Idle Tales and Other Stories We Dare to Believe

Prepared for the Ecumenical University Chaplaincy’s Cathedral@6 (cathédrale18h de l’Aumônerie œcuménique universitaire) Sunday evening service on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, based on Luke 24:1-12.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.55.43 AM

I have this bad habit of not believing people. I always think they’re bending the truth, making the story a little bigger than it is, or skirting around the timeline.

“Did you put the laundry away?”

“Yes.”

But all I hear is, “No I have not put away the laundry, but now you’ve reminded me of my intention to do it, so I’ll say yes, and then go and quietly put it away before you notice.”

Belief is about trust.

I am not inclined to trust that people are being truthful. I am not inclined to trust that people know right from wrong—especially if it has to do with how to wash the dishes. I am not inclined to trust that people know better than me.

**

The disciples, certainly don’t think much of the women in Luke, who bring a perplexing story back with them from their morning visit. They are dismissed…

“Women like to gossip.”

“Women like to stir up trouble.”

“Women are so gullible.”

Can you hear the angry muttering of the disciples? Crowded together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem, tired, worried and grieving.

Have you ever been in a house like that? Some people have brought over food—a lasagna. You’re in the living room, perched on couches and dining room chairs, feeling a bit numb. Grief washes over you in waves of sadness, anxiety and fury.

Because grief comes with a special kind of anger—it just sits below the surface, bubbling up with the slightest irritation.

And here these women come, talking about the Teacher. They were supposedt o be bringing spices to his tomb, they were supposed to go and care for his body—and then they come back with this crap? Shame on them!

**

Besides, if he wasn’t there, then what? If wasn’t really dead, which we all saw, then where is he?

Because he’s not here, with us.

He’s not… here.

**

Sometimes imagining the other possibilities, the impossibilities, is more painful….

But Peter—Peter who never wanted any of this to happen—he listens. He doesn’t believe the women at first, but… but there’s a chance.

Peter, who loved the Teacher so deeply, with the wild abandon of a toddler who would rushes forward so quickly he inevitably falls and stumbles. Peter who gets so much right and so much wrong in a single breathe.

Peter’s heart asks, What if?

And suddenly his sandals are slapping the packed dirt road, his cloak flapping madly behind him.

“What if” moments are terrifying, because while they go unanswered our deepest fears and greatest hopes hang in the balance.

What if… I don’t get accepted to the program?

What if… the cancer comes back?

What if… we can’t make this relationship work?

But, “What if” moments also offer us that tiny terrifying sliver of hope:

What if… the impossible could be true?

What if… there’s more than this?

What if… everything works out ok?

“What if” moments are terrifying—they are vulnerable acts where we silently mouth our deepest desires and squeeze our eyes shut tight, fingers crossed, barely able to breathe because as long as the question goes unanswered there’s that infinitesimal amount of hope.

**

Resurrection stories are not about proof, Luke shows us women who encounter two strangers when they find the world not as it should be—strangers who tell them the impossible has become reality.

And the women are “perplexed”, confused. Yet, they embrace that “What if?” and bring it back to the others. They open themselves up to the terrifying possibility of more.

There’s the risk in this story: the risk of sharing your hope, and of trusting it with another.

And, what happens when we dare to hope, even if it’s just that infinitesimal amount?

Well, this story is not tidy. Those who risk, who make themselves vulnerable, and they don’t get the kindest greeting. Even more frustrating is the fact that Jesus doesn’t show up and settle the issue for a little while yet.

But, it is the start of something, the beginning of the Easter season.

The belief that there is new life beyond death is the small shoot springing up from the desolation of the forest fire—it is small, fragile and painful.

As a church and as a community, we can choose to sit in the darkness of Good Friday, drinking sour wine, and beating our chests in grief, or we can dare to imagine an Easter morning filled with the hope and possibility of new life.

And that’s terrifying.

Believing the impossible could be true, that there could be more than this, that everything could work out ok, is terrifying.

Yet, every time we recite our baptismal vows and wet the head of an adult or child, we make a declaration of hope.

Every time we break bread at the Table, sharing the cup of remembrance together, we make a declaration of hope.

We say together, that despite the death and grief around us, we’re willing to let ourselves be vulnerable for the chance at something more.

Over Lent we’ve spent six weeks contemplating our human nature, our mortality, our creatureliness. And, now we step into Easter with the declaration that the Spirit transforms and uses us—springing new life within us as a response to the hard things in our world.

Good things come and go, tragedies strike, and we are reminded of our smallness and our humanity, but God offers us more. She calls us blessed and invites us to trust her, to risk ourselves and hope.

Hope that she will take what we find impossible and make it true.

Hope that she will offer us more than this, more than we can imagine.

Hope that she will work everything out in her way and time.

Stirred by this terrifying leap of trust we are invited, like the women and Peter, not to stay silent and patient, but to be stirred to action.

**

Have you felt hopeful this Lenten season? Have you watched the news and said, I feel really optimistic about where we’re headed?

Maybe not.

Yet, we are dared by a God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine, to face the new morning, hearts in our throats, with an infinitesimal amount of hope.

So what will you dare to hope for, this Easter?

A planet loved and cared for by humanity.

A city without poverty and addiction.

A news cycle without violence and massacre.

And, if you’re willing to risk that hope then who are you going to go and tell it to?

What road are you going to race down? 

**

May we dare to risk this Easter season, dare to see God’s new life taking root within us. Amen.

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Each to Their Own—Our Special Edition Gospels

Prepared for the Ecumenical University Chaplaincy’s Cathedral@6 (cathédrale18h de l’Aumônerie œcuménique universitaire) Sunday evening service on March 3, 2019 (Year C Transfiguration Sunday, based on Luke 9:28-36), preached in French and English.

Cathedral Evening Service 2019-03-03
Selina preaching under a photo of her dad’s moustache, Christ Church Cathedral Montreal

Pendant la majeure partie de mon enfance, mon père avait une merveilleuse moustache.  On était iconique.

Mais, après quelques années, il a rasé sa belle moustache. Quel dommage! J’étais inconsolable. Pourquoi? Parce que mon père était méconnaissable. Soudainement, il n’était plus mon père. Le visage de mon amour et ma confiance étaient déformés.

Maybe you have seen videos on YouTube of babies after a parent has shaved their beard. They become distraught because the face of the person they trust who is the most familiar to them is suddenly alien.

It is an alarming thing to see someone you love so changed before your very eyes that you can hardly recognize them.

I’ve been reflecting on this Luke passage since January, and the thing that keeps coming back to me is this: this man, on the mountain top, is not my Jesus.

Au moment de la transfiguration, je ne reconnais pas cet homme. Je ne reconnais pas Jésus.

And, how was it for the sleepy disciples, to suddenly see the man they had been travelling with so altered? Luminous like a flash of lightning! Suddenly in the midst of two others, when he had been praying quietly alone only a moment before.

Probablement, les disciples se frottaient et clignaient des yeux!

Et, après un instant, Pierre dit à Jésus: « Maître, il est bon que nous soyons ici. Nous allons dresser trois tentes, une pour toi, une pour Moïse et une pour Élie. »[i]

“Wow, Master, this is so great! We’ve got you, Moses, Elijah… Let’s start a construction project!” How different my response is to Peter’s!!

I like to think that James and John stood dumbstruck, like me, thinking: Who is this guy? Where did Jesus go? Is this the same teacher who came to meet us on the shore at our boats?[ii]

Because all three of them have been with Jesus since the start of all this, since he returned from the desert and began his teaching. And, James and John have been putting up with Peter’s obnoxious brown-nosing this whole time!

Peter, who’s always so quick to say something, to fall down on his knees, to cry “Lord”, to want to build a frigging tent.

**

Last time we gathered together Kaeden preached a little bit on Luke’s “blessings and woes”, Jesus’ sermon on the plain.

Now, there’s a Jesus I recognize.

We all have our own versions of the Gospel texts, the stories we prioritize over others, the ones that come to mind when we’re asked to recount the story.

If you were going to commission a new stained-glass window for our church, what depiction of Christ would you want the artist to render?

Chacun et chacune de nous a ces histoires préférés de Jésus. Quelle est l’histoire qui décrit le mieux l’image de Jésus que vous adorez ? Quel est le vitrail dans votre esprit ?

Because we all have moments that make us say, “Yes! That is the Jesus I follow.” We all have a Christ that makes us feel comfortable—safe. We all have a vision of Jesus that is familiar to us.

**

But, then Jesus will go and do something alien and uncomfortable.

For you, that might be the image of Jesus in the Temple courtyard yelling at money changers, flipping over tables.[iii] Or, it might be him arguing with the Syrophonecian woman, when he uses the slur “dog” to refer to her and her child.[iv] It might even be the resurrection, like Kaedan mentioned last time.

Pour moi, le moment où je me sens mal à l’aise devant l’image de Jésus c’est lors de la transfiguration. J’aime mon Jésus un peu plus humain. Un peu plus proche de moi. Je ne reconnais pas le Jésus transfiguré.

The transfigured Christ feels alien to me, uncomfortable. I want the Jesus preaching on the plains, healing, praying silently to God because he feels anxious and alone. That Jesus mirrors me; he feels so close—so real.

Peter's Denial by Michael D. O'Brien
Peter’s Denial by Michael D. O’Brien

But Peter, what does he see? He sees Moses both in the glowing image of Christ and standing next to him. He sees Elijah, the prophet whose return has been hoped for passing on the mantle to Jesus. There’s so much in this image that comforts him. A comfort that will dissolve the closer we get to Good Friday.

Peter—the one so quick to fall to his knees and cry “Lord”—we will discover seems disturbed not by the transfigured Christ but by the battered and bruised Jesus on the way to his execution.[v]

The Gospel stories are not about making us feel nice and safe, they confront and discomfort us. Sometimes to a point where we ask ourselves: Who is this I’m even reading about?

**

And then I began to wonder about how someone else felt in this story. The disciples are not the only ones encountering their beloved here.

How did Jesus? Did he recognize his father in the cloud that overshadowed the group? Did it look like the same as the one he saw on the day of his baptism? Did it feel familiar and comforting, or did it disturb and disorient him?

We don’t get to hear his response.

Then I began to wonder about all the different times Jesus reached out to God in prayer, these little moments the Gospel of Luke captures for us. How did he feel praying in the desert during his retreat? Or when he was praying, in agony, in the garden of Gethsemane?

Luc écrit que Jésus priait d’angoisse, il priait avec encore plus d’ardeur. Il dit « Père, si tu le veux, éloigne de moi cette coupe de douleur. Toutefois, que ce ne soit pas ma volonté qui se fasse, mais la tienne. »

Did even Christ feel unsure about the father he prayed to? If he did, what does that mean for us? For me?

Si Jésus est invité à présenter son doute et ses incertitudes à Dieu, sommes-nous aussi invités?

**

This week we mark the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday.

Lent is an invitation to journey with Jesus towards death and new life. We’ll explore stories we find familiar and ones that itch at our uncertainties.

Dans la saison du carême, nous allons accompagner Jésus sur sa route au Calvaire. Nous allons revivre les histoires avec lesquels nous sommes à l’aise ou mal à l’aise. Nous verrons un Jésus familier et étranger.

Notre espoir dans la foi est que Dieu continue à nous rencontrer même quand nous avant des doutes. Le carême est une invitation à contempler cet espoir.

Lent is an invitation to contemplation and prayer, a space where God welcomes us with our frustrations, our agonies and our doubts. Just as God welcomed Jesus, we are welcomed to this place. That is the hope in the midst of our skepticism and discomfort, that God continues to extend herself to us even when we’re unsure.

Human parents often reflect the stubborn love God offers us as her children—persistent and patient in the midst of our hesitancy or rejection.

That is the grace we are offered on our Lenten journeys: a grace to embrace the mysteries of our faith as a gift, not some stumbling block we have to overcome, or some personal fault we need to fix.

Jesus was welcomed to the garden to pray earnestly and honestly with God, and he invites us to do the same.

My hope, these next six weeks is that your Lenten journey will highlight new uncertainties in you, question you haven’t yet asked about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. And be encouraged in that wondering, that a God who is not cowed by our doubts waits within those mysteries to reveal herself to us anew.

J’espère que vous avez hâte à votre voyage du carême, et que vous allez rencontrer Jésus de nouvelles manières cette saison.

Amen.

 

[i]Luc 9:33 BFC

[ii]Luke 5:1-11

[iii]Matt. 21:12-16

[iv]Mark 7:24-30

[v]Luke 22:54-62

How Do We Honor The Victims of Rape in the Bible?

This article first appeared on The Salt Collective, February 19, 2019, this edition includes minor grammatical edits.

Recently a friend questioned how we understand rape in the Biblical texts, whether it is a sex act or an act of violence.

This is a vital question because so often we gloss over sexual violence in our Sunday and Bible study readings without a second thought. Yet, as a people called by the Gospel—a Good News of justice and liberation—how can we ignore something in our sacred scriptures that we know, in our guts, is so wrong?

Let me begin by saying to those who have been touched by sexual violence directly, know that you are whole and holy. Know that Jesus, who preached a Gospel of justice and liberation, welcomes you to his table.

For those who have been touched by sexual violence indirectly—and if you are a living breathing human being then that is you—know that part of your call and membership in God’s kingdom is to speak about against these injustices. Not just against the perpetrators and predators, but against those who would seek to silence and blame survivors. The Kingdom calls us to cast light onto the shadows.

We have, in Jesus, a great example of the prophetic call to speak out against the injustice of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the Gospels, Jesus honoured sex workers who at the time had virtually no rights or standing in their communities. He sat and dined with them, which was a taboo. He spoke publicly with women who had “bad reputations” (like the Samaritan woman at the well) and made them evangelists, disciples and apostles.

The Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman from Vie de Jesus Mafa, Cameroon 1973

Jesus is not interested in victim blaming but calls out predators. Jesus refutes the objectification of God’s creation and the prioritization of our own entitlement over the autonomy of others (Matt. 5:27-30). Jesus continually admonishes the powerful who abuse and oppress others and stands in solidarity with the marginalized.

But what about the rest of the scriptures? How can we even call these scriptures sacred when they reduce violence against women, children, and men, to side comments in the greater story?

Especially when these stories are used to continue cycles of abuse and harm, blaming and silencing survivors.

Well, I thought I would share some of the tools I use to help myself read deeply and see God’s justice at work in these texts.

It can be unhelpful for us to try and put our modern understanding of rape and sexual violence onto the text. Don’t get me wrong, I do not condone these coercive and abusive acts of sexual violence, but when we read the blasé attitudes of the text’s authors it is important to think about how they understood two things: personhood and property.

Today, we affirm the full personhood of all genders, and (mostly) all ages (let’s be honest that we often do not see children as full persons, and instead put them into the “vulnerable persons” category along with disabled and elderly people). When we explore how the Bible treats sexual violence we must understand that not all of the people we read about are considered full persons in the text.

There is a parallel closer in time. Enslaved Africans in North America were not considered full persons under the law, and under the legal and social framework of slavery, the rape of Black bodies was an issue not of personhood but of property. This egregious injustice was opposed by the Abolition and Civil Rights movements, and continues to be addressed by our contemporary insistence that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Understanding this helps us see how women, children, and slaves were seen in the Biblical texts.

These people were not seen as persons but as property

The ancients understood sexual violence differently. Bathsheba’s story is an example of this (2 Sam. 11). David’s sin is not committing sexual violence against her, but transgessing the property rights of her husband, and then killing him to conceal the crime. To the story, Bathsheba is an object, not a person.

However, today we can’t read this text without naming that David used his authority to coerce sex from Bathsheba. He did not honour her as a full person but saw her as an object to be used. He treated her body as an idol to his own selfishness and entitlement. It was not right when the story was written, and it is not right now. Yet, the way we talk about it has changed.

David and Bathsheba by Marc Chagall
David and Bathsheba by Marc Chagall

We must also be aware of how gender changes the narrative around sexual violence in the Biblical text.

Women and children are considered property, so transgressions against them are different than transgressions against men. You might even struggle to find examples of sexual violence against men in the Bible.

It is there, although in my experience it gets even less attention than violence against women.

One instance is the attempted rape of the angels in Sodom (Gen. 19:1-11). Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob to preserve the hospitality he extends to God’s messengers. This story shows that Lot would rather have his honour damaged by the rape of his daughters (his property) than fail in his role as host. Men’s bodies are prioritized over women’s bodies.

Later on, Lot’s daughters get him drunk and sleep with him to continue their family line (Gen. 19:30-38). This story functions as a “comedic” origin story of Israel’s enemies—the Moabite and Ammonite peoples—not as a commentary on sexual coercion.

Women raping men is seen very differently in the text, and there are a number of seductive female figures who have coercive sex with men. They are seen as comedic tricksters—think of Tamar who seduces Judah under false pretences (Gen. 38), or Jael and the apocryphal Judith who coax men into their tents and then kill them (Jud. 4, Judith).

Paul, too, has strong feelings about those who perpetrate coercive sex; specifically, older men having sex with younger men (1 Cor. 6:9, Rom. 1:26-27). Yet, that has more to do with the issue of “feminizing” the submissive partner. The bottom is seen as taking the unnatural “female” position, but Paul seems totally fine with topping, i.e. the natural “male” position.

It is obvious the text is uncomfortable with rape and sexual assault, but the “why” doesn’t make as much sense to us today. That is something we need to reconcile when reading ancient stories and searching them for wisdom in the present day.

How do we read justice and liberation in these texts?

Paul can be incredibly helpful here, though feminist readers for generations have struggled with the letters attributed to him. Galatians, especially, offers us a vision of the Kingdom that affirms the wholeness of each of God’s children.

“[For] in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28 NRSV)

Susanna and the Elders by John A. Austen, 1920
Susanna and the Elders by John A. Austen, 1920

We are each whole and holy, set apart as God’s children. When another transgresses against our bodies in acts of violence and hatred they vandalize the very image of God on earth (Gen. 1:27).

We can also call on stories like Susanna’s in Daniel 13, lifting up a Biblical image of justice that rejects the use of coercive and abusive power, calling us to a great image of justice.

A justice that affirms the inherent value in all bodies, regardless of the human categories we put on them, calling each whole and holy.