A Beautiful Faith

Sermon on Isaiah 66:12-13; John 14:1-14 for Easter 5 A, Mothers Day, May 14, 2017

Isaiah 66:12-13

For thus says the Lord:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

John 14:1-14

[Jesus said:] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

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The Sunday of Mother’s Day in America is always complicated. Many of us came from stable families in which our mothers raised us with love and care. Others did not have that experience. Some women here are mothers, and others are not, for a variety of reasons, some quite painful. Some of us have lost our mothers recently. Some mothers have lost children, which makes this day complicated.

Continue reading “A Beautiful Faith”

Following the Shepherd Out

Following the Shepherd Out

Sermon on John 10:1-10 and Acts 2:42-47 for Easter 4A, May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

John 10:1-10

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 1.41.47 PMIn Greek mythology, the God Hermes, son of Zeus, is considered the god of transitions and boundaries. He moves between the worlds of the gods and mortals as a messenger. Sometimes he is depicted with winged sandals or a winged cap. You may have seen him in the FTD florists icon.

Hermes is also shown carrying a ram draped around his shoulders, in preparation for sacrifice. Early Christians took that image and with a few changes, made it into the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a sheep. Continue reading “Following the Shepherd Out”

Eyes Broken Open

Eyes Broken Open

Sermon on Luke 24:13-35 for Easter 3A, April 30, 2017

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Eyes Broken Open

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 11.42.19 AMIn one of Irish theologian Peter Rollin’s talks he tells the story of the man who came to the pastor’s house one evening with a  big concern.  He said there was a family that was going to be evicted from their apartment.  They had always been faithful to pay their rent, but this month they were late.  They were only a day late, but the landlord’s rules were strict, and they were going to be evicted.  The family included children, and an elderly parent, and being winter, he said, it was urgent that the church help them.  The pastor said she would find some money in the church’s funds to stop this cruel eviction from happening.  Then she asked, “By they way, how do you know this family?”  The man said, “I’m the landlord.” Continue reading “Eyes Broken Open”

Saying it, and Making it Happen

Saying it, and Making it Happen

Sermon on John 20:19-31, for Easter 2A, April 23, 2017

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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There is a branch of linguistics called “Speech Act Theory”. It is concerned with analyzing the kinds of things people say (or “illocutionary acts”) which actually perform something, just by being said.

For example, when judge says, “non-guilty” then a person has been found not guilty. Saying it makes it happen.

When someone at a wedding says “I do” when asked, “do you take this person to be your lawfully wedded husband/wife?” then saying “I do,” makes it happen. When we say, “I promise…” then a promise has been made.

Continue reading “Saying it, and Making it Happen”

Finding Jesus Alive

Finding Jesus Alive

Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10 for Easter, year A,  April 16, 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 5.15.47 PMEaster is our  celebration of resurrection, so it is an important and special day for us.  Many people come here on Easter to participate in the celebration.  I want to take a moment to say to people whom we do not see much, we understand that this day can be complicated. Some people have no problem taking this story literally – some even get offended at the suggestion that there is any other way the story should be read other than literally.

But other people have trouble with it all. And in this church, we understand.   We, in this church, are friends with science.  We believe in evolution.  We are comfortable with the practice of reading religious texts religiously and scientific texts scientifically. 

So, from the start, I want to put your minds at rest.  But it is not a question of either believing or not believing; it is far more complicated than that.   This is a  religious text, and so we should read it religiously.  We should ask, not what literally happened, but what does this text mean? 

It turns out that this story is loaded with meaning.  So let us look at the text from Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew’s Story of Resurrection

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 5.25.23 PMIt begins with a time stamp.  It is after the sabbath, Matthew says, the first day of the week was dawning.  So, it is the dawn of both a new day, and a new week.  It sounds like we should expect something utterly new to happen.  And it also sounds a bit like the Creation story.  Perhaps we should expect something new on the level of a new creation?

What happens on this new dawning day?  The two Mary’s go to the tomb of Jesus.  Why are they going?  We are not told.  In this story they are not carrying spices to anoint the body, as in other gospels, they are just going, the way people go to grave sites, probably to mourn, to grieve, to honor their lost Jesus. 

The Death of Hope

They have just experienced death.  Yes, Jesus’ literal, physical death; but also, the death of all that he represented to them.  The death of their hopes that Jesus was going to start something new for all of them. 

He spoke so much of the kingdom of God being present.  He spoke of a radically new way of living that seemed possible when he was there – like, that you really could imagine that meek people were blessed, and that the poor were blessed, and that those who  hungered and thirsted for justice were blessed.  But without Jesus, how could that way of life be sustained? 

When Jesus was present, you could imagine that there could be a community that would welcome everybody – including the impure, including non-Jews, including children and women along with men.  But inclusive communities like that, that broke all the standard social rules, were unlikely in the extreme.  Without the charismatic magnetism of a Jesus, how could it stay together?

So they were going to his tomb, mourning the death of idealism, of a future they had begun to believe in, and any hope of getting it, or him, back again. 

But, a new day and a new week were dawning.  Perhaps something new could happen?

The Apocalyptic Angel

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 4.52.41 PMThe next sequence of events is right out of an apocalypse.  We see an angel, whose “appearance was like lightening and clothing white as snow,” descending from heaven, and an earthquake happens. 

All of those descriptive elements come out of apocalyptic literature; stories  about the future, told in cryptic cosmological symbols.  The angel does the impossible: rolls the stone from the entrance to the tomb. 

If you were reading the story for the first time, you might expect Jesus to be there in the tomb, either lying dead, or perhaps getting up and coming out, all wrapped up, like in the story of Lazarus. 

But no, he is not there; as the angel announced, it has already happened; he has already been raised from the dead. 

We should pause here to notice that if Jesus has been raised already, as the angel said,  but the stone door is just now being opened, then the Jesus that was raised did not have a body – at least not one like ours that require doors to be opened for us as we exit. 

But that is just one of those details that I think shows that this is not an attempt at literal story-telling.  This is a religious text. 

Anyway, the apocalyptic-looking and earthquake-making angel then says,

Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised” 

Luke’s version of this has not one but two angelic-looking, dazzling creatures who simultaneously say:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?  (Luke 23:5

I think that’s the point Matthew and Luke are both after.  Look for Jesus, yes, but not among the dead.  Look for Jesus among the living.  You are living.   The other disciples are living.  Go to Galilee, back to where all your friends and family are living and look for Jesus there. 

There you will see him” says the angel.

The angel could have just told them that Jesus had been raised and was not to be looked for among the dead without removing the stone, but then how could the huge stone of incredulity and skepticism ever be moved from their hearts? 

So, anyway, they see no Jesus there among the dead, in the tomb.  So they leave this tomb in Jerusalem, with, Matthew says, “fear and great joy” and then, he writes:

“Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.”

Seeing Jesus, Feet and All

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 5.31.51 PM 2If it is “suddenly” then they are not seeing him in Galilee yet, as the apocalyptic angel said they would, (which is 80 + miles away) but who cares?  And now, the Jesus they see does have a body, including feet, which they fall down and take hold of, and do obeisance. 

Jesus has the same message the apocalyptic angel had:

“Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Why all this attention paid to Galilee?  What is going on in this story?

You need an apocalyptic angel if what you want to do is to reveal the future.  You need the stone to be there blocking your vision because that is how it always starts: with blockage that needs removal. 

That’s why Jesus’ central message was “Repent (literally change your thinking) the kingdom of God has come near.”  The repentance is about removing the blockage – the stone in your heart.  A necessary first step to seeing Jesus.

The the stone needs to be dramatically removed, by the action of the divine, because only God can do that, and when God does it, it is earth-shaking.  Even grown up Roman soldiers melt like butter when it happens.  A new day dawns.

Among the Living – In Galilee

But Jesus is not to be seen among the dead.  He is not to be, for you, a distant and fading memory.  He is not like last summer’s beach novel; appreciated, then shelved and forgotten. 

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 4.54.09 PMGalilee is where you first encountered Jesus.  Galilee is where he said, “Follow me” and you left your nets behind, and did. 

Galilee is where you heard him go up the mountain and say,

Blessed are the poor, …blessed are the meek, …blessed are the ones hungry for justice, …the pure in heart, (even if they are not pure according to the purity laws), … blessed are the peacemakers.

Galilee is where he told you “you are the light of the world…you are the salt of the earth

Galilee is where he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

That is where you see Jesus; right there where you live. 

Richard Rohr quoted Paula D’Arcy saying “God comes to you, disguised as your life.” 

You see Jesus living where he said he could be seen.  Jesus said he would be seen in the disguise of “the least of these”, the ones who are hungry, thirsty, laking proper clothing, incarcerated, so that inasmuch as you cared for them, you cared for him. 

He is not among the dead, but among the living.  If you get the stone out of the way, you will see.

It is not about believing in resurrection with your head, it is about living resurrection.  This is why the Irish theologian Peter Rollins famously said, when asked if he denied the resurrection:

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… 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 lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.”

But then, he goes on to say:

“However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”

This way of affirming the resurrection is the dawn of the new day, the new Creation, the earthquaking event: when God rolls the stone in our hearts away, and opens the door to living resurrection. 

This is the is the dazzlingly apocalyptic future that God offers to us.  That we would be transformed from self-important, self-protective people, into people who seek first the kingdom of God and his justice

And when we do, we see Jesus as a living reality for us.  His words live in us. His vision of a reconciled and healed humanity becomes our vision.  It happens right here in our Galilee, in Gulf Shores, in Baldwin County.  When we live so that God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, we say, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!”

The Ride to Die For

The Ride to Die For

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 4.11.57 PMSermon on Matthew 21:1-11 for Palm Sunday, Year A, April 9, 2017

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

  “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
  humble, and mounted on a donkey,
  and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

  “Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin is famously concerned about his image.  Kiosks in Russia sell posters of him looking macho.  He rides horses bare chested, he scuba dives, he carries a hunting rifle with a scope, he is victorious in martial arts; clearly, he wants to be known as a man’s man: the very image of masculine authority.

Which is why his government recently outlawed photo no. 4072 which depicts Putin wearing makeup, false eyelashes, red lipstick.  Authoritarian rulers do not take well to mockery.  They never have. Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 11.07.52 AM

Part of our anti-Nazi propaganda effort in the Second World War included spreading a rumor that Hitler survived an attempted assassination plot.  The bomb, meant to kill him, merely blew his pants off.  The image of Hitler with his pants blown off was a mockery, and planting that image in everyone’s mind undermined images of him in his his stiff-armed, invincible-looking, Nazi salute. 

Continue reading “The Ride to Die For”

Breath, Spirit, Hope

Breath, Spirit, Hope

Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14 for Lent 5 A, April 2, 2017

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

My mother’s family is from western Colorado.  One summer when I was a boy we were visiting my grandmother.  She  on the edge of town so when my brother and I went exploring, we were quickly in an undeveloped area.

We went over a hill and in the plateau saw a sight that was both amazing to us, and appalling.  There were animal bones everywhere.  Mostly deer.  It must have been the place they dumped the deer that had been killed on the road.  We immediately set about looking for a pair of intact antlers.  We found some.  To be honest, that place did not smell very nice. 

Continue reading “Breath, Spirit, Hope”