A Confusing Epiphany

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

–Matthew 2:1-12

epiphany-feast-day-magis-visit-baby-jesus-176@1x

Thinking about the Epiphany is an exercise that I always cherished, but this year, I’m in a completely different setting, in a completely different place, with a completely different circumstance. Therefore, I’m coming at Epiphany with an entirely different mindset, and I have to wonder:

 

Do you think the Magi were just a little bit confused, and maybe even disappointed?

Hear me out. They walk for God knows how far to arrive at the palace of Herod, fully expecting that their journey was over. They read the signs, and went to the place where they thought would be the end of their road, ready to head home after paying homage to the new king, only to be met by a puzzled Herod, who had no earthly idea what they were talking about. They had to explain the math, and tell the king their predictions. But in their heads, they were no doubt doing another set of calculations. The king had no new child born. The star still shone over Bethlehem, miles away. And undoubtedly, news had traveled about the kind of King Herod was (spoilers: he’s atrocious). So when Herod asks them to return after finding this new king, all three immediately said of course they would return.

I expect it was not 5 minutes after leaving the palace that they knew they had to make a choice. Return, and doom a child foretold by prophecy, or completely avoid Herod, return home another way, and hope that they make it back across the borders so that they were out of Herod’s jurisdiction before Herod found out.

We know the decision they made.

What we are told in the scriptures is that they were overjoyed when they found the Christ child. I have no doubts this is true. Knowing that the child was alive, as well as the family, and surrounded by loving parents and neighbors (note this was about 2 years after his birth) would be a relief.

But also, not a little disappointing.

Why? Well, this was the humble home of a construction worker, builder and stone mason. The child was but a peasant. I’m sure some old scholars used to the trappings of academia and the halls of nobility were disappointed to some extent. Furthermore, there was probably even more concern now that they had found the child. This family, let alone this town, had little defense against a mad king, with an entire army at his right hand. Herod would burn the city to the ground, or wreak havoc so devastating that the people here would have wished he had.

Of course, we know that’s exactly what he did too. Herod ordered that all the children under the age of two in the town of Bethlehem be slaughtered. Joseph and Mary were on the run as refugees in Egypt, escaping his wrath. But I guarantee you, the parents of those slaughtered children probably wish that life had ended after that day. No parent should have to bury a child. No parent should have to see their child ripped from their arms. And no parent should have to submit in such a way to such a tyrant.

The Epiphany is a moment of joy, of course. But the joy doesn’t last. It’s followed by terror and blood. Such is often the way of the world. Joy is fleeting, and often afterwards we are left to ask:

Was the joy worth it?

Was the joy of Christmas worth the slaughter of innocents? Was it worth the terror of knowing that doom would fall upon this family, if not sooner than later? Death and terror at the hands of tyrants would follow Jesus all his life, and would eventually end it. Jesus may not have feared…but not everyone is Jesus.

What a dangerous time we live in now, when tyrants reign, and fear clutches the hearts of parents, children, and the marginalized once more. One could say, of course, that tyrants always manage to grab power, and that this isn’t new, it’s just more overt than ever. What I would give to live in better days. But then again, that reminds me of kindly words from another wise man, given voice by a kindly linguist from Britain.

gandalffeature

It’s Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Of course it is. If you didn’t know i was going to use this reference you obviously don’t know me.

When I sigh, and say “I wish none of this had ever happened,” the words of Gandalf echo in my ear and say,

So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Christmas always is a joyful season, but always comes with the reminder of how close to danger we always are. When light emerges, darkness grows bolder, wilder, more chaotic.

So it’s up to us to make the hard choices.

Do we cower in fear? Or do we live our truth, and speak it boldly?

I hope that we all might do so. I hope we let the light of Christmas never dim, even in the face of tyranny and evil. I hope we have the courage to take action, and not let darkness consume us.

May the Epiphany, though it might illuminate that which would disappoint us, confuse us, or cause us fear, instead embolden us to live in the light.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Renewal

Happy new year, everyone.

It’s been a long one, and I’m still here. After everything, after the hurricane of life that was 2018, I’m still here. And more importantly, I’m still me!

Leaving everyone hanging after An Amputation was obviously not my desire, and for those who follow me and my life, I apologize for letting my blog rust a bit. This is fairly standard behavior at this point, though, so… yeah.

It’s the new year though, and this is going to be a good one. I can feel it. I’m out of a toxic environment, and an ill-fitting occupation. I’m in a new job that, while perhaps not my ideal occupation, suits me well for the time being. More importantly, I’m done with my first semester of PhD classes, and beginning a new one in February. My curation of this blog will, as usual, be up in the air, but I hope to write in it more frequently.

As it is the new year, such is the time to make resolutions for the year to come, promises made to one’s self that inevitably tend to get broken. But this year, I have three achievable goals to attain that I’ll share:

  1. Learn Italian well enough to take the research language proficiency exam.
  2. Get a paper of mine published.
  3. Explore California with my wife, DeSay.

The first is a rather bare minimum goal. It’s necessary, and required. Nonetheless, it’s important to make a goal like this anyways. I need to be active about it. I plan on using Duolingo to get there, so if you want to buddy up with me, I’m down for it, just message me!

The second is a lifelong dream of mine. I’m a writer, and I’ve always dreamt of making writing my living. Getting a paper published is a big first step in that direction. It’s daunting, but I want it. So why not this year?

Finally, I need to make progress with not only my career, but with myself and with my relationship with my wife. When we were dating, we’d often message each other, and dream about traveling all over the world. As we may not have the means to be world travelers, we can make the time this year to travel our own backyard a bit. There’s tons to do out here. I’m still new to the state. I want to see Yellowstone, and the beaches of San Diego. I want to see the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas, and everything this state has to offer. And I want to do it with my soulmate.

I’ve got a new life out here, one I’ve always wanted. Therefore, I’m going to start the year with optimism, renewed by purpose and a wide open world to explore, personally and professionally.

I’ve been given a chance few ever get. I’m gonna make the most of it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

An Amputation

I’m struggling with my beliefs on the church.

Don’t get me wrong of course. I’m still very faithful to my God. That has never been in question, to be honest. My general systematic framework of belief is still there.

But that ecclesiology bit… always needed some work.

Part of that is my anthropology, a concept I’ve been thinking about a great deal–so much so that I’m centering my dissertation around the question, or so my current thinking is going. What I believe about humanity has severely fluctuated over time. I used to reject the concept of total depravity of humanity. I desperately wanted to believe in the inherent goodness of people, and their capacity to do good in the world.

That belief is shaken. The reason for that lies in the church.

I’m going to lay some things out there for you, dear reader, that I have been sitting on for a while, partly because it’s not general knowledge, and it’s fairly sensitive. I’m going to start talking about how I got to be in the place where I am now. No longer a pastor. No longer in any sort of traditional ministry. And, for the time being, no longer a part of any church organization.

Believe me when I say that this is not a place I thought I would ever have thought that I would have been in the past. I was a die-hard for the United Methodist church. I mean, dyed in the wool, born and bred in the Methodist mold. Born in a Methodist hospital, raised in a Methodist household. It wasn’t for lack of nurture that I came to my faith tradition. Oh, I dabbled in other denominations–I was, as many of you know, Presbyterian in college–but my home remained with Wesley and those peculiar people of his.

I had known for years that I was called to ministry in some capacity. I doubled down to the point that I believed that I was called to United Methodist ordination as an elder. I went to a United Methodist school of theology. I did the courses, got the Master’s degree. I went through everything, firm in my belief that I was called to the office of elder.

Reality tends towards a praxis of rude awakening.

I was assigned as an associate pastor to a congregation that wanted an associate, but had a senior pastor who desperately did not want one at all. I had no clear direction, and what drive I had either was thwarted by my shattered preconceptions of what a senior pastor would and should be, and the loneliness of being sent to somewhere that was so far from my peers. I had hoped to be an associate somewhere in Houston, and craved the mentoring of a caring senior pastor, but got neither. Disappointed, but not defeated, I did my best in that appointment. I made my share of mistakes, but I’m proud of what I attempted to do there. Sadly, my attempts were not met with the results I expected.

A year and a half into my first appointment, I was given the ultimatum: mess up again, and you are out.

I was given very little confidence by my superiors. I was told that “many are called, few are chosen.” I was even told by a superior that I straight up was not actually called to be a pastor.

That hurt. A lot. A deep scar that I still carry.

I was moved to a different location. 2 churches who needed a senior pastor. Never mind that I had been given little instruction in how to manage churches as a senior pastor, mind you. Forget that I still very much craved a good mentor, and a metropolitan locale. The church told me I was to go elsewhere, and so I did, good little believer in the system that I was.

I floundered. I struggled. My health was in decline, my depression and anxiety worsened. I was surrounded by very few people of my own age or mentality. I felt isolated, spiritually, mentally, and physically.

The wound was deepening. The separation was widening.

For three years, I struggled. With some good mentoring by a few kind, caring pastors that I grew to be friends with, I believed I improved as a pastor. I honed my edge. I got better as a pastor. I got better at interpersonal relations, got more outgoing, did more things in the community. I thought I was making progress.

I was told it wasn’t enough.

Perhaps not outright, but to my ears, I was told that -I- wasn’t enough.

My superiors were resolute. They saw neither the gifts nor the graces for ordained ministry in the office of the elder. They saw me struggling in my context. They saw my mistakes as irreconcilable. Funny that, being church people, they saw me as not worth saving in this vocation, despite my insistence on my calling, despite my progress. My sins were too great. My failures too catastrophic. My fruits an unworthy offering. With a kind eye, they denied me the goal I had been seeking for ten years. They gave me a choice: give up, or be denied by the board of ministry officially.

I was too tired. I was too broken. My spirit was too wounded.

I gave up, and was amputated from my dream. A dream I had worked for ten years to achieve. A dream that, in part because of the hand that fate had dealt me, and in part because I had mismanaged the hand sufficiently, I could no longer see to fruition.

It’s been a rough few months, but I’m learning to cope with the grief of it all. Yes, it is grief. I’ve done reading on moving on. I’ve prayed quite a bit. But going back to school has hammered home the fact that, to be honest, I have no church home. My church rejected my call to ministry.

I do harbor resentment to the church, resentment that will probably take years to deal with in my conversations with God. I’m in a better place, both physically and emotionally. The California air and culture agree with me better than Texas did, but that doesn’t quite make it home. I’m not sure if I have a home, outside of my family. The United Methodist church has certainly not felt like home to me since my departure from ministry. That the church I was looking forward to joining as an elder, and changing from the inside, is on the brink of schism brings me no joy. Profound sadness has permeated my thoughts on the church, and its ongoing troubles only exacerbate that sadness.

My home denomination may not exist much longer, but whatever happens to it, it will happen with me as an outsider. Even if I found a United Methodist church to join with, it won’t ever truly feel like home, not after the rejection I’ve felt and experienced.

I feel that my ecclesiology has been amputated, and I was the one who had to cut the final strands. But amputation can be a good thing. It can salvage a limb that had gone gangrenous, or cancerous. It can even leave opportunity for replacement that, while maybe not ever organic, can still function similarly, with some determination and adjustments. It won’t ever be the same though. It can’t remain the same.

I can’t remain the same, and I can’t mourn forever.

I guess I’m grieving still, for the foreseeable future. I’m going to have to work on my beliefs on the church, and it may not be as strong as it once was.

But it will be healthier.

Here’s to health.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Choice is Yours, Mark 16: 1-8

The following sermon was delivered Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018. Enjoy!

–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body.Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb.They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.[a] He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[b]

 

maxresdefault-4.jpgLife is a series of patterns. Look really closely, and you can see them.

Nations follow a pattern. Nations are born, either through discovery, or through revolution against an existing power. They find footing, perhaps after a rocky start. They have an ascendant period of growth and building. They have a golden age, a climax  of power, prestige and prominence. And then, there is inevitable decline, followed by collapse into irrelevance, revolution, or even complete destruction.

Likewise, lives have a pattern. We are born into this world helpless, in need of parental protection and guidance. We grow into childhood, idyllic in its own way, but not without its trials and difficulties. We emerge into teenage years with days of storm and conflict as we learn who we are going to become. We become adults, and hopefully find a career or a niche in which we are productive and fruitful in this world. As we age, we can no longer work, and so we retire, and then rest on what we have earned in life, or rely on our loved ones to take care of us. We do this, all the way down to the end, to death.

Patterns are important to recognize. In fact, that’s what separates us from animals, our ability to recognize and create patterns.

It served us well in our tribal ages–being able to see patterns in the wild helped us to tell whether or not there was a predator lurking in the trees, or whether or not a certain plant was edible or poisonous. It has aided us well even today. We are hardwired to not only see patterns, but to adhere to patterns. Which makes this passage, this gospel, hard to understand.

This gospel does not fit the patterns. Not the ones we understand, at least.

It doesn’t sound like an ending. Stories are supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and those parts tend to adhere to certain patterns, ideas, or methods. Specifically endings. Endings wrap everything up. Endings are meant to satisfy something in us that wants closure. And Mark gives us an ending, but it’s an ending that breaks with the patterns that we are trained to understand, to recognize.

He does this for a good reason though, a reason that has to do with choice. A choice on our part, that is. Mark wants us to make a choice at the end of this gospel, but seeing the choice clearly takes a keener eye and an opened mind, one that not even the disciples or his followers could discern fully. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make–with God’s help of course.

gospel-storyline.001Subverting Expectations

Mark, along with the other gospels, use certain patterns in the way they tell a story.

Most often than not, it goes a bit like this. Jesus shows up in town. A problem is presented to him. Complications are added to the problem. Jesus says something profound or important. Jesus acts and the problem is reversed. The people depart, in awe of Jesus, and either react positively or negatively. That’s the pattern. It goes up, then back down, and usually the way down in some way mirrors or even reverses the way up. Therefore, a lot of the time, the most important part is in the middle, the peak.

Take for example a story early in Mark.

Jesus is teaching in a house. The house is packed, but some friends have a paralyzed man who needs healing.

They escalate the situation, climb to the roof, and lower the man.

Jesus, moved by the actions of the friends, says to the man: your sins are forgiven.

Scribes are upset, tell him only God can forgive. Jesus responds by healing the man, along with forgiveness.

The people are amazed, and depart in wonder, for they’d never seen anything like that before.

Do you see how that works? That pattern is repeated over and over in the stories of Jesus. It’s actually quite fascinating to see how much it works as a framing structure. That said, it sets up some expectations about how people respond. Either with wonder and acceptance, or wonder and fear. Sometimes both at the same time.

Therefore it’s interesting to see how this passage both adheres to Mark’s previous pattern of escalation and de-escalation, and subverts our expectations at the same time.

Let’s break down Mark 16 then, for posterity’s sake:

Mary, Mary, and Salome, go to the garden where Jesus was buried.

They begin to worry about how they are going to roll away the stone.

They then get worried because the stone has already been rolled away.

Furthermore, Jesus’s body is nowhere to be seen.

A Young Man is present, tells them that Jesus has been raised. He is waiting for them to arrive in Galilee.

Overcome with terror, they flee the tomb.

They say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid.

Now, as you can see, it has the same rise and fall of the previous story. It even shapes our expectations because of it. We expect to see this result in a similar way that occurred before: amazement, wonder, and hope. Instead, we see the opposite: amazement, fear, and uncertainty. Why is this? Why would Mark subvert our expectations like this? He does this because he wanted to make this story a turning point for us, his audience. Even thousands of years later, it poses to us a strong choice.

Will You Stay, Or Will You Go?

Mark ends his gospel with a resurrection, but not with closure. He ends it with a question, a question for you to ask yourself that was best said in the song by the Clash (who, albeit talking about a different situation entirely, still seems to apply today):

Should I stay or should I go?
If I go there will be trouble
If I stay there will be double
So you’ve gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

1104723You may laugh all you want, but the truth isn’t far off.

Mark’s whole gospel, as I have said before and will keep repeating, is all about getting you to REPENT. That’s why he doesn’t bother with the nativity of Jesus. He starts at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, where he says to the people that he has come to proclaim the kingdom of God, and that we need to repent, change our hearts and minds, and prepare. That message remains consistent throughout the gospel, and as lean as it is, it truly hammers that point home. Jesus is here to teach you about the Kingdom, and for you to accept the Kingdom, you have to repent.

 

That message remains even in the very ending of this gospel. There is no happy ending in Mark, because he is depending on YOU to supply the happy ending. You are given plenty of examples of how to do so throughout the gospel. Mark, therefore, wants you to ace the exam, so to speak. You’ve been given the right answer, if you’ve been paying attention. In his estimation, though, you’ve been given an example of what you COULD do, as exhibited by the women. You could run away in terror, confusion and fear in the face of the resurrection. Or you could meet Jesus in Galilee.

RESURRECTION_SSC__42526.1394731775.1000.1200_7cbd94de-5e5c-4d08-b612-35221c87c4dc_large.jpegMeeting in Galilee, Back From the Dead

That’s the right answer, of course. Meet Jesus in Galilee, so to speak.

Galilee was where it all started. Galilee was where the gospels began. It’s Jesus’s hometown, so to speak. It’s where the disciples came from. It’s where his legend  spread.

So Galilee means a lot of things. Galilee could mean “do ministry where you are.” It could also mean the opposite: Go and find where Jesus wants you to be. For me, though, it means to be ready to start from square one, only this time, do it better. Because that’s the meaning of Easter, really.

I mean, Jesus died, and beat death. That’s huge. That’s incredible. And that means that everything is changed.

You can go home, but you aren’t the same person you used to be. You can go somewhere else, but you won’t be the same when you get back. Whatever you do, you will be changed. More than that, you will be resurrected, like Christ. You will have a fresh start, and a fresh direction. You have an opportunity to start over again, and meet Jesus where he wants you to be, with the understanding you didn’t have before.

His disciples eventually did meet him in Galilee, this much we know from the other gospels. They did learn the meaning of resurrection, so much so that they started a whole new movement, far bigger than it was when Jesus was alive (for the first time.) It exploded. When they went to Galilee, they ball got rolling, and it grew into an avalanche. It outgrew their wildest expectations, and kept growing, 2000 years later.

Meeting in Galilee resulted in the church. 2000 years later, Jesus is still waiting for us, wherever Galilee might be.

But in the end, of course, the choice is yours. You could run into the night screaming, in fear of death, or the uncertainty of God. You could ignore it, make excuses, and try to poke holes into a testament that doesn’t care one bit if it makes any logical sense, because logical sense wasn’t what Jesus was here to make. Jesus was here to make disciples. Jesus is here to make you a disciple. But to become a disciple, you have to repent. You have to change your heart and your mind. You have to become something entirely new. You have to be resurrected.

So will you stay or will you go? Will follow Jesus to your own personal Galilee? Will you call him savior, or will you call him a myth, a legend, a fairy tale, a falsehood? Will you live as if he is your King, or will you simply call him King, and spend every day acting as if he isn’t? Will you repent, and change your heart and mind? The choice is yours, and it always will be. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When God Died, John 18-19

This sermon was delivered on Good Friday of 2018, March 30th.

–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian

4431-crown of thorns_edited.630w.tn.jpgOn Good Friday, God died.

Out loud, that’s kind of strange to say I’ll admit. I mean, the definition of a God is that they are immortal, that they don’t die. But on a Friday 2000 years ago, the man who was God died on a cross. More than that, he died for us.

Jesus was fully God, and fully human–this much we believe. Humanity was cruel to this God. We spat on him. We cursed him. We betrayed him, tried him, and killed him. He allowed us to do this to him too. At any point, Jesus could have stopped this from happening. He could have called an army of angels to his side to end the persecution. He could have caused an earthquake, a storm, anything to occur to disrupt the proceedings. He could have walked off the cross himself and walked away. But he didn’t. He chose this end. This much we have heard from John. It’s a lot to take in. That’s why we have a whole day to do it with, a whole worship service devoted to meditating on Jesus’s death and passion.

So what should it mean to us that God died for us?

Well, this is God we’re talking about. Jesus, as well as the angels, repeatedly told us that for God, all things are possible. With God, a sinner can inherit the Kingdom of God. With God, a virgin can bear a child. With God, a storm can be stopped with a word, a man can walk on water, the sick can be healed and the lost can be found. Therefore, with God, the impossible–a God dying–is possible too. Sad as that is, it is not outside of possibility for a being of infinite power, as well as infinite love.

good-friday-jesusAnd that’s really the kicker, isn’t it? It’s because of the depth of Jesus’ love for us that he was willing to do it for us. God died because he loved us, and that love was so overwhelming that God submitted to the unthinkable.

This day is a somber one. It’s one of reflection and prayer. It’s a day of confession and repentance. It’s even a day when we can be sad, and even mournful, for a dead messiah. We need to feel these things. We need to feel sorrow for what happened to Jesus, and regret for how humanity treated him.

More than anything though, this needed to happen.

Death is an inevitability. It is the equal balance of life, one that is inescapable for us mortals.

There is a passage that I found from Dr. Alan Watts, a scientist and philosopher, that explains nothingness and death in a fascinating way, which I’ll share with you now.

Overcoming-Fear-by-Embracing-Nothingness-1-768x504.jpgIf you are aware of a state which you call is, or reality, or life

This implies another state called isn’t

Or illusion, or unreality, or nothingness, or death

There it is, you can’t know one without the other

And so as to make life poignant, it’s always going to come to an end

That is exactly, don’t you see, what makes it lively

Liveliness is change, it’s motion

So you see, you’re always at the place, where you always are

And you think WOOWIY! little further on we’ll get there!

I hope we don’t go further down

So that we loose what we already have

But that is built into every creatures situation

No matter how high, no matter how low

So in this sense all places are the same place

And the only time you ever notice any difference is in the moment of transition

When you go up a bit, you gain

When you go down a bit, you feel disappointed, gloomy, lost

You can go all the way down to death

Somehow there seems to be a difficulty getting all the way up

Death seems so final

Nothingness seems so very, very irrevocable and permanent

But then if it is, what about the nothingness that was before you started?

On the contrary, it takes nothing to have something

Cause you wouldn’t know something was without nothing

You wouldn’t be able to see anything unless there was nothing behind your eyes

The most real state is the state of nothingness.

 

–Alan Watts

 

If the most real state is the state of nothingness, then God needed to experience that. God needed to die so that God could overcome death for us.

On Sunday, we’ll see this in its fullness. But for now, we wait. We dwell on nothingness, emptiness, in hopes that it will one day become something-ness again.

God is God. That will never change. But in the meantime, we must contemplate God’s death, and our own role in it. To get to the beginning, we must experience the end. That way, we can fully appreciate it. Until then, we wait. In the name of the loving Father, the crucified Son, and the ever present Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Last Time, John 13:1-35

This sermon was delivered on Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018. Kicking off the triduum with a sermon on finality. Seems fitting.

–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian

13 Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.

Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”

“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”

Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”

12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them. 18 I’m not speaking about all of you. I know those whom I’ve chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, The one who eats my bread has turned against me.[a]

19 “I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I Am. 20 I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. 23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side.24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about.25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.” Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.

31 When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One[b] has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One[c] in himself and will glorify him immediately. 33 Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’

34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

 

communion.jpgThere’s something very powerful about he Last Supper. Particularly the part about it being “the Last.”

There’s finality to it. This is the ending of a how things were, a preamble to the passion to come. Which makes Jesus’s mandate–where we get the word Maundy from, a corruption of the Latin word Mandatum–all the more powerful.

His final mandate for us was to love one another, like He loved us. A simple request, but a hard one. After all, how much did Jesus really love us? I ask this in all honesty. The man loved everyone he met. He loved the lepers. He loved women with spotted history. He loved tax collectors. He loved a rich man who could not give up his possessions. He even loved the Pharisees and priests, his enemies, enough to hold them accountable for their hypocrisy. He loved so deeply that he would undergo betrayal, trials, and ultimately, death.

This dinner was Jesus’s chance to tell them what he wanted them to learn, and how to live, one last time.

That’s difficult to appreciate, I think. People don’t like endings, because endings mean change. We resist endings because I think we don’t know how to process the change well. It happens in all stripes of life. We cling to a job we have because it’s what we know, so if a new opportunity comes, we struggle with accepting it. A new person comes into our life, and growing pains occur fitting them into our routines. Someone moves away, and a hole appears in your heart where they used to be.

That makes this Last Supper all that much more important. There’s a reason we continue to practice Communion, more than just because Jesus said to “Do This.” There’s real, mysterious power in the act of sharing the bread and the wine.

The truth of this night is that, when we partake of the bread and the wine, Jesus is truly, really here among us.

It’s impossible to explain of course. We can’t see him, obviously. But we do feel him. It’s why the song “Surely the Presence” is so powerful for me. God’s glory is fully, really present with us, and it’s at its peak when we share in communion.

John’s version of the Last Supper is especially poignant, given how different it is from our imagining.

LaurieLisonbeeJohn dwells on irregular events. He puts a lot of emphasis on the foot-washing, and how that was emblematic of Jesus’s love. In fact, Jesus’s love was given it’s greatest demonstration in life by wearing a slave’s towel and washing his students’ feet. He took on that role to show them the greatest method of showing love is service.

His disciples objected. This was humiliating for Jesus! He was shaming himself, and in a shame/honor based culture, this was almost painful for them to watch. But he wanted to make a statement: that culture is wrong. Don’t think about what other people think of you. Don’t let other people control you. Do what is right, what is loving, what is caring. Do the right thing when everyone stands against you.

There’s a lot of mockery out there about people who care. People call them “bleeding hearts,” as if that’s a bad thing. But Jesus’s heart bled for us all. He didn’t care if people were ashamed, or thought his behavior was disgusting. He didn’t care that the whole world was against him, because he was willing to bleed for them. Die for them. Be a slave to them. Serve them, despite their protest. He was doing what’s right. He was doing the loving thing. And that is what we ought to do.

Don’t be ashamed by what the world thinks. Don’t let anyone dictate your life.

images-13Allow the presence of Jesus here, now, influence you. He’s the one you ought to listen to. And he tells you to love as he loved us. So put on a towel, so to speak. Listen to the cries of those in need. Show them love. Be willing to be shamed and humiliated for the work of Jesus. Love, without restrictions. Love, and remember you are loved. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Name of the Lord, Mark 11:1-11

This sermon was delivered on March 25, 2018, Palm Sunday. I really had fun writing this one, as I posed it to myself a challenge, synthesizing multiple feast days together. Enjoy!

–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian

 

When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task,saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord![a] 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Often, I get to come to the pulpit with multiple choices to preach about on a Sunday. The usual choices come often from the lectionary, but today some additional choices are available.

palm-sundayToday is of course, as you have observed, Palm Sunday. The scripture reflects as much. However, given the context and practices of the local church, today could be Passion Sunday, a preview into the events of Good Friday. Third, however, is an outlier, one that doesn’t happen often at all in congruence with the Sunday before Easter–the feast of the Annunciation.

annun_angelico.jpgWhat is the Feast of the Annunciation, you ask? Today is March 25th. What happens exactly 9 months from now? You guessed it: Christmas! Therefore, today is the day that the church also traditionally observes the moment when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to announce that she will give birth to a son, the moment of the Immaculate Conception. Mary (it is observed) conceived Jesus on this day.

So how rare is it then that such a confluence should happen. April 1 is rarely Easter. Therefore, rarely does Palm/Passion Sunday arrive on the same day we witness to Jesus’ conception.

What does it all mean though? Is it all a grand coincidence? Possibly. But the Spirit uses coincidence all the time to bring about a greater understanding of things, and today, I believe the Spirit is moving us to come to a greater understanding of the triumphal-yet-ironic day of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem.

I think most of all, however, on what the crowds yell as he enters the city. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It is perhaps the most powerful part of this passage in Mark, more than the curious nature of his entry on a donkey. It is a prophetic song of praise–which takes on new meaning when you look at it in each of the 3 choices we are offered to celebrate the  day. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, at his birth, at his peak, and in his death.

The Name of the Newborn King

Rarely do we have a chance to look back at the Nativity during the season around Easter, but Mary’s annunciation affords us no better chance than to do just that.

Annunciation.jpgOf course, the closer you look at the Annunciation, the more appropriate it looks to use it to approach Palm Sunday. Gabriel came to Mary completely by surprise, but was welcomed and accepted. Gabriel praises Mary, as she is the most favored lady of God, a blessing to the world in and of herself. Further than that, Gabriel praises who she will give birth to.

Luke 1:32-33 says: “He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

Even more, Gabriel gives him his name: Jesus, translated from Hebrew meaning “He will Save” or “He will Deliver.”

Now, of course Gabriel knew the mighty things Jesus would do–he was charged with giving the news directly from God. But Mary was blessed to be the first one on earth who would bear the good news on her own. She alone was the first who would be able to say with the fullest confidence: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Why is Jesus’s strange birth something to reflect on during the events of Holy Week, though? Specifically Palm Sunday

Because this is, in many ways, was the first time the world at large got to celebrate him, to worship him as he is fit to be worshiped. This parade was a holy affair, as well as a party. We don’t usually party around this time of year–for good reasons, considering Lent is a time of fasting, not partying. But There is always an exception to every rule.

The Feast of the Annunciation is just that: a Feast Day. It’s one of the few times during Lent that the faithful are “allowed” to break their fast. In modern vernacular, it’s a cheat day. You can let go a little. You can celebrate a bit. Color, sight, sound, and life revive us on this day, this last day before the biggest week in all of Christian faith and worship.

It’s also just good to remember the beginning of things as we come to the end of things. It bookends Jesus’s life nicely, reminding us of the joy of a new, exciting thing breaking into the world. Jesus was coming into the world for the first time, and this moment was the first sign of that news. Good news was given to the world for the first time. That’s something worth remembering. That’s worth responding to with a hearty hosanna. Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

The Name of the Ascendant King

Which brings us to today, Palm Sunday.

As I said, this is a feast day, and a good one to observe. It’s one last deep breath before the dive into the passion this week. It’s almost as curious as the Annunciation, even.

Entry_Unknown_German_master_OsnabruckAltarpiece_1370sIt doesn’t start with a young woman being told that she’s going to give birth, but it is started with an announcement: We’re taking your donkey because our teacher needs it, and you can’t stop us! Does anyone else find it hilarious that, to fulfill the scriptures, Jesus needed a donkey to ride into town, and to do that his disciples committed Grand Theft Donkey?

In any case, Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem is a grand affair. People lined the road as he trotted up the path, starting from a certain place: the Mount of Olives. Why is that place so important? There was a prophecy that foretold of just such a savior coming from the Mount of Olives to free Jerusalem from its captors.

The prophet Zechariah gives us this account (and a quick trigger warning, this passage does include rape. Remember, the bible isn’t all that family friendly):

Zechariah 14:2-4: I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem for the battle, the city will be captured, the houses will be plundered, and the women will be raped. Half of the city will go forth into exile, but what is left of the people won’t be eliminated form the city. The Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day he will stand upon the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem.

Later on, in Zechariah 9:9-10, another prophecy recounts this: Rejoice greatly, o daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The people knew these prophecies well. They expected them, especially at the Passover, their highest festival. They also wanted it desperately. Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, two historians and theologians, tell of a second parade that happened that day. That one was on the other side of town, resplendent in Roman glory. It was the entrance of Pilate into the city, and he was accompanied by a troop of Roman soldiers. Their parade was a symbol of imperial might.

But Jesus’s parade…that was one of humility. It was a people’s parade. It was one with banners made of peasant’s clothing, with palms wafting in the breeze. It was the parade the people wanted, not the one the oppressors demanded. And Jesus? He fit the bill, coming in on a donkey from the Mount of Olives.

So they shouted, and sang “Hosannas” to him. They partied. They feasted. Finally, the one the prophets foretold has come! Or so they thought.

It’s even more peculiar how the passage ends. Jesus arrives at the temple, gives it a good scope…and then leaves. As unexpectedly as he came in, he disappeared. It was as if it was a dream for Jerusalem. Their messiah appeared, like the shimmer of a mirage…and then is gone. The rest of the week, he begins his campaign against the temple, and the priests. And soon, the crowd forgets their  parade. All hosannas faded. The blessings they put upon the one who came in the name of the lord were all but forgotten.

The Name of the Crucified King

In the days ahead, we will have a king. But he will not look like one.

Jesus_in_Golgotha_by_Theophanes_the_Cretan.jpgNobody will throw him a grand parade. Oh, they’ll line the streets, but instead of laying palms the ground before him, they will be shouting curses and spitting on a man with a crown made of thorns. No longer will they be saying “Hosanna” or “Blessed be his name.” Now it’s “heretic,” “traitor,” and “false priest,” that issues forth from their lips, and their hardened hearts. Gloria’s were sung for him at his birth. Hosannas at his entry. But no songs were sung at his crucifixion.

This week, we meditate on Jesus and his passion.

As we celebrate today, we take a pause to acknowledge the mountain we must climb to get to Calvary. May we always remember that his name is blessed. May we remember that he saves us, delivers us, and forgives us. May we remember that before we can get to resurrection, we must appreciate how deeply Jesus loves us. May we remember that the name of the crucified king is blessed. His name is Jesus. Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment