The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon: The Donkey Makes All The Difference

            The King is coming to Jerusalem for coronation.
            He commandeers a ride on a donkey and a colt.
            Fulfilling scriptures as he marches in to the Holy City—The City of the King.
            Surrounded by his subjects—the ground he walks on sanctified and his steed’s steps honored with branches—a natural royal red carpet rolled out for him.
            “Save us Mighty King—Blessed are you who comes in the name of the Lord—Salvation in the highest heaven!” They sing.
            And the whole city shook, wondering at his presence.
            “Look! Look!” the crowd acclaims, “The Prophet—Jesus from Nazareth.”

            Imagine what that must look like, to the eyes of some.
            God is on the move, and out for blood.
            The king will restore what once was, recreating the Kingdom of David.
         Perhaps, like David, a few heads will roll—perhaps Rome will play the role of Goliath, and get decapitated and its death will lead to Jesus’ kingship.
a scared city,
his name shouted in the street,
a royal welcome,
God on his side,
a king arriving.

            Every sign points to power!
            Every sign points to Jesus the Middle Eastern Potentate.
            Every sign point to resistance, a coup, a restoration of an old and legendary order.

            Every sign, save one… a donkey.
            A donkey.
            Because the Donkey makes all the difference.
            Say it with me, “The Donkey Makes All the Difference.”

            Let us pray.

            “The Donkey Makes All the Difference.”
            The Donkey throws off the easy assumptions about what Jesus is doing.
            It reminds us, on this day of triumph, who Jesus is.

         The Donkey makes all the difference.
            It points us back to Jesus’ birth.
            Born to a young peasant girl, not a regal queen or the wife of a Caesar.
            He is laid in a Manger, not an opulent crib.
            Instead of a settled childhood, his family fled to Egypt away from the wrath of Herod.

            The Donkey Makes All the Difference.
            It carries Jesus to Jerusalem and onto his fate—to that cup he must drink.
            If he’s a king, he’s a very strange one…
            At his coronation he will be crowned with thorns, not a Diadem.
            He will be enthroned on an implement of execution—a cross, not an imposing jewel encrusted throne.
            His royal court will be two thieves, not the best and the brightest, the wise men of his age.

            The Donkey Makes All the Difference.

           The Donkey proves that the emperor has no clothes, because the true King comes in humility.
         The Donkey promises us that our Savior comes in the mud and the blood of real life.
         The Donkey short circuits our longing for a King and gives us a Brother.
            The Donkey gives value to the least of these.
          The Donkey points us to the real Jesus.

The Donkey Makes All the Difference.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Channeling Ezekiel

I was born during a time of great hope:
the Assyrian menace was receding.
King Josiah brought Judah back to the ways of God.
He even “found” the book of Deuteronomy,
So we could know more fully how to be God’s people.
My priestly family was overjoyed.
          But, that didn’t last. By the time I was a man, a new Empire arose and annexed Assyria and threatened us all. The Babylonians butted up against the walls of Jerusalem, and eventually we submitted.
The royal family and the priestly houses, including my own, were taken away, kidnapped…
At the age of 25 I was kidnapped, taken from the temple along with its wealth, taken as Ransom—taken away to Babylon.

          Babylon, that mighty city.
          That mighty city where our captors tormented us
          Asking us to play them a song:
          “Sing us one of those songs of your mighty Zion,” they’d say to us.
          How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
          Could we even remember Jerusalem?
          Could we speak of the Joy of the LORD, so far off?

          And after a time, these taunts and our responses to them, grew darker—new Exiles came to join us,
They told of the complete destruction of Jerusalem, and the destruction of God’s house,
my Home,
the Temple
          When our captors laughed, “Sing us a song.”

          All we could do was remember the pain of Jerusalem’s destruction.
          How it was torn down,
          That the walls fell
          The devastation by Babylon was total.

          All we could do was seek revenge,
          Yearn for pay back
          Even as we were captive in Babylon
          Locked away in the belly of the beast.

          We captives couldn’t sleep, it cut us so deeply, cut us to the core. We fought amongst ourselves, the first group of captives and the second, blaming one another, calling each other apostates.
          We’d wake up numb, or in cold sweats, from dreams of the death and destruction, hearts racing.
          The fetters they’d bound us with for the journey from our home to this hell never really left us, there was iron in our soul and we felt the captivity in our bones.

          We felt the captivity in our bones and believed God could not cross the desert to be with us.
          Then God responded.

Let us pray.

          When we first entered Babylon we were overawed by the giant Lamassus that guard the gates—a giant clay figure, a mix of Bull, Lion, Eagle, and Man, a sort of Babylonian Sphinx—it made us cower at our captor’s power.
          God responded by giving me a vision—Four Lamassus came in the night—tethered with invisible tethers.
Tethered as we were tethered on our trek from Jerusalem to Babylon,
as we were still tethered, our psychological bondage
—they were tethered like horses to a chariot—
What a chariot!

—the Temple itself,
my temple
—the place where God’s fullness, God’s heaviness, God’s glory resides
—the temple was the chariot—God followed us—on His inexpressible throne, followed us from Jerusalem to Babylon—God was with us, even then. God’s glory was mobile,
God’s throne had wheels.
          And that vision began a new chapter in my life—
God took those feverish dreams of destruction and replaced them with visions from heaven!
          And I want to tell you about one of them today.

          I was plucked up by the hand of God and put down amongst the slaughtered masses of our sisters and brothers—those killed by the Babylonians—the wrecked remains of our nation—mass graves.
          I saw the dusty remains of uncles and aunts, all picked clean by birds and by time—by the decades since our separation.
          They were so dry—they’d been dead for so long
—we’d been separated from the Promised Land and the Temple of God for so long.
          “Can these bones live?” Asked God.
          “You know,” I responded.
          “Prophecy to them.”
          Imagine that
—say what you never got to say
—speak to the dead,
speak to the horror we experienced,
speak to the loss.

          And I spoke.
          A rattling so loud it spoke to the wideness of our anguish came up echoing in that valley. They were united together again, bone to bone, then muscle to muscle, tendon to tendon, flesh and skin together all of it.

          There they were.
          A mass of our relatives
—the very people of God
—there in front of me.
          Yet they just stood there
without spirit.
          It was then it hit me, they were us too
—here in Babylon, separated, a mass of men with eyes gone dead,
the wholesome spark of life snuffed out by sorrow.
just standing, but cut off from the breath of God.
We’d become just like them here in Babylon, tired inanimate corpses.

          But then I prophesied again, to the wind from every time and place,
To the breath of God that has been with us from the beginning,
To the Spirit that hovered over the deep
I prophesied saying, “breathe upon these slain, that they may live, that we may live.”

          And the LORD God said to me,
“This is the whole house of Israel—the people of God
They may say that their innermost being is dried up and has went away
They may say that their hope is lost,
They may say that they are cut off from the land and from my promises

Well Mortal, say this to them:
I’m going to open your graves,
I’m going to bring you up from your graves.
You are my people!

My people, I will bring you back to the land that appears lost.
And you shall know that I am the LORD,
Because I, and I alone, am the one who opens graves
I, and I alone, bring up from Sheol
O my people.
My people, I will put my spirit within you.
My people I will enliven you.
My people I will plant you back in your native soil

Then, my people, you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken
And that I, the LORD, shall act.”    Amen.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

John 9:1-41

          As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
Another no name, like the Woman at the Well
Named after his condition instead of his person

          “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, "Whose sin was it that caused this man to be born blind? Did he sin, or did his parents?”
Did you hear that
They see sin as a discrete act
A controllable something
Twisted up with suffering
If I don’t sin
Then God won’t strike me blind
Then God won’t strike my son blind
If I don’t sin

“He didn’t sin, “Jesus replied, "nor did his parents; it happened so that God's works might be revealed in him.
This thing, hurtful and so defining
Defining him as “The Bind Man”
Can be re-defined by God
Revealing God
That which cripples us
That crippling act won’t have the last laugh
God laughs with us
Joy bubbles up when God upends our pain
We are the broken jar
Glued back together with gold
Our scars reveal majesty
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. The night is coming, and no one can work then. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Day and night again
Day and light stand for belief
Jesus brings belief to us
Jesus says I AM
With a period
For he creates
He creates faith

          With these words, he spat on the ground and made mud from his spittle and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Off you go, wash in the pool called Sent.”
Now that Jesus exits the scene—his longest absence in any gospel
I ask you to close your eyes until his return
To feel the difference between darkness and light
And see what it is like to open your eyes when he appears with you
(Close eyes)

          Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
          His neighbors and those who used to see him before, begging, began observing:
          "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?"
          Some were saying, "Yes, it’s him."
          Others were saying, "No, it’s someone like him."
          But the man himself spoke
          “Yes, it is me, I’m the man,” he said.

How frustrating
When someone jumps the box you’ve put them in
You try to shove them back in their place
How frustrating when God acts
How liberating when God acts
Proving the identity given to you
The name welded to your flesh on account of your flesh
Isn’t the only name
For you are a beloved Child of God!

          “Well then,” they asked him, “How’d your eyes get opened?”
          He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to the Pool Called Sent and wash.' So I went, and I washed, and I could see!"
          "Where is he?" they asked.
          He replied, "I do not know."
Listen carefully
To how his testimony expands
How this man names his experience more fully
Each time he’s asked

I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          They took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees.
          Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had come to see.
          He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."
          Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath."
This question again and again
What is the purpose of the Sabbath?
Liberation or Rest
Can the captive truly rest?
No says Jesus
Only the Free can Rest
Only the Liberated can Relax

          But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?"
          And they were divided.
          So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? He opened your eyes after all."
He responded, "He is a prophet."
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          The Judeans did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight. So they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"
          “Well,” his parents answered, "we know that this is definitely our son, and that he was born blind. That said, we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him. He’s a grown man after all, he can speak for himself."
          His parents said this because they were afraid of the Judeans; for the Religious Authorities had already decided that anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would be kicked out of the synagogue.
          Therefore his parents said, "he’s a grown man; ask him."
          So for the second time they called the man who had been blind.
          “Give glory to God!” they said to him, "We know that this man is a sinner."
          He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner or not. There is one thing I do know, I was blind, now I see."
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
“I’ve already told you,” he replied, “You wouldn’t listen… Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples too… do you?"
The questions are so sharp in John
Last week, “He can’t be the messiah… can he?”
Brought a whole village to Jesus’ feet
Today “You don’t want to become his disciples too… do you?”
Cuts to the core of things
You are expending so much energy and words
It must be for good use, right?
Expending so much energy for negative reasons
Would reveal you to be the greatest of fools!
          “You’re his disciple,” they scoffed, "Not us, we’re disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."
          “Isn’t that a surprise?” The man answered, "You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything."
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          “You were born in sin from head to toe,” they replied, “but you are trying to teach us?"
And they drove him out.
Drove him out
Drove out because he saw
Because he sees
Driven out because he’s someone else
A blind beggar is okay
A man who can see
(Open Eyes)
          Jesus heard that they had driven the man out. So he found him and he said to him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
          He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him."
          Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."
          The man replied, "Yes sir, I do believe." And he worshiped him.
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who are blind may see, and those who do see may be blind."
          Some nearby Pharisees heard this and said to Jesus, "What? We’re blind too?"
          Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We can see,' your sin remains.
Did you hear that
Jesus sees Sin
As ignoring the works of God
Refusing to come to terms with the uncontrollable grace of God
A Because/Therefore God
Because I love you
Therefore you are lovable
Because God see his suffering
Therefore the Blind Man gets to see the Jesus
Because God acts for those in need
Therefore their needs are met
Sin is
Refusing to come to terms with a God found in the midst of suffering
A God drove out from the city walls
Out here with us
Jesus is driven out here with us. Amen.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Noah Film (SPOILER ALERT)

There are better reviews of the movie out there, so I’ll just touch on a few pieces of the movie that interested me.
It was Enochian
Within 2nd Temple Judaism there is a strain that focuses on Genesis 6 as a fruitful starting point for sin—sin came through the Sons of God having sex with the Daughters of Man and bore Nephilim and the mighty men of old. In this version of Judaism these Sons of God give a variety of cultural gifts to humanity—make up, weapons, etc… which the humans use badly. These Sons of God and their descendents function very similarly to the Titan Prometheus in Greek Mythology, and in some versions of this strain of speculative Judaism they are in fact treated similarly to Prometheus—they are bound (check out Jude 1:6 sometime).
The stories of these angels/Nephilim/etc (sometimes called Watchers) is told through the eyes of Enoch, who as Genesis says “was took by God.” So, he’s an obvious choice for narrator, a human (though some traditions have him translate into the angel Metatron) who communicate the heavenly things to us, his earthy siblings.
The Noah movie makes a pretty big deal about the Watchers, who in its version landed on Earth and were literally captured by the earth, engulfed in mud and sealed up as crippled ash creatures… who (again SPOILER ALERT) are eventually redeemed and return to heaven by martyring themselves against the humans who wish to board Noah’s Ark. These Watchers are able to return to the spiritual realm, no longer cursed with the mud of flesh… it actually felt like a rather Gnostic take on their existence. (As a side note one version of the Watcher narrative has them all drown in the flood and then haunt the earth as Evil Spirits).
It interacts indirectly with my favorite topic, Akedah Isaac
Genesis chapter 22, as you all know, is one of my hobbyhorses. I wrote my M.Phil. Thesis on it, I’ve preached on its connection to religiously motivated violence, it’s my bag. So, no surprise I see allusions to it where they might not actually exist sometimes… However, the Noah Movie makes a very obvious connection to it.
In the movie’s version of events, Noah decides that God wants every human dead, including his family. So, when two granddaughters are born to him on the Ark, Noah decides to commit infanticide in the name of God. But (this is the last time I’ll say it SPOILER ALERT), as he prepares to do the deed he recognizes he feels nothing except love in his heart toward the two little twins, and in that moment realizes the human capacity for both the evil he has seen in his generation, as well as the good of parental love. Just so you know I think that is a lovely solution to the problems posed by Genesis 22.
It engages with source criticism
If you read scripture carefully… or even not so carefully really… you’ll start to notice seams in the text—places that repeat, or contradict, or refer to times that within the story shouldn’t be known.
What most scholar say is happening is we are seeing where different traditions are being stitched together—where early traditions from the Northern and Southern tribes, as well as later traditions from the era of King Josiah, and from priests captured in Babylon, are weaved together.
The most famous (likely because it is often the first thing people read in the Bible and therefore is quite familiar) of these seams comes between Genesis 2:3 and 2:4… this is where the first account of creation is separated from the 2nd… the first, which is rather cosmic in scale refers to the Creator as God, the second is much earthier and in a sense smaller refers to the Creator as the LORD God.
In the Noah movie there is an origin to these sources. A majority of the first account is credited to Noah—he tells it to his family while they are on the ark. His telling of this account puts humans within the animal kingdom. But there is another source, the villain Tubal-Cain, who tells Ham that humans were created to subdue the earth, that we are little lower than Gods, as well as points to humanity being cursed by God.
I thought this was a creative re-working of source criticism, acknowledging the sins of Scripture (or at least their sinful use) by attributing them to the line of Cain (and Ham… ).
Noah is a fanatic
I really liked the fanatical devotion and the anguish that accompanies such devotion, that Russell Crowe portrayed. Sometimes we’ve dealt with so many Sunday School retellings and battered felt figures that we forget how scary (and scared) Noah and his ilk are portrayed.
In fact, there was an interesting line in the movie—at one point a family member says to Noah “I thought God chose you because you were a good man in a generation of evil men,” to which Noah replies, “No, God chose me because I am able to finish the job.”
Why is this intriguing to me, because the Rabbis read the line in Genesis that says Noah was “the best of his generation,” and point out his generation was a bunch of people so horrible God slaughtered them all… so perhaps Noah was just the least bad guy.
All that to say Noah is more than a felt figure, he might even be a fanatic.
It was an entirely white cast
First off, for a fuller account of this aspect of the movie check out Dr. Gafney’s post.
If you know the interpretation history of the flood story you know that Noah’s three sons become the fathers of the three known continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe. This is later used to justify the enslavement of Africans. Ham, for “uncovering Noah’s nakedness” is cursed, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” Canaanites are equated with Africans, and the Slave Holding Religion is off and running.
So, back to the casting of the movie—they are all white… now Tolkein’s Middle Earth being all white is one thing (and there was some uproad when a British person of African Descent was rejected as a Hobbit because of their skin-colour)—but when the characters are so fraught with real world consequences writing non-whites out of the picture is dangerous.
That said, they did better than the Noah Production at Sight and Sound Theater, which seemed to include multi-culturalism in the list of wickedness of Noah’s generation (on the other hand there were non-white characters).

In sum, I thought it was a very interesting movie, and the Akedah moments are worth the price of admission.

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