Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon: The Kingdom cuts slantwise

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind
—Emily Dickenson

         One of the shibboleths of poets—one of those phrases repeated mainly to make other people feel like they don’t belong, is the phrase, “Poetry is truth told” …sideways or slantwise, italicized or Dickenson’s own abrupt “slant.”—Poetry is truth told slant…
         Its about looking at things differently—speaking or writing in such a way that a truth, often common, is re-captured, is heard again, is allowed to be discovered for the first time, even though it was discovered long ago.

         And Paul too is some kind of poet—a poet of the Kingdom of God—reminding us that the Kingdom cuts slantwise. The Kingdom cuts slantwise.

The Kingdom cuts slantwise.
         Paul’s advice to the Corinthians sounds strange:
Married folk, be like you are single.
Joyful people & mourning people—quit that!
Rich people, be poor.
Worldly folk—find a new naiveté.

         What is Paul on about?
         Paul’s experience of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything for him…
His world was blown apart.
Every category he’d held dear was cracked open in new ways.
         You see Paul’s world was one filled with Antimonies—this is a word almost exclusively used by people talking about Paul—so don’t worry if you’ve never heard it before.
         Antimonies are sets of opposites that make up our world.
         For example, in Paul’s time the big ones were—Jew/Non-Jew, Law Following/Law Breaking, Male/Female, Free/Slave, Flesh/Spirit.
         Maybe to make sense of this idea we could try some other Antimonies: Night/Day, Sacred/Secular, Local/Global, Urban/Rural, Online/Offline…
         In other words, categories that we tend to believe can either be A or B, and there is nothing in between…
all these things construct our known world,
Realities that ground us in the world,
that allow us to make sense of our lives,
that give us boundaries and borders.

And Christ crashed into all these categories of Paul—the Kingdom of God that Christ is bringing about—the New World, the New Age of Christ—split his world in a new way.
The only dividing line that remains is Spirit of Christ/Spirit of the Old Age….
It is like fire—it melts all these Antimonies down and then cuts them a new way—The Kingdom cuts slantwise.
There is a kind of poetry to it—trying to discern what fits into the Old World and what fits into the New World of Christ. Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of the Old Age.
Paul assumes the Kingdom is in the process of breaking in, and everyone will be able to see these changes clearly, really soon!
And so, he looked to the antimonies Married/Single, Joyful/Mournful,
—and, like an expert butcher, he glides his blade along the bone… and then he cuts to the quick
—all these categories are dissolving, hold to those things which will not pass away.
When it comes to relationship status—where is Spirit?
When it comes to Emotional outlook—where is Spirit?
When it comes to matters of wealth—where is Spirit?
When it comes to engaging the powers of this world—where is Spirit?
The Kingdom cuts slantwise.

So too Jonah, he has judged that there is an unchangeable distinction—an Antimony—between Jerusalem and Nineveh
—but God throws him into the center of Nineveh and provokes him to poetry
…5 words in the Hebrew
—and everything changes
—the Ninevehites as loved as Jerusalemites
—the distinction is not Jerusalem/Nineveh, but Those-who-repent/Those-who-do-not. The Kingdom cuts slantwise.

As for those fishermen, they assume you can be a disciple of a famous rabbi or a fishermen—Disciple/Fisherman are the categories—the Antimonies, unbeknownst to themselves, that they secretly hold
—but God’s Kingdom comes near in Jesus Christ
the Kingdom cuts Slantwise
and they find themselves refashioned into Fishers-of-Men, of people.

         The Kingdom cuts Slantwise—but it is a long cut—a continuous one…
I think the Apostle Paul, 1,960 years ago—assumed the Kingdom would be revealed soon
         In fact, that urgency we find in his poetry—the urgent idea that the Christian communities he started were the early adaptors—they were living together Spirit-wise and soon enough all those divisions they were reforming,
all those categories they were looking at anew
—would themselves transform
—that the Old Age would pass away and the New Age would be here

… Perhaps Paul didn’t account for the fact that Old Age / New Age itself is an Antimony
… Suppose Christ is tricky like that!

         At any rate—I’d Imagine he wouldn’t have dreamed we’d still be struggling to discern how the Kingdom cuts, nearly 2000 years later.
         For that matter, I’d imagine he’d never have dreamed of the antimonies running around in our culture and worldview,
colonizing our hearts and souls.
         But here we are, wetting our fingers with baptismal water and the word—community and communion,
that we might lift it up and discern the Spirit, take the rough categories we have constructed ourselves or had bequeathed to us, and cut them slantwise.

         Like the Disciples—those Fishermen come, Fishers of Men, we too can question assumptions about our own limitations
—maybe the categories new mother and menopause can melt, and be transformed into foster-parent.
Maybe we’ve created the antimonies Out of Work / Useful never the two may meet
—and the Spirit springs forth something new and life giving—volunteer, veterans advocate, and voter registration captain. The Kingdom cuts Slantwise

         Or like Jonah, there are barriers between people, Jerusalem / Nineveh—and we’re called, as repairers of the breach, to discern differently!
The Apostle Paul would never have imagined, for example, the color of a person’s skin would directly correlates to life expectancy like it does today in our country—here in the US there is a 4 year gap between black and white Americans—14 years if the antimony College Graduate / Not College Graduate is added into the mix—
These are Antimonies so disturbing the ancient world, with all its horrors, would have been bowled over by.
That’s just an example of an antimony in our world—I’m sure each of you can think of a few more—just open a newspaper or go on google
—how can we as followers of Jesus—fishers of people
—interpret division differently?
         For Jonah it wasn’t about city, but repentance
—how might we re-imagine our divisions,
cut through our culture’s assumptions?
Tell a better story,
write a better poem,
and live life like its true,
so that it might be!
The Kingdom cuts Slantwise

          With all appropriate apologies to Emily Dickenson…
The Kingdom cuts Slantwise
The Kingdom cuts Slantwise
So stay awake, keep your candles alight.
Divisions are serious, who lives / who dies!
Gotta ask where would the Spirit spilt it?
Ask are A’s actually different than B’s,
Face that head on! You won’t faint.
Look again, at this world’s Antimonies,

And tell all the truth but tell it slant.


Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A Reading of the Apostle Paul

Pre-Damascus Paul: “I have everything figured out. There is an answer to any question under the sun within my rigorous version of the Jewish tradition—it is all found in the Law of God. This certainty is worth defending, even with torture, violence, and murder. 
For example, these so called “Followers of the Way” believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the blessed one of God. That can’t be true, for it is written in Deuteronomy 21:23: “All who die upon a tree are cursed.” (Deut. 21:23) So Jesus can’t be God’s Blessed One, for he died accursed. The Way must be destroyed by all means necessary!”

Post-Damascus Paul: “The risen Jesus revealed himself to me… he is the Blessed One of God! I misread the Law… I got it wrong… What if the Law itself got it wrong? In light of Jesus, can the Law be a meaningful category, does it have any power? 
My God… this is a whole new world—none of the categories work… this Jesus stuff is God’s invasion of the world… a new age… the start of God making all things new… what does this mean?”

Paul after reflecting upon all these things for a while: “It seems that the old world that is dying away was filled with duality and division. All categories and powers both Jewish and Pagan (wait… those two categories even no longer work! Holy Cow!) are being pulled apart and put together again in a new way! Free/Slave, Jew/Greek, Man/Woman, Flesh/Body… even my beloved Lawful/Unlawful those are old and passing away! 
All the categories were infected with the parasite Sin and Death… even my beloved Law was infected—a good thing used to a bad end… all people signed themselves over to Sin as slaves. 
But now Sin and Death are defeated by Christ. The slave contract is only valid with living people, but people died with Christ, and are resurrected into a new contract—adoption papers into God’s household. 
As for all the powers and categories of the world—they are being filled with Spirit instead of Sin… The Spirit of God replaces and scrambles all those other categories; Spirit of Christ/Spirit of the Old Age is really the only question we have to ask. Jew/Greek, who cares, the question is Spirit of Christ/Spirit of the Old Age? I have to spread this news by all means necessary! We’ll form communities to live reconciled lives together in the Spirit and that will help reform the Powers of the old age for when God brings about the Age of Christ. It is here and it is coming soon!

Paul having to deal with people: 
“Jewish Christians are insisting male Gentile Christians need to cut off the tip of their penises? Those who say that might as well cut the whole thing off.” (Galatians 5)
“Gentile Christians think a new age means they no longer need to honor the marriages they had in the Old Age and are marrying their mothers? That’s not what I meant at all!” (1 Corinthians 5)
“At communion rich Christians are eating fine food while the poor eat a little wafer and go hungry? How does that reflect the Spirit of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 11)
              “A Free Christian owns a slave who converted to Christianity… I’ll use Greek Rhetoric to shame him into freeing him… there is no way later Christians could misinterpret what I’m saying and justify slavery... I mean the New Age of Christ will be here any minute.” (Philemon)
              “Everyone is getting so caught up in Spirit that you are interrupting one another and women are speaking… this is disgraceful.” (1 Corinthians 14)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Luthermatrix 2017

So, as I try to do, I thought I’d reflect a bit on what I’ve blogged about this year.

First off, it is worth looking at what stuck a chord with people… most prominently my post about the Tax Bill and Charity which 1,340 people looked at. Then trailing by about 1,000 readers was A Unified Theory of Lutheranism Today where I reflected upon my Learning, Lawn chairs, and Lemonade events I ran this summer, where we thought about the future of the Lutheran Church. Then some folk read Jesus’ Unfinished Parable and Resolution 4: On Difficult Conversations about the resolution I introduced to Synod Assembly.

Secondly, it is worth considering a few posts I think more people should have read.

I re-wrote large portions of Paul’s letter to the Romans to be more understandable to my congregation, check them out if you have a chance. Maybe more exciting for me than anyone else, but last February I finally paid off my seminary debt! I also wrote a few good poems Dance and Metaphors are Everywhere. Then there are all my posts about the Indonesians who worship in our building who ICE deported. Finally, my response to Charlottesville felt inspired at the time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sermon: Christmas 2017

Look here carefully into the candles of Advent, 
what do you see within those four flames? 
Look closer still, at the center, the Christ Candle.
Do you perhaps see what they represent, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love? Some of us have been meditating on those themes to get ready for Christmas; do you see such things within? Do you see Christ surrounded with our preparation, Christ flanked by those presents which he brings, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love—which he kindles in our hearts?
For that matter, what do you see in the altar candles? Can you see God in common earthly elements, bread and wine? Can you see and taste the point of Christmas ate and drank, God with us.
And what of those candles in your hands?
You anticipate the wax slipping through the little cardboard shield solidifying on your knuckles, the flame dancing there with you—calling you as well to the dance of Christmas, calling you to bear witness to the Christ Child in the manger.
          Just a few days after solstice, the shortest of short days, when the sun seemed to almost never appear, we gather together with these lights, reminding us that the night will not last always
—and that the literal comfort of that reality, also speaks to a metaphoric truth
—the truth that Christ’s birth illuminates the world even in the most stinging of shadows
—in a world overshadowed with big and meddlesome world powers and personalities such as Emperor Augustus, 
-a world where there is no room in the inn for weary travelers, 
-a world in which God seems to be an oppressive force, or silent, or even absent.
 In such a world as that, in such a world as our own, a child is born, a small holy spark hallows the whole world!

          From the first candle of hope, I can peer through the long darkness of space and time and see people doing the very same thing—peering, peering through time and waiting…
          Waiting for the one for whom angels sing, the Hope of the world heralded by heaven!
And look there, how He kindled the shepherd’s curiosity. His existence moves the shepherds from field to manger.
They wonder, could he be the one? Maybe, and they dream bigger still, and say Yes!
The one who lights up the night sky—the one whose story stuns and amazes everyone the shepherds tell.
Yes, I peer into the first candle and see signs of hope!

          Look at this second candle, Peace… elusive… isn’t it?
          Did you know that anyone under 17 has never known an America at peace?
Well, Isaiah’s generation felt a similar pressure, and was put in a similar place—and called out from that war weary place for an end to oppression, that violence would be burnt up, they called for the “Prince of Peace.”
And hundreds of years after Isaiah the angels sing back and blows our mind—God showing up in a trough!
Such a strange thing God does—it should shake us, as it did those shepherds, and later the whole world.
Christmas shakes the world’s foundation even as it calls to our terrified souls and says, “Be No Afraid.” It calms us even as it transforms the values of the whole world in a spiritual maelstrom—God with us!

          Look again—Joy, joy jolting the heavens, an angel descending with promise of a newborn child—God with us. Tidings of great joy, our hearts heaped to overflow with good news!
          Sung, this song of angels, praise to the highest heavens, the highest heavens now here, hallowing our earth, making holy human habitation.
          See too this truth, proclaimed not only by angels, but also from the rough lips of these shepherds, spoken in the midst of the stink of wool and animal waste, roughly spoken for a rough world in need of such speech.

          Look as well at the tallest of our blue candles—Love—Perhaps it hasn’t burnt long enough—only lit this morning, late and almost crowded out—Mary holding all these things in her heart, cherishing, loving what God is doing.
          Loving that God is lighting a fire of love through her—loving the precious gift God is giving us. Love incarnate in Jesus Christ, born to us.

          Then look to the central flame, marking that we have finally arrived
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love
Angels, Shepherds, Holy Family
—all of us gathered to hear the Good News.
          All of it, all of us, peering in from different sides, that we might more clearly focus on him, on Christ Jesus, born of Mary, found by Shepherds, Announced by Angels.
          Our Hope, Peace, Joy, Love.

          Look too over here to my right—where we will eat together
2 more candles.
In their flames we can see blood and body given, bread and wine provided—both bringing us close to him, both allowing us to believe that it is true
—God with us, in this, the common everyday—a child, a manger, a family on the move.
          We don’t need to look to a galaxy far far away, or embellish the facts of our lives—the stuff of life itself is holy and held by God and holds God. God is vulnerable—God is present in a baby boy—in bread and wine—in the fullness of our lives.

          And in a few minutes, you’ll be holding candles, holding a flame—look there too, how it started with a single flame, just a spark—yet it spread.
          What started on Christmas morning—what was witnessed first by shepherds—spread—the holiness of Jesus, spread to all the earth.
          Good news for All people.

Advent 4:Where do you find love?

Here we are at the tail end of Advent,
The last vapors of this season of emergence, arrival, revelation.
          A time like waiting for a letter, the contents of which will reveal everything—making everything plane.
          But this season is also like driving your car to a new place for the first time.
          The drive back always feels quicker—because you are no longer looking so carefully, you don’t pay as close attention.
          In fact, by the 100th drive there, it feels like the car drives itself.
          So too Advent—we’ve driven this road a long time—Christians have observed and practiced Advent in some form for at least 1,650 years--and by now we often see our destination as Christmas, so we don’t notice the budding blessing of Advent
--we don’t revel in the moving and empowering radiance of Love
--we don’t rest in the strengthening power of Peace,
--We don’t lean into the bracing and crisp wind of Hope,
--we aren’t buoyed up by the enduring buoyancy of Joy,
We skip over the precious gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
We don’t let Advent interrogate our lives to help us find its treasures.
But this morning, at least, let’s ask, “Where can you find love?”

Where can you find love?
          The short answer—God.
          Have you not heard, God is love! 
          Our ability to love, it comes from God
—God fortifies us and strengthens us to love others. Throughout God’s good creation, through the power of God’s redemption of us, 
and God’s ongoing sustenance of us
—we find God’s love in all those things
—in our relationship with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
          Yes—God loves us and fortifies us to act in loving and good ways!

Where can you find love?
          I can’t wait to tell you!
          There’s a love letter from God, one etched in flesh and proclaimed in a person!
          I can’t wait to tell you,
 you, yes you, 
particularly and individually
—all your peculiarities and personality
—YOU are loved.
          I can’t wait to tell you, all of you, how deeply God loves the whole of you—y’all if you will…all of us connected together and bound in a great harmony
—heck, even the disharmony, the off notes, the unpleasant singing
—even that God makes into ruckus improvisational Jazz! Even that is found to be lovely, beloved! 
Yes, even when we hold but faint fleeting wisps of Hope, Peace, and Joy—the Love of God is still there!

Where can you find love?
          That letter, written to humanity, penned as with invisible ink, told the story of God’s love—God’s continuous relationship—with particular people, through thick and thin, from slavery to tribal times, kingship to exile, escape to the enfeeblement of their nation, and an ongoing promise to always be with them—and then, that beautiful story, enfleshed, and expanded.
          That beautiful story, seen in full in Jesus
—that story continually expanding, even today, expanding God’s love for all of us
—God’s love found in Jesus, God fully with us, 
with God’s creation
—the love story of God gifted to all of us!
          How do I even describe it?
          This mystery, revealed. You may know what it is like to fall in love—if so, it’s like that. 
You’ve fallen even before you realize you’re in love
—the relationship overtakes you
—there is a reason it is called falling in love—it isn’t like you try to fall, it just happens to you, and then there you are on the ground a patch of ice under you!
          So too the revelation of God’s mystery—that God’s love through Jesus is for all!
          You’re going along reading the love story, and then you’ve fallen in love
—it was always there, God’s love for us, it’s always been there!
          A mystery, like the one in Mary’s womb, tiny yet tangible, 
sign and story stirring within her, in the face of all that which would obstruct the mercy of God
—all the stories of the world that weave away from God’s promise and greatest gift found in Mary’s womb
—God’s love for us incarnate, that’s the great mystery of God!

Where can you find love?
          Anywhere—everywhere! That’s just it, that’s the revelation, that’s what is revealed in the invisible ink of scripture—God’s love for all.
          That’s what’s revealed in God’s Word made Flesh, Jesus—that God’s love is not meant to rest in some heavenly home, never to touch our secular soil, but instead that the sacred is here with us—that God’s love, is with us. Jesus present to each of us!

Where can you find love?
          We find love in you, dearest God. Love revealed in your strange wisdom. Love revealed in your glory, transformed into humility here on earth. God’s love in Jesus Christ revealed forever anew. Praise to you o’ God of Love. Amen.