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April 15, 2018, 3rd Sunday of Easter YR B

Year B, Easter 3
April 15, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.”

Happy Easter, everyone!

I am trying to emphasize Easter as a season this year.  Easter is not one day, it is 50; so feast on!  The Paschal Candle is lit the whole time.  The flowers are lovely.  We don’t say the confession in this season. It’s bare feet in the soft grass.  Life is free and easy.  Well, obviously there is lots to be worried about; in your life, in the world, there are lots of things to fear if you are paying attention, but that is not the only story, and in Jesus Christ that is certainly not the end of the story.  And that’s what we remember in the Easter season.  In the end, as St. Julian reminds us, “all will be well, all will be well, every manner of thing will be well.”  Easter is all about remembering that, that it will be well.  But that does not just mean that in the end, in the fullness of time, in the sweet hereafter that it will be well.  No, no, no, no…  That’s as bad a Christian misunderstanding as we have ever had.  The Easter story assures us not only that it will be well, but also reminds us that it can be well.  And not just well for you, or for us, or them, but well, straight up well for everyone, for God’s whole creation.  And the wonder of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit even goes further than that: the Easter story teaches us that it is well.  That heaven and earth are already aligned.  We, are the misaligned.  If we had the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, and the courage, humility and will to be and let it be as God intends, we would know that all is well, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  That is the promise and the lesson of Easter.  That’ll take at least 50 days to absorb.

And then I read the paper this morning.  Missiles are raining on Syria in response to nerve gas attacks on civilians; evil answered with evil.  More than 1000 Gazans have been wounded by the IDF since Passover began; 30 or 40 killed.  That’s barley in the paper.  Our government… no one is rising to the occasion, barely anyone in public life is except maybe the Rev. Dr. William Barber, God bless him.  And as wealth concentrates beyond the proportions of the Gilded Age, poverty trickles down into our city, our neighborhood, our congregation.  Part of me says that if this is what well looks like, I’d hate to see mediocre!  It is scary, sometimes.

Rob’s great sermon last week reminded us that doubt has deep roots in the Christian tradition.  From day one, literally, from the day Jesus rose from the grave, even the most dedicated, the closest to Him, doubted.  Doubted what the women told them, doubted what Jesus had promised, doubted their own experiences, just doubted.  As religious people, conventional wisdom would say, we are supposed to have faith and not doubt.  I have grave doubts about that statement.  Doubt is real, it is a common experience, and it is a healthy sign of God’s gift of free will which gives us the impetus to wrestle with faith, to consider to whom and what we give authority, discern what we bring into our hearts and minds and bodies, and those of our children.  We shouldn’t settle with doubt, but we need to deal with it here and now just as the disciples dealt with it in their time and in their ways.

The very same thing goes with fear.  As religious people, we are not supposed to be fearful, right?  In Scripture we are told to “not fear” something like 365 times.  Our faith is supposed to carry us through, “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…”   “Be Not Afraid.”  That’s the hymn, right?  And yet, right back to the very first day of Christ’s rising, ‘…terror and amazement had seized them.”  Or today, St. Luke’s telling of the first time the 11 saw the risen Lord, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Christians have a long and storied tradition of fear.

Like doubt, fear happens.  It is a fact of life even amongst the most faithful, God-fearing of us.  (Obviously God-fearing has little to do with being scared of God, it means awe, reverence or worship, there is a little trembling in there, but just enough to remind us of what awesome really means). There is a lot to doubt, just as there is a lot to be scared of in this world.  Fear is part of our existence, a lot more for some than others, but it is a universal human experience.  Today’s Gospel, among other things, is about fear.

As Luke tells it, on the first day, the women went to the tomb and Jesus was not there.  Two men in “dazzling” clothes appeared and asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Remember?  They tell the Eleven and Peter verifies it (not trusting the women).  And then there is the stranger on the road to Emmaus.  The two followers of Jesus didn’t recognize the man at first, but as he opened the scriptures, and then joined them to eat, taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread, they recognized Him, Jesus, and then instantly He vanished.  They turned right around and went back to Jerusalem to tell the 11 what had happened.  That’s where we pick up the story today.

How scared they must have been!  Jesus arrested in the night.  Tried, tortured and horrendously executed.  Then His body came up missing.  Disappeared, not even the closure of preparing Him for burial.  Lucy was just in Argentina with her son.  She told me that across the country, mothers of the disappeared still gather weekly, decades after the bad times, remembering those lost, mourning the disappearances, lamenting the injustice, and I can imagine, gathering together to tend to their fear.  The followers of Jesus were in their bad time.

As the two from the Emmaus road told everyone what had happened, Jesus appeared.  Their first reaction is fear.  Even though He had told them this would happen, even though they were supposed to have faith, even though their friends had just told them about what they saw on the road, they were scared.  I am so glad they were scared; it humanizes them, because what a scary thing!  What a completely natural and healthy reaction, to be startled by the appearance of a dead friend and to be terrified by it.  We are told what, 365 times not to fear?  That’s because we need to be reminded over and over and over again, because there is a lot to fear in this world.

And here Jesus Christ begins to offer us a facet of our salvation.  What does He do?  “Beloved, we are God’s children now” is how Peter puts it. Jesus acts like a good parent, a very good parent.  He meets them, God’s children, where they were.  And where were they?  Scared.  Fearful.  An understandable response to life in precarious times or crazy situations.  But as the whole field of trauma studies is learning and teaching us, living in fear is dangerous, it is damaging to our psyche’s and bodies and can inhibit the living of life as you know it.  So much of the trauma suffered on the street by homeless folks and by everyone in a war zone, combatants and non-combatants, is due to being scared for long periods of time.  It is very bad for you to be scared all the time, which is a dilemma if your life is full of fearful people and conditions.  That’s where the disciples were, and had been for months, years maybe?  And it had just gotten so much worse.

So Jesus meets them where they were.  “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  He recognizes where they were.  Then He reached out, slowly like to jumpy a cat. “Look at my hands and my feet…”  Then He got a little closer, “Touch me and see…”  There was joy.  I can imagine them like “Wow!  Is this real?”  looking furtively to each other, “…disbelieving and still wondering.”  And then Jesus just scooped them up in his ever-loving arms, “Have you anything to eat?”

Food, eating doesn’t cure everything, but other cures don’t work without it.  One of the great blessings that the folks who work Egan and the family shelter offer our guests is the hospitality of the table.  The food here is good.  It is all made here, by you all and others in the wider community.  It is fresh, wholesome, home-cooked, familiar and comfortable, served on real plates, with real forks, real napkins, table cloths.  We need some new table cloths, but those stains were earned the honest way, through real and loving use, and the life and light and love that spills all over those tables with the knocked over coffee and spilled soup can, will save the world.  Many of the folks we welcome here have a lot to be scared of.  But sometimes, maybe even just for a minute or two, you can see shoulders relax.  Or someone settle back into the chair.  Or a flash of relief that dinner smells good and their daughter likes roasted chicken and will eat well, today.  That is fear loosening its grip.  That is the love of God slipping in.

Fear itself is not really the problem.  Being controlled by the fear, is.  Being dominated by it.  We have more to fear than fear itself, but the fear of fear is right at the top of the list.  The disciples were being controlled by their fear. They were holed up, in some accounts behind locked doors.  They were not going out and proclaiming the Word as He had told them to, repeatedly, before and after His execution.  They had much to fear, and that fear got the best of them.

The bravest amongst us are acutely aware of fear.  Not to be is foolishness, and not in Jesus-foolishness but get yourself hurt foolishness.  The brave aren’t fearless, they recognize their fear, and meet it.  Looking at His hands.  Touching his cloak.  Handing Him a piece of fish, maybe having some with Him.  Jesus sets that table and welcomes his scared friends in.  The Good Shepherd.  The good parent.  The good friend.

Jesus helps not in taking scary things away, the temple authorities still had it in for them, but helps by making fear itself less scary.  No matter how much you believe, no matter how brave you are, bad things can (and will) happen to you, to those you love, in the world you inhabit.  Jesus can’t change that. Well, if a critical mass of us followed Him like He asks it might all change, but until the coming of the Kingdom, Jesus can’t change that, but can, does change us.   We’ll still feel fear, still have doubt, but not be dominated by it.

Not being controlled by fear.  Oh what a wonderful world it would be!  When we are dominated by fear, the primary reactions are what?  Fight, flight or freeze.  They each have their use, but those are not the only options available, just the only ones apparent when under the control of fear.  Some feminist psychologists have described other paths, paths much more accessible when we are not dominated by fear.  These paths have been described as gathering and tending.  That just sounds better than fight, flight or freeze.

I think this is what Jesus did with His friends.  He gathered them together.  He was always doing that, gathering everyone around, bringing them in close.  I always imagine His voice being solid, but quite; you needed to lean in to hear, and you didn’t want to miss a word.  Everyone felt safe close in around Him.  Then He died, and was back.  As a hen tender gathers her chicks, they must have wanted to crowd around Him. They did.  There was already food about, and He ate.  I can imagine others dropped their guard a bit followed Him in eating.  “You want to go fast, go alone, you want to go far, go together,” says the proverb.  Gathered they went far.

Gathered together, what did Jesus do for them?  He tended them.  He cared for them, gave them what they needed.  He approached them gently.  Showed His body.  Offering for them to touch and see.  They needed that holding, that care, that tending.  Then gave them more, He taught them.  He “…opened their minds to the understanding of the scriptures…”  He gave them understanding about what was going on around them, and then, gave them a great gift for the traumatized: agency.  He sent them.  “…repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are the witnesses of these things.”  He gave them something helpful, useful, edifying to do, that they had control over.  You are powerless in fear.  Being powerless is scary.  Having control, having a say in what you do and what happens to you is incredibly important for those who are scared.  The mission, the great commission Jesus gave them was just that sort of thing.

Some of it is just having meaningful work.  Read the Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry if you want to consider more about the salvific nature of meaningful work in and of itself.  It saves.  (Or at least the lack of meaningful work destroys). What Jesus has on offer in the gospel work He charges us with is forty and sixty and one hundred times more powerful, simply because it is done in the name of God.  That changes everything.  Be you the mightiest of the mighty or the lowliest of the low, all are equal in the eyes of God, Jesus’ life demonstrates that.  So working in the name of God brings you (humbly) eye to eye with the whole creation.  Jesus was an un-landed peasant, a gnat in the Roman imperial ointment, and yet He bested Pilate on his judgement seat.  What that rag-tag group of Galilean dissenters started outlasted the Roman empire (before that converting it in less than 350 years).  Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness in the name of God… that sending, that mission saved those scared men and women as much as it did anyone they in turn saved.  The martyrs of the church, great and small met, meet their fear in the love of God and in the power and the glory of offering God’s love and forgiveness to the world.  By that we can be saved.  So many are.

Gathered and tended.  Sending and serving.  Take.  Bless.  Brake.  Give.  That is the mission that Jesus gave to those doubtful, fearful people 2000 years ago.  And the love, the gathering and tending that He did has been passed down from generation to generation in the church, and happens again each week at this table we gather around.  That is an Easter message worth celebrating for 50 days.

There is a lot to be scared of in this world.  And that is not the end of the story.  Happy Easter!  AMEN

April 1, 2018, Easter Day YR B

Year B, Easter
April 1, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised…”

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  <The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!>

Happy Easter, everyone!  We made it!  Alleluia!  Another turn around the sun, another Lent, another Holy Week, another dying and rising in glory with Jesus Christ!  Happy Easter!

It has been a great week here at the Church of the Resurrection, We’re doing our best at living up to our name sake, this and every Sunday is a Feast of the Resurrection, and that best is pretty good.  I do love you all, and love celebrating the gifts of God with you.  It takes a lot of people to lead a parish, especially through these high holy days.  You know who you are.  We know who you are.  Thank you.

So here we are on Easter morning.  Two thousand years ago, on Easter morning, all they had was an empty tomb.  Well, an empty tomb, a promise and a bunch of terror and amazement.  In the near term, 2000 years ago, everything was great.  The promise was kept.  Jesus indeed did go ahead of them to Galilee.  We’ll hear the ancient stories over the next six weeks of Easter, the accounts of Jesus before His Ascension to the right hand of God.  He did go ahead of them to Galilee, a lot of people saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, were fed by Him, the Risen Lord lived! And the terror was assuaged, for a while, at least until the persecutions began.  And, thanks be to God, the amazement of those women at the tomb not only didn’t fade, it spread like a brush fire.

Two thousand years later, we are here on Easter morning, April Fools day, we, fools for Christ, are still here. Why?   The tomb is still empty.  When we really open to it, when we try hard, we can hear a faint echo of the terror (3:00 AM on Good Friday morning is a good time to listen for it).  Oh, there is still amazement.  Our spiritual lives, when you take them seriously, can amaze!  Church, all the life we are surrounded by is amazing!  But is it amazing enough?  Why are we still here, 2000 years later, celebrating an empty tomb?

The promise of Jesus Christ still stands.  He’s no longer in Galilee (well no more than anywhere else); He’s not offering His hands and side for us to touch (oh that He world, sometimes); He’s not feeding us a breakfast of fish and bread; but if 2000 years of being Christian has taught us anything, it is that Jesus Lives! and Jesus is Lord!  That’s what Easter is all about.

Now for those of you who aren’t here very often, welcome!  You picked a good day to join in the celebration.  You probably expect to hear things like Jesus Lives! and Jesus is Lord!  It is church, it’s the kind of thing we are supposed to say, right?  Well, yes, and that is not necessarily how we talk about it, but you know what, I think it might be helpful for us to reclaim some of the language that we have conceded to other ways of reckoning Christian faith, because you know what, Jesus DOES Live and Jesus IS Lord!  And that’s all there is to it.  In fact, that’s the central meaning of this Easter feast.

Jesus lived a long time ago.  And then He died.  But then He lived again.  He was Resurrected!  But the Christian story isn’t just about some supernatural continuation of life, some promise of life after death that we will receive on the coattails of a savior.  No.  Jesus lives.  From way back then, in the dusty streets and remote hill sides of Judea, Jesus lived and breathed as we do, and through His prophetic preaching, profound teaching, His miraculous healing and feeding, His friendships and love, He seeped into the hearts of so many that He touched.  And in being taken from those who loved Him, by the grace of God, the love, the earth shaking-mountain rocking-temple quaking love He brought into the world, love that He felt for God and everyone blasted like a supernova through time and space marking those who believe and inviting those who don’t into a whole new way of seeing the world.  It does not have to be a fight!  Love is stronger than swords!  You can forgive others their sins against you and you are already forgiven for yours.  The new way is right here!  Right here for those with the strength and grace to live as if this new way, a way He called the Kingdom, the Reign of God.  To live as if it were actually true is salvation.  Jesus Lives.

Jesus lives in our hearts when we let Him in and when we follow His way.  From way back then to right here, this morning, billions, BILLIONS of our brothers and sisters have experienced Jesus Christ as a living reality over twenty centuries in every corner of the planet.  Dreams.  Visions.  Music.  Art.  Words.  Friendships.  Empathy.  Mercy.  Love.  Jesus lives and moves and has our beings; when we let Him.  Even when we just stop saying no to Him, He is there.  Jesus Lives in this whole new way in each of our hearts.  In the heart of this community.  Jesus Lives! in the Eucharist we share each week, as a billion of our brothers and sisters share each week in north and south and east and west.  Jesus lives!

And Jesus is Lord!  In life, Jesus was a great man: loved by many, hated as befitted His greatness.  But it really wasn’t until after He died and rose again that we really begin to understand how great He was.  So we started to really use the word Lord for Him.  Lord, a problematic word, as patriarchal as it gets, does have great connotations.  Great unto divine connotations (hence the problem, but it is lodged in many of our hearts).  As time passed, our understanding of Jesus evolved, and it was quick, one week out Thomas confessed “My Lord and my God!” in that locked room.   And three hundred years out we were at “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God…” and it continued.

When we say “Jesus is Lord!” we acknowledge that this man, this creature like us in some mysterious way was, is God, an aspect, a person, a personality of God that again, mysteriously, became flesh and shared our lot in our very human way ra long time ago.  God was one of us.  And that God, Jesus, lives!  Not out there, but in here, where God belongs, in our hearts and minds and souls and strength and in the spaces in between us in the divine mystery of loving relationship.  As we sang at the footwashing on Thursday night, Ubi caritas, et amor, deus ibi est.  Where true charity and love is found, God is there.  That is here in our heart, and here in loving community, brought to us by the Living God who is Lord, and in being such, is our savior.

The tomb is empty. Jesus Lives!  Jesus is Lord!  Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  <The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!>  Happy Easter everyone.  AMEN

 

March 31, 2018, The Great Vigil of Easter YR B

Year B, The Great Vigil of Easter
March 31, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“He has been raised; he is not here.”

Alleluia, Christ is  Risen!  <The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!>

Happy Easter, everyone!  Here we are, on the holiest night of the year.  We are gathered together in the new light of Jesus Christ.  We are gathered as Christians, renewed, reborn in the fasts we have made, cleansed through the grace God offers.  There are five more of us tonight, five of our brothers and sisters have been taken up into the heart of God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Sanctifier, this night, this holy night!  Alleluia, Christ is Risen.  <The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!>

Tonight, we’ve heard the whole story.  From the beginning, through the Red Sea and the valley of the Dry Bones, through the clouds and smoke and flame over Mount Zion, we heard about the waters downstairs, and then the tomb.  The End.  That’s where stories end, right?  In tombs.  It is a pretty definitive literary device?  That’s where each of our stories will end, right?

In the flame we kindled outside, a story ended, and then, a new story began: Christ is back anew!  In these friends of ours being baptized, a story ended and a new story began: a new life in Christ and His Body the Church!  And the gospel ends in the tomb. “He has been raised; he is not here,” says the young man they found where they expected Jesus to be.  “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Then St. Mark’s gospel slips into its unsettling ending.  Or endings, there are actually three different endings, but that is a long story.  In tonight’s version, the short one, they hear that he is going ahead of them, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  That’s how it ends, well, thast’s how the story in St. Mark’s Gospel ends; the story of Jesus does not.  (Obviously, or we wouldn’t have ham waiting for us downstairs)!  The story of Jesus did not end with and empty tomb, His story ends here.  You are the end of the story.  We are the end of the story.  The five of you still wet behind the ears, you are the latest twist in the long and winding plot that is God’s ever unfurling creation.

The Good News of Jesus Christ begins in the story, and we need that story, the heavy lifting we have to do starts in the firm foundation of the scriptures.  We can’t do this on our own.  Then it is carried by the weight of that great cloud of witnesses, our ancestors, in centuries upon centuries of tradition.  We can’t do this on our own.  And then the story ends here, it ends in the Word made flesh again and again and again in us.  It ends as we, the faithful, Christians, take up our crosses, small and large, and do Christ’s work in the world, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, befriending the lonely, being patient, showing kindness to those who don’t deserve it, in loving God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  The Gospel, like the buck, stops here, in the mind, body, spirit and strength of those who follow the way of Jesus Christ.

You want some this living water?  You want to taste and see that the Lord is good?  Do you want to be buried with Christ in baptism so that you too might experience the newness of life?  “Follow me,” Jesus says to you.  Follow Him from that empty tomb, up through Galilee and to a night at Egan here, or to serve breakfast, or help form our children, or vote, or march, or resist the evil that seems to be enveloping the land.  The sky has always been falling, but it is picking up speed!

Thankfully, in Jesus Christ, we have the answer to falling skies.  Him!  Well, Him + Us.  The answer to the ills of the world aren’t in some think tank, or representative body, it is you, it is us.  And it is pretty simple.  We are supposed to follow Jesus.  Like we renewed our baptismal covenant.  And how do we follow Jesus?   Live as He lived.  Love as He loved.  Forgive as He forgave.  Believe as He believed.  If you do this, you will suffer, you will feel pain, and loss, acutely, more acutely and more acutely as you become more and more alive.  But you will be alive, very alive and in a wholly, holy new way, and each breath in this new life is sweet and free and flows directly from the heart of Jesus Christ, and from His heart through your neighbor’s heart and right on into yours.  Now that is an ending to a story that we all can get on board with, and it is freely offered to all.  That’s where the story of our Risen Lord ends.  This is God’s story.  All are welcome here!

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!  <The Lord is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!>  Happy Easter, everyone!  AMEN

March 29, 2018, Maundy Thursday YR B

Year B, Maundy Thursday
March 29, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

It begins again.  The Triduum.  The great liturgy in three acts that moves us through the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I love that we start it here, at a common table together.  The very early church celebrated Eucharist like this, as a meal, sustaining their bodies as well as their spirits.  But they we usually reclining on cushions the disciples did at their Last Supper.  Maybe we’ll try that next year.

Theology in the Eucharist is self-evident:  Jesus sacrifices Himself, and in the breaking of His Body and the spilling of His Blood, we are reconciled with God.  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  There are many, many ways to understand it and celebrate it.  Just in our own Eucharistic prayers we account for the sacrament as both a memorial, a remembrance of Jesus’ act of breaking, blessings and sharing bread and wine with His friends, and as a mysterious occasion of Jesus’ real presence among us.  “May they be for us the Body and Blood of your most precious son.”  The symbolism of the Eucharist speaks for itself about a self-sacrificing God.

What about the foot washing?  St. John is the only Evangelist to relate the foot washing story, and it gets a very prominent placement. This story occupies the place where the words of institution (“This is my body…”) occupies in the other three.  And it really sounds like it.  Listen:  “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”  “He took bread, broke it, gave it to His friends and said…”  Even the cadence is the same.  Step by step, ritually washing His friend’s feet just like he ritually broke bread and poured wine.

All of our liturgy is pedagogical; it teaches us.  Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, as we pray, we believe, or in more elegant English, “Praying shapes believing.”  The ritual of the Eucharist teaches us that God loves us so much that God’s only Son was allowed to be sacrificed, to sacrifice Himself to save us.  It teaches us that our God chose to lay down His own life for His friends and everyone else that was and is and is to come, and that we, members of His family partake in His gift by making Him part of us, truly, by eating bread and wine together that we know to bear the real, the eternal and actual presence of Jesus Christ.  “Behold what you are.  Receive what you will become.”  Just a churchy way of saying, “we are what we eat.”  So then what does this story and our ritual of the foot-washing teach us about God?

It tells us our God is understanding.  When Peter questions Jesus, Jesus replies, not with chastisement, but “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   It tells us that our God has a mission in this world, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Unless you allow Jesus to do what He came to do, be it to clean our feet or die on a cross, unless you accept that, you have no part in Jesus.  It is a lot more comfortable for most of us to wash someone’s feet than to have someone wash ours, but Jesus didn’t come to accommodate our hang-ups but to save the world, your hung-up self included.

The pedilavium, the washing of the feet, teaches us that God has expectations of us.   So does the Eucharist, those expectations being to bear suffering, to empty ourselves in sacrifice when sacrifice is called for. And the expectations of Jesus with a towel tied around His waist?  “I give you now a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”  Love one another.  When we truly love, how can we but serve them?  Even on our knees with a towel and a bucket of water.  O the messes we make! O the gratitude for those who help to clean us up!  We are called, in love, to form a community of equals, the ecclesia, the Beloved Community.  The mystery of His death cleanses us, and in that cleansing, all earthly power, all temporal authority is turned upside down, and the first will be last and the last will be first and the master will become the slave, the Lord and Teacher will be the servant of all.

As the blood begins to flow, as the Cross looms and death hems us in over the next 24 hours, remember that vision of Jesus, in the hours before his betrayal, fully aware of what was to come, He tied a towel around His waist and tended to His friends with tenderness and love.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  AMEN.

March 28, 2018, Wednesday in Holy Week YR B

Year B, Wednesday in Holy Week
March 28, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

I love it.  Lent.  Don’t you?  Lent.  Holy Week.  The religious volume being turned up.  And not just the universal clerical excuse we get, “It’s Holy Week, I’m busy,” but the actual being busy with all of this stuff part.  This is the season of the year that we have full, cultural permission to relax into the role of being truly religious people.  Not just church people, but religious people.  We have the weight of the church, our tradition behind us.  We can let some of our reasonableness go and embrace a bit more mystery than polite company, those cultured despisers, usually tolerate.  That stands for all of Lent, and now at Holy Week, doubly so.  Our fasts are peaking and we can smell the barn.  Our disciplines are nearly habit and we’re wondering what we’ll keep up with come April 2.  We have run with perseverance the race that was set before us, and that just feels good.  The fruits of spiritual rigor are pleasing, as pleasing as they are hard, and in direct proportion!

That is all great.  I do love it, all the extra bowing and scraping we get to do this time of year “Bow down before the Lord!”, but what I think I love the most is the opportunity, the invitation, maybe even the demand to address our darker bits, the less edifying fragments of our human character.  I preached on Satan on Lent 1.  Last week, I preached on the doctrine of Atonement!  I’ve never heard a sermon on that in an Episcopal church.  (It was better received than I was expecting).  For all of Lent, we can (and probably should) really drill down into the lesser angels of our nature, because 1. Goodness do they exist, and 2. Folks in our churches really don’t want to hear about it very often, so Lent give us some cover.

That’s true, isn’t it?  I’m not talking utter depravity and sinners in the hands of an angry God, but Episcopalians don’t like to hear about sin, our sinfulness.  It is not as bad as when I was with the Unitarians.  I was once, this actually happened, in a teeny-tiny little church in Western Massachusetts and we were singing “Amazing Grace.”  One of the six little old ladies there (that was the entire congregation) actually stopped the music, declaring, “Wait, wait, wait!  I am not a wretch!”  “Clearly, madam.”  I must say, there is an asterisk in the UU hymnal at wretch that offers “soul” as an alternative.

Now that has never happened at Resurrection (can you imagine?)  but I do always get a few comments if I use the word sin too frequently, or fail to give a kinder, gentler unfolding of the doctrine of sin as distance from God rather than the truth of manifold wickedness, our own and the structures put in place by the principalities and powers of this world.  We don’t like sin in these parts, or even hearing about it.

Of course the word “Sin” has been abused, people have been abused by it, horribly.  Mostly by sinful clergy people!  Sinful clergy taking it out on sinful people because they have more power in a system.  You all have stories of theological negligence or abuse that you or your folks have suffered.  I had as un-traumatic a religious upbringing as could be, a nice UCC Congregational Church north of Boston, with its white clap-boards and steeple, sitting on the town common for 325 years.  Not very inspiring, but not hurtful, but the stories some people have.  Sinners!  Backsliders!   Dirty!  You are not Worthy!  Be scared!  Terrible.  And…  AND we are all sinners living in a sin-sick world.  We are all broken, and as broken people we can’t help but make bad, sinful choices, do bad, sinful things, collaborate with bad, sinful systems.  And sometimes we can help ourselves, but we just don’t, don’t bother, don’t make the effort, or we straight-up willfully refuse, “I will not let it go. I will not forgive him.  I don’t care.  I will have another drink/hit/pill (whatever your special poison is).”  We’re all there more of the time than we should be or want to admit, not caring, not trying, being comfortable on the path of least resistance, but we are, I know I am, and I, we need to be reminded of that sometimes.  That we are sinners.  That we’ve got some repenting to do.  Just because the weatherman is a jerk doesn’t mean that her forecasts are wrong.

Which brings us to today, Wednesday in Holy Week, or Spy Wednesday for Judas’ presence among the 12.  Today is the day we commemorate, memorialize, remember failed discipleship.  We remember betrayal.  Today is the day where we pause and look into the face of Judas Iscariot as Satan enters his heart, and the fatal course to the Cross was set.     **

There are good lessons for us in pondering failed discipleship, Judas’ or the rest of the 12, in the end they all fail, big time.  There are good reasons for everyone to ponder the betrayal of Jesus Christ and our continued human failure to follow Him properly, but particularly for us, men and women ordained in God’s church on a day we recall and renew our vows of ordination.

Remembering this incident reminds us that all types of people are in the church, always have been.  It doesn’t take all types to make a church, but it sure attracts them.  We have active evil doers in our midst.  Predators.  Perpetrators of domestic violence, child abuse, every form of crime, they are with us.  They are us.  And we are all passive doers of great evil.  Accepting the protection of our armed forces in their foreign wars, paying our taxes to that end… we are complicit and history’s (if not God’s) judgement on our complicity will be harsh.  Controlling vast wealth is a sin, even an egregious sin considering that right here in Lane County we have some of the highest rates of childhood malnutrition in the developed world.  Again, judgement will be harsh.  “The evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf…”  It is all evil.

We need to remember that there is no they when we talk sin with our folks.  It is us.  It is we.  Especially those of us who serve highly educated, well-meaning middle to upper middle liberal folks.  People like me.  Those of us doing well while doing good, having a fat compensation package and a clear conscious, the liberal brass ring, the “evil done on our behalf” is staggering.  The wealth we control, the power we have is phenomenal. Jesus said something about the eye of a needle… “Mea cupla, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

That’s the structural failure of discipleship we participate in, the banal evil of living in the better half of an empire.  And that’s the big money when it comes to sin.  That’s where people die.  That’s where nations are ruined.  Where economies and ecosystems collapse.  We can talk socially responsible investing all day long, and we should, it is far better than not talking about it, AND we all have a lot to account for.

And then there is our own personal, day-to-day failures, betrayals of Jesus and our neighbors.  We all do and fail to do all manner of things.  And there is a particular sting to sin when it comes to the vocation we find ourselves in as ordained leaders of the church.  What we are called to do is impossible.  We are called to be everything to everyone.  (Well not really, but try to explain that to the person left off of your menu of pastoral offerings). For priests, “…a faithful pastor, patient teacher, and a wise counselor.”  For all of us, we are to be “…modest and humble, strong and constant, …observ(ant) of the discipline of Christ?”  But we signed up for it; no one made us take vows.  We promised that to God, GOD!  Promising a bishop is hard enough, but we promised God that we would do the impossible.  There’s the first great sin of ordained life!

How do we forgive ourselves for being unable to do the impossible, while still knowing that what needs to be done isn’t being done, not for everyone that needs it?  That is where I wrestle in the wee hours of the night, declaring that I’ve done the best I could for God and God’s people and knowing that my best is not good enough.  And this is not just trying to do it all ourselves, no, this the whole picture of ministry: not sufficiently managing the team, not adequately empowering others, not supervising well enough, not motivating or appreciating volunteers to the degree needed, not supporting or getting support from colleagues.  “Mea cupla, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  Don’t you love Lent?  It is a spiritual gymnasium, the heavy lifting is invigorating as it makes us stronger.

So where’s the hope?  That’s the key preaching question, right?  Where’s the hope?  Well, maybe it is good for us sometimes is wallow in the hopelessness.  To sit with Job in the ash heap.  There is that.

On the other hand, we only have a couple of days ‘til the hope filled Easter feast, right?  Maybe we should just hang on, help is on the way?  No.  Holding our breath for the pain of sin and death to pass isn’t an act of Jesus hope, it is an act of human will and endurance and that won’t get us very far.

Maybe the hope is that even Jesus died with only 12 followers, and one of them was a dud.  Even the good ones abandoned Him in the end (well, except those stalwart church women).  Even I am not doing that badly!  But, that’s not hope, either.  Settling for the failure and humiliation of our Lord is abdication, it is a failure of will.  We’ll be humbled plenty without settling for such a low bar.

Maybe hope on Wednesday in Holy Week, the day that places Judas the betrayer of our Lord at center stage, maybe the hope we are meant to ponder is death.  Death in the hope of the Resurrection, of our dying with Christ, daily.  For as we live in Christ, we die in Christ also.  In our baptism we are brought to life by being buried with Jesus.  And as ordained people, we are charged to not only do this as disciples, but to do this with and for others, with and for the church in all her messy humanity.  And we try.  Failed, sinful critters that we are, we try to serve God and God’s other failed, sinful critters.  And sometimes the light shines.  Sometimes the Gospel peeks through the dingy gates of hell, and someone, by the grace of God alone is saved and you have the privilege of witnessing that, of accompanying one of the fallen into the light of Jesus Christ Himself in the care of that great cloud of witnesses.  And it is moments of hope like that that carry us through the dark nights, the dismal meetings, the disappointed parishioners we have failed, and we do “not grow weary or lose heart.”

“But as for me, I am poor and needy; come to me speedily, O God.  You are my helper and my deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry.”  We can hope.  Bless you each in your ministry this Holy Week.  AMEN

 

March 25, 2018, Palm Sunday – Sunday of the Passion YR B

Year B, Palm Sunday
March 25, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”

Movement.  Lots of movement.  Jesus’ ministry was in motion.  Actually, the whole Christian story is one of progress, movement, motion, from the beginning, through the present moment and on to the fullness of time: as it was, is now and ever shall be.   The message of Jesus Christ is a way, The Way to God.  The Way, The Truth, The Life.

The liturgies of Holy Week teach us as they move us through the last week of Jesus’ life.  Our liturgy today sets us on this course.   We made our turn around the property this morning, remembering that movement into Jerusalem.  On Maundy Thursday, we’ll start downstairs at our Agape feast, our recollection of the Last Supper and the mandate to love one another.  Then following the Altar Guild up to the sanctuary, we’ll go onto our knees and wash each other’s feet and then sit in vigil like Jesus asked His disciples to do in that garden so long ago.

After remaining with Jesus all night, on Friday we’ll walk the Stations of the Cross.  Then we’ll all move to the foot of the Cross itself, venerating it in the Good Friday Liturgy.  Then we’ll gather at Sundown out front.  We’ll kindle the light of Christ and process into the sanctuary.  Then hearing the Exsultet, the great prayer of the Church, we’ll journey through our salvation history, and then process again, this time downstairs, to the baptistery.  As they did at Easter vigils two thousand years ago, we’ll welcome five of our brothers and sisters into the family of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  With these new brothers and sisters in tow, we’ll process again, up to the sanctuary, light the candles and celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter.  And we say that big word that starts with “H” and ends with “A” over and over and over again.

Moving, moving, moving.  Lots of moving this week.  We’re always moving, physically, breathing, our heart beating, sending blood coursing through our veins. And we are always moving, spinning on an axis, hurtling around our Sun, around the center of our galaxy, through the cosmos, perpetual motion.  The Holy Spirit represents this aspect of the personality of God, the movement of energy, light and life that simply is. And all that movement, all that movement that is life moves us also, each of us, one step closer to death; this week towards the death of Jesus Christ.  For as we live in Christ, we die in Christ also.  In our baptism we are brought to life by being buried with Jesus.  For in time and space we move, always move, that is nature of things, Jesus teaches us this in His lifetime of movement.  From that Manager in Nazareth to that Cross on Golgotha, He never stopped, and neither can we. And at the very same time, as true as we experience the chances and changes of this life, we also encounter the eternal change-lessness of God, our rock and our salvation.   Always moving, never moved.  “But O!  How far have I to go to find Him in whom I have already arrived.”

I invite you to join us in our movement into the eternal joys of Easter by way of the bitter horrors of Holy Week.  Come if you can, read your Bible, follow the liturgies at home if you can’t. In either case, this week I’m making a leap of faith.  I’ll be doing my best to simply let these stories stand on their own.  The stories themselves are “infinitely more important” than whatever explanations we have to offer, certainly than I have to offer. These stories have sustained our ancestors for thousands of years; trust yourself to hear them.  Trust them to carry you, too.  AMEN

 

March 18, 2018, 5th Sunday in Lent YR B

Year B, Lent 5
March 18, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Easter is right around the corner.  We have Holy Week between here and there, but it is close.  Why is Easter so important to us?  The Resurrection, yes.  But why is that so important, what does it accomplish in the world?  In Rite 1, we thank God for “…rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.”  (“The Same” being the whole Passion-Resurrection story).  Do you ever think about that, how we benefit from the Crucifixion of Jesus?  Well, the chief benefit is Salvation, right?  In the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ we are saved.  We are saved…

This is not something we talk a lot about as practitioners of the Anglican form of Christianity.  We are even a little prideful of being an incarnational people, a theological bent that emphasizes God’s presence in the world in the Incarnation, the blessing on the world that this implies, the goodness of the creation and its inherent save-ability.  True that.  I am very there.  But that is not the whole story.  This bright and beautiful creation also includes quite an assortment of rotten apples, some of them lodged right in the middle of each of our hearts, right in the middle of each of our minds and bodies, and that with that presence in us, that spot of evil, we are all, at least a little bit, corrupted.  We are all, in more traditional Christian language, sinners.  Not utterly depraved, not completely sinful or irreparably corrupt, but that corruption, that sinful nature prevents us from being in perfect right relationship with God the Foundation of Being and everything else.  Right?  None of us are perfect.  It is those rotten apples we all tote around with us that we need to be saved from.  That message is all over the Bible, all over the Mass, it is what Lent is about, and this is what this sermon is all about.

I won’t go any further into the fact that we need to be saved or what it is that we are being saved from, suffice it to say that the alternative to salvation is not good, maybe not lakes of fire and everlasting torment, but alienation from the foundation of the Universe is plenty bad enough to ponder.  What I want to talk about today is something I have never heard a sermon about in an Episcopal church.  I want to talk about Atonement.

As I was writing this, I wondered what the reaction would be to me saying Atonement here.  A groan?  An uncomfortable shuffle in the pews?  Blank stares?  This is one of those doctrinal, theological details that get some people very worked up because it leads us to the very heart of the Cross.  And that is upsetting.  The Cross is upsetting, it is a terrible, filthy instrument of torture and execution perfected in the malevolent heart of the Roman Empire.  That is upsetting all on its own, that such a thing would be thought of, let alone used on who knows how many tens, hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings.  The kicker is that we, Christians, understand that not only our relationship to God, but the very salvation of our beings, the reconciliation of our collective and individual relationships with God occurred because someone was nailed to such a cross to die a humiliating, agonizing death.  That’s terrible.  Our spiritual existence is defined by the wake left by that Cross.  We owe our lives to its punishing fruits: our sins are forgiven, our brokenness repaired, relationship with being itself is restored. We believe in it, whatever that means, we trust, have faith, take refuge in the saving, forgiving power of this horrible monument.  Some of us wear one around our necks.  Pretty upsetting.  No wonder we avoid talking about it.

When we talk about Atonement, the doctrine of Atonement, what we are talking about is how the Cross works.  How is it that the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Our Lord and Savior saved us. How a torturous execution on a hill in Jerusalem forgave humanity of its fundamental brokenness, ended our existential alienation from the Ground of Being.  Atonement is all about how the death of Jesus saved us from eternal death and set us on the path of light and life.

I have to admit that it took a long time for me to even consider ideas of Atonement.  That didn’t work out so well as Atonement was the subject of the Theology question on the General Ordination Exams all candidates for the priesthood have to sit for before ordination.  It is a pretty brutal set of seven examinations taken over the course of a week.  The question on Atonement Theology earned a blank stare from me when I read it.  It is not something I had spent any time thinking about.   My score on the exam reflected that.

So what is the doctrine of Atonement?  First off, there are a bunch of them, and they go way back to the earliest fathers of the church, back to Origen and Augustine.  And they vary, wildly.  So first off, this is foot-stomp important!  Theology is just theory.  It is ideas about the meaning of things, okay?  Theology is a very human creation. And as humans in an Anglican context, it is very important to remember that we, collectively as a church, do not prefer one theory or theology of the Atonement over another.  We don’t have a dogma, a church teaching on it, a party line on the mechanism of the forgiveness of the Cross.  We would sure say, as we do each week in the Creeds, that by His Cross and Passion we are saved, we are forgiven our sins, but how?  That slips into the territory of the Anglican smug shrug.  “Who are we to say?”

That does not mean that thinking on such things is not important.  As Emerson wrote, “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our characters.  Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.”  It is not these ideas in their own right that are important, but ideas, in particular ones about the function of a basic aspect of our religion are important in that our thinking, our acting in the world, and our relationship with God and each other is all intertwined, inseparable, and defines our lives and our characters, and is fundamental in orienting our will, our worship.  And that is very important, indeed.

So here’s the upsetting part; the actual theologies of Atonement.  Let’s do a brief survey, in a vaguely historical order (don’t hold me to it, I didn’t do well on that exam).  I’ll give you broad brush strokes, grist for your religiously imaginative mill of the variety of theories of the Atonement.  It is Lent, after all.

Let’s start back in the late century 2nd century CE, with Ireneus of Smyrna.  Coming straight from Paul, Ireanus developed what is called the Recapitulation Theory of Attonement.  He saw Jesus as the new Adam.  Where Adam failed and brought sin and death, and when Israel in the first covenant fails in their vocation to repair that rift, Christ succeeds, bringing life and light to all human kind. Recapitulation comes from the 1st chapter of Ephesians.  “…he (God) has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 1as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  The Greek word for To gather things up was translated at recapitulate in Latin, hence the name, a gathering up of everything in Jesus Christ.  That’s a theory of Atonement.

Another 2nd or 3rd century theory has its origin in Origen.  Origen is one of the most important theologians in all of Christianity, his influence cannot be overstated.  His idea, which he also developed straight from Paul, is called the Ransom Theory.  Jesus, it posits, died as a ransom from our sins.  His sacrificial death was a payment to Satan (though some say to God the Father), in any case a payment to satisfy the debt we all carry due to Adam’s original sin.  Jesus’ death was a payment of a ransom, and with that debt paid off, we are free.

Sacrifice, religious sacrifice, like religious blood sacrifice is a pretty abstract concept for us.  It would not have been for Origen.  It most certainly was not for Jesus and His friends, or St. Paul and his contemporaries.  The Temple was all about sacrifice, blood sacrifice as a repayment of the debt of sin.  Various Roman cults ritually slaughtered all sorts of creatures, sometimes the priests bathed in the blood.  Humans actively sacrificed animals to God for a lot longer than we have not been doing that.  That is just to say that the idea of this kind of sacrifice both foreign AND horrible to us.  Back then, it would have just been horrible.  Remember the context in your disgust.

Another early theology of Atonement came from St. Augustine of Hippo.  Writing in the 4th century, Augustine, the greatest of the father of the Western church, has a completely different take on Atonement.  His is called the Moral Influence theory, and it holds that Jesus affects a positive, moral change in humanity through His ministry, His teaching and His example, including His sacrifice of Himself on the Cross.  Not a lot of detail in that, but that the whole movement of Jesus Christ in the world changed us, changes us for the better.  That one is not so upsetting.

Yet another early theory of Atonement, and one that many think was the dominant theory for the first thousand years of the church is called Christus Victor, just like the prosphora stamp we use on our Eucharistic bread in Lent.  You could also call this the Aslan theory, after Aslan the great lion in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  Aslan’s death in book two, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was distinctly a Christus Victor moment.  In this theory, we have to understand that humanity is held in the bondage of sin and death, of evil.)  That is Narnia’s Witch and the everlasting winter, with no Christmas)!  Christ’s death somehow defeats evil, and we are freed.  How?  It is mystery, what Lewis fictionally renders as the Deep Magic.  The death of an innocent shatters the binders evil has on us like the Stone Table is shattered.  There is no debt paid to anyone, just (just!) the defeat of evil and the liberation of us all.  A life is laid down to defeat evil… Heartbreaking.  And compelling.

Then St. Anselm comes along in the 11th Century.  Among other things, Anselm was the Archbishop of Canterbury, so he’s in our linage for sure.  He developed the Satisfaction theory.  Satisfaction is the satisfaction of a debt.  In the ransom theory, God pays Satan our debt with God’s Son.  Anselm didn’t think God owed Satan anything; we did.  So Jesus died to pay God back for our sinfulness and injustice, thus satisfying the justice of God.  Hmmmm…  That’s kind of dark.  But it gets darker.

Here is where Calvin (and Luther) earn some of their bad reputation.  Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  That just sounds bad.  This is related to satisfaction, the satisfaction, payment of our debt to God for our sin, but added to it is a penal element.  Punishment.  We (humanity, by our nature) sinned, hence we deserve punishment.  There is a legalistic demand for punishment.  (I am not preaching this, I’m just sharing the theory).  Jesus comes and offers Himself as a substitute for all of us, and takes our punishment on Himself.  Like from Isaiah, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”  We say that in the Stations of the Cross each Friday.  Since the punishment has been doled out, the retribution required by God’s justice is completed, hence God is willing to forgive us.  This is the most brutal of the theories of the atonement and it is the most wide-spread amongst our Reform and evangelical brothers and sisters.

There is a variation on Penal Substitutionary Atonement called the Governmental theory.  Methodists are associated with this theory.  I don’t know if this is more or less disturbing than the Penal Substitutionary theory, but the governmental theory says that Jesus gets punished on our behalf, but not the full punishment we deserve, just a punishment.  His death demonstrates God’s anger, disappointment, displeasure with us and our sinfulness.  I don’t know if crucifixion was more than we deserve or less.  In either case, this is hard stuff.

Then there is a more contemporary idea called the Scapegoat Theory.  Think of our Sequence Hymn this Lent, “O saving victim, opening wide, the gate of heaven to us below our foes press on from every side, thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.”  In this theory Jesus’ death does not satisfy God’s justice or pay a ransom, it is not a sacrifice at all, but rather Jesus is a victim.  In the ancient Near East, annually a community would take a goat and ritually lay all of their sins on it and then release it into the wilderness, thus taking the sins away.  It is mentioned in Leviticus.  Here is a rendering of the Scapegoat theory of the Atonement: “1) Jesus is killed by a violent crowd.  2) The violent crowd kills Him believing He is guilty.  3) Jesus is proven innocent, as the true Son of God. 4) The crowd is therefore deemed guilty.” Jesus overcomes our violent nature by substituting Himself not to receive our punishment, but to become the victim in our stead.  Wheh.

That is a very brief survey of these ideas.  There are others.  You don’t need to choose one.  You don’t need to believe in any one of them, again, whatever believe means.  But if you are going to be here, in a Christian community, it behooves you not to ignore it.  Especially in Lent.  These ideas, our imaginations, they do affect us.  They change us.  They make us who we are.

And it goes beyond not needing to choose which theory makes sense, or rings true for you.   You don’t have to take any of these theories into your heart at all, really. They are just that, theories, ideas, ways to chew on, make meaning of these things that happened long ago.  Theology, as much as it informs it, is not Christianity.  Christians don’t all agree on how important some of these theories are, and we, as Episcopalians, practitioners of the Anglican form of Christianity, don’t lay down many of these theories as definitive.  We should take heed of the wisdom of C.S. Lewis here, that the events in our spiritual history, the Nativity, the Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Atonement, the Resurrection, that those things happened is, in Lewis’ words, “infinitely more important than the explanations.”

Palm Sunday is next week.  Breath deep.  We’re almost there.  AMEN

March 11, 2018, 4th Sunday in Lent YR B

Year B, Lent 4
March 11, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

Scripture-wise, it doesn’t get much more iconic than that.  John 3:16.  It is one of those verses you see on bumper stickers, or tattooed to people, and sometimes just by number, you don’t even need to credit St. John the Evangelist with this rendering of Jesus’ words.

Sometimes words are so familiar that they lose meaning, or they are so laden with baggage, that you can’t see them for themselves.  Here is another telling of it, from The Message, a paraphrase version of the Bible. It is quite helpful at times, like this one.  It goes: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only son.  And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; but believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  Believing in Him we won’t perish?  We won’t be destroyed?  We will have eternal life, a whole and lasting life?  That’s it, isn’t it?  What we are looking for.  In our beautiful and complicated and blessed and lonely world, don’t we dream of our lives being whole?  Of having lives with meaning, not just time passed between meals?  To be in union with the God, source of it all, and in communion with all the rest of it, to feel part of all that is, not separate, not alone, not, as Paul or John or Jesus would say, perishing?

Do you ever wish that there was something so powerful in the world that in just laying our eyes on it we are saved?   Just being in its presence our lives are brought from the brink of death and back into the green fields of life?  Do you ever long for something like Moses’ bronze totem that saved the snake-bitten in the Sinai?  And not for sloth’s sake, not because you want an easy path to a good end, but because you want the feeling of splendor and honor and royal power and being held and cared for and seen and named?  I think a lot of us maybe don’t feel that longing because we don’t let ourselves feel that longing.  We are reasonable people, and maybe we find that an unreasonable expectation of God.  It is foolish to want such a thing, such security felt in something so intangible.   Foolishness.

In many places in scripture, but never as clearly and plainly as our gospel today and its towering 16th verse, we are assured that we have that, that we have full and perfect salvation, whole, lasting, or as John puts it, eternal life promised to us.  That something powerful beyond imagination that some of us long for is right there, the Kingdom is at Hand if we only had the eyes to see it.  And to get those eyes, all we have to do is believe in Him.

Believe.  What does that mean to you, to believe?  What does it mean when we say, as we do every Sunday and major feast, “We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”?  What do we mean when we continue, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…”?  What do you mean when you become part of that royal we and say “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…”?  What does it mean that we “believe”?  and how could that, believing, in anything, save us?

This is one of those mysteries of faith that make reasonable people, as many of us in this room hold ourselves to be, pretty uncomfortable.  I don’t get a lot of people in my office seeking theological counsel.  Griefs, ethical dilemmas, repenting of sins past and present, lots of that, but not many theological or doctrinal problems, concerns or even questions.  Episcopalians aren’t generally burdened with such things. Not many folks are concerned with doctrines of Atonement.  Not a lot of sleep lost over the implications of consubstantiation. (If you want to learn about that, or at least how to spell it, come to the instructed Eucharist at 12:30).  There is one exception though, one thing that people come to me, not infrequently, and with real consternation: those darned creeds.

And it is not the Creeds, per se, not the content, folks aren’t worried about the difference between being begotten or being made, or why we sometimes leave out the “…and the Son,” the filioque clause.  No, it’s not that; it’s the “We believe…”

What does it mean to say that you believe something?  What does it mean to believe something?  That seems like it should be a pretty basic understanding amongst Christian folks.  We’re supposed to believe in God.  In the Bible.  In the Resurrection.  There is a lot to the notion of believing, and not all of it is foolishness.

Some folks believe, right here amongst us.  Just straight up believe, believe the story, the Jesus story, maybe all of it, maybe just key points, but believe it like someone might believe that Spring is coming.  Which it is.  If you are there, God bless you.  If you are not, beware judgement.  Believing, believing as cognitive assent, our minds saying “yes, this is fact” is not primitive, or ignorant, willful or natural, it is a gift of faith that many understand as a gift from God, and we need to respect that.  We might not agree (whatever that means), or feel anything remotely like that, but believing that x,y and z actually happened is a legitimate, authentic, and sometimes enviable experience of God.

Some of us are not there.  Your rector is not there.  Belief, the idea of believing is very complicated for me.  I left the church at 13 when I refused to go through confirmation.  Flat-out refused.  (My sisters didn’t have that option and they haven’t been back to church since and look at me… a cautionary tale for parents).  I wasn’t fleeing anything.  We went to a nice, liberal UCC Congregational church north of Boston.  As far as I could tell, the message was, “Be good like Jesus.”  Hard to argue with that, but it didn’t quite stir my soul.  Then in the Marines I ran into some hard fundamentalism.  “When I lay my head down at night I pray to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior that I get to lead this battalion in its call to glory.”  A battalion commander said that to us at an officer’s Christmas party.  My first 30 years of exposure to Christianity was limited and unsatisfactory.

Fast forward a bit and I have this weird call experience (long story), and find myself in seminary as a Unitarian.  And in seminary, I start learning about Christianity, I got my first glimpses into the universe that is the Church.  And I was hooked.  Bad.  But for one thing: believing!  I don’t even know what I “believed” or “disbelieved,” like in my mind, but I didn’t know why that mattered.  That didn’t seem important sitting on the meditation cushion in Godly silence or gathered around the Lord’s table in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  I felt pulled to the church, but I didn’t know what I “believed,” so I wrote to something like ten of my divinity school professors.  These were Harvard folks, truly the best and the brightest (well, according to Harvard folks), and my question was this: what do you need to believe to consider yourself Christian?  Sounded like a straightforward question.  And do you what the answer was?  Nothing.  Not that you don’t need to believe in anything, but I got no answer.  Nothing.  Not a peep. Many are uncomfortable with belief.  That didn’t help my mood.

Over time, what I figured out is that I just didn’t understand what it meant to believe. I didn’t understand what it meant when I confessed “I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty…” I didn’t understand that I do actually believe that God loved the world so much that He gave us His Son, and when we believe in Him, we will have a whole and lasting, an eternal life.  And in believing that, my life is better.  I see, not all the time, but often enough, I see that powerful, loving, healing and welcoming force that holds us all together.  I see it, I have faith in it, I feel like I am in right relationship with God the world and everything and I am generally a better person than I would be otherwise to boot. Thanks be to God.  What kind of belief is that?

One way to consider belief is through what one of our beloveds here referred to as one of the Borgian heresies.  Marcus Borg, late son of Oregon, Episcopalian, New Testament scholar, bane of conservatives everywhere, blew my socks off at divinity school.  He opened the door to all of this for me in an idea he called “post-critical naiveté.”  That’s a mouthful, but he illustrates its meaning in a little saying he attributes to a Native American story teller:  I don’t know if it happened this way, but I know this story is true.

Believing in something doesn’t mean you have to believe what every word, every letter, every stroke of every letter carries on its surface.  Think of the Creation Story, the first one (there are two).  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”  The creation took six days, then God rested on the seventh.  I don’t believe that.  I don’t believe it took six days.  Not even seven.  But I do believe that there was a beginning, that there was nothing, then bang!  (A very big bang) and then there was something.  And as time progressed, more things came into being, things got more complex, land emerged from the sea, plants emerged.  Creatures evolved in the sea, then on land.  Birds, creeping things, cattle, then us, the pinnacle of evolution (at least by some measures).  I believe that story as much as I believe anything.  It didn’t happen that way, in six days, but the story is true, it happened, the meta-narrative, the symbolic meaning of the story is right on and it helps.  Post-critical naiveté opened scripture for me in a most amazing way.

But that’s an easy step, not even a leap.  It is all here, in our head.  Starting with our heads can lead us deeper, it surely did for me, but we can accommodate our intellectual doubts pretty easily.  We can metaphorize or allegorize scripture and tradition all over the place, but that is not much different than proof texting, really.  Different folks use scripture differently, and that is fine.  The hard part is letting this stuff, the things we are asked to believe in, letting them alight on our hearts, inhabit our souls, transform, or even (yikes!) Convert us into (yikes!) Believers, which can be just another way of saying people who really, truly, actually have God in Christ with the Holy Spirit in their lives in a way that changes them.

That’s what concerns Archbishop Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.  He wrote a fabulous little book on the Creeds called Tokens of Trust, we read it in adult ed a couple of years ago.  It seems we’re not alone in having trouble “believing” the Creeds or John 3:16.

The good Archbishop writes, “Christian belief is really about knowing who and what to trust.”  That’s different.  Then he suggests, “…Christianity asks you to trust the God it talks about before it asks you to sign up to a complete system.”  That’s very different than I usually think about belief.  Trust.  It is about trust.  These Creeds, these iconic lines of scriptures are statements, tokens of our trust in the God they are written about.  Trust.  When you think about it, it’s like “duh!”  St. John is not asking us to “believe” Jesus, but to “believe in” Jesus.  Like I believe in you.  I trust your intentions, I trust you will do what you say you will do.  I trust.

Look at the creeds.  In them creeds, we are not asked to “believe that” God is the creator, or that Jesus is His only Son, or any of the other details; like the Archbishop says, that can come later.  We are asked to believe “in” the God that those statements are about.  In stating the Creed, we are expressing together our trust that the God we’re all talking about is an aspect of reality, actually the foundation of a benevolent and loving Reality, and who connects us to that Reality, and who empowers us though the gift of life itself.  I want to trust that.  (I need to, is what it really comes down to).

For example, later on in John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man.  His sight restored, Jesus asks if he believes in the Son of Man.  He was not asking if he believed He existed, but if he trusted Him, trusted Jesus to be the Son of Man, that is the one set apart from all humanity before God.  He believed that!

Another way Archbishop Williams expresses “believe in” is akin to the way Buddhists speak.  Buddhists often talk of taking refuge.  They take refuge in the Buddha (the Enlightened One), in the Dharma (the Teaching) and in the Sangha (the Community).  Believing in God, trusting God, taking refuge in each of the ways God manifests to human beings as the Triune God God is.  I trust that God is a solid foundation, a home in which you are safe. I want to take refuge there.  I want to believe in a God like that.

There is another aspect of trust we say “we believe in…” in the Creeds or a statement like John 3:16.  This is a statement of trust in each other.  (Love God and Love Neighbor; Worship One God and what we do matters)!  When we say the Creeds, or meditating on John 3:16, we are expressing our trust that these statements, in Williams’ words, “Set out what Christians can expect each other to take for granted…”  That “We’re looking in the same direction, working with the same hopes and assumptions.” And I’d add vocabulary and foundational narrative, a common story.

Now this is not some liberal work-around, some way to moderate the foolishness of God so we feel a little less foolish at cocktail parties amongst regular Eugenians, religion’s cultured despisers.  Archbishop Williams is not a liberal, but it is a bit of a gateway, perhaps.  Cross this threshold and who knows where your faith will take you.  That’s been my experience.

We could go on for days about all of this, about what it means to believe.  To believe in.  But let’s get to the point.  It is just like good parenting.  If your child knows, trusts, believes in your love for them, they can face the world assured that they are connected to another human being.  Intimately, integrally connected.  That is the foundation of not just wellness, but of being itself.  Building from that it is possible to learn, really grok that they are connected to everyone and everything, that they are not separate, not alone, that they are loved by and in and through the foundation of the universe.

Believing in God, Trusting Jesus Christ, taking refuge in the Holy Spirit, when we take that fully in, when it becomes part of us, part of who we are,  part of our identity, that’s what we receive.  Assurance of our place in the cosmos, which is one of connection, of communion, of love.  What could you do if you knew in the bottom of your heart that God, the power that created everything loves you?  What would you possibly be scared of if you actually trusted that your life was in the hands of Jesus Christ whose goodness and courage was so cosmically massive that billions believe that He redeemed the world?  How could you fail, how could you be defeated, how could you perish if you actually took refuge in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life itself?  In that, with that kind of belief, not only will you not be destroyed, but you will find whole and lasting life.  Maybe being in the kind of right relationship we are talking about here, maybe that is the definition of eternal life, not living forever, but living in union with the eternal.  I want to believe in that.  You?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God.”  AME

March 4, 2018, 3rd Sunday in Lent YR B

Year B, Lent III
March 4, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; * the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.”

That is some high praise for rules!

But first, what is our story?  As Christians, what is our story?  Follow the rules, don’t sin?  That’s part of it.  That Jesus saves?  Well, yes He does. But it is not much of a story, that is just the conclusion; there is a lot, lot more going on than that, a lot, lot more than that, it has to be or we wouldn’t be here.  We have a big story, so big that it still brings us together at the Lord’s table here in Eugene on a cold winter morning more than 2000 yeas on.  We have a big story.

In our catechism class, we talked about the big story of Christianity, the meta-narrative of our religion.  This is one version: It starts with God creating, everything, including us, and us in God’s own image, meaning we are free, we have choices to consciously make.  Well, we chose wrong right off the bat, but we still have a memory of what it ought to be like, how God intended it to be.  Time progressed, and through Abraham and then reaffirmed with Moses, God chose a specific people, Israel, to bear witness to god, the God, in the world.  For generations, centuries, God again and again, in so many ways, tried to teach Israel about what sort of God they were supposed to worship.  1.  They were to worship One God, and Only One God, YHWH; and 2. YHWH, their God, cared about how they behaved.  Actions on earth matter.  The whole record of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is a record of that process of Israel learning and missing the boat and trying again to follow the God they were in covenant with.

Then the story takes a turn, not wholly unexpected, but still wholly shocking.  In about 4 CE, from Israel, came a man named Jesus, who talked like the One the prophets of old talked about.  He said that He had always existed.  He said that He could forgive people their sins on behalf of God, whom He called His Father.  He even said that He was God.  That part was unexpected.  Scandalous.  And He was rejected, and killed, and in that rejection and death and following Resurrection, we were saved, all of us, reconciled to that One God forever and ever.  Fifty days later, the Holy Spirit came down and blessed those gathered around the Gospel, the Holy Spirit continues, through some great mystery, to inhabit and empower and bless the Church, and through the Church, us, and through us, Christians baptized into the Priesthood of All believers, God’s blessing flows to the whole world.  And eventually, in the fullness of time, evil will cease, and everything will be as it is supposed to be.  Great is the mystery of faith!

That’s our basic story.  That’s our salvation history.  Well, it is one way to tell it.  There are lots of ways.  We find different things important.  Come to the Easter Vigil to hear it told another way in stories and psalms, song and chant, it is spectacular.  Sundown. 8:07 PM.  March 31.  Be there!  We’ll be baptizing!

But until then, we are right here, right now, half-way through our Lenten trudge!  I hope it is going well.  I hope that you are suitably unsettled, off balance enough to gain some perspective, enough to shake some of the dust off your spiritual selves.  It is good to check in at the half way point.

This morning, the lectionary has served up for us a tasty morsel that is central to one of the key points in our story; the nature of our God and what our God expects from us.  That teaching comes to us in all sorts of ways, but never as directly and clearly as it comes to us in one of the most familiar, maybe not most beloved, but most familiar passages in scripture: the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments or Decalogue is a set of rules.  It tells us how to live.  But that is just the beginning.  Walter Brueggeman, a top-shelf Hebrew Bible scholar, writes, “These commands might be taken not as a series of rules, but as a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”

We must never forget that that is who got these rules originally.  God led Israel out of bondage in Egypt, through the Red Sea with Moses in the lead, and set them free.  Israel was free!  That’s the American ideal, right, Freedom?  “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?”  It is.  And God bless us for it.  Freedom from tyranny has been a scarce occurrence in history.  We’re not completely free of it, but we’re better off than most in the world, especially white folks of some means.  But freedom can be a mixed bag.  I knew that my days as a Unitarian were numbered when I preached a sermon called “Too much of a good thing,” that thing we can have too much of being freedom, theological freedom.  It was not well received in Unitarian circles.  However, if we as a species should have learned anything by now it is that we don’t do very well, we don’t make very good choices when given too much freedom to choose to do whatever we want to do.  (Although the only thing more dangerous than having to choose for ourselves is to have someone else choose for us.  What a pickle!  Related is the adage “democracy is the worst form of government besides all of the others”).

Thankfully God knew this.  First, God knew that freedom, having free will is what makes us human. We are creatures made in the image of our creator, free.  However, God knew that in giving us the freedom to choose our own way, we could and often would make wrong choices, choices that would lead us not to life, but to death.  Original sin, that bad choice we made right off the bat, that something that got between us and God, Our Creator accounted for that, and knew that we would need help on the way.  We would need direction, a way laid out before us to guide us in the best way to live.  To guide us towards life and light.  We couldn’t be forced to follow it, that is not the exercise of free will, but we still needed it, need it, a path laid out before us.  That path began with the Law of Moses, with its cornerstone and starting point, The Ten Commandments.

I really want to go through each one, there is so much going on in each commandment, a lot more than you might think.  Like we all know “Thou shalt not kill,” right. But it is actually “Thou shalt not murder,” which really means “Thou shall not kill anyone for socially unacceptable reasons.” Which is a very different thing.  There’s a lot more contextual wiggle room with that than a simple prohibition on killing.   I’d love to go through them point by point but we don’t have the time, and it’s the Bible, so of course there are two versions that don’t exactly match.  But let’s look at them as a whole, and then ways they may be helpful, because I don’t know about you, but when I think “law” the first thing that pops into mind is not prayer or God or anything particularly spiritual let alone useful but rather what is the most (or least) I can get away with.  Humans!  We’re slippery fish.

So there were two Tablets, or Tables. It is not just five on each, they were divided by purpose.  The first four (no other gods, no idols, no wrongful use of God’s name and remember the Sabbath), those have to do with how we are to live in relation to God.  The second table had the six that have to so with____?  How to live with each other.  Honoring mothers and fathers, not murdering, committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, or coveting are all about getting along with others. Think about Jesus’ summation of the law that we started the Penitential Order with: love god with everything you have and love you neighbor as yourself.  Worship One God and what we do matters.  Ethical monotheism…  it all starts to comes together, the story, the scripture, your experience of God in Christ.  This is good stuff.

But it is not just a list of do’s and don’ts, though if that were all they were they’d be worth holding on to.  But there are also deep spiritual gifts that come through the Decalogue.  Last week I referenced Martin Luther.  This week I’m turning to John Calvin, because he is spot on here on the spiritual nature of the Commandments, or as he put it, “three uses” for them.

First, they are rules, do these things, don’t do those, hard to argue with, but the spiritual use is bigger.  The spiritual benefit is seeing that you need the rules to begin with.  It is Calvin, utter depravity, right?  Our sins, our sinfulness is exposed, we can’t fool ourselves that we are good people nearly so easily when we see the reminders that we all need about how to be in this world.  We might not be out there murdering, but our government is on our behalf.  Our taxes pay for it.  And we elect the people who decide to do it.  And who doesn’t covet sometimes?  Or commit adultery in our minds?  Even Jimmy Carter did that!  The commandments are a reflection back on who you are, and that can help us be honest with ourselves about who you are.  I need that reminder.  There is no righteousness like self-righteousness and looking at a list of things that I and my kind (human kind) need to be reminded of is an appropriately humbling experience.

The second use Calvin identifies is that they help us behave better, restrain us from sinning, but not as an individual being, but as a member of a community, as a person in relation with others.  Nothing proscribed or prohibited in the Decalogue occurs in isolation.  Everything we do is in relation to another.  Having baseline rules agreed upon by everyone (or at least known by everyone) makes everyone accountable.  Social accountability, or in the old fashioned way of saying it, shame, is a powerful tool in society.  It can be harmful, but it can be helpful, too.  In our day and age we suffer more from guilt, which is internally generated.  Shame is externally generated, communal, and it can help us tow lines that otherwise we wouldn’t if we knew we could get away with it.

Finally, and for Calvin the most important function, the Ten Commandments can serve as “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” as the psalmist writes in Psalm 119.  This echoes Psalm 19 from today’s Propers.  “The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;  the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.”  The Ten Commandments are guides for us, they show us the way of life in God, not the way of death out on our own in the cold wastes.  These are not enforceable edicts, but are examples of how we live in the light of God’s grace freely given to us.  Not a list of rules, but a foundation, a constitution framing a more perfect union between God and us.  That’s sounds pretty good.  Calvin’s is on it more often than most of us Anglican like to admit.

Christianity is not an abstraction.  It is not just an idea. It isn’t just about Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  It isn’t even just about Love.  Those are all things that we associate with the Word, you know the “In the Beginning was the Word.” The Word, the Logos in Greek, is the reason, the underlying idea behind and beyond existence.  Christianity is about the Word, but the Word made Flesh. It is about all of this.  Things.  Real things.  Bodies or like we heard last week, sarx, flesh.  Like Tertullian, a 3rd century Father of the church, said, “The Flesh is the hinge of salvation.”  Christianity is very much about all of this and how all of this relates to everything that is and was and is to come, seen and unseen, begotten and made.  All of it.  The Ten Commandments are one of the checkpoints along the way, a point where the great “I am” is, or at least is accessible to scatty creatures like us.  May they be a light unto your path as your Lent progresses.  AMEN.

February 25, 2018, 2nd Sunday in Lent YR B

Year B, Lent 2
February 24, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

What did Peter say to Jesus?  Really, that’s quite a reaction, “Get behind me, Satan!”  With an exclamation point.  Jesus doesn’t use those very often.  Just before today’s scene, we heard the Confession of St. Peter: “You are the Christ.”  Or in Hebrew “The Messiah” or in English “The Anointed One.”  That’s a big deal. The first in St. Mark’s gospel.  The story picks up today with Jesus telling them what that actually means, what it means to be the Anointed One of God, and it is not pretty:

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Understandably, this rather off-putting message upset Peter, so he took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.  What did Peter say?

Did he say, “You can’t leave us, Master!” or “What will we do without you?”

Did he say that God would never do something like that, or let something that horrible happen?

Did he say that that is not what being the Messiah means?  That the Messiah is about the power and glory of God, and not about suffering and death?

What did Peter say?  At least he had the politeness to take the boss of to the side before rebuking Him.  Jesus turned to the whole group and rebuked Peter back, “Get behind me, Satan!”  (exclamation point)!  “For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”  Ouch.  You’ve been dressed down before.  I have.  It feels lousy.  And in public.  Ouch.  By God.  Ouch (exclamation point)!

A few times in this chapter the disciples had gotten it wrong, had not understood.  So Jesus goes about setting the record straight, making sure no one has any misconceptions about what was going on, where they were headed, and what Messianic ministry was really all about.  And so there would be no misunderstanding, He called the crowd in, too, so everyone got the message directly from Him. It I worth repeating:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”  Then Jesus adds a significant and credible threat to we who do not listen. “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.  You don’t even need an exclamation point after that.

This is the message of the Cross.  And it is like my Christmas sermon that Jesus is the gift that no one actually wants but that everyone really needs.  What Jesus is teaching us here is that being the Christ is not what we would like to think it is.  Being the Messiah is not how we want it to be.  It is not a human way, it is a divine way, like to save our lives, we must lose them.  Nothing human in that calculus.  This is the paradox of the cross.

Martin Luther is very helpful here.  He contrasts the theologia gloriea and the theologia crucis: the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.

The theology of glory is based upon what one theologian calls “what appears to be self-evident about life and on assumptions about the way a god is expected to act in the world.” The theology of glory is what we expect a god to be like.  Kingly, right?  Or Queenly.  Royal, for sure.  Scripture backs this up.  From Revelation: “Splendor and honor and kingly powers are yours by right, O Lord our God.”  Majesty.  Dominion.  Omnipotence.  Isaiah’s words edify us in the Mass each week: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”  (Exclamation point)!  The theology of glory.  Yes indeed.  The power and the glory of God seems so self-evident; it what we expect God to be, something that makes us want to fall to our knees and worship. And sometimes God manifests that way, in splendor and light, in power and glory.  Even our humble building lifts our spirits up!  But not all the time.  Not most of the time.  Not hardly at all in Jesus Christ.  That vision of God is how we want to see God.  How God easily appears to human eyes, appeals to human sensibilities, excites human desires. But that is not the whole story.  Or according to Jesus, that is not most of the story.  Most of the story of God, most of the revelation of God is the cross of Jesus Christ.

The theologia crucis, the theology of the cross is not based on what appears to be self-evident or on assumptions on how a god should be.  The theology of the cross is based on God’s, again, from the same theologian, “God’s self-revelation in the weakness of suffering and death.”  The last will be first and the first will be last.  God has “cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.”  “Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.”  “The meek shall inherit the earth.”  The suffering of Jesus Christ and of so many of our brothers and sisters, of ourselves, all of us have, will or do suffer, in that very real, universal experience of human life, in that we comprehend God.  In our brokenness and in the brokenness of others we see the face of Jesus Christ.  We gaze into their eyes and them into ours, and we fill each other with tears of recognition:  We are one in Christ.  Does anything in our world, in this human world, conform to that ethic?  Or even point in that direction?  No, it is foolishness by any human standard.  Ridiculous.

The theology of glory is what everyone wants in a god.  The theology of the cross contradicts everything that we expect God to be, and leads us to Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Okay.  Pretty hard stuff.  It is Lent after all.  There are many ways to know God, and some truly are glorious and beautiful even comfortable, but we will be on the path of destruction if we do not also dwell with Christ in the suffering of the Cross.  To revel in the brilliance of Easter we must wallow in the agony of Good Friday.

That is not the way things should be by any conventional standard.  There is no reason why it should be that way, but it is. God reveals God’s self in many ways, but God’s self-revelation in the horror, vulnerability and humiliation of the Cross is the most important to us as Christians, and it puts us in direct conflict with a world that worships success and accomplishment, wisdom and strength and all the other things we’d rather be thinking about.

Peter surely said something along those lines, that it was ridiculous that the Messiah would suffer and die, because that did not make any sense to him.  That’s not how God is or works.  It rarely makes any sense to me.  But then again, our minds are “set not on divine things, but on human things” almost all of the time.  Almost.

So when Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Get behind me my adversary, or tempter, what he is saying is no, you are not in line with my teaching.  You are not aligned with me, get behind me, get back in line and follow me, follow me this way, the way of the cross because the way of the cross is the way, the truth and the life.

Our human natures are that, very human.  They are creaturely.  Meaning they are enamored with other created things, earthly things.  Paul uses the word flesh, sarx, as opposes to nous, spiritual.  Not just bodies, but all material things.  Like a crow distracted by something shiny, the world is shiny to us, it distracts us.  It is real, and beautiful, and wonderful, Jesus’ time amongst us sanctified the world, but it is not everything.  Not by a long shot.

What Jesus does is teach us that we can surpass, overcome, rise above our human nature.  We can lift up our eyes from the hills to the heavens beyond, the world beyond sight and sound, beyond smell and taste, beyond sensation to the realm of the spirit.  Violence and lust, among other things, are natural, creaturely experiences.  Ten minutes in a barn yard show you that.  Our rooster is named Sir Timothy Runs-a-lot.  We name all our animals after plants, hence Timothy, a key part of hay.  Sir, because he is a regal fellow, an Americana, the blue egg layers.  And Runs-a-lot because he runs from one end of the field to the other to pounce on a chicken, feathers flying, and then runs across in the other direction and does it again.  And again.  All day long!  Back and forth, back and forth.  It is comical, almost like fly-fishing for hawks.  Through Earthly eyes (male earthly eyes), that could seem like heaven.  What a job.  But through divine eyes, not so much.  Sir Tim is driven, consumed, possessed by his creaturely propensities and his eyes are firmly downcast, the next unsuspecting hen guiding his little rooster steps back and forth all day long.

We don’t need to follow in the little footsteps of Sir Timothy Runs-a-lot.  We need to get behind Jesus and follow Him in a heavenly direction.  That is not to say that our sexuality is bad or dirty or wrong, sex, like everything in the earthly realms, it is a means to an end, not an end itself.  The end itself is in-line with Jesus.

Jesus teaches that we can overcome our earthly predilections, earthly distractions, earthly actions that get between us and God, that distance us or keep us separate from God.  Those are just other ways to describe what we call sin.  Even when they are very natural, like feeling lusty when encountering someone sexually desirable, or feeling violent when someone seems to be a threat or gets between you and something you want or need.  Our cute little goats were vicious beasts if they thought one of their sisters was getting more grain than them.  Or that little cute fuzzy kitty that sits there and thinks about murder all day long.   Natural doesn’t necessarily mean good, or Godly.

Hence, to get in-line with Jesus, we need to deny ourselves, to deny aspects of our nature, take up our crosses (that’s foreshadowing) take up our crosses and follow Him.  Now this is a dangerously misunderstood and misused notion, taking up our crosses.  It is not about patiently bearing suffering.  How many women have been told that their abusive husband was their cross to bear?  How many addicts say of their addiction “It is my cross to bear.”  Or any of us about our own limitations and shortcomings, “just my cross to bear” and absolve yourself of responsibility and just trudge along under its weight.  I have a list of things about myself that I consistently shrug and say, that’s just me.

No.  That is not what Jesus means.   Taking up your cross doesn’t mean to revel in our suffering, or that we patiently, passively bear the evil acts of another, be it the innate violence of unbridled capitalism, the nihilism of a morally bankrupt culture or the blows of a thuggish partner.  No, what it means is that you find that thing that gets in the way of you and God, that special thing that keeps you mired in muck.  You know what keeps you down.  Taking up your cross means you picking that thing up, confronting it, and carrying it in-line with Jesus on His long walk towards Salvation through the unimaginably narrow gate of the Cross.  Do you think Jesus liked His cross?  Saw it as a ticket to heaven in the fast lane?  No.  It was a hurdle.  It was an obstacle.  He was human.  He was scared of death and the horrific pain that He knew would be inflicted upon Him.  The agony in the garden, the dread He faced is a sorrowful mystery of the Rosary Prayer.  Look at the stations.  Take time to look at them after Mass or join un on the Fridays of Lent as we walk them in that terrible liturgy.  He knew it would be the hardest struggle he would have and He faced it.  But that was between Him and God, so He picked up His cross and followed the way He knew He had to go, and followed it all the way to God, whom he called Abba, His Father in Heaven, creator of heaven and earth.  And Jesus Christ invites us to join Him.

What gets in your way?  What cross stands between the you you appear to be and act like and the You created in the image of God, the one you are when you accept that you are already forgiven, that you are loved by the Foundation of Existence?  Comparing yourself to everyone around you?  Tearing others down to prop yourself up?  Alcohol?  Drugs?  Those things are designed to get in our way of reality, Ultimate or otherwise.  Does your mind and spirit follow your body in being distracted by your very natural sexual urges?  Or food or stuff, Amazon Prime, do you solve your problems burying them with things, “If only I had the right x, it, I would be alright?”  The escapism of entertainment?  Art reveals God to us via created things, entertainment draws us away from this world and God into fantasy worlds.  (Entertainment sells much better than art).  Are you consumed with hatred for someone or something, be it in your very personal life or some figure far off, maybe in Washington?  Is your hatred and disdain, as justifiable as it might seem through human eyes, does it help you be justified to God in Christ with the Holy Spirit?  Does your drive for station, position, prestige let you compromise around what you know to be right?  What is your cross?  We all have one.  At least one.

We were created in the image of God.  But somehow, somewhere along the way we were corrupted, and the path to how it should be, how we should be, to God almost always seems harder than the other path, the path of earthly delight?  Conventional wisdom?  Go along to get along?  Whatever you call it, it is often easier to take it than the way of Christ.  I think that is what Peter didn’t get and rebuked Jesus over.  The cross Jesus implores you to bear is whatever your chief stumbling block is.  It might be something very natural, but Jesus calls us to rise above our base nature and embrace the divinity that lives in every heart.  Including yours.  May your Lenten journey help to reveal not only the cross you have to bear to get in line with Christ, but also the love of God that will give you strength along the way.  AMEN