Wednesday, February 14, 2018

To Prepare for Easter is to Fail

 To prepare for Easter is to fail.
            Behold upon your brow, a sign of a broken and contrite heart. A sign like hands uplifted revealing blood, admitting to murder. Iniquity pressed as ink, blotting wide upon the page.
            Preparing for Easter is being open about failure, about sin, about falling short—acknowledging and revealing we are mortal and immoral—at times we do wrong, or fail to do right, on account of the limits of our sight and experience and life–and sometimes we do so out of spite, embracing malice, living into a malnourished morality.
            Yes, such a truth is revealed upon us—a conscious admission of guilt, a recognition, even just on the surface level, that all is not well with our soul all the time—that we fail. This, an entryway to the long hallway leading to Easter.
            To prepare for Easter is to fail.

            To prepare for Easter is to fail.
            It would be easy enough to stop at the doorway, this moment or this day, in which personal limits and evils are on display…
            But Ash Wednesday opens up to Lent, and Lent insists upon asking those questions of religion… religion says I’ve externalized my guilt in quiet ritual on a Wednesday—but prophets like Isaiah and our Messiah Jesus points to the ways religion hides things even as it seems to reveal—a mark on the brow hides the sincerity and intentions of the heart.

            A whole society, insincere—false fasts, holy days, wholly hollow. Religiosity the camouflage for oppression… sure, I hurt the least of these—but I sure love Jesus. Alms, fasting, prayer… they only are holy when justice, freedom, generosity and mutual aid are their center.

            Or perhaps we do not live in a society strapped to the Spiritual—and it is instead self-congratulation that stymies our spirit. We’ve bought into some blaspheme that says, “look at the rigor of my contrition and the rightness of my practice. I have picked up habit after habit—that will make me holy… can everyone see it and either yearn to be me, thus proving I am ahead of them in the faith, or are turned off by my piety, thus proving themselves impious sinners.
            Yes, those two sides of religion—using it to sanctify societal sin, saying collectively “hey look how religious we are, and look away from how we treat people” OR using religion to become self-satisfied, self-righteous… these two temptations are present with us the moment we mark ourselves and turn our face toward Easter… we are caught up in a terrible tension in these 40 days, it’s the danger of this journey—to be more aware of our intentions, to look deeper than we would normally do at how sincere we are about this whole Jesus thing. Lent calls us to question the purity of our mind and explore those things deeply hidden in our hearts.
            The outward act revealing what is hidden, causes us to question what we hide in the act of revealing—isn’t that strange? Its like when you put a precious possession in in a secret place—and it is lost because you can’t remember where that place is…
            God help us, we can tie ourselves in knots as we journey through the dessert of these 40 days… God help us if we seek to reach the throne of glory and attain the resurrection through our Lenten discipline.
            To prepare for Easter is to fail.
            To prepare for Easter is to fail.
            You can’t prepare
—all of Hebrew Scripture didn’t prepare God’s people for the strange revelation of God’s work among them
—living for years with Jesus didn’t prepare the disciples for the jolt after jolt they experience in every major event of his ministry—the resurrection most of all—Easter most of all, unprepared
—Scared women at the tomb, unprepared
—Peter and Thomas, Stephen and Paul—unprepared.

            All of this, revealing our Immorality and Mortality, reflecting upon our sincerity and intention—Alms, Fasting, Prayer… can leave us clinging to nothing, in fact that may be what it is meant to do, if done well—leave us failing, faced with Sin and Death—and that’s where he finds us—we are found by Jesus in the failure of Sin and Death—the one hidden in Sin and Death, for our sake—makes of us, of all that we reveal and all that we hide, our total self found in him—makes of us the righteousness of God.
            Paul, in his sinful fit of rage, Stephen at death’s door—there is Jesus.
            Peter in his betrayal and Thomas in his doubting—there is Jesus.
            The mourning women showing up to wash the corpse of their Rabbi—there is Jesus.
            We gathered here—some acutely aware of how close Sin and Death are to us… there is Jesus.
            Some struck by their closeness only upon reflection… there is Jesus.
            Some weaving in and out of awareness… there is Jesus.
            All of us preparing to be unprepared, all of us in the process of failing, and in so doing finding the one who has already found us.
            To prepare for Easter is to fail.


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.