Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent 3 -- Year A

Delivering Signs and Dusting From Their Eyes

Image from

On Sunday, April 25, 1935, for many who lived throughout the great plains of America, the world turned black. It was a darkness heavy enough to topple buildings, a thick darkness that covered all the people, so that they could not see past a few feet in front of them, a cloud of dust that blocked out the rays of the sun.

This was the time of the dust bowl. Poor farming techniques that did not use crop rotation drained the top soil of the rich great plains of its nutrients. Due to over plowing, many of the fields lost their natural grasses, which in turn, meant that the ground was now prone to erosion. And after a very fertile period in the early twenties, a dry spell came. This near-nation-wide drought affected this weakened soil. That, coupled with the high winds of the plains, winds that could easily reach sixty miles per hour because there are no mountains or sky scrapers or massive forests to stop them, blasted the plains. These winds picked up the dry, dusty soil, turning them into massive clouds of dust. These dust storms could tower three miles high in extreme cases.

The one on Sunday, April 25, 1935, was particularly severe. It is said that 300,000 tons of top soil were carried by that storm and later deposited into the Atlantic Ocean. Three hundred thousand tons. The day became known as Black Sunday, because of the darkness these dust clouds brought. To quote Bette Wolf Duncan’s poem ( inspired by the event,

Black Sunday, nineteen thirty-five...
the day turned into night;
the thick, black dust that plagued us
had blotted out the light.
It looked like some satanic hand
had poured tar from on high.
It blew and boiled above us,
and charred the raging sky.

And to make matters worse, this was just one storm of many that occurred throughout the decade that would later be remembered as the dust bowl. The dust displaced millions of people who attempted to escape west towards California, where false rumors of labor gave them false hope of food and making a livelihood. Due to the stock market crash back in ’29, the economy was so broken that these millions of Americans without jobs or homes could not be supported by the government or any other community.

And the dust storms blew. Apparently, one Christmas it snowed red dust in New England. Baltimore, New York, Washington, D.C., all experienced this black or red dust rain as the storms blew the dust from the great plains over the east coast, depositing the soil over these cities and into the Atlantic ocean.

Bette Wolf Duncan’s poem ends by saying,

Oh, the dreams- all dashed to dust.....
and hopes that wind did quell;
no golden fields of wheat for us-
just bitter grains of hell!

The American Dream proved to be nothing more than a pipe dream for these families. Their hopes and dreams literally turned to dust.

And so, we are in the midst of Advent. This is a time full of expectancy, hope, dreams, yes, and prophecy. And here, today, we have the prophet Isaiah tell us of a day where the wilderness, the dry land, the dust of the earth, will be glad. The desert will rejoice and blossom! This is a message of hope, a telling of the end of the world when all things bad come to an end and God renews and restores the entire universe, mending wounds, healing the blind and lame and deaf so that the blind can see and the lame can dance and the deaf can hear! The desert, the lifeless, will become fertile and full of life, and praising God with shouts of joy and thanksgiving!

Can you imagine a day like that? A day where there is no more sadness, no more sorrow, no more pain. Where everything broken will be made whole, where everything wounded will be healed, where everything will be made right?

This is the message Isaiah brings for us today. A message of the day of the Lord. Today is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for joy. For rejoicing. And with a lesson like that, I mean, how much more joyful can you get than hearing that the entire world, even the desert and dry places will shout and leap for joy for all the good things that God is doing. Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel! In some churches they even change the paraments to rose colored for this Sunday, which is the liturgical color of joy.

All of this joy! All of this good news!

But now, we live in a time where this is simply not the case.

For as much as Advent is a time of hope, it is also a reminder that the world is still very broken, that we still wait in the in between time. We still wait for the Messiah to return. That is why Advent is so important. Because in the midst of all this holiday preparation, this quest to have the perfect Christmas, there is much hurt in this world. We live in the wake of the dust storms of fright, hurt, pain, loss. Oh, the dreams all dashed to dust, and the hopes the wind did not quell… this was supposed to be a time of joy, looking towards Immanuel.

And yet. We live in a world where we are being barraged with these images of what our Christmas should look like. We hear it on the radio, see it on tv, participate in it at Christmas parties at work and school and wherever else. It’s as if the world is teaching us to sing

We must have a perfect Christmas!
We must have a perfect Christmas!
We must have a perfect Christmas!
And an hectic New Year!

And it doesn’t stop there. Try to find parking at my Mall in Columbia! Or, even White Marsh or Towson. Which brings to mind another festive song of the season:

Joy to the world, I found a spot
To park my S-U-V!
It might be handicapped, let’s hope I don’t get caught!
The mall’s as busy as can be,
The mall’s as busy as can be,
The mall’s as busy as can be!

In spite of all that, in spite of all that, we are called to find that holy time in the midst of the hectic. This advent season is about taking a break from preparing for the perfect Christmas. It’s about finding holy time in the midst of holly time. Where are we supposed to fit God into this celebration of Santa Claus and toys? Wait, isn’t that equation inherently messed up? Shouldn’t it be the other way around, shouldn’t we be trying to fit Santa Claus and cookies and hot chocolate into a celebration of God’s promise and remembrance of the incarnation?

I’m not trying to create an “us” versus “them,” a holy Christmas versus the secular Christmas, for all of us, all of us, secular or not, participate in the consumerism of the holidays, all of us are at fault whether we shopped on black Friday or not, or cyber Monday or any other day. But the call remains for all of us to come back and find a sacred space in the midst of this chaotic time.

For the farmers of the dust bowl, it must have been hard to imagine Isaiah’s words ever coming true, when all around them was dust and the waste lands. When every breath filled their lungs with dust. When the entire world was desolate. And yet, and yet, after the fifteen year dust storms, the land healed. And now, once more, the American Great Plains is one of the most fertile regions in the entire world.

For the Isrealites on the verge of capture and defeat by opposing forces, the city of Jerusalem surrounded by warring nations, the words Isaiah was telling them must have seemed idle and impossible. How can the line of David last forever when we are about to be captured? And they were captured and taken into exile. But they were released from exile and allowed to return home. And seven hundred years later, the Christ child was born along with all the hope of the world in a small Podunk town of Bethlehem.

For us, surrounded by the holiday mayhem, how can we hear these words of Isaiah and find them true? There is loss and sickness, pressure to have the perfect Christmas. But here we are, gathered together, finding holy time in the midst of this holly time. For the promise remains. In the midst of hectic time, we have hope.

The dead will live again. The lame will leap for joy. The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The desert and dry land will sing praises of thanksgiving. If you listen, can you hear it? Can you hear the rocks and trees and fields clapping for joy? Can you hear the new creation breaking forth from the dust of the old? Can you feel the promise of God’s continual presence coursing through the very veins of this earth?

The world trembles with anticipation. And so we saunter along that holy road redeemed children of God, in hope and expectation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reformation Sunday Sermon

My sermon for Reformation Sunday. I dressed up as a ghost since it was also Hallowe'en and had chains wrapped around me (they were heavy, too!), and also carried a Bible that I had wrapped up in chains. The sermon was in three parts.

The Ghost of Reformation Past
After the second reading (Romans 3.19-28)
I am the Ghost of Reformation Past. I have come to you on this spooky Halloween Day and this spirited Reformation Sunday to bring you a message.

Are any of you familiar Charles Dickens' holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, in which three ghosts — the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future — visit a man named Scrooge on Christmas eve? As this is Hallowe'en, three ghosts have been chosen to visit this church on Reformation Sunday, I am the first, the Ghost of Reformation Past. After I share my message, the Ghost of Reformation Present will appear, and finally, the Ghost of Reformation Future will arrive.

As the ghost of Reformation past, I am here to tell you of a time when the church was in chains to sin, when the church kept the gospel good news bound by chains. A monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Brother Luther's own reformation of heart took place after reading this verse of Romans, these words of Paul,

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ1 for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement1 by his blood, effective through faith.”
And again, “ 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”

Brother Luther understood these words to mean that a person cannot do anything, do you hear that, a person cannot do anything to get into heaven; rather, it is through God's faith in us, through God's love for us, and through God's steadfast grace that we are forgiven and inherit eternal life.

By this discovery, Brother Luther, in effect, unchained the gospel from the idea of works' righteousness, which, in other words, was the belief that you had to do good things, good works, to get into heaven. Those who do good get eternal life in heaven, those who don't do good, don't. This verse of Paul proves this idea of works' righteousness to be false! Paul says that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That means everybody from Moses to Peter to Mother Teresa – none of them could get into heaven on their own, all of them have sinned and fallen short. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, too, but God loves us and forgives us none-the-less — an all you need is love, love, et al., mother love, love too deep for words – and all of God's children, us included, are justified, forgiven of sin, inheritors of eternal life, through God's gift of grace.

I leave you now with this message of Reformation past: Brother Luther inspired a reformation in the church that continues to the present, where the Gospel is freed from chains and God's word is available to all. (Here I took the chains off the Bible and laid them at the foot of the altar.) Look for the Ghost of Reformation Present to come and speak to you of how this reformation continues here and now.

Please Rise for the Reading of the Gospel.

The Ghost of Reformation Present
After the Gospel reading, John 8.31-36

I am the ghost of reformation present. I come bearing news of the present reformation of this church of God. As you know, the church is at a crossroads. Several churches have chosen to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the social statement and decisions made in August year of our Lord two thousand nine. Mainline protestant churches – from Episcopalians to Pentecostals, Lutherans to Baptists – throughout the country are losing members at a rapid rate. Where the state of the economy has meant the the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has had to lay off over sixty people this past month, where many individual churches throughout the country are facing budget deficits.

It seems like a dangerous time to be the church. Now more than ever we feel the chains of sin that Jesus spoke about in this passage. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. It says that right in the confession every Sunday.

Jesus says that we are slaves. And those listening to Jesus said, “We are descendants of Abraham, we were never slaves to anyone!” How quick did they forget that yes, they were slaves – they were slaves in Egypt, they were in exile in Babylon, and currently they were under foreign exile. How quickly did they forget they were slaves. How quickly do we forget!

But Jesus says, “whoever commits a sin is a slave to sin.” Each of us sin. Each of us have sinned. From cutting off someone on the way to church to arguments I've had with my parents, I have sinned. I am a slave to sin, wrapped in these chains of sin. As are we all slaves to sin.

But! We are here together, and together we heard Jesus say that if the Son has made you free, then you are truly free. And I am here to tell you that the Son has truly made you free. (Here I took off the chains around me and laid them at the foot of the altar.) At this font, at this altar, at the foot of this cross, we are reminded by Christ we are forgiven all of our sins. Do you hear that? We are forgiven all of our sins! Cutting off someone on the way to church? Already forgiven. Arguments with family? Forgiven. No matter what sin you have committed, the Son has already made you free by his death on the cross. Do you hear that? You are forgiven! And you did not have to do anything! Every little sin, every big sin, everything you have ever done wrong? It's forgotten. You are forgiven.

Our baptisms reform our hearts and minds, it frees us from sin so that we may go into the world to tell the story and live the story. Thank God almighty, we are free at last. So the question is, what do we do with this freedom?

The church has a choice, we have a choice – to fall back in fear or to boldly follow the spirit as she continues to move us, continues to reform us. We are at a crossroads, for sure, but even here, even now, even as we sit in our pews, arms crossed, teeth clenched, the Holy Spirit is at work. The spirit is moving, yes, the spirit is stirring up within us. As I depart, I pave the way for the last ghost, the Ghost of Reformation Future. Where are we being called as a church? What is the future of the reformation? Now that we have been set free, where are we being called to go? Look for the Ghost of Reformation Future to come and speak to you of how this reformation draws us into the future.

The Ghost of Reformation Future
Following the Children's sermon

I am the Ghost of Reformation Future, of Reformations yet to come. I have come to bring tidings of the future of this church, the future of the reformation.

From St. Paul to Martin Luther, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr., many of our greatest prophets have had visions of what the Kingdom of God will look like when fully realized among us. When once and for all the chains of slavery and sin will be laid to rest. A time where there will be no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow, where all the walls that separate and divide us will be torn apart stone by stone. This vision of the future is certainly not realized right now, as the world is full of pain and sorrow, walls of poverty and class separate and divide us. The chains of slavery and sin still bind us.

However, that does not mean that we cannot be a part of the reformation here and now. As the ghost of the reformation present said, the Holy Spirit is calling all of us, each and everyone of us. We are called to be a part of this reformation, working towards a better, brighter tomorrow. We have been set free from sin so that we can serve others, Martin Luther said. So we can go into the world and bring about, with God's guidance, a reformation here and now.

We are all of us children of the Reformation, made clean in these waters, filled with this bread and wine, and reminded that we are set free by the word of God. Child of the Reformation, stirred up with the power of the Holy Spirit, we leave this place fed and forgiven, set free from the bondage of sin. No matter what, we remain in the love and care of God. We are forgiven! You hear that? You are forgiven! We are free! We are children of God! The question I leave you with my brothers and sisters of the reformation, the question is, you are set free! Now what?


Monday, October 18, 2010

Creation as gift?

I am tired of hearing people say that creation is a gift from God. How anthropocentric can we get? Why can we not believe that the universe has its own integrity in and of itself.

Seriously, there are stars out there that are so far away their light does not even reach us. Is that a gift for us?

Why can't we treat the universe, the earth, other creatures, not as gift, but as subject, as other, as something with integrity? The universe is not ours to do with as we please, it was not a gift for humanity. We are a part of this earth, not the beneficiaries of its gift, nor are we the benefactors or stewards of the planet. We have forced our power over this planet rather than treating it as friend, treating it as an object or gift to be played with and disposed as opposed to a subject and friend.

Monday, October 11, 2010

19 Pentecost Sermon

My sermon from 19 Pentecost (3 October). This is one of the shortest sermons I preached, but I like it just the same. :) It is essentially about theodicy, that is, why is there evil in the world if God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good? The text I used was the old testament lesson, Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.1-4.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2.1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous--
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry,
wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

Several decades ago, the New York Botanical Garden acquired a dried up specimen of Ibervillea Sonorae. This beautiful plant is native to northwestern Mexico. Due to the arid climate, the plants are able to store up water for the summer, and have remarkable survival abilities. So the New York Botanical Garden put this dried up specimen of Ibervillea Sonorae

"on display in a glass case. 'For seven years,' says Joseph Wood Krutch, 'without soil or water, simply lying in the case, it put forth a few anticipatory shoots and then, when no rainy season arrived, dried up again, hoping for better luck next year.' That's what I call flying in the teeth of it all.
"(It's hard to understand why no one at the New York Botanical Garden had the grace to splash a glass of water on the thing. Then they could say on their display case label, “This is a live plant.” But by the eighth year what they had was a dead plant, which is precisely what it had looked like all along. The sight of it, reinforced by the label 'Dead Ibervillea sonorae,' would have been most melancholy to visitors to the botanical garden. I supposed they just threw it away.)" (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 165).

To all the passerbys that little shoot seemed dried up and dead, but underneath the stem life was still slowly moving along, loud as hope waiting patiently for water that was not likely to come. Think on that for a second. This dreid up plant was able to produce life for seven years without soil or water, waiting for rain that was not going to come. That's a leap of faith, instead of just giving up in the midst of arid and dry climate, in an enclosed case of glass, the plant waited patiently, loud as hope.

Centuries earlier, we have the prophet Habakkuk in a similar situation—the branch of Jesse had dried up, Jerusalem was on the verge of collapse due to corruption and abuse of power, armies were encroaching on all sides. He was surrounded by prophets saying that it was the will of God that Jerusalem would fall, that God was set to punish his people.

To Habakkuk, the world seemed out of control, and Habakkuk wanted answers. So we hear his cry to God, “How long, Adonai, must I cry for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you 'violence' but you do not save!” Seeing the injustice of the world around him, the poor who were getting poorer by the minute as Jerusalem's economy was on collapse, the rich who kept their wealth to themselves without sharing, the illegal aliens in Jerusalem who were being treated like dirt instead of being treated as people, the religious and government rulers who were squandering money from those in need. And Habakkuk cries to God, saying, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.” Habakkuk says, “For this reason the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out. Indeed, the wicked intimidate the innocent. For this reason justice is distorted.”

And God seems silent. Where is hope when God seems silent and the world is going down the toilet? Where is hope when you are like that dried up branch in a glass case, a spectacle for others as you wither without water? Where is hope?

I believe one of the most profound questions in the Bible, and still even to this day is it asked, it was asked by the psalmists, it was asked by the disciples of Jesus, and I have heard it asked so many times today, hope fading in people's eyes as they ask “Why does God let bad things happen in this world?” Indeed, Habakkuk is asking this very question of God. How long, Adonai, must we cry for help, but you do not listen? How can God allow the wicked to oppress the righteous?

Today may seem in some ways not that different from Habakkuk's time. It still seems to me that the wicked prosper while the righteous decline. Look at the homeless men and women, girls and boys on the streets. The economy which is allowing the rich to get richer while the poor continue to get poorer, barely able to make ends meet if they even are able to. Where diseases like HIV/AIDS, and cancer take so many lives. Where loved ones pass away. Where we are involved in an ecological crises that is affecting the poorest nations at drastic rates while the richer nations continue to use and abuse the earth. Where natural disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms can take lives as well as damage property. It's scary to think about sometimes, when the storms of life seem to take control.

Sometimes, we call out, along with the prophets, “Where are you God?” When we pray the prayers of the church later on for world peace, for health, we pray these same things every week. O God why are you silent?

Yet, even in the midst of this silence, though, is there hope? Let us return to our prophet and friend, Habakkuk. After he cries to God in anger and sorrow, this is the interesting thing. Even though the world seems to say otherwise, Habakkuk refuses to believe that God will remain silent. Refuses to believe that God will remain silent. No, because this is the God that led the people out of Egypt, this is the God that made a promise to King David that God would bring about a savior out of his heirs, this is the God that promised to Sarah and Abraham that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars. How can a God like that, a God of grace and love, remain silent? So Habakkuk says, “I will stand at my watch post and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what God will say to me, and what God will answer concerning my complaint.” You see, even though God appears silent now, there is an expectation that God will not remain silent. There is a readiness on the prophet's part to hear and wait, to be patient and wait for the God of promise to speak and break the silence.

Just like that dried up plant in the New York Botanical Gardens waiting patiently year after year for rain, Habakkuk is ready and prepared to wait for God to speak here and now.

And guess what? God answers Habakkuk! The God of ages breaks the silence and says “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.” God is telling him to create the first billboard in human history! God's word should be so large that the runner in hurridness can see it and recognize it as the word of God! And what is the word of God for us today? The righteous will live by faith. Let's say that together. The righteous will live by faith. Righteous does not mean morally righteous, like doing right or wrong. No! Righteous here means being relationally righteous, being in a relationship with God. That the righteous will live by God's faith and steadfast love.

Unlike the curators of the New York Botanical Garden, God sends rain (as you could tell this past Thursday). When we put forth our anticipatory shoots, dried up as the world may be, God will send rain. God will speak, God will act, God will break the silence. Because God's word is so large that a billboard cannot contain it. Because God's word dwells in each of us. That's right! God is never silent because God is speaking through us. That's what God told Habakkuk 3,000 years ago and that's what God is speaking to us today.

My favorite part of this short book is the end. Habakkuk says “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in Adonai, I will exult in the God of my salvation. Adonai, my God, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.”

Even when there is no visible sign of blessing, not even a hint or evidence of God, but in spite of that, in spite of, God is faithful. And we have cause to rejoice. And to write that on the largest billboards, to proclaim it in the street.

Because you know what? God was never silent! All along God was speaking. You see, God is never silent as long as we give voice on behalf of those in need. The mothering love of God is never hidden as long as we show that love to the strangers among us, to those who need it most. Let us fashion a billboard with our actions in love, to tell all the world that God is here, God is love, and God is speaking. We are the ones God chooses to act in the world, to love the world, to bring good news and hope to the world. God acts and speaks through us. God you are our strength. I think that gives us cause to rejoice. Can I get an Amen?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sermon: "Discipleship: After the Deluge"

First, a note: this sermon was way-hay-hay too long, and too convoluted. But, it was a hard text to preach on, and am interested to hear others' thoughts and ideas on what to do with this text.

Pentecost 15

Luke 14.25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Discipleship: After the Deluge

The day the waters came, I was told to wake up before the sun even broke through the night at the horizon. The day the waters came, my mother was a parish pastor at a church in Point of Rocks, Maryland. The church sat on top of the rocky hill overlooking the Potomac River, right on the border between Maryland and Virginia. The church was called St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, a tiny parish serving the small town.

We had a rough winter that year, I remember. The first big snow storm of my memory happened that year, in December of '95. I was only eleven years old, and I remember the snow being so high in our yard that where my father had shoveled the snow in the walkway from our front door to the driveway, the snow was taller than I was. Kind of like this past year’s winter, right?

Well, the day the waters came, it was early mid-winter, the cold of January. All of the snow had melted away, but the air was still chilly afternoons and freezing in the mornings and evenings, and the sky was still a perpetual gray, as if you were looking at the world through a black and white television set.

The day the waters came followed this horrible winter, and followed rain storms up in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania. The sun had melted all the remnants of the rough winter snow off the tops of the mountains, which then drained into the Potomac River. This combined with the already swelled waters from the rain storms hundreds of miles away. And so, the flood came. And I, a little boy of eleven, was packed into my mom’s car along with my brother and sister, and drove out to the church which sat high on the hill, providing a good vantage point as the sun finally appeared over the horizon, to watch the waters begin to seep up the hill. The flood began sometime around January 18th or 19th, “ahead of a strong cold front. In the day leading up to the floods, strong southerly winds and dew points reaching in to 50's created ideal conditions to melt the snowpack that was covering the entire Mid Atlantic region. As the cold front moved through the area on January 19th and 20th, intense rainfall accelerated the snowmelt even further, causing massive amounts of runoff to enter the rivers and streams.”1

The day the waters came… it was a mess. I remember the frantic way in which the few hundred people who lived on that hill rushed trying to pull their possessions out of their houses as the waters without mercy climbed higher and higher. You could see the water rising, inches at a time. You could physically see the water as it went up and up and up, crawling along the grass.

The day the waters came… you could see the panic on peoples’ faces as they watched the waters force its way into houses. Houses are supposed to be safe; a place of refuge, comfort, there’s no place like home! There’s no place like home, but there is also nothing like watching your home be raped and used by flood waters, your place of comfort and rest being torn apart by mud and water and river.

The church, St. Luke’s, sat high enough on the hill that it was in no danger of being flooded, and congregants who fortunately lived out of harm’s way, out of the river wild’s maniac path, helped in whatever way they could—the women provided food and hot beverages, the men of the congregation pulling people’s furniture out of the path of the water, us children watching in horror as people’s homes were destroyed, watching the pain on people’s faces, seeing the tears in their eyes as the water came without ceasing, climbed without resting, took without caring.

The oddest thing I remember about that day, the day the waters came, was how still the river looked. It wasn’t teaming or whirling or raging, but it was tranquil, placid, almost, the surface of the climbing water as still as a lake. The currents underneath the surface were fast enough to sweep away entire trees, roots and all, but from my vantage the water seemed so gentle, so calm…

The water climbed thirty-six point five feet that day, a record.2 Nearly every single house in Point of Rocks was damaged in some way by the flood. The entire county declared a state of emergency. Damage estimates for this small town of just under one thousand residents were in the millions.3

Reflecting on the flood now, I cannot help but think of the Bible verse out of Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”4 Thinking back on the flood, I can tell you that this was neither justice nor righteousness. And what Jesus tells us today in the gospel text—that’s not my idea of discipleship, that’s not my idea of justice or righteousness. Jesus tells us to hate our parents, our spouses, our own children and our siblings. Jesus tells us to hate life itself. The cost of discipleship is so great that we are to carry a cross and follow Jesus to death. Even more, we are told to give up all of our possessions. High stakes, here. Hate? That doesn’t sound very Christ-like to me. These words are coming out of the same man who said just a few chapters ago to love God with all of our hearts and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus just got out of dinner with Pharisees, sees a huge crowd, and they start following him. Jesus turns around and says these choice words. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciple.” We are told the cost of discipleship, there it is. Can you take it back? I don't want it. What do you mean I have to hate those whom I love?

Jesus further says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To share in the discipleship of Jesus means to carry his cross, to share in his death, as Saint Paul says. Again, I don't want it.

Jesus finally says, “None of you cannot become my disciples if you do not give up all of your possessions.” Um... to be a disciple is to go into a life of poverty? To become a burden on others as we cannot feed ourselves or our families? What are you talking about here, Jesus?

These three requirements should cause us to pause, sitting in our pews, and think... wow, what is this, what is Jesus calling me to do? What is being a disciple really like?

First, in a world of broken families, people who suffer from depression and other ailments, people who are poorer than poor, I honestly do not think Jesus is telling us to hate our loved ones, to hate our lives, and to sell all of our possessions. Rather, we are told that the life of a disciple is a hard one, one with heavy costs and heavy burdens. In this life, in this world, those whom we love can and will die. Our possessions can be taken away by something as simple and as horrible as a flood.

Some televangelists will tell you that if you just believe in Jesus, if you just pray hard enough, if you just send a check, then all your problems will go away and God will bless you with possessions and good health, praise Jesus, hallelujah! Is that what Jesus is saying here? That if we believe in him, if we pray to him hard enough, nothing bad will happen, our lives will be easy, we can kick back and relax through life? No!

Families, the familiar, possessions, all of these can bring comfort, and even worse, complacency. We can get trapped up in spending so much time and energy with our family or for our children that we forget to take care of our own health, for instance. And even more so, we forget that there are those around us who do not have families, who have lost loved ones, who have no support network.

We are not to hate the ones we love, but we are to detach ourselves from the comfort and complacency that it can bring. Because, life can suck, sometimes, to be honest. Nothing truer has ever been said. Floods can come, hurricanes can come, health can fail, loved ones can die, all flesh is grass and the glory of the flower is grass, Isaiah says, the grass withers and the flower fades. But, the word of the Lord endures forever.5

Because the cost of discipleship is high. In the flood of 1996, I saw the cost of discipleship in the midst of the flood. I remember that my mother helped carry a blind woman out of her house who refused to leave the house she loved and knew, the woman screamed as she was carried from her house even as the waters were ankle deep.

The discipleship, the community shown by the huddled masses of the church parking lot, holding vigil that night, waiting for the flood waters to cease, as the Red Cross and church members not affected by the flood donated food for a cookout, so people could have food in the cold January weather, the church opening its doors to and even its restrooms to the community so people could have a warm place to gather. Nothing in this world can heal the hurt that was felt by the community that day. Nothing. But, the promise of God is for a brighter tomorrow, for a new day, the promise manifested in the community that day, in the disciples who labored endlessly that day and night, is what helped a town get through a disaster.

That is discipleship, that is picking up your cross and carrying it. The hours of clean up by volunteers, the love, the open doors, the donations, the discomfort of being forced to stand together with people you never normally would have met or even spoken to as you share stories and bread on a church parking lot as you watch the flood carry mud and trees and dead animals through your homes.

The message Jesus is telling us is that bad things can and will happen, disciple or not. But, being a disciple is that when these things happen we come together as a community, get over our differences, and we gather together and live the Gospel whatever the cost. When the economy crashes, we help those who lose a job, when a loved one dies, the community gathers and supports the family, when the going gets tough the community, trusting in God, provides the help and care needed, even if it means discomfort. How are we being called as a community of faith to be a disciple? How is Parkville hurting, how is Baltimore hurting, how is the world hurting in ways, even simple ways, that we can help? How can we pick up the cross and follow Jesus?

The Kingdom of God that Jesus brings is like a flood. It comes without ceasing, ripping down the barriers of race and class, the barriers that separate men and women from having equal rights and opportunities, the barriers of sexual orientation or economic wealth. Nothing that oppresses or hurts the least among us can stand in the way of the Kingdom of God and not be washed away. The comfortable lifestyles, the many possessions we have, do you think those can stand between us and the flood of the Kingdom of God?

But, the waters of justice, the streams of mercy and righteousness, the font of every blessing, just like baptism, brings new life from the old, the many nutrients washed down the Potomac River brought a spring that was never seen before, a spring full of such beauty and flowers and blossoms and plenteous crops from the lower fields from all the nutrients, the new life the flood brought was overwhelming. It didn't make up for all the hurt, but it was amazing nonetheless. Annie Dillard, an amazing nature writer, describes one such story in her book, The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where a huge flood came through Virginia and wrecked homes and destroyed properties. But she tells of this one poor family, who after the flood had left the bottom floor of their house covered in slime and mud, later that year, even after all the cleaning, a giant mushroom grew in their living room, providing the family food, a final gift that the flood had departed for them, an almost consolation prize.

Even more than the springtime to follow the January floods, the plentiful harvest time to follow the heavy rains, the mushroom gifts discovered, how much more so does the Kingdom of God bring new life after all the hardship and turmoil, the ripping the mighty from their thrones, the grief, after all that is done how much more does the Kingdom of God give us new life?

Jesus tells us to hate what in this life makes us comfortable, because the comfort becomes a screen against helping others, the discomfort of living the life that Jesus calls us too is to easy to ignore when we are surrounded by what makes us comfortable. We are not told to literally hate our loved ones, in fact, as I said, just a few passages earlier Jesus tells us to love God above all else, but also to love our neighbors as ourselves. But when love for the comfortable, love for the familiar, love for the close at hand becomes more than love of God and love for those who need it most, the loveless, we are not living the life of a disciple. We are not following the via dolorosa, the path of Jesus, the life Jesus calls us to.

Because you know what? Jesus sought us when we were strangers. The grace of God which binds our wandering hearts to God, and yet continuously we turn away from the weight of the crosses we are called to carry, we turn away from the poor and turn to the embrace of comfort. Daily we wander, daily are we prone to leave the God of love. But the streams of mercy, the fonts of blessing, the never-ending flood of grace is always, is always filling us, healing us, making us whole, and binding our wandering hearts to God, calling us to the discomfort of discipleship, the discipleship that comes after the deluge, after the flood.

For the day the waters came at baptism, we were forgiven. The day the waters came we were made whole and are made whole, the day the waters came we were called to a costly discipleship, the day the waters came we were given new life. Amen.

Image above from, taken by Sam Yu. This image was from a recent flood in the Brunswick/Point of Rocks area.

All Bible quotations from the New Revised Standard Version

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: Bonhoeffer, Althaus-Reid, and Fryer

Marcella Althaus-Reid's The Queer God

Routledge, 2003
Althaus-Reid was senior lecturer in Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of several ground-breaking books, including Indecent Theology. She passed away in early 2009 while she was in her mid-fifties. This is a huge loss to the academic community as I can only imagine what amazing new things she could have contributed. What a pioneering woman! She will certainly be missed!

This book takes a post-modern, queer-theorist look at God. God is described as sensual, sexual, omnisexual. What Althaus-Reid attempts to do is to describe the kenosis (emptying) of the heterosexual God as a suicidal move, one which allows the queer God to come out of the closet. This is not literal, of course, but rather expressing the hope that theology can leave behind the oppressive heterosexual God (who she describes as always having an erect penis, the Viagra God), and allow for alternative ways of seeing God to come forth. No longer is God the one who is destroying Sodom, but God is the one who we meet at the gate of Sodom.

Althaus-Reid uses many post-colonial theologies from South-America, and is clearly influenced by deconstruction, liberation theology, and feminism. What she hopes to inspire is a new theology from the margins of sexual deviance, where God is no longer restricted by heterosexuality, and where those who are not heterosexual are no longer kept from experiencing God (or, being allowed to experience a God other than one that condemns them).

The book was mind-bending for me to read. It, pardon my language, but it fucks with you. It allows you, as a stranger, to meet God as a stranger; it allows you as you are to not be a stranger and to see that God is not a stranger, either.

That said, the book was very hard for me to get through. In fact, it took me the entire summer to read. It is in some places beautifully written, but, in others, very academic as she packs thought after amazing thought into a page, making you have to stop after each small section to process and reflect on what you just read. A great book, but certainly a little too academic for some. I give this book an 8.75 out of 10, only because it was so hard to get through at times. But even the heavy academic stuff was paradigm-shift inducing!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christ the Center

I read an old edition, translated by John Bowden; Harper & Row, 1960. I hope there are more recently translated editions out there!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer just... I can't talk about his life in a short little intro paragraph. I hate Wikipedia, but you can check him out here for a fairly decent article explaining his life.

At any rate, Christ the Center is not actually a book written by Bonhoeffer, but is instead a Christology complied from lectures he gave while teaching at the Confessing Church seminary. It's kind of dry compared to a lot of his other writing, but that could be the result of the translator or the compiler or who knows.

The book itself is a call for the church to make Christ the center of their theology, ministry, and mission once more. Obviously, the 1930s German church was not good at this.

One of the most amazing parts about the book is Bonhoeffer's notion of Christ "pro me," that is, Jesus is only Christ for me. Christ is not Christ in and of Christ's self, but Christ is Christ in relationship. Yet, Jesus is also Jesus throughout time and space. It's an interesting concept, and it's hard to do it justice in a little paragraph.

I read this book at the same time I read Carter Heyward's Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right. The two books present quite an awesome argument with one another. I tend to lean more towards Heyward's understanding, of a much more relaxed Christology that is based on mutuality. But, Bonhoeffer does say some pretty awesome things. He also makes an ecological claim, stating that "Like history, nature suffers from the loss of tits meaning and its freedom. It longs for a new freedom.... The word of preaching is that enslaved nature is redeemed in hope.... In the sacraments they are freed from their dumbness and proclaim directly to the believer the new creative Word of God. They no longer need [our] interpretation" (66-7). I thought that was quite the revolutionary thing for Bonhoeffer to say in 1930s, and certainly falls upon my ears in this time of ecological crises in a powerful light (though, I would argue that precisely our thinking that nature needs our interpretation is part of what caused the ecological crisis in the first place).

Overall, it's a decent book. This translation uses exclusive language both about humanity and God, which I find offensive, though it is also reflective of both the period it was written and the period in which it was composed. I certainly hope that newer translations are more inclusive in language. This book I would recommend for someone who is interested in Bonhoeffer's Christology, otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it, except perhaps for the "Christ pro me" concept. For the modern reader, though, this book lacks the power I believe it had in its original context. But, that may just be me. I give the book a 6/10.

Kelly A. Fryer's Reclaiming the "C" Word: Daring to be Church Again

Augsburg Fortress, 2006.
Fryer has become somewhat of a celebrity in ELCA circles, her break-through book Reclaiming the "L" Word: Renewing the Church From its Lutheran Core becoming a best seller (by Augsburg Fortress standards), being used for Bible studies, book studies, council devotions, sermon series, and much more. And then, of course, she shocked everyone by resigning from ELCA roster and her position at Luther and coming out of the closet as a lesbian (for which she receives my full support and prayers! Power to you, sister!).

At any rate, this book, as was Reclaiming the "L" Word, stunning, brilliant, and eye-opening. It calls Christian Churches everywhere, but especially us Lutherans, to take a good look in the mirror and see if we are really acting the way God's church should be acting. In other words, are we too comfortable being a church "in here," too comfortable in our complacency, to make a difference as a church "out there," changing the world to be a better place. Fryer uses the compelling story of the early church from the book of Acts to show how far we have strayed from being the dynamic church, led by LAY LEADERS, NOT JUST PASTORS, to tell the story of Jesus, and, led by God, care for the world (God's work, our hands, anyone?).

The book itself is humorous, easy-to-read (a nice break from all the heavy stuff I read in seminary), and perfectly designed for personal or group devotions or a book study.

Fryer apologizes in the beginning of the book that for some, this book may not go far enough, and for others, too far. I think her words are honest and necessary for today's church. I would venture out into much deeper waters myself, but this book provides the perfect opportunity for those too afraid of drowning to wade out a safe distance from shore (but still, getting them off their butts on the beach and into the water!). However, it should be noted that while Fryer's language about humanity is certainly inclusive, her language about God still is exclusively male. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Man's Journey Towards Feminism

"You know you don't have to be a woman to be a feminist. You should just be a... feminist. And if you're not a feminist, you should kill yourself. Because, like where did you come from, did you grow out of the ground? We're all here because of women."
-Margaret Cho

People often ask me why I am a feminist, or the similar and related question of how I became a feminist. And perhaps most important, people often ask me why feminist issues, particularly inclusive language, are important.

Journey Towards Feminism
Barbara Brown Zikmund, former president of Hartford Seminary, writes in her article "Trinity and Women's Experience" that, "[f]or most of us, faith development is a process. We grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God." She further writes that for her, the development into an understanding of feminist issues came in three stages: first, the need for inclusive language about humanity, second, the need for inclusive language about God, third, the recovery of language about God (in which she means that instead of referring to God by gender neutral nouns, such as the Holy One, The Rock, etc., she learned to feel at ease with words like "Mother" and "Father," "God" and "Goddess"). Lutherans believe that faith is not something that one develops, but is something that is given by the dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit within our life. But, we can grow into that faith, a faith seeking understanding, as Augustine put it. My journey towards feminism is similar--a movement towards deeper understanding of the world around me, of my sisters in faith and love, and of a God who was and is my Mother, my Father, my Lover, and my Friend (McFague).

Fragments of Memories:
My development toward a feminist understanding began when I was a child. I specifically remember asking my father at a young age why he referred to my sister, brother, and I as "guys," which, clearly to my young mind, did not include "gals." My father explained to me how words like "guys" and "mankind" are inclusive, how these words are commonly understood to include women. I accepted that at face value, and pocketed that sentiment without deeper thought for over a decade.

I also remember my father complaining about how a friend of my mother, who happened to be a feminist female clergy member of the Methodist Church, referred to God solely as "female." I agreed when he explained it to me. Sure, God was genderless, and referring to God with feminine imagery on (very rare) occasion is alright, but to refer to God exclusively as female is just an abomination (never mind that this "genderless" God is exclusively referred to by the majority of Christians as male).

I remember hearing a joke when I was probably about twelve about God. The fact that this stuck with me for so long proves how important it was to my understanding of God as genderless. You may have heard this or a similar joke yourself, and I feel bad sharing such an insensitive joke, but this was, oddly enough, important to my sojourn into deeper thought about the mysterious persona of God. A babysitter of mine told this joke:

A child asks his parent, "Is God a man or a woman?"
The parent replies, "God is both."
The child then asks, "Is God black or white?"
The parent replies, "God is both."
The child pauses, thinking for a moment, before replying, "So... is God Michael Jackson?"

Clearly this joke is insensitive, and I feel bad sharing it, especially in light of the anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. However, like I said, the joke, oddly enough, revolutionized my thinking about God. At the time I heard the joke, I did not even know who Michael Jackson was, but the idea that God was not an elderly white man, but was somehow both a man and a woman, both black and white shocked me and created perhaps my first major paradigm shift in my thinking about God.

Although, going to church every Sunday, seeing images of God in pop culture, in my illustrated Bible and every single reproduced painting of Jesus as the white guy with blondish-brownish hair opening his arms to a group of white blond-haired children, hearing exclusive language about God being a man (e.g. "His will," "God loves all of His creation," "Mankind was made in His image," etc.) only reinforced this notion that God was in fact male and that mankind somehow represented all of women as well.

Yet, almost as long as I've gone to church I've had the experience of my mother being my pastor, she having been ordained when I was nine, but serving as a vicar for several years before that. Thus, my earliest memories of the church have my mother in a leadership role within the church. When I first became aware of some of the negativity women clergy experience from the church hierarchy and laity alike, I was incredulous since my mother, at least from my young point-of-view at the time, seemed well received within her church. It was not until I was older that I began to see some of the challenges my mother faced being a woman clergy member.

But, even as a teenager, I lived in the fantasy world of white privilege. I was a white male Christian, and I had friends of different cultures and skin colors and religions and from my point of view "they" seemed to be treated equal in school and at the mall and wherever else I would hang out. Granted, Columbia, MD, is a fairly diverse place, and the Howard County school system has a zero tolerance policy on discrimination and racism, yet I was still blind to the discrimination that many of my friends and peers were facing because they were black, female, gay, Muslim, etc. I honestly thought (and how wrong was I!) that I lived in a world where black and white people, men and women, gay and straight were treated equally, never mind the fact that every picture I saw of God was an old white dude in the sky, every television show I saw referred to humanity as "mankind" (and every popular television show had a predominantly white cast) every spoken bit of liturgy I used, every hymn, referred to mankind and his relationship with his male God.

New Directions (No, not the Glee choir)
Suffice to say, I was unaware that I was being exclusive in my language and thinking. That I did not realize that even just by thinking that everything was alright when clearly it wasn't was causing harm. It was a professor of mine in college, Dr. Mary-Theresa Hall, that first alerted me to my exclusive language. I received a paper back from her, covered in red ink (as was her style). I don't even remember what the paper was about, but I remember she crossed out the word "mankind" and wrote above it something like "humanity--the word 'mankind' is no longer considered by academia to be appropriate and is outdated." I was shocked. I had simply never been told before that mankind was old or wrong. Ever since I first learned that mankind included women, I took it at face value. I did not even realize that mankind was exclusive. But as soon as I heard it was, I realized that just because I felt that it included everybody does not mean, nor should it mean, that it means the same thing across the board. And, why should it? What is wrong with using humanity if it is more inclusive? Why must we stick with language that causes harm to people just because, in theory, it should include everybody. These revelations hit me at once when I received the paper back. Needless to say, from then on, all my papers referred to humanity in inclusive terms, even going so far as to replace all exclusive language from authors and scholars I was quoting with inclusive language.

The rest of the story is confusing to me. I almost feel like I must have woken up one day with a feminist understanding as I cannot remember any more specific revelations I had along my journey. Even still, I have to admit--with pop culture telling me feminism is stupid, not to be taken seriously--it was a slow journey. But I do know that by the time I got to seminary I was already well on the path towards feminism (though I would probably not have referred to myself as such). It needed professors like Dr. Hall, Professor Wise, Dr. Thompson, Professor Wagoner and so many more who were patient, kind, yet firm in their desire to push me outside of my comfort zone and see the world as something other than my naivety and experience as a white male Christian provided. It also helped that I had been discriminated against by many for being an "other," not conforming to society's view of normal in every way.

As Zikmund said, or even St. Paul in his bit about "Now we see but through a glass darkly" (I Corinthians 13.11-12), we really don't know. We are stuck in a state of ignorance, an ignorance that, first of all, is far from bliss, but also will one day move into full knowledge. But until then we sojourn along with one another, move towards deeper understanding as best as we are able. For anyone to claim complete knowledge over another is only proof of their ignorance. I was one who claimed knowledge more complete than others, that somehow my belief that God should be referred to as a man was more "right" than those who believed otherwise. When I realized that my claim on knowledge was out of ignorance, I was able to, ironically, take the first step towards deeper knowledge. Augustine asked "What do we love when we love our God?" and replied that he did not know the answer, yet proceeded to write about God anyway, of whom he could say nothing yet not stop speaking. This is what the first step in my journey towards feminism was about for me.

Why Inclusive Language is Important
Language informs how we think and how we act. It's true, you cannot get around it. Just look at any propaganda posters, advertisements, or television commercials. I need look no farther than my own experience--hearing God referred to by exclusively male terms when I was a child made me think that God literally was male (and anyone who thought otherwise was wrong or misinformed).

I cannot begin to summarize the wealth of information that feminist theologians such as Carter Heyward, Sallie McFague, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and so many more have shared, explaining why the need for inclusive language is important. I cannot even hope to add to that wealth of information. I can only share a story told to me by a very dear friend. This friend of mine was approached by her young daughter one day after church (this is a Lutheran family who attend an ELCA congregation) and asked if God loves boys more than girls. My friend replied, "No! Of course not! God loves girls and boys equally! Why would you think that?" The daughter replied, "Because God is a man, so doesn't he love boys more?" Needless to say my friend was dumbstruck. The fact that this girl thought that she could not be loved as much as her brothers by God alone should show the importance of inclusive language, both about God and about humanity.

Martin Luther coined the phrase "Theology of the Cross" to describe his interpretation of the Pauline image of Christ--that is, the cross is where we are to get our knowledge of this God. From the cross we see that God became truly human, that God suffered and died for our behalf, and that, therefore, our God is a God who takes on our suffering--who is present in our suffering--that our God is one that suffers along side us as opposed to the cause of our suffering.

Feminism and the cross sometimes are more opposed than in sync, and for obvious reasons. I, too, am prone to believe in a non-violent atonement. However, where the theology of the cross and feminism meets I think has been discovered by liberation theologians. In James Cones' book A Black Theology of Liberation he tells us of the black Christ. Sure, Jesus was more-than-likely a middle-eastern man (and certainly not European in appearance!!!!!!), but that the God on the cross takes on our suffering, and suffers along side us. Thus, the Christ on the cross is the same Christ in the fields of the South, on the over-crowded diseased boats in the slave trade, and hanging from the lynching tree. Christ suffers along side. This Christ crucified is the Syrophoenician woman at the well, pleading with the Hebrew Grecco-Roman Jesus for a miracle, the Christ who is the battered woman escaping with her children from an abusive husband while the church of glory tells her that to get a divorce is a sin. It is in this theology of the cross that we see Christ crucified is not just the Son of God, but the Daughter of God, perhaps crucified from the beginning of time to the end as the God-man (as Moltmann would say), but so much more, the true presence of God in teary eyes of every person who has ever felt pain.

In this patriarchal culture, women get paid less then men for the same amount of work. How can we expect this to change if we say that all "men" should be paid equally? Women aren't part of that phrase. How can we expect change if women aren't even part of the spoken or written equation? When we have biblical passages telling us that women should be silent in church and obey their husbands, never mind the passages that say that in Christ there is no man and woman? And how can people expect to be baptized into a church of equality and love when we forced by an out-dated ruling of the council of bishops (that was by far majority all male) to be baptized under the patriarchal hierarchy of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?"

These were the questions I simply could not answer in my old way of thinking. As I continue this journey I have learned to listen to the experiences of others, to lay aside old ways of thinking, even if only for a moment, so I can hear the voices of others that have previously not been given a chance to speak by the church or by society. And most of all, I continue to remind myself that I don't know the answers. No one does. But until then, we move forward in grace, trust, and hope, faith seeking deeper understanding.

That is why I'm a feminist, and that is why I think it matters.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Trinity Sunday Litury

A liturgy I crafted for Holy Trinity Sunday. This is the result of spending a semester looking at the Trinity, reading great authors like Karl Barth, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Carter Heyward, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Sallie McFague. I feel the relational and mutual aspect of Trinity is important, and I tried to highlight that throughout the liturgy below. Some images may seem modelistic, but when presented with a wide variety of images it is my hope that people can look past vaguely defined heresies and delight in the wonder of language and our language of God, recognizing that all of our attempts to speak of God (of whom we cannot but speak) are flawed.

We welcome you to our worship service this day! Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, in which we celebrate the revelation that our God is a God of relationship, traditionally expressed as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” On this day, we look at other images of the Triune God, recognizing that God appears to us also as “Mother, Daughter, and Spirit,” and in many other ways.

P: In the name of God: the Parent, the Lover, and the Friend.
C: Amen.

Confession and Forgiveness
P: Blessed be the holy Trinity, + one God, who forgives all our sins, and whose mercy endures forever.
C: Amen.
P: God of all mercy and consolation, come to the help of your people, turning us from our sin to live for you alone. Give us the power of your Holy Spirit that we may confess our sin, receive your forgiveness, and grow into the fullness of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
C: Amen.
P: Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.
Most merciful God,
C: we confess that we continually sin against you, turning away from you with our thoughts, words, and actions, betraying the love and grace you give us. We, in our arrogance, try to name you, creating false idols against you.
We confess that we continually sin against our neighbors, those like us and those not like us. We have participated in corrupt structures that benefit a few over others, and we have discriminated against people based upon gender, sexual orientation, creed, ethnicity, culture, financial and social situation, and beliefs that are different from our own.
We confess that we continually sin against your creation, often in the name of progress, wasting limited resources and betraying the hospitality that nature provides us.
In your endless compassion forgive us all of our sins, known and unknown, things we have done and things we have failed to do. Turn us again to you, bring us to mutuality, and lead us into your eternal dance of love, so that we may serve you, our neighbors, and your creation, in newness of life through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Apostolic Greeting
P: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.
P: We praise the Creator, who continually creates the universe, breathing fire into the stars, spinning the electrons, who makes all things new.
C: All glory and honor to the Creator!
P: We praise the Redeemer, who through living and breaking bread with us, through dying, and through raising from the grave redeems us all.
C: All glory and honor to the Redeemer!
P: We praise the Sanctifier, who takes this broken world and mends it, bringing all things towards wholeness and completion.
C: All glory and honor to the Sanctifier!
P: Let all the world sing praise to our God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
C: Amen!

Prayer of the Day
P: The Triune Lord be with you.
C: And also with you.
P: Let us pray through our body, mind, and spirit:
blessed are you, O God, Mother of creation, King of the universe. Before time began you were in relationship, eternally in mutuality, love, and dynamic movement. We call out your name in worship, trust, and prayer. Send your Spirit to us, and like a fire, let it spark forth truth, hope, and a wanderlust for good and service, so that we might live into the grace that our friend Christ has given us. We pray this all in your Triune name: the Spark, the Fire, and the Flashing Forth.
C: Amen.

Prayers of Intercession
P: With the whole people of God in brother Jesus, gathered together in the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God’s creation.
P: Eternal Triune God, we pray for the universal church, for all religions, and their ministry and mission in the world. We pray especially that we may proclaim the good news to all the world. Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our Prayer.
P: God our parent, you held all creation in your womb, nurturing it, singing songs to it, loving it. At its birth you lit the stars and molded the planets. Even still you create, continuing to call us into the dance of creation with you. We pray for our brother Sun, our sister Moon, our brothers and sisters of the air, ocean, forests, and land. We pray that we may learn from our siblings, and we pray that you will lead us to sustainability and care for your whole creation. We join our voices in praise and thanksgiving with that of the entire cosmos, saying, Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our Prayer.
P: God our leader, you cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplift the humble of heart. We pray for peace in the world, we pray for all nations and governmental leaders, that we may all learn to live in partnership and community. Teach us to look past political, ethical, social, religious, ethnic, and cultural differences so that we may live as one yet many, many yet one. Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our Prayer.
P: God our lover, you entered into this broken world as one of us. You taught us by your example to care for the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the bereaved, the lonely, the outcast, the hopeless. Your compassion knows no limits, and your grace no bounds. We pray that you liberate all people, free all who are oppressed from all oppression and free us who are oppressors, give us knowledge to see our betrayal of mutuality. Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our Prayer.
P: God our friend, you bind us together, knitting us into one community of faith and love. We pray for this our congregation of friends, family, loved ones, and neighbors. We pray that you will continue to restore us with your Holy Spirit, through baptism, preaching, and meal. Grant us vision to see outside of these walls, hearts burning with passion for your justice. Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our Prayer.
P: Even here, even now,
C: Your Spirit moves us.
P: Even though we sit with clenched teeth, arms crossed, unwilling to change, unwilling to do your justice in the world,
C: Your Spirit calls us.
P: Into your hands, gracious God, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, send us the power of your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.
C: Amen.

Great Thanksgiving
P: The Lord be with you.
C: And also with you.
P: Lift up your hearts.
C: We lift them to the Lord.
P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
C: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
P: It is indeed right, our duty, and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, through our Savior Jesus Christ. You reveal your glory as the glory of the Parent, Lover, and Friend: equal in majesty, undivided in splendor, one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in your eternal glory. And so, with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

I also suggest for the Creed that one might use either Martin Luther's explanation of the creed in the "Small Catechism" or the Athanasian Creed. Portions of the liturgy are adapted from "traditional" Lutheran Liturgy, some of which is in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal (2006). Please feel free to use any or all of this liturgy; however, please give credit to the author.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sermon--Year C, Pentecost 4

Before I get into the sermon, let me just explain something about the context. The congregation this is meant to be preached at is one that I have a relatively good relationship with, otherwise I would not preach such a political message. This is a once-farming community, but now in a suburban context.

Luke 8:26-39 

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Year C: Pentecost 4

In several states in the mid-Atlantic region, the quest for coal has reached new heights, quite literally, as the purple mountains majesty of Appalachia are de-crowned in a process called Mountain Top Removal Mining, in which entire tops of mountains are blasted away in order to find seams of coal buried in the rocks contained hidden away in the heart of the mountains. First, this process requires that the top of the mountain is deforested, as if the mountain, once green and full of life, is shaved and balded, naked. Then, the tops of mountains are blasted off, and the rock and earth and soil are dumped into a valley, which often blocks streams and destroys even more forest.

After the few strips of coal are removed from where the hallowed massive mighty living mountain once stood, now nothing more than a large hollowed, naked, exposed piece of rock, the space is reclaimed with the intention of slowly reforesting the land. But the fact remains, the mighty mountain is gone forever.

The environmental impact of Mountain Top Removal Mining is, needless to say, overwhelmingly negative. Entire ecosystems are destroyed, streams are blocked, and water is contaminated with high levels of minerals, which are not only poisonous to fish and wildlife, but also poisonous to the many people who get their water supply from these now polluted streams. Not to mention that these mountains, a part of the natural beauty of this world, these mountains which so many grew up with, are now gone forever, lost to all future generations. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 1.4 million square miles--or, about the size of the state of Delaware--of Appalachian mountaintops and forests will have been cleared by this process over the past thirty years.

You may be asking, why hasn’t this been stopped? Why isn’t there legislation to protect these mountains? Well, the issue is complicated. Mountain Top Removal Mining provides income for many people in a place where frankly, there are not many other options for employment available, especially during this time of economic turmoil. The United States receives over fifty-percent of its electricity from coal, and so the demand is high. To stop Mountain Top Removal Mining would be to force hundreds, perhaps thousands of families, out of work and, perhaps, even change the life styles of hundreds of thousands of families who rely on coal power for their electricity.

Is the health of the environment, not to mention the health of the few hundred families who have unsafe drinking water worth the stability of the hundreds of thousands of people who receive electricity from coal and the thousands of families who receive their sole income from this process? Are the few who are currently being largely ignored by the greater community worth enough to make change which will adversely effect a larger population?

In the gospel today, Jesus is faced with a similar decision. Imagine, if you will, that you are one of the swineherds, observing this interaction between the demoniac and this person you’ve never met before, someone called Jesus. Sure, you have heard about Jesus before, and his healings in Galilee, but as a gentile living in a gentile nation, Jesus’ life and ministry seem to you to be more of a Jewish phenomenon and nothing of any importance to you. Jesus is just one of the many self-proclaimed prophets who wonders through Judea, and you could hardly be concerned with him. What makes this one so special? you might ask.

So here you are with several other swineherds, tending your large herd of pigs. And you see this man step out of his boat with a few of the followers. That’s a little odd, because they seem to have made it across the sea of Galilee during the storm last night without capsizing, but here they are. Almost immediately after stepping out of the boat, you hear the all-too-familiar loud shrieks of the demoniac from behind you. You turn around just to see him run past--naked, dirty, covered in bruises and scratches. He runs past you and up to Jesus and bows down at his feet, grabbing onto Jesus’ robes and pleading with him, falling down on the ground. You can hear bits of the conversation from where you stand. You share a glance with some of the other swineherds, a glance of disapproval.

You see, you know this man, this demoniac. He would become so violent towards himself and others that he would need to be kept in chains and guarded so as not to hurt anyone. This man was not just a noisy nuisance, or an unpleasant sight as he ran around naked, but this man was full of evil, almost out of control as he would bring harm to other people and himself. You debate going down there to grab this man and take him away before he acts out against Jesus or one of his followers, but before you can shout any warnings down to Jesus you realize that it seems Jesus already has the situation under control.

You watch as the conversation unfolds, the demoniac asking for healing, for release from his demons. And Jesus agrees, attempting to cast these demons out. But then the man shouts “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” Jesus looks at the man with kindness and simply asks “What is your name?” The man replies “Legion!” as if he were full of many of these demons. And then the man begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss, into the darkness, and instead to enter into the pigs.

You look around at the other swineherds to see if they are getting any of this. They smile that knowing smile, like this is some sort of comedy. And it is--this crazy, demon possessed man first of all having a conversation with Jesus, and now asking Jesus to cast the demons into the pigs, as if Jesus had some sort of power to do that. I mean, you’ve heard about deviled ham, but this?

But you hear from your vantage point Jesus agree, and before you know it, you hear your pigs start squealing as if something had scared them. You and your peers try in vain to corral them, but the pigs begin to stampede, rushing towards the end of the cliff. And before they could be stopped, your entire herd of pigs leap off the edge of the cliff and into the foaming sea below. At first you stand in disbelief, peering over the edge of the cliff and into the waters where your large herd of swine just drowned. And then, you turn around, angry at this Jesus. He just killed your entire herd of swine! This was your income, your job. How will you be able to put food on the table for your family? How will you be able pay the tax collectors? Not just that, but these pigs were your own, you raised them, you loved them, and sat long nights with them, protecting them. And now they are gone. Your anger quickly turns to fear as you think about this power Jesus has, a power to kill an entire herd of swine.

You and your companions run back to the city to tell everyone about the horror that had just taken place. People don’t believe you at first, but soon, a large crowd appears and follows you back to the area by the sea where it had all taken place. And there they see it--Jesus and his disciples, and the man--the demoniac--now clothed and in his right mind, and having a casual conversation with Jesus.

The crowd from the city is just as afraid as you are, and so they begin to shout at Jesus, and you join. “Leave here! We don’t want you! You disturb the peace! You are helping these freeloaders like the demoniac! We work hard for our money and our community and our well-being, and you would help this evil man at our expense?”

Jesus does not argue but heads back towards the boat, his disciples follow. Before he leaves, the demoniac once more throws himself at Jesus’ feet. You can’t hear what is said over the loud shouts of the crowd, but Jesus speaks to him, embraces him, and then leaves. The man gets up, turns around, and races towards you shouting “Jesus has healed me! Look at all God has done for me!”

Jesus had to make the choice: is this one man’s spiritual and physical health worth more than the economic well-being of the farmers and the community? Jesus chooses here the reconciliation of one at the expense of many.

This seems to be a central theme of Luke’s telling of the gospel story. Over and over again we see Jesus heal people who were cast out of the community, bringing them back into full relationship with the larger community even if it comes at the community’s expense. His many parables are full of stories where those who have must give up what they have in order to stand in solidarity with those who have not. Right from the beginning of this gospel we hear the song of Mary, proclaiming before Jesus is even born the type of things he will do on behalf of his Parent, the Lord God. Yes, Jesus’ message and ministry is the kind that rips the mighty down from their thrones in exchange for the rising up of the humble, feeds the hungry and leaves the fed no part.

Leave no doubt about it: Jesus’ ministry is a radical one, one that brings both good and bad news. The good news is whenever you are cast out from society, the power of the gospel will bring you back in no matter what the cost is to those who cast you out. The bad news is that this community comes at the expense of us who have much and are unwilling to share.

In contemporary times we are faced with these difficult decisions. Health care reform, the ELCA Human Sexuality Statements and decisions, and Mountain Top Removal Mining are just a few examples. We have entire communities at stake on either side of the issue. And, the majority’s lifestyle is often what is at stake. The haves not wanting to give up their hold to let the have nots in. Our elected officials in the church and the country make difficult decisions all the time, having often to weigh the pros and cons on both sides. I am not going to pretend I know what is best for this country or this church.

But, what I will say is that the gospel consistently shows that Jesus will help those in need in spite of those who already have everything and more, and often at their expense. The gospel should rattle us in our current lifestyles and force us to look outside of ourselves. For instance, is it not our responsibility to find sustainable employment for the miners that is not poisonous to the environment and local communities? Is that not our call as community? As family?

The gospel calls us to true reconciliation and community. And when we discriminate or bar people from this table, from this fellowship, from this man who is God, the gospel will work around us, and yes, in spite of us.

No matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey, this gospel also shows us the good news. Jesus goes out of his way to help us when we are excluded by the community. Just as Jesus not only showed compassion to the man who was kicked out of the community for being possessed, but also to the very demons who possessed him, Jesus shows compassion to the oppressed, the excluded, the last, lonely, lifeless, lost. Whether you are excluded because of your race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, social status, culture, or even because you are struggling with your own inner demons, whatever forms they may come in, the gospel brings you into full community.

And yes, evil exists in this world. That is why we are faced with these hard decisions about health care and environmental problems, and that same evil rejoices, rejoices when we bar people from community based on sexual orientation, gender, age, race, health care or not, democrat or republican, rich or poor, social status, sick or in perfect health, even those possessed by the worst of demons. But Jesus stands up against that evil, the one man against the legion, against the many, almost as if it were an epic show off. And Jesus shows us that that fighting that evil and doing the right thing almost always comes at a cost. It cost the swineherds their flock, the community their food and commerce. It often costs us today our comfortable “hard-earned” lifestyles. And it ultimately cost Jesus his life. Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sermon for Passion Sunday

Passions Sunday; The Trial of Jesus; Luke 23.1-25

Feudal Japan, the early seventeenth century. Portuguese missionaries are successful in bringing the gospel of a loving, crucified God to the Japanese people. The Christian movement catches on fast, almost as if the Holy Spirit created an unquenchable wild fire within the hearts of the Japanese people during the Tokugawa Shogunate Dynasty.

But then! A new ruler comes to power, and he finds the rapid spread of this new religion brought on by a foreign government to be dangerous, and so he outlaws this new religion, the religion of the loving, crucified God. This ruler also raised taxes to fund the construction of a new palace. Peasants, angry that their taxes were raised when they are already poor, and angry that their newfound religion was taken away from them, fight back, in what is called the Shimabara Rebellion. The new ruler defeated the rebellion, and tightened his grip over the nation of Japan, and began a campaign of bitter persecution against those who followed this loving, crucified God.

The Christian movement did not stop, but was forced to become an underground movement, what is called the Kakure Kirishitan movement--the hidden Christians. Risk of persecution was great--Christians would be imprisoned, tortured, and asked to renounce their faith by trampling on or defacing these beautifully carved images of Jesus called fumie. These fumie, often made of wood or bronze, would depict pictures of Jesus or Mary, and by asking a Christian to trample on it would be asking them to perform the ultimate act of apostasy, of turning one’s back on God. If they would not apostatize, the Christians would be faced with torture--either having boiling water poured over them, or hot coals placed on them, burning through their skin, or any other number of horrible things done to them until they either died or apostatized.

Shusaku Endo, a Japanese novelist, wrote a fictional account which takes place during this historical period of a priest named Friar Rodriguez in his acclaimed book, Silence. Rodriguez, a Portuguese missionary, journeys to Japan in the midst of all these rumors of torture and apostasy, to gather information and to help lead the Kakure Kirishitans, the hidden Christians, who were left without leadership after many of the missionaries and priests were captured and tortured. Rodriguez is filled with love for his God, for Jesus, the crucified God, and with love for the Japanese church in its time of affliction and suffering.

After several months, Rodriguez is captured and jailed. Praying to God for release from prison, Rodriguez slowly begins to feel and hear the silence of God--the crucified God that Rodriguez loved dearly is nowhere to be found as he awaits torture or apostasy. “Where are you God? Why don’t you answer my prayers?” The prison cell is silent, and Rodriguez is heartbroken.

An afflicted, broken nation under foreign occupation long prayed to a silent God. This nation, what was called Israel and now, under Roman rule is called Judaea, waited and waited and waited for an answer to their prayers, with silence as their only response. Then, this man begins teaching and preaching and healing throughout Judaea, claiming to be the Messiah, to be God’s answer to God’s people’s prayers. Finally! Here is the one who will lead the people of God out of captivity, the one who will restore the autonomy of this nation under God, the one who will be King. This man, this Jesus, rides triumphant into Jerusalem, people laying cloaks and palm branches before him, singing songs of praise and shouts of Hosanna. This man will save us.

It is weird that only a few days later, this same man, this Jesus, stands on trial.

Jesus stands on trial before Pilate, before Herod, before the religious leaders and the mob, and Jesus stands on trial before us. What is this man guilty of? The mob said that Jesus was perverting the nation, forbidding the proper payment of taxes to the emperor, and claiming to be the Messiah--the anointed one, the chosen one of God most high proclaimed and foretold in the scriptures. Jesus claimed to be the answer to a nation’s bitter, painful, prayer of oppressed people under an oppressive foreign occupation.

Is Jesus guilty?

Well, the Gospel of Luke does not tell us whether or not Jesus was perverting the nation, nor does it tell us if Jesus was forbidding the proper payment of taxes. But, ah, what the Gospel of Luke does tell us from the beginning is that this man is proclaimed as the Messiah. In Luke, Chapter 4, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and reads a portion of Isaiah, which says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18-19). Jesus closes the scroll, looks over his captive audience, every eye is upon him, and Jesus says “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4.21).

From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he has been not just proclaiming that he is the Messiah, but healing, teaching, preaching, casting out demons, and even prophesying against his contemporaries. All these things point to the fact that yes, Jesus is sent from God, that yes, Jesus is the Messiah.

But, as the excitement of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we celebrated this morning with palm branches and shouts of hosanna, and songs of praise for our king… when that excitement died down and the crowd waited anxiously to see Jesus finally go the next step, go the distance, be the long awaited Messiah that would rid Jerusalem--the very city of God--from the emperor who claimed lordship for himself, a false idol ruling over the Temple of the True God--the crowd eagerly awaiting Jesus’ next move, his bringing down of the man, the system, the government, and restoring Israel--God’s very chosen people--to full covenantal relationship and autonomy under the God who promised these things and more--the crowd waited… and waited… and waited… and Jesus did not deliver. He did not deliver to their expectations, he did not deliver them out of bondage. Jesus fails to meet the expectations of the Messiah who would lead a people to freedom from oppression. Jesus is guilty of not being who his people hoped he would be. Jesus is guilty of proclaiming to be the Messiah, the chosen one, when all evidence in the minds of the expectant people, waiting in the midst of their silent suffering, when all evidence points to the fact that he is proclaiming to be the Messiah when he in fact is not. Or if he is, he is not the one that the oppressed cried out and prayed through thousands of broken, silent, suffering nights hoped him to be. Jesus, the same one who said that he would let the oppressed go free seems to stand idly by, healing here and there, preaching good news of God’s love, while performing no action against the Roman emperor who is the very vehicle of oppression in the minds and hearts of the people of Judea.

And! What is worse? When asked if he is the Messiah, Jesus says, perhaps in a biting, sarcastic tone, “You say that I am.” That is, as if to say, you were the ones who built up these hopes and dreams of who I would be, you are the ones who said I would free you from Roman occupation. You say that I am these things.”

Herod, hoping for a miracle, gets silence from Jesus. Pilate, hoping Jesus would defend his innocence, gets silence. The mob, mocking and jeering, filled with disappointment and anger and frustration and evil, get silence.

We, along with the mob, stand with fingers pointed at Jesus, eyes narrowed, saying crucify, crucify, crucify. Because we, along with the crowd, continually have our hopes dashed by this man.

When the poor go hungry, the sick die, the lonely remain alone, children halfway around the world dieing from AIDS and children next door going hungry. When people are abused, battered, broken--when oppressive regimes create genocide and unjust wars are fought throughout the world--where is this man who claims to be the Messiah?

Friar Rodriguez was feeling the same thing when he sat in his prison cell that dark night before he would be asked to either be tortured or renounce the God who had thus far only showed him silence to his suffering. All night long he prays, but no answer.

The morning arrives--“the first rays of the dawn appear” (171). Endo tells us of how Friar Rodriguez is taken outside, and before him is placed the fumie, the image of Jesus, a face that he has loved but now has grown to hate--the face for which he has suffered so much already, and is now asked by his oppressors to trample upon that face or be tortured. With a heavy heart, Friar Rodriguez lifts his foot, poised, ready to trample upon that face… when the silence is broken… Yes, Endo writes that Friar Rodriguez stands poised, and looks at “that fumie, a burning image… On it was a copper plate on which a Japanese craftsman had engraved [Jesus’] face. Yet the face was different from that on which the priest had gazed so often…. It was not a Christ whose face was filled with majesty and glory; neither was it a face made beautiful by the endurance of pain; nor was it a face filled with the strength of a will that has repelled temptation. The face of the man who then lay at his feet was sunken and utterly exhausted…. It was this concave face that had looked at the priest in sorrow. And then the Christ in bronze [the face of Jesus from the fumie] speaks…: ‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by [humankind] that I was born into this world. It was to share [humankind’s] pain that I carried my cross.

“The priest placed his foot on the fumie [and trampled]” (171-176).

Jesus’ voice from that image pierced through the silence that clouds Shusaku Endo’s novel. That voice of Jesus, speaking to Friar Rodriguez, telling him to trample. Yes, it was “In sorrow [that Jesus] had gazed up at [Friar Rodriguez] as the eyes spoke appealingly: ‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here‘” (176).

You see, Jesus speaks to us in the hopeless silence our hearts feel from time to time. Jesus’ silence to the crowd, to Pilate and Herod, Jesus’ silence was a self-accusing silence, a silence to the questions burning in everyone’s hearts, a silence that would seem to all the world to be finalized on the cross, but a silence that Jesus would break once and for all on the third day. Because Jesus did come to rid us of oppression, but not the oppression of Rome but the oppression of sin.

Jesus does speak to us in silence, and speaks to us in our suffering from his own suffering on the cross. You see, Jesus is not the Messiah we ask for, nor is he the Messiah we deserve, but he is the Messiah that dies for us and our sins.

Holy week is about that silence, living in it--the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when the disciples waited in fear, all their hopes shattered. When we feel the heavy emptiness, the roaring silence fill us up, with no apparent answer. The silence that grows in the space between every spoken word, the silence at the end of a prayer before the amen is finally heard. This week, I invite you to live in that silence, to wrestle with it. To let it fill you up and empty you out, the grace that hurts almost as much as it heals.

Yes, let us feel that silence the disciples felt that crucifixion Friday, and that Saturday before the resurrection dawn lit up the sky and their hearts. But even here, like the fumie to Friar Rodriguez, even in the midst of the silence Holy Week brings, Jesus speaks to us--we look forward to Maundy Thursday, when we are reminded that God’s presence is among us every time we break bread and share the cup of wine. We are reminded of God’s presence with us and among us in our suffering when God died for us on Good Friday. And on Easter Sunday, we celebrate with the whole church and all of creation, even the rocks and trees and mountains, we celebrate the day when the silence is broken once and for all with Christ’s definitive “AMEN!”

But, for now, my brothers and sisters, as we enter this week, let us remain in the apparent silence of Jesus, the silent response to us as we shout along with the mob, even today, the sin filling our hearts, as we shout “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” as we put the King of all the Cosmos on trial for not being the King we expect. Yes, and when in our suffering and in our sin and in our pain, we put Jesus on trial, we raise our foot to trample, to crucify, foot held high, poised, looking down at that face, the silence is broken for us, too, as that face looks back at us, the eyes of Jesus, full of love and understanding, proving his suffering along with us in our suffering, and begging us to “Trample. Trample. Trample.”