From Winter to Spring 2015

From Winter to Spring 2015

From Winter to Spring: Reading from Psalm 22: 25-31 I know this is a risky title for a sermon in Cleveland, even in May. I had to keep my eye on the weather forecast in case I had to change the title or explain it away. Spring came seemingly within a couple of days: first crocus, then daffodils, then tulips, then forsythia, magnolias and fruit trees and Lilacs! This sermon is like that: signs of spring, but all over the place. I’m sorry it is not as straightforward and linear as you are used to. Let me ask: do we experience each other differently in winter than we do in spring? What lens should we use to look at the world? What perspective can we have? Pastor Roger Osgood’s quote from the Resurrection story in John’s Gospel vibrates in my memory: “On the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” resonates with me still, although Roger preached these words on Easter, giving us hope that while the news is dismal and dark like winter often is, there is the hope and joy of resurrection. We always think that our times are the worst and darkest times, but that of course is not true. The Gospels give plenty of hints at the turmoil and unrest of those New Testament days.   It was still plenty dark. Even AFTER the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were keeping the doors and windows locked. And this is still the Easter season. Let me tell you a true story: On my morning walk up Chadbourne Road in Shaker Heights just before dawn on April 29, 2015 (last Wednesday), I chanced to see two mallard ducks, a male and a female, walking up someone’s lawn toward his or her house! Although I have seen everything on my morning walks from skunks and raccoons to deer and even a coyote and a fox one day, I had never seen a pair of ducks. And in my mind, I imagined the female saying to the male: “Where are you taking me? Where the heck is the water? You DO know, I’m a duck, right? Do you think I fell in love with you because of your pretty feathers? I’m supposed to be swimming, NOT hiking!” And I imagined the male’s reply: “Relax, honey! After the sun rises and we take to the air, you’ll not only see the lakes in Shaker, you’ll also see that GREAT lake out there, and it will bring tears to your eyes. But THIS is a perfect place to nest—not crowded, off the beaten path, and landscaped just how we like it!). This is such a good story. I’ve thought...

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It Is Finished–Good Friday 2015

It Is Finished–Good Friday 2015

Seventh Last Word: “It Is Finished” (John 19:30) Presented at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio on Good Friday, April 3, 2015 I had the privilege, the honor and the great sadness of being present at the deaths of both my mother and father. They did not die in a hospital or suddenly. They died at home, in bed. I suppose it is a common inclination to dwell on their last words.   We remember last words. My three siblings and I have agreed that Dad’s last words were: “Get some rest.” He apparently felt we were taxing ourselves hovering around his bed. And my mother’s? The ones I remember the best as she spent her nine last days in a semi-comatose state were: “Take time to smell the roses!” And so there are these three last words of Jesus: “It is finished!” They are only recorded in John’s Gospel. John was reportedly at the foot of the cross; he would certainly remember them. Or perhaps he wanted these words to sum up the story of Jesus, who was John’s hero, the person he equated with the Word, with God, and wasn’t John the disciple Jesus loved? So what did Jesus mean when he cried out: “It is finished?” What does the “IT” refer to? The words are translated in Latin as Consummatum est [“It is consummated!”] But look at the original Greek: The word is tetelestai which was written on business receipts in New Testament times indicating that a bill had been paid in full. And so to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins. [From: Bible.org]. So that’s the usual interpretation: And if we agree with it, if we feel we are now close to understanding who God is, if we feel that we owe it to hundreds of years of tradition to believe that Jesus was the scapegoat for our sins, we will feel—what? Guilty?, Repentant? –but comforted? grateful? We laid our sins on him and he was killed so that God could once again love us or see only the sacrifice of his son instead of our ugly sins. It is almost completely irresistible to accept this interpretation. “It is finished” then means that our sins were paid for; God’s wrath appeased; we are redeemed, bought back, restored by the Second Adam to the favor that the first Adam (and his wife, of course) screwed up, lost, forfeited—the original sin! It is comforting, isn’t it, to trace Scripture from that fateful third book of Genesis through the Exodus and Law and Judges and Kings and Prophets and Gospels and Letters and Revelation to conclude: Jesus...

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New Beginnings Prayer after Genesis 1-3

New Beginnings Prayer after Genesis 1-3

Creator God, in calling You Creator, we acknowledge You as the God of our Beginnings, all beginnings. And so we ask you to bless our beginnings this year. We ask you for light, and to help us separate light from the darkness of ignorance and selfish myopia. We ask you for the moon and stars, because our dreams are big and our aspirations great. We ask you to focus our attention on the beauty of this blue and green and brown earth and to protect us from the sharks and killer whales that often seem to lurk as we swim in your ocean of air. We ask you to help us respect the snakes and crawling things while resisting the temptation to act on their level or to climb up the false tower of our own hubris thinking we are better and taller and more independent of you than we are. And finally, we ask you to teach us how to get along, to keep us from wanting to kill each other, to show us how to talk politely about our differences and even to celebrate them. We accept the beginnings you have entrusted to us. We hold them in our hands and wonder at their promise. We promise to take care of them and to return them to you even better than they now are. But for this we need your hand on ours, loving us, consoling us, energizing us, renewing us and keeping us faithful....

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The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

Matthew 19:16-26 Isn’t it interesting that Matthew puts this passage about the rich young man right after Jesus blesses the little children.  Of course, these two events may have taken place on different days or even in different years, but switching from the innocent sweetness of little children to someone who has all the resources and sophistication that wealth and education can bring, must have taken a great deal of effort.   I’m told that peace corps volunteers face this culture shock when they return from a third world country and re-enter a grocery store. The wealthy man’s question implies he is coming to grips with the fact that you can’t take your riches with you when you die, and so he is wisely asking Jesus, the teacher and prophet, how he can obtain the one thing he doesn’t yet have: eternal life.  He asks what “good” he needs to do to merit eternal life. When Jesus answers that there is only one who is good; namely, God, and then launches into a recitation of the commandments, the young man counters with what amounts to: “Whoa!  I am good!  I’ve kept all of these commandments.”  Jesus, instead of asking (as I would have): “Then why did you ask me ‘Which ones?’ when I said “keep the commandments?” Jesus must have looked at his clothing, his manner, the care he took of his skin, and then challenged him on the one thing he lacked in THIS life, detachment from his wealth. As the young man went away grieving (“no eternal life for me—yi!”), Jesus commented on the extreme difficulty of getting into that eternal realm with your bags full of money. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible makes the assumption that since the man was wealthy, he could NOT have kept the commandments Jesus quoted; that in that era and culture, he got wealthy by exploiting others, being greedy, and depriving others of what he had accumulated.  The NISB adds: “Contrary to elitist values that often despised the poor and blamed them for their poverty, wealth does not equate with virtue” (p. 1781).  “Wealth has blinded him,” NISB continues, “to unjust, hierarchical social relationships…To follow Jesus is to join a community that renounces domination based on birth and wealth, and where all are slaves (12:46-55; 20:24-28)…To live a life that deprives people of necessary resources, that maintains social inequities, makes it impossible to participate in God’s empire.  Repentance and restructured social and economic practices are necessary.”   Only God can effect that transformation. Wow!  Sounds like a call for the redistribution of wealth, doesn’t it?  Such a call would be fought with great vigor in the United States and labeled “Marxist” by many. ...

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Subduing and Dominating

Subduing and Dominating

Scripture: Genesis 1:27-31 and 2:7, 15, 18-19, 21-22. As those who study Scripture know, there are two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis.  In the one that appears in chapter 1, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’  God also said; ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.  God look at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:27-31).  In the second account, in chapter 2, “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being (Gen. 2:7)…The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it (Gen. 2:15)…The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name (Gen. 2: 18-19)…So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  The lord god then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man (Gen. 2:21-22). In her TEDx Talk of December 9, 2012 [http://youtu.be/575V-CgiVOE], Joan Chittister refers to this first book of the Bible to make the points that (1) they were undoubtedly written by a man from a male point of view; and both (2) hierarchy (man created first; woman second and subject to him; (3) and patriarchy are built in and have influenced history and culture ever since. Why in some countries are women and girls forbidden to become educated or even to drive?  Isn’t the argument that: it is the woman who attracts the man; it is the woman who gets pregnant, carries the child for months, and then...

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