Archives: 4 Easter

She Restoreth My Soul

Today is a day for taking a risk from the pulpit, so here I go.

But I am able to take this risk because Robert took a risk today with the offertory anthem he chose.

And Robert took the risk because someone at our grad school took the risk to use this anthem in the chapel services we both attended.

And the chapel worship planner took the risk because the author of the anthem text, Bobby McFerrin, took the risk to write it.

And he took the risk to write it because of the witness of his mother. She took the risk to have a child, to influence her child deeply with her love, and it led, through a chain of courage, all the way to this pulpit today.

So what’s so risky about this anthem?

Well, it takes what is very likely the best known and most beloved text in the Bible, the 23rd Psalm, and changes the pronoun for God in it.

Instead of “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters,” you will hear the choir sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows, beside the still waters she will lead. She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in a path of good things, and fills my heart with songs. Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land there is nothing that can shake me, She has said She won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand. She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes. She anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows. Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me, all the days of my life, And I will live in her house, forever, forever and ever.”

For some of you, calling God “She” will not be at all troubling. It will be beautiful and inspiring and even comfortable and familiar.

For others of you, it will be distinctly off-putting. You won’t be able to connect to it at all, and you’ll be wondering if it’s really okay to change the Biblical text like this.

Many of us fall somewhere squarely in the middle.

We’ve heard of the practice, we understand theologically that God is much bigger than our paltry human concepts of gender, but actually praying to God our Mother?

We do that pretty rarely, if at all. I mean, why would we? Continue reading

“I Am The Gate,” But You’re Not Going to Like It

They say you preach the sermon you most need to hear, and today I’m definitely writing from a place where I need to hear a good word.

Every week I talk with two colleagues about the lectionary texts and we brainstorm sermon ideas together. We had a good conversation and came away with a solid direction on how to work with John’s gospel this week.

My week turned out to be busier and crazier than I anticipated, and it’s only now, on Friday afternoon, that I’m getting to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be.

And by today, rather than the confident theologian I was a few days ago, I’m finding that I’m the one who needs to receive a message of grace and hope.

A former parish of mine had some tough news this week, and along with being very sad for them, it brought up all my emotional unfinished business around my time there.

I honestly thought I had laid a great deal of that to rest, but life has a sneaky way of reminding you of your feet of clay any time you start to really get comfortable and secure.

So let’s go to the text together and ask to be taught, to be healed, to be loved.

What we notice first is that of all the Good Shepherd Sunday texts (years A, B, and C) this gospel is by far the most abstract.

Jesus clearly has something he wants to communicate to us, but his layers of symbolism are so dense that it’s difficult to understand what he means beyond the obvious.

In fact, John even tells us outright that this one is going to take some drilling down: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

Traditionally this text has often been used as a means of exclusion.

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.”

People have used this saying to enforce false boundaries to shore up their own power, labeling as the proverbial “thieves and bandits” anyone who is “unorthodox,” whether that means you have the “wrong” gender, sexuality, race, doctrine, belief, politics, liturgy, etc.

“Not everyone is going to get saved,” is the message the powerful have sometimes taken out of this text.

“Jesus doesn’t love everyone,” is the subliminal but far more honest attitude underlying the pious concern for being “correct.”

Today I find myself reflecting on a time when I was enforcing boundaries in the way I thought was right, and some other people were challenging those boundaries in a way they thought was right.

We ended up calling each other “un-Christian” and our relationship broke apart.

We each insisted we were the rightful gatekeeper and the other was the enemy, the thief and bandit.

The result was disastrous, and I know we all carry our wounds from those days even yet.

What I think I realize more consciously now is that the farther we are driven into anger, fear and woundedness, the harder it is to see any shades of subtlety. Continue reading

Want Transformation? Try An Upper Room

The Architecture of Transformation. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Our first scripture is from the Book of Acts, and you could be forgiven if it’s not one of the ones you have memorized by heart.

It’s the story of a woman named Tabitha, also called Dorcas, and her life and death as a disciple.

She was given the name and title of disciple, mathetria in Greek, and she’s the only woman given that title in the entire New Testament.

The community is convulsed with grief at her death. They clearly relied on her for leadership and service.

She mattered to them, deeply.

And so when she dies, the saints notify the leader of the entire fledgling Christian community, Peter.

Peter drops everything and comes to Joppa.

He finds her sisters in faith grieving deeply. They show him the evidence not just of her good works, the clothing she has made for the poor, but of how much she meant to them.

They struggle to see how they can go forward without her.

Peter sees how pivotal this female disciple was, this leader of the Joppa church, and he sends the mourners away.

He prays, and then he calls her by her name to rise up, and she does. She comes back to life.

No doubt the church and the entire community were overjoyed, and the text says that many people came to believe in Jesus after having heard about this event.

So that’s the basic story. But I want to call your attention to where this miracle occurs. Continue reading

Worth the Death of God

Today we’re going to talk about something difficult.

Today we’re going to talk about sacrifice.

Sacrifice is hard to talk about for three reasons: first, because it can be taken to an unhealthy and exploitative extreme, second, because we don’t want to do it ourselves, and third, because it’s hard to accept on our own behalf. We’ll work our way through these problems with sacrifice one at a time.

Sacrifice is what our lessons are about today.

It is described in a vivid, elegant and emotive phrase.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus says.

In our text from 1 John, we read, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

What does it mean to lay down one’s life for another?

In the most basic and obvious sense, it means to die.

But not just to die randomly and pointlessly, but to die with purpose.

To lay down one’s life for someone is to voluntarily accept death that another might live.

That is terrifying to imagine.

Our lives are what we defend most aggressively.

There are few biological instincts more powerful than simple self-preservation.

The will to live is built into our very DNA, our primitive lizard brains will take over to help us defend ourselves in case of danger.

To lay down one’s life for another is to override one’s own humanity for something greater.

It is to defeat biology for an abstract idea.

Paul recognizes how difficult it is. In Romans, he says, “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.”

And Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

It is never something that happens by accident.

It is a choice, and it is a choice with a cost. Continue reading

God Our Mother

I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t want to preach “The Person Who Went to Seminary Sermon.”

This is a sermon I’m sure you all have heard before, maybe from me and I didn’t know it.

This is the sermon with fancy words like “soteriology” and “the eschaton” in which the preacher just has to show off the fantastic theological concepts she has learned and is sure are very, very relevant to everyone if she could just make them see it.

This is the sermon that sounds vaguely like a term paper and might even have footnotes and definitely drops names like Karl Barth.

The eager preacher rushes on earnestly, unaware of the glaze creeping over the faces of the congregation as they stop trying to care about hypostatic union of three persons in one godhead.

Well, like I said, I didn’t want to give that sermon but I think there must be some kind of law that everyone does it at some point.

But I don’t think you’ll find it boring because I think some of you may find it a little controversial.

This is not a dull theological concept, it’s an innovation in prayer that I found quite shocking myself the first time I heard it.

No doubt some of you are already very comfortable with it and others of you will leave here today thinking it’s a load of junk, but I hope many of you are like me—skeptical but willing to hear it out.

I knew that today was the day I must talk about it of all days.

Today I’m going to talk about taking prayer to God the Father and adding to it something new: prayer to God our Mother. Continue reading