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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We Showed Up

We Showed Up

Something has brought us to this room today—something besides the entry in our calendars or the email reminding us or the items on the agenda.  Something long ago started us on a path that has led to this room.  It’s been a journey fraught with hardships, unexpected turns, maybe even some painful falls that brought our faces into contact with the dirt of our path.  But we kept on. People lifted us up and supported us.  We believed this was the best road for us to travel.  We hoped we had something to offer, something unique, something transformative.  We may be weary now, but there was once a spark, and it wouldn’t take much to remember it and–if needed–rekindle it.  It is as ancient as fire, as a Passover to freedom,  as a journey from death to life.  It smolders at times, sends up pungent fumes at times, but is never extinguished. So, OK: Someone has brought us to this room today, Someone who is often discovered in fire, and Whose warmth embraces us and those who stand near us. ...

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“You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say…”

“You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say…”

Scripture: Matthew 5:17-48 “You Have Heard That It Was Said…” This passage is difficult because Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (nor the Prophets).  But then he goes on to quote the law about murder, adultery, oaths, retaliation and enemies and goes way beyond it in most cases.  “You have heard that it was said, but what I say to you is…”    Jesus seems to be on the side of the conservative interpreters of the Torah, stating that not one smallest part of a letter of it should ever be changed.  The Jewish scholar, Dr. Amy Jill Levine, in her Annotated Commentary on the New Testament, reminds us that not everything in the Torah is a law, and that way back at the time of Hillel,  Jews believed that there was an oral Torah and a written Torah, and both had equal value.  But the one can be interpreted by the other.  The Hebrew word for law (nomos) can be translated “teaching” and so gives further credence that not everything in the Torah, whether written or oral, has the force of law. Still, Jesus seems to be pointing the way to a higher standard of conduct.  He didn’t seem to have much tolerance for external observances, rituals or practices that were not accompanied by an interior purity of intention.  He knew that what comes out of our character and motivation and instincts means more than what we profess to believe.   He knew how difficult it is for us to accomplish even the most unselfish-looking deeds without having mixed motives for doing so. For those who celebrate or know about Ash Wednesday, with ashes so recently traced on our foreheads and the accompanying words assaulting our ears: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” perhaps we have a context in which to interpret this difficult passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Our lives go so fast—we are old before we realize the years have passed.  We can’t believe the ages of our children and grandchildren.  You never thought you would live to be forty, and then suddenly find yourself in your sixties or seventies or eighties!   Ashes indeed.   I know this is a little far out, but what if Jesus, in these words recorded by Matthew, were trying to teach us something about life and death? We are, are we not, used to playing up certain laws in Scripture and ignoring others.  I was in a discussion group of teachers just the other day, and they were complaining about how little respect students seem to have these days.  They don’t respect each other, nor do they respect their elders, their...

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Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 After a pause for six weeks of meetings, we can now go back to our “Difficult Passages in Scripture” theme.  Does this passage from Matthew 20 surprise you? I want to bring several sources to bear on this Scripture.  The first, of course, is the scripture itself, and its commentary in The New Interpreters Study Bible.  The second is this poem called “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, a poetess born in Maple Heights, OH (now lives in Provincetown, Mass.) and winner of both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that many modern spiritual writers are quoting these days: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things. The third is this passage from Rev. Cam Miller, in his “Subversive Preacher” blog of this past Wednesday 2-19-14: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/1445266a8557d6e1 The fourth is this poignant blog of 2-20-14 by Rachel Held Evans, an Evangelical: “I asked my friends to share their Sacred Scared here because I wanted to prove to you that folks who are showing up BIG TIME and doing REALLY hard things are just like us. Everybody is the same. No one has it all figured out and No one ever will. We just gotta show up for our dreams and each other before we’re ready. We can be scared and still show up. We can be completely UNHEALED and still show up. We must just show up in all our beautiful, messy glory. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready. – See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/02/19/sacred-scared-day-one/#sthash.vPj5HdH8.dpuf “Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you...

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