5 May 19
Psalm 107: 1-2, 23-31
This psalm is the first psalm of the fifth and last section of the Book of Psalms. This section has been used for centuries as the psalm for sea going people. Although less and less in our secular culture, the RCN would use this section regularly in its naval commemorations like today.
The poetic structure has two focal points, like an ellipse. There is human cry/divine deliverance and then human response of thanksgiving for the love of God.
There are four cases reported and in each one there is the same pattern: Cry/deliverance and thanksgiving. This poet seems to know perhaps too well what it is to be 1. a poor lost soul in the desert, or 2. a prisoner living in horrific conditions of jail, or 3, seriously ill, feeling like death was the only way out, or 4. terrified by the threat of drowning at sea. Our section was obviously written by a sailor who, like most experienced sailors, would be revolted by any notion about the romance of the sea. In our reading the thanksgiving of the author comes with the advice the whole community in solidarity with this poor sailor home safe from the sea might want to give thanks to God, a community thank-offering as we are doing today.
The sailorís psalm.
Acts 9: 1-6
The book of acts, acts of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth tell us about the work right after Jesus is murdered and resurrected. Here we learn a bit more about Peter, and John and those Jews who wanted more of the way of Jesus. They were known, not so much as Christains, but as people of the way, mostly but not exclusively jewish. These included Stephen and Philip. It is here we meet the chief prosecutor: Saul of Tarsus.
This reading has had as much an impact on the church, maybe more than even the resurrection. Itís key question is this: ďOh Saul why do you hate me so much?Ē
It sets into motion Paulís incredible influence on Christianity. There was no other figure as unique as was Paul. His experience as we will read was not normal nor something you or me or any other person will ever experience.
Before this reading, Paul, known as Saul, was a hard-nosed rigid high energy conservative who had no patience or tolerance of anyone thinking like an adult. He was obsessed with purity of race and religion. His focused zeal fed by hatred led to death and suffering of followers of Jesus. His uncompromising persecution exceeded that of most of his Jewish colleagues, and indeed even that of his teacher Gamaliel. His rigidity we see today reflected in those shooting the faithful of those who are not like them.
And here we read of Paulís turning point, a radical and very rare change in direction.
John 21: 7-10, 12-14
Chapter 21 of John is like an epilogue to John. It seems to end at the end of chapter 20, after reporting three post resurrection encounters with Jesus. The first three happened in Jerusalem, but this one is different, it happened in Galilee by the sea shore.
Chapter 21 consists of 25 verses. There are three scenes and a conclusion. Peter and six other disciples decide to go fishing. It was a futile effort until some guy on share, probably too far away to be seen well yells at them to try fishing on the other side. The scene ends with the astounding news that this guy is actually Jesus back from the dead.
The second scene places Jesus doing one of the things he loved to do, cook, recline at the table and eat together with friends and students.
The third scene is usually the scene most emphasized in bible studies because it is here Peterís three denials are reversed by his three affirmations of love. Peter is restored to favour.
We will read the end of the first scene and then most of the second scene. What is theologically critical in this scene is seeing that Jesus is indeed so alive that he cooks, cares for and feeds his students breakfast.
This breakfast symbolized the reversal of the cross. The emptiness of chaos will never stamp out what the human race can do with Godís creation: the spirit that his closest followers knew in him before he died is not dead at all. Jesus lives.
Watch for these tell-tale lines Iíve underlined: ďIt is the Lord,Ē have breakfast, gave them bread and fish.
John 21 scenes 1 and 2.
5 May 19 BoA
Psalm 107: 1-2, 23-31
Acts 9: 1-6, John 21: 7-10, 12-14
We meet you, O Christ, in the ebb and flow of our lives. We hear you in sound of the sea. We hear you in one anotherís words. You are with us in times of lifeís turning. May your Spirit help us to hear your voice, trust your call, and companion others in your way. Amen.
For the next few weeks I plan to look at our stages of maturation particularly as adult members of a faith community. Most religious and psychological literature written has focused on children and their stages of development. And that is fine for parents and teachers, but it doesnít help us adults understand how we mature through all the great stages of adult life, and it certainly doesnít help us people of faith to understand how we mature as faithful adults. So I thought a series of sermons on our adult faith development might be meaningful.
Letís start with the most unusual sudden most unexpected change called the Damascus Road Experience. Most of us will thankfully never have to deal with the extreme trauma that Saul had to face, and nor do we need to.
Saulís personality problems put him in an extreme level of destructive cruelty. Saul was self-centered, socially destructive, narrow minded, smart, focused, ambitious, callous, and dangerous. He was not like us. He was not like the thousands of volunteers who crewed the ships facing the extreme threat of torpedo violence on the moist inhospitable seas on the planet during the Battle of the Atlantic. In fact, Saul was the deadly torpedo of unlimited sea warfare.
After Damascus, Paul emerged with the same determination, the same singlemindedness, the same intellectual and leadership abilities. So what had transformed? It is as if we went to the train station to go to Montreal and decided to get on the train for Toronto!
For Paul, there was a quantum change to adopting the compassion of God and a passion for reformation of religion according to the teachings of the resurrected Christ. In Paul, suddenly, Jesus was living again.
Paul shifted apparently after a single sudden traumatic event.
Sadly, our culture tries to lock us into compliance and dogmatic obedience, as once was Saul, albeit in a much more moderate form.
For example when I told a wonderful long standing dear friend of mine about my intention to join the colour to conquer cancer campaign they were shocked saying that I must not because of the gravitas of my calling. I nearly called it off as being non-compliant and disobedient. The cultural norm nearly dominated.
Uncritical compliance and obedience in service to the status quo leads to the deadness of the cross. It leads us eventually to treat all creation, our family, our friends, our colleagues, our employees, our natural resources, our boss, and our knowledge as objects for us to exploit. And that in turn we know sows the seeds of destruction that progressively will plunge ourselves into emptiness and alienation.
The alternative is our steady adult maturation, which is alive and dynamic like Easter joy. Changing as adults in faith keeps us supple, fluid and respectful of the creative newness of God. From that spot we sow the seeds of purpose and meaningful lives.
Our faith must change as it takes into account the accumulation of experiences which floods our brains in a world filled with so much cruel pain and suffering. Our brains today are coping with the horror of unlimited sea warfare in the North Atlantic. Our brains are coping today with perversity of gun violence in faith centres and schools of the United States and Canada. Our brains are coping today with children in locked cages in the most democratic experiment of world history. Our brains are coping with increasing evidence of the destruction power by human hands of industrialization. Our brains are coping with the high suicide rates at Canadian universities.
Sometimes we might wonder if the world would be better off without the human species.
That wondering, halleluiah, is Godís intervention and our opportunity for maturing our faith. If we wonder if the world would be better off without us we may as well admit we have heard Jesusí say: ďSaul why do you hate me so much?Ē
Our homework is to keep wondering out loud as if we hear our Jesus asking: Why do you hate me so much?
Our homework is to wonder how we too, like the disciples of Johnís breakfast story, get past the dead cross and know that Jesus lives.
Our homework is to watch out for Jesus telling us to fish on the other side. Our homework is to look for life after the cross in the other stories that so often fail to register in our brains or printed in our newspapers.
Are we eating breakfast with Jesus when we help our neighbors protect their homes from floods?
Are we eating breakfast with Jesus when we practice recycling?
Are we eating breakfast with Jesus when we open our doors to immigration from across the globe?
Are we eating breakfast with Jesus when we protest the physical punishment of children?
Are we eating breakfast with Jesus when we support those standing up to corruption and obstructions?
What are we doing right and how can we do more?
Go out in peace to follow Jesus, our Shepherd. Receive His hospitality in the BBQ on the sea shore. Model the hospitality of God in our world so that others will pause long enough to remember how we got to be the people of God in this miracle of our Canada. Amen.
21 Apr 19 Easter
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Our first reading comes from one of the long forgotten books held in the secret archives of Christian temples for centuries. It was written about 150 years before Christ and would have been in the scriptures of our Jesus and his generation. It is part of those books that were to be read: the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job.
In its amazing poetry lies the theology about justice from God in the Messiah. Now, two models about justice existed in the Jesus Bible. The first model teaches that justice would come before death, like it did for Daniel in the lionís den. Secondly, justice would come after death for those like John the Baptist. We know well the first, but know little about the second. The reform church has largely ignored any God talk about Godís justice includes those wrongly killed, coming after their death.
This is the god talk of this reading. The author actually sharply criticizes the exclusive claim that salvation is only for the living. Watch for the clear correction with the words underlined. Jesus and his disciples would have understood justice of God is for all creation and that justice had to have already started before resurrection. Hence Jesus taught: the Kingdom of God is here. Halleluiah! Halleluiah!
The Wisdom of Solomon
Matthew 27: 50-54,
Matthew tries to write in his book the theology that justice is inclusive: it is here for those before death, and justice is here for those already dead. Matthew is the only one who tries to teach this inclusive justice. His attempt is clumsy, because this God talk is messy. Mark, Luke and John jump over this difficulty. They say nothing about Holy Saturday, the time between the grave Friday evening and sunrise Sunday morning.
The early church accepted this awkwardness and gave it a name. Translated from Greek it is called in English: The Harrowing of Hell. The Harrowing of Hell means literally ďrobbing the underworld.Ē What else could be stolen from the underworld but the dead? The Harrowing of Hell is depicted in this amazing fresco from the fourth century AD in the Chora Church in Istanbul. In the centre we see Jesus. He is reaching out on his left to the first Martyr: Abel, murdered unjustly by his brother. On his right, he is reaching out to John the Baptist, the first martyr of Jesus, murdered unjustly by the King. Look deeper and we see Jesus reaching out to Adam and Eve, and hoards of others. Examine his feet and you will see him standing on the two broken gates of hell, in between which you will see amongst the broken bones, Satan defeated, bound and gagged.
Ignoring the existence of time and place; Matthew places the harrowing of hell at the moment of the death of Christ. If we ignore a concrete time-line and we see that between the death and resurrection of Christ the dead shall be raised and we shall be changed. Halleluiah! Halleluiah!
The Harrowing of Hell of Matthew
This second gospel reading starts with the day of resurrection. Luke, like both Mark and John, puts in nothing but a dead Jesus-in-his-grave between death and resurrection.
With 53 verses, Luke devotes the second largest narrative of Easter, second only to John. There are a number of details we find only in Lukeís account of the resurrection. Later in Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, the resurrected Jesus appears in and around Jerusalem only, and never in Galilee. Iíve underlined in the reading how Luke brings us back to the lessons in Galilee. Luke includes Galilee by noting that Jesus in the beginning taught in Galilee, and what do we find at the beginning? We find there that the kingdom of God is happening and the Nazareneís mission comprises four things only: liberating the prisoner, lifting up the oppressed, healing the sick, and enlightening the ignorant. Halleluiah, halleluiah!
Secondly, there is a great line found only in Luke, a line that gives us the heart of Lukeís resurrection account. ďWhy look for the living among the dead?Ē
The enduring eternally life of justice comes from those truly alive, not from the dead. This compels us to see that those justice seekers killed by injustice are not really dead at all. Once again we feel that the underworld is robbed of its dead: the harrowing of hell. Halleluiah, halleluiah!
The Resurrection in Luke:
21 Apr 19 Easter
Wisdom 3:1-9, Matt 27: 50-54, Lk 24:1-12
Fulfilling all Creation
Holy One, renew our wonder and open our hearts.
What happened between the burial at sunset on Friday and dawn on Sunday? What happened on Saturday?
Lost for centuries in the secret books of the Vatican is the story that doubles the already overwhelming joy of Easter Resurrection. We are already overjoyed with the news that He is risen, Halleluiah, Halleluiah. This God-talk doubles that joy.
About 200 years ago, several ancient texts of the forbidden books were seriously re-examined. Most of these texts were kept hidden because it was believed only the most educated priests had the intellect needed to understand them. It was a left over from the days before the printing press. Included in this collection is the book called Wisdom of Solomon
While the Wisdom book is not part of our bible, it was a sacred text for our Jesus and we would be remise to ignore its god talk.
So back to the question how is our joy doubled? The reason is directly related to the missing day of Holy Week: the day we could call Holy Saturday. Along with Paul, Matthew, and the Peterís letter, the Book of Wisdom helps us with this question.
So we are joyful at Easter because death itself could not contain Jesus. We are joyful that His resurrection eternalized His teaching about the most excellent way of God. Halleluiah halleluiah! We rejoice because that means the compassion of God is so large we know that we too be free of our weaknesses and thus we can always try again to be the just creation envision by God for earth just as it is found in heaven. Halleluiah halleluiah! Jesus lives. Halleluiah halleluiah! Regardless of our mistakes we are freed by Jesus to live in His vision! Halleluiah halleluiah!
Our joy is completed by this astounding God talk: All the adherents of Godís vision dead before Jesus are not dead, they are raised.
The trumpet shall sound and the incorruptible dead shall be raised to teach again the way of God. Halleluiah! Halleluiah! And we shall be changed, we all shall be transformed, and even the gates of chaotic hell cannot stop the change. Halleluiah! Halleluiah! The evolving creation of God has been persisting since the beginning over the incomplete and unjust society.
Including all for the healing of the creation is the ultimate inclusion of Jesus. In the mystery of Godís Holy Spirit, there has been, there is and there will be a holy partnership that advances Godís creation as only God intends. That means that despite the oftentimes overwhelming destructive chaos around us, a wondrous future for our children and grandchildren and on through the generations is assured. Halleluiah halleluiah!
Thus Resurrection is not only the new life for Jesus. Resurrection is not only new life for those following Jesus, but Resurrection is so complete it must also embraces the already dead who had followed Jesus onto their own cross. Halleluiah halleluiah!
Hence the reason we say we believe that Jesus descended into hell between internment and resurrection. He descends into the realm of chaos to steal the dead back to the living. Halleluiah! Halleluiah!
So homework, how do we celebrate this added joy of resurrection?
We celebrate it as suggested by Handelís Messiah: from Paulís first letter to the Corinthians:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality
We celebrate it as suggested by Matthew: The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to new life.
We pass by the tombs of our holy cemeteries all the time. We pay tribute at the gravesites of those whom we have loved.
So for homework, as we pass by or we walk among the tombstones, maybe we can recall the harrowing of hell. Maybe we can be filled with the knowledge that resurrection is totally inclusive: Resurrection includes our Jesus. Resurrection, coming before death includes those of us alive today. Resurrection coming after death includes all the pre-Easter holy people found in the underworld.
Resurrection is for all creation: he is risen: halleluiah, halleluiah!
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on in-corruption and this mortal must put on immortality. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
14 April 2019
Ps 118:1-2, 19-29
Found in the last of five books, it is a hymn of thanksgiving used to process in a festival, a feast, just like we did this morning. This song is the last of the six halleluiah psalms; that is ďthe praise to GodĒ psalms.
One must never think the psalmist wrote this for the Palm Sunday parade coming 500 years later, as if the writer had a crystal ball about the parades into Jerusalem. This song was sung all over Israel for centuries. Jesus, the crowd and all four gospel writers found themselves singing this song with the Psalm Sunday parade because it was loved and had been so well passed down generation after generation. This piece was inspired by a Jewish people coming home from refugeeism in Babylon with the expressed hope to redevelop their beloved land and rebuild their beloved temple.
The main reason for the joy is found in italicsÖ. watch for it. The rest of the psalm is the frame around the this stated reason and thee frame is a choir singing thanksgiving to God.
The reason is voiced by one who knows what it feels like to be rescued by political actions based in justice. He has been pulled out of the jaws of death, so to speak.
Furthermore, despite the troubles of his continuing life, his hope comes from a community praying for Godís steadfast love.
This next reading is but one of the four accounts of this great event: Jesus rides into Jerusalem at the beginning of his last week alive on earth.
This is one of those cornerstone readings upon which we see and the crowds saw that Jesus was not merely an event, but was in fact a world changing political event. This story puts the political significance in our face so that we should not ever forget it. We know it was a monumental political event because we know to whom the crowds came to see.
We will read about a very well planned demonstration. The donkey is pre-arranged, the disciples are deployed to fetch it. The crowds come prepared with extra cloaks and palm leaves. Their Jesus had a reputation for equality and compassion, which for three years he had played out in miracles, exorcisms, short memorable statements, and the metaphorical stories we call parables,
The enthusiastic support expressed very lopudly so frightened the leaders to tell Jesus to shut down this crowd. But it was too late, the fuse had been lit, the crowds knew hope was at hand and that hope was bigger than Caesar and his puppet: King Herod. No wonder Jesus laughs at the leaders by saying: ďif you silence this crowd, these very stones will cry out.Ē
14 Apr 19 Palm Sunday
Ps 118:1-2, 19-29, Luke 19:28-40
Triumph at the East Gate
Stay near to us, O God, as we journey through this week. May remembrances of innocent suffering summon our words and deeds for justice today! May recollections of steadfast trust transform reluctance to walk by faith when sight is clouded! This we pray in the name of the Christ we met at the East Gate. Amen.
There were two parades entering Jerusalem on that day in history. From the West where one finds the opulent city of Caesarea on the sea came a military parade escorting the puppet king of Israel and Pontius Pilate with great costs, great armed guards of Rome, with huge steeds and war chariots. Like the parades as might see in North Korea today, or in the USSR of 50 years ago or the Nazi parades in Nuremburg, this parade through the Western Gate was a show of intimidating power. It was a way of death, torture, imprisonment, intimidation, control and oppression.
Jesus, who would have known about this annual event on the Sunday before Passover, offered an alternative way, the way of his teachings about the Creator. His was a way of non-violent justice, the way of creative relationships, the way of fairness, and the way of the expectation of unselfish positive governance. He arrives from the Eastern arid lands dressed in street clothes, riding deliberately on the most humble of steed and with an understanding love that knows no bounds.
The crowds loved Him. The crowds loved His political message of hope for all creation, even if they did not comprehend the enormous scope of that message. This is the triumph of the Eastern Gate: the miracle of the Eastern Gate.
The crowds so loved him that they chanted defiance against the King they loathed: Caesar of Rome, Pontius Pilate and his puppet Herod. They proclaimed Jesus as king: ďBlessed is the King who comes in the name of God.Ē This was a public defiance with social destabilization guaranteed to provoke Rome and its puppets. It was indeed a defiance that is beyond human logic because the consequences of such public disloyalty included imprisonment, torture, and execution. And such opposition to injustice and a rejection of discrimination could be considered a miracle on the same scale as the miracles that the crowds saw in Jesus.
The Eastern Gate feels like the mystical work of a creative Holy Spirit working alongside these courageous people chanting about the alternative humility offered by Jesus. I get the same feeling of the mystical divine hand in play when I see this lawyer sentenced by Iran to a brutal flogging of 148 lashes and imprisonment for nearly 40 years for tirelessly defending women and children from the sort of arbitrary injustice that has now been used to silence her. But that silence will not happen. Canadaís own Margaret Atwood calls for this lawyerís immediate release, noting that for the second time this lawyer had won PEN Canadaís One Humanity award. Other crowds are crying out with awards to Nasrin Sotoudeh such as the Europeanís 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2018 Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Prize. Try to silence the crowd and these very stones will cry out.
While we know that Nasrin Sotoudeh is not the messiah, we also know that she is part of the timeless miracle of the Eastern Gate. The Eastern Gate miracle did not stop at the first Palm Sunday; it has re-emerged by followers of the righteousness taught by Jesus generation after generation. It will continue to challenge oppressive regimes as long as the uncreated chaos oozes into Godís beloved world.
When Jesus rode triumphantly through the East Gate, people knew there would be trouble. Jesus knew he would be arrested for tirelessly defending women and children. Jesus knew he would likely be tried for opposing prejudice in any form. Jesus knew he would likely be executed for demanding leaders exercise power for the common good. Jesus of course knew also that the week may end badly for Him, but three days later His new start would set into motion the wheels that in the fullness of time will disempowering the cruel.
We know so far, like other disciples of creative righteousness, that the ending for Nasrin Sotoudeh is not good. But we know also that in the fullness of time, the triumph of the Easter Gate will defeat the cruel. In the fullness of Godís time it will not end well for leaders who do not govern for the common good. We pray that God does not wait too long.
For homework, we might list those we know who have stood up at great personal costs to powers not governing for the common-good. It might surprise you how many there are. They are the disciples of Jesus who have not been silenced: Tasima Nasrin, exiled for writing against misogyny in religions, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo kidnapped and tortured for seeking their children who had disappeared in Argentinaís dictatorship of 1976, Malala Yousafzair, wounded for calling on education for girls in Pakistan, and Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years for opposing apartheid. Let us go out and look for the stones that will cry out when oppression tries to silence its opponents.
Go into the world, empowered and encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit to shout, ďHosanna in the highest!Ē May God protect you in your days and guide you in your ways! Go in peace.