I struggled with this week’s Revised Common Lectionary this week, and decided to expand it to be on the raising of Lazarus, which is actually a subject I have never preached on before. The lections are Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 11:1-27, 38-44, 54-57; and 12:1-11.
I’ve been reading a book titled The Italian Boy by Sarah Wise, which is a book about the public exposure of the dark side of urban expansion in London in the early 1830s, namely, the business that emerged for body snatching. Body snatchers were thieves who stole corpses from graves. The population of London exploded in the first three decades of the 19th century, and these years also saw an expansion of interest in the medical sciences and a new demand for medical workers.
To go back in time a little, fifty years prior, the English Parliament declared in the Murder Act of 1751 that the practice of “gibbeting” was expanded to allow judges to not only order an execution as punishment for murder, but that the executed corpse would be placed on display in a very public place, usually along a highway or at a busy crossroads. The idea was to deter the growing problem of murders in London by treating the bodies of murderers in the same way the royalty would treat the bodies of those who commit treason against the King—traitors—and pirates.
The very next year, another Murder Act was passed by Parliament, the Murder Act of 1752. The Murder Act of 1752 was designed again to further deter murder crimes by making clear that those who commit murder will not be buried after execution, and that their remains must be either displayed by gibbeting, with the body publicly hanging in chains, or—and this is the innovation—the body will be turned over to scientists for “public dissection.” As a result, murder convicts’ bodies could be turned over to medical colleges for use in teaching.
With the expansion of medical education and research, however, there were not enough felons whose bodies ended up on the dissection tables. As a result, a somewhat lucrative black market emerged for fresh bodies to be sold in secret to medical colleges. Body snatchers or corpse thieves became known as “resurrectionists,” who would dig out fresh graves from the ground. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
One of my favorite games is to declare, in the midst of a conversation, “That’ll preach!” Most of the time, the declaration is ironic or absurd. The exceptions are sometimes interesting, though.
Case in point, this morning. I was talking to a friend of mine about an interview with László Krasznahorkai, in which he says toward the end:
According to Krasznahorkai, the deepest loss is the loss of a culture of poverty – the ability to “sing wonderful songs when we are poor”. Now, he says, “… we only have people who don’t have money … everybody wants to be rich, everybody has only one dream, but people, do we really have one dream – I ask – is this the only aim in this shit, to have much more money?”
There’s nowhere left beyond the reach of the market, he continues, “… no empty spaces with possibilities, only stupid spaces, spaces in which you can’t do anything other than wait to return from this space …” There are perhaps theorists who could explain why this has happened, he adds, but after these explanations “… everything goes on – why? I see you, and I ask you – why?”
He gestures to the computer sitting on the table at his elbow. “This is the result of 10,000 years? Really? We have microphone, laptop, this technical society – that’s all? This is sad, and very disappointing. After so many geniuses in the human story from Leonardo to Einstein, from the Buddha to Endre Szemerédi, these are fantastic figures, and their work is unbelievably important and we cannot do anything with it – why?”
My friend objected to what he regarded as a certain romanticizing of old-time poverty. I disagreed with him on a number of grounds, but in the end conceded for the sake of conversation. I argued instead that what if the point is less some kind of nostalgia for the past, and more a heightened indictment of the present? Nostalgia, after all, is only really a problem when it overly informs present action.
Fundamentalist preaching, for example, can be boiled down to “Our belief in ethical progress has doomed us to moral regress,“ and will appeal to the past as a remedy. But is it possible to accept their diagnosis without the prescribed remedy, and confess instead that of all the world’s guilty parties throughout history, we of the here & now are the guiltiest — that instead of improving or progressing beyond the past, we are to blame for whatever entropic decay we’re enduring and systemic abuse we’re committing.(Obviously, there are gradations of ‘blame’ to spread around. None of this necessarily has to extend into strict moral equivalence. The point being we blame in order not to distinguish the wronged from the wrong, but to identify our different responsibilities and responses to present shittiness.)
If we could accept this, if we could preach this(!), whether it is measurably or qualitatively true or not, could something good, something beyond self-loathing, come of it?
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »