Meister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar. Once again, I have failed to have the foresight to book my holidays so as to avoid the task of preaching on this festival of the church. So, I find myself plumbing previous sermons in search of a way through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer them here to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…
I cannot begin to explain to you what happened on that day in Jerusalem, without explaining to you who I am. My name is Mary and I come from the village of Magdala. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. But you have no idea who I am. There are many stories that have been told about me. Some of the things that have been said about me make my head spin. Over the years, thanks to the twisted interpretations of the men in the church that I helped to give birth to, I have gained quite a reputation for being a prostitute, a whore, an adulterer. Now I will lay claim to being a sinner and God knows I have had my share of demons, but prostitution, adultery, whore, where do people get these ideas? It seems that all you need to do is use the words sinner and woman in the same sentence and all some people can think about is sex.
Read your bibles and you will discover that, people have made me out to be something that I am not. It does not say anywhere in the New Testament that I, Mary of Magdala was ever a prostitute, the New Testament doesn’t say that, the men of the Church did that. The New Testament simply says I was a sinner who just happened to come from the city. If you insist on calling me a prostitute based on this evidence, that says more about you than it does about me.
You see, 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. Continue reading →
Pentecost Sunday is a day for stories about the nearness of God. So we begin with the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9, then make our way to the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s story of the early followers of Jesus’ encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21, and then the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John’s story of Jesus’ insistence that he and God are one, before rounding off with Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s excellent children’s book God In Between.
There’s a children’s Book that I love. I won’t tell you the name of the book because the book’s title is also the book’s ultimate meaning. I will tell you that the book is written by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who just happens to be the second woman to be ordained as a rabbi back in 1974. She is also the first rabbi to become a mother. Sandy Eisenberg Sasso brings the wisdom she has learned as a rabbi to her children’s books. As the Christian celebration of Pentecost is intimately tied to the Jewish festival of Shavout, when the Jewish people read the Book of Ruth, it seems fitting to read to you from the book of a Jewish Rabbi. Shandy Eisenberg Sasso’s story begins:
“Once there was a town at the foot of a hill with no roads and almost no windows.
Without roads the people of the town had nowhere to go, and they wondered what was on the other side of the hill.
Whenever they tried to leave their homes, they would sneeze through tall tangled weeds, tumble into deep holes and trip over rocks as large as watermelons.
Without windows they would sleep late into the day, and they often wondered when the sun turned night into morning.
Their houses were closed up like boxes sealed with tape.
They could never look out and their neighbours could never look in.
Her name was Julia Ward Howe. She was born in 1819, in New York City. Her parents died when she was very young. She barely even knew her own mother. She was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was known as a bit of a radical. He saw to it that his niece received a good liberal arts education; something very rare for a young woman of Julia’s day.When she was 21 years old, Julia married Samuel Gridley Howe.Howe had made a name for himself as a reformer who took quite a strong stand against slavery.Samuel often told people that he admired Julia’s ideas, her quick mind, her wit and above all her commitment to causes he supported.But Samuel, like many men of his day, believed that women should not take an active part in the causes of the day, nor should they speak in public.For her part, Julia did her best to respect her husband’s wishes. Julia had six children.Two of her children died when they were very young. In her diaries, Julia describes her life during the early part of her marriage as one of isolation.
In deference to her husband she had no life outside of her home except for Sundays when she attended church.Julia wrote of her husband’s violent outbursts as he attempted to control his wife’s activities. Julia’s only out-let was her writing. She began to gain quite a name for poetry. It is not clear just how she managed to get her poems published, but the success of her poetry led to invitations for Julia to speak at various gatherings. Apparently, Julia had quite a mouth on her. A friend of hers wrote that, “Bright things always came readily to Julia’s lips, and second thoughts often came too late to prevent her words from stinging.”
Samuel resented his wife’s success and after he managed to lose most of Julia’s inheritance from her father, he became more and more violent. Julia raised the issue of divorce, but Samuel threatened to take the children from her, so instead Julia decided to try to fill her days of confinement to her home by educating herself. Julia began to study philosophy. In time she even managed to teach herself several languges.Her diaries speak of her husband’s concern that Julia’s attempts at self-education were outrageous for a woman in her position in society.It was not until Julia discovered that Samuel had been unfaithful to her that she was able to negotiate a more active public life for herself.Continue reading →
“I myselfam the Way—I Am Truth, and I am Life. NO one comes to Abba God but through me.” Over the course of two millennia, the ways in which these words have been interpreted by far too many people who insist that they are “Christian” is enough to make most mothers, be they Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Shikh, Jew, atheist, or agnostic. It seems to me, that to insist that it’s Jesus’ Way or the highway, as if Christians have the exclusive way of being in the world, violates the basic principles of the image we have of what it means to be a good mother. Today, while we celebrate all the various stereotypes of what it means to be or to have a good mother, I don’t think any of you would hold point to the image of a mother who favoured one of her children to the exclusion of her other children. Yet somehow, the image of God as “Father” of us all, is messed up with the notion of a God who insists on a particular Way of being in the world, a way of being that believes particular things about who Jesus of Nazareth is, was, and ever more shall be; a way of being that insists that only those who believe particular things about Jesus will be welcomed into God’s household. The Good News is, that New Testament scholars have learned a great deal about this passage that contradicts the so-called “traditional interpretations” of this text. New Testament scholars begin by teaching us that these words attributed to Jesus, were in fact written some 70 plus years after Jesus’ crucifixion by an anonymous story-teller that we call John, who in all likelihood put these words into the mouth of Jesus in order to address a particular problem in the community to which this story is addressed.
But, more important than the realization that Jesus may never have actually said these words is the reality that taken out of context and proclaimed in ways that exclude some people at the expense of others, these words fail to express the very ideas of inclusion that the anonymous story-teller that we call John was trying to express to his community in the first place. For as the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call John insists:
“In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well.
I suspect that part of the reason that some people are so willing to portray God as the kind of Father who would shut the door on the vast majority of human-beings, has something to do with the ways in which the reality that we call God has been imagined for far too long. So, on the day that we honour our mothers, let me remind us all, about the ways in which our tradition has failed to imagine the Source of our Being in ways expand our vision of the LOVE that is God.
In the beginning, that’s right. Genesis chapter one, verse one.
In the beginning God;
that’s God with a capital “G” in English.
But in Hebrewit’s just “el” no capital yet.
Just “el” the generic Semitic wordfor a god.
In the beginning “el” created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was a formless void.
Void,“tohu w’ bohu” in Hebrew a squishy, damp cavern; reminiscent of a womb.
The earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep.
Tehom dark waters.
And ‘el’s” spirit hovered over the water.
Spirit,rauach, the feminine for breath.
El’s feminine breath hovered over the tohu w bohu.
When suddenly, god speaks and there is light and the waters divide or are broken, depending on how you translate it, and all sorts of life comes teaming forth.
Five days of labour; labour get it!
Five days of labour and finally ‘el’ is ready:
“Let us make adam”
“adam” which literally means earth creature.
And so el takes some ha adama which is literally earth; dirt.
The pun is lost in our English translations but its actually funny in Hebrew.
El takes a chunk of earth and creates the earth creature in the in the very image of the divine.
Inthe image of God, God created them.
That’s right them, that’s what it actually says in the Hebrew text of Genesis:
In the image of God, God created them, male and female God created them.
And then God blessed them.
God blessed them male and female.
Male and female made in the very image of the Creator.
Could this mean that in the eyes of our ancestors in faith, the Creator is beyond gender?
But remember, there’s another creation story in chapter two of Genesis.
This one says that the“Lord God” made the earth and the heavens.
This creation story says that the “Lord God”formed “man” out of the dust of the earth.
The “Lord God,” everyone knows that lords are men, so the Lord God is clearly male.
But then again Lord God is only an English translation of the Hebrewword, “elohim”.
You’ll never guess what “elohim” literally means in Hebrew.
It’s the plural form of the feminine noun for majesty.
Sound male to you.
Well it was male enough for the male translators who worked for King James.
But read just a little further to chapter 17 of Genesis.
When the Lord, that’s Elohim when Elohim first enters into a covenant with Abraham.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
“I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.
And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”
God Almighty, from the Hebrew, El Shaddai.
El Shaddai, finally we have a name for this God, this el.
Shaddai, the feminine plural for breast.
El Shaddailiterally translated means God with breasts, or Breasted God.
Good thing those translators chose to translate that one as God Almighty,
because you wouldn’t want people to think that God has breasts.
Those translators sure had their work cut out for them.
Over and over again in the Old Testament the Hebrew uses the word“rechem” to describe god’s love.
Now God’s love is a very important concept.
Remember later in the New Testament God is defined by love.
“God is love.”
Well in the Old Testament, God’s love is prefaced by the word “rechem” and those clever translators, had to fix that one cause rechem is the Hebrew word for womb.
You can’t have God Almighty having breasts and you sure can’t have God’s love describedas “womb love” so what did those guys do?
So, the next time you read the words mercy or compassion in the Old Testament remember, chances are it’s really “rechem”.
I suspect that, womb love became merciful, because the only other way to describe womb love is“motherly love” and we can’t have that, now can we?
El Shaddai breasted one.
Rechem “ womb love” motherly love.
And I haven’t even gotten to the really interesting parts, so I don’t really have time to tell you that God’s Spirit, well you probably already guessed or remembered that,
The Holy Spirit in Hebrew was rauach, a feminine noun for breath, breath, wind
and even in Greek pneumani is a feminine nounfor breath, wind or spirit, but by the time the church gets around to translating the Bible into Latin, and before you know it the Holy Spirit becomes a he.
But I don’t have time to go into that, so let’s fast forward to the book of Proverbs.
And there you have the stories of God’s wisdom.
Chokma in Hebrew, a feminine name.
Sophiain Greek, also a feminine name that in our English translations becomes the noun “wisdom”.
But I digress, because everybody knows we believe in God the Father the Almighty, Jesus Christ the only Son of God and the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Now don’t get excited, I’m not about to commit heresy, not yet anyway.
The expression of the Trinity as three male persons is not in and of itself wrong.
Men are indeed created in the image of God and maleness can and indeed shouldbe used as a symbol for God.
However, the tenaciously exclusive use of male symbols or images for God has reached the point of idolatry.
God is not male.
God is not female.
God is beyond gender.
All our feeble attempts to describe God with language fail to express the immense wonder of our God.
To date, I still think the Hindus have the best way of expressing the very nature of our God.
In Hindu literature we find goddescribed as: “beyond the beyond, and beyond that also.”
We simply have no words.
So, our attempts to capture God in words fail.
Our images of God are incomplete like peering through a glass darkly.
No wonder our ancient ancestors portrayed God as the one who forbids us to worship idols.
We cannot create an image of God and worship that image and expect to have a relationship with more than a pale reflection of our God.
In the bookof Proverbs: Chokma, Sophia, Wisdom is personified. She becomes an expression of God’s Wisdom. The writer of Proverbs urges us to:
“Acquire Sophia, acquire perception, never forget her, never deviate from my words.
Do not desert her, she will keep you safe, love her, she will watch over you.”
In the creation story from the Book of Proverbs, Sophia calls aloud in the streets, she raises her voice in the public squares; she calls out in the street corners, she delivers her message at the city gates, “You ignorant people, how much longer will you cling to your ignorance?
How much longer will mockers revel in their mocking and fools hold knowledge contemptible? Pay attention to my warning: now I will pour out my heart to you, and tell you what I have to say.”
“From everlasting I was firmly set, from the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born, there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I came to birth; before God made the Earth, the countryside, or the first grains of the worlds dust.
When God fixed the heavens firm, I was there, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God thickened the clouds above, when God assigned the sea its boundaries—and the waters will not invade the shore—when God laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by God’s side, a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
Happy the one who listens to me,”
The ancient Hebrews had a symbol for Chokma, she was often portrayed as a dove. Sophia God’s wisdom and the rauach , the spirit of God are intimately connected in the ancient stories that try to make sense of who God is.
Throughoutthe scriptures God is portrayed as a strong mother, labouring to give birth, determined to protect her young. Suckling and nurturing the children of God at her breasts. These feminine images of God can all be found in the Bible. But still these feminine images disturbed the powers that be. So much so that scholars now believe that the evidence of the motherly attributes of God were indeed suppressed by the religious authorities. So, much so that by the turn of the first century when the author of the Gospel of John sat down to write his account of creation, God’s wisdom, Sophia who had a reputation for playfulness had to take on a more reasonable tone. And so wisdom became reason, the Greek word for reason is logos. Sophia becomes logos, logos has two meanings in Greek, it can mean either reason or word.
In the beginning was the reason, and the reason was with God, and the reason was God.
Reason, Wisdom, no matter how you express it, when the Word becomes flesh and lives among us it is still Jesus you’re talking about.
The links between Jesus and Sophia are many. That’s a whole other sermon. Suffice it to say that our idolatrous preoccupation with the image of that bearded old man in the sky fails to take the Bible seriously.
The church has deprived the people of God of the tender images of our God. So much so that sometimes I feel like a motherless child. We have grown up in the faith as motherless people living in a single parent universe headed by God our Father.
Psychologists warn us that in children the “loss of a mother is experienced as a loss of safety, security, nurture, comfort and joy. A child without a mother often fails to know itself as valued, or precious and often feels unworthy of love. How might our lives have been different if deep within us, we carried an image of El Shaddai, the Breasted One, Mother of Us All, and when things were bad we could nestle in her tender embrace? Men and women could both turn to El Shaddai and I suspect that the church would be a different place. The Vatican would certainly be different. Just imagine women and men created in the image of God, walking the halls of the Vatican; or what about women and men created in the image of God with an understanding of their own equality haunting the hallways of fundamentalist institutions.
Wisdom/Sophia is calling; calling us beyond the boundaries of our language and beyond the images we have created. Remember the words of the anonymous storyteller that we call John attributed to Jesus: “In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you?” Now, try to imagine what the welcoming of El Shaddai might look like as the Breasted One welcomes all her children into the household of God who is LOVE. Imagine, if you will, Jesus the Christ, God’s Sophia, describing herself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, how might we emulate the Way of Christ, the truth of Christ, and the Life of Christ in any other way, than the way in which the anonymous story-teller that we call John portrayed Jesus, as the ONE in whom God was made visible, in the way that he lived and moved about the earth, tending to the needs of everyone he encountered, with compassion, ah there’s that word again, compassion, womb-like LOVE.
Let the Ruach of the Breasted ONE be who she will be, the Mother of us all, the ONE who is now and ever more shall be womb-like LOVE.
Mothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women. Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:
There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God. Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.
Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the Divine.
The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”.
“Those who live in me and I in them will bear abundant fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Wait, what? “Those who don’t live in me are like withered, rejected branches, to be picked up and thrown on the fire and burned.”
That’s the thing with metaphors. Metaphors can carry us beyond the words and images to a reality that is beyond words and images. Metaphors can also entrap us because we are prone to stretching metaphors beyond their ability to carry us. Metaphors often fail when they are delivered to folks who do not share the experiences of the creators of those metaphors. Vino veritas works, because we share the experience of seeing truth revealed when the wine is flowing. But when the anonymous-gospel-storyteller stretches his metaphor to say, “If you live on in me, and my words live on in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” the metaphor begins to fail, because not all of us share the experiences of asking and receiving whatever we want. And thus, the storyteller’s conclusion, “My Abba will be glorified if you bear much fruit and thus prove to be my disciples” fails to convince us.
Today’s first reading from the first letter of John often fails to convince us for a different reason. Scholars believe that the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John were written by the same anonymous-storyteller, we don’t know his name, but the church has traditionally called this anonymous-storyteller John. Scholars tell us that both the gospel of John and the First Letter of John were written sometime between 90-110, some 60 to 80 years after Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. Scholars do not believe that this story-teller was an eyewitness to the life and teachings of Jesus, but rather that he experienced the life and teachings of Jesus through the stories that were handed down through the community in which he lived; a community that was suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire as well as the persecution of their neighbours because they had chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the midst of a very violent, dangerous existence our story-teller writes a letter to his community in which he insists: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. Those who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is Love.”
If only he had stopped there. But he continues, “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: “by sending the Only Begotten into the world, that we might have faith through the Anointed One. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins.”
The life and teachings of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about love; the love that Jesus had for his neighbours and the love that Jesus had for his enemies. Jesus lived a life that embodied neighbour love and extended the definition of neighbour to include those on the margins. Jesus critiqued his own culture and the culture of his people’s oppressors based on the love of neighbour. When the religious authorities and the forces of Empire teamed up to persecute Jesus and his neighbours, Jesus refused to take up arms against his enemies choosing instead to insist that only by loving our enemies can we hope to find peace. Jesus proclaimed that peace could only be achieved through justice; justice based on love of neighbours and love of enemies.
Violence is a violation of love and will never lead to peace. Jesus chose to embody love precisely because he understood God as love. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE was so powerful, that in Jesus, people were able to see and experience God. The Jesus experience was so powerful, so life-changing that not even the death of Jesus could kill the experience of LOVE that his followers encountered in the life of Jesus.
Writing some 60 to 80 years after the brutal Roman execution of Jesus, the Jesus experience continued to speak powerfully to the followers of Jesus who continued to share that experience with others. That they chose to tell the story of Jesus life and death in ways that would have resonated with the people of their time should come as no surprise to us. Sacrifice, booth animal and human were part and parcel of the religious traditions of the Hellenistic world in which the followers of Jesus lived. That the followers of Jesus tried to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is not surprising. That all these centuries later we continue to try to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is astounding. That we all too often focus on cultic sacrifice at the expense of love, is in and of itself criminal.
Every day we are learning so much about what it means to be human, about the expansive cosmos in which we live, and about the very nature of reality. We are uniquely placed to explore what lies beyond the comprehension of those who have gone before us in faith. The dimensions and the power of love deserve more than the speculations of our past or the sentimental, self-serving notions of our present age.
LOVE, the LOVE that is God, deserves our attention in the here and now. Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. If we have any hope of learning to love our neighbours and our enemies we will need to understand more fully the magnitude of the LOVE that is God so that we might begin to truly embody that LOVE. This will require that we step up and pay attention to how we arrived at a place where love can be wrapped up in guilt and confused with human sacrifice, so that we can shake off our childish notions and grow into all that we are created to be.
LOVE Beyond measure. Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion, beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time, beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond imagining. Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. So, let the metaphor carry us beyond the words and images, let it carry us to the reality that is the LOVE that we call the Divine.
Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Let us be of the vine, for we are intertwined one with another, all wound up in da-vine, for we are ONE with the DIVINE. Let the fruit of the vine flow through us so that we can be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here and now, “to be LOVE in the world”.
This sermon was preached in 2015 upon my return from Belfast. I went off script for this one. So, the manuscript does not adequately reflect what was actually preached. But you can read the notes here The audio is much better!!! I went off on a tangent using Robin Meyers’ observation that our historical creeds reduce Jesus life to a comma!
I post this on the morning of my return from another trip to Belfast, where I once again worshipped in St. Anne’s Cathedral. This time I managed to stay to the end of the service. My wife’s moderating presence may have something to do with this???
What follows is a sermon I preached on the 5th Sunday of Easter 2003. In the 18 years since I preached this sermon, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has come a long way. The debate about the full inclusion of LGBTQ folk in the full life of the church has been resolved and we can truly say: “All are welcome!” But rule changes don’t always change practices. Sadly, there are still places in our church were not everyone is welcome. So, I offer this sermon to cybersapce as both a reminder of where we have been and how far we need to travel. Shalom.
Sunday May 18th 2003 Holy Cross Lutheran
Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome! Acts 8:26-40
Earlier this week, I was talking with a few of my colleagues and as Lutheran Pastors are wont to do, our conversation drifted toward the lessons prescribed for this Sunday. As we kicked around ideas, most of us agreed that it is difficult to preach on familiar passages.
Most of you have heard a great many sermons on today’s gospel lesson, and so the challenge for preachers to bring some new insights is made all the more difficult. So, we joked about just how many ways a preacher can twist and turn those vines until they finally snap off, dry up and rot.
Today’s epistle lesson isn’t much easier. Preachers are always preaching about love; often we’re preaching to the choir, because most of you already know that God is LOVE and that in loving we encounter God. Coming up with a new and interesting angle on the second lesson isn’t easy. So, I suggested to my colleagues that this Sunday rather than preaching one more time about love, why not preach on the first lesson. Why not preach on the story of the Apostle Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza? Well it might surprise you to know that no matter how challenging they thought it would be to come up with one more sermon about love, not one of my colleagues thought that it would be a good idea to preach about the goings on in the desert between Philip and that Ethiopian. One of my colleagues even went so far as to say that you would have to be either very brave or very foolish to even try it.
Now I have a confession to make, at the time I had no idea what it was in this particular passage that would make my colleagues so averse to preaching on it. I have to admit that I don’t really remember ever paying all that much attention to this particular story. I have certainly never before studied it in any great detail, but my colleagues’ aversion to this text, made me curious enough to hit the books just as soon as I got home. Despite the fact that this text shows up every three years in our lectionary, try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a reference to a single published sermon on this particular text. It seems that many of the great preachers left this one alone.
It didn’t take me long to figure out just why this text is so daunting and why my colleagues are not alone in giving it such a wide berth. Now I don’t claim to be particularly brave, but I’ve already preached on today’s other readings. Besides it’s a long weekend and I figured that a lot of people would be away and I could sneak this one in. So this fool is about to rush in, where many have feared to tread.
Our story begins when an angel directs the apostle Philip to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On this road in the desert Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch. Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a really odd way to introduce someone; no name, just an Ethiopian eunuch. The author must have thought it was important because he tells us not once but five times that the Ethiopian was a eunuch. I know what an Ethiopian is. Philip has encountered a black African man in the desert. Now that in and of it’s self is pretty remarkable. You will see later that this black man was the first missionary to Africa. But surely this can’t be the reason why so many preachers shy away from this text. So what exactly is a eunuch? According to the most current scholarship, in the first century a eunuch is one of two things. A eunuch could have been a man who had been castrated. Now for those of you who didn’t grow up on a farm to castrate means to remove a male’s testicles. So, this particular Ethiopian could have been a castrated male, or he could have been a male who wasn’t like most males. According to the scholars, men who showed a preference for other men or displayed little or no interest in women, or who were in anyway effeminate, in the first century these men were called eunuchs.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 →
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
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
It has been said that, “The shortest 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 the 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 story. Some of us have been shaped by this particular story. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about this story. Some of us have rejected this story and filed it with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from this story convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear this story because it takes us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with this story until it releases all the truth that it harbours in, with, and between the lines which calls us toward a new way of being that we long to embrace. I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with this familiar story determined to get from this ancient tale not just truth but an inkling of the Divine who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories.
The gospel storyteller who we know as John tells Easter’s resurrection story in a particular way, determined to reveal the truth that dwells in him and among the people with whom he dwelled. One of the things that we 21stcentury truth-seekers are particularly fond of is deconstructing stories. We love to take stories apart, dissecting every line, examining each and every detail, each and every word so as not to miss a single nuance of the author’s intent. We are also skilled in the imperfect art of attempting to place stories back into their historical context so that we can establish exactly what was going on in the first century lives of the story-teller and his listeners. We look to the historical context in the hope that we can determine the original meaning of the story. Convinced that history can tell us what the story-teller cannot, we wrestle with the facts, as best as we can determine them, so that we can be sure that the truth we thought we knew is more than just the summation of our mistaken interpretations.
Together, we have wrestled with Easter’s story of resurrection and together, I must say that we are pretty good wrestlers. We have deconstructed this story, we have applied the historical-critical method, we have approached it from all sorts of angles and employed the best 21stcentury scholars to aid us in our struggle to wrestle the truth from the piles and piles of dogma, which have been heaped upon it. But this morning, I’d like to approach Easter’s story of resurrection from the perspective, not of wrestlers determined to find the truth, but rather as people touched by the story itself. But even though we are not going to wrestle, like Jacob of old, we run the risk of being touched and even wounded by the truth as the Divine One is revealed and we are compelled by our wounds to walk in a different way.Continue reading →
A couple of kids were taken to church on Easter Sunday by their grandmother. These kids hadn’t been to church since their grandmother took them to the Christmas pageant. Angie was six years old, and her brother Joel was four. Joel giggled, sang and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had had enough. “You’re not supposed to talk out loud in church.” “Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, “See those two men standing by the door? They’re hushers.”
Little bobby and his family travelled a long way to have Easter Sunday lunch at his grandmother’s house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served. When Bobby received his plate, he started eating right away. His Father tried to stop him: ‘Bobby, wait until we say grace,’ ‘I don’t have to,’ the five-year-old replied. “OH yes you do Bobby!” his Father shouted, ‘We always say a prayer before eating at our house.’ ‘That’s at our house,’ Bobby explained, ‘but this is Grandma’s house, and she knows how to cook.’
A new pastor was visiting in the homes of her parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out a business card and wrote ‘Revelation 3:20’ on the back of it and stuck it in the door. When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, ‘Genesis 3:10…’ Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter…Revelation 3:20 begins: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ Genesis 3:10 reads, ‘I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked.’
A Baptist pastor was in the middle of the children’s sermon. The pastor, asked the children if they knew what the resurrection was. Now, I know that you have to ask questions during children’s sermons, but I also know from bitter experience that asking children questions in front of a congregation is not only tricky, it can be downright dangerous. When this pastor asked the children if they knew what the resurrection was, a little boy raised his hand……..The pastor called on him and the little boy said, “I know that if you have a resurrection that lasts more than four hours you are supposed to call the doctor.”
I have a confession to make: I seriously considered just standing up here on this glorious Easter morning and simply telling you joke after joke and trying my best to make you laugh. There’s this ancient tradition of telling jokes at Easter. Legend has it that joke telling at Easter became a popular way of imitating God’s ability to get the last laugh on the power that tried to destroy Jesus. I mean, it’s April Fools’ Day, after all, and even if my joke-telling makes a fool out of me, at least my playing the fool is in keeping with the day!
But, even though it is tempting to play the fool and just keep telling you jokes, I suspect that there might be one or two of you who expect me to talk more seriously about resurrection. By now, I hope that most of you already know that I don’t believe that resurrection is about the physical resuscitation of a corpse. I’ve preached on and on about how I take the Apostle Paul seriously when he says that talk of a physical resurrection is stupid. That’s 1stCorinthians chapter 15 – which you are all capable of reading for yourselves if you don’t believe me. Resurrection is about something so much more miraculous than the resuscitation of a corpse. So, let’s leave theology and doctrine for another day. Don’t worry, Easter lasts for 50 days. So, there will be plenty of opportunities for us to explore the theological implications of resurrection. Today, on this glorious Easter morning, let’s do what our ancestors were so good at doing when it comes to Easter, let’s not try to explain resurrection, instead let me tell you a story about resurrection.Continue reading →
Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. From comments, messages, and emails I hear from fellow preachers who, like me, are daunted by the task of preparing the Good Friday sermon. That task is even more daunting for those of us who serve progressive communities. My fellow progressive-christian-preachers tell me of the dearth of progressive-christian Good Friday sermons to be found on the internet and encourage me to re-post my own attempts to rise to the occasion. So, here are the links to some of the Good Friday sermons I have preached over the years of my journey with the progressive community which I serve. The people Holy Cross Lutheran Church has over the years provided an invigorating space for me to pursue my questions. They have also provided the resources which make this blog possible. So, if you find the work posted here of value to you and your community, please consider supporting this ministry of Holy Cross. I rarely solicit donations. But Holy Cross is a small community that continues to give to others in so many ways and your encouragement is greatly appreciated!!! (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3)
Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost
2016 I’m still working on getting my body out of the tomb in which it was laid all those years ago – reflecting on everyday crucifixions click here
2015 Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation click here
These reflections are part of our Lenten journey in which we are Giving Up God for Lent. They are set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the songs. The work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, most particularly his latest book: Unbelievable, permeates my thought process. I hear Jack pushing me farther and farther. What followers are the reflections and copies of the songs:
We worship as we live
in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,
a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.
May the Spirit of LOVE
breathe wisdom and passion
into this gathering.
Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance.
So, let us repent.
Repent from the Greek word metanoia
“to think new thoughts”
Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
A reading from 1st Corinthians chapter 13: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old. It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.
“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered. “Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?” “So, he would die?” “What? “You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?” At this point my mother had had enough! So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”
“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”
“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”
By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there. I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?
I remember watching the guy up at the front. I didn’t even want to ask why he was wearing a dress. And he kept doing this X (crossing himself). And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.
Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this X. “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!”
Now for those of you who don’t recognize it, I stole that routine from the great Irish comedian Dave Allen. I hoped it would make you laugh. But I also hoped that it would help you to think how ridiculous Christianity can be. Most of us have been hanging around Christianity for so long that we can’t or won’t see the humour in it.
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
The Bible was written by men who believed that they lived in a three-tiered universe. The Earth was flat. The flat Earth was surrounded by the waters. The flat earth was supported over the waters on pillars. Above the sky were the Heavens. One of the authors of the Book of Genesis described creation like this : “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.”
The Earth, the Heavens, and the seas.Now even though the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the Earth was round in the 6th century before the common era. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the flatness of the Earth was seriously challenged by the likes of Columbus.
I don’t know about you but for most of my life I have been taught that the place to learn about God is the Bible. Certainly, in the church the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority of the nature of God. For the most part, the Bible points to the Heavens above the firmament as the home of God.
In his new book, Unbelievable, our friend, Jack Spong writes: “The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history.” Jack has a way of reminding us of the obvious. None of us believe that we live in a three-tiered universe. Unlike our ancestors who succeeded the writers of the bible and went on to develop the theology of the church, we don’t believe that the round earth is the center of the universe. The writers of our creeds firmly established that God lived in heaven. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven…”
Most of us have travelled far above the Earth, we have sailed through the clouds and we know that there is no heaven up there. As far back as the sixteenth century, a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus calculated that the Earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei a personal friend of the Pope, published a paper demonstrating that the sun could not possible revolve around the earth. This despite the fact that the biblical author of the book of Joshua wrote that God stopped the rotation of the sun around the earth in order to provide Joshua with an extended period of daylight in which to kill his enemies. It took the Church until 1991 to concede that Galileo and not the writer of Joshua was right and that the Earth did indeed revolve around the Sun.Continue reading →
Thursday March 8, 2018 is International Women’s Day. The appointed gospel reading for the third Sunday of Lent is from John 2:13-22 which recounts the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. My hope is that in this the year of Me Too, preachers might be inclined to tune their sermons to reflect Jesus’ liberating power! This sermon was first preached in 2012; fortunately the government in Canada has changed since then and great strides have been made. But there is much more work to be done!!! I was inspired to write this by the work of Beverly Wildung Harrison and the prophetic witness of Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911. It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Women have come a long way since 1911. Sadly, we must all confess that women have a long way to go before we achieve our vision of a world in which all people have equal access to opportunity. There is much for us to celebrate on this particular International Women’s Day and there is also much to lament. In our world the phrase “war on women” is bandied about by the media and each time I hear it anger rises in me and it is all I can do to stop myself from screaming. In our own country we have watched the steady erosion of hard one gains as our federal government continues to cut funding to women’s organizations and continues to refuse to launch a federal inquiry into the disappearance of far too many of our aboriginal sisters. Any serious reflection on the plight of women in the world makes my blood boil and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just follow Jesus’ example because maybe if we turn over a few more tables in the halls of power we might be able to draw some serious attention to the abuses perpetrated upon women for the sake of maintaining the status quo.
The story of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple has always intrigued me. The idea that Jesus could have become so angry with religious authorities for cooperating with the violent and oppressive, Roman Imperial system that he would create such a scene in the Temple is so far from the image of Jesus as the meek and mild long-haired peace-nick that we’ve all come to take for granted.
For generations, biblical commentators have gone to great pains to ensure that any hint of Jesus humanity is scrubbed clean from interpretations of this story. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. Jesus was a human being and therefore he was subject to normal human emotions. But the institutional church frowns upon anger. Indeed, in many places one can still find anger listed as one of the seven deadly sins. “ira” which can be translated as anger or wrath made the list of seven deadly sins. This list is often attributed to the early Christians. Indeed, there are those who would argue that these sins are biblical. However, they are actually the work of a 4th century monk named Evagirus Ponticus, whose nickname was Evagrius the Solitary. He spent most of his adult life living as a hermit in the desert. I suspect that if a modern psychologist were to take a brief look of Evagrius’ personal biography they could very quickly make a diagnosis of clinical depression. Evagrius himself prescribed tears as the pathway to God and was known to have spent days at a time alone and weeping profusely. He is best known for his writings on the various forms of temptation, which the institutional church latched onto with a vengeance. His original list included eight deadly sins. But the church erased “sadness” from the list and elevated the seven deadly sins to the category of mortal sins. Mortal sins were those sins that actually placed one’s soul in danger of eternal damnation.Continue reading →
Lent 2B – Mark 8:31-38 this sermon is inspired by my study of the work of Dr. Cornel West. His words flow through the lines of this sermon and his prophetic imagination provides the hope-filled vision of LOVE parading around the world as justice.
The anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark, wants us to know that: “Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the one the oppressed people of Israel had been longing for, waiting for, expecting, hoping for, the Promised One, had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later.” Furthermore, the gospel storyteller makes it absolutely clear, “if you, wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, you must pick up your cross and follow in my footsteps.” Those of us who have the audacity to call ourselves Christian, those of us who seek to follow Jesus, must deny our very selves, we must pick up our cross, and we must follow in the footsteps, of Jesus. Follow in the footsteps of the ONE who is understands that he must suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the pillars of society, the powerful religious leaders and the scholars, follow in the footsteps of the One who understood that rejection meant that he would have to be put to death, and rise again. Quick change the channel. There must be something better on offer than this.
Change the channel, I can’t stand to watch this one again. I’ve seen it before. The hero, the beloved, the freedom fighter, justice seeker, peace maker, that one, the one we’re all rooting for, our saviour, suffers and dies. Change the channel, I’m not up for this. Don’t give me Jesus. I don’t want Jesus. I don’t want anybody telling me that suffering and death are the inevitable; especially my suffering, and my death. Change the channel. There must be something better out there.
I don’t want to know. Distract me. Distract me from the pain and the suffering. Change the channel. Find me something more interesting, more uplifting, more hopeful, more cheerful.Continue reading →
This sermon is inspired by the work of Dr. Cornel West whose words and challenges infuse this sermon with courage and passion. The questions which frame the challenges are from W.E.B du Bois as quoted by Cornel West. Listen to the sermon here
On Ash Wednesday, this week, we began the season of Lent. Traditionally the Lent is a season for contemplation, repentance, confession, and self-denial designed to prepare us for Holy Week. 40 days, not counting Sundays because all Sundays are a celebration of resurrection, 40 days leading up to our commemoration of Jesus’ death and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 40 days inspired by the stories recounted by the gospel storytellers known as Mark, Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, which of course are patterned after the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about Moses spending 40 nights on Mt Sinai, or the 40 days and nights it rained in the story of Noah and the flood, or the 40 years the Hebrew people spent wandering in the desert.
The gospel-storytellers cast Jesus out into the desert where he encounters Satan, the personification of evil. The first Sunday in Lent always includes a reading from one of these three gospel-storytellers about Jesus’ encounter…..this year our lectionary follows Mark, which you heard as our first reading. I’ve chosen the version out of Matthew for our gospel reading because it expands further on Jesus encounter with the personification of evil.
For several weeks now, our Adult Study Class has been ReThinking the concept of Evil; that is we have been looking at evil in light of all the ReThinking of Christianity that we have been doing for the past several years. How does our evolving Christian theology change the way we think of evil? Once you move beyond the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall from grace as the prevailing explanation for the existence of evil in the world, from whence cometh the problem of evil. So, in preparation for those classes I’ve had the privilege of delving into the subject of evil. I’ve spent weeks, no months now, but it feels like years now, researching the topic of evil. I get all the fun jobs around here.
Turns out most of us don’t really believe in Satan. Sure, the guy still haunts the deepest darkest recesses of our psyche’s – both our personal psyche and our collective psyche. But when push comes to shove, we’ve confined Satan to the pits of hell, which of course we all know doesn’t exist anywhere but in our collective imaginations. What we have here in this morning’s story, is metaphor heaped upon metaphor. Metaphors are those things we use when we don’t really have words to adequately describe particular phenomenon. Meta which means beyond and phor which means words, metaphor means beyond words and that works both ways. Metaphors describe those things that are beyond words and when looking at metaphors we are supposed to look beyond the words of the metaphor itself. Satan is used to describe that which is beyond words and we need to look beyond the word Satan itself to understand the metaphor of Jesus encounter with Satan.
The gospel-storytellers place the story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. Baptism was and is a public act; a sort of declaration of intent to be a certain kind of person. Jesus is about to step into his life as a public teacher. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist who preached a baptism of repentance; repentance means to turn around, to turn from the direction you’ve been going, to turn around toward God so that you might live in God, recognizing that God lives in you. No sooner does Jesus engage in this public act which sets him up as a committed follower of YAHWEH in a world where committed followers of YAHWEH where hanging on crosses all over the place; no sooner does Jesus set himself up against the powers-that-be than he is driving by the Spirit into the wilderness where the personification of evil, Satan himself pays Jesus a visit for the sole purpose of enticing Jesus to follow Satan and not YAHWEH. Isn’t that always the way? Each and every time we resolve to follow one path, someone or something comes along and entices us to follow another. When that someone is the personification of Evil himself, well who else would be up to the task of tempting Jesus other than Satan himself. The gospel-storytellers are setting up a battle of cosmic proportions between good and evil. Our very lives write large upon the canvass of the heavens themselves, cause you know the big guy up in the sky and all the heavenly host will be watching this one; just as they tune in each and every time we are come face to face with the choice between good and evil. What better way to begin a season, which encourages contemplation, repentance, and confession?Continue reading →