Sunday, April 19, 2020

On Doubt, Fear and Recognizing Resurrection

Second Sunday of Easter: 2020

"The great Easter truth
is not that we will be born again someday --
but that we are to be alive here and now
by the power of the resurrection.”

This verse came to me on an Easter card --
so long ago that I don't remember either the who or the when --
but every year it reminds me
that Easter is not just an ancient story
but a present reality.

And every year it reminds me that “here and now”
is sometimes easier said than done ...
teaches me once again
that celebrating the resurrection
is sometimes a whole lot easier
than figuring out how to recognize it.

And that has perhaps never been more true
than in this year of unprecedented challenges
in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.

So if you're struggling with that this morning --
as I know I am --
I hope you'll take heart -- as I do --  
that we’re in good company.

Notice that throughout these Fifty Days of Easter
we will hear the stories of those who actually
had the direct experience of the Risen Lord –
and still struggled to figure out this resurrection thing.

There were the women at the tomb –
who seemed to had an attack of collective amnesia
about Jesus telling them he would rise after three days.
It took the angels to remind them of that rather important detail.

And then when they ran back to tell the disciples;
who Luke tells us “dismissed it as an idle tale.”
(There's a whole 'nother sermon in that ... but not for today.)

There was Mary in the garden
mistaking the risen Jesus for the gardener.

And then there is this morning’s Gospel
where Jesus appears to the disciples:
who John tells us “were huddling in fear behind locked doors.”
Nevertheless, Jesus appeared and “breathed on them.”

Except for Thomas,
who is stuck with going down in history as “Doubting Thomas”
for his refusal to accept the testimony of others,
for his demand of his own experience of the risen Lord.

What took him away from the community that day?
Why was he out of the room?
Had they drawn lots for someone to run out for food?

We’ll never know -- but there are plenty of possibilities.
Imagine, missing one Sunday, and coming back to hear
“Guess who showed up while you were gone?”

Would you believe it?
It’s always seemed a bit unfair to me
how quick we are to make Thomas
the poster child for faithless doubt when –
truth be told -- the rest of the bunch
weren’t exactly stepping up.

What strikes me about this story every single year
is that Thomas came back at all.
Whatever had taken him away from the community,
he came back.
And it was in the community that Jesus came to him,
and -- without so much as a confession or absolution --
went straight to Thomas – with hands outstretched –
knowing what Thomas needed to believe and giving it to him, saying:
“Here ... check it out. Is this what you need? Touch, me Thomas.”
One of Thomas’ great virtues
was that he absolutely refused
to say that he understood what he did not understand,
or that he believed what he did not believe.

There was an uncompromising honesty about him:
he would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist.
Thomas had doubts,
but he refused to surrender to the fear
which kept the disciples shut up in that locked room.

He both ventured out
and then had the courage to return:
to face a community which had had an experience he did not share
and to be willing to insist on his own experience of God.
And so for me, Thomas becomes a symbol not of faithless doubt,
but of courage.
Courage to trust
that there are no doubts so profound that God cannot answer --
to believe that Jesus cares enough to show up a second time ...
a third time ... an umpteenth time ...
to breathe that breath of life on Thomas – and on us ...
to give us what we need not only to believe
but the courage to act on what we believe.

I truly believe that it was Thomas' willingness to doubt
that led him to an even deeper faith:
a faith that was his own and not somebody else's.

In words I have often quoted before,
Verna Dozier famously wrote:

Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.

Thomas' example calls us to risk the doubts that call us to greater faith --
that open us to the things we cannot even image today --
that equip us to recognize resurrection
as we move forward into God's future.

And I cannot imagine a time when the gift of being open to new possibilities is more crucial than it is right now.

·       New possibilities of cooperation between public and private sectors in creating safety nets for the most vulnerable among us;
·       New possibilities for worship and community building on virtual platforms as we re-imagine what it means to "be church" in the world;
·       New possibilities for dismantling the polarization and division that have infected our civic discourse;
·       New possibilities for changes to our economic system that continues to build more wealth for the few and perpetuates debt and poverty for the many;
·       New possibilities for reversing the damage we have done to this fragile Earth, our island home;
·       New possibilities for healthcare equally available to all and for ending the affordable housing crisis;
·       New possibilities to finally become a nation where “liberty and justice for ALL” is not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.

The story of Thomas
speaks with particular power to generations of Christians
like us
who inherit the stories of the risen Lord,
but who must -- at some point --
insist on their own experience of Christ
as we continue to make the great Easter truth
not just an ancient story
but a present reality.

Continue to strive to be alive -- here and now -- by the power of the resurrection.

Continue to have the courage to ask for what Thomas asked for --
and to trust that just as Jesus met Thomas where he was
and gave him what he needed to believe
He will do the same for us when we need Him to.

What we celebrate
as we journey into the fifty days of this Easter season
is the awesome privilege and responsibility
of being the church in the world:
being Jesus on earth:
being the place
where those who come seeking the risen Christ,
doubts and all,
not only seek but find
that breath of new life that God offers all creation.

Listen to Jesus say today:

See me.

Touch me.

Ask for what you need in order to believe
and I will give it to you.

And then,
give thanks that Easter is not just a Sunday but a season
and that we have 50 days ahead of us
to celebrate the great Easter truth
... not that we are going to live newly after death,
but that we are to be new here and now
by the power of the resurrection.

Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.

[Preached via Zoom on Sunday, April 19 for the 11:15 service; All Saints Church, Pasadena]

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday 2020

It was a Good Friday like no other
in a Holy Week like no other
in the middle of a year like no other.
Nevertheless, in this time of social distancing
and virtual church we offered
our annual meditations
at the cross from All Saints Church.
This was mine.

Good Friday 2020

This is the day when life is raw,
quivering, terrifying:
The day of numbed emotions,
the day of blunt nails
and splintered wood,
of bruised flesh
and red blood.
The day we loathe,
when hopes are crushed.

The day we long for,
when pretences fall away—
Because the worst that we can do
cannot kill the love of God.

We know this Good Friday story.
We know that Jesus dies:
that the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly
will be extinguished.
All that will remain of the radical rabbi from Nazareth
will be a broken body and the broken dreams
of his scattered followers.

The Kingdom he proclaimed has not come.
The powerful remain powerful:
the oppressed remain oppressed –
where there had been hope there is only despair –
and -- for Peter -- there is denial.

Me? I’m not one of them.
Don’t know him. Never met him.
No idea what you’re talking about.
Must have me confused with somebody else.

At that moment the cock crowed.

And at that moment – as I imagine it –
a flood of memories of sharing the work and witness of Jesus
must have poured into Peter’s paralyzed mind and broken heart.
The teachings, the healings and the miracles.
The miles walked, the meals shared, the message proclaimed.
The moments of transfiguration and the times of trial.
“You are the rock upon whom I will build my church” and
“Get behind me Satan.”

Peter denied it all in this seminal moment in the Good Friday story.

And here we are in church again – this year “virtual church” but still church –
to hear that story again.

Garrison Keillor tells of his uncle who, at annual family gatherings during Holy Week, always read the story of the passion and death of Jesus. And each year he would burst into tears.

The family would sit awkwardly until he was able to continue the reading. “My uncle took the death of his Lord so personally,” said Keillor – pausing to add: "The rest of the church had gotten over that years ago."

Indeed -- over the centuries the church has gone to great lengths to present two options for “getting over” taking Good Friday personally.

One option is to ritualize and sanitize the story
so that it remains at a safe, historical distance:
The Institutionalization of the Crucifixion.

The other extreme is to so emphasize the agony of the cross
that the glory of the resurrection
becomes practically incidental:
to make how Jesus died more important
than the life Jesus came to show us how to live.

And neither option enables us –
empowers us – inspires us –
to do what we have been called to do
as members of this thing we call the Body of Christ:
to take both the death AND life of Jesus “personally” –
to hear these stories of Lent and Holy Week
and to take them personally enough to be changed by them.

Poet, author and priest Malcolm Boyd took them personally.
He took them personally enough to be changed by them.

And then he used the experience of that change
to help change the church.

His “Are You Running With Me Jesus” –
published in 1965 fed the hunger of a generation of people
who had given up on the church or anyone connected with it
having anything relevant to say.

From one of his prayers:

Help us, Lord, who claim to be your special people. Don’t let us feel privileged and selfish because you have called us to you. Teach us our responsibilities to you, our community, and to all the people out there. Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.

Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.

Loving religion instead of Jesus
has been one of the ways the church has denied Jesus
over and over and over again
as surely as Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest
as the cock crowed the third time.

To love religion instead of Jesus –
to worship Jesus instead of following him –
is to choose institutionalization over mobilization –
to opt for the safety of becoming an institution
rather than risk the invitation to be part of God’s movement –
to … in the words of my Hebrew Scripture professor Jim Sanders:
“worship the gift rather than the giver”
making idols of the outward and visible signs
that represent an inward and spiritual grace
that transcends any outward and visible sign …
even the ones we hold most dearly
the ones we revere as the most sacred.

And boy howdy have we all gotten a crash course
on giving those up for Lent this year.

Remember when just giving up the wine for communion
and not hugging during the Peace
seemed like a huge, crazy steps away
from everything we were used to
when it comes to church?

That seems in some ways like a lifetime ago
and yet it was just a little over a month ago …
and since then we’ve gone from
virtual services streamed from 132 Euclid Avenue with a handful of participants
to virtual services streamed from our living rooms, dining rooms and studies
and Zoom is our new best friend.

We have shared spiritual communion and virtual prayers
and continued to be fed by the ministry of the word
in scripture shared, sermons preached, and prayers prayed.

In this time of COVID-19
we have not chosen to love religion instead of Jesus
we have chosen to reimagine religion because of Jesus.

In this time of COVID-19 we have been loving our neighbor
by staying away from them
by washing our hands.

The religion we claim
is the religion Jesus threw down:
“love your neighbor as yourself.”
All your neighbors.
Not just the ones who live in your zip code or are part of your car pool.
Not just the ones who think like you or vote like you or worship like you.
Love them enough to stay home to protect them.
ALL your neighbors. Every. Single. One.

The witness we call turning the human race into the human family – has nothing whatsoever to do with swallowing morally indefensible theories of an atoning sacrifice to appease an angry God and everything to do with living morally accountable lives of service and self-offering in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.

To live those values is to walk what Marcus Borg called “the way of Jesus” a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus … [but] the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”

It has to do with being the Body of Christ in the world – it has to do with these familiar words we sing when we bring the offerings of our lives and labor to the All Saints table on Sunday mornings:

A world in need now summons us
To labor, love and give;
To make our life an offering
To all that all may live.
The church of Christ is calling us
To make the dream come true;
A world redeemed by Christ-like love
All life in Christ made new.

All life made new is the Easter promise we claim
even as we gather once again at the foot of the Good Friday cross
in this year of our Lord 2020.

Yes, it is a time of challenge.

We gather as people of faith
stripped of many of the outward and visible signs
that have for generations defined that faith.

And we gather in the shadow of religion
which continues to be used and misused
as a weapon of mass discrimination in our nation
and as a weapon of mass destruction around the world.
Being used and misused to inflict trauma rather than to heal trauma.
Being used and misused for oppression rather than for liberation.
And if we let that use and misuse go unchallenged
we deny Jesus just as surely as Peter did.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is a meme circulating on social media with this unattributed quote:

And then the whole world
walked inside and shut their doors
and said we will stop it all
to protect our weaker ones
our sick ones
our older ones
and nothing
nothing in the history of humankind
ever felt more like love than this.

That, my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings
is what it is to walk “the way of Jesus”
a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus …
[but] the way of death and resurrection –
the path of transition and transformation
from an old way of being to a new way of being.

To walk in love as Christ loved us, an offering and sacrament of love, justice and compassion.

To walk in love as Christ loved us as we move forward into God’s future – knowing that even the worst the world can do cannot kill the love of God.


Good Friday 2020: Hearing it again for the first time

On this Good Friday 2020 these 1981 words of William Sloan Coffin have never rung more true: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.”

And the truth is in order for compassion to triumph over domination we must be willing to hear this Good Friday story we’ve heard so many times as if we’ve never heard it before.

When I was a young mother I sang in the choir at St. Paul's in Ventura and so my two small boys would sit during church with their friends Alex and Kimmie and their parents.

I remember looking down one Good Friday from the choir loft at the four of them intently coloring on the back of their bulletins during the reading of the passion – seeming oblivious to the liturgy surrounding them.

All of a sudden, Kimmie, who was about four, stopped coloring and began to listen to the unfolding story.

Now Kimmie had been in church since before she was born – an embryonic Episcopalian: which is one better than a "Cradle Episcopalian." So she'd heard this story many times, even for such a little one. She could sing "There is a Green Hill Far Away" from memory. She had filled up her "He is Risen" coloring book.

But on this particular day, she was listening like she'd never heard the story before.

When the gospel got to the words, "because he was already dead," she suddenly stood up and said (in a loud, horror-filled voice)

"Jesus is DEAD? They KILLED JESUS????"

And she started to cry in a way that made it very clear: this story she'd heard over and over again she had just heard, in some very profound way, for the first time.

At four years old, she entered into the pain and suffering of the crucifixion event … and in experiencing that pain herself, was changed by it. And, as she was carried out of church, inconsolable on her daddy's shoulder, so were we.

Compassion is what Kimmie experienced on that Good Friday: compassion in the truest sense of the word: "with suffering."

The invitation to compassion is the invitation to be with -- to be a part of something requiring sacrifice and often pain.

And for us, today, it is an invitation to join and be part of the crucifixion story.

A story that is not about suffering for suffering’s sake. A story that is not about a God who causes suffering in order to test us. To try us. To punish us. To “make us pay.”

Rather a story about a God whose quality is always to have compassion – to always be present in the suffering that is – and who is calling us to be present in it in order to transform it.


In order to bring to earth the kingdom come as it is in heaven – a kingdom of love and justice, of healing and hope, of inclusion and embrace for absolutely every member of the human family.

Friday, April 03, 2020

"Hands off 'our' stockpile" - Jared Kushner's Message to America

This morning on Twitter, Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake offered these "before and after" screen shots from the Department of Health and Human Services website.

The first is before Jared Kushner took the mic at the Coronavirus Briefing yesterday and the second is after. They represent a striking, stunning and significant shift of the federal government policy from "ensuring that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most" to providing "a short-term stopgap buffer" -- putting federal policy in alignment with Mr. Kushner's assertion that:
"The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use."

Can I just ask: WTF does that even MEAN???

Who is the "our" in "our stockpile" ... and if "the states" aren't supposed to use it who is? Jared, Ivanka & fam?

Seriously. Anybody? Buehler??? I just can't even.

If having Jared Kushner rewrite our public health policy isn't jumping the shark then there is no shark.

Thanks for letting me vent.
#BeSafe #BeKind #WashYourHands