Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Good News is.... !

Easter Sunday
The Rev. Linda Campbell

For about eight years in a row, at Easter, I led a group of youth and adults on a mission trip to build hope in Mexico and in our lives. Every year, about twenty youth and twelve adults left for Mexico on Holy Saturday morning, drove in a five car caravan down Hwy. 5 to the Los Angeles area. Every year we were hosted overnight by Emanuel Episcopal Church in Fullerton. We camped out on the floor of their parish hall, and in the morning, invaded their early Easter service. Then, in the caravan, we made our way to San Diego and the Otay Mesa Border Crossing.

In four days, this team would build two homes for very, very poor families in the poorest suburbs of Tijuana. They weren’t fancy homes, but they were the nicest homes in the neighborhood when they were finished. And how well the project turned out was decided on the first day. Because Monday was the day that the foundations were poured.

The first task was to prepare the site, and in this regard it was wise to heed the counsel of Isaiah! “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” This was all accomplished with picks, shovels, rakes, and a simple carpenter’s level. When the ground was level, the frames were built and carefully leveled, and then the grueling work of making concrete began. No cement truck here! Just thirty people mixing rock, sand, cement and water in wheelbarrows and dumping the mixture into the foundations.

It took all day…but if the foundation was good, then the walls would be straight, the roof would go up easily, the windows would be square, and the work would be done easily in four days.

It always seemed appropriate to me that the foundations for these houses was laid on Easter Monday, the day after we celebrated the creation of the foundation of the church in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because everything that we believe is built on this simple truth: love is more powerful than death.

You might think this strange – but one of the services I find especially hopeful and refreshing is our service for the burial of the dead. For this service, the Easter paschal candle is lit and processed forward, leading the casket. The casket is sprinkled with the waters of baptism, remembering the promise of passing over from death into life – a Passover that began in our first plunge through the baptismal waters, a baptism into the mission of being Christ’s own forever.

I want to talk a bit about heaven and about life and love that is stronger than death – in the hopes of making our foundation as level as possible.

Most of us Christians think in terms of heaven as a separate place where one goes after death. It’s common to think something like: 'This earthly life is but a desert dreary, heaven is my home.' But a first-century Jew, like Jesus and the apostles, would never have had a hope like this that would so radically devalue God’s Creation.* (Paul Nuechterlein and friends)

The faith of Jesus and the early apostles was a faith in God as Creator who lovingly created the heavens and the earth. God would not scrap the earth in favor of a heaven as a holding tank for migrating souls. This might have been Plato's hope, but the Jewish/Christian hope is for resurrection of the body and the fulfillment of Creation.* (same as above)

This is reflected at almost every gathering of Christians when we pray "Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as in heaven." In other words, we pray heaven comes to us on earth, not that we go to heaven. We pray for God’s will, which is heaven, to merge with earth and bring creation to it’s whole fulfillment. If we devalue the earth in favor of a heavenly home what an excuse to treat the earth as one more sacrifice!

The truth is, however much we have fallen in with Plato rather than Jesus and thought about heaven as our true home and this earth as simply a stop over, it has led to disastrous consequences in terms of how we treat this beautiful fragile island home. The consequences of devaluing creation is in the front page news now by the reality of global warming and desertification and drought. The consequences of devaluing creation is evident in our rush to war, in our rush to develop, in our myopic focus on profit measured quarterly - basically in our scorn of generations to follow.

In spite of the Lord’s Prayer, we have too much thought about Easter as really about “life after death”. And we do believe that there is life after death – life everlasting with God – and what a glorious hope that is! It is one of the central proclamations Christians make and have from the earliest days.

But the truth is that neither Matthew, Mark, Luke or John say anything about “going to heaven when you die” at all in their accounts of the resurrection. In Matthew, the two Mary’s are invited to come and see – and then go and tell. In Luke, the women remember all that Jesus had said to them, and go and tell their brothers. In John, our gospel this morning, Jesus tells Mary, don’t cling to me – in other words, don't stop and make an idol out of me - go and tell my brothers. In Mark, the angel’s message through the women to the disciples implies that they are going to be given things to do as well. In other words, - Jesus is risen - you have work to do!

And the work was and is – Go and tell the good news! Share what God has done and is doing. Don’t be afraid of death or disaster or discomfort or being discounted. Just experience the fullness of God’s life in you – and tell others your story and God’s story. That’s the work of Easter! That’s the risen life!

And while the core of the Good News is changeless: Love is more powerful than death – each generation needs to hear this news shaped and formed to present day realities. Our present day reality is that God’s glorious creation is in dire straits. For a lot of Sundays now, we've been talking about the Millenium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty. The lynch pin to all the other goals is the goal of environmental sustainability. The Episcopal church is launching a web site called globalgood to add the church's voice to the global call to care for creation. This coming Saturday, we're gathering here at the church to step it up with an energy audit and to take another look at our use of resources.

The Good News is that God does not abandon creation in favor of some far off place called Heaven.

The Good News is that God loves this world. This world of flesh and bone and trees and sun and air and soil. That God has placed us here to tend and care for creation – this creation that God’s own Self entered into in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus who was killed by the powers of death and was raised again to fullness of life by the power of Love.

The Good News is that we can have fullness of life without fear of the powers of death – and that we are sent to proclaim far and wide – that Love is more powerful than any other force.

Love. Creation. Life. Jesus is risen – We have work to do! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Needing Jesus

Maundy Thursday, Year C
The Rev. Linda Campbell
1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 32; John 13: 1- 15
Needing Jesus

Baby Nelson is a joy to all of us here. He is passed around from grandmother’s to teen’s to uncles and aunts. We have watched him begin to eat solid food …. Reaching out with delight for more Lenten soup every Wednesday evening.

But what happens years from now… when he’s a big strapping teen age boy and beginning to make his own decisions … when it is possible that the trailing clouds of glory that are so easy to see now, may not be quite so easy to see. I trust that in this congregation, he will be just as loved and precious to us as he is now. But that is not always the case. It can happen that the trials and tribulations of life scar us in ways that make affirming our preciousness much more difficult – if not impossible.

Several year’s ago, I read Corelli’s Mandolin - a novel about World War II, set in the Greek islands. The story revolves around the engagement of a young Greek girl to a local boy. He is an innocent, beautiful young fisherman who cavorts with dolphins and swings on olive trees. And then he goes off to war. He returns unrecognizable.

“His muscle was gone, and the skin hung about his bones in flaccid sheets. His stomach bulged, either from starvation or parasites, and his ribs protruded as sharply as the bones of his spine. The shoulders and back seemed to have bent and crumpled, and the thighs and calves had shrunk so disproportionately that the knees seemed hugely swollen. The worst of it was what they beheld when they peeled off the encrusted bandages upon the feet; they were a necrotic, multi-hued pulp. A shell of pus and scab lay upon the inner windings of the abandoned bandages, and yellow maggots writhed and squirmed in flesh that was all but dead. The stench was inconceivably stupefying, and at last Pelagia felt herself flood with the sacred compassion whose absence has previously so appalled her. “Wash him all over,’ she said to the boy’s mother, ‘and I’ll do the feet.’ She looked up at her lover with tears brimming in her eyes and said, “Agapeton, I’m going to have to hurt you. I’m sorry.’” After picking away the maggots, “she fetched a bowl of clean water, salted it heavily, and as gently as she could she washed the terrible mess. Mandras flinched as he stung, but said nothing. Pelagia found that the most gruesome patches fell away as she washed them, and that there was living flesh beneath.” (Pg. 135 – 137 Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis De Bernieres)

All the gospels include Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. But in John’s gospel, foot washing takes the place that the other gospels give to the institution of the Eucharist. In all the other gospels, Jesus takes the bread and the wine and imbues them with the new symbolism of his body and blood. But in John’s gospel, Jesus wraps himself with a servant’s towel, and kneels in the dirt lavishing each of the disciples’ feet with his attention, one by one, as though there was no one else in the world.

And as Jesus gathers up the disciples crusty, calloused feet into his large strong hands, and gently bathes them clean – he insists that unless he washes them, they can have no part in his community.

That is as hard for us as it was for Peter. We want to be the social directors - jump up and get Jesus a chair, assure him that we’re with him all the way. We do not want him to kneel at our feet, like a slave. But Jesus insists that we need to receive his ministrations before we can take our place at his table. And to be able to receive his ministry, we have to admit in some corner of our heart that we are broken and needy and fragile. When we are obviously well-fed, well-clothed, well taken care of compared to the rest of the world – it is even more difficult to discern our brokenness and lack. But it is true. We are not completely human until we can receive as well as give. The catch is that admitting that we are in a fix, that we need help, that we need divine cleansing, takes humility, and we are so attached to self-sufficiency.

Thankfully, the church remembers and still proclaims the language of old fashioned religion - We have sinned and erred and are lost. That’s the truth.

Indeed, we are not all that different from the church in Corinth to whom Paul wrote. The church in Corinth had been coming together for the Eucharist, but not sharing their food with each other. Paul chastised them for showing contempt for the church of God and humiliating those who had nothing. He reminded them that he had received from the Lord what he had handed on to them – that on the night in which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it, saying “This is my body which is broken for you.” Paul warned the Corinthians not to eat the body of Christ without discerning Jesus’ brothers and sisters, lest they eat judgement upon themselves.

It does not take much leap of the imagination to understand that, like the Corinthians, we are very broken. We do indeed, eat and drink judgement upon ourselves. We are Cain’s descendants, visiting violence upon our brothers and sisters daily….through gossip, through war, through hoarding resources that are needed to feed and clothe and house the poor, through the coffee we drink, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive. We are complicit in deceiving ourselves about the fundamental truths of poverty and environmental realities on this planet. We are both burdened with too much knowledge and not enough. And we are desperately weary with the ambivalence and uneasiness that comes from being the fortunate ones in a rich country. In short, we are sinners.

And the truth is that we cannot heal ourselves from the unholy plague of violence and envy and rivalry that sickens us. We are helpless to save ourselves, just as the young soldier returned from war could not save himself. But just as the young woman did for him, the sacred compassion of Jesus does for us. Jesus is able, through God’s overflowing love, to take our wounded souls, and bathe them in the salty water of divine tears. And as the gruesome patches of our falsehood and enviousness and betrayals fall away, we find the living flesh that is our true heart, the heart God gave us at our birth, the heart that can enter into Holy Communion with all of creation.

The simple truth is, we need Jesus. And Jesus comes to us. In the paradoxical vulnerability of our wealth and power and fortune, Jesus kneels before us taking our dung caked feet into his hands. Let me wash you clean, he says. Let me love you. Let me show you the way to life, the way to lasting peace, the way that leads through the cross and on into resurrection.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crowd Communion or Holy Communion

Palm Sunday, 2007

“Crowd Communion and Holy Communion”

I got to college just in time to still take part in a few anti-war demonstrations towards the end of the Vietnam war. I was a country girl, raised on the Bible, and contrary to the people who raised me, I had come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Peace of God for all. In my part of the country, that perspective was at best, idealistic, and at worst suspect of being communist. So with the gospels in tow, I got to UCSD campus, and found out that I didn’t quite fit with the Jesus groups, nor did I really fit with the political groups. But I was passionately against war, and so I headed off for my first anti-war rally in downtown San Diego. Now some of you might remember those days. Big marches. Lots of signs. Crowds of people marching for miles and miles. Crowds. It was exciting. It seemed a little dangerous. You could see what we thought were marksmen up on the tops of the buildings with their rifles trained on the crowds below. Uncertain as to what the crowd might do … and with good reason, because crowds are uncertain. Like tinderboxes – open to contagion. I remember a message sweeping through the crowd that day. A portion of the group was going to split off and do something. What that something was I never really found out – except it was mayhem of one kind or another. Mostly I remember a couple of things – the feeling of comraderie, of being a part of something much larger than myself, and of how good that felt. And secondly, the shift in perspective. What had felt impossible – stopping the war – felt entirely possible in the midst of the crowd. There was a kind of giving over of independent thinking to the sway and movement of this mass body of people.

Crowds surrounded Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem as a king of the people. Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! This wasn’t the cry of praise so much as the cry of a people who were trampled upon by systematic oppression. At least a three way oppression:

Economic – shaped like an inverted triangle, the goods were held by a very small few at the top with masses of people at the bottom living in abject poverty.

Political –At the same time that Jesus was entering the city as a king of the people, regiments of Roman soldiers were also entering the city, with all the trappings of Roman power. Rome controlled this territory and ruthlessly crushed any opposition.

And Religious – the religious authorities legitimated the economics and the politics that kept the vast majority of the people in poverty and despair.

These were the crowds who laid down palm branches and garments and shouted Save us! Save us! as Jesus rode into the capital city of Jerusalem. Jesus had healed their children. Fed them. Taught them about God’s love for them. He was their friend. Their king. Their savior.

Jesus knew that crowds were unpredictable, unstable, and untrustworthy. The gospels repeatedly tell of the crowds that surrounded Jesus for most of his active ministry. But Jesus almost always picked out individuals from among the crowd to speak to, to heal, to forgive. When he taught the people, he sat down. He got the crowd to sit down. He broke through the crowd mentality and connected with large groups of people as people, not as a crowd organism. As he rode into Jerusalem however, he did not do so. “If the crowds were silent, even the stones would break out in praise and pleading.” Jesus arrived at the city in which he would be arrested, convicted and executed. It was the time for the will of the crowds to be done.

But which crowd?

The crowd who called for his crucifixion was not the same crowd that shouted Hosanna along the roads of Jerusalem. The crowd that yelled for Jesus’ blood in the courtyard of Pilate’s palace were the elite who had standing invitations to the palace. This palace crowd, who called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified, were the temple rulers, the economic powerhouses, the ones who stood the most to lose if the rabble rousing street crowds had their way.

Christians have a sordid history in fixing blame for Jesus’ death. For far far too long, that blame was fixed on Jews – crowds of ordinary Jews who must have been the ones to yell Crucify him, crucify him. My guess is that you are familiar with some of the utter ugliness that has been spawned over the centuries from the desire to crucify others on behalf of the crucified Jesus. Recently Christians have become much more sensitive to blaming Jews – so the focus is now more on blaming the Romans. I have been guilty of that. Even my analysis of the difference in the “crowds” could lead to finding someone to blame. “Ok it wasn’t the ordinary people who turned so quickly from Hosanna to Crucify. It was the elite – the people at the top. The people with all the money and the power. They’re the ones to blame.”

But Jesus came that we might stop pointing fingers altogether. At ourselves. At each other. At God. The truth is that blaming anyone -- Jews, Romans, the Jewish Sanhedrin, Pilate -- that blaming anyone is completely beside the point of this whole story. In fact, when we try to blame anyone, we are exactly missing the point. For the Christian Gospel isn't about this group or that group needing forgiveness. It's not about this person or that person needing forgiveness. It's about all of us needing forgiveness -- not just the persons there that fateful Good Friday, but about every crowd of persons through the ages who have needed scapegoats to come together.*
Scapegoats are the glue that holds crowds together. In the Vietnam marches, it was Nixon – or whoever was the President then. For the crowds that carried signs like “My country. Love it or leave it” the scapegoat was anyone with long hair or a peace sign.
In Luke's Gospel, Pilate sends Jesus to the Jewish king Herod, and Herod sends him back, to which Luke observes, "That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies (Luke 23:12)." Jesus’ passion begins with his becoming the scapegoat that unites former enemies. He becomes the enemy.

We have witnessed this kind of thing happening in our own country. After the presidential elections, our country was estranged from one another – bitterly so – and yet for awhile, after 9/11, all Americans became united against a common enemy. Having someone to blame unites a crowd, at least for awhile, and it has been that way for virtually all of human history. Scapegoats is what ritual blood sacrifice was about for thousands of years of human community. That’s what war is still about today.

And truth be told, this doesn’t just happen in nations and crowds. It happens personally as well. If you’re like me, it’s easy to think you’ll feel better if you can just find someone to blame when things aren’t going well. And the worse things are, the more you want to find where to put the blame.

But Jesus’ passion shows us another way. Jesus’ passion gives us an alternative to communion with each other that doesn’t rely on blaming anyone. Jesus, the Lamb of God gave himself up to our sacrificial slaughters. The Lamb of God took away the Sin of the world, that song we sing after the bread is broken - because our Risen Lord is our means of Holy Communion. In other words, our way of communion, our way of having peace since the beginning of human societies, doesn't have to be our way of communion any longer. In the Lamb of God and his forgiveness we have a new source of peace for a Holy Communion, a new way of coming together as human beings which doesn't have to be over against anyone else.” *

Yesterday, the church doors were open from 9 in the morning to 9 at night for an interfaith peace prayer vigil. Sometimes there were as few as three people here. Sometimes there were as many as twelve here. Neighbors came. One young man stayed for four hours, and whispered do you think there will ever be peace in the world? Some cried as they came to the microphone to speak poignantly of their longing for peace. Many lit a candle. No crowds. No bullhorns. No blame. Just the longings of parishioners, of neighbors, of friends, of people we didn’t know, for God’s peace to blossom in hearts and homes and nations around the world.

This is the peace that Jesus brought. The peace of a Holy Communion that reaches out in love and forgiveness without blame or revenge. You and I have been baptized into that Holy Communion – and we are fed and nourished in this new way of peace. But not simply for our own comfort. We are fed and nourished so that we can serve the Lamb of God as witnesses to this new way of peace in the world. This Holy Communion. This holy way of coming together as God's children, as all of God's children.*


The Last Week, by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, published by Harper San Francisco, 2006

*paraphrases and quotes from Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, Palms/Passion C, by Paul Nuechterlein & Friends