“consensual relations,” may 15, 2016

consent

Responsive Call to Worship
We gather in this place
not to harbor any false illusions
about the nature of our world
or the nature of people.
We gather not to deny that horrible things happen
or that people do horrible things to each other.
We are not here to pretend
or to ignore,
but to claim that amidst the way the world is
and amidst the way people are,
there is another way
to which we are called
that is the way of God—
a way of being
and a way of relating to others
characterized by respect and grace.
It’s a way of living that values the other as other—
and so that values listening
as a sign of respect for the dignity and freedom of another—
that values a mutuality to relationship—
in the very image of God’s way of loving.

Meditations
1 in 4: the number of women who will be victims of severe violence
by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults in the USA.

10,000,000: the number of children exposed to domestic violence every year.
— Safe Horizon and Huffington Post

Every 9 seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten.

1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victim of some form
of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.

Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
— National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Myth: Rape and sexual assault are about sexual attraction and gratification.
Fact: Rape and sexual assault are all about control and domination.

Myth: When it comes to sex, men can be provoked to “a point of no return.”
Fact: Men are physically able to stop at any point during sexual activity.
Rape is not an act of impulsive, uncontrollable passion;
it is a premeditated act of violence.
— West Virginia University Students’ Center of Health

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Judges 11:29-40
Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah,
and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh.
He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead
he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord,
and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand,
then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me,
when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s,
to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’
So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them;
and the Lord gave them into his hand.
He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer
to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty towns,
and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued
before the people of Israel.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah;
and there was his daughter coming out to meet him
with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child;
he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her,
he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter!
You have brought me very low;
you have become the cause of great trouble to me.
For I have opened my mouth to the Lord,
and I cannot take back my vow.’ She said to him,
‘My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord,
do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth,
now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies,
the Ammonites.’ And she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me:
Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains,
and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.’
‘Go,’ he said and sent her away for two months.
So she departed, she and her companions,
and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.
At the end of two months, she returned to her father,
who did with her according to the vow he had made.
She had never slept with a man.
So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year
the daughters of Israel would go out
to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Witness of the Living Word, i.
Kelly DaCunha

I am so sorry to be missing today’s service, as the subject area is one that I am passionate about. My family is actually at Little League Day at Camden Yards watching Aidan parade around the bases….perhaps feeling a tad bit “lighter” than if we were listening to me right now.

I understand that the subject matter of today’s service includes sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Thankfully, I don’t have any personal experience with these horrific acts. But, some of you know that I have been a Social Worker for 10 years – many of which have focused on working with victims of these crimes. I won’t bore you with my resume, but I do want to tell you a little bit about my past experiences just so you know where I’m coming from.

I worked for the Baltimore County Sexual Abuse Treatment Program for several years – working with the families of child victims of sexual abuse and running a treatment group for pre-adolescent victims. Then, I transitioned into Forensic Social Work – investigating allegations of sexual abuse and conducting forensic interviews of alleged child victims. In this position, it was literally my job to encourage…..sometimes gently persuade…..a child to tell me their inner-most secrets, their most horrifying experiences, their scariest memories, and their most vulnerable state of being. Some of you may watch tv shows that demonstrate such interviews of children – it is exactly like what you see on tv……only it feels so much more intense, and often disturbing, in person and in the moment with the child. For some reason, I felt called to do this work…..so I kept on doing it. For the past 3 years I worked for the Special Victim’s Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office for Baltimore City. Again, just like Law and Order SVU, the Special Victim’s Unit (SVU) works with victims of some of the most heinous crimes one could imagine. SVU handles child physical abuse cases, child sexual abuse cases, child homicides, adult sexual assault and rape cases, domestic violence cases, and elder abuse cases. On any given day, SVU carries between 350-400 active cases…..and these are just those crimes occurring in Baltimore City…..and of those, only the ones being prosecuted.

As a Social Worker in this unit, I continued to conduct forensic interviews of child victims and adult victims with cognitive delays. I also supported individuals and families as they prepared for trial and testified in Court. Mainly, however, I just did a lot of sitting with people and listening. For whatever reason, and there are a lot of them, many victims of these crimes don’t seek counseling in order to deal with their trauma….but they still need to talk. So, the detectives, the Assistant State’s Attorneys, and I were there to listen. We considered it a privilege to listen….and were honored that people felt able to share with us.

What we often heard seemed like nothing less than existential crises. “Why did this happen to me?” “How could this have happened to my daughter/son/wife?” In less specific words, people were asking “Where did I go wrong in my life to deserve this?” I have seen first-hand that Baltimore has many faith-filled people. Some people I worked with would say, “Well, this must have been God’s will.” They seemed to be searching for something…..anything…….that might answer the question “why.” And, I just don’t know “why.” I have never been able to answer this question for any of the victims I’ve worked with – or for myself.

I personally don’t believe that God has a hand in these awful, devastating, life-altering, sometimes life-ending acts. I did, however, see God every single day in the aftermath of these acts. I’ve seen families united and working together to support their loved one. I’ve seen women – still scarred physically and emotionally – face their rapist and take the witness stand to re-live their horrifying experience…..for the simple reason that they wanted to protect other people. Though people sometimes say that a victimized child has lost his or her innocence through these crimes – I have seen victimized children with their innocence intact…..still trusting and loving unconditionally, still believing in their childhood and playing freely. And I’ve watched detectives, Assistant State’s Attorneys, and others fight……hard……for justice. Whatever justice means for that victim. Many of these service people literally don’t sleep until a suspect is apprehended, or a case is resolved without a victim having to testify, or a guilty verdict is returned, or a defendant enters appropriate treatment. These people always seem to be placing others before themselves.

The members of SVU have chosen this population to serve – and their passion has to come from somewhere. A child’s unwavering innocence has to come from somewhere. A victim’s strength to testify and devotion towards preventing this pain in others has to come from somewhere. I believe this “somewhere” is God’s hand at work. Seeing all of these things is what has given me hope over the years. When I find myself growing too jaded, or focusing too much on the bad in this world, or spending too much time stuck on the “why’s” or other unanswerable questions, these things are what I think of to get me through and to “feel” God once again.

Additional Hymn Verse
[WYE VALLEY]
Let your heart be broken, by what people do,
thinking not of others, love and grace eschewed.
Selfishly ignoring any other soul,
tacitly abhorring God’s created whole.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
It’s a terrible story we heard read this morning—
the story of Jephthah and of Jephthah’s daughter
from the book of Judges.
Scripture, yes.
The word of God, yes.
But there’s nothing right about it.
Nothing exemplary, holy or good—
nothing redemptive.
And the only lesson I can glean from it
is a negative:
don’t allow a distorted vision of God
to lead you to act in ways contrary to God.
And that, unfortunately, remains a horrifyingly relevant word
to and for us these days,
in which God is all too often invoked,
to justify terror—
and I’m talking about us and our tradition,
not about any them—certainly not about Islam.
I am more and more suspicious
of worship, religion, and politics
that has more to say about them than to us.

Jephthah is also mentioned
in the New Testament.
He’s referred to in Hebrews
(Hebrews 11:29-40, if you’re interested),
included in a list of the faithful—
named as one of that great cloud of witnesses that surround us
(Hebrews 12:1).
Scripture, yes.
The word of God, yes.
And again, we’re left struggling to understand.
What was the writer of Hebrews thinking?
And I’m guessing the writer of Hebrews
was trying to make a point—
an exhortation, actually—
compiling a list
to inspire us,
and simply took names from the Old Testament stories.
I’m guessing that writer did what many do—
if it’s in the Bible, isn’t it then, obviously, good and right?
We might wish he had been more careful.

We would suggest, would we not?—
there needs to be more of an evaluative dimension
to those we would uplift as models of faith—
even if they’re in the Bible—even if they’re clergy—
even if a lot of other people listen to them.
Just because they’re in the Bible—
just because their story is told within stories of faith—
just because they’re admired and followed,
doesn’t mean the way they lived into their faith
is necessarily always something to admire.
Sometimes it’s something to abhor.
Sometimes it’s something to reject.
Sometimes it’s something from which you can only glean a negative.
Don’t be like that. Don’t do that.

So now I want to remind you of a couple of other terrible stories
from the sacred texts—the holy scriptures.
In Genesis 34, we find the story of Dinah,
daughter of Jacob and Leah,
who was raped by Shechem, a Canaanite prince,
who was subsequently killed by Simeon and Levi,
two of Dinah’s brothers.
And in 2 Samuel, the 13th chapter, we read the story of Tamar,
daughter of King David and Maacah,
who was raped by her half-brother, Amnon,
David’s first-born son,
who was subsequently killed by Absalom,
Tamar’s brother, David’s third-born son.

Well, isn’t this just a fine, uplifting, edifying Sunday!
What on earth are we doing,
and why in heaven’s name are we doing it?, you might wonder.
Good questions!
And I have an answer.
How good an answer, you’ll have to decide!

Kendall Rothaus, is the pastor of Lakeshore Baptist Church in Waco, TX.
She followed Dorisanne there in service and ministry.
I met and heard Kendall at the Alliance convocation last month
already having read an article she wrote in Baptist News Global
in which she referred to “rare moments
when religious leaders [acknowledge] publicly
in a liturgical context the cultural and institutional silence
surrounding sexual violence”—
the rarity of which strikes her “as a sad failure of the church.”
“When I think back,” she writes, “over my long history
as an active part of the church,
I cannot remember a single instance when I heard a sermon on rape,
aside from the ones I have preached myself.”

And why is that important, you might ask.
Why does that need to be preached?
Why is that important enough to make for an uncomfortable—
a disturbing worship experience?

Well—first, a reminder—a more general comment:
while there is so much of what worship is that is comforting,
comfortable does not rank high on my list of what worship should be.

And, more specifically, what we do and don’t talk about—
what we are willing and not willing to talk about—
in worship is important.
Over the course of the ongoing conversation that is our worship,
we want people to know that we know,
as we affirmed in our responsive call to worship,
that horrible things happen
and that people do horrible things to each other.
We don’t want anyone to feel like what they’ve experienced
what they’ve been through
is somehow out of bounds—
that it excludes them from faith and fellowship and worship—
from the love of God and the love of God’s people—
and that it isn’t acknowledged and addressed by people of faith
gathered in worship
who weep with those who weep.

I believe it to be of the utmost importance
that no aspect of life not be included in worship—
because our living is supposed to be interpreted by our worship
which must then be absolutely honest—
not hiding behind lies of omission—
not distorted into some fantasy life.

There are also those aspects of and to our culture
we need to condemn—
that it is incumbent upon us to condemn.
We spent the weeks leading up to and immediately following Easter
naming various madnesses taken for granted in our culture:
the priority of obscene profits,
the insane pace of our culture,
the ways in which fear is exploited and manipulated,
the systemic racism.

During our lectionary sabbatical
we’ve been taking our cues from what’s going on in our culture
sometimes that’s fun …
or sometimes I think it’s fun!
When we’re confronting Halloween
and superficial commercial Christmas
and March Madness
and the weekends of the Triple Crown.
But sometimes, it is the church’s responsibility
to note shadow truths—
the madnesses accepted and even taken for granted—
the realities of our culture
that we don’t particularly want to acknowledge.

Because worship is not about pretending the world isn’t as it is—
that there isn’t evil
that touches lives in horribly destructive ways.

I’m sure most of you parents—
and all of you who love our children—
encourage and teach them to have fun,
but to be careful.
We carefully prayerfully walk that line
between cultivating anxiety and vigilance.
And if you’re like me, you hate it—
navigating that terrible thin line.

But, like care for our children, pastoral care is naming what’s real
always hopefully in the context of love and hope.
But like the Bible not shying away from what’s ugly and terrible—
and thank God for sacred texts that don’t!

Kelly’s hard hard words
(and I knew a little of what she’s been doing,
but not the full extent of her ministry—did you?
thank God for Kelly!)—
her hard hard words remind us
of what’s real for all too many—
that this is what we work with—
the world in which we live—
the world in which we offer good news,
but good news with integrity—
in which we are to live lives of love and grace—
in which we are to live an alternative story
to so many of the stories of our culture.

And the sick story of violence against women—
the violence in the home—
is epidemic in our culture.
6,488 US servicemen were killed in Afghanistan
between 2001 and 2012.
In that same time frame, 11,766 US women
were killed by current or ex male partners
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/domestic-violence-statistics_n_5959776.html).

But it’s always easier to go to war with them
some them—any them,
than to go to war with the way things are—
to battle the status quo—
to campaign against our priorities and norms.
It’s far easier to target them—who are different,
than to admit that what we really need to target
is not what’s different but what we accept as same.
It’s always easier to seek to force their submission to us and our ways
than to submit ourselves to God and God’s ways.

And, hard truth here, it is our culture.
We may reject implications of it.
We may hate aspects of it.
But we live in it.
We are a part of it.
And we are either resisting it,
working to intentionally be transformed within it,
or we conform to it.

And then this becomes so theological—in two ways.
First, underscoring the importance of consent—
the importance of affirming that we do not make choices for each other.

We affirm consent in relationships with others, absolutely,
but also in relationship with God—
even as God consents to us—to our will—our choices.

It’s simple and it’s basic.
It has to do with free will.
It has to do with respect—
respect for individuals created in the image of God—
respect for individuals
be they male or female, old or young,
be they gay, lesbian, transgendered,
be they popular or not,
be they easy to like or not,
be they rich or poor—
it just doesn’t matter.
Every person on the face of the earth
is created in the image of God—
any one of whom may say no to us—
may say no to God.

We as those who follow God in the way of Jesus
do not force anyone into relationship.
And we will not be forced into relationship ourselves.
Nor are we forced into faith.
And we take that a little farther here, I think.
We’re not scared into faith.
We’re not guilted into faith.
We’re not manipulated into faith.

This in a world in which women are objectified.
Men are too, but not to the same extent.
This in a world in which people are objectified
all the better to be exploited—
to be used,
and when it comes to people,
when someone is used,
they’re in truth abused.

It’s simple and it’s basic.
It has to do with free will.
It has to do with respect—
respect for individuals created in the image of God.
If relationships do not manifest that fundamental respect—
that acknowledgement of another’s free will,
then God has been distorted to justify our lack of respect.

Second
(that was all the first theological point—
the vital nature of respect and consent)—second,
in our boys-will-be-boys,
blame-the-victim-society,
we need to be reminded
that amidst what’s hard and terrible
God stands always with the ones hurting—
the ones rejected—
the ones ignored—
the weaker ones—
the abused—
the victims—
the ones struggling—
the ones made fun of—
the ones beaten up—
the lonely—
the afraid.
And we either stand with God,
or we stand against God.
And that has more to do with who we’re standing with
than anything we profess.

We as those who follow God in the way of Jesus
are called to a more respectful way of relating to others—
more loving.
We can have hopes for another.
We can pray for another.
But that’s it.
To assume power over someone
is in accord with too many of the ways of the world
and not the ways of God.

So we are called to stand against what is too common—
to reject any behavior that objectifies-
that abuses—
to stand with those victimized—
to lend our voice to their cry—
to encourage their resistance—
their attempts to rebuild—
their rejection of what was—
to reject any justification of what was done to them
in the name of God
or in the name of anything else.

So we are called to teach our children respect for the other—
to teach our girls they deserve respect,
and our boys that they do too,
and that that respect for another and for the self
has very practical implications
for how to live and how to relate—
how to treat no one as object—
as someone to be used which means abused.

We are called to point out commercials and billboards
and TV shows and music and movies
that objectify people:
“Do you see that?
Do you get it?
Do you see what that’s doing to that person?”

We are called to proclaim
that manipulation and force are not about the strength of desire
let alone will,
but rather about a weakness of character—
a lack of self-esteem
and respect and trust.

We are called to explicitly proclaim and affirm
that God does not manipulate,
and that we do not manipulate—
which is to say we respect each other
and trust relationships and conversations
to unfold into healthy possibilities
and a future characterized by love and hope.
This in the way God respects us
and trusts our relationship and our conversation
to unfold into the redeeming of all creation.

For the sake of us all—
for the sake of our children—boys and girls—
for the sake of creation,
may it be so.

Introduction to the Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
We are grateful for the unabashed honesty of our holy texts.
Amidst its absolute honesty about what goes on in the world,
the Bible consistently extends a vision of an alternative.
So amidst the way things are,
hear again the vision of God:

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Romans 12:1-2, 9-10
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,
by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God—
what is good and acceptable and perfect….
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor.

“the first of a trinity,” may 8, 2016

trinity image

Responsive Call to Worship
In the beginning, God.
Okay. Is that a statement of belief—
reflecting on the past—
affirming what God did in creation?
Or is it a prayer—
hoping in the present (or the presence?)—
affirming what God still does?
For in truth, we do keep beginning
(and beginning again)—
even as we keep assuring ourselves
that there is an order
emerging out of chaos—
that there is blessing
inherent to creation.
And we gather in worship, honestly,
less to affirm to ourselves that God did
as to assure ourselves that God still does.
We’re not defending God, you see
(as much as we might want to think in such terms).
We’re defending our faith.
And not abstractly and generally,
“our faith”—in some universal heroic way,
but specifically and personally
“our faith”—“my faith”—
in a more individual desperate way.
In the world in which we live,
we want to … we need to …
keep believing—
and to keep living as though we do—
and so, living into grace
with love.
In the beginning, God, you see,
truly means—
more significantly always—
more relevantly—
now, God.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Psalm 104
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
We’re not doing Trinity Sunday this year,
though we’re at that time of the calendar year
when the Church year sets aside one Sunday
to affirm and celebrate the truth and relevance
of the doctrine of the Trinity.

But in our lectionary sabbatical year,
looking to what’s going on in our culture,
we are actually taking three Sundays—
one to look at each of the three persons of the Trinity—
on the three weekends of the running of the races of the Triple Crown!

Because of the energy of the story—
the excitement and anticipation that grows through these weeks—
especially if the winner of the first
wins the second.
Then it all really begins to matter more and more—
what has happened and what might!

Yesterday was the running of the Kentucky Derby,
the first of the three races that comprise the Triple Crown.
And we have Nyquist, the winner.
Whether Nyqvist becomes more important in time—
over the next few weeks,
we will see.

So I’d like to point out
that the narrative from which the doctrine of the Trinity emerges
(ie/ Scripture) neither names the Trinity as such
nor assumes it from the beginning.
Now there are some who might argue with that.
There are some who look to that mysterious three-fold “plural pronoun:”
in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness ….’”
and Genesis 3:33, “Then the Lord God said,
‘See, the man has become like one of us,
knowing good and evil ….’”
and finally in the tower of Babel story,
Genesis 11:7, “Come, let us go down,
and confuse their language there ….”

Some also look to Genesis 1:2—that verse about
the spirit of God hovering over the surface of the deep.

But the writers of those ancient texts
did not know anything of a Trinity.
They did not write of a Trinity.
And if we posit God as Trinity at creation,
we are only reading that into the creation stories.

So, interestingly, while the story begins
oblivious to Trinitarian thought,
Trinitarian thought begins
with the fully developed idea of the Trinity.

It’s kind of like how the Derby is just one race
in the calendar of racing events,
but hardly anyone thinks of it as such.
As the beginning of something with more potential
than one race could possibly have,
it’s so much more than just one race.
There’s that possibility of energy and excitement growing—
of more and more people becoming interested—
in following along with the story.
And we know all that going in.

But I want to go back to the beginning of the story
that intrigues me so—
because the story starts just with God.

And before ever a Trinity is conceived—
indeed before a Trinity can be conceived,
you have the history of God and God’s people—
all the stories and songs,
the teachings and writings of the Old Testament.

You have God as creator of the world and savior of a people—
God as redeemer and sustainer and guide and shepherd—
as father—
so many different images—
so many different functions—
one God.

You know the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

A fiercely monotheistic affirmation—
a fiercely monotheistic Jewish affirmation—
deeply imaginative.

Affirming that God is,
and that God does—
that there is no distinction
between God’s being and God’s doing—
that this is no abstract affirmation of deity—
that for God to be
is for God to breathe,
and for God to breathe is for God to speak
and so to create—to do.

From the beginning, God spoke; God created.

Many years ago, Frederick Buechner wrote these words
that continue to create reflection and wonder:
“In Hebrew the term dabar means both ‘word’ and ‘deed.’
Thus to say something is to do something.
‘I love you.’ ‘I hate you.’ ‘I forgive you.’ ‘I am afraid of you.’
Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is,
it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart
is irrevocably released through speech into time,
is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history,
where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.
Words are power, essentially the power of creation.
By my words I both discover and create who I am.
By my words I elicit a word from you.
Through our converse we create each other.
When God said, ‘Let there be light,’
there was light where before there was only darkness.
When I say I love you, there is love
where before there was only ambiguous silence.
In a sense I do not love you first and then speak it,
but only by speaking it give it reality
(Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking).

From the beginning, God spoke and God created,
and from the beginning, God created relationships.
And there is no distinction between God’s being
and God’s doing and God in relationship.
God was and is—spoke and speaks—
and what was and is created—
what is still being created,
is in the image of God.
It’s all God can do—
breathe life—
and life as beloved,
and so breathe blessing.
And the word of God was and is made light and dark.
The word of God was and is made dry land and water.
The word of God was and is made mountain and grass—
forest and fruit.
The word of God was and is made scales and feathers and fur and skin.
The word of God was and is made flesh.

And still with us—God—
breathing and speaking—
ever creating relationship with all that is created.
Ever in relationship with us.
And the breathing—speaking—creating goes on.
There is conversation in relationship.

So to say “in the beginning, God created—”
really has less to do with creation, truly,
than with purpose.
In naming God creator,
we are naming purpose to creation.
We suppose a trajectory to time.
And that trajectory is into relationship,
and that purpose is blessing.

Blessing.
Oh, nothing as devious as “Bless your heart,”
which is southern for the opposite of what it says.
Nothing as shallow as prosperity theology
which is theological for the opposite of what it says.
Nothing as insipid and anemic as “#blessed”
when applied to happy circumstance.

Y’all get that, right?
When things are good—when you’re happy,
it’s not because you’re blessed.
Maybe it’s because you (or someone else) has worked hard.
May be because you’ve been well loved.
It may well be because you’re lucky.
But blessing is not a matter of circumstance—
because God seeks to bless all creation—all peoples—all nations,
regardless of circumstance.

Blessing’s another one of those words
whose rich deep profound meaning we have not retained—
whose depths we have lost to an easy shallowness.

For the most true meaning of blessing
constitutes perhaps the most resounding—
most profound of all faith affirmations.
Through the years, the church has insisted on right belief
about or in the virgin birth—
and miracles—
and resurrection—
which all seems less significant to me
than believing, in the midst of life,
that God is working to bless all creation,
and that God is working to bless you
and to bless through you.
That’s the promise of original blessing—
of God as creator.

And so stories then unfolded
of and in God’s commitment to relationship
and to such deep blessing—
God’s commitment to Adam and Eve,
to the family of Abraham,
to the Hebrew people enslaved in Egypt,
to the oppressed,
the widows and the orphans,
the strangers and aliens,
the left out and cast aside
whose cry God hears—
the God whose work and presence is a part of history.
We may question how it is that God intervenes in history,
but we affirm God is always working for justice—
working against oppression—
working for freedom.

The narrative arc of the universe is long,
but it not only bends toward justice,
we believe,
it is called into justice.
It is bent toward grace.
It is being acted upon by love.
Whatever part we play in the story,
God continues speaking and creating that narrative—
ever into God’s truth and into God’s love and into God’s hope.

Is that what we keep believing?
Truly? What we hold onto when life is hard
and almost unbearable?
What it matters to us that others keep believing
even when we can’t?
That keeps us living as if we believe?
Really?
Is it your priority to live as if love is the means to the same end?

Do you believe and live as if because God is,
therefore we are,
and as God speaks and creates
and blesses
and saves through love,
so too are we to?

I’m contemplating a formula—
a faith affirmation—
honing in on what is essentially God—

who is with us—Emanuel (God with us).
Was God in the beginning creating?
I believe that,
but it’s not something I’m going to get hung up on.
Someone recently said to me,
“If God didn’t create everything
and create everything out of nothing,
then all of theology crumbles.
Really? Not for me.
Because of the God who is with us now—
who is with us always,
and who, once manifest in time,
is not removed—is not relevantly outside time,
but experienced rather within time—

and who is defined (to the extent we can grasp or imagine)—
who is defined always in relationship (or relationships)—
who calls into being and into relationship—
always in conversation—
always extending love—
always seeking blessing—

who is known to us in and through
the desire for and the commitment to covenant relations—
in all their mutuality and reciprocity—

and who in this ongoing conversation
consistently creates possibility where there was none—
which may encompass creation out of nothing,
but represents so much more than that!
Let there be light? Sure.
And all people will be blessed.
And follow me out of bondage and oppression.
God consistently creating possibility where there was none—
which we call
redemption—
or transformation—
or salvation.

And so it is that
yes, after joy—
after peace and wonder—
after accomplishment—
after satisfaction, sure,
but also after disobedience—
after rejection and betrayal—
after heartbreak—loss—
after grief—after despair—
after failure—
after loneliness—
we can still live with hope.
We can still live with hope.
We can still live in anticipation.
We may not see it right away.
We may need others to see it for us.
But, my friends, God is persistently rewriting
what anyone else might perceive as the end of the story—
what we might perceive as the end of the story.

So hear now the word of God
for the people of God:

there is more to this conversation.
There is more to this relationship.
There is more to do.
There is yet blessing to be known.
I can’t wait!

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
from Psalm 136
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;

who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;

who struck Egypt through their firstborn,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
a heritage to his servant Israel,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

“may day,” may 1, 2016

mayday

Responsive Call to Worship
Today, May 1, 2016, is a day to celebrate
beauty and fun and life.
It is simultaneously a day to recognize
amidst life—within all the beauty and the fun,
how much help we need.
Today is a day to know ourselves
as those unconditionally accepted and loved,
of whom far more is expected.
And so we know ourselves to be beloved—blessed,
and still discontent enough to keep wanting more.
Today is a day in-between—
a liminal space—a thin place—a threshold
between the spring equinox and the summer solstice—
between who we are
and who we yet want to be—
between the status quo
and our best dreams and visions
of how life could be.

Today is a day to acknowledge and affirm
joy today amidst our still growing.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Psalm 103:1-5, 15-18
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
It’s been a full service already
celebrating baptism and communion.
Isaiah preached the best sermon today—
that love is still worth giving your life to.
So I really don’t have much to say—
something to say—just not much—
a few quick observations and comments.

You’ll remember we’re in the midst of our lectionary sabbatical—
looking less to the church year and to the scriptural story,
as to the stories of our culture
always with the question of what we have to say in response.
What is our scripture-informed—
our faith-based response to our culture?

And today is May 1.
That may make you think of dancing around a maypole.
I looked on line and there are lots
of local Mayday PlayDay festivals.
Halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice,
May 1 represents in some ways the kick-off to summer.

I did a little digging,
and y’all may know all of this,
but Mayday celebrations go back a long ways—
back to ancient Rome and the Floralia, the festival of Flora,
Roman goddess of flowers, vegetation and fertility.
The Floralia was a a multi-day party
with lots of games—lots of flowers—
and wreaths on poles processed through the streets.

Mayday is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane
another celebration of summer, growth, and fertility
when giant bonfires were lit
and cattle, beginning their journey to summer pasturage,
were led around or between these bonfires for protection and fertility.
All household fires would be extinguished
and then relit from those bonfires,
and ashes from these fires would be sprinkled on fields.

And homes and livestock would be decorated with yellow flowers
as if it were somehow important
to be wreathed in imagery of flame—crowned with fire—
surrounded by light.

In many of the Germanic countries,
Mayday coincides roughly with Hexennacht—witches’ night.
In the ancient stories, it was said the witches gathered
around the peak of Brocken Mountain—
highest of the Harz mountains in north central Germany.
Now that’s an interesting mountain.
Because it’s so much taller than anything around it,
it actually has the highest precipitation in northern central Europe,
and is mist, fog, and cloud bound some 300 days a year.

There’s actually something known as the Brocken specter.
Because when the sun is low,
and someone’s standing in the right place on the mountain,
that person’s shadow can be eerily and hugely cast
onto the clouds—against the fog—
you know, some 300 days a year.

Within the passing seasons—
the cycles of life and growth and death,
there is joy and beauty, wonder and love,
and there is what’s scary—
often magnified and eerie.
Life is both gift and risk.
And so we celebrate the longer hours of light,
even as we light our bonfires against the darkness—
even as we gather as community,
acknowledging, I can’t do this on my own.

So it’s appropriate, that in less ancient times,
from 1905 up until 1923, any ship or airplane in trouble,
sent out the Morse code, SOS—
three dots—three dashes—three dots,
but that in 1923, Frederick Stanley Rockford,
a senior radio officer at an airport in London
was asked to come up with a word—one word,
that would clearly indicate someone in trouble—
someone in need of help.
With much of the air traffic at the time coming from Paris,
Frederick suggested the word, “Mayday”—
from the french “venez m’aider”—
venez—“come,” m’aider—“help me.”
M’aider—mayday.

So the very word for today, May 1, Mayday,
represents simultaneously a call to celebrate and a cry for help.
That’s so theological!
That’s baptism, right?
Something so profoundly good and right
the whole universe shifts a little bit—
that is, at the same time, the affirmation,
I can’t do this on my own.
I need God, and I need my community of faith.

When you look to flora in Scripture—not the goddess—flowers—
when you look up flowers in Scripture,
they tend to represent the passing—the temporary—
typically tied to some affirmation, as well,
of the eternal, steadfastness of God’s love,
and, often, affirmation of their breathtaking beauty.

So on this brief, ephemeral passageway we call life,
today—this passing set of hours that is May 1, 2016,
amidst all that is scary and hard,
within the transience of our time,
we celebrate breathtakingly beautiful lives committed to love
that make the whole universe shift just a little bit.
We affirm our need for God and for each other.

We celebrate simultaneously a passing fleeting breath
and eternity within that—
as we reach for the truth of God in the moment—
God’s steadfast love with us always.
That, my friends, is Isaiah’s sermon for us today—
Mayday.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Luke 12:27-28
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory
was not clothed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,
how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!

“turn and face the strange changes,” april 24, 2016

changes

Responsive Call to Worship
Amidst all that is always changing
and the corresponding sense of a lack of control,
we long for what is consistent to hold on to.
We long for something to offer us a centeredness—
an unshakeable foundation—
a calm peace within the storm.
But do we look for that consistency
in familiar forms and structures,
or in an ever growing stronger sense of identity?
Do we need something unchanging
amidst all that’s changing,
or something that, even changing,
remains true to self?
After all, consistency is not constancy,
yet we often mix up our expectations of the two.
To be consistent, we might drastically change,
as the world changes—
and as we do,
while constancy might actually lead to inconsistency.
So let us not over-invest in what does not change
and thus does not grow.
As those called by mystery into mystery,
we trust more than we know,
and we risk more than we know,
and we change as we grow,
even as the great I AM
continues to become more
than we could ever know or suspect
yet remains ever consistent in truth and grace—
in justice and in love.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
It’s been a year of significant losses
in the world of music.
And whether you like their music or not,
David Bowie and Prince both represent
a creative genius that is a vital part of the image of God
as manifest in and through them.
They were fascinating to observe.

Prince wrote so many songs he gave away hits,
wrote with other songwriters,
played on other artist’s albums—
at their concerts,
and had as many different looks as he did albums.
Along with others, I have thought we could do a lot worse
for a call to worship than,
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today
to get through this thing called life.”

And David Bowie, of course, changed personas
like most people change clothes.
Ziggy Stardust
Aladdin Sane
The Thin White Duke
Jareth the Goblin King
Halloween Jack
Major Tom
Of his personas, Bowie himself said,
”They are one shot, they are cartoons
and the Ziggy thing was worth about one or two albums
before I couldn’t really write anything else about him
or the world that I sort of put together for him”
(http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/inside-david-bowies-colorful-personas/story?id=36216413).

These artists were deliberately, intentionally, ever-changing—
from the outrageous to the outlandish.
And some of it, no doubt, strategically had to do with marketing—
from the very practical selling of music
to the visceral connection with people through fascination.
But some of it had to do with freedom and creativity.
And some of it was extremely appropriate and profoundly real.

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of spring break,
I took the girls into DC—the Museum of the American Indian,
the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin.
It was beautiful.
It was the perfect time of the year.

And every year—and throughout every year,
we are witness to truly stunning seasonal changes.
Right now, daffodils have already for the most part come and gone.
Tulips—still some blooming and beautiful.
We’re waiting for the fullness of the azalea, hydrangea, iris.
Pansies are into their last few weeks,
but petunia, vinca, impatiens, marigolds have much longer to flower.
Everything’s changing,
and it’s happening all around us.

Truly, to watch a simple plot of land through the years
(or just through one year),
is to see more outrageous change and color and possibility
than even David Bowie could envision.

And this is true down to the invisible levels.
“You lose fifty to a hundred and fifty strands of hair a day
[I don’t, but you do … most of you],
you shed 10 billion flakes of skin a day,
every twenty-eight days you get a completely new skin,
and every nine years your body is renewed”
(Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God
[New York: HarperOne, 2013] 50).
Every nine years, your body is completely—replaced?
renewed? transformed?
“And yet your body, in the midst of this relentless
shedding and dying and changing and renewing,
continues to remember to be you …” (Bell, 50).

As we follow the stories
and the characters of Moses and Jacob and Joseph,
they are inconsistently arrogant and rude
and thoughtless and brave and careless
and wise and ignorant and foolish and fearful.
They are slaves and leaders and visionaries
and always alternatively respected and rejected.

Yet through it all, they are ever open
to the God with them—
the future unfolding in relation to and with that God—
not always easily—
not always obviously—
arguing, disagreeing, demanding,
but trusting—
holding fast to the story embraced.

Later in the story, Peter is always having to revise
his understanding of Jesus, and so, his understanding of God—
whether that’s recognizing the limitations
of his own understanding of Messiah (Matthew 16:23),
or the limitations of his faith’s food restrictions
and its holiness code—
that get in the way of relationship (Acts 10).
For Peter not to change—to keep changing—not to grow,
would be for Peter to get stuck in what was not true—
or partially true—dimly seen.
In the scriptural story,
we watch him grow into ever deeper truth.
Could we ask for a better model?

We talked about this this past Wednesday night,
and John Roberts loaned me a fascinating book
suggesting how Jesus changed—how Jesus grew—
learned more about himself and his mission
based on where he was—on his context—
moving from the small village—
the small provincial village of Nazareth
to the more open—more progressive—
more inclusive Capernaum—
moving from the Galilee to the northern coast.
And I don’t know how else to read that story
of his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman
other than that she taught him more than he knew
about his own mission.
She corrected the limitations to that mission
his context had grown him up into.
Then again, when he moved from the north to Jerusalem
(Charles R. Page II, Jesus & the Land
[Nashville: Abingdon, 1995] 63, 66, 133).
And Luke, after all in Scripture—as Scripture,
affirms that Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52).

Now it gets interesting.
How about God?
If Jesus changes—learns—grows, does God?
We sing, on the one hand, Henry Lyte’s “Abide With Me”:
“Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me”
(Henry F. Lyte, “Abide With Me”).
Then, on the other hand, as we sang this morning,
Brian Wren’s words: “While others bowed to changeless gods,
they met a mystery: God with an uncompleted name,
‘I am what I will be’”
(Brian Wren, “Deep in the Shadows of the Past”).
A God who changes represents an uncomfortable idea for many—
though there is plenty of Scripture to support that.
God changed God’s mind, we read, consistently through the Old Testament:
in Exodus, 2 Samuel, Jeremiah, Amos, Jonah
(Exodus 32:12-14; 2 Samuel 24:16; Jeremiah 18:8; 26:3, 13; 42:10
Amos 7:3-6; Jonah 3:9-10).

We talked some Wednesday night whether God changes,
or whether our perception—our human understanding of God changes.
Well, there’s no way to answer that, is there?
We hold onto both possibilities honoring the mystery,
but we don’t let either of them go.

All of which brought me back to our rather well known
Ecclesiastes text—
which on one level, is simply true, right?
All of these things listed in Ecclesiastes 3,
they’re are part of human experience.
They are true in that they happen.

Yet there are several elements to this text
which bring greater complexity to what is “simply true.”
As scripture, the named experiences
get an element of divine justification.
I’ve always had trouble with that when it comes to
there being a time to kill—
a time to hate—
a time for war.

To be sure, the juxtaposition of opposites
does not allow God
to be confined to a single understanding.
We affirm the mystery of God beyond us.
Still!

This past week, reflecting on this text,
I wondered about how it divides experience into dualities—
into opposites.
What if that’s not the point?
What if it’s not dualities here in Ecclesiastes 3,
but the range of change inherent to life as it is.
Life is the fullness of experience—
everything between birth and death,
seedtime and harvest, weeping and laughing,
mourning and dancing, love and hate, war and peace.
Not a justification,
a description of what is.

It’s as if the wisdom literature urges us
to accept the wild ride that is life,
and inasmuch as changes,
to trust God both with life and within it.

But when so much changes—
when so much feels utterly out of our control
and is yet significantly changing and affecting us,
what does that mean to trust God?
What do we hold on to?

Some of the Wednesday night suggestions included:
humor, friends, family, and chocolate!
Dark chocolate’s particularly helpful, I have found.
Hold on to someone who’s been through similar changes,
hold on to hope and excitement—
though we acknowledged that hope and excitement
are for change that is hopeful and exciting, and not all is.
What about when it’s not?—
when it was not sought after—
when change was not desired?

We hold on to who we are—
to our identity.
And we hold on to relationships—
our identity in relationship with others—
and we hold on to God—God’s identity—who God is,
and then our identity in relationship with God.

To be sure, there are immense challenges.

After the diagnosis
when life changes so dramatically
we lean into who we are as loved—
loved by family and friends—
loved by God.
it’s not aways easy to do that—
not always obvious how to do that.

And what happens when the change is greater than expected?—
other than that with which you’re comfortable?

Allyson Dylan Robinson was born male—
declared male at birth.
But her sense of self was always female.
It took years of digging into her sense of self,
and her sense of God,
and her sense of self as loved by God
to claim herself.
She was Baylor-educated—Truett-educated,
ordained a pastor in Texas—
going through counseling—
going through surgery.
She is now a re-ordained member of Calvary Baptist in DC.
I’ve gotten to know her a little
through the years of swapping pulpits with Amy.
Allyson actually served as the first interim pastor at Calvary
those first months after Amy left.
Through all the profound changes,
Allyson’s commitment to the love of God—
if you listen to her,
has deepened.
It’s interesting, in various media,
she has been designated the most radical preacher in our country,
but she credits her congregation as being the truly radical ones—
for loving her—
for making her ministry possible—
for celebrating and amplifying the voice of God speaking through her.

What happens when the change is greater than expected?—
other than that with which you’re comfortable?
What do you hold on to?
Could it be love?
Could it be love that changes issues into relationships—
positions into conversations—
and abstraction into hope,
and opens ears to hear the voice of God
from where you never expected to hear it?

Too many people find themselves in a marriage
that over time through work and prayer
does not celebrate and amplify the best of each person
and the best relationship of the two.
No question but that divorce is all too common
a change within married life,
and no question but that it’s often
the easy way out for people who don’t want
to do the hard work of growing together.

But sometimes it’s escape from abuse.
Sometimes it’s consequences of mistakes.
Sometimes it’s growing apart.
And sometimes it’s consistency
with what we understand marriage to be
that this one is not.
Sometimes it’s consistency
with who we understand ourselves to be
compromised in this relationship.
Sometimes that can be redeemed.
Not always.
Always I believe,
the opportunity to grow beyond what’s past.

So I do think it’s some basic fundamental sense of self
that may even itself change,
but maybe that’s more a function of growth—
about insight into truth—
into the implications and consequences of ever greater consistency.

I think we do strive to remain true to the best sense of self we have—
the best sense of God—
the best sense of love—
and then we are ever invited to explore how to love better—
how to love more deeply.

It’s the peculiar genius of David Bowie and of Prince—
and of Jacob and of Peter—
to explore what too many of us too often think we know.
And so they discover—
more.
They don’t always do their exploring
in what I would name the healthiest of ways!
But they model an openness
of which we would do well to take note.

Last week, Greg and our youth led us in thinking
about liminal space—about thin places—thresholds.
So here’s a question,
if God is with us—
as we believe God always is—
if God is with us,
what place is not thin?—
and, if thin, then invitation into ever more?

Again on Wednesday, we talked about whether
church is often perceived as a comfortable place
precisely because it’s perceived as a place that does not change.

If church is where we hold onto identity,
then, as our sense of identity grows,
must not church change too?—
growing and deepening in what it means to be loved
and what it means to love—
growing in what it means to extend grace—
how to exchange blessing?

As we read through the Bible—
Old and New Testaments,
isn’t a key part an unfolding into ever more love—
ever deeper blessing—
being confronted with artificial limits we place on love—
being challenged to bring more love?

When we arrived here in Baltimore,
Sydney was three months old.
A little less than two years later, Audra arrived.
Look at them now.
It was hard to believe back then,
that we could ever love them more than we did
when they were born,
but we do.
You’ve watched the changes with us.
We’ve gone from changing diapers
to arranging and rearranging schedules—
from talking to them about what all they will do,
to trying to keep up.

The longer someone’s married—
the older the children grow—
the more committed the friendship—
the more honest the relationship—
the more it all deepens.
The more love there is.
And the more everybody changes.
George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church since 1989,
speaks of how he has pastored several different churches
in his tenure at Wilshire.
The church has changed.
He has changed.
And they’ve remained in a deepening relationship
because they embrace that change.

Next week, we baptize Isaiah Laich.
Some of you will remember with me dedicating him.
It was Sunday, November 18, 2007.
I carried him around this room,
and we made promises.
We told him about what all he would do
growing up in this church,
and now we can barely keep up!
The most important promises we made had to do with loving him
and always reminding him that God looms behind and within such love.
Through the years those promises have deepened
in being fulfilled.
He has been loved.
He knows himself to be loved—
by us and by God,
and now he has committed himself to such loving.
The story has deepened for him.
He is growing into it.
Has such change been our prayer?

If through those same years the story has not deepened for us—
if through the years the love has not grown for us,
then we have not walked through doors God has opened.
We have led the child.
Did we let the child lead us?

In DC the other week, after the museum and the cherry blossoms,
we went to the Renwick Gallery—
on Kacey Stafford’s recommendation—
an exhibit called “wonder.”
it’s still open, by the way—
some of it closing May 8, some of it July 10.
You have another few weeks.
Nine big rooms—nine works of art—
each work of art as big as a room—
art with changing light and changing color.
I thought about the appeal of such art—
art you can walk through and around and in and under.

And the art is beautiful.
You look both at how it’s put together
and at the whole,
and it’s all magnificent.

We tell a story big enough to walk into—
to walk through and around and in and under—
in which to see the changing of light and color—
the deepening of life and love.
It’s a story big enough in which to grow.
It’s a story that invites us ever deeper
into ever richer truth and possibility
and love and grace.

It’s not an invitation and a prayer—a hope for our children.
it’s an invitation and a prayer—a hope for us all—
always.
And it’s beautiful.
It’s magnificent.
And it’s not closing on May 8!
It’s not over.
It’s never over.
It is not done with us yet.
Thanks be to God.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
John 12:24-26
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there will my servant be also.
Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

march madness: “the madness of systemic racism and the systemic loss of hope,” april 3, 2016

racism

Responsive Call to Worship
We, as those who follow God in the way of Jesus,
are called to incarnate a story
marked by its consistency to who God is,
and so, a story that confronts our times and culture
always illuminating assumptions, priorities,
policies, and ways of being
contrary to who God is.

We are called to deny in affirmation—
to deny what appears to be
in affirmation of what is truly.
It is, for us, this response to God’s call into our faith story,
a matter of choice and commitment.

There are others, we acknowledge, who embody a story
that confronts our times and culture
but not in response to a call—
not as a matter of choice and commitment.
They don’t have a choice.
They are committed
to an alternative narrative to the myths of our days
by the very color of their skin.
Their ethnic heritage marks them as the outsiders
within societal assumptions of identity—
within the cold harsh realities of power and domination—
conquest and exploitation.

Our culture and our country tell their narratives
long built on foundations often called into question now,
but that have nonetheless never been dismantled.
And as long as those in power
reap the benefits that remain to them,
they (we) will choose (tacitly more than explicitly)
those concrete benefits
over the dreams and ideals undermined—
until our supposed identity is nothing but hypocrisy.

We are those called to follow God in the way of Jesus—
called to live into hard truth
over every manipulated narrative
and to live abundantly
ever with passion—ever with grace and truth.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Acts 10:34-48
Then Peter began to speak to them:
‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right
is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent
to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—
he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and with power;
how he went about doing good
and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did
both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;
but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,
not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses,
and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commanded us to preach to the people
and to testify that he is the one ordained by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
All the prophets testify about him
that everyone who believes in him
receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell
upon all who heard the word.
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
had been poured out even on the Gentiles,
for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water
for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit
just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized
in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Witness of the Living Word, i.
So here’s what I’d like you to do today—
to reflect throughout this service
on something you’ve taken for granted that was wrong—
and that in being wrong, made God too small.
When you’ve identified that, whatever it is—
whenever you do (identify it),
I’d like you to tell someone about it—
doesn’t matter who.
And that will be the witness of the living word, i. today.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Today is the final weekend of March Madness,
and it’s April.
So I’d like to point out some deep truth here.

First, at one level, facts don’t matter—
in face of a popular narrative.
It really doesn’t matter that it’s April when it’s March Madness—
and the culmination of March Madness, at that.

Second, and in like manner,
facts don’t matter when it’s a true story,
and the story of Holy Week,
which culminated last week on Easter Sunday
also extends beyond its time frame.

Greg and I were talking back in mid-February
about how we weren’t going to be doing Lent this year,
but how we would be doing Lent
in terms of reflection on truth and commitment,
and how for Lent to be true at all,
it has to be true all the time.
And just so, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday,
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday—
if they’re true at all, are all true all the time.

As we wrap up our March Madness worship series in April,
amidst the various madnesses we take for granted in our culture,
we acknowledge that they, too, were not resolved last week
in Easter celebration—with some kind of resurrection magic—
that the madnesses of our culture extend beyond
even the strongest of faith affirmations,
and so, today, we turn to the madness that is systemic racism.

In our Wednesday night conversations on privilege and racism last fall,
we affirmed that there are more narratives to this country
than the ones most of us know—
though I dare say most of us have grown up with the affirmations
and expectations of a familiar national story.
A story of freedom, right?—revolution leading to freedom—
a story of individual responsibility and opportunity—
the rugged individual who pulls him (usually) self up by his bootstraps
(you know I’ve always thought what was most truthful
about that metaphor was its impossibility!),
but it’s our myth.

And yet in this land of freedom and opportunity,
in which resolute men and women resisted an oppressive monarchy
and bravely explored a new land,
we ruthlessly took the land from those here before us.
The girls and I toured the National Museum of the American Indian
this past week.
We lied and we cheated and we stole and we murdered.
Our treaties became known among the indigenous people as “bad paper.”
That’s a part of our heritage, too.

Then we enslaved people—
whites and browns and blacks, initially.
But it made more sense to concentrate on colored slaves.
They were easier to distinguish when they tried to escape—
no blending in.

By “the onset of the Civil War, … stolen bodies
were worth four billion dollars,
more than all of American industry,
all of American railroads, workshops, and factories combined,
and the prime product rendered by … stolen bodies—
cotton—was America’s primary export”
(Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
[New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015] 101).

Yet from that initial investment of blood, sweat, and tears—
that initial investment from which so much prosperity continues to spring,
those who were the investment watched (and watch)
others reap the benefits.

We love the story of the great melting pot,
but did you know that “[i]n the 175 years
between the Naturalization Act of 1790
and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,
American courts used a vague definition of skin tone
as a primary qualifier for who could and who could not
be a citizen”? (Debby Irving, Waking Up White
and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
[Cambridge: Elephant Room Press, 2014] 50)
In 1922, a Hawaiian business man petitioned for citizenship
but was denied because he was not Caucasian.
So an Asian Indian man appealed to the court,
claiming that “according to scientific classification at the time,
he qualified as a Caucasian” (Irving, 51).
So the white male justices ruled that
“whiteness would, from that point forth, be determined
using ‘the common understanding of the white man’ ….
In other words, white men would decide who was white
and who was not” (Irving, 51).

The term Caucasian, by the way, comes from—anybody know?
Back in the mid 1600s, Jean Baptiste Chardin,
a French jeweler, looking for precious stones in the Middle East
raved about the “beautiful, naked, light-skinned women he saw
in the Caucasus Mountains” (Irving, 42-43)
spanning the present day countries of Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Russia, and Iran.
Caucasus Mountains—beautiful naked women—Caucasian.
Yep. Such a proud heritage.

We’ve mentioned before
of the one million black GI’s who found in World War I,
only “4 percent were able to access
the [G.I] bill’s offer of free education” (Irving, 33).
And between “1934 and 1962 the federal government
underwrote $120 billion in new housing, less than 2 percent
of which went to people of color” … (Irving, 35)
as the FHA (Federal Housing Authority) mapped out neighborhoods
for appraisal purposes according to the skin color of residents.
In a process known as redlining, neighborhoods with residents of color
were outlined in red, with the legend identifying such neighborhoods
as hazardous investment.
Rich suburbs were outlined in green,
corresponding to best investment opportunity.
Blue represented still desirable
and yellow declining (Irving, 33-34).
Factor in blockbusting, lending policies,
highways designed to destroy black neighborhoods
(http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2016/03/31/3765173/anthony-foxx-highway-planning-racism/),
it was a nightmare.
It was just a few years ago.
It’s still going on.

We’ve said it before,
when it’s the bottom of the ninth,
and you’re down by six,
and there are two outs and two strikes,
and you’re playing the New York Yankees,
can you win? Yes.
Will you? Not likely.

We’ve said it before,
anyone can win at the casino. True?
Technically.
But not honestly.

It’s been said before, we are born on third base,
so proud of having hit a triple.

Many of us have also grown up with the affirmations
and expectations of a familiar faith story—
a story that speaks of no partiality amidst partiality—
a story of equality amidst inequities
a story of all created in the image of God—
loved and blessed by God.

How has our faith story put us at odds with our national story—
at odds with our own faith story as it has so often unfolded?
Because it should.

For I rather think, to Jesus’ ears,
we are the recurring nightmare of a story,
in which power, time and time again, has exploited people—
taken advantage of the indigenous peoples of this country,
the Irish, the Chinese, Japanese Americans, Jews,
hispanics, Muslim Americans, women, the poor.
We categorize—we rank—
we take advantage.
Wouldn’t our God be appalled?
Isn’t our God appalled?
And yet our faith story hasn’t, by in large,
been lived into as a counter narrative.

So do we get to claim the best of our story,
when it’s been lived too much in the worst of ways?
I don’t know.
And the question is not so much what story we tell,
as it is what stories we hear—the stories to which we listen.

Last fall, we listened to Mas and Carolyn
and his experience in an internment camp—
their experience as a biracial couple
raising mixed race children.
This given the artificial construct of racial categories.
Most of you probably know,
“there is more genetic variety within racial groups
than across racial lines” (Irving, 44), right?
Genetically, we have more in common with people
who don’t look like us than we do with those that do.
It’s lived experience though it’s not biology.
We listened to Michael and Allison,
and we wondered what life will bring Benjamin.
We listened to Bertha and Melita and Karen
and wondered about their experiences—
about their families—their children—
about Teddy and Christina and Sarah,
and William and Isabel and Henry and Helene.

For the sake of our children,
we must intentionally listen to the unfamiliar stories
and so to hear our familiar ones anew—
and to hear within them what we take for granted—
and what we take for granted as privilege.

If we don’t question our experience,
we won’t question our story.
Or maybe if we don’t question our story,
we won’t question our experience.
What’s most important is to just start questioning!

Our faith story encourages us to question ourselves—
our history—our present—and to even question it.
Former Harvard professor and minister, Peter Gomes,
suggests one could argue the chief victim of the Civil War was the Bible.
(Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible
with Mind and Heart [New York: Avon Books, 1996] 96).
“One of the chief ironies of the conflict over slavery
was the confrontation of America’s largest Protestant denominations
with the hitherto unthinkable idea that the Bible could be divided
against itself. But divided it had been
by intractable theological, political, and economic forces.
Never again would the Bible completely recover
its traditional authority in American culture”
(Gomes, 364).

But divided against itself is another way of saying
it resists from the inside—rejects lies—
resists false witness—even about itself.
It works always to clear distortion, so we can hear
and not get all defensive,
the truth that there are those who tell their children,

“White children who do drugs go to college.
Black children who do drugs go to jail.”
“Don’t wear your hoodie up.”
“Keep your hands where people can see them.”
“No matter how disrespectfully you are treated,
you must remain respectful.”
“Live carefully—live aware.”
“Don’t play hide and seek outside, it might make you look suspicious.”
“Do not take freedom and opportunity for granted.
Know that you can lose either at someone else’s whim.”
“Make sure you have the receipt for the nice bike with you,
if you take it into a nice neighborhood.”—

until we can say, it’s easier for people to be scared of someone else,
and to describe that someone else as scary,
than to admit that there are scary parts of themselves—
parts of which they’re ashamed.

For when we have mothers and fathers
telling their children,
“Freedom is not for you.”
“Opportunity is not for you.”
“Safety is not for you.”
“Your body is not yours”—
as this becomes the story of more and more people
what happens to the story told by fewer and fewer?
Eventually it can only be told defensively—
carefully isolated and protected from truth.
Facts, you see, don’t matter in face of a popular narrative—
which is the narrative of a population—
which is the narrative of those in charge.

Here’s how I see it.
There are a number of stories
draped over reality
in all its unique terriblenesses and its particular wonders—
told around kitchen tables and putting children to bed—
stories draped over reality
with the contours of their plots
supposedly corresponding to truth—to history—
to offer meaning—
an interpretation of events that makes sense—
that imposes an order—that pretends to.

We tell our stories ostensibly to reveal truth.
But they often conceal truth.

And too many of these stories,
told in the name of truth and of history,
hide truths of history—
cover what tellers of that particular story
don’t want to remember—don’t want to acknowledge.
So stories often cover blood—
more specifically the cost someone’s willing for others to pay.
And the suffering are again crucified
to forgive the debts others owe and don’t want to pay.

And so there is something of Jesus
in every loudly denounced scapegoat.
There is something of Jesus
in the silence of every covered truth—
something of Jesus to the poor, to women—
to blacks and muslims and jews—
to japanese americans and native americans—
something of Jesus in those who are rejected—
in what was done to them—
in the way they were treated—
in the way such treatment was justified—
is not remembered—
in stories that serve to offer the assurance of justification
for what cannot be justified
from which too many of us still benefit.

How do we live in the uncovering of stories
and the revealing of truth
and the retelling of new stories?

In an interview, James Baldwin said,
“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.
Insofar as that is true, in that effort,
I become conscious of the things that I don’t see.
And I will not see without you, and vice versa,
you will not see without me.
No one wants to see more than he sees.
You have to be driven to see what you see.
The only way you can get through it
is to accept that two-way street which I call love.”
(James Baldwin, “The Black Scholar Interviews James Baldwin,”
Conversations with James Baldwin [edited by Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt])

It’s April, but it’s still March Madness.
It’s 2016, but it’s so not.
And too many of the stories being told
propagate what was that shouldn’t have been
that will continue to be until enough say enough—
say stop—say we confess—say we’re sorry—
ask if forgiveness can begin the crafting of a new story—
a better richer deeper story.
Isn’t that what we’re called to be about?

It’s something we could learn from the Germans,
and their explicit and public apologies.
“On May 8, 1985, the fortieth anniversary to the day
of the end of the war, [the German president]
said in a speech of commemoration in the Plenary Room of the Bundestag,
“Remembering means recalling an occurrence honestly
and undistortedly so that it becomes a part of our very beings.
This places high demands on our truthfulness” (Gomes, 363).
It’s something we could learn from South Africans
and their Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But we have much to learn and little desire to.
Too many of us and too many of our leaders
are so not invested in truth,
and invested, in truth, in the opposite of reconciliation.

We have such trouble admitting we can learn from others.
Somehow to admit that other countries
may be doing some things better than we are—
doing a lot of things better than we are,
calls us into question.
It’s a self-esteem issue, I get that.
But what’s going almost unnoticed—or at least untalked about—
is a systemic loss of hope—
the loss of hope for us all.

When we were breaking down after the Tenebrae service
and setting up for Easter,
we didn’t, this year, replace the crown of thorns
and the hammer and nails with white gauze.
We covered them—
and, given the material, in such a way that they could still be seen.

On January 14, 1962, in The New York Times,
James Baldwin wrote:
“Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

And “in 1956 Floyd Bryant, a self-confessed ‘sixty-three year old
white man, a Baptist, and a Southerner,’ wrote an article
in The Southern Baptist Review and Expositor
‘Throughout the first sixty years of my life I never questioned
but that Peter’s confession that “God is no respecter of persons”
… referred exclusively to the differences among white Christian persons….
Three years ago (1953) these views were completely transformed.
I became convinced that God makes no distinctions among people
whatever their race …. I exchanged the former views
which I had absorbed from my environment, for the latter views
which I learned from the New Testament” (Gomes, 98-99).

What happens when you discover one of your stories is false?
Well, you admit it.
You name regret and grief; you acknowledge harm done.
You try and make good.
And you let that story go.
You lean into the truth of a better story—
or a better interpretation of the truth of a story.

And there is one story—it’s as bloody as the others,
but it’s about someone willing to pay the cost of his own story.
A story we believe that uncovers truth
and reveals God.

I wish I knew what to tell you to do—
wish there were a list:
here’s how you change the world—make it better—
to undo what’s been done—and too often in the name of God.
All I know to tell you to do
is to always listen to the stories others tell.
And if you believe in the God story as Jesus told it,
to question all stories—
especially your own—
as to whether those stories dignify all persons—
whether they advocate on behalf of all—
whether they prioritize equal justice for all—
whether they include or exclude—
whether they are fearful or graceful.

And with your ears open to all the different stories—
and your eyes open to all the different circumstances—
and your heart open to God,
to open your arms to the world as it is—as it truly is—
and to love it and to love all within it—
above all else,
and to incarnate that love—
so that it is recognized as such,
and who knows what might yet be.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Galatians 3:23-28
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded
under the law until faith would be revealed.
Therefore the law was our disciplinarian
until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
But now that faith has come,
we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,
for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

march madness: “the madness of an unbelievable resurrection and the unbelievable loss of fear,” march 27, 2016, easter sunday

resurrectionriver

(Resurrection River, painting by Krystyna Sikora)

Responsive Call to Worship
We gather at the tomb
of too many of our hopes and dreams.
We gather amidst too much grief
at what and who’s been lost to us.
And yet
we gather to speak words of hope—
to sing words of assurance—
to be told the story again,
that in the end, life wins.
In the end, love wins.
In the end, it is death itself that dies.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed!

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them
were going to a village called Emmaus,
about seven miles from Jerusalem,
and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
While they were talking and discussing,
Jesus himself came near and went with them,
but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
And he said to them,
‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’
They stood still, looking sad.
Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas,
answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem
who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied,
‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over
to be condemned to death and crucified him.
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day
since these things took place.
Moreover, some women of our group astounded us.
They were at the tomb early this morning,
and when they did not find his body there,
they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision
of angels who said that he was alive.
Some of those who were with us went to the tomb
and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’
Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are,
and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
Was it not necessary
that the Messiah should suffer these things
and then enter into his glory?’
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going,
he walked ahead as if he were going on.
But they urged him strongly, saying,
‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening
and the day is now nearly over.’
So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;
and he vanished from their sight.
They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us
while he was talking to us on the road,
while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem;
and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed,
and he has appeared to Simon!’
Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Witness of the Open Canon, i.
“Hallelujah,” Cohen/Ballenger

I heard there was a simple chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord.
Cause You know the truth of music, don’t Ya?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift—
the honest king composing hallelujahs.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

Well your faith was strong, but you needed proof.
You saw him coming from your roof.
Hope and all your dreams they overthrew ya.
Well you joined the crowd and sang along.
You never knew what you said was wrong,
as from your lips he drew the “Hallelujah.”
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

And yes, I’ve been there before. I’ve said the words,
then known the flesh they wore.
I used to think that I’d be loyal to Ya.
But with all I’ve seen, though it might sound harsh, love is not a victory march,
it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

Maybe there’s a God above, but all I’ve ever learned from love
was not to trust in happy ever after.
It’s not a beacon in the night; it’s not someone who’s seen the light.
It’s a cold and it’s a lonely hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

You say I took his name in vain,
but all that hope was never feigned.
And even if it was, well what’s it to ya?
There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter which you heard—
the holy or the broken hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

I did my best; it’s not enough.
The truth of life is it gets tough.
And I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
I was talking with the preachers’ camp folks the other week.
We were looking ahead to Easter—
reminding each other
that come Easter Sunday morning,
we preach—and I do mean we!
Your presence here is part of a great sermon
that is our proclamation of good news.
We preach to someone in the pews who’s pulled it together
just enough to get to church this morning—
maybe for the only time the whole year—
hoping no one notices—
that there aren’t any clues—
nothing to indicate
that it’s all held together so very tenuously.

We preach to someone who hears of Jesus’ death—
of Jesus in the tomb—
and thinks, “That’s me—entombed—dead.
I mean, I sure don’t feel alive—
all hope—all joy—scourged out of me—
any hope pierced with thorns and nails.”

We preach to a new widow wondering what Easter means—
“What does it mean for me—alone now?
And what does it mean for my dead husband—
who is, after all, still dead this Easter Sunday morning?”

We preach to the sick wondering what resurrection means
when their own bodies are working against their health.
We preach to the overwhelmed and the stressed out
who aren’t sure they would recognize good news if they heard it.
We preach to those whose years remind them
there’s so much less time to live than has been lived.
We preach to all of us who have a sense of the fragility of life.

We’ve also been talking a lot over the last year or so,
in general, about our culture of death—
an idea—a phrase I feel has consistently come up
to indicate a prevalent/common/rampant
focus on what does not bring life and life abundant—
an investment in death
that minimizes and cheapens and denigrates and mocks—
as a perspective small enough to see only its own near horizons—
a violently dualistic reduction of beauty and tragedy,
the joyful and the fearful, the truth and its distortions—
into right and wrong and us and them.
So what do we have to say this morning?

And we can weave the affirmation through the service
maybe even the response—
with varying degrees of enthusiasm!
He is risen. (He is risen indeed!)
We can sing the glorious songs of resurrection.
We can sing all the alleluias.
We can proclaim the Easter story—
which is what many of my preaching professors claimed
is all we need to do on Easter Sunday morning.
We can talk about Easter experiences—
resurrection truth—
in our own lives.
But for someone on whom death maintains a stranglehold—
choking hope and life—stifling joy and any sense of anticipation—
for the one barely holding it together—
for the one in deep grief—so lonely—
for the one who feels dead to the world—
who feels the world is dead to her or him—
for the one who knows death is close,
so what?
So he rose. Good for him.
So it’s meaningful to you. Good for you.
What’s it to me—this year—right now?
And as appropriately suspicious as we should always be
of the highly individualistic,
that’s a good—important question.

Do we have a real word of good news today for such as these in our midst?
Do we have an honest word for those of us
who do not know resurrection—
who may desperately long for it,
but can’t relate—don’t believe—
for whom it makes no sense—
for whom it doesn’t ring true—
for whom it is at best a wish-it-were-true fairy tale,
and at worst a manipulative escapist lie.

Not to mention that it’s a given
that most of us as followers of God in the way of Jesus—
a given that even most of us know the truths of death
far better than we do any truths of resurrection,
do we have a significantly relevant word for us—
that is more than, “Oh, it’s Easter; here’s what we’re supposed to say”?—
that is more than just more emphasis on resurrection—
let’s see how much we can say it—
that’s more than more of the same old story—
the same old affirmations of what once happened
that was supposed to change everything,
when everything doesn’t so much feel changed.
And yet it’s not like we’re going to get something more than that—
some amazing undoing of death—
some personal experience of resurrection truth today, right?

It is, in truth, an Easter Sunday preaching bind.
If we move from the triumphal entry last week
to the triumph of Easter this week,
we leave all those mired in death floundering.
But if we acknowledge the pervasively powerful reality of death,
then what do we have to say—
to offer anyone that is, in truth, good news?

There is an immense challenge to both the reality of death
and the truth of resurrection—
both of which have to be affirmed,
if we want to have anything worthwhile to say.

Friday, August 13, 1954
on page 12 of The Victoria Advocate, in Victoria, TX,
there was an Associated Press article out of New York City
I read this past week,
about Mr. Hanns R. Teichert, a Chicago decorator,
who bought a painting in May of that year
from a New York antique dealer for $450—
a 25 by 20 and one half oil on wood
Madonna and child.

Wanting an expert’s opinion on his purchase,
he took it to Dr. Maurice H. Goldblatt,
director of the art galleries of the University of Notre Dame,
who after inspecting it, suggested an amateur
had overpainted parts of the painting—
including parts of the face and neck
to make them look narrower
(I’d like to point out this was long before photoshop!).
Goldblatt recommended removing the overpainting.
The results were, as he put it, electrifying.
With the overpainting removed, it looked to Dr. Goldblatt,
in his expertise, like the painting was done
by none other than … Leonardo da Vinci!
(https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=861&dat=19540813&id=BRdIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7IAMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6956,3535569&hl=en)

So here/hear the truth.
Reality is overpainted in the image of the status quo
and offered to us on the cheap—
overpainted to make it seem more manageable—
in the effort to maintain some semblance of control—
to impose a conformity comfortable to us.

When you consider who we understand God to be,
when you think of the vibrant colors and textures,
the wild diversity of creation—
the celebrations of variations
named good and blessed in the name and in the image of God,
it’s madness—it is madness—to accept anything less than that.
But we do.
And when you embrace such madness,
you embrace its inevitable consequences.
When you vote to open that door,
you don’t get a say in what comes in through that door.

So what we think is real is what is real overpainted
with the passing priorities of ever-changing times—
with the presuppositions and presumptions
of our always limited perspectives—
the assertions and the assumptions associated with our culture—
our economy—our politics—our way of life—
prescribing to and for us a limited life—
circumscribed in familiarity—
risking only small hopes and even smaller dreams.

Reality is now, in truth, so well overpainted
and so taken for granted,
that it takes a drop—a fall—an accident—a tragedy
to gouge—
to scratch away what obscures—
to shock us with the realization that what we accept as real
is obscuring something else—something more.

And when we strip it all away—if we can—
that heavy handed editing by the ministers of the status quo—
if we get below the surface—
if we get to what’s true,
it’s electrifying—
a God-created reality still defined by blessing as very good.

Now it’s certainly not that all we experience is good—is blessing,
but it’s the truth that beneath it all—behind it—beyond it all—
is grace that cannot be denied.

And so it’s the sheer brilliance of Leonard Cohen’s writing:
“There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter which you heard—
the holy or the broken hallelujah.”
In lives holy or broken,
there is grace that cannot be denied—
and love and goodness and blessing—
in hallelujahs meant and hallelujah’s longed for.

You see, I really don’t believe in the loss of fear.
A reality without fears and without tears
is utterly unbelievable to me.
I do believe in facing and overcoming the paralysis of fear—
the priority of fear.
I believe in cultivating a sense of a larger whole—
of which fear is a part—and tears—
of which death is a part,
and in which resurrection is not some external reward
to counter what’s hard—what’s tragic—what’s wrong—
some magical vindication to counter death.
This is a whole—a reality in which resurrection is not even an event in time,
but, rather, an experienced, always in the present participation
in the reality—the truth of God—
the reality—the truth—that informs the whole.

But you have to scrape through the overpainting—
the fear that’s been built up through the years—and the greed,
not the love—
the layering of anger and defensiveness about things that don’t matter,
not grace—
the texture of rejection and smug superiority,
not inclusion.

Joy can do it too—actually—
strip away the veneer—get us below the surface.
But we tend not to think so much about joy.
We enjoy joy,
and so the deeper implications sometimes go unnoticed—
the, “Oh, my God, how rich and beautiful and holy.
Why—how is this not a priority—not the truth?
Why—how is it that we are a culture
of death always overpainting the blessing
that is life?
So that while the fullness of life takes place
within the truth of love and grace and blessing—
that is the truth of resurrection—
that we experience—that we know is true—
in moments of intimacy and honesty and community—
in beauty and in grace,
that we nonetheless reject and deny as what’s fundamentally real—
as many times as the rooster crows
each and every morning.”

I do so believe in the ultimate victory of Easter.
But even that’s been overpainted
in the triumphal tones so easy to hear
of vindication—of we win you lose.
The reality and the victory of resurrection is that it lives amidst defeat.
It lives amidst a world defeated—
overpainted by profits prioritized and by violence mythologized—
by a killing pace and persistent manipulations of fear.
God’s victory lives within people who feel defeated too—
within everyone’s sense of loss and despair—
everyone’s hopelessness—
everyone’s grief and anger—
until breaks through
the truth that we win only when no one loses—
when all are loved and all love—
and the truth that ultimate victory is not a moment in the story of Jesus long gone—
nor a moment yet to come—
in some great gittin’ up mornin’ to come,
but the realization of the truth of God in time—all time.

As a preacher—invested in the integrity of the rhetorical,
pondering matters theological,
I am regularly frustrated—especially this time of year
by the use of cyclical imagery—
the imagery of spring—
even the powerful affirmation of good that can come after hard—
the use of any of that—all of that—
to indicate resurrection—
when it seems to me, there’s a qualitative difference.
That’s such poor overpainting!
Resurrection is not renewal. It’s not rebirth.
It didn’t naturally cycle around on an annual basis
throughout the life of Jesus.
But neither is it, as we tend to tell it,
a singular, unbelievable, impossible happening
(with the caveat that all things are possible with God).
He was dead. He was buried. He is alive.
That’s overpainting too.

Here/hear now the good news.
Resurrection happened long before Jesus.
Resurrection happened long before Easter.
It’s not an unbelievable happening within reality, you see,
but a complete reevaluation of reality—of what’s real.
The reality of resurrection—the truth of resurrection
just became apparent at Easter to those telling our story—
became apparent to them after their experience of death—
after terrible loss—amidst paralyzing grief—
barely holding it together—having given up on hope,
when came the realization,
wait, it’s still all true!

There can be no truth—
there can be no reality
without Jesus.
That’s not how God created reality to be.

For the ultimate truth of Easter is God—
not an event—
who God is—
always has been—always will be—
and so who Jesus was—and is—
and who we are in God—always—
cherished and loved.

And hearts are still strangely warmed
in communion—
in relationship—
in conversation—
in intimacy—
in bread broken and shared—
even amidst the world as it continues to overpaint
and not just in memory—in remembrance,
but in presence—
in participation—
in the truth that is still true,
we are created in love for love to love.

It’s still not anything you’re going to talk yourself into believing.
No one’s going to convince you of it.
But maybe you can ask yourself to keep your eyes open—
to acknowledge wonder and gift, grace—blessing—
how many people smile at you—
how many people are willing to help—
how many people find bigotry and self-righteous exclusion
and moral indignation offensive—
how many people love their children—love children—
and want what’s best for them—
how each day offers gifts—
be it sunny, cloudless, cloudy, foggy, rainy, stormy,
snowy, hot humid cold dry
moderate—
ow many different wonderful things there are to eat
(of course the psalm says taste and see that God is good!
[Psalm 34:8]).
Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me.

It’s not about having to believe in something
you can only define as impossible.
You just have to believe
that what’s real is bigger and richer
and deeper and more whole and more holy than you ever knew—
that God’s blessing is still the most basic,
most definitive truth of creation.
Isn’t that what we want to believe?

And so if you’re barely holding it together,
God loves you—
not in some possible future when you get it all together,
right now—in your effort—in the struggle—
and in what fragile hopes you have.

If you feel more dead than alive,
God loves you—not just in the little bit that keeps you going—
but also amidst your sense of forsakenness.

If you’ve lost your loved one,
God loves you—and your loved one—
as God always has—as God always will—
even within the grief—that devastating sense of absence.

If you live with illness,
the holiness of your days still embraces you
and graces you.

And if you face death—when you face death,
you do so knowing yourself loved beyond time—
you do so remembering the eternal truths you have experienced already.

And if you can’t believe God loves you—
and not just thinking that one day you will believe,
God loves you in the very honesty of your doubt.

There is beneath and behind and beyond it all—
a blessing—
even when things are hard and bad.
“And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”
(Cohen).

In September of 1955, a year after the story broke
of what may have been a da Vinci painting,
overpainted, bought for $450,
The Age, a newspaper from Melbourne, Australia,
followed up, noting that Goldblatt’s suspicions
had been verified by four different art experts in Europe.

Turns out this particular da Vinci painting
was for many years in the French royal collection
(through the reigns of four different kings),
then displayed in a house in Paris,
sold in about 1880,
exhibited in London in 1894.
It “changed hands several times since then,
always being identified as the work of lesser artists”.
sold in 1916 at a New York auction
and then in 1926 it was traded in partial payment
[—in partial payment—]
for a landscape by Maurice Sterne
(https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19550928&id=8gAzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=6JQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6339,4213254&hl=en).

I looked up Maurice Sterne.
I looked up some of his paintings.
They’re not bad.
I liked them.
They’re not da Vinci’s!

So, more than Easter affirmation—
and, my goodness, more than Easter assurance,
my Easter question for you today—my resurrection question—
my faith and my God question—my life question—
why settle,
ever,
for the vision and the work of lesser artists?
Why settle for a reality less than blessed—
less than the goodness of God’s creation—
shot through with resurrection truth?

Don’t settle.
Don’t ever settle.

Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
Pierce Pettis, “Love’s Gonna Carry Me Home

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Luke 24:1-11
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn,
they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
but when they went in, they did not find the body.
While they were perplexed about this,
suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground,
but the men said to them,
‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you,
while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners,
and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’
Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb,
they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna,
Mary the mother of James,
and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
But these words seemed to them an idle tale,
and they did not believe them.

march madness: “the madness of fear terribly exploited and the terrible loss of love incarnate,” march 20, 2016, palm sunday

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Responsive Call to Worship
This the day we remember—
remember and tell the story
of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem—
that time
when the crowds gathered
and called out to Jesus,
“Hosanna! Hosanna!”
“Blessed be the one who comes in the name of God!”—
that time full of deep hope and profound misunderstanding—
of unintended meaning and irony—
that time long ago—
that time so many times since.

This the day we remember—
remember and tell the story
of the Word made flesh
encountering
flesh making words—
words maybe even honest in the moment,
but flesh unwilling to risk itself
for words—
even words of hope—
of love and grace and justice—
words of God.

This the day we remember.
This the day we know.
This time,
may it not be so.

 

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Isaiah 29:13-16
The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment
learned by rote;
so I will again do
amazing things with this people,
shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?
Shall the thing made say of its maker,
‘He did not make me’;
or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,
‘He has no understanding’?

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Every Palm Sunday, I revisit the image
of two parades entering Jerusalem thousands of years ago—
the one from the west—
from impressive Caesarea-Maritime,
the other from the east—
from the village of Bethany.
The one an imperial procession,
from the seat of imperial power.
The other a peasant parade.
The one a display of occupation power,
the other of pilgrims’ hopes.
It’s an image sketched out by Marcus Borg
and John Dominic Crossan
in their book, The Last Week
(Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan,
The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach Us
About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem
[New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006] 2-5).

Pontius Pilate led the one parade
at the head of—well, it’s interesting—
according to another story, as told in Acts,
when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and sent to Caesarea,
he was accompanied by two hundred soldiers,
seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen
(Acts 23:23-24).
I can’t imagine Pontius Pilate would have had fewer
not to accompany one man, but to police Jerusalem
during the Passover festival.
Jesus headed up the other parade on a colt,
dressed in presumably whatever he always wore,
at the head of a group of twelve disciples—
fishermen and tax collectors and a zealot,
accompanied by the other folks on the road
with him into Jerusalem—
pilgrims—peasants—
either down from Galilee or over from Jericho—
some, maybe, who had listened to him teaching—
who had seen him in his interactions with folks,
but others, surely, just pilgrims
on the journey of faith into the holy city.

Borg and Crossan can’t believe
this was possibly happenstance—
Jesus just happened to arrive this way
as Pontius Pilate arrived that way.
They name Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem
a counterprocession (Borg, Crossan, 3)
that looks like “a planned political demonstration”
(Borg, Crossan, 4).

It is without question a stark juxtaposition
of two very different realities.
And it represents a stark contrast and choice
between a theology of Emperor worship—
a theology of power and glory
that serves as a justification of violence—
politically endorsed/culturally accepted—
taken for granted in and by the culture,
and a theology of service and grace—
serving as a justification of love—
questioned, viewed askance, doubted,
but full of hope and transformational possibility.

The one all about peace maintained by the sword
that is more truly, the lack of overt resistance,
that trusts only the power of the sword to instill fear and crush hope.
The other, peace sustained in non-violent resistance to power—
in and through sacrifice that trusts in the power and story of God
to overcome fear and fulfill hope.

This Palm Sunday, we’re now into the excitement of March Madness,
and taking time in our worship
to consider the various madnesses we take for granted—
madnesses we justify—condone—even anticipate—
wondering what sanity we forfeit
in taking madness for granted.

We’ve considered the madness of our for-profit culture,
and the madness of the restless, relentless pace of our culture.
Today, we wonder about the madness
of the consistent exploitation of fear
and the corresponding loss of a sense of love that casts out fear
(1 John 4:18a).

Some of you may remember
when we did March Madness before
and had brackets and matched Jesus up
against various priorities and realities of our day.
On Good Friday, the final match up
was between Jesus and fear—
not Jesus and power, Jesus and Satan, Jesus and money.
I’m still proud of that.

Prevalent in our society—
it’s part of the fear—
going hand in hand
with the myth of redemptive violence,
is the myth of scarcity
in a world of abundance.
We live in fear—
are encouraged to live in fear,
that there’s not enough—
that we won’t get enough—
that we won’t get ours,
which is particularly sick
in a culture like ours in a world
in which over half the population—over 3 billion people
subsist on less than $2 a day
(Michael Schut, ed., Money & Faith:
 the search for enough
[New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2008] 13 and 18).
“[T]he average amount of pocket money for American children—
$230 a year [my daughters are now doing math!]—
the average amount of pocket money for American children …
is more than the total annual income
of the world’s half-billion poorest people”
(in Michael Schut, ed., Simpler Living: Compassionate Life:
a christian perspective
[New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1999] 24).

Walter Brueggemann makes no bones about it,
“We must confess that the central problem of our lives
is that we are torn apart by the conflict
between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance
and the power of our belief in scarcity”
(Walter Brueggemann, in Schut, Money & Faith, 11).

We tell the story of a parade through history—
a parade described in our sacred texts
that begins with a liturgy of abundance and blessing—
a parade full of songs of assurance—
of providence—of God providing.
Do we trust the stories we tell, in truth—
or not?
That is the question.

Jesus did.
He came down from the Mount of Olives,
plunging into the fierce, strong currents
of “the whirlpool of popular misunderstanding”
(Shusako Endo, A Life of Jesus
[New York: Paulist Press, 1973]108)—
the so easy to accept misperception
of God recreated in the image of Caesar—
all mighty—all powerful—
ruling by decree—turning history upside down.
It’s part of Passover hopes, right?
Remember when God intervened in history
defeated Pharaoh
led us into freedom—
provided food for us through the wilderness—
always just enough for one day, of course—
never enough to keep—to hoard—
and then established us in our own land—
a land of milk and honey?
We want God to do that again
defeat Caesar—
return to us our land and our freedom—
the prosperity of old.

Jesus entered Jerusalem
to confront the story accepted, but not true—
too shallow for truth—
too small—too easy.

Our whole approach to worship this year,
is premised upon the idea that our faith, and so our worship,
confront the stories of our world and our culture—
confront in contrast—
in stark juxtaposition—
that our faith, and so our worship,
present us with a stark choice—
which parade—which story—which God?

And we should note
there are always representatives of the religious institution
in Caesar’s parade—
always those understandings of God
more like Caesar than Jesus.

So I invite you to imagine Pontius Pilate this morning—
an impressive figure, I’m sure,
bedecked in ceremonial garb or armor,
leading a selected to be impressive
contingent of military resources and personnel—
representing those who conquer by might.
And I invite you to hear the implicit message of this parade:
“Be afraid!
Be afraid of who we protect you from,
or be afraid of us.
We don’t really care.”

And I invite you to consider the fact
the there are those in our country
who feel that way about our military,
and others who feel that way about our police.
Not everybody.
Maybe not even most of us.
But too many.

There’s an irony that those who so prominently display their weapons
and their aggression
unintentionally reveal their fear
and their investment in fear.

Imagine in contrast, Jesus.
And what do you hear when you try and hear his message?
“Fear not.”
Oh, it’s not that there’s not a lot of which to be afraid.
It’s that God is with you.
And shouldn’t that assurance bring with it a measure of comfort?

Since his death, I’ve been rereading some Pat Conroy,
I was struck last week
by this sentence: “It was not that the other prisoners
were godless men that disturbed [him],
but the fact that their belief in God
gave them so little comfort”
(Pat Conroy, Beach Music
[New York: Dial Press, 2009] 760).

To look at Jesus is to see assurance—
one comforted through it all.
Certainly not always comfortable through it all.
Confident though—
enough to see it through—
assured enough for integrity and consistency.

So here’s something I’ve been mulling over in recent weeks.
I believe one of the critical challenges facing the church today
is the expectation of consistency—
the expectation people have—especially those not of the faith—
the expectation of a consistency with Jesus.
Because just a cursory reading of the gospels—
just a familiarity with them—
even just a vague, culturally informed understanding of Jesus,
is enough to have a sense of who Jesus was—
what his life was about—
what his priorities were—and would be.
And then it’s fairly easy to extrapolate—
it’s fairly obvious—
if someone’s rejecting people on the basis of race or ethnicity,
that’s not what Jesus would do.
So when followers of Jesus do,
what does that do to the witness of the church?

Jesus would not support a Farm Bill or a trade agreement
that protects wealthy landowners
at the expense of the poor of another country.
So when followers of Jesus do,
what does that do to the witness of the church?
Jesus would not condone hate speech.
Jesus would not denigrate people—
especially people challenged by various circumstances of their lives.
Jesus would not mock people—
least of all the poor or the otherwise marginalized.
Jesus would not build a wall.
Can you imagine Jesus trying to silence someone?
Shouting over them?
You don’t have to overthink any of this, right?
Anyone disagree with any of this?
So when followers of Jesus support what Jesus would never do,
and everyone knows Jesus would never do,
what does that do to the witness of the church?

Jesus would never work to ensure the extremely wealthy
get more and more and more
while children go hungry.
Can anyone really imagine otherwise?
Jesus would never condone the use of drones to kill people—
never accept “collateral damage”—
never gut social programs that benefit the poor
in order to give businesses making millions tax breaks,
or to give the military more money than it even requested.
I’m not sure what Jesus would think
of over 50% of our national budget going to the military anyway.
I can’t imagine him ever celebrating having killed the enemy.

We can make arguments for some policy—some political necessity—
we can justify it,
but not in the name of Jesus.
And even those who know just a little bit about Jesus,
know that.

I’m not making any kind of partisan point here.
I’ve carefully referenced politicians and policies from both parties.

And I know, we’re not voting for Jesus.
Jesus is not running for president.
I don’t think Jesus could.
There are things we expect of our president
Jesus would never do.
What does that do to the witness of the church?
And yet, honestly, if I don’t expect our leaders to act as Jesus—
“Well, in this world of ours,
that’s just not a realistic expectation—
given the problems and choices leaders face,”
then why, when it comes right down to it,
given the problems and choices I face,
would I expect me to act as Jesus?

Wendell Berry writes, “The great obstacle is simply this:
the conviction that we cannot change
because we are dependent upon what is wrong.
But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do”
(Wendell Berry, in Schut, Money & Faith, 11).

It is incumbent upon those of us who identify ourselves
as followers of God in the way of Jesus, is it not?—
not just to be able to indicate how our choices for leaders
resonate in significant ways with Jesus,
but to also acknowledge the ways
in which they do not.
Because everyone knows what Jesus stood for,
and the world is looking at us (followers of Jesus)
wondering about consistency.

Now there are those, more than a few,
who think Jesus should just stay out of politics—
as should those who follow him.
But he made his way into Jerusalem
as a pointed political statement.
I will not fear.
Nor will I accede to those who use fear—who exploit fear.
Mine is not a God who seeks your fear.
So I will love—whatever the cost.

It’s still Palm Sunday.
It’s always Palm Sunday.
And there are two parades.

As they wind through life,
through the very particulars of life—
all the day to day circumstances we face,
even today—the problems—the choices—
no one has any doubt as to where Jesus would be—
just doubts as to where Jesus’ followers are.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Mark 11:1-10
When they were approaching Jerusalem,
at Bethphage and Bethany,
near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples
and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you,
and immediately as you enter it,
you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden;
untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you,
“Why are you doing this?” just say this,
“The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’
They went away and found a colt tied near a door,
outside in the street. As they were untying it,
some of the bystanders said to them,
‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’
They told them what Jesus had said;
and they allowed them to take it.
Then they brought the colt to Jesus
and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut in the fields.
Then those who went ahead and those who followed
were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Matthew 26:14-16
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’
They paid him thirty pieces of silver.
And from that moment
he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.