believing without understanding

John 20:1-10

Good morning.
And it is a good morning, isn’t it?
Just because it’s Easter.
And a happy Easter Sunday to you all.

What a week it’s been!
Thursday evening we gathered
remembering the last supper—
all the sadness and anger, the love and hope.
Friday, Jesus died—
we killed him again—
allowed the darkness to overwhelm the light—
extinguished the light that illuminated too much.
Yesterday, reflecting on the disciplines and traditions of our faith,
we wondered what they mean
within the silence of God.
And today?
Today we proclaim, “He is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
That’s our first affirmation today

I decided to list affirmations today.
It’s a good day for affirmations, don’t you think?
So that’s, appropriately, our first one.
He is risen!
“He is risen indeed!”

And in the context of reflecting back on our week,
that affirmation is the affirmation of the church year, isn’t it?
Based on Scripture,
but not conforming to any particular telling of the story,
right?
Because there are four different tellings of the Jesus story
(more if you count some of the epistles),
and the church year is a generic story—
an assimilation as the story of our tradition
expressed in liturgy.

Our second affirmation comes to us out of our experience—
particularly where our experience runs into the church year—
slams into it.
Because as we consider the last few days
in the liturgy of our church,
in the tradition of the church,
in the story narrated in and by the church year,
what was once a chronology (an unfolding story)
is now truth—our truth,
and where we are in the story varies.
That’s our second affirmation.

And what that means
is that even on Easter Sunday morning,
there are those crucifying Jesus—
even in Easter Sunday morning worship
amidst alleluias, flowering crosses and easter hats.

As baptists, you know, I hope
that we stand for the principle
of the separation of church and state.
Someone posted on facebook a while back
the suggestion we stand for the principle
of the separation of church and hate!
For as long as the church speaks hate and discrimination—
as long as the church does not confront
those speaking hate and discrimination,
it does not live the Easter it celebrates.
iI lives Good Friday claiming Easter.

The story as our truth
also means that there are today
those yet grieving the God they can’t find—
maybe the God they once knew, but gave up on,
maybe the God they’ve been longing to know,
but can’t find,
maybe the God who can’t penetrate the grief
or the anger that surrounds them.
Of course, the story as our truth
also means Jesus is alive—
that love lives.

What our story affirms is the truth of the details of this story—
the truth of love and the truth of the betrayal of love,
the truth of grief and a world of pain,
of death—
and of resurrection.
It affirms all that,
but not the time frame for our experience of it.
That it has all happened
does not mean it has all happened for me.
That’s the affirmation of our experience talking to our liturgy.

We move with our third affirmation
into the affirmation of the ongoing conversation of our worship
as we begin today our EasterTide worship series.
You’ve probably noticed we do a lot of worship series.
They highlight the ongoingness of our worship conversation—
the ideas too big for any one service—
the ideas that build on each other—
that develop—that grow—
that are in conversation with each other.
How very important to affirm a conversation too big to finish—
to important to end.
Easter takes more than a day.
It actually takes more than a season too,
but a season’s better than a Sunday!

The fourth affirmation comes from the larger story of Scripture.
We often miss the larger story focusing as we do
on some smaller selection in closer detail.
So we’re very intentionally looking at more
than the first ten verses of the 20th chapter of John’s gospel.
Through EasterTide, we’re going to consider the whole chapter.
Because John tells stories no one else does.
And tells stories like no one else does either.

And I’m going to tell you right here at the beginning
where we’re going with all this.
Through the weeks to come,
and through the series of resurrection stories in this chapter,
I invite you to notice that
while all the experiences are different,
yet though different, all related.
So Mary gets Peter and the beloved disciple,
and they leave Mary at the tomb where she encounters Jesus.
Then Mary tells the disciples;
then Jesus comes to the disciples,
but Thomas wasn’t there,
so Jesus comes again with Thomas present.
And one story leads to another,
and the characters weave through the chapter
as different stories are woven together in resurrection affirmation—
related in the intertwining of the different experiences.

So I’m going to end up suggesting
that we get too hung up on agreeing about stuff—
on needing particular words or images or affirmations—
a particular way of talking about resurrection—
a way of understanding it—
affirming it,
when within our Scripture—our sacred texts,
different people had very different experiences
as part of their faith journey—
as part of their relationship with Jesus,
and that was okay.
That’s affirmed in our sacred text.
That’s an incredibly important affirmation

We’ve gotten too interested, I’m afraid, in determining
what someone’s religious experience should be—
how someone should “know” Jesus.
gotten more invested in what they should believe,
than we have in the energy and potential
of ongoing conversations and insights
stemming from the celebration of different experiences.

We talk about personal relationships with Jesus,
but then want them to conform to some ideal paradigm—
some normative dogma,
instead of honoring what personal means—
in part, different for everyone.

As part of this, I’d like to suggest
we have made belief too much about understanding.
Not sure I’ve ever told you all
how much I wanted to believe before I did—
before I could.
I was, after all, a preacher’s kid—a missionaries’ kid,
and my sister was baptized before me—
my younger sister.
I remember so specifically at a church in Tennessee
(we were on furlough),
at the end of a worship service—
every head bowed, every eye closed,
“If you have not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, raise your hand.”
I did.
“Now if you believe that Jesus will save you, leave your hand up.”
I did.
Because I did.
“Then come forward and accept Jesus as your lord and savior.”
And my hand slowly came down.
There was a step missing there.
I couldn’t go forward.
I didn’t understand.

Then, in high school,
during a worship service in a small Swiss baptist church,
actually not paying any attention to the sermon (ignore that part!),
I experienced light.
Not sure how else to describe it.
Call it a baptism of light—
an embrace.
Call it an illumination.
Now please understand, I still didn’t understand,
but I believed.

And have never doubted since.
I still don’t understand.
I’ve rejected God since.
I’ve been very, very angry at God since.
But have never doubted.
Maybe I yet will,
and that would be fine—
part of the faith journey.
Might make for some interesting sermons!

So as much as I love to think through Scripture—
think about Scripture,
it’s never about understanding it.
You know that, don’t you?
It’s about loving it—affirming it—celebrating it—
exploring it—playing with it.
It’s about a certainty that does not come from facts,
but a deep sense of truth.
That’s another affirmation.

So with affirmations in hand from our tradition (the church year)
from our experience, our worship,
several from the larger context of Scripture,
our next affirmations comes from our particular text—
those first ten verses of the 20th chapter of John.

And while I started numbering them—
started with the idea that I might even end up with seven,
now they start coming fast and furious.
So … enjoy!

Our story is one that begins with what we look for in the dark.
Because there are lots of options!
While all four gospels have women at the tomb
early in the morning,
this is the only gospel that specifically indicates
it was still dark.
And in the dark, Mary went looking for Jesus.
Not really, right? I mean he was dead.
She went to his grave.
She didn’t have anywhere else to go
to be close to the one she so missed.
Most of the places in Jerusalem
had taken on negative associations in the last week.
Maybe she would have gone back to the room
where they celebrated the last supper,
but the restaurant was closed,
or maybe it was that same upper room where the disciples were,
but she didn’t want to be around them.
She just wanted to be somewhere—
somewhere she could be physically connected to Jesus—
to remember.
To grieve.
To cry.
And she saw the stone rolled away.

And because this isn’t a cheap predictable horror movie,
she didn’t go into the open tomb by herself!
She ran off to find others instead.
Specifically Peter and the beloved disciple.

Allow me to point out several things I find interesting.
Peter’s obviously portrayed
as a leader and representative of the disciples in all four gospels,
while the beloved disciple is the invisible man in the synoptics
(Raymond E. Brown, A Risen Christ in Eastertime
[Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991] 67),
and even in the fourth gospel
is never mentioned by name—
only by the nature of his relationship with Jesus.
Maybe because he’s valued only in relationship with Jesus—
not in terms of his own identity his own status—
not as leader as representative—
who he will be in the early church—
what role he will play.
So they represent two kinds of important,
and we’ve tended to focus on the Peter kind of important,
but Mary knew she needed to find both—
or that she would find them both together.
Maybe they knew their mutual significance!

The two disciples ran to the tomb,
and the beloved disciple outran Peter,
but didn’t go in first.
Peter went in first
(John’s version of the first shall be last?!),
but the one who went in last
believed first
(and the last shall be first?!).

It’s funny how that’s been interpreted through the years.
Some say that this part of the story means
that the beloved disciple was younger and so faster.
Why that might be considered important, I have no idea!
Or maybe he wasn’t faster at all, but knew a shortcut!
Maybe was from Jerusalem?
None of which seems important either.
Some have suggested that Peter represented Jewish christianity
and the beloved disciple gentile christianity!
Or the one the Petrine tradition and the other Johannine!
Whatever!

In terms of what’s important,
I’d say, first, it wasn’t a race!
And the fact that we turn it into one
says more about us than about this story.

In terms of what’s important,
I’d go back to the fact that Mary chose these two.
These are the two she sought out.
She went to them.
As different as they are, they were both chosen.
That seems important to me—both kinds of important.
Mary trusted them—
both.

Also interesting,
the development of what’s seen.
You ever played that name game
where I say, “My name is John,”
and then Rae says, “His name is John, and mine is Rae,”
and then Dawn says, “His name is John,
and hers is Rae, and mine is Dawn?”
It’s a memory game, isn’t it?

Mary saw the stone rolled away.
The beloved disciple saw the stone rolled away
and the linen wrappings.
Peter saw the stone rolled away, the linen wrappings
and the cloth from around Jesus’ head.

Don’t forget any of this now.
It’s all important.

And so, of course, there are also the interpretations of the cloths.
Some say their presence undermines the possibility of grave robbers
(Mary’s concern, remember?).
Why would they take the time to unwrap the body?
Others see clues to how resurrection happened—
suggesting that Jesus dematerialized!
Of course, it could be,
seeing as how those specific items were mentioned
earlier in John’s gospel
in the story of Lazarus—
that we’re simply supposed to remember
that he came out of the tomb still wearing all his grave clothes—
all things he would need again (John 11:44).
There’s something qualitatively different going on here with Jesus,
our story suggests (Brown, 69).

So, after Peter had seen all there was to see,
then the beloved entered and, we read,
saw and believed.

Both verbs he “saw” and he “believed”
do not have objects.
So what did he see?
Did he see just an empty tomb?
Did he just see the rolled away stone, the linen wrappings
and the cloth from around Jesus’ head?
What did he believe?
Did he believe what Mary had said,
that the tomb was empty?
That seems kind of easy and obvious and meaningless to me,
but that was Augustine’s interpretation
(Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary,
and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible:
A Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume IX

[Nashville: Abingdon, 1995] 841)!

For to say he believed in the resurrection is to rush the story
(O’Day).
Here in this first story of the chapter, after all,
we have no risen Jesus to encounter,
no angels in garments of light hanging around the empty tomb
offering reassuring words of explanation or command.
“He is risen.”
“He has gone before you.”
“Get thee to Galilee.”

What did the beloved disciple see?
The truth.
The enduring truth of Jesus.
The truth of the stories he told.
The truth of what he taught—
manifest in how he lived and loved.

He saw a way of life stretching out before him—
the way of Jesus.
He saw the truth of the way of the world
and the way of Jesus—
and his life a choice.

He saw possibility—
the possibility of a world other than it was—
a world unmade and remade in the image of God.
He saw God’s work of redemption
all wrapped up in the person of Jesus—
and all wrapped up in his own living.

He saw the power of hope.
He saw the mystery of faith,
and the wonder of grace,
and the depths of love.

And what did he believe?

He believed, I believe,
what he had seen in Jesus—
what we have come across throughout Lent—
that you need to be willing to put what is on the line
for the sake of what you think should be.
And he believed the story was not over.
Was not over.
And never would be
until love beat strongly
as the heartbeat of all creation—
pulsing grace and justice
in and through all that is.

This all he saw and believed—
without any encounter with a risen Jesus,
all without understanding Scriptural teaching
of Jesus rising from the dead.

Huh.

Easter Vigil

At our Easter Vigil,
annually hosted in some church members’ home,
years ago, a golden retriever was a part of the service—
our hosts’ golden retriever, Lilly.
She loved the people
and particularly loved the matzah
used in communion celebration.

Lilly died.
And for several years,
there was no golden retriever participating.

This year, our golden pup was invited.
She loved the people
and particularly the matzah
used in communion celebration.

It was not the same.
But it was also not completely different either.
And there’s some resurrection truth to that
I’m still mulling over.

the service of shadows

At a Tenebrae service,
a Good Friday service of shadows,
traditionally, twelve candles,
associated with the twelve disciples
all falling away,
are extinguished one by one,
until only the Christ candle is left burning.
Then it, too, is extinguished.

It occurred to me this year,
that I actually have no idea
what traditionally accompanies this process—
if there’s particular Scripture or music.
But years ago, I went through
each of the three synoptic gospels
looking for instances of people misunderstanding Jesus,
distorting his message and teaching,
rejecting him and what he stood for—
instances of anger, betrayal, and fear.

Sobering how many there are.

Then in the gathering darkness,
we alternate reading those texts
with extinguishing the candles.
The readings culminate
in readings taken from the passion of Jesus.

It is also our tradition, of course,
to have many more candles than twelve
lit at the beginning of the service.
So after the twelve disciples’ candles are out,
we affirm how easy it would be to leave it at that.
How easy to blame them
as if we would have done any different.

But how much more true it is
to include in confession at this point,
the many ways in which we participate in the extinguishing of light.
Oh, not the private I-shouldn’t-have-dones,
but the systemic taken-for-granteds of our culture
that are with any careful, prayerful consideration
antithetical to our faith—
and so pervasive in our culture—
so integral to it.

So I walk around the sanctuary,
and ask congregants to name sin.
And they do.
Fear.
Selfishness.
Individualism.
Tribalism.
That unholy trio of
materialism, consumerism, and utilitarianism.
Lack of regard for others.
Violence.
Lack of regard for creation.
Convenience, comfort, and ease.
Expedience.
Immediate gratification.

After each sin named, I blow out another candle—
in reminder that it didn’t just happen then—
the misunderstanding, the distortions,
the rejection, the anger, the betrayal.
It continues to happen now.

So it is only after all the candles have been extinguished
(the disciples’ and ours)—
when all the light but the Christ candle is out,
that we read of the death of Jesus,
and extinguish, finally, that one.

We know so very well, you see, what spreads darkness—
what extinguishes light.

But may we more than know.
May we confess.
May we repent.
May we commit to live differently
in the name of God.

Maundy Thursday

Everyone agree
that we tend to think of tonight
as the commemoration of a sad night for Jesus?
What with the last supper,
the apparent awareness of all that lay ahead of him,
the betrayals of those closest to him,
the night of agonizing prayer
that the night might not hold all that it did,
the arrest, the trials and tribulations.
It was a night of endings,
of changes, and goodbyes—
a night of nothing will the be same after tonight,
a night of profound sadness.
Isn’t that how we read it?
Isn’t that how we feel it?

So what do you think,
was it a night of great anger too?
I mean how could Jesus not have been angry?

And some of that, I do believe, bleeds out.
Anger bleeds out in the anguished prayers of the night.
Anger bleeds out in the statement:
“You will betray me!”
You think that was simply matter of fact?
Anger bleeds out in the question
that I imagine was shouted:
“Can’t you three numbskulls even stay awake with me?”—
a loose paraphrase—
of what is actually a string of four letter
untranslatable aramaic words
seemingly comprised of random symbols
from the ancient aramaic typewriter keyboard!

So I was wondering,
where did that anger go?
Keeping deep anger bottled up inside isn’t healthy.
We know that.
Jesus knew that.
Jesus was healthy.
Where did his anger go?

A lot of it went into his praying that night.
He knew God can handle our anger.
He knew that.
God was an appropriate trusted person to hear his anger.
Some of it leaked out onto his disciples,
but they didn’t bear the brunt of it.

So did most of it go into the prayers—
to God?

And so then it also occurred to me to wonder,
why was Jesus angry?
That might seem obvious,
but anger often isn’t—
obvious.

Maybe we need to quickly make sure
we know what we’re talking about
when we talk about anger.
One of the best definitions of anger I’ve ever come across
comes from one of my seminary professors, Andy Lester,
who defined it as reaction to a perceived threat—
not just to ourselves,
also to things and people we care about—
things and people important to us.

So was Jesus angry at his circumstances?
His life, his safety, his well-being
were all certainly threatened that long ago night.
None of that meant as much to him though
as it would have to us.
We’ve said before,
consistency to his story mattered more to him
than did protecting his circumstances.

How about his ministry?
Was his ministry threatened? His teaching?
Those were important to him,
but I think he knew himself to have been true to them.
I don’t think he saw tonight as any kind of failure
of his ministry or his teaching.
If anything, it was more vindication

Nietzsche once wrote:
by our best enemies we do not want to be spared.
He knew the value of a good enemy.
And Jesus was good enemy to the status quo—
persistent threat to the status quo—
and was eliminated to preserve the status quo.

Are we—
threat to the status quo
in our consistency to the story of God?

Was he threatened by the choices of those he loved?
Ah.
Yes.
For didn’t they all fall short of the story to which he was so committed?

So was he angry at them?
Yes, I think there was anger there—
had to have been—
to honor the love.

And I think they knew that—
knew he was angry,
in the midst of all going on that night,
angry at them …,
but within so much love
so much understanding
and sadness.

None of which takes the anger away,
but places it within a larger whole
that makes it bearable
for the disciples
for Jesus
and for us.

And then there was Jesus’ trust—
his trust in this story that would continue
in them,
and in us—
that the choices made
weren’t the last ones to be made—
such that hope
was ever bigger than anger,
and love bigger than all.

So consider this night,
sadness, yes—
and anger,
but, more importantly trust and hope—
and most importantly, love.

It’s critical to get the order right.
Sadness and anger
because of love.
And love that leads to trust.
Trust that brings assurance and hope
amidst it all—
even amidst the sadness and the anger.

We commemorate this night
a sad night—
a night of grief and of anger—
a night after which nothing was ever the same,
but all because of a love
after which nothing is ever the same either—
a love we trust—
hopefully—
still.

does anyone really know what time it is? does anyone really care?

Matthew 20:1-11

I’m sure you’ve all noticed—
you really don’t have to pay much attention at all,
we have, in our culture, competing realities.
Now, technically, I think they’re competing views of reality,
but no one acts like that—
talks like that—
apparently thinks like that—
or, at least, admits to thinking that.
After all, if you just have a perspective on reality
instead of the definitive truth,
then how is anyone to know if your reality’s really real—
if you won’t even buy into it fully?
And so we have all too many people
who equate the volume with which you speak of your view of reality—
how dismissively you speak of someone else’s perspective—
ideally, the rudeness with which you can talk over someone else’s view—
equate all that with all the more reason to believe your perspective
is truth.
And the certainty with which you speak
indicates the truth of which you speak.

It’s a strange world in which we live.
It reminds me too much of living with toddlers.
But toddlers with parents who have decided
they really like the toddler world view—
parents who enable—facilitate this myopic narcissism
without acknowledging it a stage of growth and development
and who so do not appropriately confront its limitations,
and teach and model, within those limitations,
respect of others, humility,
and a truth beyond perspective.

And then we have these realities
(that are really perspectives on reality)
that cluster around ideologies.
Fair enough?
Again, perspectives of reality, really,
but that adhere to particular ideologies—
with again, no one acting like that—
no one admitting to that.

You ever watched toddlers playing soccer?
We call it amoeba ball—
no one playing positions—
everyone simply clustering around the ball moving as one.
Our culture oft seems to me like toddlers playing ideological soccer—
all clustering around the person with the loudest idea—
the very thought of other positions
not entertained at all—
until the ball squirts out to some other loud toddler.

Like I said, strange world.

We have, throughout Lent this year,
been thinking about sin in our world—
sin for our time—sin these days.
So we’ve been thinking about what’s deadly to us these days—
to us individually, corporately and even culturally.
We’ve also been thinking about the antidote offered by our faith—
by living a life of faith—
an antidote to what’s deadly.

And we’ve been noticing a disturbing—
it is disturbing, don’t you think?—
a disturbing correlation
between what we identify as deadly—
what we identify as sin,
and the assumptions and the norms of our culture—
with its hyper-individualism, its prioritizing of stuff,
its preoccupation with violence,
its propensity to isolate and blame the stranger.

And we’ve started wondering what we might need to do about that—
if the faith we profess and the world in which we live
stand over and against each other—
oh, now not completely,
but in significant ways—
what do we do about that?

This past Wednesday night,
we started listing
some of the points at which we believe
our culture’s assumptions, norms, and priorities,
run into our faith story—
as in crash into it head on.
We’re going to continue thinking about that,
and then specifically talk about
how to choose our faith—
well, first, ask if we do choose our faith over our culture,
and then, if so, how we choose our faith over our culture.
How might we expect people in our community
to see in us a challenge to those parts of our culture?
“Oh yeah, those folks over at Woodbrook.
They—.”
They what?
How would you finish that sentence?
How would you love to finish that sentence?

I happen to think that’s critical.
Not just for us as church—
as those who claim to follow in the way of God—
I think it is critical for us who claim to follow in the way of God.
I think it is critical for the integrity and the future of the church—
not just for us though,
but also for our culture—
which is so in not so good shape.

We could, of course, continue to do
what our culture’s churches have for the most part done,
and that is ignore it—
ignore those places our culture slams into our faith
and co-opts it—
ignore our call to live into some of what it means
to be in the world but not of it.

To my chagrin and my delight,
some of the most prophetic words spoken in and to our culture
these days, come to us, not from the faith,
but from the satirists and comedians of the television—
particularly, I think, of late, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.
Steven Colbert, who’s a devout Catholic—
a Sunday School teacher, I’m told,
on the first episode of The Colbert Report,
October 17, 2005 in a segment of the show called The Wørd,
coined the term “truthiness.”
According to Wikipedia: “Truthiness is a quality
characterizing a ‘truth’
that a person making an argument or assertion
claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’
without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”

Out-of-character, in an interview, Colbert said more
about the cultural critique
he wanted to offer with the word:
“Truthiness is tearing apart our country,
and I don’t mean the argument over who came up with the word ….
It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion,
but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore.
Facts matter not at all.
Perception is everything. It’s certainty.
People love [leaders
who are certain of their choices as leaders],
even if the facts that back [them] up don’t seem to exist.
It’s the fact that [they're] certain
that is very appealing to a certain section of the country.
I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace.
What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?”

Colbert chose the word truthiness …,
after deciding that the originally scripted word—”truth”—
was not absolutely ridiculous enough.
“We’re not talking about truth,
we’re talking about something that seems like truth—
the truth we want to exist”, he explained.

“In today’s civic climate, you can pick
the facts and concepts you wish to be true.
That is what the professionals in politics and advertising do.
Indeed, in a perversion of classic American ideals,
personally picking what truth to believe in
is assumed to be a basic right,
the very thing individuals ought to do
if they are making their own authentic choices.
It’s your right.

Colbert introduced his definition of truthiness,
simultaneously mocking it, saying:
“Now I’m sure some of the ‘word police’,
the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s are gonna say,
‘Hey, that’s not a word’.
Well, anybody who knows me
knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.
They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true.
Or what did or didn’t happen.”

So annoying, isn’t it?—
when that happens—
when our perspectives are confronted as perspectives—
when our realities are challenged—
so annoying and so very important.

Now is this all another expression
of the hyper-individualism of our culture?
Maybe.
I don’t actually think so though.
As much as it might appear to be—
appear to have to do with that peculiar pride
that would suggest if it’s my perspective,
how could it not be real?
But I think it actually has more to do
with a profound need for an acknowledged authority.

Because here’s the thing:
any estimation of truth (or reality)
is truly a validating of an authority.
So the important question becomes
who or what is the authority that underwrites our truths?
Is it what we see? “I have to see it to believe it?”
For some that’s true.
What about public opinion?
That’s definitely the authority for many.
Some might call it market research,
but it amounts to the same thing.
Capitalism?
That’s it for some. Or another economic model.
A political perspective?
Sure. And another one. And another. And another.
And in the midst of all this,
“Trust in most all public institutions, social scientists tell us,
has declined steadily.
For example, a fall 2006 CBS News-New York Times poll
showed trust in government was at its lowest recorded level.”
And I can’t imagine that it hasn’t dropped since then!

So what about science?
Some choose that as an authority; some don’t.
Because science can be annoying
what with all its little facts, you know—its evidence.
The Bible?
Well some say they choose that.
But when it comes to Scripture, I would have to ask
what’s the true authority? Scripture itself?
No.
Not with all the Scripture we ignore.
So what’s the authority behind/beyond the Scripture?
What’s the authority for what we ignore and for what we don’t?
Is it our own taste? Our own comfort levels?
We’re back to one of my favorite annoying questions:
how is what we believe different from what we want to believe?
What’s the authority that undergirds Scripture?
Is it culture? Our socio-economic status within culture?
Our education?
Our experience?
Our authority figures?
Is it God? The living Spirit who guides us into truth?
All of the above?

That’s why the community of faith is so important.
I have a lot of sympathy for folks who would rather,
as they say, worship out in nature—
get up on a Sunday morning and just head out into the woods—
into the mountains.
I get that. I do.
There are Sunday mornings I would rather do that.
No offense!

And it’s not that there’s not something to that—
something beautiful and profound and true.
But ultimately that’s too easy.
Because where’s the community with whom to be in conversation
that will both challenge you and support you—
confront you beyond your perspectives
and love you beyond them too?
You really can’t do this following in the way of God alone.
It doesn’t work.

Nothing new to any of this.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem,
and the whole city was in turmoil, asking,
“Who is this?”
And a very large crowd gathered to shout out
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
What was that?
What they thought was true?
Or what they so wanted to be true?
No way to answer that, is there?
And my suspicion is that it’s “Yes” to both.

This is the one.
Have you listened to what he says?
My God!
Have you watched how he lives his life?
One such as this should be king—should be authority.
Hosanna!
And look at all the people!
Maybe he could be!
Maybe he will be!
Maybe what should be is more important
than the power structures—
more important than the leaders
invested in the power structures as they are—
more important than how much money is being made for some.
And shouldn’t we go with what we think should be?
Especially when there’s so much about the way things are
that we don’t like?

But we could, of course, ignore him.
Ignore what we think should be
in face of all that is.
And that would be easier.

Today is the last Sunday of Lent.
It’s also Palm Sunday—
the day commemorating the so-called Triumphal Entry—
though I tell you, more and more,
I think of God and Jesus
less in terms of triumph
and more in terms of persistence—
less in terms of moments of vindication
and more in terms of once again, choosing, God’s way—
God’s being.
Today is also Passion Sunday—
the beginning of Jesus’ trials and tribulations
(though I think that’s actually selling the disciples short!).

So today is more than one perspective.
It is more than one truth.
It’s a story bigger than we can tell
precisely because it’s many stories.
So it’s a story big enough to live into—
to spend our lives exploring and unfolding.

Or we could ignore it, of course.
And that would be easier.

Richard M. Weaver taught English at the University of Chicago,
and in a book a friend recommended, The Ethics of Rhetoric,
identified terms used in public discourse
that are somewhat vague and impenetrable,
yet with unmistakably either positive or negative associations.
So you hear one of these words,
and you’re not real sure what’s meant,
but you know how you feel.
Weaver suggested that too many of such terms
employed in civic discourse
by those “not moral in their use of rhetoric,”
seeking to generate and confer and sustain a charismatic authority,
constituted “one of the most dangerous lesions of modern society”
(Richard M. Weaver, The Ethics of Rhetoric
[Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1953] 232).

And speaking of such lesions,
honestly, sometimes I think there should be those
who, on behalf of the basics of our culture—
the taken for granted norms,
walk around in ripped clothes, ringing a bell,
crying out “Unclean! Unclean!”

So we could just talk Jesus today.
All glory, laud and honor.
Hosanna.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
That would be easy.
It is Palm Sunday, after all.

But that would be, odd as it may sound,
I believe, in light of our conversation
that would be sin.
For it is deadly
not to maintain some deep sense of all the stories today—
all the truths—
the persistence of God in face of betrayal—
in face of temptation—
in face of violence and fear—
the truth of God who comes always again
to the truths of our world,
riding the inevitable turmoil in the wake of such persistence.
Who is this?

There is an antidote to the sin of our world—
the deadliness within it,
and the obliviousness within too much of our faith.
There is an antidote to it all in a life of faith—
a faith with integrity—
that acknowledges all the different realities of life.
But to work as antidote, it has to be a life of faith lived
confronting the taken-for-granteds of our world—
oh, not the easy hot button topics,
but the fundamental, bottom line basics.
A life thus lived
as an antidote to deadly—
a life of faith
not just affirmed,
not just preached,
certainly not ignored—
lived—

which would make of the upcoming week,
a Holy Week.

Wouldn’t it?

amidst another holy week

We find ourselves
amidst another Holy Week—

braced for the variety of services
telling the story
leading to Easter:
Maundy Thursday,
Tenebrae,
the Easter Vigil.

Remind us, our God,
of the unfolding story,
not as pieces that have become services,
commemorating what happened,
but as parts of a complete narrative
that has become truth for us
to embrace and to live

that we might be found
in truth
within a holy week.

Amen.

again

God,
You wait—
poised to enter our living,
again—
to ride into our being
inverting our expectations
of what’s impressive and successful,
and what’s ludicrous and ridiculous.

You’re ready, again,
to enter the fullness of our living—
all the stories unfolding simultaneously,
and in the turmoil thus generated,
we ask, who is this?
Who is this so unrelenting in loving?
Who is this so persistent in grace?
Who is this so other than any other?

And, in calling into question
our assumptions and presuppositions—
our priorities and norms,
who will You be to and for us?
Enemy?
Or savior?
One invited to stay with us and rearrange our being?
Or one dragged outside our being—
and left hanging there
again?

And yet,
here You are, God,
ready to enter our living—
again—

in Jesus’ name,
amen.