Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Zephyr hits a home run

I've always been a bit baffled by those who rail against the feminizing of the church. It isn't like we want Spartans running the church, or Crusaders for that matter.
The argument has been made that "feminization" of the church leads to an abandonment of absolute truth claims. I think instead what is being abandoned is the masculine propensity to assume one's own opinions and interpretations are cold hard fact, and the feeling that it is necessary to push forward these beliefs against real or percieved opponents in a cold hard Neitzchian will to power kind of way. It's the warrior ethos that feels a need to defend against real and percieved threats, barking every time someone says something, instead of only barking when a burglar is attempting to ransack the temple.
Not to say we should flop all the way to the other side and passively be molded by others and never taking a stand like some overrought woman in a bad victorian romance.
In short balance in all things.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Another neat toy for Chris to waste time on

This is pretty cool, yes?

Deep Thought Thursday: Heresy is not always wrong belief, sometimes it is exclusive belief

Heresy isn’t always believing something that is incorrect. More often it is believing something that is correct too strongly. For example it’s fine to believe that Jesus is God, and its fine to believe that Jesus is man, but when you believe one to the exclusion of the other you have trouble. Likewise believing that humans are sinners is all right, and believing that we are in the image of God is all right, but when you believe one but not the other things get tricky.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sermon: The Cosmic Christ Creates doors where there were walls

So... here's the sermon as it was written, which didn't end up being as I delivered it. I ended up focusing more on our role as Saint and Sinner and how self-justification is anathema to Jesus.
Not the greatest sermon ever, but what is?

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O LORD. Amen.
When we look at Jesus’ life’s work we see a widening of the Kingdom of God. He told the parable of the Marriage banquet, which you may have noticed echoed in my Children’s message. In this parable anyone and everyone was invited. The king’s men found people from the lanes and from the streets, from everywhere. I know you’ve all been told this a dozen times, but I’ll say it none the less. Our Lord was found with sinners and at the side of outcasts. Our Lord was among the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the destitute. Whenever anyone makes a line in the sand and says, “anyone on the other side of this line is not of God” Jesus makes it his business to be on the other side of that line, standing there in solidarity with the sinner.
Jesus then turned his face to Jerusalem and headed to his death. Today, the 5th Sunday of Lent, is the day many Christians prepare, along with Jesus, for this, for his death.
This is reflected in our Gospel reading this morning. In Mary’s humble act of applying nard to Jesus’ feet with her own hair she is anointing him with the oil of burial. Off to the side Lazarus, literally a dead man walking, eats and watches his sister do this. Perhaps the burial perfume that is said to fill the whole house covered the stench of Lazarus, having been in the grave for four days at this point. Perhaps even the burial perfume Mary used had been left over from her brother’s death?
Lazarus is also a sign of what is in store for Jesus. His return from the dead points toward the coming resurrection of the Christ. The religious authorities’ intention to assassinate Lazarus points to the way in which Jesus will die. To further point out Christ’s rigorous intentions to widen the Kingdom, I will remind you that even as he died he included the thief who was being crucified beside him as part the Kingdom of God.
Then Jesus rose after three days. He came to the two Marys, to the Disciples, and to others. Finally, he came to Paul. Paul had never met Jesus before his death. Yet, one day on the road to Damascus, as Paul marched forward intent on persecuting followers of Jesus, Paul met Jesus.
Now it seems to me Paul met Jesus in a different way then Jesus’ disciples had met him. He was met with a voice that was blinding and a revelation. Paul met, I believe, Jesus as the Cosmic Christ. Paul met a Jesus Christ that was much bigger than Jesus of Nazareth, bigger even than Jesus the Resurrected. Paul met Jesus after He had ascended into heaven. He had met Jesus Transcendent. He met the Jesus who was raised up and crucified for the cosmos. A Christ nailed to the black of night, comets through his palms and galaxies piercing his side. He met the Christ for whom being 100 percent God is more obvious than 100 percent human. A Jesus big enough to embrace the whole human race, Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. A Jesus big enough to eclipse all borders and erase all lines in the sand.
And in revealing himself to Paul, our Lord’s actions to widen the Kingdom were widened still more. Paul knew that God is doing a new thing in this Jesus the Christ. A thing comparable to the Exodus from Egypt or the Return from Babylon.
When God’s people were down in Egypt. When they were making bricks for Pharoah’s store-cities. When they were building the very walls that their oppressors used to hem them in. They cried to their LORD. And the LORD did a new thing; He came to their rescue. And the LORD knocked down Pharaoh’s walls, spitting a path through the mighty waters and led His people to the Promised Land.
Then when God’s people were held in Babylon. When they were captive to that foreign court. When they yearned for their far off home. The LORD did a new thing. He sent Cyrus the Persian who broke the gates of Babylon. And God made “a way in the wilderness” for the Exiles to return to the Promised Land.
And again the LORD is doing a new thing. This Jesus that was killed as a criminal. This Jesus who “Paul had been persecuting,” by persecuting his followers. This Jesus is the way that God lead Gentiles from their several millennia long captivity, exile, and exodus! This is how Jesus is further widening the Kingdom of God!
So Paul warns that there are some Christians who wish to make circumcision a prerequisite, a fulfillment of entry, or an initiation into, God’s Kingdom. And I have to admit that without Paul’s experience of the risen Christ he would have likely agreed with these fellow Jewish-Christians. After all that had always been the process for becoming part of God’s people. This had been the case from Abraham to Moses to David to what was the present time. In fact, the non-canonical Book of Jubilees lauds Circumcision to such an extent that it claims the highest class of angels, because of their holiness, were created circumcised.
Yet, for Paul, this kind of prerequisite is anathema. If trust in this Jesus is how we are made right before God then any addition to trust in Jesus is ridiculous!
Paul’s gives himself as an example of extreme piety, listing off his pedigree, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee.” Then he adds a kicker, “as to zeal a persecutor of the church.” He is saying that those who wish to tie circumcision to membership in God’s Kingdom are acting like he did before he knew Christ. He is saying that like him they are guarding the doors to the Kingdom of God. And like him, when they do this they end up persecuting citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Then Paul goes on and disparages all the piety he had before. He goes so far as to call “all things are Skybala.” He calls all things refuse, rubbish. He calls all things, as the Authorized Version so distinctly renders it, “dung.”
Now, when we read this we have to be very careful to understand what Paul means here. I don’t believe he can mean to disparage all of creation. After all creation is of God, and while God created dung God’s creation is not dung.
Neither do I think Paul is disparaging the Law. This is a strange thing for a Lutheran to be saying. After all we tend to create distinct dichotomies between Law and Gospel, and faith and works. But no, I believe Paul is not attacking the Law or Judaism.
No, I think we have to take seriously that Paul is comparing all things with Jesus. And Jesus is the great new thing, and he’s pretty darn excited about it. And in building up this great new act of God in Christ he compares anything that could be an alternative to Christ as Skybala.
Notice also that considering all things Skybala leads to Paul gaining Christ. It is as if only in emptying ourselves of all self-justification that we can humble ourselves to the point of recognizing our utter dependence on God. It is only when we take a good hard look at ourselves and see inside us the sinner, the prostitute, the tax collector, the destitute, the outcast, that we can cling to God.
It is as if only when we are in the darkness of the night that we can see the stars. Only in Egypt do we dare cry to God. Only in Babylon can we trust that the might of that great Empire would be toppled. Only when we are in the tomb of Lazarus may we be brought back from the land of the dead by the power of God.
And when we reach this state, sharing in the suffering of Christ, forgetting our past and straining to the future, we can see, we can glimpse, we can experience at least as in a dream, the goal. That is God’s calling to us in Christ. The ultimate end to all the exiles. The final reconciliation of all things; the resurrection of the dead, the new heaven and the new earth, without dividing line or boundary marker. The Kingdom widened to fulfillment. The whole cosmos reflecting Christ and singing praises to God.
Know that we, like Paul, live in the already-not yet. We live in the time between Christ’s coming and his return. But strain and dream, for we have a God who creates doors where there are walls and calls all to Him.