The best note

UPDATE: Here’s the audio of the sermon that elicited this response that moved me so.

I was trying to say: Resurrection confirms God’s dream for this world. Resurrection invites us to bring God’s dream to life. What did you hear though?


I talk. A lot. It’s kinda my gig as a pastor. There are plenty of days when I wonder if all the words I say — all the prayers, all the songs, all the sermons — matter to anyone at all. Am I, are we as a church, making a difference in anyone’s life with all our unending words?

It seems that, for this week at least, the answer is yes. I hope you’ll forgive me as this is insanely self-serving, but this week we received this note regarding worship Easter morning:

As a first time visitor, I was struck by the all-inclusive atmosphere – on so many levels, including having children actively participating. This was in clear reflection of Pastor Dave’s sermon about not only being all-inclusive and welcoming, but to listening to people. his mention of what was and was not factual or reported in the Gospels struck a chord as well. This sermon and visit has given me rebirth in the belief that there are still many Christians who really reflect on what it means to be a Christian and to act thusly. Thank you.

Affirmation is so powerful. And humbling. And inspiring.

I hope we can continue to live up to what this person saw in us. I know it is that for which we are striving.

Experiencing “Good” Friday and Holy Saturday

It seems to me that our words sometimes (often?) get in the way.

Here then is a fantastic video about Good Friday that uses no words. Created by SparkHouse for their line of Sunday School curriculum called Holy Moly. It is meant to be shown to and with children. But I think you’ll find it speaks powerfully to all ages. I know it moves me. (Disclosure: I’ve done some paid consulting work for other SparkHouse projects, but not Holy Moly.)

Once you’ve watched that, you may need some time in silence. That is what Holy Saturday is for: experiencing the silence of the tomb. It was real for Jesus; it is real for us. The United Methodist Worship blog offers this incredible resource for silence on Holy Saturday. Here’s a taste:

This is the silence of the tomb, or perhaps more accurately, the silence from the tomb. This is the silence that grabs us, if we are paying attention at all, when we contemplate the aftermath of the crucifixion.

This is what Holy Saturday has been about for centuries in the liturgical life of the Church. It is this silence, embodied in an assembly. It is the ultimate silence. The horror of the execution and our role in it was the day before. Facing the violence head on as we do and must on Good Friday also tends to move us into a kind of alternate reality removed from the usual patterns of our lives and thoughts. We can be tricked into thinking it was all just a horrible dream.

But on this day, on Holy Saturday, there is no question left. [read the rest]

Perhaps, like me, after you watch the video below and pray through the silence of the Holy Saturday litany, you’ll find yourself longing for more. Longing for conversation about these days leading up to Easter, ideas about Jesus’ death that do not turn God into a monster who somehow requires the death of “his” own child.

If so, I highly recommend spending some time with the conversation Tony Jones is curating at Why A Crucifixion? There you will “read what progressive Christian bloggers from around the blogosphere have to say about the meaning and significance of Jesus dying on a cross.”

It is in allowing ourselves to experience the events of Friday and Saturday that we become truly ready to know the exuberant joy of resurrection on Easter morning.

Peace be with you all.

Finding a new leadoff hitter

During our worship services this Easter Sunday, I got to read the lesson from Acts 10. I added a little prologue because the prescribed reading from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) begins in the middle of the story. It’s a story that’s too good, too important to skip over. In fact, I argue that it changed the church. The church is available to you and me as a result of the, well, actions from Acts 10.

[Disclosure: I’m really double dipping here. This is a post from my stint as guest blogger at The Hardest Question. It’s also a revision of my usually-weekly letter/post/thing for my congregation‘s eNewsletter. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

With all due respect (isn’t it odd that this is probably the best way to indicate that something is about to be disrespected?) to that whole He-is-risen-indeed thing, this is the most important story to tell on Easter Day.

Of course, in order for this sermon of Peter’s to make any sense, we need to read the story that precipitated it. A story that, sadly, the RCL never has us consider. Am I the only one to whom that seems a bad idea? Maybe it’s the RCL’s way of forcing us to do some homework. You know the story; it’s the one with the…WorstLunch MenuEver.

Toads and lizards and vultures, Oh My!

Peter was staying in Joppa as the guest of Simon the tanner. Peter went up on Simon’s rooftop to pray, but was too distracted by his hunger to get much praying done. Instead, Peter had a vision. A sheet descended through a rift in the sky and on the sheet were four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. And a voice told Peter to “Get up! Kill and eat!” The only thing this missing from this menu was “and for dessert…chilled monkey brains!”

Peter, being a devout Jew, politely declined the offer. Or, you know, not so politely. “No! All my life, I’ve never eaten anything profane!” The voice responds, “What God makes clean, you must not call profane.”

This is Peter we’re talking about, so he had to see the vision three times. But then he really got it. Immediately after this vision he met with Gentiles, offered them hospitality (no word on what Simon the tanner thought about that), and traveled with them to Caesarea to meet Cornelius.

The times, they are a changin’

Upon arrival, Peter entered Cornelius’ home demonstrating just what a radical departure he’d made from, well, the self-understanding he’d had his whole life: “I have always thought it was wrong to associate with Gentiles…” (at this point I can only imagine how glad Cornelius was he’d invited Peter) “…but God has just shown me that I should no longer consider any human being unclean or profane… God accepts every person regardless of background or culture. God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.”

Eat some lizards, make friends with a Roman Centurion, declare Jesus as Lord of all people. Critics have been all over Rob Bell lately, but here’s Peter, barely awake after the gross-out dream, and already out on a whirlwind tour of radical inclusivity! I’m thinking I should do the same.

The new John 3:16?

Given how quickly we USAmerican Christians divide and denounce and declare one another heretical, could it be that we need to hear this story even more than we need to hear the all-too-familiar and all-too-comfortable Resurrection tale? Could it be we need this story to save us from our arrogance and complacency? How might it change the church, change us, change me, if Acts 10:35 was our lead-off hitter, our first responder, our top go-to text?

Hardest Question

Those questions haunt me and I hope to explore them further. But the hardest question here is one the text asks of me: What categories am I using to judge and forbid people? Who am I excluding from the family of God? How am I subverting God’s subversion of exclusivity?

Sunday’s coming

16th century Russian icon of the Descent into ...
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It’s Saturday night. That means you’ve made it through Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. For us pastor types it also means it will soon be time to share cogent, coherent thoughts in the form of an Easter Sunday sermon! That’s the mounting pressure, anxiety-inducing meaning of “Sunday’s coming.”

If you’re still figuring out what to share tomorrow, let me (one last time) commend The Hardest Question to you. What is that all about?

It’s a blog done midrash style. It’s curator, Russell Rathbun, describes it like this:

Questioning the text is important, because the Bible is the witness to the Living Word of God. We are called into relationship with God through Jesus the Christ, The Word. Relationships, at their best, are dynamic, growing, deepening, revelatory, generative and transforming. A primary way we pursue relationship with the Living Word is through the study of scripture, so it must be taken seriously, approached with a robust confidence and a passionate vulnerability.

We ask the text the hardest questions because we can. It does not break, it is not offended, and it does not judge our desire for understanding. The ancient rabbis say that when we study the Bible we release God’s mercy into the world. It is important to question the text, because the world needs as much of God’s mercy as possible.

As I’ve written a couple of times, I’ve had the honor of being the guest blogger there this week providing thoughts on the Easter texts.

Easter. Resurrection. God demonstrating to the universe that death and oppression do not have the last word, but rather the last word belongs to God and that Word is Love and Life. And that’s the other meaning of “Sunday’s coming.” It’s the back half of the famous refrain, “It’s Friday, but…”

If you haven’t already, I’d love for you to click on over to The Hardest Question for Scooby-Doo and Temple of Doom references, some Easter eggs and to read what lead me to these hardest questions:

Regarding the Acts text: How am I subverting God’s subversion of exclusivity?

As for the Gospel text: Why is it still so hard for women to get equal pulpit time in so many churches?

How do you read?

Bizarro Shaggy and Scooby?

I hope you’ll forgive the continuing shameless self-promotion…

I’m pleased to be a part of the fun, interesting, good work going on at The Hardest Question, the blog that seeks to:

move Bible preachers and teachers creatively away from hermeneutical cliché, so as to ignite both weekly preparations and insightful conversations for the sake of the communities they serve.

In other words, it’s modeled after the Jewish midrash. I’m guest blogger this week, meaning you can read my posts on the Revised Common Lectionary texts for Easter Day. Here’s a taste of my thoughts on the gospel text, John 20:1-18:

John and Peter are like bizarro versions of Shaggy & Scooby: they take off toward the spot of the mysterious sighting and, zoinks! they, like, can’t get there fast enough. They must see it with their own eyes!

Read more…and tell us how do you read?

It’s Sunday, but Sunday’s comin’

As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, today is Palm Sunday. And it’s Passion Sunday. Which, at my church, meant it was Palm/Passion Sunday. We’re just all hip mashup like that. Today marks the beginning of what we call Holy Week. That is, the week leading up to Easter. Today we remembered and celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The rest of this week we follow Jesus around, remembering and reenacting major events like his last supper, his trial, conviction, crucifixion and death.

It’s a lot to cover in one worship service. At least if you want to keep the gathering to about 60 minutes. Which we do. So the temptation is to skip the Passion part, rationalizing that we’ll get to that on Thursday and Friday this week. But lots of our people won’t come to those worship gatherings. So for them, they’ll just go right from triumphal entry to triumphal Resurrection. As my friend, Sean Ferrell tweeted today: “Christianity is meaningless sans cross.” Including the Passion was necessary today.

Now I’m about to violate everything I’ve just said. I want to skip ahead and talk about Easter. And engage in some shameless self-promotion while I’m at it.

I am the guest blogger of the week over at The Hardest Question, a blog that is “a weekly foray into the hardest questions of the week’s lectionary Bible texts.” I have the honor of offering some thoughts about two of the lectionary texts for Easter Sunday. They’ll go up sometime today and be up all week. I hope you’ll click your way over there, read and react with a comment. The Hardest Question is also on twitter and Facebook.

Hope to see you there!