16 April 2009

The Resurrection, a little late.

Yesterday I was crucified with him;
today I am glorified with him.
Yesterday I died with him;
today I am made alive in him.
Yesterday I was buried with him;
today I am raised up with him.
Let us offer ourselves to him
who suffered and rose again for us.
Let us become divine for his sake,
since for us he became human.
He assumed the worse that he might give us the better.
He became poor that by his poverty we might become rich.
He accepted the form of a servant
that we might win back our freedom.
He came down that we might be lifted up.
He was tempted that through him we might conquer.
He was dishonored that he might glorify us.
He died that he might save us.
He ascended that he might draw to himself us,
who were thrown down through the fall of sin.
Let us give all, offer all, to him
who gave himself a ransom and reconciliation for us.
We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death,
that we might live.
We were put to death together with him
that we might be cleansed.
We rose again with him
because we were put to death with him.
We were glorified with him
because we rose again with him.
A few drops of blood
recreate the whole of creation!

Easter Oration, St. Gregory the Theologian

10 April 2009

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazorean the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,Aramaic in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19. 16-30

01 April 2009

God Has a History of Moving

As is obvious by now, I'm taking a preaching class this semester. This sermon is on 2 Samuel 7.1-14a, otherwise known as the Davidic Covenant.

God has a history of moving. Did you know that? God has a history of moving. God moved in the flames of the burning bush and in the waters of the red sea. God moved in the breath that brought life to dry bones. God moved in the walls of Jericho and stirred in the heart of Solomon. God embraced Mary and challenged Joseph. God guided the disciples and raised the dead. God has inspired protests against war and witnessed to the power of non-violence. God has a history of moving. And, in this passage, God is concerned with doing just that—moving.

We’ve been talking about David a lot recently. We’ve heard the stories that tell of David’s anointing, of great victories in battle. Joshua just told us about David’s triumphant return to Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant—God’s holy throne. David returns as a war hero, but quickly changes roles into that of the priest. We see him officiating rituals and wearing priestly clothing.

But David is not a priest, he’s a king. And, starting with chapter seven, we see David acting like one. Basically, he starts making decisions. About God. There’s no doubt that his intentions were good ones. David wanted to give the Ark a proper place to reside—shelter, protection. And now, as king and savior of Jerusalem, he could do it.

I can imagine David feeling awkward and uncomfortable, living in such splendor while the Ark, the symbol and manifestation of God in the world was stowed in a tent. So he decided to build the Ark a proper “house” out of Cedar—a fine, fragrant wood.

David tells his plans to Nathan, a prophet in the King’s court. And Nathan sees no problems with David’s idea, offering the Lord’s approval. But that same night, we are told. That same night, the Lord moves. God came to Nathan and, in the first part of the oracle at least, David gets (as we might say today) told.

“When did I tell you to do this?” God asks. “Have I ever told anyone, since the Egypt days, to do this?” God then proceeds to outline to Nathan (and thus to David) all the good works God has done for David. God doesn’t stop with simply listing the benevolence that he has poured upon David. God keeps going, adding that the Lord will make David a house and will give David a dynasty. “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” God says. “I will be father to him and he shall be a son to me.”

In this passage we find a tremendous promise to David, one filled with hope for the future. These are good things—lineage and blessing. The favor of the Lord. This oracle is often referred to as the Davidic Covenant—in this case, an unconditional promise God makes to his people through David.

It’s a passage that is formative for our faith and our world even if we don’t speak of it explicitly. As Christians, we point to this text as the foundation for the importance of the Messiah we call Jesus. In the world, this oracle is often pointed to as a reason to have a Jewish state—an issue that has long been a hotbed of debate around the intersection of religion and global politics.

But, what fascinates me about this passage isn’t these or other implications. What is fascinating is the way it all began. David sets out to take care of God. God, instead, takes care of David. In the text, as I’ve already mentioned, we hear that David is planning on making a “house” for the Ark. House could be translated as temple or palace. Either way, David wants to build a permanent place for the Ark—a place of protection and shelter and safety.

The history of the Ark is a colorful one. It was the symbolic throne of God that was so holy that if anyone touched it, they would be struck dead—even in attempt to save it from disaster as we heard in the scripture read at the beginning of class. Through out the Hebrew Bible we find mention of the famed Ark of the Covenant—of its shape and covering and adornments. Yet, even though we have some of these details, the Ark remains shrouded in mystery. While we have descriptions, none are thorough enough for us to get a true picture of it. We’re not even sure what happened to it.

But what we can be sure of is that it was held in high esteem. This was a revered part of the Hebrew faith, so holy that it was taken everywhere the people went. Holy enough, David decides, to have its own building. So, as we’ve heard, David wanted to do the logical thing—protect that which was important to his people. Keep the sacred safe, the holy protected.

But God refuses to be grounded. God refuses to be made immobile. The oracle asks David “Of all the times I’ve lead you and been with you, have I ever asked for a house of Cedar?” David, of course, knows the answer—no. God continues, pointing out that not only has God not asked for protection, but God was the one to choose and protect the people of Israel and David

The oracle Nathan channels is, undoubtedly, an intense one. It calls on the history of the Hebrew people, not just in recent times of success and triumph, but all the way back to its days of enslavement. God, as we’ve heard already, has a history of moving.

A temple or palace for the Ark, then, immobilizes God. Certainly God is not confined to human walls, but all too often the fault is ours. God’s ability to move in his people and in this world is independent of human attempts to limit God. We are the ones that keep people away from God. We are the ones who forget the ways God has moved in the past and ignore the ways that God is moving now.

But God doesn’t simply shun the protection David tries to offer. God turns David’s offer on its head. Not only does God not want or need David’s house, but God declares that he will make David a house. Here we find “house” carrying another meaning beyond palace or temple. Here, God speaks of David’s house, or dynasty—a royal lineage. David’s initial idea of securing the Ark is met with God’s intent to do just that for David—secure his lineage.

Attempting to secure God, of course, is no unusual occurrence—the faithful have long tried to save and protect God. The crusades sought to defend Christianity and Jerusalem against perceived threats from Islam. Airplanes have been flown into buildings in the name of God.

The struggle to protect God isn’t limited to religions fighting it out, however. We also find it in our own churches, our own communities. And I wonder, what are we scared of? What is it that heightens our fear and causes us to hold so tightly to the God of blessing and promise that we build societies and traditions that keep others away from God? Who or what are we protecting God from?

In the local church, it is often the fear of losing our Jesus that causes us to push others away from God. Churches struggle with using inclusive language, and not just because it’s hard to change old habits. They struggle because if God isn’t male, then what is God? Suddenly, the boundaries and lines that we’ve drawn around the Divine are blurred and that makes us uneasy. It’s far simpler to compartmentalize God than to expand our understanding of the Divine. The idea that God can move and inspire and create beyond what we know and experience is terrifying and awe-inspiring in one breath.

But, it seems, the terror overtakes the wonder, and so we don’t stop at simply limiting God. We also build fences around the people searching to find and connect to God.

For the past year, I’ve worked as the music minister at a small, country church dealing with the explosion of Atlanta suburbia around it. Church members are friendly and, for the most part, genuine. I like it there. It reminds me a lot of the church I grew up in—family oriented and kind. It’s comfortable, familiar. But there are reasons I left the church I grew up in, and reasons I struggle at this church too.

I came out as a gay man to my parents when I was 15. The years prior to that conversation were rough ones. I was raised in the South, in a geographic, social, and religious location that had very particular understandings of who and what gay people were. Namely, sinners.

I was terrified about how my parents would respond, but equally as scary was the thought of what my church might say. The people at church, it seems, never quite got it. I didn’t want to change them. I just wanted to be me.

I had been going there since I was four. They weren’t just distant old people at church, they were family. I wasn’t just another snot-faced kid, I was a son. For a long time, I was that kid. The one that couldn’t seem to do wrong. The one that all the kids were friends with. The one that the parents loved. The one that the older adults adored.

I couldn’t do wrong, that is, until they found out that I was gay.

There wasn’t any big revelation. More of a sliding secret that crept beneath the pews and into peoples ears. People started drifting away. Phone calls that once rang often to include me in non-church youth activities, all but vanished. And then, 12 years of church family seemed to be distant.

I wasn’t sure what was happening. The God they had taught me about, the God I knew, didn’t abandon me. Why did they? Why did they push me away? Weren’t they supposed to be the ones of all the people in my life to hold me close?

It was hard, and to be honest, I’m waiting for the same thing to happen at the church that employs me now. Hardly a Sunday goes by that I’m not asked if I have a girlfriend or why I’m not married. If I mention I’m hungry or that I woke up late, it seems, amazingly, that a wife would fix all of those problems.

And every comment and question along those lines is another block in the wall being built up around God to keep people like me away from God. Sure, it isn’t explicit, but I know what the implications are. Come out, and loose my job. Be honest about my reality and, suddenly not be good enough. Admit to being gay, and you just aren’t welcome here.

The sad thing is this: the outcasts communities create to protect God aren’t just because of hot-button issues. We exile those who think differently about how to pray or share the table or, as Mallory pointed out a few weeks ago, think different paint colors should’ve been chosen.

We’ve forced our only interactions with God into holy stone and wooden shrines filled with quiet agreement about the blessed poor and meek. Yet, as we’ve immobilized God, we’ve immobilized ourselves. We, like David, have decided that God looks better as cross on hanging behind the chancel, a symbol of God in the security of a temple, then out in the world. And because we listen for God an hour a week sitting in a pew, we miss the action that we are called to take. We miss God’s call to move.

But hear the good news: God, still has a history of moving. And, sooner or later, God’s movement will inspire our own. The movement and action that God leads through the Hebrew Bible is hardly dormant. It was in the streets of Memphis and Selma. It’s in the community’s efforts in the flooding Dakotas. It is in the banners calling for justice made by our own peers that hung from interstate overpasses. God moves now. God moves in churches that insist that God loves people regardless of race or sexuality or gender or ability or age. God isn’t finished moving and creating and inspiring, and this must awaken our deepest sense of wonder.

We must stop telling God what to do or who to be. We have to release God from the chains we’ve bound him in, and let God move. Our attempts to hold God for ourselves have been met with the same proclamation David heard millennia ago: I will hold You because I have chosen you. Do not tell me how to move. Instead, move with me.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.