Archives: 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

Enough With the Miracles Already

The status quo is the most powerful force in the world.

And sometimes it seems like Jesus’ mission is life is to break up the status quo, to challenge it, to upend it, to hit us over the head with how very un-normal life with him is.

And we kind of hate it.

Consider our stories today from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. They are marked with fear and astonishment at the miracles being witnessed.

In the Book of Acts, Peter and John are going to prayer, and in the name of Jesus Christ they heal a man who cannot walk.

“All the people saw him walking and praising God,” Acts says, “and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.”

The same thing happens in our gospel story, tinged with even more intensity.

“Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Even the very people who walked with Jesus on earth, who saw him perform miracles every day, kept getting caught off guard.

Why?

You would think after walking around with him for three years, seeing the healing and the feeding and the walking on water, they would be a little more adjusted to living among the miraculous.

Especially after Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead.

Jesus wants an answer to the same question.

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he says.

The truth is that we don’t want to live in a miraculous world because that would force us to give up control. Continue reading

A Week Late to the Resurrection: Wounded, Stubborn, Alive

Today, the first Sunday after Easter, is traditionally known as Low Sunday.

That’s a tremendously unflattering nickname for us as the Church.

Last week we presented the triumph of the church year.

We announced to the world the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Jesus died and rose again to new life for love of us.

And the result is that the next Sunday is the lowest attendance of the whole church year, all the way across Christendom.

Ouch.

Was it something we said?

It may well have been. Continue reading

Easter: Fools For Christ

April Fools’ Day is actually the best possible day for Easter. Why?

April Fools’ Day is a tradition with deep folk roots in many European countries.

In fact, we can even point to a special Anglican flavor of it—it is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Today we know April Fools’ Day as a time to pull pranks, trying to make someone look like a fool and be embarrassed.

Some people love practical jokes and think of them as all in good fun. I personally hate them and hide away from the world on the first of April for fear of falling prey to one.

But there is another tradition of foolishness that is deeply rooted in Christian theology. It goes all the way back to Paul himself. Continue reading

92% Foolishness and 8% Wisdom

Okay, folks, we’ve got some tough scriptures this week, so we’re going to have to go deep into a symbolic interpretation to find some application for our spiritual lives.

At least, that’s the way I feel. You may count Acts 1 and John 17 among your favorite scriptures in the Bible, in which case, please share with me what you take away from them.

Because for me, Jesus in John 17 is borderline incomprehensible, and I, much to my shame, feel myself glaze over about halfway through this passage.

And verses 6-14 of Acts 1 just strike me as this blend of the awkward and the supernatural, and I’m just really not sure what I’m supposed to take away from it.

But never let it be said that we shy from mining our scriptures to their depths, so let’s dig in.

Honestly, maybe it’s a blessing that we’re confused by this scene in Acts of Jesus ascending to heaven, because I think that actually really puts us right in the shoes of the disciples.

Think about how they must be feeling at this moment.

Jesus, in an earth shatteringly unexpected turn of events, arose from the dead forty days ago.

Six weeks is in no way long enough to adjust to reality breaking apart like that, and they’re probably still stumbling around in a daze.

Maybe they’ve just really started to accept that Jesus is back, that their beloved friend who died a torturous death is alive and with them again.

The guilt and pain and panic that consumed them on Good Friday have finally started to ebb away.

They’re tentatively starting to rely on having him with them again, alive and breathing, his heart beating and his eyes shining with gentle love.

Now, seemingly out of the blue, they see him lifted on a cloud to heaven.

Why is he leaving them? He just returned! How could he do this to them?

How could he do this to us? Continue reading

Questioning Evangelism

Today we grapple with the knowledge that God is both the problem and the solution, the search and the treasure, the hunger and the sustenance that lie at our very core.

It is God for whom we long most deeply, God whom we sometimes find it so difficult to feel and perceive, and it is God who is the endpoint of all our journeys, in this life and the next.

Remember the algebraic equations that made your 5th hour class a living hell all the way through eighth grade?

They all had some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers followed by the dreaded phrase: “Solve for x.”

God is the x hiding in the string of letters and numbers and the x in the final worked out solution.

But we are forever thinking we have reached the solution only to discover it leads to another question. Continue reading

What Is Martyrdom, Really?

The gospel that we read today will be most familiar to many of us as “the funeral text” because that is how we most often have heard it.

I would say that for close to 80% of the funerals I have done as a priest, the family has chosen this gospel for the service. There is clearly something deeply comforting in it.

It is often called for shorthand “the many mansions” text for the older language translation of Jesus saying, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.”

What we notice this week is that someone does die in our assigned texts. We have the martyrdom of Stephen in our lesson from Acts.

What if we considered this gospel as the reading for Stephen’s funeral?

How would that affect our understanding of it?

And how would it affect our memories of the loved ones we have buried with these words echoing through the worship space?

Stephen is important because he is the first person who really follows Jesus all the way to the end of the story.

He followed Jesus in life, and he ends up following Jesus into death, persecuted and killed by people who cannot bear the searing and life-changing truth of the gospel message.

For most of Christianity we have settled for worshipping Jesus rather than following him.

That is quite possibly because following Jesus can and does have rather dire consequences, as Stephen finds out.

Our other tendency is to glorify literal martyrs such as Stephen, and there certainly is much to admire in people who are able to give up their physical bodies to die for Christ.

But it can become an outsourcing of the necessary death that we must undergo in our own lives, before we physically die, if we truly wish to follow Jesus into resurrection.

What does it really mean to be a martyr?

And is it a calling we all share, or the province only of the rarefied saints like Stephen? 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

Seven Miles From Jerusalem, Chased Down By Jesus

As you all remember, the Road to Damascus is the story of when the Apostle Paul had a vision of Jesus and was so overcome by the glory that he was knocked off his horse and went blind.

The Road to Damascus moment is an incredibly vivid and immediate experience of God that instantly changes your life forever.

Many people in the Bible have Road to Damascus moments besides just Paul. Moses sees the burning bush. Isaiah is taken into God’s throne room. The shepherds tending their flocks by night are overwhelmed by the heavenly host of angels.

Each of these is a life-changing experience of God that floods the senses and sets one’s soul ablaze with the Holy Spirit.

But we aren’t studying the Road to Damascus moment in our Gospel lesson today.

We’re given the Road to Emmaus.

The Road to Emmaus is the polar opposite of the Road to Damascus.

The Road to Damascus is marked by suddenness, awe, intensity and clarity.

The Road to Emmaus is shadowed by fear, uncertainty, grief and delay, and the final, healing understanding comes only in the aftermath. Continue reading

Easter Day: Back to Galilee

“He is risen! Alleluia! Now get back to work!”

That seems to be the message from the angel in the Gospel of Matthew text that we read today.

There are a great many shocking things happening in this story—an angel, an earthquake, the guards collapsing comatose in fear and astonishment.

But the angel has a very straightforward and pragmatic message along with the stunning news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. “Return to Galilee.”

What does that mean?

Well, we have a choice as to what it means.

It means, first of all, to return to where it all began.

Galilee was where the disciples lived when Jesus called them.

It is where Jesus began his ministry.

The reality is that the disciples have to return to Galilee no matter what. But they have a choice as to what it means for them.

Are they returning to Galilee because Jesus’ life and ministry ended with his death?

Will they give up and go home?

Will they leave this part of their lives behind them and go back to normal, responsible family and community life?

If they disavow Jesus, they could probably get their old jobs back.

They could pick up their fishing nets, embittered, cynical, and angry at Jesus, who promised them everything and then got himself killed, but secure and comfortable in the old, familiar ways.

Or they could accept and experience the Resurrection. Continue reading