Kintsugi Lives

A sermon for Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1-19:42

My first thoughts for today’s reflections on John’s account of Jesus’ Passion was to build on Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ. I have done so in the past; however, I have so carefully put those notes away, I can’t find where in 15 years of folders those notes are. What’s a preacher to do? Listen, be still and know that God is God and provides.

The first thing that was given to me was reading about Makato putting a 400-year-old Kintsugi bowl in David’s hands. As old as it is, its most special feature is that somewhere along the way the bowl was broken into shards and glued back together using an ancient technique involving gold dust and lacquer. The golden veins add mystic beauty so that the bowl exceeds its original grandeur. The golden veins add a depth of dimension; ~ you intuit the bowls original form and life; ~ you sense the rupture that shattered its life and form; ~ you are drawn to how it is so beautifully healed, brought to a wholeness that exceeds its original beauty and life (Brooks).

It wasn’t much longer when I read a commentary by Whitney Rice which presented a vision I’ve never explored before. She notes that in the Passion story we see both the desire to follow Jesus, and the fear that leads followers to deny Jesus (Rice). My character set is different, but the revelation is hers.

Let’s begin with Peter. We are familiar with his denial of Jesus. We all have heard, and I have preached, to explore our inner selves in search of our ways that lead us to similar denials. However, we should not overlook Peter’s commitment. Earlier he says

Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you (John 13:37).

Peter’s pledge varies in intensity in each Gospel account, but we should not discount his sincerity, he means it. Rice ponders if Peter is trying to stand out in the crowd. It is possible, even probable, Peter is known for making impetuous statements, not carefully thought out, in which he stands out in the crowd. In the garden, Peter’s sincerity is evident, when the police and soldier approach he draws his sword and attacks one of the servants, or the high priest’s the servant gets in his way (John 18:10). Either way, Peter’s action is a sign of his commitment, Romans are not known for their patience with armed insurrection. It is the slave’s presence at this event that leads to Peter’s third denial (John 18:23). There is no question Peter is a mixture of commitment and denial. He relationship with Jesus is complex. Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Holy One of God (John 6:69), he swears he will give his life for Jesus’ life, and he means it. That is the completeness of Peter’s life. But as we know, in the courtyard of the High Priest Peter denies Jesus 3 times. The wholeness of his life lies in broken shards on the courtyard paving-stones.

The other examples of complex relationships with Jesus are Joseph of Arrhythmia and Nicodemus. Both men are powerful, members of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s religious and political ruling body. Once, Nicodemus takes a stand for Jesus in a debate saying,

Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it? (John 7:51).

Joseph is courageous in approaching Pilate to get Jesus body for burial. In doing so he reveals his allegiance to this innocent troublesome rabbi. In these ways, both men show their commitment to Jesus. However, neither man speaks in Jesus defense or makes an effort to constrain the abuse of political and religious power by the High Priest or the Sanhedrin. Like Peter, both are committed to Jesus; and both deny Jesus. Their thundering silence breaks the wholeness of their lives, the shards lay scattered across the Temple grounds.

The golden dust of the Spirit inspires Joseph and Nicodemus to risk asking Pilate for Jesus’ body so he can be buried properly. Unknowingly they set the Easter stage by laying his body in the tomb. The golden dust of the Spirit inspires Peter, a story to be revealed in the weeks to come. Just as gold dust and lacquer restore the whole of a broken bowl into glory beyond its original form, so gold and lacquer, of the Spirit restore the broken lives of Peter, Nicodemus, and Joseph into glory beyond their original forms.

Typically, on Good Friday I am encouraging myself and you to take an honest look at our lives and acknowledge at least one way we have denied Jesus. The story of Kintsugi bowls and Rice’s observation of the complex commitment and denials of Jesus in the lives of his followers weave a complex artistry that takes some lengthy pondering (Brooks). In time, and in varying ways, how our lives are similar to Kintsugi bowls will be revealed. And yes, this is an Easterish gleaning. However, it is also a Lenten, a Good Friday reminder, to commit the time to seek the Kintsugi in everyone one we meet. We are all broken, that is easy to see. It is a failure to be like Jesus not to seek the divine gold-dust and lacquer that remakes all of God’s people, more glorious than either we or they can perceive.

It is Good Friday. The shards of your lives lay scattered across the sands of times. The darkness hovers, it is an opportune time. Can you, will you, believe in healing Spirit’s gold dust and lacquer? Will you trust the potter’s hands of the healing Spirit in the remaking of Kintsugi lives? Yours? And others?


References

Biasdell, Machrina. What’s the Question?, Epiphany 4 (B). 28 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Brooks, David. Longing for an Internet Cleanse. 27 3 2019. <nytimes.com/2019/03/28/opinion/internet-cleanse.html>.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Betweenness.” 23 4 2017. Working Preacher.

Rice, Whitney. “The Rock and the Handmaiden, Good Friday.” 19 4 2019. Sermons that Work.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 18:1-19:42. 19 4/ 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

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It is Finished

A sermon for Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

 

It is finished: three years of ministry, teaching, healing, and signs of power.

It is finished, three years of increasingly tense encounters with Jewish authorities.

It is finished: arrest in the dark of night the all-night trials before Annas and Pilate,
and Peter’s denials.

It is finished: the mocking abuse of soldiers and police, the Jews desire for the release of Barabbas Bar – Abbas son of ~ father.

It is finished, the Jews’ proclamation they have no king but the emperor.

It is finished ~ crucifixion.

It is finished.

 

It is finished Jesus, the intenerate rabbi from Nazareth is dead. Two marginal, mostly secrete followers, remove the body, prepare it with myrrh and aloes, wrap it in a linen cloth, and place it in a tomb.

 

It is finished.

There is nothing left to do, the messianic hope is gone, the promise of restoring the House of David is vanquished, the potential of glory is lost, the ring of Hosanna has dissipated.

It is finished.

There is nothing left to do. The hopeless stand at the edge of the abyss, they ponder ~ what’s next; all their bearings are gone; they’ve no clue how to orient themselves.

 

It was a grand idea, a half a decade in the making, thousands of hours, other opportunities shunned, and suddenly, unexpectedly the realization that it is finished! Standing at the edge of the abyss, with no idea what is next, lost, unable to find any bearings. It is finished. There is nothing left to do. The edge of the abyss is terrifyingly real. ‘Nothing’ is an all-consuming experience.

Some of you have similar experiences; unexpected death, unanticipated diagnosis of severe illness, job loss, financial collapse, the failure of a long-perused dream or ideal. You know the feeling; it is finished! there is nothing left to do! Tonight, we recall the moment when all creation knew it is finished! there was nothing left! Tonight, we recall the moment the cosmos teetered at the edge of the abyss, of nothing. We bring our collection of it is finished experiences with us. Through them, we connect with this moment, with each other with all humanity, with all creation.

All of us want to move on. There is the urge to swap stories of how we moved on; or not. There is the desire to tell each other “It will be alright.” never knowing, never saying what ‘alright’ is. None of us – none of us is eager just to be just to exist at the edge of the abyss, when everything is done, when there is nothing left.

But; here we are. And it is exactly where we should be. Standing at the cross-shaped abyss, that like some divine black hole is stripping us, sucking away all pretense of glory, power, wealth, position, privilege, success, accomplishment, knowledge, wisdom, wit, piety, and, righteousness, eradicating all pretense ~ until

It is finished.

There is nothing left.

Nothing, except ourselves, our souls, and bodies; dust and breath, just as God created us.

 

My hunch is ~ we should stay here awhile.

My hope is ~ we will.

My prayer is ~ we can.

Broken Justice to Becoming At-One

The Sermons for Good Friday and The Easter Vigil is a two-part series. I am presenting them as one document with two sections.

Atonement: From Good Friday to Easter

Learn in the Darkness

A sermon for Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Hebrews 10:16-25, or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1-19:42, Psalm 22

How did we get here? In years past, I’ve explored all sorts of ways we got here: from specious crowd behavior to corrupt Jewish and Roman officials acting from fear. But I am inviting us to be a bit more personal and to understand the question “How did we get here?” as “What did I contribute?” And that is going to take us to the cross, more specifically the crucifix, the cross with Jesus dying on it; and that is going to take us into the murky world of atonement.

There are multiple thoughts about atonement. Atonement is thought of: Jesus succeeding where Adam fails, or Jesus dying to defeat death, or Jesus dying to bring positive moral change, or Jesus paying the price that had to be paid to release humanity from captivity by Satan; who discovers that God pranked him~ because Jesus lives! Atonement can also mean Jesus victory over death, or Jesus paying the debt to God on behalf of our sins, or the idea that sin must be punished, which Jesus takes upon himself, to keep moral order, or that Jesus’ dying is the penalty substitute to satisfy God’s sense of justice; which is the dominate understanding today (wesleybros.com).

Generally, the beginning assumption is that God and humanity are one, and should be in a harmonious relationship; that God and we should be “at-one”. The need for atonement is because we breached the created unity between God and humanity (Genesis 3). The question becomes how to heal the breach.

The Hebrew words associated with atonement are: to cover, to offer, to effect reconciliation; and the Greek words are: to be, cause to be friendly, to render, and to leave (Carver). There are no good English translations.

The Old Testament emphasis is the sacrificial system; that eventually is centered in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is the system God sets up so that the Jews could make an offering to restore fellowship with God. There are lots of details on how to offer a sacrifice, but almost nothing about what is at work to heal the breach (Carver). By the way, one such sacrifice is for the High Priest to lay his hand on a goat, then set it free into the wilderness, taking with it the peoples’ sins; this is the source of the term ‘scapegoat.’

The New Testament emphasis is on the cross and metaphors for Jesus’ work: lamb, take away sin, ransom, give his life, blood which is shed us (Dominy). The New Testament is clear about reconciliation, but not the means by which it actually happens (Easton).

There is no question that Jesus dies on the cross. There is no question that his death is related to our salvation. our relationship with each other, enemies included (Sakenfeld, Carver). All this considered, today, Jesus as the substitute penalty is the denominate belief about atonement. The Temple sacrificial system could never be perfect; Jesus, the perfect human, is the sacrifice for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

The trouble is we’ve not been very good at being precise in what this means. David Lose writes:

… because God is just, God has to punish sin, and because God is loving, God beats up on Jesus instead of us. But I have a hunch that this understanding of the cross says more about our inadequate understanding of justice than it says about God.

 

Benjamin Corey put it this way

 a rather poor realization of this notion of atonement has evolved and contributes to a broken justice system (Corey).

Edward Wimberley notes that “abuse is the attempt to gain meaning and value at the expense of another.” In oppressive and abusive situations, the object can internalize the abuse, taking responsibility for the abuse and oppression. An unhealthy connection between this process and atonement theology of Jesus as the substitute for us gives abusers an ideological powerful justification for their actions. A rejection of substitute or surrogate sacrifice is emerging, and we will explore those options in a day or so. For now, I want to us explore other ways skewed atonement theology furthers the breach between God and us being at one.

One consequence is a glorification of suffering. Jesus suffered for our sins; therefore, suffering is good for us. Such thinking can allow those with the responsibility to act for the common welfare justification for not acting because the suffering of the oppressed will lead to their greater glory in time to come. Another consequence is the presumption of moral or spiritual defect of those people whose life circumstances are penury. Their suffering is a sort of punishment; that will lead to their greater glory in time.

One of the background factors in Ferguson MO. was a police and court system collaboration that ticketed poor, disenfranchised people trapping them in a very expensive cycle of ever increasing court fines. It is an abusive relationship, with the police and the courts in the role of the abuser and the marginalized people internalizing their circumstances, assuming the emotional-spiritual responsibility for their inequitable treatment. The overly complex system, of social safety net services, behaves in a similar way and again the least of these suffer.

I don’t believe these decisions are actively made we just instinctually make these decisions. However, the harm is very real.

Tonight as we stand at the foot of the cross, Jesus’ broken, bloody body bears witness to the grossly out of control perverted justice systems of both the Temple and Rome. Jesus’ broken, bloody body bears witness to:

  • the perversion of justice as tens of thousands of refugees are wintering in the open,
  • as billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies quit producing effective, inexpensive drugs in favor of ruinously expense medications, sometimes of questionable improved efficacy
  • as corporations move off-shore to avoid paying their share of the cost to sustain a safe and just society at home.

You get the idea. And perhaps you are uncomfortably aware, that with a little self-examination, you will discover similar instinctive behaviors of your own.

I know that you know, that the story is not over. However, the growing edge for us tonight is to resist the temptation to jump to the next chapter. Our growing edge is to stay here in the midst of the uncomfortable truths, of our actions, as a community and individuals, instinctive as they may be. Our growing edge is to learn in the darkness.

 

A Surprise To Live By

A Sermon for the Easter Vigil: Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-4a, Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21, Isaiah 55:1-11, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Romans 6:3-11, Luke 24:1-12

Good Friday’s homiletic reflection was a rejection of today’s dominate understanding of The Atonement. It was:

  • a rejection of the idea that Jesus is a substitute or surrogate sacrifice for our sins
  • a rejection of thinking that suffering is good for us
  • a rejection of allowing those, with the responsibility, to act for the good of the people, the justification for not acting, because the suffering of the oppressed will lead to their greater glory in time
  • a rejection of the idea that those people whose life circumstances are penury have some sort of moral or spiritual defect
  • a rejection of the notion that suffering is a sort of punishment;that will lead us to greater glory in time.

Friday night we left sulking in the darkness born in the midst of the uncomfortable truths about our actions, as a community and as individuals, instinctive as they may be. Having spent the last day pondering our stance in the shadow of the cross this evening is a reminder that the cross is a symbol of grossly out of control perverted justice systems.

Tonight we have journeyed through several reminders of life in the presence of God.

We:

  • have traveled from creation; from the first light to our creation in God’s likeness and our stewardship of cosmos
  • have traveled through Israel’s being guarded by a pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day, and being saved from destruction at the Red Sea
  • have traveled to gleaning that God thoughts are not our thoughts, so, as stiffed necked as we have been, everyone who thirsts, comes to the waters; and those who have no money, are to come, to buy and to eat; they are to buy wine and milk without money and without price
  •  have traveled to dry desert valley and witnessed that even though our lives are as desiccated as dry bones God’s spirit breath will be breathed into us, and we will live
  • have traveled to the point where we have grasped that all judgment has been removed from us, that disasters have been turned aside, that our oppressors have been dealt with, that the shame of the lame and the outcast will be changed to praise and renown
  • have traveled to where we have seen, this very night, light bursting forth from a new fire as the Light of Christ.

We have not only renewed the story, but we have also renewed our baptism, in which we are bound to the story of life in Christ including the requirements, the vows we make governing how we will live in this world. We have heard Paul’s summary of this surprising morning; that Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so that we might also walk in newness of life.

The summary is surprising because the story is surprising. And the story is surprising because it is completely unexpected for Jesus’ tomb to be empty. It may have been reasonable for the disciples to think that the authorities would steal Jesus’ body; but not likely. But it is in no way reasonable for anyone to anticipate that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other women, would see God’s messenger and be asked: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead!” Yes – I know Jesus told everyone he would rise on the third day, but no one really believed him. We have a hard enough time believing it now, and we have generations of generations of witnesses to the power of the hope that arises from this morning’s joyfully disturbing surprise.

From Friday night’s experience, we can now confess: Jesus died not for our sins but because of our sins. However, at this moment, we can also confess that by God’s almighty grace the Divine Word did not return empty, but is accomplishing God’s purpose (Isaiah 55:11) in that by The Resurrection Jesus is restoring us to right relationship with God and each other (Sakenfeld). We can now confess, that with Jesus returning to God, at his Ascension, and with the sending of the Spirit, a complete holistic understanding of atonement: including Jesus’ Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension (Wimberly (112-117).

This morning’s joyfully disturbing surprise is a surprise because no one expects it. It is disturbing because tombs should not be empty. It is joyful because now we know God’s grace is more powerful than our all sins; now we know that we and all creation are becoming at one with God and each other.

It is a surprise here and now because the Atonement is no longer a millenniums ago moment in which Jesus’ followers became at one with God and themselves. Now The Atonement is the continuing transformation in which each of us, and all of us, with all of the cosmos, are becoming at one with God and each other just as Jesus and God are one (John 17:1-2, 11, 20-23). It’s a surprise we can live with. Better yet, it is a surprise we can live by.

 


 

References

Carver, William Owen. “Atonement.” INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA. Ed. James Orr. WORDSearch, 2014.

Corey, Benjamin. “How A Poor Theology Of The Cross Created America’s Broken.” Sojo.net. 04 02 2014. <sojo.net/blogs>.

Dominy, Bert. “Atonement.” Holman Bible Dictionary. Ed. Trent C. Butler. Prod. Holman Bible Publishers. n.d.

Easton, Matthew George. “Atonement.” Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp. n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

wesleybros.com. 21 July 2015.

Wimberly, Edward. Counseling African American Marriages and Families. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1977.

 

At the edge of the abyss

A sermon for Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

It is finished: three years of ministry, three years of teaching, healing, and signs of power. It is finished: three years of increasingly tense encounters with Jewish authorities. It is finished: arrest in the dark of night, the all night trials before Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate, and Peter’s denials. It is finished: the mocking abuse of soldiers and police, the Jews desire for the release of Barabbas – Bar – Abbas: son of – father. It is finished: the Jews’ proclamation they have no king but the emperor, and crucifixion on a cross. It is finished.

It is finished Jesus, the intenerate rabbi from Nazareth is dead. Two marginal, mostly secrete followers, remove the body, prepare it with myrrh and aloes, wrap it in a linen cloth, and place it in a tomb. It is finished. There is nothing left to do; the messianic hope is gone; the promise of restoring the House of David is vanquished, the potential of glory is lost, the ring of Hosanna has dissipated, It is finished. There is nothing left to do. The hopeless stand at the edge of the abyss, they ponder ~ what’s next; all their bearings are gone; they’ve no clue how to orient themselves.

I recall the moment our landlord, justifiably, pulled our lease. Plateau Gymnastics was gone. I may well have thought It is finished! I know I stood at the edge of the abyss. I knew what was next: the myriad detail of closing a business. Still, I was lost, unable to find my bearings. It is finished. There is nothing left to do. The edge of the abyss is terrifyingly real. ‘Nothing’ is an all-consuming experience.

Some of you have similar experiences; unexpected death, unanticipated diagnosis of severe illness, job loss, financial collapse, the failure of a long perused dream or ideal. You know the feeling; it is finished!  There is nothing left to do! Today we recall the moment when all creation knew it is finished! When all creation knew there is nothing left to do! Today we recall the moment the cosmos stood at the edge of the abyss. We bring our collection of  it is finished experiences with us. Through these experiences we connect with the cosmic moment.

I expect all of us want to move on. We have this urge to swap stories of how we moved on; or not. We have the desire to tell each other “It will be alright.” never knowing, or saying what ‘alright’ is. None of us – none of us is eager just to be just to exist at the edge of the abyss, when everything is done, when there is nothing left to do.

But that is exactly where we are. It is exactly where we should be. The cross shaped abyss, like some divine black hole, strips us naked, sucking away all pretense of: glory, power, wealth, position, privilege, success, accomplishment, knowledge, wisdom, wit, piety, and righteousness, it sucks away all pretense ~ until it is finished; there is nothing left: ~ except ~ ourselves ~ our souls and bodies just as God created us.

My hunch is~ we should stay here awhile. My hope is~ we will. My prayer is~ we can.