Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth: Is this the Gospel of Christ? – Matthew 22:1-14

Listen to the sermon here

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said,  “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’  But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town. Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honour. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’  The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests. The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’   “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14

Is this the Gospel of Christ? In Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and other mainline denominations this text will be read and in those congregations the preacher will conclude the reading with a proclamation declaring that this is, “The Gospel of Christ!” or “The Gospel of the Lord!” to which the people will declare “Praise to you O Christ!” But I ask you: “Is this the Gospel of Christ?” “Wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Is this the Gospel of Christ?

I must confess that when I realized that this text is the one assigned for this, the very Sunday when we are about to begin our “visioning process,” my heart sank. This gospel reading comes around every three years and I’ve always managed to be on vacation when that happens, so I’ve never actually had to preach this particular gospel text.  I was sorely tempted to change our gospel reading to something more in keeping with the task that lies before us this afternoon. This text is hardly conducive to creating a new 21st century vision of what our church might become.  “Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are called but few are chosen.”

Throw him out into the darkness for the crime of being badly dressed? What kind of vision is this for us, here, today? Are we not a progressive congregation? Do we not pride ourselves on being an inclusive community?  “Many are called but few are chosen.” Is this the “Gospel of Christ?” “Praise to you O Christ!” I don’t think so. Continue reading

Augustine of Hippo – August 28

The feast day of Augustine of Hippo is a good time to recall what St. Augustine had to say on the literal meaning of Genesis:
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (from Augustine’s commentary on Genesis: “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” (translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J.; two volumes; Newman Press, New York, 1982; pages 42-43 of Volume 1)

Hildegard von Bingen – Woman of Vision – Feast Day September 17

Herald of the Divine Feminine, reformer of the church and green prophet! September 17th is the feast day of the Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen, a woman of great vision, a woman centuries ahead of her time. During her 81 years Hildegard’s talents as an artist, musician, poet, healer and theologian allowed her to produce a wealth of resources for the church which ought not to be ignored. And yet the Roman Catholic Church only got around to officially canonizing this giant of the church this past year.

In 2009, German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta wrote and directed the movie “Vision”. The DVD version is available from Amazon and I highly recommend it!!!

Matthew Fox’s  book “Hildegard of Bingen a Saint for Our Times, Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century” provides an excellent resource for those who are working to change religious institutions today. You can listen to an interview of Matthew Fox about Hildegard here. Fox describes Hildegard as a Trojan horse whose teachings he hopes will shake up the vatican.

At Holy Cross we have developed an Evening Prayer Service inspired by the work of Hildegard. The worship bulletin and an audio recording of the service are linked below. Enjoy the video of contralto Karen Clark who preforms Hildegard’s antiphon “O Virtus Sapientie”

Evening Prayer Service Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided

Evening Prayer Audio – the silences are intentional. Enjoy!

Giving Up the Theories of Atonement in Order to Move Toward an Evolutionary Understanding of Jesus: a Good Friday sermon

eloi eloi lamaI am indebted to Michael Morewood for the theological insights in his book “It’s Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith” for helping me to see beyond the idols in my head! This sermon was preached on Good Friday 2013 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Additional Good Friday sermons can be found here and here

The account of Jesus’ execution that we have just heard from the Gospel according to John lacks the rawness of the earlier accounts of Jesus death. The author of this account wrote at the turn of the first century, some seventy to eighty years after the Romans executed Jesus. That’s enough time for two, maybe three, or possibly even four generations to have pondered these events. The first account of these events, the Gospel According to Mark was written slightly earlier, sometime after the year 70. Most scholars date it between the years 70 and 85. That’s still 40 to 65 years after the execution; still time for one or two generations to have pondered these events. Perhaps it’s the closer proximity of the Gospel according to Mark that gives it much shaper raw feeling when it is read. Or maybe it’s the decision of translators down through the ages to preserve the intensity of Jesus’ cry from the cross in Aramaic. I don’t know about you, but I cannot begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, and all the horrendous moments that have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” In most of the films depicting the crucifixion that I can remember seeing, Jesus looks up, up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God.Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died.This question has left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries as our ancestors in the faith have struggled to offer up answers to the questions of the faithful. Why did Jesus have to die?

In pulpits all over the planet, preachers are struggling to help their listeners cope with the realities of the violence that murdered the One whom we seek to follow. I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers that have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can recite chapter and verse of the various theories that have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I can tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the fall and original sin and the need for reconciliation. I could recount the various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. Continue reading

ATHEISM for LENT: WEEK 5 – The New Atheists

AfL 5 New AtheistsOur last class in the series will be an introduction to what has been dubbed New Atheism. We will explore the work of the 21st centuries New Atheists who have become famous or infamous for the careers they have carved out of their “unbelief.” The videos below “The Four Horsemen of New Atheism” provide an introduction for the class. The Four Horsemen include: Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

ATHEISM for LENT: WEEK 4 – Delusion: Sigmund Freud

4 AFL UNBELIEF

Watch Richard Dawkins’ THE GOD DELUSION
and then join us for conversation on
Wednesday April 2, at 10:30 am
when we will explore Sigmund Freud’s critique of religion.

ATHEISM for LENT: WEEK 3 – History of Unbelief

AFL UNBELIEF 3We will wrap up our conversation on Nietzsche’s critique and how it might help us to examine our own expression of Christianity. You can read a summary of Nietzsche’s views on Christianity here and watch a short lecture on Nietzsche and Christianity below. Please watch episodes 2 and 3 of Atheism: A Brief History of Unbelief (below) to prepare for our next class on Wed. March 23 so that we can begin to look at the critiques of Marx and Freud. 

Enough of John the Baptist Already! a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

mandelaIn addition to Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew3:1-2, the readings today included Maya Angelou’s poem “His Day Is Done: a Tribute to Nelson Mandela“.  I am indebted to Glynn Cardy for much of this sermon and we are both indebted to John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk for providing historical perspective. 

The Innovation of Loneliness

As we venture into the season of Advent, the disciplines of the season encourage us to step back from the hustle and bustle of our culture’s preparations for the holiday season. To prepare ourselves we are encouraged to slow down and spend time in silence and contemplation. I wonder how much our fear of being lonely when we are alone prevents us from embracing the darkness???

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

gladwellDavid and Goliath like you’ve never heard this story before! I have enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s writing ever since a wise seminary professor put a copy of The Tipping Point on my personal reading list. In addition to gobbling up each of his books, I savour his articles in The New Yorker. Gladwell’s mind works in ways that delight, challenge, encourage and confound. Gladwell is for this preacher/storyteller an inspiration! Gladwell is a storyteller’s storyteller.

david&goliathGladwell’s latest book David and Goliath demonstrates his considerable abilities when it comes to using stories to challenge long-held assumptions. While the book shatters assumptions about underdogs, assumptions and seemingly lost causes. Whether you agree or disagree with Gladwell’s assertions, you’ll find yourself thinking or re-thinking your own biases. It’s a positively splendid read. 

Of his own work Gladwell writes: “I write in the genre of what might be calledgladwell books “intellectual adventure stories.” Books like David and Goliath combine narratives and ideas from academic research in an attempt to get people to look at the world a little differently. I have always tried to be honest about the shortcomings of this approach. Stories necessarily involve ambiguity and contradiction. They do not always capture the full range of human experience. Their conclusions can seem simplified or idiosyncratic. But at the same time stories have extraordinary advantages. They can reach large numbers of people and move them and serve as the vehicle for powerful insights.”

Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, raised in the Mennonite tradition. In an article in the Huffington Post, Gladwell discusses his return to religion. here

To wet your appetite or just for sheer entertainment value, watch this TED talk in which Gladwell demonstrates his considerable storytelling/preaching abilities while covering the first part of his book. 

Hildegard von Bingen – Woman of Vision – Feast Day September 17

Herald of the Divine Feminine, reformer of the church and green prophet! September 17th is the feast day of the Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen, a woman of great vision, a woman centuries ahead of her time. During her 81 years Hildegard’s talents as an artist, musician, poet, healer and theologian allowed her to produce a wealth of resources for the church which ought not to be ignored. And yet the Roman Catholic Church only got around to officially canonizing this giant of the church this past year.

In 2009, German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta wrote and directed the movie “Vision”. The DVD version is available from Amazon and I highly recommend it!!!

Matthew Fox’s new book “Hildegard of Bingen a Saint for Our Times, Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century” will be released next month and I am eagerly awaiting my copy. You can listen to an interview of Matthew Fox on the subject of his new book here. Fox describes Hildegard as a Trojan horse whose teachings he hopes will shake up the vatican.

At Holy Cross we have developed an Evening Prayer Service inspired by the work of Hildegard. The worship bulletin and an audio recording of the service are linked below. Enjoy the video of contralto Karen Clark who preforms Hildegard’s antiphon “O Virtus Sapientie”

Evening Prayer Service Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided

Evening Prayer Audio – the silences are intentional. Enjoy!

The Doubt Essential to Faith – Lesley Hazleton

CoexistI have featured Lesley Hazleton on this blog before. Hazleton’s insights into faith come from her unique perspective as an agnostic Jew whose fascination with Islam has produced two biographies of the Prophet Mohammad.

In her latest TED talk (June 23/13) Hazleton looks to the doubts experienced by the Prophet Mohammad to explore the relationship between faith and doubt, calling for a new appreciation of doubt as pivotal in the struggle to end the fundamentalism of all religions. It is well worth a listen!!!

Butterfly Effect: Small But Not Insignificant!

butterfly effectReturning to work after a week’s vacation and I am inundated by a slew of emails urging me to do something/anything about this or that disaster/dilemma/outrage. Do the authors of these electronic pleas really believe that I can make a difference? Will anyone really notice if I delete a week’s worth of urgent requests for my attention? Will anything really change if I lend my attention to one or two of the more compelling pleas? Paralyzed by the enormity of need, I fixed myself a cup of coffee and went outside to think. I was joined by a butterfly; a red admiral to be precise. Remembering that the ancient Greeks called butterflies “psyche” which was also their word for “soul”, I could help wondering how far this brief little life would take this little soul. Had she travelled here from South America? How far north would she go? I used to have a little six-year-old friend who called them “flutter-bys” and his backwards utterances of delight at their presence brought a smile to my lips that came to me from a time long ago. My reverie was interrupted by what I gather an entomologist would call a “rabble” as more and more butterflies fluttered by. It was then that I remembered the “butterfly effect”. 

It seems that back in the sixties there was this mathematician named Edward Lorenz who worked at MIT as a meteorologist. Lorenz was trying to use complicated mathematical formulas to develop models to predict the weather. During the course of his research, Lorenz discovered that his precise mathematical formulas could not process the weather data in a rational way. No matter how many times he ran his models, he could not predict the weather. Apparently, small differences along the way could have huge implications down the road. Lorenz coined the phrase:  “Butterfly Effect” to describe the phenomena that he was observing in his laboratory. Nowadays, quantum physicists use the same term in chaos theory to describe what happens when a small change in one place in a system can result in large difference to a later state.  Apparently, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil it can create a storm in Central Park. The mere flapping of a butterfly wing has a ripple effect that multiplies over time and changes weather patterns thousand of miles away.

Small though our responses may appear when compared to the colossal need in the world, they are not in and of themselves insignificant! Remembering the Christian use of butterflies as a symbol of resurrection, I returned to my office to give those electronic pleas my utmost attention.

Celebrating Pentecost in the 21st Century

pentecost celebrate 2Michael Morwood has the uncanny ability to articulate progressive Christianity in ways that enable worshippers to move beyond images and ideas that entrap us in ancient world views. I love his prayers and use them often in worship!

Adapted from “Praying a New Story” by Michael Morwood

The Celebration of Pentecost in the 21st century moves us beyond the story of Jesus ascending to “heaven” in order to send the Spirit upon us.  Pentecost is the wonderful story of God’s Spirit always present, always active in human development and given total and free expressing in human form by Jesus of Nazareth.

It is the amazing story of people coming to awareness through reflection on the life of Jesus that the same Spirit that moved in Jesus moved in them.  They realized it was no their responsibility to give witness to the Spirit in their lives as totally and as freely as Jesus had.

Pentecost is the wonderful good news that all people who live in love live in God and God lives in them. Pentecost presents a challenge to humanity:  What would life on earth be like if the actions of all people were motivated by their awareness of being “temples of God’s Spirit”?

by Michael Morwood

by Michael Morwood

This is Water: David Foster Wallace

goldfish“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” David Foster Wallace
– This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

As a pastor, I am often asked to define spirituality. Over the years I have explored many definitions of spirituality; all of which fall short of capturing the experience of the awareness of the sacredness of life that I believe spirituality is. In his efforts to define the value of the value of an education, David Foster Wallace comes close to describing an awareness that is spirituality. Spirituality opens us to the awareness that there is life before death, here and now and that life is sacred. Enjoy the video. You can read the full text of the speech here

The audio comes from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallacewallace in 2005 to at Kenyon College. The video was made after David Foster Wallace died. Wallace was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and professor at Poma College who has been described as “the most gifted and linguistically exuberant American novelist and short story writer of his generation. 

Pray If You Must. And If You Must Then Pray It For Real!

prayer noSo much of what passes for prayer these days leaves me cold. I have it on good authority that there are people in various places praying for me. Sadly, most of the things they are praying for on my behalf sound like hell on earth; this despite the fact that these folk insist that the things they are praying for will keep me out of hell. The sung prayer in this video has been a favourite of mine for a few years now. Padraig O’ Tuama is an Irish poet, song writer, theologian and troubadour whose earthy prayer is at the very least a conversation worthy of the Divine’s attention: “I fucked it up. I fucked it up. Maranatha.” 

The Echoes of Jesus’ Cry and Giving Up the Theories of Atonement: a Good Friday sermon

Crucifixion 3I am indebted to Michael Morewood for his theological insights in his newly released book “It’s Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith” for helping me to see beyond the idols in my head!

Listen to the sermon here

Listen to the full worship service here – Special thanks to the Rev.Susan J. Thompson for her leadership. As always our worship was empowered by the magnificence of our gifted musician Marney Curran. Special thanks to Gary Curran for his solo.

Download the worship bulletin here (3 pages, print double-sided and fold into a booklet)

God: Supernatural Theism or Panentheism?

Marcus borgWhenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem ever more puny. While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. Often our attempts are as clumsy and as limited as the attempts of our ancestors. But sometimes, sometimes the likes of Tillich breathes new life into the notions of our ancestors and Paul’s description of our God as  “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” becomes for us, as Tillich imagines, “the Ground of our Being”.  

So, with a spirit of discovery and wonder, I encourage you to listen to Marcusfish in water Borg’s attempt  to describe our God. Borg’s efforts take us beyond the Ground of our Being toward a panentheistic understanding of God in all things and all things in God.  Please note: panentheism is not pantheism – pantheism means God is in everything – so God can be worshipped by worshipping nature because God is in nature. Panentheism means everything is in God and God is in everything – so – God breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, and we intern are in God – everything is in God but God is more than the sum of everything. A panentheistic view of God does not preclude thinking of God as personal – but it does understand that God is more than personal. 

While I don’t agree with everything Borg says in this video, it is a wonderful place to begin to think about expanding our way of speaking of the Divine. As long as we remember that our language will always fail to capture the wonders of our God.