(Authenticated by) the Wounds of Love

I was sick last Sunday, so I didn’t get to preach the sermon I had prepared. I’d been meaning to post it because I don’t think I will be in the same place next time the lectionary gives us this passage again. Also, this sermon is adapted for my blog’s audience and format, so it’s not verbatim what I would’ve preached.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 20:19-20, New Revised Standard Version

When Jesus walks into that room, he proclaims peace to them, then shows the disciples his hands and his side.

He doesn’t show them his correct doctrine. He doesn’t rattle off all the correct theological checkboxes, or recite political or theological shibboleths.

He shows them his wounds.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, by Caravaggio

He authenticates, demonstrates that he is who he says he is, by showing his disciples the wounds he received in his self-sacrifice in which he gave himself for the sake of the world.

Contrast that with the characters referred to by John as “the Jews,” specifically, the sect of the Jewish people who convinced Pilate to have him executed.

Tangent: Don’t even with that whole “the Jews killed Jesus” nonsense. It was the Romans, and people who want to kill the Jews “for killing Jesus” they’re just siding with the devil who inspired those who killed Jesus.

I see “the Jews” in this story as a stand-in for those who know they are right so thoroughly that it doesn’t matter who they hurt so long as their view of rightness is upheld.

The disciples are in the upper room behind a locked door “for fear of the Jews.” For fear of those people who knew Jesus was wrong and they were right, and had Jesus killed for it. Those people who don’t hesitate to cause harm in the name of rightness.

When they show wounds as signs of their piety, the wounds are on someone else’s body.

You can spot them a mile away. In the Bible, lepers have to shout “unclean!’ about themselves when someone gets close to them. These folks shout “unclean” about you.

The door is locked to them. Locked against them. Locked for fear of them.

But Jesus just “came and stood among them.” Because the locks on the doors weren’t for him.

How many people in our culture today love Jesus, but don’t like the church? How many people have the doors of their hearts locked against the church because the church, at least many branches of it, has proven itself to be those who do harm in the name of rightness, rather than those who bear the wounds of love? (Research from Barna and Pew show: A lot).

We’re called to follow Jesus, the one who authenticated by showing his wounds. So where are the wounds of the church?

The 20th century missionary Amy Carmichael wrote a poem asking in the title, “Hast thou no scar?”

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

The church today is very good with its theology. My tradition, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has a book of eleven confessions of faith. (They’re pretty great).

But where are the scars of the church?

When the world looks at the church of Jesus Christ, will they see our Very Correct Theology, our correct theological checkboxes, our rightness enforced by political power… or will they see our scars, the scars we received bearing our cross alongside our Lord, for the love of the world?

Finding God in Psalm 137

Content warning: This Psalm is about people killing babies, and I am going to talk about that a lot.

Psalm 137 is one of my favorite psalms in the whole Bible. This is unusual, I think, because unlike most people’s favorite psalms, 137 ends with a wish for the death of the children of the psalmist’s enemies:

[God] bless those who take your babies
and shatter them against the rock.

I like it partly because of the impossible challenge it poses to the silliness of “taking the Bible literally,” but since I wrote a paper on it for an exegesis class in seminary, I came to love it even more. (A version of that paper is attached for your reading pleasure; a synopsis follows).

In Christiamericanity, there’s a strong emphasis on only focusing on the positive. One of the most popular Christian music stations, K-Love, has “Positive and Encouraging” as its tagline. It seems like the writers of most Christian songs, even those that start sad and depressing, feel morally obligated to end on a high note.

Psalm 137 doesn’t do that.

Psalm 137 starts sad, gets more depressing, and centers with commitment to never forget the sad thing that happened. Then, where a modern Christian song would start blathering about how Jesus is going to make everything okay, Psalm 137 gets angry. It ends with a middle finger to the people responsible: “I hope somebody rips your children from your arms and kills them.”

I love that.

I love that because precisely as inspired scripture it kiboshes the idea that there’s only a certain range of emotion the people of God are allowed to feel. It crushes the nonsense that in every situation Christians are supposed to be Pollyanna and feel like everything’s fine within a ridiculously short period of time.

And that’s only the beginning of why I like Psalm 137. Continue reading

Has Hell Bent Your Moral Compass?

I’ve been following the stories about ICE lately, separating parents from children, and recently in the city where I live, an unarmed Black teenager was shot by a police officer.

There have been the usual displays of awfulness from Christians trying to put the teenager on trial after the fact, and of course the general remarks that “If they didn’t want to be separated from their children, they shouldn’t have crossed the border illegally.”

Pause for a minute.

Since when was failure to follow instructions from a police officer a capital crime, punishable by death?

Since when was having your children ripped from your arms a reasonable consequence for crossing a national border illegally?

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that these defenses sounded familiar. They were essentially,

You didn’t obey, therefore you deserve whatever punishment you get.

I think this idea comes straight from hell.

Literally. For two reasons:

  1. Getting used to hell has made us comfortable with draconian punishments, like eternal torment for finite sins.
  2. Defending the doctrine has trained us to justify draconian punishments as appropriate.

Following are a few examples of ways people try to defend hell, and their parallels as defenses of the US’s evil actions against people who are either caught here illegally or caught trying to enter illegally.

“They chose it.”

This is popular. Hell isn’t so bad, and also the people who are there, are there because they didn’t want to be with God.

In the same way, being separated from your kids isn’t so bad – after all, we do it to other kinds of criminals (as if this was a defense!), and the people who are there, are there because they tried to cross the border illegally. Continue reading

Is There a Place for Male Professors at Seminary?

Megachurch pastor and author John Piper has recently tweeted a blog post / podcast(?) in which he asks whether there is a place for female professors at Seminary.

Truly, I could not believe what I was reading. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been out of The Dark World of Nonsense for such a long time. Or perhaps it’s because I attend a seminary where (a few) women serve as professors – and some of them as truly excellent professors. (Some of my male professors are also truly excellent).

With a barely-started and completely unrelated final paper due in less than two weeks, I knew there was only one thing to do: Buckle down and write the response that post deserved.

The argument Mr. Piper uses is important to consider. What follows is my (I believe accurate) caricature:

If we allow women to teach men who are going to be pastors, people will start to wonder why their pastors’ teachers can’t also be pastors.

Which is an excellent point. Women should be allowed to teach pastors if they are so qualified, and women should be allowed to be pastors.

But should men?

For an answer, I turn to scripture. And not just scripture – complementarian scripture. The (Male-oriented) English Standard Version, to be exact.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:1-3)

See how the man is already lying to the woman about what God said? By the time it gets to the woman, God’s command has been twisted and stretched.

If you can’t trust the first man, in the GARDEN OF EDEN, BEFORE THE FALL EVEN HAPPENED, to accurately relay God’s word spoken directly to him, to only ONE woman, how the heck can you trust future, fallen men, to accurately relay God’s word transferred via the Bible, to other men and then have them relay it? It’s like telephone. Gosh.


Pop quiz: Who committed the Bible’s first murder?

Answer: Cain. A man.

Then you get to Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24), who threatens sevenfold revenge to anyone who hurts him. Violent people, men.


Genesis 6:5, ESV: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Not woman. Man. The flood happens because of man.


Now consider the man of faith, Abraham. He goes to Egypt and he’s such a coward that he tells his wife to lie to the Egyptians because he’s afraid. Does this sound like qualifications of a spiritual leader? No, no it does not. But she’s submissive to her husband, and next thing ya know, she’s about to be Pharaoh’s wife.

Also, the thing he’s afraid of is that the Egyptians will kill him if they find out she’s his wife. He’s wrong. So basically the man of faith has (a) told his wife to lie because (b) he has bad judgment.


Then take Sodom and Gamorrah. The Bible says (Genesis 13:13) that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” Nothing about the women; just the men. God destroys the whole city because of the men of Sodom.


Moses, a man disobeys God, and his wife has to circumcise their boys.


We’re gonna have to move a little faster now. All but one of Israel’s apostate idol-worshiping heads of state? Men. (Jezebel was under Ahab, you’ll recall, so Ahab was still the head of state in that case, leaving only Athaliah).

Who’s responsible for nearly all the sexual assaults and rapes in the Bible? Men.

Who’s responsible for nearly all the violence recorded in the Bible? Men.

Denier of Christ? Peter. A man.

Betrayer of Christ? Judas. A man.

Don’t forget Apollos, a man, who had to be set straight by a woman, Priscilla, whose name appears in 2/3 of mentions of the couple ahead of her husband’s name, emphasizing her significance over him.

Who discovered Christ was risen first? Women.
Who didn’t believe them? Men.
Who was right? The women. Naturally.

So when the divinely-inspired author of I Timothy says Paul doesn’t allow women to teach or exercise authority over men on the basis of the woman eating of the forbidden fruit first, he’s standing on some pretty shaky exegetical ground.

Men are inconsistent, they often fail to convey God’s word rightly, they strike rocks when God tells them to speak to rocks, they are occasionally incapable of doing anything useful unless women go with them (Judges 4:8), and regularly give other men terrible advice (see Job’s friends, for example).


So it turns out, John Piper is asking the wrong question. He shouldn’t be asking whether women should be teaching in seminary.

He should be asking whether men should. That’s a much more relevant question, I think.


NOTE: This post is satire. It is satire just like I wish to God John Piper’s post was satire. I believe women and men both have a place at seminary. And in pulpits. Because male sex organs are not God’s necessary qualification for ministry, and I am having a hard time believing I actually still have to say that.

Why I Do/n’t Believe in the Resurrection*

I have read the rational arguments for and against the resurrection of Jesus, and for and against a general resurrection. And I have to say that I find the arguments against both to be much more compelling.

I want to briefly discuss a few reasons why I don’t believe in the resurrection, and then tell a few stories about why I do.

I locked my copy of Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter in our storage unit in the basement, if I didn’t give it away, so you’ll have to bear with my remembrance of the arguments:

Lord, Liar, Lunatic – the notion that either Jesus was who he said he was, that he was lying, or that he was nuts. This option precludes the idea that Jesus might’ve just been a good teacher. There’s another option, though: the people who wrote the gospels got Jesus wrong, or “Misquoted Jesus,” as Bart Ehrman’s book suggests.

500 Witnesses: The Bible says that there were 500 witnesses to the risen Christ and if you want them to talk about it, all you have to do is ask. The problem is, at the time this was written, the population of Jerusalem was in the hundreds of thousands, and good luck finding these alleged 500 witnesses.

I’m from Pittsburgh, so it’s essentially as though I said I was raised from the dead, and if you wanted proof, you had only to find the 500 witnesses in Pittsburgh – except Jerusalem’s population circa the 60s CE was roughly double that of Pittsburgh. Continue reading

Who I Am Is Learning to Love Who I’ve Been

Last week I wrote a story for my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) group about “The Day My Heart Was Broken” about the day my first girlfriend broke up with me. When I wrote that story, I was very unkind about the things I did that I thought made her do it. I listed out the decisions I’d made that I thought were poor, and my overall tone toward the person who did those things was very judgmental.

But that the person I hated – the person I used to be – isn’t just the person I used to be.

That person is a part of me. That person is a part of who I am today.

So when I read that story in group, I felt physically ill. My eyes started twitching. But I read it. I read every goddamn word. And I felt worse when it was done. As one does when one is particularly unkind to oneself.


This week, the story is about my most pivotal relationship.

I wrote about my relationship with Kristen, who is now my wife. I have evidence from my journal that even though I didn’t make the same foolish decisions that time, my decisions weren’t the brightest then, either.

But while I was typing up the story, I was smiling. Yes, me before I married Kristen was a little goofy, a little whack, but I liked him. I was an idiot, but I was my idiot – the kind where you muss their hair and shake your head at them, but you still like them.

The me from my first relationship and before… he was somebody I would debate and devalue online. The head-shaking is still there, but it’s hostile head-shaking. He’s somebody I might try to fix.


I’ve heard that we don’t just tell our stories; our stories tell us. I think that’s true, because I wrote a story based on the life of the prodigal son shortly after that break-up, and my character avatar was the runaway.

And while I was writing the part where, in the words of the King James Version, “he wasted his substance with riotous living,” I hated him. Like a lot. I knew while I was writing the story that I didn’t like him.

What I didn’t know was that it meant that I didn’t like me.


The (Christian) band Reliant K wrote a song a while back called “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” and it’s a quintessential Christian song that aligns with the sort of general Christianish narrative of “I was bad –> I met Jesus –> now I’m good.”

I’ve lived by that narrative for a long time now – I think over ten years – since my spiritual awakening when I started making value judgments about my decisions.

I also started accepting value judgments that others put on my decisions and actions.

Not only were they bad decisions and actions, but they were decisions and actions that made me bad.


So last night as I lay in bed, I revisited that person I wrote about in the story of the day my heart broke. I stopped at every bad decision he made and I found a way to be kind to him. Not necessarily to affirm his bad choices, but to say “I still love you anyway,” and “It’s not your fault, or if it is, you made the best decision you could’ve with the information you had.”

I forgave myself, but it was more than forgiveness. It was forgiveness with an attitude of kindness.

I imagine it will take time to overcome a decade of unkindness, but I’m working on it. And I’m trying not to be unkind to the me that was unkind, because that wouldn’t help anything.


Romans 5:8: But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

God did not wait for us to shape up before God loved us.

God did not wait until we were sufficiently sorry or felt sufficiently guilty to get busy loving us.

God loved us as we were on our worst days, on the days we most wish we could take back or get a do-over for.

And I think that means we have permission to love ourselves on those days, in case we weren’t sure.


Scripture teaches us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, and if I’ve been loving some of my neighbors the way I loved my past self, I’d hate to be them, because I said lots of unkind things about my past self.

I wasn’t patient or kind with myself; I was pretty boastful and arrogant and more than a little rude. I insisted on my own way, and was irritable and resentful. I didn’t bear well what I thought were the consequences of what I had done; I didn’t believe that I had good intentions, or at least not malicious ones; and I didn’t hope or endure very well either.

So now I’m trying to love myself, and take those skills and love others, too.


This morning, I found that I am already better able to look people in the face, and my smile comes a little easier.

Side effect of grace.

 

How to Choose Life

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Photo Credit: Kristen Schell

So there were these ancient Jews living in captivity. I don’t know how many there were, or what their names were, but let’s say there were two (there were probably more) and call them Rachel and Eli.

Like most people in unhappy situations, Rachel and Eli had questions – questions like “How did this happen,” “How can I fix it,” and “How can I keep this from happening again?” And like most people with those questions, they started digging through their history looking for clues.

They would have found that their ancestors worshiped a lot of idols, and read about King David and Solomon, who worshiped the God Rachel and Eli worshiped, Yahweh. They would have found that King Rehoboam made some bad decisions and split the kingdom, and his servant Jeroboam, who took the Northern half of the Kingdom, made some worse decisions and set up two golden calves for worship.

Then in 721 BCE, the Assyrians captured Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. Worship Yahweh, Rachel and Eli would have concluded, you get David and Solomon. Worship other gods, you get captured by Assyrians. Continue reading

The Superior Losers

I was privileged to preach this sermon on January 22, 2017, at Waverly Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our scripture comes from I Corinthians 1:9-18.

God is faithful; by whom you were called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The word of the Lord.

“I want you all to be in agreement.” This scripture comes to us after a weekend that showed more painfully than many that our country, and even the church, could not be more visibly divided.

Franklin Graham, the son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, spent the last few days celebrating the inauguration of our new president.

Famous Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber marched in the women’s march in Denver, my wife Kristen marched in DC, and I marched in Pittsburgh.

So what does it mean for Paul to say he wants all the Corinthian Christians to be in agreement? Does he want Stepford Christians, who all smile politely and agree with each other on literally everything? Granted, that would be kinda nice, but the entire history of the church is opposite of that.

So is Paul being unrealistic here? Or is there something more going on? Continue reading

Hymns & Verses Corrected; Homophobia Restored

Those liberals are always saying there are only six or seven anti-gay verses in the Bible, but they’re wrong.

I was digging through the Fundamentalist’s Hymnbook the other day and discovered that some of our modern liberal Bible translations seem to have erased words and phrases from some of the more popular Bible verses and hymns.

I present some samples from the correct and original 1610 edition (before the 1611 KJV came along and corrupted it).


John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, unless they’re gay, in which case they shall surely perish.

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was gay, but now am straight,
Was wrong, but now am right.

John 3:17

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him, except for LGBTQ people, whom God did send the Son into the world to condemn. [Emphasis from the original Hebrew]

Romans 11:32

For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all, except for transgendered people, who are abominations. Continue reading

Reflections from the Gay Christian Network Conference

Last weekend, I was privileged to attend the Gay Christian Network Conference. It was a very moving experience. Here are some of my takeaways.

Worship

Worship at GCN was… unexpected.

I used to attend services with GCN-like worship, with the band on the stage and the lights and the projected song lyrics written in this century. I was that person who would cry and raise his hands and the whole thing.

But as I grew more progressive, I found that churches that worshiped in the style I enjoyed were often paired with horrible theology and sermons that made me not particularly want to be a Christian.

Since then, I have gotten used to more formalized liturgies and hymns and organs and pianos and the Presbyterian liturgy, but there’s still a part of me that wishes for drum kits and guitars and maybe one song by Chris Tomlin, even though I know – I know – I’m going to walk out of that service furious.

So I walked into the first session and was immediately thrown off-balance. GCN had the modern worship style I liked without the horrible-theology-that-made-me-immediately-angry rest of the service that often goes along with it.

I’ve been looking for that worship service for the past three and a half years, and there it was – but only for one weekend. Continue reading