Archive for April, 2017

2017 Easter Sermon

April 17, 2017

In the Name of the Father . . .

Christians all over the world gather today to celebrate and proclaim our oldest credal statement: Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen Indeed!

This Easter greeting is standard in the Eastern Orthodox churches and often accompanied by three kisses on the cheek. I started out Roman Catholic and as a kid in Chicago I don’t remember the Easter greeting. I remember Ash Wednesday, fasting in Lent, giving up something for Lent, and Easter baskets. That’s about all I remember about Easter from my childhood.

When I joined the Episcopal Church I had to learn the Easter Greeting. There was that awkward moment when a church lady said, “Christ is Risen!,” and then gave me that church lady look. Then she fed me my line, “The Lord is Risen Indeed!” and I repeated it back to her, and she looked at me like she was very disappointed in me.

It is hard to get the Easter message right. It is not just a period of ashes and fasting followed by an Easter Egg Hunt. It’s not just Palm Sunday followed by Easter Sunday and remembering the right words to say when someone challenges you with, “Christ is Risen!” (more…)

re: A question about repentance

April 8, 2017

I preached a sermon on Sunday, March 19, 2017 (Lent 3A), in which I offered an interpretation of St. Paul’s understanding of the “Wrath (of God)” (Romans 5:1-11), and the kind of forgiveness that Jesus promises us in the example of the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).

Later that day I received a question by email asking about the role of repentance. The person asking was taught that forgiveness follows repentance. This is the way most people think about God’s forgiveness. Basically, that it is a transaction. I’m not so sure.

I responded pretty much like the following and I have permission to publish it.

St. Paul recognizes the problem of human sin and self-deception (Rom 7:15), but he struggles to come up with a way to reconcile the consequences of sin (misery), God’s anger, and God’s mercy and love.

The Johannine texts (those books attributed to John the Apostle) seem to be a later stage in the development of a more nuanced understanding of the inter-related dynamic of hatred, scapegoating, and violence. For instance, in the case of the story of the Samaritan women at the well (John 4) we have a situation in which Jesus is handling what looks like a pastoral problem.

The woman seems to be held in general disrepute, and Jesus offers her living water. This living water will sustain and preserve her forever. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit directs people to live lives according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit affirms people in their status as beloved children of God. The Holy Spirit guides people toward honest self assessment. The Holy Spirit provides healing and upholds people in their faith in the Lord.

The living water is nourishing to the point of creating in us proper desires that are completely satisfying, and it open us up to the recognition of our deepest and worst sinful desires (without falling into despair or resorting to denial).

Repentance is crucial to moral and spiritual health. In the past it was generally assumed that a person only needed to do some basic self-reflection to arrive at what exactly is in need of repentance. With the knowledge we have now about unconscious motivation, I would suggest that experiences of God’s Grace and the promise of forgiveness tend to produce genuine gratitude and repentance. This is more in line with the way Jesus deals with the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well.

My own experience in talking with people confirms this. Remorse (not true repentance – “a turning around,” but regret and self-loathing) is late in coming, and often provoked by the experience of bad events or circumstances. This process gives support to the false notion that God actively punishes people by bringing misfortune.

So, finally I come down on the side (mostly) of reminding people they are forgiven, and trusting true repentance will follow.