Three years ago, when the Road to Emmaus lay before us in the lectionary, Michael Morwood was our guest preacher. It was an amazing weekend at Holy Cross as we explored a new story of what it means to be human and discovered new ways of contemplating the Divine Presence that permeates the cosmos. Michael Morwood taught us and challenged us to peer through 21st century lenses at the one we call G-o-d. Michael concluded his time with us by delivering the sermon on Luke 24:13-35 in which he moved us beyond the Easter stories to a place were we could imagine so much more than words can capture! Enjoy!!!
Firefox users will need to click on this link to listen: Morwood sermon
This Sunday the gospel text invites us to travel down our own road to Emmaus. Stephane Brozek Cordier is a poet whose words have the power to open us to our deepest wonderings as we wander down that road.
This sermon was inspired on my own journey to Emmaus where in the space of the same afternoon I heard a stranger declare: “Christianity is dead!” and Karen Armstrong’s now famous TED talk about her call for a world Charter for Compassion.
Has anybody here ever been to Emmaus? Which one? According to the latest issue of Biblical Archeology there are at least nine possible locations that are candidates for the Biblical town of Emmaus. Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source. We simply don’t know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition, tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.
I know that I have been on the road to Emmaus most of my life. I’ve had lots of company on the Road to Emmaus. I’ve had many conversations along the way discussing, with anyone who’d care to accompany me, the ifs, ands, and buts of Christianity, of religion, and indeed of life. If you haven’t traveled down the road to Emmaus you must be very skilled in the fine art of turning off your brain and if you check you just might discover that your heart isn’t actually beating.
It’s so easy to imagine, those two characters striding down the Road to Emmaus that we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing about what happened. What on earth were they to make of all this! Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. Jesus was the One who had come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. Jesus was the One who was supposed to draw the people back to God, restore the relationship between God and God’s people. Now Jesus was gone, and what had changed? Now, Jesus was gone, and the Roman Empire was still oppressing them, still inflicting such pain and hardship, still killing them. Was it all a mistake? Was it all a lie? Had they been fooled by some kind of cruel hoax—were they wrong to put their hopes in this man from Nazareth? They had trusted Jesus believed in Jesus, followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed. They had seen the lives of others changed and they had expected even greater changes to come. Jesus had confronted corrupt powers. Jesus had charmed great crowds. Jews and Gentiles alike responded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Rich and poor had come to Jesus, believing in Jesus’ healing power. But Jesus had been shamed, and ridiculed, and humiliated, and crucified and now Jesus was dead. Well, was Jesus dead? Some said they’d seen Jesus, alive! Not that Jesus had survived the crucifixion by some miracle of strength, but that Jesus had risen from the dead. They seemed so totally convinced by their own experience…were they confused by their own grief? Were they delirious? Had they loved this Jesus so much—invested so much hope in Jesus life and leadership—that they simply could not let him go? And what did ‘resurrection” mean? Apparently it was not the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus wasn’t revived to resume his former life; to take up his broken body until the day he might die again. No, somehow this was some new mode of being that seemed to be spiritual to some and yet real to others. And, if Jesus were risen from the dead, what would be the point of all that? What was the point to a Messiah—to a presumed political and religious leader—if Jesus wasn’t able to lead people here on earth? How could Jesus restore Israel when he had so easily been defeated by a handful of Roman guards? How could he bring release to the captives, how could he bring justice for the poor, how could Jesus advocate for the widows and the homeless? How could Jesus call people to account for all the ways they had strayed from God’s intent, now? What good could come from some kind of spiritual ghost? We can hear these two friends wrestling with each other and with their own hearts on the road that day!Continue reading →
My most memorable journey on the road to Emmaus was taken behind the wheel of a 1981 Oldsmobile, Cutlass, Brougham. I loved that car. It was a thing of beauty. It was a gift from my home congregation so that I could travel back and forth across the country to and from seminary. Despite its propensity to guzzle gas it was the perfect combination of power and elegance. It had the most amazingly plush interior with every imaginable power amenity of its day. It handled like a dream and even though I loved driving that car, neither it nor I faired well on our journey on the road to Emmaus. Five weeks into my Clinical training at the Grand River Hospital and I’d just completed one of the toughest weeks of my life when I set off for Emmaus. Clinical Pastoral Education is what the Church calls it but seminary students have other names for it, like boot camp, torture or hell. Twelve weeks of on the job training in a busy hospital combined with daily psychotherapy, group sessions, and sleep deprivation. It’s all designed to help seminarians put two years of academic study into practice before sending them off on a yearlong internship. Ask most pastors about their Clinical Pastoral Education and they’re likely to sit you down and tell you story after story about how intense an experience it was. Many of my colleagues will tell you that it almost broke them into little pieces, or that it almost destroyed their faith, or that they didn’t think they’d survive, or how they never thought that it was possible to be that scared or insecure for that many hours every day. Boot camp, torture, or hell, it all depended on whether or not you were able to get any sleep or if the demons you faced on the wards managed to destroy whatever self-confidence you might be able to muster.
The week before I set off on the road to Emmaus, wasn’t as bad as all that. I felt like I was just beginning to get the hang of things. I thought that the worst might be over. I’d managed to conquer my fear of being called Chaplain and being expected to help people who were sick, in pain, in distress, or dying. Why that week I’d even managed to help one or two of my patients. Those nagging doubts that haunted me during the first month of Clinical training were beginning to fade. It was becoming easier to believe that God was there in the midst of all the turmoil. I thought that maybe just maybe I could do the job and the terror wasn’t quite so intense when my pager went off. I remember saying to a colleague that maybe we’d be able to get through our Clinical training without coming up against the inevitable crisis of the faith that so many of our fellow students had warned us about. I wasn’t even nervous about having pulled the short straw for the long-weekend shift. 72 hours as the on-call emergency chaplain for the entire hospital. I felt like I was ready; that with God’s help, I could face anything that came my way.
I wasn’t particularly nervous when my pager went off and I calmly dialed the operator who announced that there’d been an MVA and six patients were on route; two of them were vital signs absent. MVA – Multiple vehicle accident. Vital signs absent = that usually means dead, but only a doctor can actually pronounce death so patients without vital signs are transported to the hospital before being pronounced dead.Continue reading →
Our first reading was the traditional gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter in which we heard the story of Doubting Thomas for John 20:19-31. This was followed by a video in which Richard Holloway retells the story of Peter’s denial and the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and Peter.You can view the video here . This was followed by the gospel reading from John 21:15-20 You can listen to the sermonhere
A long time ago my father was in a car accident. His hand was crushed in the accident and despite the doctors’ best efforts it wouldn’t heal properly. So, several months after the accident the doctors amputated one of my father’s fingers. When my father was still recovering from the surgery, my niece Sarah was just a baby. To this day, I believe it was the joy that only a first grandchild can bring that got my father through those painful weeks after the surgery. Now it just so happens that a few years before my Dad lost his finger, my sister-in-law’s father also lost one of his fingers in an accident at work. So, both of Sarah’s grandfathers were missing the forefinger of their right hands.
Now, I never really thought much about this bizarre coincidence until one day, when Sarah was about three years old, and I introduced her to a friend of mine called Ernie. Now Ernie loved children and so he tried his best to make friends with Sarah, but she was going through one of those shy stages and so Ernie couldn’t make any headway at all. In desperation, he explained to Sarah that he had a granddaughter just the same age as she was and that one of his favorite things in the whole world was being a grandfather. But Ernie’s announcement didn’t impress Sarah one single bit. In fact, little Sarah put her hands on her hips and declared that Ernie couldn’t be anybody’s granddad at all. At this point I decided to give Ernie a hand and so I assured Sarah that Ernie was indeed a granddad, in fact, not only did Ernie have a granddaughter that was the same age as Sarah he also had a little grandson who had just been born. Well this was the final straw for Sarah, she told me in no uncertain terms that Ernie couldn’t be anybody’s granddad because Ernie had too many fingers. For Sarah, at the tender age of three, because both of her grandfathers only three fingers on their right hand, then surely all grandfathers must have only three fingers on their right hand.
Based upon the available physical evidence Sarah came to the only possible conclusion. The idea that a grandfather could be somebody who had ten fingers was unimaginable. All too often, we restrict our vision of the person in front of us based upon our past experiences of that person or indeed, our past experiences of people like that person. Our inability to envision what someone might be, or become, can have tragic consequences. It’s bad enough when we limit our vision of someone based on their physical appearance, or physical challenges, but when we insist upon limiting our vision of someone based on that person’s past behavior, we run the risk of limiting what just might be possible.Continue reading →
This sermon is an interactive exploration which was recorded last year. It provides a timely reminder of the journey we have been on in our progressive Christian community. Below, you will find the text of my introduction to this powerful conversation which took place in the midst of an internet furor that erupted on the internet following several posts in which I denied the resurrection of the body. Many thanks to the people of Holy Cross for their participation and to Peter Rollins for his beautiful words from his book Insurrection. Readings: John 20:1-18, Philippians 3:10-14, John 20:19-31
“They gathered in an upper room and the doors were locked because they were afraid of the religious authorities.” While I struggled to write this morning’s sermon, I was tempted not to lock the doors but rather to make sure that the recording device was turned off when I preached on the resurrection. I thought that I might just have a bit of a lock in, just you and me, no recording for our followers on the internet, so that together we could explore the ways in which some of us are beginning to understand the meaning of resurrection. Whenever I have posted anything on the resurrection, traffic on the blog goes up. Some visitors are just like us, trying to find ways to understand resurrection in light of all that we are learning about the nature of the cosmos There are some visitors who stop by the site to confirm their suspicions that I am a heretic and they take great delight in reporting my heresy to the religious authorities.
When letters are written in which charges are made and discipline is demanded those letters usually make reference to something I’ve posted on the subject of resurrection.So, rather than incur the wrath of those who know for sure that Jesus physically rose from the dead, I thought why not just turn off the recorder and have a private conversation among ourselves about the nature of the resurrection, not because we are afraid of the religious authorities, but just because we’d be able to go much further if we didn’t have to worry about the people who know exactly what happened But then I remembered an email that I received during last year’s Easter season. The email came from a life-long Lutheran who had been struggling to believe in the resurrection; let’s call him FRED…
Fred lives in Alberta of all places. Fred is tempted to leave his congregation, because every time Easter rolled around and he heard the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, he knew that if he’d been Thomas he would have stuck his fingers in those wounds just to make sure that they were real. Fred wrote that during the Easter season he feels like a hypocrite because for the life of him he cannot bring himself to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Fred’s pretty sure that the people sitting in the pews with him each Sunday are also struggling to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse but none of them are willing to take the risk of saying anything about their struggles for fear of the religious authorities. So, even though it’s tempting to turn off the recording and lock our doors, so to speak, let’s throw caution to the wind, trusting that the wind; the breath, the Ruach, the Spirit will live and breath in, with, through and beyond us. So, I hope that you are willing to engage in as open a conversation as we can have together about the nature of the resurrection, knowing that people will be listening in to our conversation.
Now we have been blessed in this congregation by having enjoyed multiple visits from two of the world’s leading progressive Christian thinkers; John Shelby Spong has been here three times and John Dominic Crossan has been here twice and we have learned a great deal from both of them. But despite all the work we’ve done studying the historical and theological materials that have been generated about the resurrection, I suspect that just like Fred, some of us, myself included, are left wondering exactly how a 21st Century Christian can reconcile our expanding knowledge of the cosmos with the church’s teachings about resurrection
So, I’m going to stop talking for a bit and take a big risk here and ask you to be brave and share your thoughts about the resurrection…..Now I realize that this is a big subject, so let me help you with a question: Do you think it necessary to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead in order to call yourself a Christian? What do you think happened? Is resurrection physical, or more than physical?
Conversation. At the end of our conversation I reminded the congregation of Peter Rollins powerful words on Resurrection
Peter Rollins: “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think… I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.”
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again and again. This is the mystery of our faith. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen in you and in me and beyond you and I. In the words of Martin Luther: “This is most certainly true!” Can I get an Amen?
Other sermons for the Second Sunday in Easter:
Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here
Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas click here
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!!!
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 →
Readings included: Luke 24:1-12, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; and John 20:1-18. I am indebted to Clay Nelson for reminding me of “ordinary resurrections,” Bernard Brandon Scott for his excellent exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, and most of all to Clara Thomas for always embodying the LOVE that we call God in ways that continue to encourage me to wake-up and stand-up. You can listen to the sermon here
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, just, “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 sermon is the second of a two parter which began on Good Friday (you can find that sermon here). It is the fruit of conversations that have been going on at Holy Cross Lutheran Church for a number of months. I am indebted to the members of the congregation for their courage, wisdom and curiosity which they so graciously share. I am indebted to Dom Crossan, Jack Spong, Barbara Brown Taylor, Michael Morwood, and Dick Rauscher whose work has inspired and emboldened me in my preaching. You can listen to the sermon below and I have also provided the manuscript (which is never quite the same as what comes out from the pulpit) Shalom.
Links to previous sermons: Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh – here
On Good Friday we gathered here to grieve the death of God. I began my Good Friday sermon with the Parable of the Mad Man that was written by Frederich Nietzsche back in 1882. The mad man in the parable goes around announcing that God is dead. The parable gained notoriety 1966 when an issue of Time Magazine asked the question: Is God Dead? The question appeared on the cover of the magazine and created quite a stir. It referenced Nietzsche’s parable as the inspiration behind the “God is dead movement” which insisted that “man” has killed God because “man” has evolved beyond our need for gods.
So, on Good Friday my sermon took a long hard look at the god who is indeed dead. In my sermon, I grieved the death of The Father-god, the Sky-god, God the grand puppeteer, who watches over us like a kindly shepherd, and listens to us, and interferes on our behalf, and judges us and longs to welcome us into heaven, but is willing to let us languish in hell if need be.
I pointed out that parables like the parable of the mad man are stories that tell us what we already know and Nietzsche’s Mad Man was right, this god that so many of us have loved and worshipped for so many years is indeed dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality.All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god that we once worshipped and adored.
I looked upon the cross and I wept because the death of the personified god is not easy to bear and I miss the Father-god because I really did love him, and he really did save me. For most of my life the personification of God was the only way I had of knowing anything of the Force that lies at the very heart of reality. God is dead; the Father God, the Sky God, the kindly Shepherd that I was counting on to make me lie down in green pastures, is dead. Our science, technology, philosophy, history, and our theologies have killed this personified deity that we both feared and adored. God is dead and we have killed him. Continue reading →
Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. In 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 that 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)
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
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 →
In the wake of a week that saw sarin gas released once again on the people of Sryria, followed by the firing of U.S. tomahawk missiles, parading around waving Palm Branches seems as foolish as it did when Jesus lead a parade into Jerusalem to face the Roman Empire on an ass. Today’s gospel picks up where the Gospel According to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem ends, when Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple – Matthew 21:12-16. Listen to the sermonhere:
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! This morning, as we shout our Hosannas to the world, the world remains entangled in a vain attempt to achieve peace through violence. The two most powerful nations on earth are leading the charge: as I speak the United States has dispatched an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the waters off the coast of North Korea, while the Russian Navy has dispatched a frigate to the Mediterranean Sea so that its cruise missiles will be in striking distance of Syria. We’ve been here so many times before; seeking peace through violence.
On Friday, according to CNN, “Raytheon, the company that makes the Tomahawk missiles used in the air strikes on Syria by the United States, saw its stocks rise. Investors seem to be betting that President Trump’s decision to retaliate against Syria after the chemical attack on Syrian citizens earlier this week may mean the Pentagon will need more Tomahawks. The US Department of Defense asked for $2 billion dollars over five years to buy 4,000 Tomahawks for the US Navy in its fiscal 2017 budget last February.
Nearly five dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched at military bases in Syria from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea late on Thursday. Raytheon wasn’t the only defense stock that rose sharply on Friday. Lockheed Martin which partners with Raytheon on the Javelin missile launcher system and also makes Hellfire missiles, gained nearly 1%. Defense stocks General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman also rallied Friday, a day when the broader market was flat due to a mixed US jobs report. It’s unclear whether President Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis will ask for a lot more money for Tomahawks once they officially submit a fiscal 2018 budget request. But Trump said in his preliminary budget blueprint last month that a brad increase in defense spending was needed. A sizable chunk of that was earmarked for upgrading warships, fighter planes and missiles. So it should come as no surprise that defense stocks are among the top performers on Wall Street not just on Friday, but for all of this year.”
What this CNN report doesn’t say, is that according to his own disclosure forms filed during the election, Trump hold a substantial amount of stock in Raytheon. Now, the cynic in me can’t help but marvel at the Commander-in-chief’s selection of Tomahawk missiles as the pathway to peace. If I only I could figure out which tables to over-turn I would lead the parade.Continue reading →
Last year our Palm Sunday worship began outside in the bright sunshine of the first morning of springtime, where we spoke of the reenactment of one of the two parades that took place in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. Embracing Jesus’ political act of performance art we processed into the sanctuary waving our palm branches and shouting our hosannas. Rather than the familiar Palm Sunday readings our worship included the story from Genesis chapter 32 which tells of Jacob wrestling with God, Psalm 118, and John 12:12-15. you can read them here and listen to the sermon here
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! Once again, we travel back to Jerusalem to welcome Jesus into the city where we all know that the powers of empire will execute him. Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna: save us from this story that has the power to turn us into cheerleaders for an abysmal, obscene, cruel, madness that portrays the creator of everything that is, was, and ever shall be as a maniacal child killer who cannot bring himself to forgive the very ones he has created unless the most beloved of his children sacrifices himself upon a cross on a hill far away.
It happens every Palm Sunday. Over and over again, we hear atrocious interpretations of the meaning of Jesus execution that continue to distract us from the power that embodied love might have to resurrect the world in ways that will see the violence end as justice climbs out of the empty tombs into which we have tossed our dying dreams of peace. In our darkness, we have wrestled with the One who gave us light. Like Jacob of old, we too have fought, demanding a blessing from the divinity of our creation. We have wrestled in the night to find the God who will save us from ourselves. Praying for peace, longing for justice, shouting to the heavens for a blessing that will save us, save us from our hunger and greed, restore justice, and lead us forth to peace. Like Jacob, we long to know the name of our Creator, so that we will recognize our saviour when the saviour comes. Like Jacob we too have been wounded by the very sight of the face of God. For in the darkness of the night, we have wrestled our God to the ground only to discover that the blessing this God delivers, leaves us limping into the future wounded, stumbling forth with as many more questions than simply to know the name of the One whose blessing we seek. As the first light of sunrise shines on a new day, we too can but limp along injured, still seeking the One whose reluctant blessing we carry forth into an uncertain future. Hosanna, save us! Save us from our woundedness. Save us from the desires that haunt us, over power us and fracture our humanity.Continue reading →
I have an old copy of a sermon by John Claypool, entitled “Easter and the Fear of Death” 1997. Whenever the story of Lazarus comes up in the lectionary, I dig out the old typewritten manuscript and once again discover the brilliance of Claypool’s work. I have played with Claypool’s words once before in a sermon, but this year the laughter it evokes compelled me to once again explore the possibilities of Claypool’s work. You can listen to the sermon here
“Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.”
“Lazarus come out!”
“Unbind him and let him go.”
These phrases echo down through the centuries into my being, opening me to the mysteries of our existence. For who among us has not wept when confronted by the death of a loved one? Who among us has not been halted in our tracks by the reality of death? Who among us have not gone over and over again come to the tomb, greatly disturbed?
Greatly disturbed, the Greek text could also be accurately translated as “groaned inwardly“ or “deeply physically moved”; as if his whole being groaned in pain. Who among us has not come to the tomb of a loved one, greatly disturbed? Death looms large in our imaginations. Death calls our very existence into question. Death moves us to tears. The Greek text often translated ever so briefly as, Jesus wept can also be translated as, “Jesus began to weep.” Who among us has not known the pain of beginning to weep, beginning to grieve, beginning the process that moves us beyond the concerns of this life, into the darkness of the tomb; the tomb in which our deepest darkest fears disturb us to the very core of our being? In each of our lives the pain of loss has moved us into the deepest and darkest of places, where weeping and groaning has disturbed us, shaken us, and moved us to begin to weep tears that feel like the shall never end.
This morning, I invite you to enter the darkness that permeates the mystery of death so that we might feel the contours of our fears. I invite you to gaze upon this photograph of a doorway into the darkness and imagine yourself wrapped in the mystery that is your own death. They say, you know the experts, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, the anthropologists, the spiritual advisors, the soothsayers, the priests and preachers, they say that death, or own death, inspires the kind of fear in us that inspires all our fears. Death, the mystery of not knowing, the fear of not being, this fear inspires all our fears. The fear of non-being, of ending, of what lies beyond our ending, this fear gives birth to all our fears. The fear that there won’t be enough time, gives rise to the fear that there won’t be enough love, enough experience, enough stuff, enough joy, which circles back to enough love, enough time, enough being.
These fears circle back to our ultimate fear that there won’t there won’t be enough time, these ever encircling fears wrap themselves around our being like the ancient bands of a burial cloth, binding us, wrapping us up in circles of fear that constrict our life. For who among us has not worried about whether or not there’s going to be enough life, enough love for us?Continue reading →
I am indebted to John Dominic Crossan and Gretta Vosper for the content and the challenges of this sermon.
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45
In churches all over the world, preachers are hauling Lazarus out of his well-worn tomb. Some preachers will go over the details of this story in an effort to persuade their congregations that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Some preachers will deconstruct the details of this story in an effort to relieve their listeners of the responsibility of believing that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Other preachers will dazzle their congregations with their knowledge of the biblical details, the history of the community that produced the text, the traditional doctrines and dogmas that the church has used to interpret this text and once dazzled by the preacher’s intellect congregations will be set up to prepare themselves for the forth-coming Holy Week. Other preachers will zero in on a particular detail in the text and relate it to something that is going on in the world. I must confess that over the years I have used all of these approaches. Earlier this week, I traveled back to Lazarus’ tomb to sniff around for a sermon that would make some sense of this text in light of what many of us have been studying in the Sunday Morning Adult Education Class and the Wednesday Morning Lenten Study. I had hoped that somewhere between “Painting the Stars’” evolutionary approach and “Atheism for Lent’s” intellectual critique, I would discover a way to dazzle you with a new way of understanding Lazarus, but all I really came up with was, “He stinketh!” So, I pulled out my best sermon on the raising of Lazarus and began to rework it using some of the details I have learned since I last preached on this text. I produced quite an entertaining scholarly sermon with just the right amount of humour to keep you smiling, as I dazzled you with fascinating details about the story and deconstructed what some believe is a miracle so that the story could be of some use to us as we journey through Lent in the 21st century. It’s a pretty good sermon, but I left it on my hard-drive and maybe I’ll preach it some day. But not today. You see, a few of us spent the last few days listening to John Dominic Crossan as he dazzled us with his brilliance which shed such a bright light on the history of the life and times of Jesus that left us all sighing so appreciatively as we realized that what we thought we knew is just peering through a class darkly and there is a totally clear way of approaching this story; a way that will not offend our 21st century intelligence.Continue reading →
John Dear is a Jesuit priest who is living into Jesus’ call to be a non-violent activist peace-makers. In this video he presents a radical retelling of the Gospel that will change the way you hear all too familiar stories about Jesus. This is perhaps the most exciting interpretation of the life of Jesus that I have ever heard! It will challenge everything you thought youknew about who Jesus was and is. Father John’s gentle style may deceive you into thinking he is just an idealist. But hear him out and I’m convinced you too will be challenged to re-think so many of the stories told about Jesus in the New Testament. I know I will never again hear or preach about the raising of Lazarus without referencing Father John’s insights. A word of caution: you cannot un-hear this passionate call to peacemaking and it will in all likelihood lead you into some dangerous place where you are compelled to deny our culture of death and take up the mantle of peacemaking.
Their baby was stillborn. Their pain was unbearable and so they asked, “Why?”
Her husband went out for his regular run; something he did every morning as part of his effort to stay healthy so that he would live long and prosper. Her husband was run over by a car and was dead by the time she arrived at the hospital. To this day she asks, “Why?”
She was raped. The pain of violation refuses to leave her even after nine long years, during which her marriage fell apart. She could not and she cannot stop asking, “Why?”
On Friday, I watched a news briefing about the massive famine that encompasses much of Africa. Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are suffering from the ravages of starvation. More than 20 million people, many of them children are about to starve to death; 20 million people. It is the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of the United Nations. As I watched the horrific footage from the comfort of my living-room, all my being asked the question, “Why?”
This “Why?” was and is so much more than all the other Whys. This aching “Why?” is not the same as the other Whys. The Why that groans in me, that cries out for an answer is not: Why are babies still-born? Why do accidents happen? Why is there so much violence? Why are millions of people, so many of them children, starving to death? These whys we can seek and find answers to. The Why that groans in me, is the Why that has haunted our ancestors for generations. I’m talking about THE great big existential WHY?
Why does God allow some people to suffer while others escape suffering? There must be a reason that you and I were born. There’s got to be a reason that we were born here and not in Africa. There simply must be a reason that some of us escape suffering while others of us can’t seem to catch a break. Why? Why God? Why? Nearly two-thousand years have passed and still this great big Why screams out from the deepest darkest places of our being. Why?
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I even prayed like a child. I prayed to God to save me and mine from all sorts of suffering. I believed that God heard my prayers and that God saved me and mine. But when I grew up, I put away my childish notions as I began to see some of my dear ones suffer. I saw the suffering but I refused to see what the suffering did to my carefully held beliefs about the god I chose to worship. My faith blinded me to the idol that I had created. Out of the stories handed down to us from our ancestors I, like so many of the members of my tribe, I had carefully constructed an idol which I believed was worthy of my worship; an all-powerful, all knowing god, whose wisdom was more powerful than my reasoning; who loved me beyond measure and just as surely loved all those dying babies and suffering victims. Mine was not to reason why. Mine was but to trust and obey. The “big guy in the sky” would work it all out in the end. In the sweet by and by all would be revealed; no more blindness, no more doubt. In the meantime, all we could wonder, “Why?” as long as we didn’t let our questions draw our attention from the idol we chose to worship. Blind faith was the only answer that could keep our attention firmly at the feet of the god of our creation.
Then one day a child died; a child I knew and loved, a child who had suffered most of her short little life and I was overwhelmed by the “Why?” that screamed out from the depths of my being. I, we had put all our faith in the omni god, this omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient god, the all-powerful, everywhere, and all knowing god that we willed into being, confident that by worshiping our idol, our precious little one would not be subjected to such suffering. When she died, the idol of my worship died with her. I was blind but now I see the folly of worshipping a god of my own making. My omni idol, had all the answers. No mystery, just reassurances. Nothing beyond my ability to imagine or conceive. Like the Pharisees before me, I could not see beyond the parameters of the Law and the traditions handed down to me. But once my eyes had been opened, my vision changed and I could no longer see the way I once saw. My WHY? Shattered my idol and my eyes were opened to a new reality. Where once I could only see death as an enemy to be conquered, the death of one so sweet, so dearly loved, revealed to me the precious beauty of life. My eyes were opened to the reality of death as a part of life, the part that makes life so very precious. It took a long time, and more questions than I can begin to recall, but slowly, I began to see the contours of a MYSTERY beyond my wildest imaginings.
There is no sin in blindness. Blindness can be a safe haven from the tremendous MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS. But there is beauty beyond the darkness. Beyond the shattered pieces of our idolatry Beyond the horizon of our limited views, there is an EMBRACE the likes of which the mystics longed for; an EMBRACE that comes from the Source of all that IS, the great I AM of which our ancestors insisted permeated all that IS. An EMBRACE that is so much more that we can ever begin to express, and yet an EMBRACE whose contours stretch beyond the heavens to permeate all of life.
This MYSTERY that some of us call God, is the LOVE that is the ground and source of all being; the RELATIONSHIP that touches every life and lures us into being more than we dreamed possible. This MYSTERY may shatter our idols, but it also compels us toward a faith that opens the eyes of the blind to possibilities that deepen life by deepening relationship in ways that broaden our vision so that we too can become all that we are created to be. This MYSTERY invites all our WHYs. This MYSTERY is powerful enough to walk with us and all our questions into the dark clouds of unknowing that make life so very precious. This MYSTERY does not demand blind faith. This MYSTERY opens our eyes to the beauty of becoming, over and over again, ONE with the MYSTERIES of LIFE.
These days, the great big WHY continues to overwhelm me and I confess that I am so very grateful to be overwhelmed because every time I am blinded by the idols of my own creation, Jesus comes along, heals my blindness, and disturbs me with visions that lead me Beyond my wildest imaginings. WHY? I do not know the answer. But I can see a way Beyond the WHYs a way that does not deny the pain or the beauty of the quest, a way that deepens and expands the beauty of the journey, a way that compels me toward the MYSTERY that is the LOVE some of us call God.
That LOVE empowers us to reach out in love to those whose whys overwhelm them; those who are grieving, those who desperately trying to recover from violence, and to do what is necessary to feed those who are starving. May your WHYs open your eyes so that you too can see BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, to the MYSTERY that is LOVE. Amen.
Today’s sermon includes a video clip from the short film Overview.
You can listen to the audio and watch the video clip from the “Overview” below.
I was just a little girl the first time I flew in an airplane. I can still remember just how excited I was to get on that airplane. I couldn’t wait to fly high up in the sky. I was convinced that once we got up into the clouds I would be able to see things; amazing things. I couldn’t wait to see God and Jesus, and angels, and people who had died all walking up there on the clouds. Heaven, we were going to see heaven. Jesus would be up there. I can’t remember what I was expecting them all to look like. I vaguely remember peering out of the airplane’s window desperately trying to see them all. But I could not see them.
I was too young to understand what happened to me that day. But something did. I saw things differently after that. I had seen the clouds and they were lovely, but nobody was living up there. I could see that what I thought was true was not and there was no going back. My eyes had been opened and nobody could ever convince me that heaven was up there in the sky, or that Jesus was waiting for me up there, or that God was watching me from up there, or that anybody was looking down on me from up there. I once was blind to this reality; it only took one ride on an airplane to cure my blindness. I once was blind, but up there in the sky I could see. Having seen the reality of what was actually up there, I knew enough to look elsewhere for Heaven, for lost loved ones, for Jesus, and for God. Once your eyes have been opened, the gift of vision opens you to an entirely new realty and once you’ve seen the new reality you can never go back to your old ways of thinking.
Watch the video.
It may have been simpler when we could not see; when we were blind to the reality that surrounds us. The blind man was a beggar. He knew the contours of his reality. He probably got up each morning and travelled by a familiar route to his spot on the street. He’d adapted to his reality. He learned to live in a world that was defined by his lack of vision. Having his eyes opened exposed him to a world he’d only known by touch. Suddenly a whole new sense was opened up for him. New vision can be exciting and terrifying all at the same time. But once his eyes had been opened, he could not go back, he could not un-see what he was seeing, he could only shut his eyes, or look really look and see.Continue reading →