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

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

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

Is God Coming Back to Life? – an Easter Sermon from 2014 – 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

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

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

Is God Coming Back to Life? – Easter Sunday sermon – April 20, 2014

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. 

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

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

I have been asked to repost this particular post. 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 two 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

I PLEAD GUILTY TO THE CHARGE of` DENYING THE RESURRECTION

BUT I AINT LEAVING!!!

             Blogging is new to me and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to yesterday’s post 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.

            Last year, 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?”

            “Why do you stay?” is a question I am all too familiar with.

            Well, before I can answer that, I have to say, that I’ve taken a leaf out of Joan Chittister’s book. Chittister insists that we should all be asking ourselves why we stay.  She cautions that those of us who stay, need to respect those who decide to leave and those who leave must respect those who stay. Chittister also insists that while we continue to ask ourselves why we stay, we ought to remember that “if we go, we must not go quietly and if we stay we must not stay quietly”. We must speak out because the church needs us to speak out.

            I confess that I am constantly asking myself why I stay and there are days when I feel like leaving, days when I feel like staying quietly, and days when I am convinced that it is in the church where I must not only stay but echo the words of Luther with gusto:  for in here I stand!

            I stay, because I still believe that it is possible to change the church from within. I stay, despite the fact that each time I go out into the wider church, the traditions and traditionalists that I meet there often make me want to leave. But then I remember all of the people in the faithful community that I serve. I remember their wiliness to dwell in the questions of our faith. I remember their courage and their determination. I remember their thirst for knowledge. I remember the amazing ways they reach out to the people outside the walls of the church. I remember their faithfulness, their love,  and their keen sense of justice. I remember the image of Christ that I see in their faces and I know without a doubt that the church is where I belong, even though I know that as a community we will continue to ask ourselves,  “Why do we stay?”  And I know that if we stay we will not stay quietly. And if we should ever decide to leave, we will not leave quietly. I stay because in the church community that I serve, I have encountered the Body of Christ.

            Here in the church, I have seen the risen Christ reach out to our neighbours in need, fight for justice, and love God with all our hearts, with all our souls and yes with all our minds.  So, I stay surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses.  But like so many before us, we must not stay quietly. Together we must continue to speak out for change in our church.  And together we must continue to explore what the best minds of this century have to teach us about the nature of our God.

            My desire to work together with others to move the church into the 21st century is precisely why I preach the sermons I preach on Good Friday and Easter Sunday mornings.  And for the most part, despite the dire warnings of some of my clergy colleagues, our visitors take it all very well. Indeed many are relieved to hear that there is more than one way to follow Christ.  But there was this one person last Easter Sunday, who on the way out the door, insisted that I had denied the resurrection.  This person was quite distressed and wondered aloud how a Christian could deny the resurrection and still call themselves a Christian.

            Now even though I assured this person that I do indeed believe in the resurrection, it was clear to me, what this person heard me say was not exactly the same as what I actually said.  So, let me make it clear. There is, and there has always been, from the very beginning disagreement among the followers of Christ as to the exact nature of the resurrection. And things aren’t any different today than they were in the first century. There is a distinct disagreement between the Christianity of biblical scholarship and the Christianity of fundamentalists.  And 21st century Christians can be found faithfully following Christ all along the spectrum of beliefs about the resurrection.

            Fundamentalists are quite sure of their truth.  On Easter the crucified Jesus, who was laid in the grave as a deceased man on Good Friday, was by the mighty act of God, restored to life on Easter. Jesus had broken the power of death for all people. If the body of Jesus was not physically restored to life, the fundamentalists claim, then Easter is fraudulent. There can be no compromise here. Those who waver on this foundational truth of Christianity have, according to this perspective, abandoned the essential core of their faith tradition.

            Well, to borrow the words from an old song and say, “”Tain’t necessarily so!” When you read the New Testament in the order in which these books were written, a fascinating progression is revealed.  Paul, for example, writing between the years 50 and 64 or some 20 to 34 years after the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, never describes the resurrection of Jesus as a physical body resuscitated after death.  There is no hint in the Pauline corpus that one, who had died, later walked out of his grave clothes, emerged from the tomb and was seen by his disciples.

            What Paul does suggest is that Easter meant that God had acted to reverse the verdict that the world had pronounced on Jesus by raising Jesus from death into God. It was, therefore, out of God in a transforming kind of heavenly vision that this Jesus then appeared to certain chosen witnesses. Paul enumerates these witnesses and, in a telling detail, says that this was the same Jesus that Paul himself had seen. No one suggests that Paul ever saw a resuscitated body.

            The Pauline corpus later says, “If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Remember, the story of the Ascension had not been written when these Pauline words were formed. Paul did not envision the Resurrection as Jesus being restored to life in this world but as Jesus being raised into God. It was not an event in time but a transcendent and transforming truth.

            Paul died, according to our best estimates, around the year 64 C.E. The first Gospel was not written until the early 70’s. Paul never had a chance to read the Easter story in any Gospel. The tragedy of later Christian history is that we read Paul through the lens of the Gospels.  So, we have both distorted Paul and also confused theology.

            When Mark, the first Gospel, was written the Risen Christ never appears. The last time Jesus is seen comes when his deceased body is taken from the cross and laid in the tomb. Mark’s account of the Resurrection presents us with the narrative of mourning women confronting an empty tomb, meeting a messenger who tells them that Jesus has been raised and asking these women to convey to the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Mark then concludes his Gospel with a picture of these women fleeing in fear, saying nothing to anyone.  So abrupt was this ending that people began to write new endings to what they thought was Mark’s incomplete story. Two of those endings are actually reproduced in the King James Version of the Bible as verses 9-20. But thankfully, these later creations have been removed from the text of Mark in recent Bibles and placed into footnotes.  The sure fact of New Testament scholarship is that Mark’s Gospel ended without the Risen Christ ever being seen by anyone.

            Both Matthew, who wrote between 80-85, and Luke, who wrote between 88-92, had Mark to guide their compositions. Both changed, heightened and expanded Mark. It is fascinating to lift those changes into consciousness and to ask what was it that motivated Matthew and Luke to transform Mark’s narrative. Did they have new sources of information? Had the story grown over the years in the retelling?

            The first thing to note is that Matthew changes Mark’s story about the women at the tomb. First, the messenger in Mark becomes a supernatural angel in Matthew’s story. Next Matthew says the women do see Jesus in the garden.             They grasp him by the feet and worship him. This is the first time in Christian history that the Resurrection is presented as physical resuscitation. It occurs in the 9th decade of the first century.  It should be noted that it took more than 50 years to begin to interpret the Easter experience as the resuscitated body of the deceased Jesus.

            I don’t have time to go into the details of the development of this interpretation. But you can trace its growth through the gospels of Matthew and Luke until finally at the end of the first century to the Gospel of John. And when you read these chronologically, you will see that the Easter story appears to have grown rather dramatically over the years.

            Something happened after the crucifixion of Jesus that convinced the disciples that Jesus shared in the eternal life of God and was thus available to them as a living presence.   This experience was so profound that the disciples, who at his arrest had fled in fear, were now reconstituted and empowered even to die for the truth of their vision.  This experience had the power to force the Jewish disciples to redefine the God of the Jews so that Jesus could be seen as part of who God is. Finally this experience was so profound that it ultimately created, on the first day of the week, a new holy day that was quite different from the Sabbath, to enable Christians to mark this transforming moment with a liturgical act called “the breaking of bread.”

            When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world. Our conversation about the meaning of Easter must begin where these two realities meet.

            As for those who condemn those of us who choose to follow the biblical strains of our resurrection theology as non-Christians, well there will always be those who will insist that it is their way or the highway.  As for the person who greeted me on the way out the door last Easter Sunday and questioned my ability to call myself a Christian, I would say, “Thank-you!”.  This question allowed me the opportunity to communicate clearly and concisely my thoughts on the resurrection, so please allow me to repeat myself. To those who have responded to my blogs, I say, “Thank-you!”  I thank-you for engaging me in the questions of our faith.  I thank-you because your questions make me a better follower and I trust that my questions will do the same for you.  Let us together be the church in our own time and place and have the courage to follow where-ever Christ leads.

            So, without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think.  I deny the resurrection of Christ.  Theologian Peter Rollins puts it far better than I ever could, and with him, let me just say:

             “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor;  I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed.

            Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor.

            I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.

            However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are.

            I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees,

            I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out,

            I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

            I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.”

             Christ has died. Christ has risen.  Christ will come again and again.

            This is the mystery of our faith.

            Christ is Risen!

            Christ is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

            Christ is risen in you and in me. 

            In the words of Martin Luther:

            “This is most certainly true!”

            Can I get an Amen?