Breathe Carefully

First, let me start with a word of gratitude to you. Last week was the best week of continuing education that I have experienced in my career. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your desire to have your pastor continue a process of life long learning that leads to continual renewal in my calling to ministry. Last week was truly a gift, and I thank you for that!

Secondly, you already heard a little bit of the biblical scholarship that came out of last week in the sermon last Sunday, and you will hear some more this Sunday. However, I wanted to take the thoughts of last Sunday and extend them to what that means for us about how we live in God’s creation.

So a little refresher…last Sunday the sermon focused on the concept of Ruach Elohim. In the Christian tradition, we have had a tendency to translate these Hebrew words in the Old Testament as the Holy Spirit. This partially becomes grounding for our understanding of the Trinity. However, a better translation is not Spirit, but “Breath of God.” That is the literal translation, and by reading it that way, it opens up a much greater understanding of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but the word Ruach, and the name of God “Yahweh,” are both words that have strong connections to breathing. If we understand that all air, the atmosphere, every breath is breathing in God, it changes how we perceive the world. In this understanding the name of God, Yah-weh quite literally becomes the sound of breathing. Try it real quick—breath in and listen for the sound (Yah-). And as you breath out listen (weh).

The implication of this understanding of God that I pointed to in the sermon is that it becomes a lot harder to say awful things to other people when you realize that the very air you use to speak is the Breath of God. However, there is another implication that may be even more profound. If God indeed is in the life giving air we breath, the atmosphere, the winds, then what does that say about how we treat the air around us? What does that say about the endless amounts of fossil fuels we burn that become a part of the air? What does that say about the greenhouse gases that have begun to have an impact on the extreme weather patterns we are experiencing? What does all of that say about how we are treating God?

What if instead of having the debate about Global climate change in political terms—conservatives denying climate change and liberals bashing them—we have this discussion on theological terms? What if it isn’t about science and politics, but it is about theology? What if the question isn’t weather climate change is real, but instead, the question is, how would we treat the air around us if we truly understood it to be the breath of God?

This Sunday our worship will be focused around celebrating God’s creation. This past Tuesday was Earth Day, and several members decided they wanted to challenge all of us to bike to church on Sunday and to have a picnic in the park afterwards to rejoice in God’s creation. I highly encourage you to take their challenge seriously and give it a try. After all, the air that you will be breathing as you pedal is indeed the breath of God—what a good way to prepare your heart and mind for worship!

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The World Itself Could Not Contain the Books!

I am trying not to steal Debi’s Thunder, so I will address part of the scripture this week that I am fairly certain she won’t touch. The last two weeks of scripture lessons have had something interesting in common that you may not know about—both of them were the original endings to the gospel stories of Mark and John ! That’s right, the extra verses that come after Mark 16:1-8a and John 20:16-30 were later additions. You can take a look at those extra verses in your own bible to see what they are.

How do we know that these are later additions? We have copies of early manuscripts that don’t have those verses added on. Also, the writing style and verse change. If you look at the additions to Mark, you notice that the extra verses were added to attempt to make Mark fit with the endings of the other gospel stories.

So what do we make of the fact that our Bibles contain material that wasn’t there originally? Was there malicious intent by adding these verses? Should these added verses be treated differently? Should they be removed?

Let me propose one thought to you. We believe in the divine inspiration of scripture. As 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is divinely inspired and profitable for teaching…” I think this extends to these verses as well. If we believe that the Holy Spirit had a hand in the writing of scripture, it would be sensible to think that the Spirit had a hand in what ended up in the book as well.

That being said, the ways in which we see these passages must also reflect the knowledge of where they came from. If the Spirit had a hand in inspiring scripture, it must also be acknowledged that fallible human beings had a hand in the writing and compiling of scripture as well. I think this means that we have to understand the context of where scripture comes from, and allow that to guide how we understand the meaning of these passages and how we teach with them..

In this case, I think we look at the ending to Mark and realize that someone was concerned that the gospels each have different endings—that’s right, the gospels disagree about how the resurrection happened. Does that mean someone was lying? Does that mean this is false or inaccurate? I don’t think so. I think it means that the scripture writers all had different guidance from the Holy Spirit about what this story had to teach their community (remember Timothy and the profitable teaching thing?). In the case of the ending of the Gospel of John, I think there were still unanswered questions and other stories that still needed to be told. The extended version of John ends with this statement, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” What a fabulous statement to keep in mind when dealing with multiple, and sometimes conflicting, accounts in scripture.

At the end of the day it is not a question of which one is right and which one is wrong, it is a question of what is the Spirit of God trying to teach us. Mark spoke to a community that was scared and unsure how to proceed. Matthew spoke to a community that was trying to figure out how they relate to other Jews. Luke spoke to a community that was trying to figure out what this story meant for people outside of the Jewish community. John wanted to plumb the depths of what the resurrection meant to us philosophically and theologically. There is a use and great meaning behind each of these. What’s more, as John reminds us, those are just the beginning of the stories that could be told about Jesus.

In a very real way, each of us are a continuing part of the story of Christ’s resurrection. Last week, we each put promises on the communion table of how we want to live the resurrection in our own lives going forward. Christ’s resurrection story is being lived out through each of us—what does your story say about the resurrection?

Killing Christ All Over Again

I was a little taken aback this week as I went to choose hymns for Easter Sunday and came to discover that the national church’s hymnal resource was suggesting all sorts of Maundy Thursday/Good Friday hymns for Easter Sunday. You may be asking, “What’s the difference?” or “Why does this matter?”

Easter Sunday should be about the resurrection, not torture, crucifixion, and death. Unfortunately, many churches do not take the time to experience the darkness of Holy Week during the week with a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service. When they skip those services, Easter becomes a dark and dreary recount of the passion and they end up singing songs like, “In Dark Gethsemane.”

On the other hand, there are many churches that skip the dark stuff, have a joyous palm parade and then celebrate an empty tomb with no explanation of how we got there. This is just as bad as making Easter dark and dreary.

The fact is we need that dark and dreary stuff—just not on Easter Sunday. It is so important for us to experience the whole story and understand how awful and brutal the end of Christ’s life was. It reminds us that no matter what awful, dark and brutal stuff we may be going through, Christ has gone through it as well, and will be there to go through it with us. The promise that lies on the other side of Good Friday is resurrection and new life. The promise that lies on the other side of our most painful times is resurrection and new life.

That is why I think the service tonight—Maundy Thursday is so important. We see the betrayal, abuse, torture and death, so that we can know the soaring joy of the resurrection message on Easter. I hope to see you all there at 6 for soup, communion, Hand/foot washing, and a service of darkness. In my experience, this tends to be one of the most meaningful services of the entire year.