Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon Scraps: the not-so-left-overs, continued

I believe I left off with Maryology. I love Maryology. I truly believe we are supposed to be (metaphorical) Marys for the world -- we are supposed to be the God bearers (theotokas) in the world. I heard once that we may be the only Bible that some people read. I believe that is our mission, to carry God, to carry the Word to the world. Anyway . . . I digress.

I believe it is essential that Mary was fully human. Jesus had to be born with all the trappings of original sin. Now, don't go saying that I said Jesus was born with original sin. That's not what I said. That's an entirely different topic. If God became human, I believe that shows an ontological shift for God. We were incapable of moving ourselves closer to God, so God moved closer to us.

While the divinity of Jesus is important, I believe we get that. I can understand that Jesus was God. We seem to have trouble understanding that Jesus was human -- like us. He laughed, cried, told jokes, went to the bathroom, had headaches, toothaches (poor dental coverage in the 1st Century). He got angry; he may have suffered bouts of insomnia. He was hungry, and thirsty. He was like us. He experienced what we experience.

But Jesus was also God. He loved like only God can -- fully, in your face, confrontationally, unconditionally. In truth, I don't think we know what do with divine love. I have a wonderful friend (a former brother in ministry) who preached the gospel -- he preached the love of God. When I had my spirit and my heart broken, he was there to pick me up, to show me God's love for me. And yet, he could not believe the love that he preached. He could not believe that God loved him, that God forgave him, even him, and he self-destructed. And the truth of the matter is that God's love is overwhelming. I don't pretend to understand how God could love me, how God could forgive me. I know what I've done. I asked in the last post about whether or not we could worship a God who could forgive us.

This is the question. How can God forgive us? I believe God can forgive us because God lived as one of us, because God felt our brokeness. God felt our hurts, our alienation, our lonliness, our shame. God took our brokeness upon God's self, and responded with love. When confronted with divine love, we (humanity) responded with the cross. Often, we fear what we don't understand, and we don't understand God's love. Moreover, what we fear, we often try to destroy, and so we tried. We tried all the way to the cross. I don't know have any theological weight to explain this, but somehow I believe that Jesus experienced every sin on the cross -- he felt every sin from mine to the Sho-ah. He took on every sin, all sin, Sin itself.

And it was enough to kill him. It's important to say that Jesus wasn't pretending to be dead. It's not like he was faking it, or just passed out. Jesus really, really died on the cross. Sin killed him. On the last men's Walk to Emmaus I worked, one of the pastoral team said something that really struck me as particularly apt. When we forgive someone, we take on the consequences of their action. The example (I think it was) Jason (or maybe Bill) was gave the thrown baseball. If you throw a baseball through my window and break it, you owe some money. If I forgive you of that burden, then I take on that burden -- I pay for the window. Don't push this example too far -- you'll end up back with St. Anselm and Cur Deus Homo.

But hear this, Paul wasn't kidding when he said that the wages of Sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin will kill us. Sin does kill us. In my head I always think of Sin as Mestophales -- so cunning, promising good things, but those same things we think we want, usually are not what we need and are often the very worst for us. As an example, consider this: I love junk food. I could live on hamburgers and pizza, but hamburgers and pizza will raise my bad cholestoral level, raise my blood pressure, and they will kill me. Morever, Sin alienates us from one another. We were created for relationship (with God and with each other). If I eat nothing but hamburgers and pizza, I'll be as big as my house, unable to leave my house, and I will have fractured my relationship with others. Moreover, science has shown that junk food like hamburgers and pizza release neurotransmitters of joy (happy feeling stuff) in our brains, like drugs, or dark chocolate. In essence, we can become almost addicted to this food. It can become our obsession, our God, and then we've fractured our relationship with God.

The wages of Sin is death. This isn't metaphorical. Sin kills. It killed Jesus. Jesus took on the consequences of Sin. He died. But that's not the end of the story.

Now for some undeveloped theories. Billy Abraham (google him) makes it a point to say that in atonement, God makes an ontological shift toward us. Schubert Ogden (google him) wrote that the Christ event (that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) re-presents salvation to us. In the end, I would lump Ogden in the narrative theology of atonement group (I'm skipping some steps here; it's worth reading Ogden on your own). I find this inadequate. Yes, on one hand, the narrative of the Christ event does re-present the possibility of salvation to each of us individually. We all make the choice. But if God ontologically moved toward us, it's God who's done the work, not us.

Billy also goes on to say that atonement has to be bi-lateral. God moved toward us, and we move toward God. I like to think of the empty tomb accounts. The women come to the tomb. The women come toward God. In my mind (as yet, this is still an undeveloped theory), the women were the first to move toward God, even if they didn't know that was what they were doing.

I think somehow, all of us come to the empty tomb. Sin killed Jesus, but as I said above, that is not the end. Sin does not have the last word. Death is not the end of that story. We come to the empty tomb, like Peter and the beloved disciple, hoping to see for ourselves that the story isn't over. Some of us come, like the women, believing the story is over, ready to bury the one who took on our Sin, but he will not be buried. He lives. Some of us can't even bring ourselves to the empty tomb -- it's too much to believe. And Jesus walks through walls and tells us, like Thomas to touch the wounds. Each of us comes to a point where we have to choose to believe that the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen indeed, or we choose not to believe.

In exploring this with my theological sparring partner, Br Scot, I asked, but what if the women hadn't come to the tomb? What if we didn't move toward God? I don't know the answer to the 'what ifs' of this particular story, but I believe God would have found another way. Br Scot's answer to this was, do you have to know what God is doing for God to work in your life? But it still come down to this; we have a faithful step that we must take, an epistemic step to take. We have to choose to believe or accept that what has been told to us, or revealed to us is true. In that step, we are shifted ontologically (notice the use of the passive voice). We do not change ourselves, but we are changed. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life (paraphrase of John 3:16).

So can I worship a God who could forgive me? Yes. If I can  be forgiven, if my sin is forgiven, then the worst of humanity's sin is also forgiven. Sin is sin is sin in God's eyes. Jesus forgave all sin -- even those we can't forgive yet. If I can accept my own forgiveness, then I can accept (even if I don't understand) that God's forgiveness is for all.

Well, bring on the hole-pokers. I want to be ready for questions, so seriously, ask me now, when I have to look for answers. I would rather hear them now, not in my mock-board of ordained ministry interview.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sermon Scraps: the not-so-leftovers

I haven't blogged in a couple of weeks, but I have a really good excuse. 1) I was sickity-sick-sick last Sunday (11/7), so much so that everyone kept their distance from me and my fever. 2) I didn't preach this Sunday.
So, what's been on my mind lately? Well a whole lot of stuff--holiday preparations, theology, worship planning, theology, church conference preparations, theology, family, theology . . . Are you noticing a trend? At our last ordination meeting / RIM retreat / whatever you call it, the leaders mentioned that when we meet in January, we will go through a mock board of ordained ministry interview. So I'm thinking, I've got to get my theological chops in back in shape. So, let's get started. How about we begin with atonement (everybody's favorite BOoM subject).
When I was being interviewed for commissioning, the question was something like, 'how would you explain atonement to a young adult -- say a young man says to you, Pastor if God really knew what I had done, how could I ever be forgiven?'
The question reminds me of a quote, but I can't remember from where it comes right now. The quote is, "I'm not sure I can worship a God who would forgive me." If I ever remember where it's from, I'll post it. Nevertheless, let's dig deeper. Can we worship a God who would forgive Hitler? What about a God who forgives a child predator? or Chuck Taylor (if you're unfamiliar with him, Google him w/ chuck taylor + warlord, and then check out the work of Exile International)?
The Apostle Paul told us that there is no one righteous, no, not even one (Romans 3.10). Even those we believe to be the most saintly, they fall short. All of us fall short (again, paraphrasing Paul in his letter to the Romans).
So what does it mean that we have fallen short? What does it mean that we've sinned. Let me back up to say, I know I'm a sinner. I committ deadly sins -- If I learned anything during my sermon series on the 7 deadly sins, it is that I can see myself in all of them. St. Anselm said that our sin causes it to appear as though we have offended the righteousness of God (Cur Deus Homo). Anselm also spoke of an immutable God, and I find flaws in that theology. But the question remains, how does our sin affect God? Does it affect God? If not, then what's the problem? Does Sin only affect us? Instead of asking questions, how about some answers?
Yes, our Sin affects us. It also affects our relationship with God. It moves us farther from God. Being that I cut my theological teeth in process theology, I would even go so far as to say that our sin affects God. I believe it causes God grief. God feels the pain of seperation. Beyond that, I'm not comfortable deciding how our sin affects God. Perhaps more learned scholars could comment.
I believe God feels our need for healing. If you're interested in reading more about our need for healing, I would recommend reading some of Andrew Sung Park's work on the concept of Han.
In order to break the cycle of Han, to release us from the power (read: lordship) of Sin, God chose to become us -- to enter into creation, to take on all the trappings of our sinful condition. This is where many Roman Catholic theologians and I disagree. I believe it is essential to atonement that Mary be fully human -- born with original sin. Mary is just like us. Mary is the one from whom Jesus gets his humaness. Does anyone know any good Maryology scholars. I would like to be able to quote some here.

And now . . . well, I hope I've whetted your appetite for a good theological discussion. Alas, the topic is bigger than one post. Here's my deal. I'll try to continue sometime this week, but I want comments. The whole reason I started this blog to talk theology and to have an outlet for the stuff that I can't seem to fit in my sermons. So I want comments. I want suggestions. I want folks to find the holes in my theology.

Monday, November 1, 2010

To Make Up for Last Week: A Sermon

With my travel schedule last week, I never got to post anything. I didn't really have anything new to post about a sermon anyway. Last week, Bend UMC heard the final sermon in the "I am" series and Lometa UMC had laity Sunday (I don't blog about other's sermons, most of the time).

Anyway, I figured that instead of blogging my sermon scraps (what didn't make it into the sermon), I would post one of my sermons -- sort of. I gave this sermon for my RIM (Residency in Ministry) group last month, so it's a sermon to pastors. Still I think there is something for all christians. Where I said "sort of" above, I should explain. This is the sermon as well as I can remember it. I usually preach from notes, not a full manuscript. I have only recently, for discipline and training purposes, gone back to writing out my entire sermon. I wrote this manuscript based on my notes and what I could remember about what I said. Without further ado . . 

Galatians 6:14 – 18 (NRSV)
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Matthew 11: 25 – 30 (NRSV) 
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ 

The Marks of Ministry
When I was preparing to leave Perkins for in my internship, one of my professors said to our group, from now on, wherever you go, you will have a steeple coming out of your foreheads. You don’t know what that means until you know what that means, am I right? In our epistle lesson today, St. Paul writes, From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. This is his hand written benediction to this letter. As he wrote this, he was referring to the actual marks that had been branded on his body, the scars he had received from his years of imprisonment for having the audacity to preach the gospel. He refers to the scars he received because he bore the name of Jesus Christ.

Marks -- Car, banners, tree limbs
But this got me to thinking about the marks of ministry, the marks of being a Christian. My car marks me as a pastor. A few weeks ago I was driving to an Emmaus meeting when a bird of scavenge hit my passenger side mirror and took it off. I swear; it hit me. I did everything I could to avoid it, but it had its aim. I have a perkins sticker on my back windshield, and an OSL sticker. I even bought one of those clergy stickers with the cross and flame, but I haven’t put it on yet. I tend to multitask while I drive and I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea about pastors.

I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things they didn’t teach us in seminary that come up with some regularity. How to get a cow back in the fence. I could have used a course on banner hanging 101. That left a mark. The other day, I found that one of my other duties as assigned included piling up branches. While I was piling up the branches, my foot found the fire ant bed. Did I mention I was wearing flip flops? Yeah, that left a mark.

Marks of Sound
But we receive other marks from ministry, don’t we? Our people make their marks on us. I was having a discussion with one of my musicians the other day about changing the 2nd hymn on Sunday. I said, I’m preaching on I am the light of the world, and the words to I want to walk as a child of the light works well. And he said, yes, but we don’t know that hymn pastor. And I said, I’ll sing loudly; and he said, I know. And then he said, listen to this pastor. Doesn’t this sound like light? And he was right. Later on, he came to asked, it’s the words that are important to you isn’t it pastor? And I said, yes. I’m a poet. I studied poetry in college. It’s not for you. And he said, no, it’s the music. I’ve been mulling over this conversation for a while now, and it’s affecting my theology. It’s marked me.

There are sounds in ministry that mark us. When my congregation sings How Great Thou Art, and we get to that last verse, and I hear so many voices singing about bowing at the throne of our Lord. I’m overwhelmed every time.

Other sounds in ministry mark us, brand us with the marks of Jesus. I met Jerry a week after I moved to Lometa. Over the next few weeks, each time I was in Lampasas I would stop by his nursing home for a visit. I didn’t know that 6 weeks later I would walk into Jerry’s room for the last time. I had been told about that sound. That sound, you’ll know it when you hear it, and when you hear it, you’ll never forget it. That sound that people make as they’re dying. And then there was the silence that followed. Jerry branded me with the marks of Jesus.

St. Francis’s Marks
The reason this lesson was chosen for the feast of St. Francis, is because St. Francis himself was branded with the marks of Jesus. One day, while he was deep in prayer he received a vision of the feast of the cross. Upon having this vision, he received the stigmata – the wounds of Christ. He lived with them for the rest of his life. But long before he received the stigmata, he had been branded with the marks of Jesus. Later in his life, when he was no longer able to work, he dictated his memoirs. He told a story about his life before he belonged to Jesus. He would leave his house and if the wind was coming from the right direction, the stench coming from the homes of the lepers would overpower him. He would hold his nose and run to get away from that smell. Later, after his conversion, he told about the joy he had in ministering to those same lepers from whom he used to run. He told of his joy in caring for them, and tending to their needs, even cleaning their wounds. Long before he received the stigmata, he bore the marks of Jesus branded on his body.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus said, Come to me to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

In the rabbinic tradition to take the yoke of your rabbi meant to take on his teachings, to follow your rabbi, wherever he went. Rob Bell reminds us about that old saying for the rabbinical students. May you follow your rabbi so closely that the dust from your rabbi’s feet covers you. The whole thing about taking on the yoke of a rabbi means that we will do what our rabbi does, go where our rabbi goes, that we will follow so closely that the dust from his feet will fall on us. And if we have studied his teachings, if we have followed closely enough, if we have listened to him closely enough, if we have truly taken on his yoke, eventually, we will begin to look like our rabbi.

If we go where our rabbi is already at work, we’re going to receive the marks that our rabbi has received. If we do what our rabbi does, we will be marked like our rabbi is marked. That easy yoke of Jesus sends us out to hospital rooms, and nursing home, to bad neighborhoods. That yoke of Jesus sends us out to receive the marks of Jesus branded onto our bodies. And may it be that the dust from our rabbi’s feet covers and we look like him. Amen.