LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! – an Easter sermon

embodied LOVE: Omran Daqneesh and embodied LOVE: Alex

Listen to the sermon here

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

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

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

Jesus’ Resurrection is Extraordinary Precisely Because Any Thing At All Made It Out of That Bloody Tomb! – an Easter sermon

Christ Is Risen in Us pastordawn

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

Is God Coming Back to Life? – an Easter Sermon – with links to previous sermons

time god coversThis 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 

Easter: The Greatest Story Ever Told – here

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

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

Approaching Resurrection: What Did Paul Actually Say – here

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

Words Will Always Fail Us – here

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

Jesus’ Resurrection is Extraordinary Precisely Because Any Thing At All Made It Out of That Bloody Tomb! – an Easter sermon

Christ Is Risen in Us pastordawn

Our readings this beautiful Easter morning 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

Words Will Always Fail Us – A Resurrection Story – John 20:1-18

Christ Is Risen in Us pastordawn

You can listen to the story here

The doctor who signed her death certificate and I crossed paths in the driveway. We recognized one another from the few times that our visits to the house had coincided. I hadn’t been a pastor for more than about a year and I remember thinking the first time I’d seen the doctor arrive with her medical bag, “at least she has some real pain medication in there.” All I had in my bag was a bible and my tiny, little communion kit. Just some old wine and a few stale wafers. I envied the doctor with her knowledge, her pills, her medicine and her skills. The doctor sighed, “Oh thank-God you’re here! They’re a real mess in there.” As I stood there, wondering what to say to that, I remember wishing the doctor had something in her bag of tricks that could give me the courage to enter the house, I felt like a fool. What was I suppose to do?

This wasn’t my first visit. A parishioner had called me just a few months earlier, “Could I go and visit a friend of hers who was dying; cancer it won’t be long now. She iss being cared for at home; she wants to die at home. She used to go to church and now as the end draws near she wants to reconnect.” Would I please go and see her.”

I knew I was out of my depth from the moment I hung up the phone. I thought this is it. This is the real stuff of being a pastor. This is where they discover that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. Leading worship, preaching, and teaching is one thing, this,

this is something entirely different. But the parishioner was insistent, her friend, let’s call her Anna, her friend Anna, you’ll never guess she was once a Lutheran; yes she went to Sunday School, Confirmation, had her kids baptized and even taught Sunday School. But since they moved to Newmarket they had fallen out of the habit of going to church. There wasn’t a Lutheran church in Newmarket when they first moved here some ten or was it twenty years ago.  “Anyway Pastor, she really needs to get close to God right now, so I told her you would come; you will go and see her won’t you, I know she’s not a member, but she really needs to get things in order before she goes.”

Standing there in the driveway feeling like a fool, I said good-bye to the doctor and tried to get myself to go inside.The black van in the driveway signaled the presence of the funeral home; there to collect the body. Her husband welcomed me at the door, fell into my arms and said only, “It is almost finished, they’ll be gone soon.” Continue reading

Words Will Always Fail Us: an Easter Sermon

Christ Is Risen in Us pastordawnLast year Michael Morwood preached an Easter sermon at Holy Cross in which I was reminded that the followers of Jesus, in all likelihood, told their resurrection stories using details they found in the scriptures of their ancestors. Michael’s words (you can listen here to Michael’s sermon here) provided the inspiration for this sermon. Our readings included Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 and John 20:1-18. The reference to the prophet Hosea is found in chapter 6:1-2. 

You can listen to the sermon here

I Plead Guilty to the Charge of Denying the Resurrection – But I ain’t leaving!!!

I am reposting this particular post because it remains the most visited post of this blog.  It first appeared during  my first months of blogging and I am often asked about this post. Its contents continue to invoke the wrath of some and the appreciation of many. I offer it here, mindful that in the intervening tree years since I first posted it, I have had the opportunity to explore progressive and evolutionary theologies which have nourished me in my efforts to proclaim the Easter story in ways that move beyond the tired debate over the physical resuscitation of a corpse toward an understanding of resurrection that permeates my daily quest to know the unknowable ONE who lies at the heart of reality. 

Peter Callesen's Papercut Resurrection

Peter Callesen’s Papercut Resurrection

Blogging is sometimes a very strange medium and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to my recent posts about resurrection.  While many have emailed or posted their ardent “amens” others have been scathing and some hostile to my remarks.  I am grateful to everyone who has responded.  All of your comments help me as I continue to ponder the theological and practical implications of the Easter story.  For those of you who have suggested that I have no business calling myself a Christian or a pastor and have suggested that I ought to consider leaving the church, I offer the following.

A while back, I got together with clergy colleagues to talk about the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. When the subject of the crucifixion and the resurrection came up, the conversation became very lively as the traditionalists challenged the progressives. Toward the end of our conversation, it became clear that because I was unwilling to concede to the notion that Jesus corpse was physically resuscitated; I stood accused of having denied the resurrection.

Some colleagues rose to my defense and insisted that I wasn’t saying anything different than what we all learned in seminary. But they also insisted that most lay-people simply don’t want to hear it. So, I asked them if they were going to preach about what they had learned in seminary and beyond and the general consensus was that there are too many guests on Easter Sunday to tackle theology.

Some said, they were simply too afraid of the fundamentalists in their congregations to ever even attempt to preach what they knew. A few confessed that they were working up to it; but not on Easter Sunday.

The traditionalists in the group were disgusted. One colleague went so far as to insist that I had no business being in the church because my very presence puts the beliefs of the faithful at risk. He wondered aloud, “Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe?  If the church’s theology no longer works for you, why don’t you just leave?” Continue reading

Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh, Laugh – an Easter Sermon

Easter Roll away the stoneWhen my niece Sarah was born, I was amazed at how quickly I fell in love with her. Just as soon as my brother placed her in my arms, I was consumed with a love so great that I thought my heart would burst. But as great as that love was, as the weeks and months passed and that love grew deeper and deeper. When Sarah was about 11 months old, my best friend gave birth to a daughter and when she placed her child in my arms for the first time, I fell deeply in love with darling little Rebekah. Fortunately, Sarah and Rebekah lived quite a distance away from one another and I was able to carve out enough time to spoil each of them separately and in their own unique ways. In fact, these darling little girls who were the apples of my eye never actually met until one Easter weekend, when Sarah was about 3 years old and Rebekah was almost 2. It was absolutely the worst Easter egg hunt I have ever attended. It was horrible. Every time a paid even the slightest bit of attention to one of those darling girls the other one would fly into a jealous snit. They vied in the most undignified way for my attention all afternoon. If I even so much as smiled at one of them the other one would feel the need to do something, anything to get my attention firmly focused back on them. If I picked one of them up, the other one would begin to moan and complain about something until I put the other one down and picked up the complainer. If one of them found an Easter egg the other would cry until the focus was returned to their quest for an egg. If one of them crawled up on my lap, the other one would try to physically remove that one so that they could crawl up in their place. The parents in attendance just laughed at my predicament and left me to the task of trying to assure my darling little girls that just because I loved one of them didn’t mean that I didn’t love the other.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the jealousy that I bore witness to on that long ago Easter weekend was born of a fear that lives inside each of us. For who among us has not worried about whether or not there’s going to be enough love for us. That fear lies at the very heart of who we are. Child psychologists describe the phenomenon of fear in children as coming in three basic forms: the fear of falling or failing, the fear of loud noises or catastrophe, and the fear of abandonment. They suggest that at the bottom of all these fears is the fear of death. We human’s are a strange lot, driven by our fears to commit the most outrageous acts. So many of us live lives controlled by our fears, and we wrap ourselves up in the fear that there just won’t be enough love for us; or enough success, or enough money, or enough time. So we become jealous of others, and we grab all the success and all the money we can before time runs out. We allow our fears to drive our emotions and so jealousy, greed and eventually hatred drive our actions and poverty, violence and war come to dominate our world. The fear of death is the primal terror that what awaits us at the end of our journey here is nothing but chaos or even judgement or punishment. Continue reading

A Resurrection Story In Memory of Nellie, My Gran

I post this sermon, which I preached last Easter Sunday, touched by the memories it evokes. Resurrection came to my Gran this past summer. Her 100 years were and are a blessing to her family and friends. She comes to me often in so many ways; this sermon is but one. 

Tredegar, Wales the village where Nellie was born in 1911

Tredegar, Wales the village where Nellie was born in 1911

Sisters and brothers in Christ, today we gather to celebrate the greatest story ever told! Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia! Christ is risen in you and in me. And because Christ is risen, I can welcome each of you to your very own resurrection!!!  Christ is risen in you and in me!  Alleluia!!!       

It is the greatest story ever told. Like all the best stories ever told it does not answer all our questions. Poet Mary Oliver insists that, “There are many stories more beautiful than answers.” The bible is full of great stories. The sacred scriptures contain responses to some of humanity’s greatest questions. The stories in the scriptures provide us with responses to some of our deepest longings, but those responses do not come in the form of answers. The Bible is full of stories that touch the deepest mysteries of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths and similes to discover our reality. The story that bursts forth on this Easter Sunday is the greatest story ever told. It is a story told in response to our deepest reality and our darkest fear: death. Continue reading