Thursday, July 26, 2007

The myth of redemtive violence

Sermon for Sunday July 29, Colossians 2:6-15,(16-19), Luke 11:1-13

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

I speak with you in the Name of God. Amen!

As many of you may have guessed, when I was a teenager, I was a bit of a dork. Three of my favorite things, were comic books, cowboy movies (especially John Wayne) and, I must confess, professional wrestling—though down south we called it rasslin’ instead of wrestling. Anyway, if you think about it, the story line of every comic book, cowboy movie, and rasslin’ match is pretty similar. There is a good guy and a bad guy. For the majority of the story the bad guy is winning, and just when you think there is no hope for the good guy, by some extraordinary use of violence the good guy prevails and every body lives happily ever after. However, here’s the rub: everyone does not live happily ever after, because in the next issue, or movie, or match. Either there is a new bad guy to over power, or by some fluke the previous bad guy survived and the whole story gets repeated again. A classic example of this pattern, as New Testament scholar Walter Wink points out, is the comic strip and cartoon “Popeye the Sailor Man.” Wink writes,
In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Wink goes on to describe this as the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that things can be accomplished and that evil can be vanquished by overwhelming force, the myth that might makes right. Furthermore, there is evidence of this formative myth operating in every culture and in every age of human history at least since the agricultural revolution occurring about 3000 years before the life of Jesus Christ.

Speaking of the life of Christ, this myth of redemptive violence was most certainly active back in Jesus’ day. The Roman Empire had made quite a compelling argument that they were rightfully the rulers of the world because they had the military might to destroy any opponent. The Roman legions massed for war, cresting a hill set for conquering, were the ancient equivalent of Shock and Awe. Now here is where things start to get really interesting. In our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Colossians he writes, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” Now, imagine with me for a second that we had no knowledge of the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Imagine if we only had this letter to the Colossians and read about Jesus’ triumph over the ruling authority. We would probably assume that he had won some great battle, that he had marshaled forces and succeeded through the physical and moral destruction of his enemies. For indeed this is almost all we have ever seen. Be it a popular election, a spectator sport, or a war we have rarely if ever seen anyone triumph in any other way.

But, and it is a big ol’ but, we do have knowledge of the gospels. We know the story of Jesus and there isn’t a army that marches off to war with Jesus in the front brandishing a sword in any of them. Even in the apocryphal gospels that are not part of scripture there not a story of Jesus bringing down the powers that be, the Roman Empire with military might. Something radically different occurs the narrative of Jesus. He does not develop new strategies for the destruction of his enemies, rather commands us to pray for those that persecute us. He does not amass a tremendous fighting force backed a military-industrial complex, rather the anointed one walks unarmed, penniless, and alone to the cross. He does not call fire from heaven down upon his executioners, rather he prays, “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He does not seek revenge for the violence done to him, rather he rises from the grave without bitterness or malice forgiving and says peace be with you. In the gospel of Jesus Christ—in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah—we are a long way away from Popeye and Bluto, a long way away from the myth of redemptive violence. We are rather in the midst of the myth of redemptive sacrifice, redemptive love, redemptive forgiveness, and redemptive grace.

The gospel passage proclaimed today is Luke’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ instructions to the apostles and us on how to pray. The formative narrative of redemptive sacrifice and forgiveness is enmeshed within this prayer. Jesus tells them and us to pray for God to provide daily bread. We are not instructed to pray that we have more bread then everyone else, more riches then our neighbors; rather pray for our daily bread, a sufficient amount to get through today. Furthermore we are told to pray for God’s forgiveness as we forgive those that trespass, sin, or are indebted to us. In other words, we are not to pray for the destruction of those who harm us, or that we are able to maintain a position of power over those less fortunate then us. No, we are to pray that we have the will and ability to ensure that all enjoy the providence and abundance of God’s creation like we have. We are to pray that we are able to pass on the graciousness of God to those that sin against us even though they do not deserve it, for indeed we do not deserve it either.

As you are aware, the Lord’s Prayer is a major part of our Anglican style of worship. We say it during every Eucharist celebration, as well as every morning, noonday, evening prayer, or compline we do together. The importance of this repeated practice of prayer is almost to great for me to articulate. For indeed the myth of redemptive violence is told over and over again in almost every context of our lives. From James Bond movies to spectator sports, from history books to, yes, even in organized religion, we formed by the narrative of dominance. However, it is not all that we hear and see. Whether it is Gandhi’s Satyagraha form of Non-Violent Resistance, Martin Luther King’s Soul Force, Dorothy Day’s Hospitality Houses and Catholic Worker Movement, Archbishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation commission, Mennonite pacifism and yes even our simple repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, the narrative of forgiveness is told and is a part of our being as well.

Our job, our formation, our action plan, must include getting to know this different story well. Immersion in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowledge of those who followed him and lived the new story and attempting to live it out in our own lives is a start. We must also, proclaim this new story in every corner and crevice that the myth of domination has seeped into.

Jesus proclaims today that if we ask we shall receive. I invite you to this altar today, not merely so that things can carry on as they have, but hoping that you will join me in asking God to transform us, to form us by the narrative of Grace, to empower us to triumph as he triumphs and live our lives, “rooted and built up in [Christ] and established in faith.” Amen!


So, I have been on a bit of an environmental kick lately. For once this has included more then me just complaining about how we are destroying our planet. Indeed, I do believe we are performing some form of slow mass suicide by making our planet uninhabitable to human life.

Inflammatory rhetoric aside, this time I am trying to consider this a spiritual discipline that I need to practice physically and materially and not just rant about. I have posted more about this at my website Last night, however, my wife and I bought bikes for the purpose of commuting. My goal is to commute by bike at least three times a week. This is part of a greater effort on our part to become carbon neutral. I'll keep you posted on how this works out.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sermon for 21&22 July

The sermon actually got written early this week:

“As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.”

I speak with you today in the name of the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

I’m going to take a bit of a risk this morning. See, I don’t like to make assumptions about scripture. I believe that old adage about what happens when one assumes things is especially true in regards to scripture. The things we say about scripture should at least be present in scripture, even if most of the time we have no clue what they mean. Therefore, with your prayers of support, here is my assumption: the prophet Amos, dear, dear Amos, had to have friends.

I know that does not sound like too risky of an assumption, but I read the entire book of Amos this week and there is not a single reference to another person that we could even remotely consider a friend of Amos; enemies of Amos, yes; people extremely annoyed by his presence and prophecy, yes; but friends…not so much.

However, he must have had friends. Surely he must have had someone close to him that could pull him aside and say, “Dude, cheer up a little bit. I mean, come on man, every time you make one of these prophecies it’s all doom and gloom and the day of the Lord is wrath stuff. Don’t you know that you could get a lot more publicity and airtime if you tell the people what they want to hear?” Surely someone had to come to Amos and give him a heads up.

However, if someone did try to clue Amos in as to how things get done, the way things are, and how the game is played, Amos apparently did not listen. Amos is relentless in his denunciation of the powers that be: the ruling authority, the religious authority, the rich, and powerful. We hear a bit of that in our reading today which comes from the 8th chapter of the book. He writes, “The Lord said to me: the end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day says the Lord GOD; ‘the dead bodies shall be many cast out in every place.” This isn’t some random out of character blurb for Amos. No, Amos has been ranting like this for seven chapters already and he has got a whole other chapter to go after this.

What is his reason for this protracted, expressive, colorful, and extensive diatribe against the nation of Israel? We hear a little bit of an answer in verse 4 where he writes, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” This is a short verse, but apparently, there was a whole lot of trampling on the needy and ruining of the poor going on.

It was kind of like a best of times and worst of times situation back in Amos’ day; the best of times for a very few people and the worst of times for a whole lot of folks. The northern kingdom of Israel was experiencing a time of military security and economic prosperity. Trade relations with their neighbors were opening and the prospect of material gain turned the powers that be towards constrained self-interest. This led, as the commentator R.K. Harrison has noted, to the destruction of the middle class within a generation.” Y’all know what happens when the middle class is destroyed. The gap between the rich and poor becomes insurmountable. Systems of government, law and order become corrupt and weighted in the favor of the powerful few instead of the common good. Policy decisions and enforcement maintain the status quo rather then progress society towards justice and peace. In short order the religious system becomes domesticated by the powers as well, another pawn in the protection of the powerful. Ultimately God becomes domesticated by the religious system as well. Here, however, like Moses before him and many after him, is where Amos comes in.

It is because the powers that be had turned from the protection given the poor in the Law of Moses, because they had turned from the proper way of responding to God’s gracious liberating love that Amos delivers the prophecy of doom. They had turned to wealth and productivity as their idol instead of worshiping the free God who had freed them. Because they were so caught up in their attempt to domesticate God, they failed to hear Amos’ reminder that God is truly free. God is free even to direct God’s wrath upon God’s own people for their neglect, apathy, oppression of the poor, and idolization of wealth.

Now, we should not be too hard on the people of Israel, for indeed in every age and time, in every institution, society, and culture there is idolatry. If we look close enough we can see it in our Gospel passage today. Martha has welcomed Jesus into her home and she immediately dives into what the dominant culture of the day expects of her as a women. She is to produce and that is where she finds her value. She can not imagine any other way of responding, or that there might be anything wrong with the way she acts. She doesn’t know that she is deluded. Biblical Theologian and Old Testament Scholar, Walter Brueggemann describes this as the royal consciousness, where we are too caught up in doing what the fallen powers that be expect of us that we lose the ability to even imagine another way of being. It is into this befuddled, unaware, unconscious submission to the dominant culture that Jesus continually steps in and delivers a swift kick of Christian love.

Would Jesus have loved Martha any less if there was one less dish for dinner, or the plates weren’t placed in just the right spot? Would Christ have judged her if she burned the matza? Of course not, what is important to Christ is for Martha—and, by extension, us to be positioned as disciples that is to say “to sit at the Lord’s feet” as Mary does. For Mary to be a disciple, which is what is meant by the phrase “sat at the Lord’s feet” is an incomprehensible role for a woman in their day and age. It is out side the box of who women were supposed to be. However, Jesus, as he does over and over again in the Gospel of Luke, says that our roles as humans are to be proscribed by him not by the fallen powers that be. We saw it last week with the story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells the lawyer not to allow cultural limitations and fear to define who his neighbors are. In our Gospel today he tells Martha not to be a slave to productivity.

I use the phrase slave to productivity deliberately, because I am afraid. I am afraid that American culture, our dominant culture, our form of the royal consciousness is forming us all into a rabid bunch of “Marthas”, running around desperately trying to accumulate more profits and possessions. I am fearful that the corporate idol of the bottom line is dulling our senses and suppressing our ability to imagine a different reality. Unwittingly, we are making bricks for pharaoh instead of living for Christ. I am certainly not immune to this temptation, which my addiction to caffeine and mile high to-be-read and to-do-lists evidence.
So what are we to do? Are we destined to be mechanical runners of the rat race attempting to finish the maze of life with more toys then our neighbors? Are we destined to continually make bricks for pharaoh with no hope of liberation?

No we are not, if we have the ears to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No we are not, if we are willing to sit at the Lord’s feet, willing to be disciples. We can be liberated from the powers and indeed call the powers to repentance if we continually come to this table not merely for a sedative, not merely to be comforted that everything will be okay, not merely for some pithy “self-help techniques to take the edge off of our rat-race lives”, but come here for a vision of what could be, a vision of the kingdom of God. The kingdom that Jesus proclaims is near to us all the time.

Come to this altar not for appeasement but for motivation to bring about the kingdom. Come to this table for that One Thing. Come to this altar to sit at the feet of the Lord. Come for communion. Come for the feast. Come receive the body and blood of Christ to be the body and blood of Christ. Amen!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Theologian Quiz

The results of this quiz are interesting, while I agree with the summary of Moltmann's thought and I have been intrigued by what I have learn of Moltmann, I have never been able to read any Moltmann with any level of comprehension. It's thick stuff. And I have a harder time understanding Schleiermacher. I'm a little disappointed that Hooker and the via media of Anglicanism is not represented. Anyway, here is the results of the Quiz:

You scored as Jürgen Moltmann, The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Friedrich Schleiermacher


Jürgen Moltmann


John Calvin


Martin Luther




Karl Barth


Paul Tillich


Charles Finney


Jonathan Edwards




Which theologian are you?
created with

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Five

Yet another F5 from the RevGals:

1. Which Harry Potter book is your favorite and why?
I'm going to go with six. It totally caught me off guard when Dumbledore died, or did he? I'm still in the denial stage of grief about that.

2. Which character do you most resemble? Which character would you most like to get to know?
I think I may be most like Neville though that might just be my insecurities talking. I think if I were a whole lot younger I'd have a crush on Ginny Weasley. That's probably because my wife is a red head as well.

3. How careful are you about spoilers?

a) bring 'em on--even if I know the destination, the journey's still good
b) eh, I'd rather not know what happens, but I'm not going to commit Avada Kedavra if someone makes a slip
c) I will sequester myself in a geodesic dome to avoid finding anything out

I guess I am very careful. I haven't read any web posts or such or even thought about trying to find out what will happen in book 7. I think part of the joy for me is reading the book; so why go digging ahead of time. So my answer is B.

4. Make one prediction/share one hope about book 7.
Hagrid dies, then I cry profusely.

5. Rowling has said she's not planning any prequels or sequels, but are there characters or storylines (past or future) that you would like to see pursued?
Hermione and Ron, Harry and Ginny, but who doesn't want to know what happens to them?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Church Personalities -- Harry Potter Style

Purechristianithink over at Rebel Without a Pew has written a delightful post comparing the personalities of churches to those of the four houses of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Magic from the Harry Potter series. It is remarkable how dead on Purechristianithink is.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sermon for 6th Sunday after Pentacost Year C

“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Now, don’t get too excited. We are not cutting services short today because it is a holiday weekend. Rather I would like for us to reflect on this charge given us by our deacons at the end of every Eucharist we do here. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” There is both conclusion and continuation in that command. There is conclusion in that we are sent away from this place and out into the world beyond the walls of this parish. There is continuation as well because we are commanded to love and serve the Lord just as we have been doing within these walls in the midst of our worship. The deacon’s dismissal of us is simply saying that the worship may have ended but the service is just begun. When we have said our prayers, when we have confessed our sins and received God’s forgiveness, when we have remembered Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and received the body and blood of Christ, the spiritual food of communion, then we are sent out into the world to serve God, as the catechism says, in the actions of proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace, and love.

I highlight the end of our worship today because of our Gospel text. Jesus sends out the seventy to proclaim his coming to towns ahead of them on the journey. They are given a mission to heal the sick, and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. Jesus gives them rules of engagement as well, traveling procedures and mission strategies if you will. I would like to highlight a few of these commands of Christ today because they will help us when out deacons send us out on Christ’s behalf at the end of worship.

First, and foremost, Jesus tells them to remain dependent upon God. He says, “See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The way that sheep survive in the midst of wolves is to depend upon a shepherd. Christ is our shepherd and to him we should look for care and providence. To paraphrase St. Paul, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” The trick here isn’t getting ourselves to believe in the power of Christ, however, but to resist the temptation of thinking that we can serve without Christ. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once put it this way, “With out us, God won’t; Without God, we can’t.”

Next we should remember to travel light; in others words, check your baggage. Jesus commands the disciples to, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals;…” The disciples need not be weighed down by belongings nor seek souvenirs along the way. In turn, we should check our physical baggage. We should not allow the collection, consumption, or maintenance of our material possessions to impede upon our service off God. We should check our emotional baggage as well. Our personal prejudices, imagined slights, desire for glory and accolades, need be left behind so that there is emotional space to care for those that we meet.

Checking our physical and emotional baggage at the door is helpful with the next directive as well. Jesus tells the disciples to proclaim not to judge. The message to be given to those who listen, those who are receptive and welcoming, is the same message to be given to those who do not: the Kingdom of God is near. If there is a word of judgment it is Christ’s to give not ours. Therefore it does not matter if we are witnessing to the good or the bad, the beautiful or the ugly, the kind or the cruel, the powerful or the powerless the message is always the same and freely given: God loves you, God’s kingdom is near, come and feast.

Which leads us to the final marching order I would like to reflect on today: Eat what is put in front of you. While Jesus is commanding his disciples to depend on the hospitality of those they meet, there is for us a reference to communion here. When we come to this place, when we pray together over the bread and wine, by the power of the Holy Spirit it becomes the body and blood of Christ. It becomes spiritual food meant to empower us for the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and promoting Justice, Peace, and Love. We come to this feast not merely for our own nourishment, but for strength for the mission. We come to this altar of God’s not merely for our own sake but to be empowered to carry God’s love to the world. We come to the table not merely for our own peace, but to be sent to wage peace for all. We come to this heavenly meal, not merely for our own personal justification, rather to seek justice for all. Therefore, I invite you, I implore you come! Eat what is sat before you, and then go in peace to love and serve the Lord! Amen!

Who New?

Not sure why I took this quiz, nor if I agree with the results. However, it was moderately entertaining.

You Are a Chimera

You are very outgoing and well connected to many people.
Incredibly devoted to your family and friends, you find purpose in nurturing others.
You are rarely alone, and you do best in the company of others.
You are incredibly expressive, and people are sometimes overwhelmed by your strong emotions.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Five

Friday Five: Hasty Edition

Whoops! I have been in a family-induced haze these few days, with the July 4 holiday and taking time off while relatives are visiting. So I literally lost track of what day it was!

So rather than make you guys wait even one minute longer for the five, I'll dig up an oldie:

Today, what are you:

1. Wearing : Clergy shirt, collar and jeans.

2. Reading : Lots of Harry Potter in prep for movie and final book.

3. Eating : Coffee for it is the fuel of sermon writing.

4. Doing : writing a sermon

5. Pondering : the lectionary and mission