jerusalem. It’s not surprising that a preacher should be preoccupied with such an image leading up to Palm Sunday. But the second image came as a surprise to me. I suspect that most of you have seen the photograph of the black-hole that was generated by astronomers. At least, I think it was a photograph of a black-hole. The truth is, I’m not really sure. I’m not sure what a black hole is. I can tell you what has been reported. Apparently, eight telescopes across five continents joined together for a project known as the Event Horizon to collect the data that generated the image of the black hole at the center of the galaxy called Messier 87. The blurry orange doughnut shape that has flashed across our various screens and devices, is reported to be a black hole that is 55 million light-years away from Earth. That means that the photograph we’ve all been staring is of what this black-hole looked like 55 million years ago.
Now, I confess that I’ve read several definitions and descriptions of black holes and I’m still not sure exactly what they are. Black holes are created when a star collapses and nothing not even light can escape from a black hole. According to the experts, “A black hole is a region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing—not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from inside it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole.” I have no idea what “they” mean when “they” say that, “spacetime” is deformed. I’d never heard of “spacetime” until Wednesday. But, as this particular black hole is 55 million light years away from here, I don’t plan to worry about what it means to fuse the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time to form a single four-dimensional continuum of “spacetime.”
I confess that when I juxtapose the image of a blackhole with the shadowy image of Jesus riding a donkey, I’m not entirely sure that the image of Jesus can escape from the blackhole into which his story has been tossed. I can’t help imagining the image of Jesus on his donkey moving perilously close to the event horizon of the black hole. The event horizon is the outer ring of that makes the black hole visible. “They” say that, in theory the event horizon is a region in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In reality, the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has been warped over time into some sort of theological nightmare that casts us all in a sadomasochistic tragedy of cosmic proportions, that is rapidly losing its ability to affect the average 21stcentury observer.
Attempting to see beyond a miss-remembered Jesus is like looking through the opaque lens of a black hole. Is it any wonder that we have created such dark images of the Divine MYSTERY that we call god when those images are based on our miss-rememberings of the life and death of Jesus?
The Church’s Holy Week commemorations warp Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem with talk of a “sacrifice for sin” that has trained generations to view Jesus’ execution as some sort of cosmic bargain, dreamed up by a maniacal sky-god determined to exact payment for a multitude of sins. This quid-pro-quo view of crucifixion casts the radical, justice-seeking, revolutionary-thinking, subversive Jesus in the role that seems to forsake everything Jesus lived for. Replacing Jesus of Nazareth with a warped image of a suicidal victim of an angry, judgemental, vengeful god who leaves his only begotten son to dangle upon a cross, distorts not only our view of Jesus, but obliterates the image of Jesus’ vision of a loving Abba-God in ways that make it almost impossible to see beyond the blood dripping from the cross upon which Jesus’ was executed by the abuses of empire.
I wonder what Jesus of Nazareth would make of the god we have created from our distorted images. What kind of petty, sadistic god would engineer the birth of, foster the life of, and then engineer the death of a beloved child? Surely such a god is no more than a wicked illusion of our own making. I wonder what Jesus would make of our Holy Week commemorations. I suspect that if Jesus is anything like the accounts of his life suggest, or his teachings imply, then Jesus would be mortified. I do mean that literally…I think that Jesus would be mortified…mortified which actually means “shamed to death” … Jesus would be shamed to death by what has become of his life’s passion. For if Jesus’ was passionate about anything, it was not about dying as some sort of sacrifice; Jesus was passionate about life.Continue reading →
When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t poor. We managed to live from pay-cheque to pay-cheque; there wasn’t much money left towards the end of the week. When the pay-cheques came, sometimes they didn’t quite stretch far enough to pay all the bills. So, unexpected expenses could mean trouble. The kind of trouble where your parents are so worried about how they are going to make ends meet that tensions run pretty high. If something broke, my Dad was the first line of defense. If Dad couldn’t fix it, hopefully he knew a guy who could fix it. The idea of calling a repair man, who would present us with a bill for his services was simply out of the question. When the do-it-your-selfers required a part that required actual money to get, well they’d have to figure out some way of making do. If it couldn’t be fixed for free, it stayed broke, cause we were broke.
When a car broke down, my Dad could fix it with chewing gum and nylons if he had to. There wasn’t much Dad couldn’t fix. But when something came along that Dad couldn’t fix, like a car that simply couldn’t go another mile without several hundred dollars worth of parts, well that could mean that Dad and Mom wouldn’t be able to get to work, to earn the money, to fix the car, or pay the rent. So, each and every time something broke there’d be hell to pay; especially if I happened to be anywhere near it when it broke. Blame was directly related to proximity. Worrying about money and the lack there of, meant that tensions ran high. To this day, Carol will tell you, if something breaks around the house, I get a little crazy. I forget that we have money in the bank and good credit, so calling a repair person is a real possibility. I forget that my car is under warranty, or that we can afford to fix the water heater, and if worse comes to worse we can liquidate some equity to put a new roof on our house. All these situations would have been a major catastrophe when I was growing up, and try as I might, when stuff breaks, I still panic. Some fears die hard.
I remember when I first moved into the parsonage, the dishwasher wasn’t working. Money was tight, I had big student loans that had come do. But I didn’t own the dishwasher, you all did and there was money in the budget for parsonage repairs. But it took me two years to get up the courage to call a repairperson. I’d never called one before and I was afraid that it would cost more than I could afford. Besides there was a perfectly good sink, and I had two good hands, a dishwasher is an extravagance. So, two years passed, and even though I used the parsonage for all sorts of congregational events, I never called a repair person. It wasn’t until our chairperson found out that the dishwasher wasn’t working and told me that not using it could be bad for the dishwasher in the long run that I mustered up the courage to call a repair person. The bill for the repair was just $35.00. I was so delighted that I paid it myself. Not because I should, it wasn’t my dishwasher, it was the church’s bill, I paid it because I could. In the grand scheme of things, a dishwasher is an extravagance, but it was oh so sweet to line those dirty dishes up and push a few buttons, and hey presto, clean dishes! What an extravagance!!!
When I read the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we can John’s story about the anointing of Jesus, the word extravagance comes to mind. Extravagance in the face of danger and poverty. Of all the stories that this anonymous gospel-storyteller could have told about Jesus, why did he tell this one, and why did he tell it the way that he told it? What is the storyteller trying to tell us about the character of Jesus?
I’ve studied this passage for decades and I’m still surprised at how full and lush, how extravagant the details of this story are. I’m also aware that most of those lush and oh so extravagant details are all too often lost on 21st century ears. We are not first century Jews, so the pungency of this particular extravagance can all too easily elude us. There are details that first century Jews would have been overcome by, details that we need to sniff out if we want to smell the pungent aroma of the spikenard that oozes, soothes, and anoints the feet of the one we claim to follow. This story has but a dozen sentences, but each and every sentence positively oozes with details; details that can open us to a kind of extravagance of our own. “Six days before Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whose Jesus had raised from the dead.”Continue reading →
I got my very first job when I was just ten years old. Our neighbours were going away on holiday and they needed someone to take care of their cat. Now I have never been a cat person. In fact, if the truth be known, I’ve always been sort of afraid of cats. When I was little I was terrified of them. But as I grew I learned to control my fears and these days I just tend to avoid cats. I don’t really know why, they just give me the creeps. Back when I was ten, cats still had the power to make me very nervous. But our neighbours tempted me with the promise of a dollar a day for ten days. All I had to do was go into their house each day and feed their cat. There was no litter tray to deal with because back then people still had those little trap doors and the cat could go outside whenever it needed to. So, I signed on and each and every day for ten days I mustered up all my courage and I went into the neighbours’ house and I opened a tin of cat food and I filled a dish with water. I did it as quickly and as quietly as I could and in ten days not once did I ever run into that cat. When the neighbours came home they were so delighted with the good job that I had done that they actually gave me a whole dollar as a bonus. Eleven whole dollars, I was wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I knew exactly just what I was going to do with that money. You see, Christmas was just a few days away and for the first time in my life I had money to buy Christmas presents! My parents insisted that there was no need for me to buy Christmas presents and they suggested that I should save my money. But I just had to buy presents. To this day I can still remember the joy of hoisting my hard earned cash onto the drugstore counter to purchase my carefully selected merchandise. I can still remember those two amazing gift sets. The first one was for my Dad. It was manufactured by the Old Spice Company and inside it had a soap on a rope, and a two bottles. One of the bottles contained after-shave and the other something called men’s cologne. I didn’t know what cologne was so I had to ask the saleswoman who explained that it’s what they call perfume for men, and I knew that my Dad just had to have some of that. Now the second gift set was a real bargain it was made by Yardly. I wasn’t fooled by all those tiny bottles of perfume that were so much more expensive. No, I picked the gift set that had the biggest bottle of perfume. It also had a big container of something that looked like talcum powder but the container said it was actually dusting powder and it came with a little puffy yellow thing for dusting the powder all over your body. I knew that my Mom would just love this. Together the two gift sets cost a just few pennies less than eleven dollars. I don’t think that I have never enjoyed Christmas quite the way I enjoyed that one.
There is something about giving the most extravagant gift that you can afford that brings a special kind of joy to a celebration. Why that Christmas the people that I loved the most in the whole world may have stunk to high heaven, but I dare say my extravagant gift brought them great joy. Maybe that’s why I love this particular gospel story. There’s just something about the outrageous extravagance of Mary’s gift to Jesus that just makes me want to cast caution to the wind and be as extravagant as I can be. A version of this story is told in all four of the gospels. The story is told differently in each of the gospels, sometimes the anointer is Mary of Magdala, sometimes Mary of Bethany and sometimes the women is unnamed, one gospel writer has the woman anoint Jesus head while another account has her anoint his feet. But however the story is told, the act is outrageously extravagant.
The story is so remarkable that each of the Gospel writers include it in their proclamation. So what was it about this event that caused it to be told over and over again and why did they tell it the way in which they told it? The only way to get close to an answer is to fully engage ourselves in the story itself. The anonymous writer of the Gospel we call John wrote his account at the end of the first century, some 60 to seventy years after the event. By this point the story would have been told over and over again, and you know what happens when people tell a story over and over again…It takes on a life of its own. So, for a short time, I want you to set aside your historical hats and simply walk with me into the story to see what we can learn about how people in the year 99 might have heard this story.Continue reading →