Methodist Church Trial This Week! Or: Nihilism, Homosexuality, Pennsylvania, Oath-taking, and Satan

In Sophocles’ Antigone our tragic heroine demonstrates to us what is regarded as one of the greatest moral principles of the Western world:  when the laws of the state require one to do something against one’s own religion, or when following one’s own religious beliefs become categorized as against the law, the right thing to do is to follow your religious practices above the laws of the state.  The legends of Socrates and Jesus, and their traditions, confirm and validate this virtue in the ancient world.

But what to do when religion causes one to break religious laws?  Christianity has always worked through the tensions of what happens when doctrine become dogma, and when either become enforced—sometimes enforced despite of or in spite of contradictory doctrine or flying in the face of tradition.

This is what is being played out in the church trial of a United Methodist pastor from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, Rev. Frank Schaefer.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lent 4 sermon: “Smelling Like Pig Slop…”

This Sunday’s lectionary passages are Psalm 32 and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32; the following is my working draft (and draft title) for my sermon this coming Sunday at Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, PA.  Commentaries used include the UCC’s SAMUEL resource, the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary, and Anne Howard’s blog post (cited below).

Most of us know this story of the lost Son or the prodigal Son.  In fact, I was just thinking about this story as I was watching the Disney movie Pinocchio a week or two ago with my kids.  The scene in the movie where the boys, including Pinocchio, are taken away to Pleasure Island before they are kidnapped is especially disturbing to me, partially because it seems to have an undertone of how child molesters groom children they are about to abuse—to the point that it really made me cringe watching this film.  Consequently the children are all turned into donkeys, which I think is symbol of the child abuse, after they are given a taste of alcohol and tobacco, representing in the story addictions that adults have, offering them to children as a kind of forbidden fruit.

The other thing that Pinocchio reminds me of in this story is what Pinocchio is most famous for, which is the lying.  In our Bible story, the youngest son exploits the father’s money, comes back home and is extravagantly welcomed back.  In fact, the Father sees the son coming home in a distance, and the son begins telling him the speech that he has been rehearsing.  The Son had rehearsed this whole speech about how the father’s servants were eating better and so on, but the Father was so happy that he didn’t even let him get to that point.  All the Son said was “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I sinned before you, I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”

Of course, the father welcomes him home, puts good clothes on his son, places a ring on his finger, and calls a banquet.  This part of the story is important, because the ring is a symbol of the inheritance, the banquet here is a symbol of heaven, of the banquet that has no end.

The way I have always heard this story and the way I have always been taught to interpret this story places emphasis on the banquet, that the prodigal son is an analogy or allegory about how God welcomes home sinners.  I’ve actually heard this story preached at funerals for people who were pretty clearly not Christians as a mean to comfort the grieving, that God welcomes home everyone who returns.  To be honest, I really like this interpretation of the story, that no matter how far away we’ve gone from God, when we come back we are welcomed home.  (In fact, to follow my connection to Pinocchio earlier, this theme is a lot like another Disney movie that some of you have surely seen, Finding Nemo, where the Father does everything he can to get his lost son back.) Read the rest of this entry »

Lent 1 Sermon: “Why I Should Be Pope!”

The following is my draft of this Sunday’s sermon, which is using the lectionary readings of Romans 10:8b-13 and Luke 4:1-13.  I will preach it this coming Sunday at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Dallastown, PA.  Thanks as always to the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary for some helpful starting points and ideas, and I was also led to this sermon by a chapter in Altizer’s new book, The Apocalyptic Trinity, on the nature of tragedy and trinitarian thought.

In our scripture reading, Jesus heads out into the wilderness, and there is tempted by the devil, who tempts him to perform a magic trick of turning a rock into bread.  When Jesus refuses, the devil, the scripture says, “led him up” (it doesn’t say, up where, but the devil leads him up, I assume to a high point on a mountain, or high in the sky) and offers him all of the kingdoms of the world, if he is to simply worship the devil, and Jesus again refuses.

Then the devil tempts Jesus again, taking him to the pinnacle of the temple and again demands a miracle, that he throw himself from the top and command the angels to save him from death.  The devil famously quotes scripture here, and after Jesus resists the temptations of the devil, the devil departs from him until a more “opportune time.”

Among the things very interesting about this story is that there is an assumption that the devil owns all of the kingdoms, and Jesus does not say to the devil, “these are not your kingdoms to give.”  There is no indication that the devil is lying to Jesus.  And it is not just that some of the kingdoms are his to give, or only those within immediate view, the Bible instructs that it is “all of the kingdoms.”  None of the kingdoms or governments escape control of the devil, none of them are holy. Read the rest of this entry »

Advent 3 sermon: “John the Baptist’s Dirty Joke?”

Here’s my draft for my sermon for this Sunday, Advent 3, using the lectionary text Luke 3:7-18.  This will be my third sermon at St. Paul’s, Dallastown, PA, in my new call.  I always struggle a little bit with Year C-Advent 3, because just about everything I feel I want to say about this is covered on Advent 2.  Regardless, here is my first draft of the sermon, with special thanks to the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary, which continues to be very helpful…

We all know people who think that because they say that they’re “born again” that they have something special that makes them better than other people.  I consider myself to be “born again,” but not “born again” in the way that many evangelical pastors use this language.  Not too long ago someone stopped by my door in Lebanon asking me to vote for her for a local election, and she gave me a glossy card with a kind of laughable list of qualifications to run for judge:  She had a degree in art, she was endorsed by the local Tea Party, she took a two week class on how to run a courtroom, and finally the card said she was “born again.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday’s sermon: “I am the bread of death?”

I’m a week behind in the lectionary at Zion “Goshert’s” United Church of Christ, so this Sunday I am preaching on John 6:35,541-51, with secondary texts of Exodus 16:1-26 and Numbers 11:1-15.  Thanks to the always-helpful Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary, which made me ask some good questions.  Here’s the draft of the sermon.

Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” This is another of those sayings that many of us know so well that we hardly know it at all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sermon: “That Dagonne Dagon! (The Sins of Paterni)”

The following is a sermon I’ve been kicking around for a while, and will soon deliver.  I’ve been thinking about how to preach the collapse of the idol of Dagon in a way that is not triumphalistic but as an idol of desire.  I’m not sure this is the  most theologically uniform sermon I’ve ever developed and it’s definately still a work in progress.  The tearing down of the Paterno statue in State College, PA, and the community’s reaction immediatley called me to connect this Bible Story to current events.

The Sandusky / Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal is tragic and unfortunate, and disturbing.  It has also been interesting for me, as someone native to central Pennsylvania, to see how the unraveling of facts from the Sandusky case and the cover-up have de-centered central Pennsylvania culture.  I also write this as someone who has a formal connection to Penn State, too, as an adjunct professor, and as a teacher I have a deep resepct for the academic culture and mission of Penn State.  (I found this article, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, be be a particularly interesting take on how all of these events may or may not impact the academics of Penn State.)  As a pastor in a rural part of Pennsylvania whose church’s context is directly connected with agribusiness and farm culture, I am also a fan of the positive impact of Penn State’s agricultural extension programs.

The preaching lection will be long 1 Samuel 4:2-11 and 5:1-12.  Read the rest of this entry »

New Article in the Journal of the Masonic Society

When I arrived home from the Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity conference I found the new issue of The Journal of the Masonic Society in my mailbox, which has an article that I wrote which begins a larger conversation that I intend to continue about ritual violence and Masonic ritual from a Girardian perspective.  Before I saw the article in print, I know that a robust conversation had already begun about the article on some Masonic chatrooms and local groups, based on the number of emails sent to me within hours of the journal’s mail delivery.  Needless to say, the article touches some sensitive issues.

The cover depicts a sculpture of Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum, the three ruffians who murder the architect of Solomon’s temple in the Masonic Hiramic Legend.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon: “Ralph Wiggum Apocalypse!”

This Sundy’s sermon is for Easter 6B, and the lections are 1 John 5:1-6, Revelation 20, and John 15:9-17.  This is my first draft, and I’m working a little  ahead, since I will be away most of the week for the Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity conference in Washington, DC.  I’m following a little bit of a series:  Easter 4B (“Good Shepherd Sunday,” as it’s known to some) was a Girardian reading of the 23rd Psalm, the sermon was titled “The Sheep as Victim.”  This morning’s sermon for Easter 5B was on John 15:1-8 (the beginning of the “abide in me” discourse) and the Acts 8 story of the conversion of the Eunuch, titled “What is Cut Off from the Eunuch.”  The theme is following the Girardian teaching of the voluntary vicitimization of Christ being the logical exit out of systems of vicitimization.

Jesus says “You do not choose me, I have chosen you.”  This might sound all well and good, but we hear Jesus say this, and we can contrast it to the image of God separating the good from the bad at the end of time in Revelation 20.  So which is it—God chooses all of us, or we choose the ways of God?

Is this question not at the heart of all of the controversies surrounding mainline Protestant Christianity right now?  Two weeks ago the United Methodists at their General Conference were debating a resolution acknowledging the deep divisions in the church, stating that the church can be faithful in disagreement over human sexuality.  Right before the vote was taken an African delegate stood up and likened gays to those who practice bestiality; and then the denomination voted against the resolution stating that there is division in the church. Read the rest of this entry »

Easter Sunday Sermon: “Bad Easter Sermon!”

This Easter Sunday I am modifying the lectionary a little bit, preaching on Mark 4:1-20, 14:22-31, 16:1-8, and Acts 10:34-43.   I got the idea for the sermon from a commentary that I read a few weeks ago (Unbinding the Gospel of Mark) that connected some of the Lenten lectionary readings to the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a question posed by the great folks at the Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, and currently reading and teaching Peter Rollins’ book, Insurrection.  This is a first draft, I’d love to hear your suggestions.  Thanks.

Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed, a story we’ve surely heard before, telling of the gardener who planted seeds on a pathway, and on rocks, and on rich soil.  As one might expect, the seeds on the pathway were eaten by the birds, and the seeds on the rocks sprouted up quickly, but, as Jesus says, because they “had no depth of soil,” the plants withered away when the sun scorched down upon them.  The other seeds on good soil sprouted and brought forth grain, increasing thirty, and sixty, and one hundredfold.

Jesus then explains that the seeds on the path had a good thing going but they spoiled it by not nurturing the presence of God and the burgeoning life within them.  The seeds on the rocks and thorns respond to the word of God with joy, but the joy did not endure and they quickly withered away, Jesus teaches that they hear the Good News, but are drawn instead to the things of this world, they desire the saccharine joy of faith but choke on the sweet candy of feel-good religion.  And, of course, those with good contexts around them bear good fruit and prosper.

Now, on Easter morning we then hear the story of the missing body of Jesus in the tomb, the man in white instructs the women to find the disciples, and the man in white singles out that they should find Peter in particular.  I would like to ask:  Why is Peter so central to the story of the resurrection? Read the rest of this entry »

Lent 1 Sermon: “Neither This Nor That God”

This Sunday’s sermon is based on the Lent 1B lections (Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15), but focused primarily upon the Hebrew Bible reading from Genesis 9, primarily because I feel like I preach on the baptism of Jesus often for some reason even though I preached on Noah’s Ark only a few months ago, as well.  The first Sunday of Lent is one of the few times Zion “Goshert’s” UCC celebrates Communion, so the Eucharist is a theme at work here, too.  I am thankful for the great Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary website for help this week.  I’m curious to hear your impressions of my draft as I sharpen it over the next few days.

We all know the story of Noah’s Ark:  it is one of the most imaginative literary stories in the Bible—with a big boat, animals, strange weather, and a great flood.  We teach it to our children because of the vivid images of the story; in fact, one of our most popular toys for children in our church is the Little People Noah’s Ark. 

We very often forget the violence of the story.  Everyone in the world dies except for just a few people, and all but two of each species survive.  The stage of the story is set that people are sinning—and it’s worth noting that this story represents the introduction of the word “sin” in the Hebrew Bible—by focusing their attention away from God and copying each other’s behavior.  You know how it works with children, when one person starts misbehaving, the others begin to misbehave.  And over time what was once considered misbehavior is now considered acceptable behavior. Read the rest of this entry »

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