Lobsters, Reservoirs, and Eye Rolls (plus all my regret about that one time in Sobeys…)

A sermon from Micah 6:6-8


I usually do my grocery shopping on Monday mornings.  I have Mondays off, so I make a menu for the week, make a list of what I need to buy, and take my kids to Sobeys.

Last year, the Sobeys in Steinbach kicked it up a notch, and they got new shopping carts in the shape of cars.   Which my kids just love.

Now, these carts are usually in pretty high demand, and unlike Canadian Tire, which has oodles of kids carts, Sobeys only has two. sobeys

One of them is a red fire truck.  And the other one is a pink racing car.

If they’re both available, I let my kids decide which one to take.  And if only one is, well, then, we take it. Because who really wants to be stuck in a boring, grey cart?

There was one Monday morning when I was shopping with Zach and Milo, and only the pink racing car cart was available.  So in go the boys and off we go into the store.

We start in the bakery, and then hit the produce section for our fruits and vegetables.  Then we go to the meat department, but first we stop to say hi to the lobsters.  At the deli, we take at least three of those little paper numbers (which the staff just love), and then it’s off to the dry goods aisles.

And the day we had the pink cart, by aisle 1, Zach, who was four, looked a little sad… almost on the verge of tears.

“Zach, what’s wrong?” I ask.

He pointed down to the far end of the aisle, “That other boy made fun of us for using a pink cart.”

And without a moment of hesitation, I came to my kids rescue by saying out loud, “Well Zach, that little boy can shove it.”

At first, I was a really proud parent… I was teaching my boys that they can shop in any colour of shopping cart that they wanted… We were busting gender stereotypes…  I was not going to let peer pressure become bullying, and I was going to teach my kids to be strong and independent and make their own decisions, and let them know that THEY are not allowed making fun of other kids who choose different things than them.

“That little boy can shove it.”

By aisle 3, I was mortified that I would be simultaneously defensive AND aggressive to another child.  That when “attacked”, my first response was to lash out… to give what I got.  I could not believe what kind of negative example I had set for my own children.  And I was embarrassed that this hostility towards another human being, let alone a child, was lurking just beneath the surface.


See, I love this morning’s Scripture. I love Micah 6:8 so much that Zach’s middle name is Micah, and we have a little picture on his wall with the words:  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

And when we read these prophetic calls to peace and justice and humility, we all nod and agree.  Like, who can be against peace and justice and humility?  Who’s not for love?

So, maybe, a good question is to ask:  What’s lurking just beneath the surface?  Love?  Kindness?  Compassion and patience?  Or enough defensiveness and anger and frustration that we tell other people’s kids to shove it?

There’s this Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque… In his newest book on love, he writes this:

“So we are the interpreter of what we see, fear, desire, lust over, or react to, and it is finally our interpretation of any event or encounter that prevails.  If we do not have a somewhat-natural recourse to a larger framing, which is what healthy religion is supposed to give us, we will spend much of our life in very small boxing rings, fighting largely useless battles, all based on our unproven and usually self-referential assumptions about what is happening. 

All this, in great part, depends on

  • Which inner reservoir is ready and waiting
  • Which inner reservoir is empty and begging to be filled
  • With what, precisely, our reservoir is filled

This takes genuine and daily vigilance.  It is the heart of all spirituality.”  – Richard Rohr

What’s our reservoir filled with?  And is it full?  Is it empty?   What’s lurking just beneath the surface?

When we work for justice, when we work for equality, when we share our resources, when we live and love people in our community, what are we anchored to?  What source are we drawing upon?

Are we acting out of our own, small selves?  Or something larger?

I think these questions matter, because if we get the answers wrong, we might end up telling little kids to shove it.

Or, we’ll end up wishing harm upon our enemies.

Or, we’ll end up letting our fears and anxieties determine how we live our lives.

Or, we’ll end up seeking power through any means necessary.

Or, we’ll end up believing that the ends justify the means, and in Christianity, the ends never justify the means.

If we don’t get the reservoir question right, we might end up responding to hate with hate, and in the process become the monster that we’re trying to fight.

It’s the difference between doing good poorly, or doing good better. 

Here’s the thing about Micah.  Micah was speaking to religious folk who were trying to do the right thing.  They were trying to check off the boxes to know if they were pleasing God.

And so they asked:  Shall we be bring you sacrifices? Are cows good enough?  What about a thousand rivers of oil?  What about if I sacrifice my child?

If this were us today ,we’d ask:  Should I give some more money away?  Even a whole year’s salary?  FINE, I’LL COME TO CHURCH ON CHRISTMAS MORNING!

 “It’s not about what type of offering we give so we can check off a box.  It’s about a way of life.”  – Tyler Mayfield

Hence why the first Christians were known simply as followers of “the Way.”  A way of life.



Yeah… obviously, none of us here are into those pious acts that make us look good, are we? We’re not into empty showy sacrifices.  We’re not into going through the motions of empty religious practices.  We’re not into religiosity, right?

We’re into the stuff that Micah is talking about.  Not religion, but justice and mercy and authentic love.

I get why we’d lean towards that, because I do, except that’s not exactly what Micah is saying here.

“Nowhere does Micah tell people to stop observing ritual practices or to stop being religious. The problem is not religion in itself. The problem is using ritual practice to excuse ourselves from the divine demands of justice and mercy.” – Amy Oden

See, this is one of those areas where I like to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy religion.  And healthy religious practice can actually help us with our acts and mercy and justice, and help us do good, better.

Healthy religious practice involves showing up to places where we are reminded that the world does not revolve around us.

Healthy religious practice involves confessing when we’ve made mistakes.  And involves confessing when we’ve been selfish.   And when we’ve lashed out at little kids.

Heathy religious practice involves reminding ourselves that we live for the Kingdom of God, and not our bank accounts, or our own sense of security.

Healthy religious practice teaches us how to rest, and helps create spaces of silence, solitude and stillness.

Healthy religious practice reminds us to practice gratitude.

Healthy religious practice helps us pray for others, even those people who frustrate us.

Healthy religious practice orients us towards our neighbours.

These practices actually can root us, and help us do justice and mercy, better.  And maybe even with humility.  These practices can help fill our reservoirs with goodness so that when we encounter suffering or resistance or pushback or challenges or little kids in Sobeys, we can respond with love.

And, if you are blessed enough to not say mean things about other people’s kids, then simply pay attention to how you react when a politician you didn’t vote for wins.

Or all the times you give a person an eye roll and shake your head behind their back.

What’s in the reservoir?

And, believe it not, healthy religious practice CAN fill the reservoir with love and goodness.

And THAT is what I think is one of the cool things about church.  When we view participating in this community as an opportunity to fill our reservoirs with good things, I think we’re looking at it through the right lens.

Church is not primarily a place to figure out morality.  It’s not primarily a place to assert our own sense of rightness.  It’s not primarily a place where we think we can go to please God, or be seen by the right people, or check off the right boxes.  It’s not primarily a place where we get information.

It’s a place where we look for transformation.

It’s a place where we fill our reservoirs with good things, so that we can love, better.

It’s a place where we fill our reservoirs with good things so that we can go and do mercy and justice, better.

It’s a place where we learn love and practice love and remind ourselves about love.

Because God is love, and the Trinity is loving relationship, and that’s what we try to fill our reservoirs with.  Love.

Not power.  Not being right.  Not empty rituals or really big sacrifices.

Love.

I recently heard a podcast featuring two of my favourite people that I follow on the internet.  And yes, one of them is Richard Rohr. But I would not be doing my job if I didn’t share it with you.

The host was Hilary McBride, a therapist from Vancouver… just by talking she makes me want to share all my feelings and cry.

She asked Richard Rohr a question:  What is it that you most like about being a Christian?

He answered:

“You know, I think it’s the expectation from other people that I should be loving, and that the world should be loving.   Christian, in many people’s vocabulary, and they don’t even know, is co-terminus with being a loving person.  “Well, he’s not being very Christian.”  I like living inside that expectation,  because it allows me to go there, it pushes me, and it invites me to go there. And that we’ve kept that much of our brand name in tact is very exciting to me.  That even on the unconscious level, most people assume that Christianity is still about a loving person.  So that’s what makes me happy about being a Christian.”

Oh, thank you Father Richard.

The Lord has shown all you people what is good.

To act justly.  To love mercy.  And to walk humbly with your God.

 

David, Bathsheba, & #metoo

Content Warning:  Sexual Assault


“The explicit nature of the biblical text calls for an equally explicit conversation about the text and, I argue, that includes from the pulpit.” – Wil Gafney, Womanist Hebrew Bible Scholar


I saw something floating around Facebook a few weeks ago… some of you even shared it.  And I figured would work well as an introduction.

I’m going to ask the men here a question.

 “What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?” 

Take a moment and think of an answer.

Most of us, I think, would answer something similar to my answer:

“Nothing.  I don’t think about it.”

Okay, now I’m going to ask the women here a question.

“What steps do you women take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?”

Take a moment and think of an answer.

These might be some of your answers:

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.  (This is from Jackson Katz)

Let’s pause for a moment here and let this sink in.

Bathsheba can add another thing to this list:

Don’t take a bath in my own home.


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See, many of us who grew up with this story have had it explained to us as a story of adultery.  That David and Bathsheba were having an extra-marital affair, and then David wanted the husband, Uriah, out of the picture.

So he arranged for his murder.

Except in all of this story, Bathsheba never says a word.

She never agrees to have sex with David.  We assume that she did, but I’m not so sure that we should.

In fact, David sends his men to her house to go and get her.

Think about that.  Your husband is off at war, and the door knocks.  And outside the door are two of the king’s messengers, maybe even personal body guards (I doubt David sent the accountants), and they say “The king wants to see you.”

What do you?  Can you even say no?

According to our Bibles, Bathsheba never gives consent to this relationship.  She never gives consent to sex.  She never says yes.

Unwanted sexual contact.  That’s the literal definition of sexual assault.

This isn’t a story of adultery.  This is a story of rape.


We’ve heard a lot of stories of assault over the past year…

The #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, is where women are taking courageous steps and stepping forward and saying “Me too.  I am a survivor of sexual assault.”

I remember when my social media feeds were filled with the words “Me too”.  Family, friends, high school acquaintances, strangers, famous people, people I go to church with.  Everywhere.   Me too.

1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their life. 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted in their life.

And the numbers don’t change in churches.

And this isn’t something that happens “out there.”  This is something that happens “in here” as well.  This is us.  This is our story.


First of all, our primary posture should be one of where we believe the stories that we hear.   Because they’re probably true.

What about false allegations?

Only 2% of reported allegations are found to be false.  And those are of the reported cases.

98% of allegations are true.

There is a far, far, far, far greater chance that a woman will be assaulted than a man falsely accused.  Far more.

So when somebody tells us their story, it is probably true.  And so we believe them.

Our primary posture is one where we believe survivors, and work to create spaces where survivors are listened to, and feel safe and supported.


Secondly, we reinforce to survivors is that it is not their fault that they were assaulted.  They are the victims, and are not responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. 

We do not and we cannot blame the victim.  

Blaming the victim is where we tell the victim that they were part of the problem.

It manifests itself in phrases like this:

“Well, look at the clothes they were wearing.”  “They should know not to get drunk in places like that.”  “They should have said no.”  “They shouldn’t have been alone at night.”  “They were asking for it.”

No.

Victim blaming is saying, “You shouldn’t drive because you might get killed by a drunk driver.”

No. We don’t say that.  We say “you shouldn’t drink and drive.”

What does victim blaming look like in the story of David and Bathsheba?

“Well, she shouldn’t be bathing on the roof.  That’s just asking for trouble.”

And what makes that victim blaming even harder, is that our Bibles don’t even record Bathsheba on the roof.  David was on the roof.  It doesn’t say where Bathsheba was.

We think she was on the roof because of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, where we hear “You saw her bathing on the roof.  Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya.”  But our Bibles don’t say that.  The Bible locates David on the roof, but not Bathsheba.

And, this victim blaming feeds into the myth that female body is so powerful that men can’t control themselves, so it’s up to women to stop men from assaulting them.

No.

It is not up to women to stop men from assaulting them.  It’s up to men to stop themselves from assaulting women.  It’s up to men to stop themselves from assaulting men. 

We don’t blame victims.

Victims are not responsible for their assault.  Ever.


If 1 in 3 women are survivors of assault, and 1 in 10 men, it’s worth asking:

Who are the offenders?

Almost exclusively, men are the offenders.

At least 98% of offenders are men.

And, only 1 in 4 assaults are by strangers, so by far, these assaults are being committed by men we know.   Spouses, family, friends, co-workers, service provider, and yes pastors… we’re in this category too.

This is a problem for us men.

So, I’m going to take a few minutes and speak to men.

Women have long figured out how to survive in a world where the risk of assault is real.  It’s time for us to figure out how to get our stuff together and lower the risk of assault.

Look, I get it.  We’re not always good at having vulnerable conversations.  I recently drove twelve hours with a bunch of men my age, and I think we spent about ten minutes talking and the rest either eating, sleeping, or listening to music.

I would encourage all of us men to have at least one conversation about #metoo and assault, because clearly we are the ones with the problem.  We are the ones causing harm.  We are the ones who are hurting the people in our lives.

What to talk about?

Well, let’s start with these:

Boys Will Be Boys – Nope.  We will not assume that we are a bunch of wild animals with no control.  We will expect better of ourselves.

It’s Just Locker Room Talk – Nope.  Talking about women in any way that doesn’t edify them or treat them with dignity is not okay.  Don’t do it.   This is probably one of those areas where we can actually make a difference.  While we may not participate in these conversations, are we willing to step up and tell our peers to stop?  I know when I’m at the curling club, twice where I could not believe the vile coming out of someone’s mouth, but did not want to get into an argument.  I regret both of those.  Hopefully 3rd time’s the charm.

She is someone’s daughter/wife/mother – Nope.  While yes, she is someone’s something, a woman’s dignity is not tied to their relationships with men.  Women deserve to be treated with respect because all humans deserve to be treated with respect.

I’m afraid of false accusations, so I’m limiting how much I work with women.  I’m scared to hire a woman. I’m scared to mentor a woman  – Nope.  Because a)  That’s sexist and b) The risk of men abusing women is far, far higher than the risk of a false allegation.  So, by the very nature of men and women working together, women bear far more risk and have far more to lose.  And, come on… when we even start talking about equality, and not being assaulted, we respond by giving women less opportunities?!?!  Unbelievable.

Because of #metoo, I don’t know how to act around women now.  Good!  Women have learned how to navigate relationships with men to avoid abuse, to survive, forever.  And now it’s time for us to do our work.  So if we have to think extra hard, or make double sure that our actions are appropriate, that’s a good thing.  If we have to make sure we’re doubly clear about consent, awesome.  If we have to spend 20 minutes on google learning, great!  That’s called “doing our work.”  And if we end up saying something wrong, we’re allowed to own it and say “I’m sorry.  I’ll do better.”

It’s a scary time to be a man.  Nope.  Just nope.   Patriarchy is a drug.


Here’s something that we all need to be aware of.

In all relationships, there are different levels of power.

We call them power dynamics.

And we always have to ask ourselves:

Who has more power?  Who has less power?  Who makes decisions? What are the consequences of that decision?

And when we start to ask these questions, we realize that every time there is some sort of oppression happening, some form of abuse, some form of inequality, some sort of injustice, they’re all connected to the realities of power.

Power dynamics affect sexism and assault.

Power dynamics also affect racism, homophobia, war, poverty, political disenfranchisement, genocide, and how many refugees Canada takes in every year.

Power matters.

So, when King David sends his men to go get Bathsheba, and then they get married after David has her husband killed… Who has more power?  Who has less power?  Who makes decisions? What are the consequences that decision?

When we ask these questions, we realize quite quickly that Bathsheba is probably trying to survive.  Because the king has shown that he is a violent man who will kill when he doesn’t get what he wants.

“Hey Bathsheba.  I just killed your husband. Want to get married?”   What is she supposed to say?

Power matters.   

Thus, a relationship with two different levels of power is pretty much impossible, because it’s actually classified as an abuse of power.   And this applies to everyone:  Teachers, pastors, lawyers, doctors, child care workers, youth workers, nurses, coaches, politicians.

With David and Bathsheba, what’s we’ve historically called adultery is not only sexual assault, but it’s also an abuse of power.

Take a moment… Do you know of a politician who’s been accused of sexual assault?

Take another moment and think of a different politician who had an “affair” with their secretary?”

See… it’s not a conservative or liberal thing, a left thing or a right thing, a religious thing or non-religious thing.  It is a power thing.   Someone with power wants something and they use that power to get it.

I’m picking on politicians here, but the same can be said in the media world, the business world, or the church world…  And ugh, we in church world have our own skeletons to deal with.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

But if we look closely, and ask questions about power, we sexual harassment and abuse are rooted in power dynamics.

Catcalling?  Unwanted massage?  Assault?  All of King David’s gross actions? They’re clearly not the same behaviours… but they are rooted in the same desire: Power and control, and using power to dominate and get what one wants.   And none of it is “loving our neighbours as ourselves.”

We have some work to do, don’t we?


I’m going to take a few moments here and address some of the unique ways that our faith affect our postures about #metoo.   Each of these deserves a sermon on their own, and I don’t have answers to all of these. But I do think there’s value to naming them.

1. In our effort to “not be a stumbling block” to others, we have put an unfair burden on women. We create dress codes for women and expect modesty.  And while I’m open to having a conversation about these things, when we do these things to help men “not sin” or “not to lust”, we again are blaming the victim, and removing any sense of responsibility of men.

And just for fun, Jesus wasn’t in favour of dress codes.  He was in favour of gouging out men’s eyes.  Because, he said that if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.  He’s having no part of this victim blaming business.   

(But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  Matthew 5:28-28)

2.  We are terrible at talking about sex. We are brutal at it.  Now, this probably applies to most humans, and not just us religious folk, but still, we’re especially bad at it.   I think this is why the church spends so much time talking about same-sex relationships and the LGBTQI community, because as long as we’re talking about “that”, we don’t have to talk about ourselves.  And because we’re so bad at talking sex, it makes talking about assault and abuse that much harder.

3. Related to that, we need to find better ways to talk about sex other than “True love waits. Wait until you’re married and then it’ll be great. And this is really important.”  We need to find better ways to talk about this, because a)  In a recent survey, 80% of Christians have sex before they’re married.  88% of non-Christians have sex before they’re married, so clearly the message of “true love waits” only works for about 8% of us.

But this message is also really harmful to victims of sexual assault. So not only is there the trauma of being an assault survivor, but then there’s the added guilt and shame that religion adds because now you can no longer save yourself for your future partner, or now you’ve had extra-marital sex.

4. Forgiveness – We like talking about forgiveness. It’s kind of one of our things.  And this is one of the reasons why I’m a Christian.  But what we’re not always good at is figuring out what forgiveness all entails.

Someone much wiser than me once said that:  “Forgive and forget is one of the worst phrases in the English language.”   Forgiveness is not about forgetting.   Forgetting means we just let the abuser keep abusing, or we keep them in their positions of authority, or keep giving them access to vulnerable people.

Forgiveness involves accountability.  It involves repentance.  It acknowledges harm.  It is equally (but probably more so) concerned about the victim as it is the offender.   And forgiveness takes time.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.

We in the church still have a lot of work to do.


A few years ago, I found myself saying over and over again, “We don’t walk alone.”

And that still applies today.

We don’t walk alone.

We walk together, trying to love each other.

We walk together, working to create safe communities.

And we walk together, trying to interrupt violence and injustice wherever we can.

We don’t walk alone.

We walk together.

And trust that in the midst of all it, God is with us.

We trust that God has crushed the power of sin and darkness.

And we trust that God cares deeply about hope and healing, liberation and justice.

We don’t wake up, unless we do it together. – Rev Matthew Wright

 


If you live in Manitoba:

  • To contact the 24/7 Sexual Assault Crisis Line, call 1-888-292-7565.
  •  To contact MCC about resources, support groups, consultations & information
    visit abuseresponseandprevention.ca
  • To report clergy abuse, contact your church conference pastor

I’m grateful for the help of Steph from Southeast Coalition Against Trafficking, Hilary from Into Account, Jaymie from MCC, and many other women who helped shape this sermon.

 

Batman, Summer Camp, and Shrek

A sermon from Exodus 14, which is the story of the Hebrews leaving slavery in Egypt, and crossing the Red Sea.


So, one of the things that the preacher is NOT supposed to do is assume that everyone in the audience knows their Bibles, or that they know the stories we’re preaching about.  We are not supposed “Oh, you all know the story.”

However, with today’s story, I’m going to assume that you know it.

The  Exodus is the story of the Hebrews who the Red Sea after leaving slavery in Egypt.   It’s the centre of the story of Moses, where Moses grew up a prince in Egypt, ran away, came back and told Pharaoh “Let my people go!”, Pharaoh said “no”, and then some plagues happened and eventually the Red Sea parted for the Hebrews and they crossed on dry land, while all of Pharaoh’s army the dead man’s float.

Moses 1

I’m going to assume we know the gist of this story because a lot of people have made a lot of movies about it.

If you are older, you will remember the greatest epic of all “The 10 Commandments” from 1956, featuring Charlton Hesston.

moses 2And then, twenty years ago “The Prince of Egypt” came out, and oh my goodness, this was one of the most star laden casts of the 90s!  I had no idea at the time, but this movie featured the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Steve Martin AND Martin Short, with music by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston AND Boyz II Men.    What was the budget for this movie?

moses 3And then recently, we saw Ridley Scott take a crack at the story of the Moses in “Exodus:  Gods and Kings” featuring Christian Bale and Sigourney Weaver.  I enjoyed this unique take on the story, although, I have to admit that every time I see Christian Bale in a movie, all I can think about is him from the Dark Night:  “I Am Batman!”  And every time I hear the name Sigourney Weaver, I just think about Finding Dory.   “Hello!  I’m Sigourney Weaver!”

Okay. So I hope we know the story!

The story of Exodus, of God hearing the cry of God’s people, liberating them from slavery, and then crossing the Red Sea on dry land, is THE story of the Old Testament.

This was the first Passover for the Jewish people, and is celebrated to this day.  There are even stories of Jewish folk in concentration camps still celebrating Passover, reclining together and re-telling the story of God’s liberation of their people.

This story is as story of God fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, that Abraham’s descendants will number like the stars and they will make a great nation.

This story is a story of God hearing the cry of the oppressed and acting.

This is one of the stories that African American slaves latched on to in America, where they put their faith in a God that liberates people.

This story is a big deal.  If you watch sports, this is their TSN turning point.   It’s the climax of the spot.  To quote Rachel Held Evans, “Let my people go” has “shaped the faith of millions of people, inspiring artists and activists and world leaders for centuries.”


Okay, and now we’re going to look at this story in two different ways.

One of the ways will probably feel more natural to you, and the other one might feel a bit uncomfortable.   One more be more familiar, and one new.

And with Google, you definitely can find people supporting both ways to look at the story.

I’m going to let the cat out of the bag and let you know that we’re going to end up in the same place.  So, rather than look at the other side of the story with disdain or fear or animosity, try looking at it with curiosity, compassion, and understanding.    Someone needs to hear the story differently than you, and that’s okay.


Path #1 – This would be the way of looking at the story that’s portrayed in the first two movies, the 10 Commandments and the Prince of Egypt.  This is a story of Moses leading his people out of slavery, of challenging the empire, or God freeing one million Hebrews, of God delivering them to dry land.

God is good, and mighty to save.

This way of looking at the story is actually captured in a kids song, called Pharaoh Pharaoh.  I sang it when I was a kid at summer camp, and then when I was a counselor at camp we sang it, and then this summer we sent Arianna, my daughter, to her first time at summer camp, and during the parents program, guess what song they started singing?  Pharaoh Pharah! Ooooo Baby.  Let my people go, O-ah-ah, yeah yeah yeah.  All of us parents in back started laughing and said “They’re still singing this song?”

At the end of the song, though, there’s a line about all of Pharaoh’s army doing the dead man’s float.  And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve wondered about that.

Did those soldiers have kids?  Partners?  Surely they had parents who would rather not have to get into a boat to go pick up floating kids?

And those soldiers – Shoot… Surely they had hopes and dreams and might have trying to save enough money to buy their first house.  They were just doing what they were told by their commanding officer, and we celebrate their death as God’s victory?   And then we make a kids song of it?  With actions? That’s kind of dark, isn’t it?

Let alone that the Hebrews are only free from Pharaoh because God came and killed all the first born Egyptians.  I know that the Egyptians weren’t very kind and loving, but isn’t God supposed not to return tit for tat?  This has never sat well with me.  Maybe because I’m a first born, and if my parents were Egyptian, I’d be dead.  Or, now I think about my daughter.  Or let’s try this.  How many of us are the first born in our family.

Do liberation and freedom come at the expense of our enemies dying?  In this story… yes.  Pharaoh wasn’t going to let them go until he suffered enough consequences.

But do these questions take away from the liberation of God’s people?  I mean, like, they were in slavery for over 400 years.  That’s kind of a long time isn’t it?  What do we do with this?


Path #2 – This one is fairly new to me, but when I heard it, I was grateful.  I first heard it by reading some Jewish authors on their understandings of the Torah, and I’ve also heard this recently Christian scholars.

They suggest that the Exodus might not have happened exactly as recorded in the Bible.  Something happened, that’s not up for debate.  But what exactly happened, is.

We know quite a bit about Ancient Egypt, as they built pyramids and we’ve opened up their tombs and studied their mummies and read their hieroglyphic mission statements on their walls.  And what we’ve found out is that there is no recorded history of the Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt.  The assumption here is that if one million slaves walked out of Egypt, someone in Egypt would have written it down.  They didn’t.  The assumption is that if every firstborn died, somebody would have written it down.  But they didn’t.

Now, the absence of proof isn’t proof itself, so we can’t say with great authority what did or did happen.  Maybe it did happen. Maybe it didn’t.  Maybe there weren’t a million people.  Maybe there were 500. Or 5000. Maybe they crossed the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea, as some scholars suggest.

It maybe not happening as recorded certainly gets us around the whole “God killing all the first born children” bit.  And the soldiers doing the dead man’s float.  I certainly don’t love worshiping a God who’s down with violence.

But it can also leave in an uncertain position.  Because what are we supposed to do with this story, and it’s place in Jewish religion?  And what do we do with many of these stories?  And what do we do with the fact that Jesus, Paul, Mary, Isaiah, Elijah, Esther, and Peter, were all Jewish and believed this story was an integral part of their religion?

Is just a fairy tale?

I actually think one of the worst things that we can do is treat this story like a fairy tale.   People in concentration camps do not gather to celebrate Passover because of Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, or Santa Claus.  They gather to celebrate Passover because God is in the business of freeing people, and they will never forget that.

When I was in Albuquerque with Richard Rohr, he explored the question of why African American slaves adopted the religion of their oppressors.  That makes no sense.  Why would you worship the God of the people who owned you?

American slaves did not adopt the Christianity because it’s like Shrek or Star Wars.

Sure, Harry Potter is great, but I’m not so sure it can lead people out of slavery.

No… They heard the story of a God who hears the cry of the oppressed… they heard the story of a God who sent Moses to tell Pharaoh “Let my people go”… They heard the story of an enslaved people being saved by God’s hand leading them through the water to freedom.

God leading them through the water meant the trackers couldn’t follow them.  Through the water meant the dogs would lose their scent.  Through the waters meant that when they crossed the Ohio River, they were free.

There’s power to this story.  There is truth to this story.

This story was written to as a cosmic battle between the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, and the gods of Egyptians. And the god of the Hebrews was far more powerful.

This story was written to show that in a world of localized religions, where the gods of one nation didn’t have power in another, or… there was actually a universal God who’s jurisdiction is the entire earth.

This story was written as a replay of the creation story, where on day 3, the water of chaos is separated to reveal dry land.

This story was written so that the Israelites would never forget that God has laid a claim on them, and they were to serve that God.  Not Pharaoh.  Not slave masters.  Not kings.  Not foreign armies.

But God and God alone, because God is in the business of giving God’s people freedom.


Freedom.  That is the invitation today for World Communion Sunday.  Freedom.

Freedom to claim God’s power in our world and in our lives.

Freedom to live in God’s claim on us.

Freedom to serve God and God alone.

Freedom to participate to in God’s way of life, where good news is proclaimed to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind… where the oppressed are set free.

Freedom to see the image of God in everyone, and live like it.

“Because if we can’t see Christ in others then we are no longer looking with the eyes of Christ.”  – Richard Rohr

And there is freedom to be found when we can see the Christ in others.

This is one of those times where I think that coming to have communion on Sunday morning is  quite counter-cultural and revolutionary, because today we’re not only going to look for the image of God in each other, but we’re also going to practice it.  We’re going to practice living into God’s way.

Who’s invited to communion?  Everyone.  As good ole wise Richard Rohr says, “Communion is meal for the sick, not a prize for being perfect.”  There is no meritocracy in Christianity.  Nobody is keeping score.

So we are all invited.  Friends, lovers, enemies, and fr-enemies.  Come.

Married or single, divorced or common-law or widowed.  Come

Straight or Gay or Bisexual. Come.

Those us who have lots of money and those of us who don’t have a lot of money.  Come.

Young and old or somewhere in between.  Come.

Mennonite or Catholic or Evangelical or Ukrainian Orthodox or Spiritual but not religious.  Come.

Women and men and gender non-confirming or those transitioning.  Come.

Those of us who are differently abled.  Come.

Pacifist or not, veteran or conscientious objector. Come.

Theologically liberal or theologically conservative or if you just don’t about any of that stuff. Come.

There is space for everyone at God’s table.

And when we serve each other, we begin to see the Christ in each other.

We come and serve each other as people who bear the image of God.

When we serve each other, we are learning to see with the eyes of Christ.

Amen.

On being Christian, following the Bible, and the LGBTTQI* community

Over the past several years, the stories have started to accumulate.

Stories that seem to follow the same story line.

A Christian starts telling people they identify as LGBTTQI*

And then the consequences start.

 

I know someone who was told they can no longer call themselves Christian.   

I know someone who was no longer allowed to teach Sunday School.

I know someone who was no longer allowed to sing in church.

I know someone who has preaching gigs cancelled.

I know someone who knows that following their call to be a pastor is near impossible.

I know someone who has been called a pervert and abomination.

I know someone whose donors stopped supporting them.

I know someone whose pastor now has a hard time shaking hands in the foyer.

I know someone who can’t bring their partner to family gatherings.

I know someone who was kicked out of their house.

 

And what breaks my heart in all of these is that the harm is being perpetuated by Christians.

Christians who believe in love.

Christians who believe the Bible.

 

Me too.

I believe in love.

I believe in the Bible.

When Jesus was asked which is the most important commandment, he answered “The most important one is this:  ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

The apostle Paul agrees.  “Let no debt remain outstanding except the debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments… are best summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10

 

Are our actions loving?

Are we loving our neighbours as ourselves?

 

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law of the Prophets.”  Matthew 7:12

 

Are we treating our neighbours in ways that we want to be treated?

 

Or, are our attempts at faithfulness causing harm?


I fear that
that sometimes, instead of faithfully following the Bible’s instructions on love, we actually end up doing the opposite of what the Bible says. 


 

PS – The positives stories are also accumulating. Here, my attempt here is to acknowledge that most of the resistance to lgbttqi* equality is rooted in my community, the Christian one.  And because of that, we have to ask ourselves some extra questions.

The Bechdel Test, Policy Binders, and Calling Out the King

Have any of you heard about the Bechdel test?

It’s a test developed by Alison Bechdel used to evaluate how women are portrayed in fiction, including literature and television and movies.

The Bechdel test works like this:  If there are two women with names, talking to each other about something other than a man, then it passes the test!

Two women.  Whose names we know.  Talking.  Not about men.   That’s it.

Simple enough, right?  Well, actually, when you drill down into it, most of what we read and watch fails to pass the Bechdel test.  It’s really kind of pathetic, actually.

However… this week, when reading this morning’s Scripture, I dawned on me that Ruth chapter 1 passes the Bechdel test!

Women characters named? Yup.  Naomi and Ruth are the main protagonists, with Orpah making a cameo.

Talking about something other than men? Yup. While the background is that all their husbands passed away, and Naomi telling her daughters-in-law that she won’t be having any more kids, there is that one part where Ruth pledges to never leave Naomi’s side, and Ruth declares that whatever fate befalls Naomi will befall Ruth too.

Alright!

This is actually one of the only times that any story in the entire Bible passes the Bechdel test.  Yikes. The roots of patriarchy are deep.

When Ruth pledges her fate to that of Naomi, the Hebrew word best used to describe that his Hesed – It’s an act of loyal loving, of loving-kindness.  It’s a covenant of love, so it’s something one commits to regardless of how you’re feeling.  A wedding vow might be a similar comparison. Through thick and thin, health and sickness, good times and bad.  Hesed is also used to describe God’s love for God’s people.  It’s loyal love.

Ruth and Naomi talking about loyally loving each other is certainly better than them talking about men, right?  Although that does come in chapter 2.

We’re going to come back to hesed in a bit.


Naomi and her husband and their two sons are Israelites, and they move to a foreign land called Moab.  And, the sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  And then when all the men pass away, Naomi decides to go back home to her own country and her own people.

Now, according to the customs of the day, Naomi’s daughters-in-law were free to go back to their own families, their own people, their own rules and customs and culture and religion.  Naomi “released” them.

And Orpah went.

There is something freeing about rules, isn’t there?  That there are clear expectations of you, and you know that if you do what you are supposed to do, it’s probably going to be okay.

Pay your taxes, and CRA probably won’t send you a letter.

Don’t speed, and you won’t get a speeding ticket.

Take out a building permit before you add on a sunroom, and then you won’t have to take down the sunroom that you just built.

I know someone who started their new job as a chaplain, and on her first day she was given a big black binder labeled “Policy Binder.”

At first she was a bit overwhelmed.  She thought, “How am I ever going to follow all these?”

But after a few months, she actually came to appreciate the policy binder.   She said there was a certain level of freedom in there, where she knew what the expectations were and if she followed them, she’d probably be okay.

Rules, can be freeing.

Naomi knew the rules.  She was free to release her daughters-in-law back to their own people and culture.

And Orpah followed the rules.  They hugged, they kissed, they said goodbye, and they went on their different ways.

There is a place for the rules… and then there’s what Ruth did.

Ruth went BEYOND the rules in her love and devotion to Naomi.  She said, “I know what’s expected of me. I’m going to let my love move me beyond the basic requirements.”

In almost all our relationships, I’d suggest that the more committed we are, the more we go above the basic requirements, the better off that relationships is.

Our cars – If we wash them in winter, they’ll last longer.

Our lawns – If we fertilize  and water, they will look nicer.

Our gardens – If we weed, they will give us more food.

Our jobs – If we show up and work hard and take courses to keep learning, we will have more satisfaction.

And I think our relationships with each other is similar.  If we’re committed, if we go above and beyond what’s “required” of us, I think we’re setting ourselves up for all sorts of positives. Because love moves us above and beyond what is simply “required” of us.

And we’re back at hesed – Loyal loving.  Covenant of loving-kindess.  More than a feeling. Beyond what’s required of us.


And do you know what makes the story of Naomi and Ruth and hesed even more cool?

Naomi was an Israelite from Judah.

Ruth was a Moabite, from Moab.

Ruth was a foreigner.

We read lots in the news about foreigners, don’t we?  Refugees from Syria, asylum seekers making irregular border crossings into both the USA and Canada.  We tend not to hear much about how my French ancestors were kind of unwanted to New France 500 years ago by the First Nations, perhaps even considered illegal immigrants, but that’s a different sermon for a different day.

But Ruth was a foreigner.

What are the requirements of treating foreigners?

Well, as Christians, our first loyalty is to God, not our country, so we’ll spend our time there.  (although, interestingly enough, it’s that loyalty to God over country that resulted in Mennonites being banned for a while from moving to Canada, as we couldn’t be relied upon to fight for our country, but I digress).

Well, let’s start with the Old Testament:

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19:34

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  Exodus 22:21

And then there’s Jeremiah, sticking in to the kings of the world.  “This is what the LORD says:  Do what is just and right… Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”   Jeremiah 22:3

Or Isaiah, blasting his own people:  “Is not this the kind of fasting I have choses:  to loose the chains of injustice… to set the oppressed free… Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?”  Isaiah 58:6-7

I’m usually not a fan of cherry picking verses from the Old Testament to support what I already believe, so let’s take a jaunt into the New Testament, shall we?

But first of, we should make note that the New Testament says very little about foreigners directly, because the life and teachings of Jesus AND the apostle Paul tore down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, between them and us.

Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of God’s household.

But I really love reading Scripture through the lens of Jesus, where we give more weight to the words of Jesus than the other parts.

We can talk about how the Jewish leaders tried to kill Jesus after he referenced a bunch of times in the Old Testament where God was found among foreigners (Luke 4).  Or the time he spent eating with and healing Romans, the hated oppressors of Israel (Matthew 8).  Or when he healed foreigners (Mark 7) .  Or how he treated the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).

Or when in doubt, we always have good old Matthew 25:

“Then the King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Jesus kind of says that if we don’t look after strangers in need, we risk the fires of hell.

Yikes.  So harsh, right?   Good thing we’re gonna be like Ruth and err on the side of doing MORE than the law requires, right?

Let alone all those other part of the Bible about hospitality, or when we host strangers we might be hosting angels, or if we have two cloaks we should give one away, or that Jesus was a refugee who crossed into other countries, or that time Jesus told a story about how the hated foreigner is actually our neighbor, or how “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” (Romans 13:10).

One of my favourites, though, about Ruth being a foreign Moabite, is actually found in the gospel of Matthew.  We’re going to working through Matthew starting in January, but we’ll just quickly jump in there.

Right at the beginning of Matthew, before the Christmas story of angels and wise men, we’re given the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, so the genealogy is there to give some street cred to Jesus.  Kind of like us living in rural Manitoba figuring out who are grandparents and great grandparents are.

And in the genealogy of Jesus,  we have all sort of big hitters:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, Solomon, Josiah…

And then, tucked away into there, we read the name Ruth.

…Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth…

Ruth, a foreign woman, made it into the genealogy of Jewish Jesus.

The son of God, the prince of peace, has a foreigner in his bloodline. They could have left her out of the list.  She doesn’t have to be in there.

But she is.  They intentionally listed her in the genealogy of Jesus.

Maybe, just maybe, they knew that including a foreigner in the genealogy of Jesus was revolutionary.

Kind of like how Ruth choosing hesed, to go above and beyond what was required of her, choosing to loyally love someone she isn’t required to, is kind of revolutionary.

And so, in conclusion, may we continue to practice love… Love for our families, love for those in our community, and those who are from different parts of the world.  May we continue to love our neighbours as ourselves, and may we always remember that love does no harm to its neighbour.

Homer Simpson, My Teenage Girlfriend, & the Last Male White Rhino: Maybe the Cross Changes Everything

Why did Jesus die?  I’ve been asking people this question this week, and I’ve gotten some great answers.  My favourite, though was when someone sent me this picture:  hoer 

Homer Simpson.  I definitely would have put that on the bulletin cover, but alas, our church bought these fancy printed ones with palms on the front.

Why did Jesus die?  

The most common answer I received was along these lines:

Jesus died to save us from our sins.   Jesus died for our sins. 

Now I generally don’t like religious clichés, so I asked another question.

But what does that mean?  How does that work?               

There was a bit more wondering and pondering about that.

Which, there should be.   No example, no illustration, no sermon, no metaphor, no article shared on Facebook, can fully capture the whole picture of Jesus dying on the cross.

It’s like our church building project.  If we describe what we’re seeing through my office window, that’s a good and true and necessary perspective.  But if we open that side door over there and look, well, we’ll see another perspective. (Plus we’d fall into a hole, so don’t do that).  We need to look through multiple windows to see the whole picture.

So, I’m going to give you a glimpse through one of the windows that I see the cross, but if you see it through a different window, that’s great.  We need all the windows.


So we’ll start with a story of when I was a teenager.

I had a crush on a girl.  Before I was dating Ashley.  And, some of us are getting a little old to remember what it was like being a teenager and having a crush on someone, but you know, you’re always asking and wondering… Does she like me?  Does she not?  Did she just look at me and smile?  Or was that for the person behind me?

So anyhow… I had a crush on a girl.  And then one day, she came up to me.  And she said, “Hey Kyle.  I just wanted to let you know that I don’t just like you.  I am smitten with you.  I love you. And I’ve loved you for a long time.  We’re going to have a wonderful life together.  I want to be with you forever.”

So teenager Kyle at this point is quite excited.  But you know… play it cool.  All smiles, I respond, “This is great!  I like you too, and maybe one day it’ll grow into love!”

She looks at me.  And with smile, she says, “That’s great.  Because if you didn’t love me, I’d make your life a living hell forever.  You will never get away from me.   My wrath will be fierce, and I might even torture you.  Forever.  But since you love me, it’ll all be fine, right?”

“No!  This is not okay! This is unacceptable behavior, and you are a monster.  And I’m going to call the cops.”

Okay, so this really isn’t a true story.   Sorry about that.  (But thanks to Michael Hardin for the story.  I read it in Executing God by Sharon Baker) Maybe a different day I’ll share about my teenage relationships. But only if you share about your teenage relationships too.  Unless they involve my parents. Then I don’t want to hear them.

But I don’t think it’s a bad comparison to some of our understandings of God.  God says to humanity, “I made you.  I love you.  I want to be in relationships with you.  And if you don’t love me back the way that I want, there will be hell to pay.”

That God sounds a bit like my fake girlfriend.  A monster.

Is God a monster?

What is God like?

Take a moment and sit with this question.  What is God like?

Maybe today, since today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday where we celebrate Jesus as King we can say that Jesus is like a king.

But what kind of King is Jesus like?  A nice king?  And harsh king?  A king who kills those who oppose him, or, one who runs attack ads against him?  Is Jesus a triumphant king?  Does Jesus hold post-election victory parties?

Pontius Pilate made a sign for Jesus.  It said,  “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

And he had it nailed to the cross where Jesus was crucified.

Our king was crucified.

What is God like?

Crucified.

We worship a crucified God.

But what does it mean that we worship a crucified God?  What does it mean that our king was killed?  What does it mean that our king allowed himself to be killed? Why is this significant?

Us worshipping a crucified God, I think, gives us a lens, a perspective, on what God is like.  The crucifixion is one of the windows that we get to try to see and understand who God is.

The cross is not us trying to avoid an angry, monster God.

Because the crucifixion of Jesus is not about God changing God’s mind about humanity.  The crucifixion is about humanity changing its mind about God.

To explain this, I’m going to explain some concepts with how Christianity has traditionally explained them, and then compare them with how I see them.  And then I’m going to show some famous pictures that point to what I’m getting at.

And, remember… We are deep in the world of images and metaphors here.  We’re doing our best to describe a mystery.

Okay… Three concepts that we have to talk about when talking about the cross.  We’re going to talk about God’s wrath, God’s justice, and sacrifice

1. God’s wrath.

When I say the phrase God’s wrath, we come up with images of God sending lightning bolts and floods and dropping pianos on us.  The Grapes of Wrath are being stored up for those who refuse to do God’s will.  We can imagine my imaginary teenage girlfriend who’s gonna make my life a living hell.

Or we can look at it as God allowing us to experience the consequences of our decisions. Central to any loving relationship is freedom. Otherwise it’s coercion, and coercion isn’t love.   We are free to be in a relationship or free to not be.  We are free to choose our own actions, or not.  But we are not free from are the consequences of any choices we make.

Examples.  If I were to speed on the highway, I can get a speeding ticket.  It’s not God angrily sending me a police officer to give me a ticket.  It’s God saying “You have the freedom to choose your actions.  There are consequences for our decisions.”

A good way to understand this is to ask,

Are we punished for our sins?  Or by our sins?

Another example: The other day I made a bonfire in my backyard.  And I told my kids “Don’t touch the metal.”  Now, if they go and touch the metal, did I do that to them?  Could they say “Dad burned me!”  Or is that just the consequence for their choice?

And when God chose to become human, God chose to live in our world, and was not immune to all the things going on in our world.

So, at the crucifixion, Jesus encounters violence, torture, betrayal, abandonment, anxiety, pain, and empire.  These are all real things.  And many of them are the natural consequences of simply being human, and many of them are the consequence of engaging (and enraging) the powers and authorities.   We’re all free to choose violence or not, to stick with our friends or not, to serve others or not, and no matter what we choose, there are consequences for those choices.  And they are real.  They can be bloody.  But they are not divinely orchestrated.   God is not pushing the “drop piano” button.

2.  God’s justice.

This one’s a little easier to understand.  When we think about justice, because of our time and place in history, it’s really hard for us not to think of a judge. judge-judy

Like Judge Judy.  You do bad, and there’s a punishment.

This type of justice is called retributive justice.  You speed, you get a ticket.  You murder someone, you go to jail.

But, God doesn’t treat us according to our sins.  God treats us differently.

The type of justice God is into is restorative justice.  It where we acknowledge that something bad has happened, and we work hard at restitution, we work hard at making it right, and we try to restore the relationship. This is a really simple definition, but it’s a really important important.

God hates sins, so does God punish it?  Banish it?

Or does God work at the relationships that are broken.  And work towards restoration?

I believe that God cares more about the restoration of relationships more than the punishment of sin.   If this is seems strange or unique or unfair, well, it’s kind of the definition of grace.  Small-g grace. Grace is a gift undeserved.

3.  Sacrifice

We can understand the cross as Jesus giving his life as a sacrifice for our sins.  Similar to how in the Old Testament you were supposed to kill a goat or something to atone for your sins.  Or by dying on the cross, Jesus took our place.  Someone has to die because of sin, so Jesus dies instead of us.  Like a substitute sacrifice.

But what I do with the word sacrifice is not that God demands it, or that someone HAS to suffer or die, but rather, when someone does suffer or die, they reveal to us the consequences of sin.  They reveal sin for what it is.  A sacrifice can expose evil, and hopefully prevents further suffering or death.

So if we call Jesus a sacrifice, it’s not God killing God’s own kid to make God happy.  It’s God allowing him to die in an effort to expose sin and evil and show us what they truly are, and also shows us how to live.


Okay.  To sum up, and before we start looking at some pictures, here’s where we’re at.

God’s wrath is less about God being angry and smiting humans, and more about there being very real consequences for our decisions.

God’s justice is less about punishment and more about restoration. 

Sacrifice is less about God demanding it, or something dying in our place, and more about revealing evil and sin in our world, and showing us how to respond.


I’m now going to show you some pictures.

1.  The man is Zacharia Mutai, moments before Sudan, sudan-white-rhino-DSC_4822.adapt.590.1the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet, died.

Did God’s wrath kill the rhino?  No.  But we did.  God allowed us to poach them, to encroach on their territory, to pollute the Earth, and the result is another extinct species.

Is God punishing the rhino by killing him?  Is God punishing us by killing the rhino?   No.   But I think that even though the dead Rhino doesn’t make God happy, I think God cares more about our relationships with each other and the Earth than seeking punishment.  It’s not like God is saying “You let the Rhino die!  As punishment, two thousand of you humans will now be trampled by hippopotamuses.”

Was the rhino a needed sacrifice?  Well, on one hand no.  We can learn to take care of the Earth without an almost extinct species.  But on the other hand, does the Rhino’s death expose to us the evil we can inflict upon the world?  Yes.  And will its death hopefully prevent any other species from going extinct?  Well, that’s up to us, right?


2.  NEP3881386We’ll use a relevant example for us in Canada. This is our new $10 bill, coming out soon.  And that woman is Viola Desmond.  Her story is that she was in a movie theatre in Halifax, but she sat in the “whites only” section.   When told she couldn’t sit there because of her skin colour, she didn’t leave.  She was dragged out, arrested, thrown in jail for 12 hours, and fined.

Was God’s wrath poured out on her?  Oh gosh no.  She’s a hero.  But God allowed her to suffer the consequences of racism.  There are consequences for our sins, and they are real.

Did God care about punishing her for not following the rule of law?  Does God care about punishing us for our sins of racism?  Or does God care more about the restoration of relationships?  (I loved watching the news conference where Viola Desmond’s sister Wando Robson shared the stage with the Finance Minister.)

Was Viola’s sacrifice necessary? Well, on one hand, absolutely not.  We white people didn’t have to be racist, and could have just let her sit where she wanted.  But did her actions, did her suffering, prevent further suffering for others?  Did it reveal and expose the evils of racism?  Yes.  Will it help us work to end racism in 2018?  Well, that’s up to us, right


3.  (In my sermon, I showed a picture of Alan Kurdi on the beach, the two year old toddler from Syria who drowned and was found on in Turkey. I showed it for only 30 seconds, but I can’t bring myself to posting it here.  I’m sure you remember the picture, but I’m posting a picture of him happily playing instead.)

Alan_kurdi_smiling_playground.jpg

This is Alan Kurdi.  We’ve seen this picture before.

Was God’s wrath poured out on a two year old migrant from Syria who drowned and washed up on a beach?  No.   Does it show the consequences of sin?  Yes.  And there is a whole lot of sin wrapped up in this picture.  Violence and weapons manufacturing and barrel bombs and racism and religious bigotry and fear and anxiety and desire for control and the disregard for human life and profound, profound apathy.  The consequences of sin are real, my friends.  And God lets us choose.

Was this God’s punishment for sin?  No.  Is God going to send a foreign army to Canada and make us refugees as punishment for not taking in more folk?  C’mon.  I think God cares a heck a lot of more about the relationships between humans, and how we get along, more than punishing us for our sins.

Was his life a sacrifice?  On one hand, goodness no.  A sacrifice for what?   That someone has to die, and he drew the short straw?  That notion is ridiculous.  But on the other hand, does his death prevent the deaths of thousands of other kids?  Will his death ensure others will have a different fate?   If his death revealed and exposed the evils that we perpetuate, if his death shook the world into action, if this death shook our church into action, if his death shook me to action, if his death continues to affect me, then yes, his life then was a sacrifice.  Not God ordained.  Not God planned.  One that we wish didn’t happen.  But it did.  And will it help us work towards peace and welcoming more refugees into our lives?  Well, that’s up to us, isn’t it?


4.  Jesus on the cross.   jesus.jpg

Was this God’s wrath being poured out on his own kid?  No.  The cross reveals the consequences of violence, torture, betrayal, abandonment, anxiety, pain, fear, and empire.  The cross reveals that even in our efforts to be true and faithful and safe, we can even crucify the son of God.  The consequences of our sin are real.

Was it God punishing Jesus for our sins?  Well, a) what would that accomplish?  And b)  Does God care more about punishing people for our sins?  Or our relationships?  I would venture to say that the cross reveals how God views sinners… Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.  I mean, if God doesn’t punish the people who killed his own son, who does God punish?  

Was Jesus a sacrifice?  Well, on one hand no.  Does God really need blood to be satisfied?  Does God serve a higher power than Godself?  Does God get a kick of out animals and people dying?  Does something have to die?  No (Well, our egos need to die.  Maybe our addiction to power and our desire for control.  But here I actually mean “Does something need to physically die?)    But on the hand, does the death of Jesus reveal the evil in this world?  Does the death of Jesus reveal how God responds to violent sinners?  Yes.  Does the death of Jesus prevent further deaths?  Does the death of Jesus show us how to live?  Well, that’s up to us, isn’t it?


The crucifixion of Jesus is not about God changing God’s mind about humanity.  The crucifixion is about humanity changing its mind about God.

And the key word for me to understanding the cross is REVEAL.

The cross reveals our own sin and brokenness.

The cross reveals how destructive the power of sin can be.

The cross reveals how God treats sinners.

The cross reveals who God is.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Colossians 2:15

Why does any of this matter? Why does us worshipping a crucified God matter?

Because us worshipping a crucified God means that the God we worship is a “loving God who  sacrificially gives up receiving payback for sin, who is satisfied by a justice that reconciles and restores relationships, who sees to it that mercy triumphs over judgement, and whose love for enemies works to win them over with grace, mercy, and compassion.” – Sharon Baker

We worship a crucified God, and that has the potential to change everything.

 

Homicidal Maniacs, Seven Miracles, and Sociology

“What is truth?”  This is question Pilate asks Jesus.

The good news for us is that this morning we’re going to get an answer.  2000 years of wondering about truth is all going to be solved today.  Lucky us.   <smile>


To better understand what’s all going in today’s Scripture, we’re going to take a quick dive into history.  (I got most of this from the book The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill, which continues to be one of the most influential books on Jesus I’ve ever read)

At the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was busy sending their armies all over the world and conquering new territories.  And one of those territories was what is now modern day Israel and Palestine. The homeland of the Jewish people.

But… the Jewish people, for some reason or another, didn’t like being ruled by a foreign power.  I know, right?  I can’t imagine why.  And so, history tells us that they were notoriously difficult to rule.

When Jesus was born, the Roman Empire had set up a puppet king named Herod the Great.  He’s the one we read about at Christmastime when the magi went and visited him.    There were two important parts to Herod the Great’s job:  Make sure the locals pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.

Unfortunately, King Herod was a homicidal maniac.  So after the magi told him about Jesus being a new king, he was pretty sure a new king wasn’t ‘maintaining the peace’, so he ordered the murder of all the children 2 and under.

That one’s bad.  And there are lots more.  But to put an emphasis on what kind of king Herod was, here’s one more story.  Near the end of his life, he knew he was dying.  But he didn’t want people to celebrate his death.  So on his death bed he ordered Jewish leaders be put in jail.  And he gave the orders that when he died, they were all to be killed, so that the people of his kingdom would shed tears on the day that he died.

Homicidal maniac.  (Lucky for everyone, after he died, his orders were not followed, and the captives were released.)

After he died, his puppet kingdom was split up and given to 3 of his kids – Herod Antipas, Philip, and Archelaus.

These puppet kings had two main responsibilities:  Make sure the locals pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.

Philip did fairly well at managing his part of the kingdom, so the history books don’t have much to say about him.

Herod Antipas was a bit worse.  We read about him cutting off the head of John the Baptist after John called him a fox.  (Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Unless you call me a fox.  Then I’m going to cut off your head.)  After 42 years of ruling, the Romans put him into exile.

But Archelaus – What a disaster he was.  He was in charge of the kingdom that included Jerusalem.  At the start of his rule, he removed the high priest and installed his own.  And then a riot broke out.  And then soldiers were sent in to stop the riot. And then the soldiers were killed by the rioters.  And then Archelaus had 3000 people killed in retaliation for that.

But, that kicked up some more revolutionaries.  A former slave named Simon led a rebellion against all the palaces and estates of the wealthy.  A former shepherd named Athronges led a rebellion for a few more years.  And then there was another guy named Judas who became a flaming revolutionary and declared himself king and ruled for a few months.

But the Romans weren’t really okay with this, so they sent in a legion to stop all this nonsense.  They burned down the hometown of Judas, sold its population into slavery, and killed 2000 more people just to make sure they got the point.

And this doesn’t include that time that people were chucking stones off the roof of the temple onto the heads of the Roman soldiers.  Or the assasins called “Daggermen” who hid in caves.  Or the Zealots who thought the only good Roman was a dead one.

After Rome came and “cleaned up the mess” of Archelaus, they installed a Roman governor to govern all of Judea.  And that governor had two main jobs:  Get the locals to pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.

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Pontius Pilate

And at the time of Jesus’ death, the guy in charge was name Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate ruled for a few years, but was eventually removed from his position for massacring some Samaritans.  One Roman historian recorded Pilate’s rule as “marked by corruption, violence, degradation, ill treatment, offenses, numerous illegal executions and incessant, unbearable cruelty.”Are you noticing a pattern here?

If this all feels a bit like the TV show Game of Thrones, yes… That would be a very good comparison.

Another one of the dynamics here is that throughout all this violence, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were busy trying to lead their people.  They were trying to faithful to God.  They were trying to maintain some form of independence from the Roman Empire.  And they were also trying to ensure that their people wouldn’t kill the Romans so that the Romans wouldn’t come and obliterate them off the face of the Earth.   Let me tell you, when we have our staff meetings here at church, we do not have on our agenda “How to keep our church members from being massacred by a foreign army?”   We talk about who’s preaching next week.

So that brings us to today’s story.

As part of being under Roman rule, the religious leaders weren’t allowed to kill people.  That power laid with the Roman authorities.

But the religious leaders were probably afraid of a whole bunch of things… They were afraid that this Jesus character was going to mess up their gig.  They were afraid about their own of sense of identity and purpose, because nobody really likes changing jobs that they’re good at.  And… and this is key… They were afraid that the people are going to declare Jesus to be King.  And if there’s a new king in town, that will bring the wrath of the Roman armies, and dang it, that’s a lot of extra funerals to do on the weekend.

So they want Jesus gone. Done away with.  Killed.  They had a meeting, and they said “If we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” The head priest Caiaphas said “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  John 11:48, 50

So they bring Jesus to Pilate.

Now, Pilate doesn’t live in Jerusalem, as his palace was on the coast in Caesarea Maritima, about 120 km away.  So why is he in Jerusalem?

Well, we don’t know for sure, but we can take a pretty good guess.  What are Pilate’s two main responsibilities?  Make sure the locals pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.  And the weekend that Jesus died in Jerusalem was the Passover.   It’s the Jewish festival where they remember the Israelite slaves leaving Egypt… Which can also be told as a story of the Jewish people being freed from the shackles of an oppressive foreign government…

A festival celebrating freedom from an foreign oppressive regime in a region known for violent uprising against foreign oppressive regimes might make Pontius Pilate’s responsibility of “keeping the peace” at little bit difficult.  Jerusalem is like a tinderbox, ready to explode.

And so here we are.  Jesus is before Pilate.

Now, based on this text alone, I don’t think Pilate cares much about Jesus.  I think all he cares about are maintaining the peace and taxes.

So he asks Jesus if he is a king. Because, you know, having a rival king would be bad.

And pay attention to Jesus’ response:  “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

My kingdom is not of this world.  My kingdom is different.  It’s one you don’t understand.  You clearly understand violence, as that’s how both the Roman Empire and Jewish revolutionaries work.  But my kingdom is different.  It doesn’t need violence and taxes to govern it.  It’s about love… self-emptying love.  For everyone.  Even our enemies.  It’s about peace and forgiveness and kindness and gentleness.   And it doesn’t have borders. My kingdom is from a different place.

I don’t think Pilate really gets what Jesus is saying.  All Pilate hears is Jesus admitting to being a king:  “So you are a king, then! “


Okay, this is a big deal because this is the first time in the gospel of John that Jesus declares himself to be king.  This is the first time that he owns the title.

And why is this a big deal?

Because the gospel writer of John spends the first 11 chapters of his book describing 7 miracles, or signs of Jesus.  (We preached on some of them.  But Easter is early this year, so we ran out of Sundays to preach on all of them.)  These signs are:

Changing water into wine.

Healing the royal official’s son

Healing the paralytic at Bethesda

Feeding the 5000

Jesus walking on water

Healing the man blind from birth

The raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Now, if someone turns water in wine and feeds the hungry and raises people from the dead, they would surely be made king.   I mean, who here in Canada wouldn’t vote for free healthcare, free food, and free alcohol?!?!

And Jesus knew this.

And he said…. No.

Here’s what we read after he feeds the 5000.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

When Jesus was the hero, he didn’t claim he was a king.  Even after all the miracles.

But it’s here, in front of Pilate, where Jesus is arrested, vulnerable, a prisoner, alone, betrayed, at the mercy of others, facing death… It is here where Jesus declares himself to be king.

What kind of king is that?  And what kind of kingdom is that?

We understand Roman armies and taxation.  We understand modern day armies and the CRA.  We understand aircraft carriers and strong borders and nuclear weapons.

But a kingdom of vulnerability and self-emptying love?  That’s ridiculous.

Pilate thought so too.  That’s why he didn’t order Jesus to be killed.  He probably thought Jesus was delusional. Any of us here could declare ourselves to be Prime Minister, but without an army, a show of force, some rules of engagement, nobody would take us seriously. We’re not a threat to Ottawa.  People would just say we’re delusional.

And so Pilate didn’t find any basis for charges, because Pilate was operating out of the the kingdom that he understood.

And Pilate gave the people a choice too.  They can have their vulnerable king Jesus, or they can have the violent revolutionary named Barabbas.

What’s interesting about Barabbas is that in some translations, he’s referred to as a bandit.

And the other time that the word bandit is used in the Gospel of John is in John 10, where the bandit is contrasted with the good shepherd.  The good shepherd loves his sheep, gives his live for his sheep, while the bandit steals and destroys.

 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The bandit comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:7-10

Do the people want the good shepherd?  Or do they want the bandit?

They chose the bandit.  “Give us Barabbas!” the crowds shouted. They too, chose the kingdom that they could understand.  They chose to play the game of thrones, where you win or you die.


A quick aside – Like footwashing, self-emptying love like forgiveness, these are decisions that we make for ourselves, as individuals or communities.  We can’t force people to choose the Good Shepherd while we choose to be bandits to them.  A manifestation of this is the unholy alliance between church and state, especially related to the history of colonialism. The missionaries would show up, invite people to follow the good shepherd, and simultaneously the “Christian” state would show up and act like bandits.

If I am actively oppressing someone, I can’t tell them to choose the shepherd.  They are free to make that choice, but it cannot be forced.  Christianity is not about coercion.

Okay.  Moving quick aside is done.


 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.  (Pilate sounds like he’s in a first year sociology course learning about postmodernism).

Maybe Pilate asked the wrong question.

Maybe Pilate should have asked “Who is truth?” Because that’s how Jesus answered him.

Jesus says that he is the truth.

And that’s a bold claim, isn’t it?  The arrested, vulnerable king facing death, is truth?  That’s the way of God?!?


This is where we let the artists speak for us.  A poet wrote in Isaiah 55:8-9,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

            Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

            So are my ways higher than your ways

            And my thoughts than your thoughts.

In my Lenten readings, Walter Brueggemann writes, “It is not your way.  You would not have imagined this alternative way nor been able to predict it, and you surely cannot control it.  There is a way into the future in your life, because God is at work doing strange, wondrous things for you and in spite of you.  And your job is to get your mind off your ways of need and control, to give your life over to God’s large, hidden way in your life…”

“The poet holds out to the exiles (and to us) an alternative way, the waters of baptism, the bread of the Eucharist, the wine of new covenant, the capacity to risk and trust and obey, and then to find ourselves safe and joyous, close to God, and enlisted for a very different life in the world.”

Let’s pray:

God of becoming, be with us as journey through Lent.  May we learn to relinquish our old ways to that we are ready to receive your newness.  Amen.