Friday, April 14, 2017

I Don't Want To Get Past Easter

"If I can just get past Easter," is the mantra of many clergy this time of year...including myself.  When said in this way, it is a hope that we can deal with all the things that Holy Week throws at us.  There's Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  There's the (in many churches) the Easter Egg Hunt that it is hoped will bring in more families with young children. 

Then there is, at least in my case this year, the string of funerals that seems an almost endless of friends and church members and even strangers who want a preacher to lay Daddy to rest.  Each of them challenges my understanding of this season of the Christian year in a different way.

And finally there is the Easter sermon and service.  This most important day in the Christian year challenges us to find ways to communicate the truth of the Resurrection in a culture that avoids the discussion and to people who increasingly do not seem to believe in its physicality.

But in another way, I don't want to get past Easter.  I wrote the poem fragment below while thinking about this


That Jesus crawled down Death's gullet for my sake
And kicked the door open from the inside out
That God, In affirming and validating
What Jesus did and taught
Raised Him from the dead


Because He blew apart the Abyss
when we look into our own abyss
and the abyss looks back
We can laugh
because we know what is coming.
In the pause before the explosion
We smile in Evil's face
and spit

It's not much of a poem, really...and it's actually pretty angry.  But my point is that when I look at what's going on in the world right now; the moves to cut funding for things like Meals On Wheels and services to the poor, Trump's politicizing of medical care and withholding aid in an attempt to "have Schumer begging" to negotiate Obama Care, terrorism in all it's forms....I don't want to get past Easter because Easter is the only thing that gives me any hope.

I believe that Jesus conquered Death (with a big D) and bodily rose again.  I believe that in doing this, Jesus defeated the Powers and Principalities that appear to govern our world.  I don't think it is a metaphor (sorry Marcus Borg) for the disciples somehow "feeling Jesus presence."  I believe He was dead....and that He rose. Done. Finished. Period.

If that's not true, then the bastards have won.  Death has won.  Sin has won.  Terror and hatred have won.

But I don't believe they have.

My favorite Easter image is Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black going down that giant roach's gullet to retrieve his weapon.  I love that moment just before Jones pulls the trigger and blows that bug apart from inside.  That's what I think Jesus did to Sin and Death and Evil.  They're dead and just don't know it...they haven't fallen down yet....but they will.  In the meantime we're called to stomp on all the little roaches (hunger, racism, injustice, etc....go back and watch Will Smith in this same scene) as we work to build for the Kingdom.

Christ Is Risen
Christ Is Risen Indeed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

And Peter

Go tell His disciples...
and Peter...
Peter, whose heart
choked to death on his shame
when he heard the rooster crow.
Peter...
whose shame was public
like a politician caught
with an underaged hooker
the day after speaking at a Graham rally.
Peter..
who had written himself out if the story,
found Jesus writing him back in.
The first resurrection that morning
was Jesus
but Jesus made sure
that the second resurrection
was Peter.
So I shouldn't have to tell you,
but I will,
Just to make the point
like it was made that morning
that when Jesus says "tell them"
this morning
He means "tell them...and you"

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Poems Triggered By Other Poems

Once more a poem by my friend Maren Tirabassi has triggered a poetic response from me.  You can find her poem here...I think it is beautiful:

https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/7208/

And here is what it jumped off in me:

ANOINTING

She broke open her treasure
Poured it out in reckless love
There was no calculating
about how to divide it up
to make it last or spread it out
There was only love's reckless abandon.


He broke open
Himself
poured out for the forgiveness of sins
"My body," He said, "Broken for you."
Love's reckless abandon once again
Breaks open
what contains the thing most precious
and anoints the Beloved with it.

Nothing held back
nothing saved for "just in case"
That's why jars are broken,
so that every drop might be used.

O Jesus,
She, and You lived out
Love's great Anointing
While we
measure out our lives
with an eyedropper
And wonder why nothing changes.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What Happened To The Slave Girl?



This girl
the one Paul healed
what happened to her?
He didn't heal her out of concern
apparently
she irritated him
following him around and screaming at him
telling anyone who cared
and a lot who didn't
that he served the Most High God.
She did this for days
til Paul in a fit of temper
casted out the demons
that made her valuable to her owners
They, of course, were pissed
and drug Paul and his friend Silas
into court and had them flogged.
It all turned out well for them though.
The jailer and his family got saved
and Paul makes a big deal
about being a Roman citizen.
But what happened to the girl?
Did her owners turn her into a prostitute?
Or just cut her useless throat
and leave her there on the road?
Don't we bear some responsibility
for the ones
whose "liberation" we use
to further our causes?
Syrian children in the rubble,
Flint citizens with poison water,
slave girls with demons,
or teens trafficked for labor or sex.
What's the difference between us
and the rest of the world
if we just use them and toss them aside?
A pimp by any other name
is still a pimp.


[I know that in many ways this poem is out of season.  But for a number of reasons I found myself thinking about the story from Acts 16 and the above poem just seemed to happen.  Sometimes that's just the way it is.]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hosanna! Rescue Us!

Last night I watched
as parents cradled children gasping for air
and adults lay, chest heaving
waiting for someone to hose them off
Trying to stop the affect
of chemical weapons
Assad has turned loose on his own people.

This morning
I listened as politicians
sucked the remaining air out of the room
while they rambled on
About who is to blame
and practicing
how to talk solemnly
concerning people you don't really give a damn about.

Last night I watched auditions
for Forsaken Angels
a powerful play about sex trafficking
for which our church is providing performance space

This morning I prayed
that those who watch this play
will not see entertainment
but a mirror held up to a culture that uses throw away children
to give men the excuse that "they paid for it"
to pretend that they're not rapists.

I began my day heartsick
angry
jaw clenched, stomach churning, angry

And remembered my friend
in rehab, her cancer at stage four
calling yesterday to make sure
that I brought her palms from the Sunday service

Hosanna!
They shouted it while they waved palms
as Jesus entered Jerusalem.
We treat it like a cheer, a religious "Go Team!"
When it actually means
Rescue Us!

O God
of Syrian children gasping for air
of trafficked children weeping in silent darkness
of cancer patients reaching for hope
We wave our palms hoping to catch your attention
Rescue Us O God
for the waters of our own sins
have come up to our necks
Rescue Us
before we drown.


Monday, April 3, 2017

The Cross And The Prodigal

I told the noon Bible study today that this Sunday's scripture (Luke 15) is one of my two favorite passages of scripture (the other is the raising of Lazarus as recorded in John 11:1-44).

It may sound a little extreme to say, but I believe that the majority of my own personal theology is caught up in these two passages.  I believe that if my only picture of Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God, the nature of God's love and attitude toward humanity, and the only theory of Atonement I ever heard was what is found in Luke 15, I would be a Christian.  And I believe that the clearest picture of the tasks of the Christian Church is found in the account of the raising of Lazarus (though that is a conversation for another day).  I also believe that this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

Over the past few weeks, the congregation at 1st Baptist Hyattsville has been exploring the question of "what happened at the cross?"  The answers one comes to generally come under the fancy title of "Atonement Theory."  We've looked at such themes as forgiveness; falling into the arms of love; healed and restored; ransomed and redeemed; adoption; and, this past Sunday, the defeat of Sin and Death.

This parable, considered for centuries to be central to Jesus' teachings, represents in my mind, Jesus' view of the atonement that will soon happen at the cross.  It clearly represents Jesus' picture of the nature of God and of the Kingdom.  It is worth noting that there is nothing in this parable that speaks of an angry God who needs or desires a sacrifice or a stand in for humanity's punishment for sin.  There is little to nothing here to support what is commonly referred to as "penal substitutionary atonement theory." Heck, the Father won't even let His son finish his "I'm no damned good," speech before He jams the family signet ring on his finger and shoes on his feet and wraps a new robe around his famine thinned shoulders.

What there is, on the other hand, is a Father who is always waiting, always yearning for the young son's homecoming.  Who, in violation of a number of social norms, runs down the road to embrace His son.  Whose embrace may well be designed to protect His son from the assault of villagers hurt economically when the son sold off his inheritance and left town.  Whose welcome was lavish, both in the giving of ring, robe, and sandals; and in the throwing of a party to help heal the riff between son and community.

None of this should be read as diminishing the nature or quality of the son's sin, or the cost to the Father for His forgiveness.  But what is most important to the Father is that His son is home: "he who was lost is found, he who was dead is alive."

I have often said that if one wants to see the face of God, look at the face of the Father running down the road to His son.  That is what happened at the cross.  God in Christ nailed His arms wide open to receive all of us.  The cost is enormous, and only the Father could pay it.  No one else could accomplish this homecoming.

And maybe even God cannot accomplish it all.  There is the older brother.  Refusing to come in to the party; refusing to celebrate the return of the one he won't even claim as brother, but refers to as "this son of yours."  The Father goes out to encourage and welcome even this one.  And the parable ends with a question mark.  Will he come in, or not.  Will we?  It is, perhaps, the big question for the American Church, elder brother to the world, clinging to our sense of entitlement.  Will we join the party?

It is this picture of God and God's Kingdom that was so frightening to the religious establishment and the political empire.  And it is this view that is vindicated at the Resurrection.  It is this parable that continues to call to us across the centuries.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Does Jesus Hate Sin and Death The Way That I Hate Cancer

Cancer
I hate you.
You have eaten the lives and bodies
of so many I have loved.
I have stood helpless, watching
as you peeled the weight
from their bones,
and drained strength
from their muscles;
til finally all that was left to steal
was their last whispered breath
And you took that too, you sorry bastard.
I would kill you if I could,
grab you by the throat
choke the death dealing out of you
Rip you open so that you
could never again
swallow someone I love.
So I wondered today
at the bedside of another friend
if this is how Jesus felt
when He dragged Sin and Death
with Him to the cross?
Was He tired of seeing them
swallow those He loves?
and determined to tear them open
like He is the woodsman
and all the world
is Little Red Ridding Hood
Even if He had to die in the process?


[for Kathryn, Dub, Robert, Moses, and my Mom. And for Garnet, who is still fighting]