170611 – Bar None

Affirming Ministry Theme ~ Romans 15:1-7

We’re celebrating today, and we here at Faith United are so blessed that we have so much to celebrate! There is a special, energized, positive, spiritual vibe about this place – and it’s not just because we’re anticipating the pot luck lunch that awaits us. I felt it the moment I walked in here 10 years ago – and I repeatedly hear people make the same comment: It feels spiritually positive here.bar-none

That doesn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t part of the architectural drawings. We didn’t pay extra and order the super-sized box of positivity from the good vibes catalogue. The only way to ensure a positive, spiritual environment is to grow it – to work on it – to prioritize it – and to resource it. We do all those things. And it works.
Faith United is a good place to be.
Faith United is a healthy, vibrant expression of the body of Christ.
That’s worth celebrating.

It’s also worth sharing. And that leads us into our pondering time today. We are in the midst of a journey of learning and awareness called the Affirming Ministry process. Affirming ministries began to address the challenges that lesbians and gays experienced when interacting with churches and church people. Unfortunately, and sadly, many well-meaning church folks took a troublesome mixture of cultural norms and bad theology and used it to exclude, insult, belittle, and bar people whose sexual orientation was different than the majority.

And that’s what this ultimately is – the majority having to wrestle with how to treat minorities. But before I go there I need to back up and unpack a couple of things I just said.
A few months ago I preached a whole sermon about how the bible has been misused and incorrectly interpreted in regards to lesbians and gays. I’m not going to repeat that sermon – I encourage you to read it if you missed it back in January, it was called “A Firm Faith”. I also know that some folks had trouble with that sermon, and maybe will with today’s as well.

Here’s why I think that is.
If you were born a person who is attracted only to the opposite sex, and you’ve never had the faintest sense that you were anything other than the male or female person your body indicates you are, then you are part of the vast majority of people in our society and in our churches.

Add to that a culture that has taught us over and over again that we who are in the majority, we who have the power, are “normal” and anyone not like us is “abnormal”.
And now add to that a view of the bible that tended to read literally (when it suited us) – and you get an environment that creates barriers for those not in the majority, and uses “common sense” and “God’s word” to reinforce those barriers.

The challenge before us is that we have to unlearn a lot of things that we grew up thinking were true, but aren’t.
The first is the idea that being gay is a choice.
It is not.
It’s like being born left-handed, or red-headed – not a choice, but definitely a minority.

If you’re part of the straight/heterosexual majority this whole thing may not make any sense to you. But I would argue that we can no more understand the challenges of being part of the gay minority than we who are white can understand being part of an ethnic or racial minority. We’ve always had the power, so our ways became the only ways.

Then we had bible passages to seemingly back us up. This is the second thing we need to unlearn.
There are two key issues there.

One is that cultural norms in biblical times were very different from now. If you don’t believe me try selling your daughters as slaves this afternoon and see what happens! They made rules and pronouncements that fit their time, their context, but they don’t necessarily apply for all time.

The second key issue about the bible is that by saying “it says so in the bible” we’re picking and choosing which verses should be literal and which shouldn’t.
Those of us who are not gay are quick to point out Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman they shall be put to death.
It’s an “abomination,” the bible says.

It’s funny though how those of us who have some money (which is everyone in this room) never seem to want to bring the same biblical authority and literal reading to a verse like Luke 18:22 – something Jesus himself said.
If Leviticus 20:13 is God’s final word, then so is Luke 18:22, right?
Jesus says, Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor.
Until you show me the receipt you are forbidden from throwing biblical quotes at anyone!

The problem is that we (straight people, the majority) can feel it in our bones that being gay is wrong – but that just means it’s wrong for us – not for everyone.
Just because someone is born into a minority doesn’t mean those of us in the majority, who have the power, can deny their reality.
It is a scientific fact that one’s sexual orientation is as optional as one’s skin colour. Just because that may go against what some of us grew up “knowing” doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It means we still have stuff to unlearn, and learn. read on

170604 – Prophecies, Visions, and Dreams, Oh My

Yr A ~ Pentecost Sunday ~ Acts 2:1-21

Today is one of the high points in the Christian year for me. It’s called Pentecost Sunday. It was the birth of the church! Pentecost is a Greek word meaning ‘fiftieth’ as in the fiftieth day after Passover. The feast of Pentecost was actually a Jewish feast. Jews call this the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. It commemorates the giving of the Law/Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Back in biblical times this was one of the major pilgrimage festivals so just like at Passover Jerusalem would have been flooded with Jews from all over the world who made the journey to mark this religious feast day.

Here’s an aha I had this week. It had never occurred to me before, but during a festival where Jews celebrate receiving the Law – which became their foundational theological concept and root – the disciples receive the Spirit. prophecies-visions-dreams
Maybe we’re supposed to connect that and understand that the Holy Spirit residing within us is our foundational root?
Perhaps the great innovation of Christianity is that our core is not an external law, but an internal Spirit!

I trust you all know the basic story. Jesus’ disciples had more or less been hidden away since the tumultuous events of Easter and they weren’t sure what to do. They were too afraid to go forward but they knew they couldn’t just give up. And while they were gathered in an upper room – probably the same one they shared that Last Supper with Jesus in – and probably the same upper room where they experienced his risen presence on Easter Sunday and in the days afterward – while they were there together, feeling lost and dispirited, something amazingly wonderful, powerful, and awe-full happened.

A thunderous sound like the rush of wind filled the place, and something like tongues of fire rested on each person, and they were each flooded with the Holy Spirit such that they had the ability to communicate God’s very presence to people who shouldn’t have been able to understand them.
(Please don’t get hung up on what sounds like a parlour trick of suddenly learning another language – it’s just a colourful way to say that they could communicate with people at levels far deeper than mere languages.)

People passing by were amazed and wondered how it could be. At first they thought these followers of Jesus were all drunk – but Peter jumped up and assured them that that wasn’t the case because it was just 9:00 in the morning. It wasn’t spirits but THE SPIRIT that they were intoxicated on.

And then he explained exactly what happened. And this is the part we’re going to focus on today. Peter was explaining this to a group of Jews, so naturally he began with something that would have authority for them – a quote from the Hebrew Scriptures from the prophet Joel:

2:17-18 In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

The passage ends with a promise that on that day – on the day that people receive the Spirit that God constantly pours out – all those who call out, or appeal, or open their hand to God would be saved, or healed, or restored.

So the ultimate benefit is wholeness and communion with God for those who receive Spirit, and when that Spirit pours out amazing things happen. Things like prophecies, visions, and dreams! Oh my! [ala Oz]

Your sons AND daughters shall prophesy!
Young men shall see visions.
Elders shall dream dreams.
(Just as an aside: It says “old men” but a truer translation would be “elders” which in Greek can mean both male and female, and the actual Greek word is presbuteros from which we take our word presbytery.)

And even the slaves – both men and women – will receive the Spirit and prophesy.

So there’s two main things I want us to really hear in these verses. The first is that the prophesying, visioning, and dreaming is work for everyone – men, women, slave, free, young, old, and everything in-between. And second, I want you to notice that none of it, no prophecies, no visioning, and no dreaming happens without the outpouring and receiving of Spirit.

And while I profoundly believe that God’s Spirit is constantly being poured out, I know that we are not always tuned in and present and open enough to receive it. And we’re usually closed when we’re stressed. And we always seem to be stressed when we’re worrying about the future of the Church – just like the disciples. And so, when faced with the need to be prophetic, to be visionary, and to dream of a better future, we tend to close off the very source of those prophecies, visions, and dreams. Oh my!

read on

170521 – Why United

Yr A ~ off lectionary ~ Acts 15:2-16:5 (selected)

If you weren’t United Church, what would you be? I posted that question in an online discussion group comprised of United Church ministers and the number and range of responses it got was remarkable. Some took the easy way out by saying they’d move to another country and join their version of the United Church – like the United Church of Christ in the States or the United and Uniting Church in Australia. Some said they’d simply move to another mainline denomination like Presbyterian or Methodist. Several named the attractiveness and simplicity of the Mennonite way. Others, like me, said we could be Quakers. Nobody said they’d go Pentecostal, but a few dreamed of being independent.why-united

Three types of responses really shocked and disappointed me though. Several people said they’d go to the Unitarians, a few said they’d go Muslim, and many said they would go nowhere at all. Don’t get me wrong – the vast majority said they’d remain in Christian churches, but a significant number, a surprising number, said they’d leave the fold entirely. And these are ministers! Friends, we have a problem here!

I lightheartedly introduced this 3-part sermon series as a communal confirmation class. I told you that my colleagues and I were chatting about youth confirmation and I jokingly said that more than just the teenagers need this – my whole congregation needs it! Well, apparently, so do us ministers!

We can probably all understand why a minister might be ready to abandon the denomination. I mean, after all, it’s our workplace – and we all know that workplace bureaucracies and politics and strained relationships can leave a really bad taste in your mouth. But my little ad hoc survey revealed something much more troubling. Of course, there could be dozens of really important and valid reasons why some responded the way they did – and for all I know some were joking to get a rise out us – but for those looking to leave Christianity entirely I’d suggest that they need to spend a good deal of time looking at our first two sets of questions from this sermon series and have a refresher course in “Why am I a Christian?” and “Why do I need a church?” These are questions we ought to be continually asking ourselves and wrestling with.

The “why Christian” question dives into the idea that the reason we are Christians and not something else, or nothing, is that we have experiential knowledge of a sacred spiritual mystery that we acquire and express through the language and imagery and metaphors and persons of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How do you describe God? You’ll never get to the denomination question if you haven’t first wrestled mightily with how to describe the God/Christ/Spirit you know.

And once you’ve discerned that it really is the Holy Mystery we call God that you are experiencing, and that you resonate with the spirituality and teachings of Jesus, and can articulate some sort of description of what Spirit means for you, then you start to ask ‘what should I do with these nudgings, these intuitions, these knowings?’

And that leads you directly to the Why Church question. And hopefully, as we explored last week, you’ll come to realize that a place like this is essential for a person to grow their faith because places like this are designed to help you with the 4 foundational pillars of growing faith: learning, supporting, sacraments, and worship.

And now – with all that wrestling going on about why we’re Christian and why we do church, we start to ask the last question: why this denomination? Why are we United Church and not one of the other flavours?

Or maybe you think that question assumes too much? Maybe you think the why Christian question and the why church question are valid, but the why United question is just an organizational, bureaucratic add-on? It won’t surprise you that I think the denomination is essential. Let’s see why.

Why do we need denominations? read on

170514 – Why Church

Yr A ~ Easter 5 – Acts 2:42-47

Why are you here? Of all the places you could have chosen to be today, why did you choose this place? I’m going to assume you came willingly, that nobody dragged you here or bribed you to come. You’re here because for you this place has value for some reason. Why? Why are you here?why-church

A few decades ago some of the reasons may have been quite different. Back in the day being in church was socially required. It was your duty to come. If you weren’t in church the neighbours noticed. Holding office in a church council or committee gave you status and respect in the community. None of those reasons hold true today. Nobody comes to church anymore to advance their career or because it’s a community norm. In fact, pretty much the opposite is true. Telling people you attend church now is likely to get you a raised Mr. Spock eyebrow and a dismissive “oh, isn’t that quaint.”
So why are you here?

Often when I ask this question people tell me about how nice and friendly church people are, and that their church helps a lot of people through charitable giving, and that the church takes important stands on justice issues, and that the church community is so supportive. Those are all wonderfully lovely things – but you can get all those things at Tim Horton’s or a service club. So why are you here?

Why do we need things called churches, or communities of faith?
Why do we need gatherings like this one?
Why do we need people like me doing the job I do?
Why do we have special rituals and furniture?
Why do we sing songs?
Why do we use unique language?
What do you get here that you can’t get anywhere else?

The answer is related to what we talked about last week. As a recap, and in case you weren’t here, we’re in the middle of a three week sermon series exploring the kinds of questions that people wrestle with in confirmation classes. Or at least the questions I think we should be wrestling with. Becoming a member of a church, or making a profession of faith, or getting confirmed (which are all really the same thing, it’s just whatever language floats your boat) are all concerned with three core questions.

The first is ‘Why am I a Christian and not something else?’ (How would I describe the God I know, the Jesus I know, the Holy Spirit I know? What is my language?) – that was last week. The second question is ‘Why church?’ (Why am I here? What purpose does this place serve?) – that’s this week. And the third question is ‘Why are we part of this denomination and not another? Why are we United?’ That’s next week.

Confirmation or membership is not about knowing the right answers to these questions, or having enough information about spiritual things, it’s about wrestling with the questions and in the wrestling you grow deeper in personally knowing God, Jesus, and the Spirit – and that journey of ever-deepening growth is what it’s all about.

So, having wrestled last week with the “how do you describe the God/Christ/Spirit you know” question, we turn to why we need a place like this to do that wrestling in.

Let me start by saying that we don’t really need “churches” at all. There is nothing about the edifice, the structure, the architecture of churches that is uniquely required for anything. This building, on its own, is no more or less holy or sacred than any other building. So we don’t need churches, but we absolutely do need communities of faith where people who seek to be followers of Jesus’ Way can be together. read on

170507 – Why Christian

Yr A ~ Easter 4 ~ Acts 17:22-31

I did confirmation class when I was 16. I don’t remember all that much about it actually. I remember my cousin and I sat with our minister in the balcony of the church and talked. I didn’t really know him so I remember it being pretty intimidating. Ministers back in the day weren’t always as warm and fabulous as they are today! I remember him posing questions, and us stumbling over our answers, but I don’t recall the content of what he or we said. As for my confirmation day, I don’t remember that either. Frankly, it just wasn’t that big a deal.why-christian

And that is a real shame! Because it should be a very big deal! One big problem with how we used to do it (and to be honest, still do it much of the time) is that confirmation was little more than a ritual of graduation from Sunday school. Rituals are good, but only if the deep meaning of them is brought to light.

Another big problem with confirmation is that it tended to be more focused on knowing the right answers than what I believe we should be focusing on: wrestling with the right questions!

Even the term confirmation can be problematic. What are we confirming?
Are we confirming that you’re a good person, that you’ve learned the right lessons, that you’re actually a person of faith, that you’re too old for Sunday school? I think it’s actually rooted in the idea that a person was confirming that they “believed” the right things in the right way. Very problematic!

So the United Church changed its language about this more than 20 years ago. Did you get the memo? Instead of confirmation it’s now called “Renewal of Our Baptismal Faith.” More accurate, but not quite as catchy!
Since most people in United Churches were baptized as babies someone else, usually their parents, made affirmations and promises of faith for them. So the “renewal” language is a way to say that the baby who has grown up is now ready to claim those affirmations and promises for themselves. Are they? Some yes, some no.

Our United Church Manual says that for a person to become a full member of the church they “must have enough knowledge about the Christian faith and the United Church to make their commitment with understanding” and if so they must make a profession of that faith. That’s section B.3.3.3 in the Manual – which, of course you all know about because if you’re a member you know about important United Church stuff like what the Manual is! (it’s our book of doctrine and bylaws, by the way).

You must have “enough knowledge about the Christian faith” to make a commitment with “understanding”. So how do we decide what enough knowledge about the Christian faith looks like?

Way back when they used to call it catechism. Some catechism programs take a couple of years to go through before you have enough knowledge about the Christian faith. In today’s cultural climate that’s a monumental ask. Nowadays a “regular” church attender comes once or twice a month. What are our chances of getting teenagers or new folks to commit to a weekly catechism class for a couple of years?

And why would we want to? read on

170430 – Openings

Yr A ~ Easter 3 ~ Luke 24:13-35

“Now on that same day two of (Jesus’ followers) were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” [Lk 24:13-14]openings

That makes perfect sense. Two days earlier they watched the leader of their radical revolutionary renewal movement die a horrendous death on a Roman cross. Crucified as an enemy of the empire. Then just a few hours before this scene starts, the story starts to circulate among their group – the followers of this Jesus of Nazareth guy – that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb as expected and that people were having visions of him.

But nothing really seemed to come of it because these two travellers – Cleopas (not one of the 12 disciples, but obviously a follower of Jesus) and his companion (possibly his wife) – were on their way home to Emmaus – trying to sort out what it all meant, but clearly heading away from Jerusalem and returning to their regular lives.

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” [Lk 24:15-16]

Again, that makes sense. Why would they recognize him? As far as they were concerned Jesus was dead. They had no reason to expect to encounter him on their walk. Just because we’re so familiar with the story and it seems so obvious to us doesn’t mean it should’ve been obvious to them. If someone dies you simply don’t expect to meet them on the road a couple of days later.

So these followers – who are more like abandoners, or giver-uppers at this point – are closed to the idea that there’s another chapter in the story.
They think it’s over. They’ve closed the book on Jesus, turned their back on Jerusalem, and are heading home.
They are closed. But Jesus is looking for an opening.

He knows they’re closed, but his mission is to find an opening. So he says to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” [Lk 24:17]
Ok, obviously he didn’t really say that. I mean, nobody actually talks like that. [stiffly] ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ No, he probably said something like, “Hey, you two seem like you’re talking about something big. What’s it about?” Or maybe, “Yo, yo, yo homies, what up?”

And here these followers had an opportunity to do something really great, but they blew it. They give this stranger the CNN version of what happened over the last while.
“There was a prophet who we followed but he got in trouble and was handed over to the Romans and was crucified. We had hoped that he was the one to set Israel free – that he was the Messiah – but now he’s dead, although some of our group saw visions of him, but it’s all over now.”

What a wasted opportunity. Two fervent followers of Jesus are talking about Jesus and a stranger comes up to them and asks what they’re talking about and instead of telling him something real about how their lives have been transformed they give the guy the CNN treatment.

And yet, to be fair that’s all they could do at that point – because they were still closed. It was still just a series of events to them. It wasn’t personal, or real, or spiritual yet. They couldn’t speak of their transformation because they hadn’t experienced one. read on

170423 – I Believe (Guest: Betty Turcott)

Yr A ~ 2nd of Easter ~ John 20:19-31

This isn’t the morning after, it’s the Sunday after.  The second Sunday of the Easter season.   Easter Sunday is thought of as the highest point in the Christian Calendar.  Without Easter there likely would not be a Christian Religion.  In contrast this Sunday, is often called Low Sunday.  Historically the church was full on Easter Sunday, folks came who were called Twicers by my father.  They came to church twice a year Christmas and Easter.  The attendance dropped on this second Sunday of Easter and some think that is the reason it is called Low Sunday.  But it is most often named that because of the let down after all the spiritually deep and moving worship times associated with Easter and the celebration of the Easter morning when we joyously proclaim—Christ is Risen.

Be all that as it may, our scripture this morning was about someone who 2000 years ago was feeling about as low as one can get.  Thomas.

Thomas comes from an Aramaic word whose root means twin.  But this guy had another name, Didymus and that also means twin.  We have no record of this twin, and no way of knowing if Thomas or Didymus was a nickname or the real name of the man in the story.  Let’s just take that position and assume he was named Thomas.  Often referred to as doubting Thomas, and we will look at that later.

Thomas the disciple is the patron saint of Portugal and tradition says that he was martyred in Indian, pure speculation but interesting.  All we know for certain about him is what we read in the Christian scriptures.  He is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke in a list of the disciples, and that is all they say about him.

John gives him a voice and he speaks three times, all near the end of Jesus life on earth.

The first is the story of the raising from the dead of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha.  The disciples and Jesus were in Perea, east of Jordan. They were avoiding the establishment who were ganging up on Jesus.  The news of Lazarus death comes and Jesus is ready to go to Bethany to his friends.  You can almost hear the disciples muttering,  ‘This is trouble.  We came here to get away and now he’s going back?  How can we stop him?’

Into this conversation Thomas speaks and says,  “Let us go there too, so that we may die with him.” Sounds as gloomy as Eyore, but it isn’t.  He is saying that if Jesus is going to die, and that is a very real possibility of which all 12 would be aware, he is saying, then I don’t want to go on living.  Rather than a statement of gloom or despair, it is a statement of his deep love of and loyalty to Jesus.  Loyal Thomas.

The second time Thomas speaks is at the Last Supper.  Jesus has just told his friends, that he is going to the Father’s house and will prepare rooms for them and will come and take them there.  He says, “Don’t worry you know the way I am going.”  The disciples may be sitting around the table, looking at Jesus and trying to look wise and full of understanding.  One wonders if they were.  But Thomas speaks, “No I don’t.  I haven’t the foggiest idea where you are going, so how can I know the way?”  Thomas is not being disagreeable, or obtuse, he really doesn’t know, he doesn’t understand.  At this moment he is Honest Thomas.

Last Sunday, resurrection Sunday in our church, the disciples were gathered and Jesus appeared to them.  But Thomas wasn’t there.  Where was he?

We are not told, but perhaps we can suggest an answer.  I would suggest that he was simply too overcome with grief to be with other people.  We heard him infer that if Jesus was dead then he had no desire to go on living.  As far as Thomas knows, Jesus is dead.  He doesn’t see any point in going on, and he just needs to be alone to grieve, for a time.  He needs time as we would say, to process all that has happened, and try to understand and to speculate on his future.  Now we can call him Grieving Thomas.

He is looking at a future completely turned upside down in a very short time.  Like the others, he was looking to Jesus to establish his Kingdom.  The disciples hadn’t grasped that Jesus was not talking about an overthrow of Rome.  He wasn’t talking about that kind of revolutionary change.  They had heard him say the kingdom is here and now, the kingdom is within you, and among you.  But they had a lifetime of looking for another King David.  They remembered when they were a powerful, successful nation and that was the vision for the most part.  They had not been able to wrap their minds around the kind of realm Jesus was talking about.  And now Thomas stood alone in his grief.  His teacher, rabbi and friend is dead. His super hero.   He has just had an overdose of reality and he didn’t like it or grasp it.  He couldn’t see anything hopeful or new ahead of him.  All hope had died on that cross.  This is the Thomas of Reality read on

170416 – E-E-E-E-Easter

Yr A ~ Easter Sunday ~ Matthew 28:1-11

Easter Sunday is always a tricky sermon to preach because more than usual the congregation is an interesting mix of first-timers, some-timers, and all-the-timers. And because it’s Easter, and it’s our biggest celebration of the year, we tend to fill the service up with extra music, and extra liturgical pieces, and communion takes longer, so that means my speaking time is a little shorter than usual. So with less time I get to tackle what is probably the most important, and theologically trickiest, part of the Christian story.e-e-e-e-easter

When I was reading Matthew’s account this year I was struck by the earthquake – well, not literally. The way Matthew’s gospel tells it some women who were followers of Jesus came to the tomb early Sunday morning, found the tomb still sealed, an earthquake happens as angels come and roll the stone away, scaring the guards stiff, and the women are told that Jesus has risen and they leave in fear and joy.

Great story! Lots of action! But if you look at the other three accounts of Easter in the bible the story isn’t exactly the same.
In Mark, Luke, and John the women find the tomb empty and open when they arrive.
In Mark there’s an angel sitting inside the tomb and the women leave with trembling and ecstasy.
In Luke the angels suddenly appear and terrify the women.
And in John it’s Jesus himself who appears and Mary recognizes him but the story doesn’t say anything about how she reacted.

So which one is the right story? All of them, of course.
If you’re coming to these stories looking for factual analysis and a definitive set of historical events you’re coming with the wrong kind of eyes. Gospels are not that kind of writing. Biblical writing in general, and the New Testament writings in particular, are intensely personal.
It’s much more like reading someone’s diary than a textbook. Diaries are not fiction, they’re incredibly personal and biased versions of real life experiences seen through the eyes of someone who has a stake in the telling.

So instead of picking apart the differences among the gospel stories and trying to say they don’t agree so maybe they’re not true (I’m happy to have that discussion another day!) – we should look for the commonalities in the stories and try to discern just what it was that moved the people who wrote them.

What’s common is that some number of women went to the tomb early Sunday morning fully expecting to find Jesus’s dead body there so they could anoint it – and soon after arriving they came to the realization that something quite out of the ordinary was happening.
Jesus was not found dead as expected. There was an empty tomb. There was a dazzling experience of something overwhelmingly spiritual. The women had a reaction to it all – and then they left to share the news.

I can sum that up in four words. Expectation. Encounter. Elation. Evangelizing.

The women arrived that morning fully expecting to find Jesus dead in the tomb. Of course they did. Expecting anything else would be ridiculous. They watched him die. They watched him be placed in the tomb. And yet they also had a sense of expectation that there might be Something More to the story.

Jesus had taught them that God is always with them, and that there is a spiritual life pattern of dying and rising, of endings and beginnings, of resurrection. And so even though they fully expected to attend to a dead body they also had some expectations that with God anything is possible, and that maybe there would be more to their story even though they couldn’t possibly see it at that point.

You all came here today with expectations. Whatever reason brought you here you walked through those doors with expectations.
It’s a church service. You pretty much know what to expect.
And it’s Easter, so you pretty much know we’re going to talk about Jesus’ resurrection.
Some of you are here with jubilant expectations, some are here with eye-rolling reluctant expectations of having to endure these three hours (!).
But hopefully all of you are sitting with some expectation that maybe, just maybe, something UN-expected might happen!
Hopefully you’re sitting there expectantly – not really sure what it is you’re hoping for, but quietly hopeful for the possibility of something spiritually wonderful happening.

After the expectation, and especially if one is expectant, comes the encounter. All four gospel accounts tell of the women having a profound spiritual encounter. They all experienced something they described as angelic, or otherworldly. How else do you describe the indescribable? You can’t see or touch the presence of God, so when you encounter it in such a palpable, all-encompassing, powerful way you flail about for words to try to capture it. And the words fail you, because there are no adequate words to describe an encounter with Ultimate Reality, the Really Real, the Holy Mystery we call God. So we assign a placeholder for it – like calling it an angel. Our brains have an image of angels that we can relate to, so it’s like a shorthand for explaining the unexplainable.

In the Easter story the women come to the tomb expecting to find death. Even though they are expectant their logical brains assure them that death awaits. And then, overpowering their reasonable expectations, they have a life-transforming encounter with the very presence of God. You can’t control a God-encounter – all you can do is be open to it, and hopefully allow it to touch you and move you and work its power on you. No one knows what form or shape an encounter with God’s presence will take. But when it happens you can feel it in the absolute depths of your being.
I pray that you will have a God-encounter like that in your life – and hopefully over and over again.

What response do you think you might have to such an awesome encounter?
The women were described as experiencing fear, joy, terror, trembling, and ecstasy. Sounds about right! And after that initial shock where our senses are so overstimulated that we aren’t really sure what to make of an experience, we settle into the same reaction those women had to their God-encounter – elation. Jubilation, delight, euphoria, pick your synonym. They all speak to that heart-soaring feeling of knowing that you’ve encountered something awesome and awe-full and you are absolutely elated by the experience.

You came with low expectations. You had a spiritual encounter. And now your whole world looks different.
It’s like the person you were when you first arrived is gone. There’s a new person here now.
A person touched by God’s presence and changed by it. It’s like having a brand new start – a new life – a new life filled with an awareness that God really is right here, Present, moving, inspiring, and filling your every moment with light and love.

That’s what happened that first Easter morning.
Those women arrived with low expectations, had a spirit-encounter, and came away changed, renewed, and elated. In some mysterious, inexplicable way Jesus was a present reality for them in a new way. His physical body was not reanimated or resuscitated – he’s not a zombie, or a ghost – but he is alive to them in a profoundly new spiritual way. And the only word that comes close to describing that is resurrection. There was a dying, and now there is a rising. There was an ending, and now there is a new beginning. And new life feels great!

Expectation. Encounter. Elation. And what’s next?
Well, when you’ve experienced something as wondrous as those women did don’t you think you’d need to tell someone about it? Could you possibly just keep it to yourself? No way! And so they left the place of low expectations that were transformed by an encounter with the holy, and elated they went off to share their news.

Sharing their good news. We have a special name for sharing good news – it’s evangelism.
And every single one of you is going to do some of that today.
You won’t be able to help yourself. Sometime today (or tomorrow) someone somewhere is going to ask you what you did Sunday morning, or if they already know they’ll ask how church was. When you answer you will be evangelizing!

How will you tell the story of today?
When you leave this place and connect with other people who weren’t here today how will you choose to relate the story of what you experienced this morning?

Will you mention the size of the crowd?
Will you talk about the wonderful music?
Will you include a description of the sanctuary or decorations?
Will you talk about communion, or kids time?
Will you brag about the mortgage burning we’re going to do?
Will you go on and on about the incredibly insightful message?

Will you try to tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection and the reaction of the women at the tomb? If so, which part will you emphasize? Will it be the same parts that I emphasized?

And here’s the really important question: will you tell of your experience this morning the same way that the person beside you will? Or the person over a few rows?
Do you think any two of you would tell the story of this morning in the same way? I doubt it!
Not because you all didn’t experience it authentically but because you all experienced it personally – and whenever a person experiences something it is unique to them alone. And when they tell their story, try as they might to be objective, they can’t help but tell their story.

That’s why I don’t get very bent out of shape about the various versions of the resurrection of Jesus found in the four gospels. Each telling is unique, just like your telling would be. The important thing is that we recognize the spiritual experience at the heart of it.
Expectations. Encounter. Elation. Evangelizing. That’s Easter.
Against our expectations we have an encounter with the Holy Mystery we call God and find ourselves elated in the afterglow – because what was over has a fresh start – what was ended has a new beginning in God – what was dead has new life in Spirit. And then we have to talk about it. That’s not just Easter – that’s spirituality!

Each and every one of you has had an Easter experience of some sort this morning. Maybe it wasn’t as powerful and profound as what those women had on the first Easter Sunday – or maybe it was! – but either way you’ve had an Easter experience. You’ll be different when you leave than when you first came in.

Now go and share your experience. Tell your story.
Not to convince someone that your version of events is correct, or your theology is superior, but to invite them to enter this awesome story of exceeded expectations, incredible encounters, and unsurpassed elation for themselves. And then maybe they too will catch their own glimpse of new life, of resurrection, of Easter.

Expectation. Encounter. Elation. Evangelizing. Easter.


170414 – Good Friday Reflection

And Then There Was Nothing

And then there was nothing.
No future. No dreams. No Jesus.

How did it come to this?
A few days ago we were waving palms and singing his praises. Maybe we were too loud?
It probably didn’t help that he caused that scene with the money changers. Maybe he went too far?
And when he went toe to toe with the Pharisees on Solomon’s Porch challenging their interpretation of scripture he surely didn’t help his case.
But did he really deserve this?

Was he that offensive to them? Were his words that upsetting? Was his vision of loving God, and others, and one another so threatening that they had to silence him permanently?
Another bitter reminder that Rome doesn’t need much of an excuse to execute another Jew.

And it was awful. It always is. Hanging there until the life drains out of a person. What a terrible way to die.

They made a special effort to mock and ridicule him. Some people get their thrills in really disturbing ways.
He faced it bravely, of course, like you’d expect a man of his faith and character would. Even then he was thinking about other people.

Just before he died he said he was thirsty. How ironic!
All that time sharing his spirit, helping people awaken to God’s Presence, and encouraging people to drink deeply of the living water of God’s love to quench our deepest thirst. All the people who will never thirst again because of him.
And in his darkest moment he too surrendered everything he was to God and thirsted for that Presence that he taught so passionately.
The soldiers misunderstood and gave him some sour wine. One taste was all he needed. As good as he was he couldn’t overcome the sourness of the world.

Then he quietly said, “It is finished.”
He took a breath. And we waited. And there wasn’t another.
And then there was nothing.

It is finished. Finished. Over.
All those years with him.
All those times we hung on every word.
All those days we hoped would last and last because the moment was so beautiful, so glorious, so filled with life.

And then there was nothing.
Finished. Over.
Nothing lasts forever I guess, but we never thought that Jesus would just be gone so quickly.

We had dreams. We’d sit around the fire at night and dream about how things could be the way he described if more people just opened up and received what he was saying.
We dreamed about our leaders not being so hung up on rules and regulations and really starting to hear what Jesus was talking about.
We even dreamed about how it would be if the Romans could wake up too. We met a few who did. So why not all of them? Why not everybody? Why couldn’t the whole world open up their eyes and see that God was all around them and filling them up with light and love with every breath?
It would be like heaven on earth!

And when Jesus talked like that it seemed like it was so obvious that we thought it was going to happen any moment – that the whole world could be transformed and changed.

But it wasn’t.
If Jesus couldn’t make it happen I don’t know who can.

What are we supposed to do now?
How am I supposed to wake up tomorrow and go on?
It’s over. This thing that I’ve given my life to is over.
I just can’t see where to go from here. What am I supposed to do now that a giant block has been put in the road?

Everything I dreamed about is gone.
Everything I counted on is gone.
Everything I thought was going to happen is different now.
I mean, we were just flying, everything was happening for us, it was like we could do no wrong…and then there was nothing.

If Jesus was still here he’d probably tell us to take a deep breath and pray. That was his answer for everything. Pray. Wait. Trust. God is here. Notice.
Well, here we are, on the cusp of the Sabbath, we can’t do anything else anyway, so I guess we might as well pray. And pray. And pray. And pray.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe this is the best thing.
Just be still, and know that God is God, and God is here, and we’re not alone. That’s what he taught us.

Maybe a day spent doing nothing but praying is exactly what Saturday should look like after this day of endings.
Maybe things will look different after a Sabbath day – God’s day.

Jesus always said the end is a chance for a new beginning.
And I will pray with all my might all day tomorrow that he was right.
And I’ll wait. And hope. And notice.

But it’s so hard – because just a moment ago it felt like things were so different – and then there was nothing.
So now I’ll pray, now and all day tomorrow, for…something More.

170413 – Maundy Thursday Reflection

One Another
John 13:34-35

It was so important and so innovative that they named a whole religious holiday about it. And yet it’s so obvious and such common sense.
Or maybe not. Maybe that’s the problem.
Maybe it should be common sense but our own stuff gets in the way and we miss it. Maybe that’s what happened?

We call it Maundy Thursday after the Latin word mandatum from which we get our word mandate, which is another word for command or commandment. In other words we call it Commandment Thursday. But it isn’t one of the famous 10 that Moses got on the mountaintop. And it isn’t what Jesus called the greatest commandment – which is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – or even its partner command to love others as we love ourselves.

No, this is a whole new commandment – a commandment to love one another.
Love one another. We say it so often in church – but have you ever stopped to really think about it? Love one another.

If there were only two of us we could say love each other, and we’d be on the right track. ‘Another’ means to add something, someone, of a similar sort. Not an ‘other’ as in something or someone different – that one already has a commandment – love others – love the stranger, love the person you encounter, love your enemy even.

But this new commandment is clearly aiming us at people like us.
Like us how? Followers of Jesus’ Way, of course. Fellow disciples.

And that should be common sense, shouldn’t it? – to love people like yourself, to love your fellow journeyers. And maybe it is, I don’t know. But then, why did Jesus make it a commandment?

And he made quite a production out of delivering it too! He took the role of a servant and washed all of his disciples’ feet – even Peter who protested at first. And after he did that act of humble service he told them that he was giving them a new commandment – to love one another as he, Jesus, had loved them.

The dictionary says that the idea of ‘one another’ means that what’s going on is reciprocal – that it’s something given or felt by each toward the other.
There’s an equality about it. It’s egalitarian.

It means to be mutual – to embody mutuality. Me and you, and you and her, and her and them, and him and me, and us together. Mutuality.

But it’s mutuality without a sense of owing anyone anything. It’s mutuality for the sake of love – selfless giving for the betterment of the others – and their giving, or loving, back to you.
It’s not give and take – it’s give and give!

In Jesus’ version of mutuality there’s no one-upping, no score-keeping, no ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, no ‘they did that for me so I guess I have to return the favour’.
Jesus didn’t command us to transact business with one another he said to love one another.

Maybe that’s why he felt like he had to call it a commandment – because if he didn’t our own stuff would probably get in the way and we’d turn it into a contest.

But love’s no contest – it’s just giving for the joy of giving – helping for the satisfaction of helping – supporting for the benefit of stronger one-anothers.
And knowing that when it’s your time the giving, helping, and supporting will flow – not because you’ve earned it but because we’re part of one another and we love one another.

We love one another for our mutual benefit and for the strengthening of the body of Christ.
That’s why we can’t be solo Christians.
We need one another – like Jesus needed his disciples.

And in the end, that’s what undid them all, and especially Jesus.

They didn’t all love him like he loved them.

Some were plotting rebellion and were awaiting their chance.
Some wanted to be the right hand men.
And one sold them all out for a few bucks.

That’s not mutuality, that’s selfishness.
That’s not building one another up, that’s tearing everyone down.
That’s not giving for the sake of giving, that’s taking for your own sake.

Jesus never did that.
But the disciples did.
His followers did.
His friends did.
I do – too often.

And on this night, all those years ago, Judas did.

And what happens when commandments to love are ignored?
The opposite of love happens.
The opposite of mutuality happens.
The opposite of a basin and a towel happens.
Our own stuff gets in the way and something like a cross happens.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Will you?

170409 – TheoSpeak-Jesus

Yr A ~ Palm Sunday ~ Matthew 21:1-11

I want to jump right to the heart of this story and really wrestle with its central question. Jesus and his disciples are arriving at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This is an annual pilgrimage that thousands upon thousands of Jews would have made utterly swelling the population of the city and creating a potential tinderbox of rebellion and trouble – especially since Passover has definite political undertones of releasing occupied people from their bondage.who-is-this-question

That meant that the Roman army who were occupying the territory in a most brutal manner would have been on high alert and displaying their full power. Picture the police presence at a G20 demonstration and then amplify it many times. These aren’t well-meaning people looking to serve and protect – these are mean and nasty soldiers looking to violently quash any form of unrest.

And in strolls Jesus.
Except he doesn’t stroll in, does he.
No, according to Matthew’s version he comes in like a royal procession. Matthew clearly wants his primarily Jewish audience to make the direct connection of Jesus with the procession of the Messiah on a donkey in the book of Zechariah. This is no accident: it’s a very carefully constructed piece of political theatre. There is absolutely no way that a person of Jesus’ intellect and experience would not know that this royal procession he was at the centre of would be a blatant and pointed provocation of the powers that be. Jesus is not naïve. According to Matthew, Jesus was thumbing his nose at both Rome and the Jewish authorities by entering in this way.

Let’s talk about the three crowds for a minute. Each crowd represents where we might stand as we relate to Jesus. Some of the crowds are part of the political theatre, others are watching it, but all of them have a relationship with Jesus.

There is the crowd that is out in front of Jesus, laying down their cloaks, and cutting down branches and placing them before him. Think about the crowds at the front of any demonstration – they are the trail blazers. They clear the way for the movement to happen. They are the ones who come up against the opposition first and strongest. In this story they are probably the people most committed to Jesus and his Way – willing to risk all for him. Are you in that crowd?

Then there’s the crowd behind him. They are still part of the parade as opposed to being on the sidelines, but they are following. They’re committed but not as demonstrative about it. I don’t want to undersell how risky even being part of the parade in any way was, but the crowd behind’s experience would be different than the crowd in front’s experience. They are still shouting Hosanna and whatnot, but they aren’t at the forefront. Are you in that crowd?

Then there’s the crowd watching. Matthew 21:10, When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

The third crowd is the whole city and it was in turmoil because of Jesus! Can you imagine what that was like?
The word translated as turmoil literally means to shake, to agitate. The whole city was shaking, agitated, stirred up. What would it take to stir up or agitate our city and draw a crowd?

We have the benefit of television, and news, and the internet, and social media. If something happens nowadays word about it can spread virally in a matter of minutes and everyone can hear about it.

But there was no Twitter or Facebook or CNN back then.

How powerful an entrance into Jerusalem must that have been to have the ability to stir up the whole city and agitate them simply by word of mouth?! And it wasn’t just the Jewish people who heard about it. You can be sure that the Roman occupiers were just as agitated by this, that the Jewish religious authorities saw it as a direct threat, and that everyone seemed to be asking the same question that we’re asking right now:
Who is this?

Chances are, because you’re sitting here in a worship service, you are probably not part of the on-looking crowd but already part of the parade of Jesus – walking in his Way – sharing the journey with him. Some of us might be at the front of the parade – others might be at the back – but all of us are likely already part of the movement. Guess what?
That means that we are the agitators! We are the ones shaking up the status quo. We are the ones stirring up questions.

It didn’t used to be that way… read on

170402 – TheoSpeak-Resurrection

Yr A ~ Lent 5 ~ John 11:1-46

(A Monologue)
Four days ago Mary and I sent a note to Jesus telling him that our brother Lazarus, who Jesus loves, was ill. We were hoping that Jesus would come right away, but he didn’t, and our brother Lazarus died. When I heard that Jesus was finally coming – too late – I went out to meet him. I spoke with one of his disciples who told me that Jesus had received our note much earlier but chose to not come right away saying that Lazarus’ illness was not the kind that leads to death. And yet he died.here-and-now

I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say to Jesus, but when I saw him I blurted out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” I don’t know what I expected, or what I wanted him to say or do, but I knew that he and God were as one so I just left it for him to decide.

Jesus said to me, “Martha, your brother will rise again.” I said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” That’s what our Jewish faith believes – that at the end of days all who are righteous would be resurrected. I was grateful that Jesus had judged Lazarus to be righteous. I mean, he was a very good, faithful man. He deserves resurrection in the last days!

Then Jesus said something I’ll never forget. He looked me very intently in the eyes and said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And he asked me if I believed that. To be honest, I’m not sure I completely understood him, but I trusted him, and so I said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

I pondered that as I went and got Mary. She was at home mourning with friends and relatives. When she came she flung herself at Jesus’ feet, as usual, and started loudly weeping and wailing. The mourners who followed her did the same.

I noticed that Jesus had a strange reaction to all this. It was like he was really angry or something. His face looked like a snorting animal! I couldn’t figure out what made him so mad. Was it that Lazarus had died? Was it my questions? Was it the wailing? I’m still not sure.

Jesus asked where Lazarus’ body was, so they showed him. Jesus softly and quietly shed a tear. You could tell he loved Lazarus! But that didn’t stop the grumbling I heard behind me as somebody wondered out loud why Jesus couldn’t heal Lazarus like he did the blind man!

Then, as Jesus turned toward the tomb that angry look, or maybe it was frustration, came back to his face. He asked that the stone be rolled away. I couldn’t help but speak up about the smell. After all, Lazarus had been in there four days. It would not be pleasant at all.

Jesus’ face softened again as he looked at me and reminded me to trust in God and trust in him and his teaching. Sometimes that’s hard!

And he prayed a strange prayer – because usually Jesus prayed in silence, but here it was like he wanted everyone to be sure that what he was doing was about God’s presence and power and not just his. And with a loud voice he said, “Lazarus, come forth!”

I was stunned! I mean, my brother was dead. Death was the end, until the final resurrection. Nothing could change that. What did Jesus think he was doing?

And the next thing I knew Lazarus was standing there!!! I don’t think I’ll ever know what to make of that.

And Jesus said to unbind Lazarus so he could experience new life. I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant by saying “I am the resurrection and the life”? I wonder if new life now is what we’re supposed to embrace? I know that after today I will! And lots of people who were there that day understood it too.

But some didn’t get it. Some went off to tell the Pharisees that Jesus was teaching strange and contrary things to how we’d always learned it.

But as for me, and my sister Mary, and my brother Lazarus, we will never forget that for all of us new life began today!

I have to start with a confession. I’ve always really disliked this story. In all my years of ministry I’ve managed to avoid having to preach it. I gave you some hints in that monologue about where I landed after wrestling with it this week. Seeing it through the eyes of the wonderful character of Martha really helped me come to a new and better place about this story. But I’ll begin with telling you why it has always irked me! read on

170326 – TheoSpeak-Seeing

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Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ John 9:13–41

Unlike some of the scripture passages we get to tackle, this one is not a particularly deep story. It’s obvious what the intention is from the start using the simple metaphor of blindness and sight. So this morning I’m just going to retell and amplify the story and hopefully we will “see” what Jesus wants us to see! We’re going to pick up the story after Jesus has enacted the healing.eyes-to-see

John 9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.
Sadly, in their culture blindness was seen as a punishment for sinfulness, and sinfulness meant you were unclean and excluded from both religious life and much of societal life.
We don’t do that. We don’t equate disability of any kind with sin – at all – and if you do even a little, stop!
But in their culture they did, and that’s why the blind man was a beggar, because he was considered “unclean”. So if a blind person is suddenly able to see then it would be a sign that they are no longer sinful, and in order to be accepted back into society they would need to get the “cleanliness stamp of approval” from the Pharisees. That meant the Pharisees had a lot of power!

Verse 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened the man’s eyes.
This is crucial for understanding the story. It wasn’t that Jesus healed him that was the problem – it was that he dared to heal him on the Sabbath! The Sabbath was a holy day where you were not allowed to do work of any kind, and performing healings was considered work. So Jesus broke the law by healing the man on the wrong day!

That probably sounds ridiculous to us, but for the Pharisees, who kept the letter of the law, it was a very serious offense. And the really confusing part is that Jesus would also preach about keeping the Sabbath – the difference here was the Pharisees were actually undermining the Sabbath by adhering to the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit.

John 9:15-16 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this healing is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And the Pharisees were divided.

It was the first and last time ever that a group of church leaders couldn’t agree on something!
Ok, obviously I’m kidding. And speaking of comedy…

John 9:18-21 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

His parents said, “Umm, we know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see – haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”

The Pharisees are looking for ways to discredit the healing so they can sidestep their religious dilemma – which is: how can a man who’s a sinner for breaking the Sabbath rule do such godly things?

But there’s something else I need to say here. Listen to verse 22: read on

170319 – TheoSpeak-Need

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Yr A ~ Lent 3 ~ John 4:5–30

It was absolutely scandalous!
If you knew more about their culture you’d know just how scandalous it really was. jesus-woman-well9
Women and men simply didn’t speak with one another if they weren’t with others, and it was definitely a no-no for a good Jew to speak with the despised Samaritans, and even more so a Samaritan woman. Speaking to her would have made Jesus “unclean” by Jewish standards.

On top of all that, women normally gathered for water early in the day and it was a social time for them – but this encounter takes place at noon suggesting that our heroine was not welcome in the morning group. That makes her an outcast – probably because of her multiple marriages.
And in the conversation between her and Jesus she is certainly not demure and deferential – she’s giving as good as she gets! So this is a culturally scandalous scene.

And if you knew more about theology you’d know that it was indeed absolutely scandalous, but for completely different reasons.
It was absolutely scandalous that Jesus’ disciples would look at something that Jesus, their mentor, was doing and because it crossed some of the accepted social norms of their day they assumed the worst. It was scandalous that these religious guys were so quick to judge.
It was scandalous that they couldn’t see the transformation that had just happened.
And it was scandalous that the disciples didn’t see that while they were off trying to meet their low level need for sustenance this ostracized woman was awakening to a much deeper need within herself.

The storytelling here is problematic because there are several things that don’t make much sense. Jesus and the disciples were travelling through somewhat hostile territory because Jews and Samaritans were enemies, so for a dozen disciples to all go into town for food and leave Jesus all alone is highly unlikely.
And the bit in the middle about Jesus telling the woman how many husbands she’d had doesn’t serve much of a theological purpose other than sullying her character.
But if we take the story in broad strokes and don’t get too hung up on some of its quirks there is some wonderful theology and spirituality in it.

It’s no accident that this story is placed right after the story of Nicodemus that we looked at last week. The juxtaposition is intriguing! Nicodemus was an upstanding man who came to Jesus under the cloak of night, representing secrecy and unknowing.
In contrast, this woman was presumably a disgraced person who came to Jesus in the full light of day.
You’ll notice that Jesus welcomed them both. He made no judgements.
And to both he offered profound insights into the nature of spirituality – and both of them pretty much missed the point. At first.

Like we talked about last week, Jesus is offering a profound paradigm shift from a religious world of rules and regulations to a personal, spiritual relationship with the Holy Mystery we call God. Nicodemus learned that to embrace that new paradigm is like being born anew. Now it’s the woman at the well’s turn. read on

170312 – TheoSpeak-Spirit

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Yr A ~ Lent 2 ~ John 3:1-17

Sacred conversations that reveal deep things about theology are our theme for this season of Lent, and today we have a conversation that Jesus settled once and for all, but for some reason his followers have struggled with it for around 2000 years now and we still haven’t all got it straight.theospeak-spirit

The quandary is set on the lips of a Pharisee named Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night – suggesting both that he’s doing it in secret because Pharisees were generally against Jesus, and also that the night symbolizes his not understanding. Nicodemus represents the institutional, educated, scientific, rational world – you know, us. That’s us.

We love rational, scientific explanations for things. Despite a recent fondness for “alternative facts” for many people today if you can’t prove something it isn’t true.
Although, to be fair, that attitude is changing in the actual scientific community and they are much more open to wonder and mystery these days, but the general public is still mostly caught in the “show me” phase.

Nicodemus begins by acknowledging Jesus’ authority, but he doesn’t even get a question out before Jesus bakes his poor brain.
His confusion comes from the Greek word anāothen which can be equally translated into English as again, above, and anew. And when you add the word “born” before that the fun starts!

Jesus says, Very truly [literally, Amen, amen], I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

And Nicodemus falls into the classic trap of trying to apply a physical, scientific lens to a spiritual, metaphorical thing. He hears “born again” as being impossible – and uses the graphically hilarious image of a person climbing back in their mother’s womb. Not happening!

So we need to turn to the other meanings of anāothen: “born from above”, which gets us part way there but still is problematic because it makes it seem like God is out there or up there – or we can go to “born anew”.

And for me, all of a sudden this whole passage makes way more sense.
It’s not that born again or born from above are wrong, it’s just that born anew says what I think Jesus means so much more helpfully.

He’s not talking about a biological birth. He’s talking about a spiritual birth – a spiritual awakening, a spiritual renewal.
Why is that so hard to understand?

John 3:6-8 Jesus says, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Of course it’s poetic. Of course it’s cryptic.
He’s trying to explain to Nicodemus – and us – that this whole spiritual God-thing is all mystery and wonder and especially relationship.
He doesn’t just say we are to be renewed in the Spirit, he says we are to be reborn in the Spirit. Being born implies there’s a parent, a nurturer, a person who loves you beyond all else.

That’s very different than a series of sacrificial transactions that Nicodemus was accustomed to. For Nicodemus and the Pharisees, if you sin you need to pay this penalty of two doves, or a sheep, or whatever. God stands far off as judge and disciplinarian demanding retribution for misdeeds.

But Jesus paints a picture of something very different – he describes a loving parent who gives birth to a renewed person ‘by the Spirit’.
And Christians have been missing that fundamental point ever since. read on

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