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Confession # 1: I Crash Landed the Plane & Thought No One Noticed

Tuesday’s sermon was great. I was super excited about it because the kuneo planning team (‘kuneo’ is the name of our worship gathering) had come up with some really great insights into our surrounding culture, plus we had a super sexy title:

Jesus Wants to Save You from the Zombie Super Apocalypse

Things were going great…we had congregational participation and laughter.  Our conversations around zombies revealed some of our greatest fears and weaknesses as a society and as individuals. All of us (including myself) recognized things from which we need to be saved.

I remembered the convicting words of my friend, Maria Dixon-Hall in a recent blog rant. I decided, I am going to proclaim that Jesus saves. I am going to own the fact that I need to be saved just as much as someone who’s life is obviously in shambles. My brokenness is much more hidden than this guys

Image

, but it’s just as real. I need Jesus to save me because I can’t do it on my own. So I told everyone to spend some time acknowledging the parts of their lives that are zombie-esque, choose to live differently and, if it seems overwhelming, trust that Jesus can save you from the zombie-infected parts of your soul. 

Here’s the problem: 

  1. I never explained how Jesus saves us
  2. I never offered guidance on what people should do to get Jesus to save them
  3. Although I did expand people’s understanding of salvation to include being saved from very real practical realities TODAY and not just far off salvation after people die, I essentially defaulted to a Christian cliche that “Jesus will save you” as if that statement makes sense on its own.

I thought it was a good, inspirational landing, but in actuality I hit the tarmack so hard that the baristas had to scrape people off the ceiling who had failed to fasten their seatbelts. 

Confession # 2 : Sometimes the Church Acts Like the Producers of LOST

(warning: LOST spoilers)

I will always be annoyed at the people who made the show LOST. They started the show with some really good ideas and then decided that they would let the story write itself. They didn’t know where they were going…and that was okay with me. I think it is cool to create a universe and see where it takes you–whether you’re telling a story, writing a TV show or theologizing. This is what’s not okay with me: LOST fell apart at the end. The producers knew it, the actors knew it and good God, almighty, the audience knew it too. But here’s the great sin: they spit in my coffee and called it sugar!  LOST pretended like their crazy storyline made sense (it didn’t…come on, unless the lights in my parent’s pool are magical, an icy wheel that combines light and water shouldn’t be able to create rifts in the space-time continuum of the universe) and with a smug look on their faces, pretended like the ending was their plan all along. Image

This is crap: “ha ha ha, all these flash sideways (what the heck is a flash sideways, BTWs) are from the afterlife. It all makes sense because no one knows what happens in the afterlife so it doesn’t have to make sense. Thank you for watching our program for 6 years.”

At the end of my sermon, I pulled a LOST. I said stuff like “Jesus saves” as if that makes sense in and of itself. But it doesn’t. I ought to respect the intellect of my congregation enough to acknowledge that. I ought to be honest enough about my own shortcomings as a theologian to acknowledge to the room that I don’t know how Jesus saves us and I don’t really know what it means.

I get all sorts of self-righteous and dismissive of churches that throw out our own theological constructs as if they make sense…and I did the same thing.

Confession # 3 : I Need Honest, Smart People to Help Me Become a Better Preacher …(the Church Might Need Some Honest, Smart Critics to Help Her Become Better Too)

Thank God for people like Rachel, Jonathan, Robert, Jennifer, Katie, Michelle and Shane who went with me to grab a drink after worship. They loved me, were honest about the places the sermon connected and then owned the hard landing. Here’s the really magical thing about these people who I absolutely adore: they didn’t just talk about the hard landing. They entered into dialogue with me as we figured out, together, how we could have smoothed out the landing. We set up the flight simulator and they jumped into the cockpit with me. Instead of throwing out this notion that “Jesus saves” instead I could have ended with any of the following:

I don’t know how Jesus saves, but I do know that God saved the people in the Bible from zombie-like influences of wanton greed, mass consumption, violence, ignorance and more. I’m just crazy enough to believe that God the stories in the Bible can help save us too. I’m hoping that we can figure it out together.

OR

If you have zombie infections in your soul, I know that Jesus has something to offer because Jesus has something to say about our warring madness and violence as a society. Jesus has something to say about our materialism. Jesus has something to say about our wanton consumerism. Jesus has something to say about our willingness to blatantly ignore the needs of others in order to pursue our own wants. There is salvation in Jesus’ words and wisdom!

OR

I know I’ve thrown out this concept that Jesus saves. And I know we’ve all heard it. And I know that none of us probably really know what it means. In the next several weeks, we’re going to explore the practical ways that Jesus saves and see if we can get a better understanding of what it’s all about. 

Confession # 4 : Pretend Perfect

I was going to sit down tonight and write out the sermon (I still plan to do so), but what stopped me in my tracks is that I planned to fix the ending, without qualification or confession. Instead I wrote this blog. Hopefully, I’ll find time to post the sermon later. I want to be honest and transparent in my preaching. 

I told Rachel Bryan, tonight on the phone, “if I ever throw something out there like that again, call me on it–but don’t wait an hour. Call me on it in worship. Maybe we can figure it out on the spot instead of at the bar a couple hours later.” Praise God that she, and others like her, will be brave enough to do so. 

Patheos.com asked me to write part of holy week told from the perspective of a ‘minor character.’  I chose the

Caravaggio painted his face onto Peter's

woman in the Chief Priest’s court.  Though they said they like it a lot, the language was apparently too graphic.  I hope you’re not offended.  (inspired by Mark 14:66-70)

I guess you don’t like my Lord.  You’re one of the ones who claims that Nazarene is your Lord.  My master isn’t just a Rabbi.  He’s the CHIEF PRIEST.  He arrested your master.

If you don’t like him, I don’t like you.

Go to hell.  You and your master can go to hell.  I saw your friend.  He has a name…what is it?  (I’m always forgetting names).  PETER!  Your master called him Peter.  Kepha?  Kepha!  Ha! Your Rabbi called him Kepha!  I saw your “rock.”  He was in my master’s courtyard.  Scared little piece of shit.  He doesn’t think that we know who belongs in our master’s courtyard and who doesn’t?  Galileans, dogs with names don’t belong in my master’s courtyard—certainly not a name like Kepha.  A dog is a dog, a bitch is a bitch in the courtyard of my master.  I know who I am, I always know who I am: a servant girl of the Chief Priest.

I know who your Kepha is and that tells me everything about your master.    Three times, three times, three times!  Three times he denied your Nazarene!  “You were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” I said.  I told the others, loud enough so he could hear me, “This man is one of them.”  He spoke like a Galilean, but I didn’t need to know that.  I saw him just a couple days ago.  He couldn’t have been happier to be with your Jesus.  He walked into Jerusalem, strutting like an eleven year-old boy who thinks he’s a man.  “Certainly you are one of them,” I pointed my finger and stared into the eyes of a rock.

And the rock broke.

He barked curses!  “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” he whined.

My master would have whipped me for that!  My master would have…he wouldhave carved Chief Priest into my skin so that everyone would know who I belonged to.  I always know who my master is:  the Chief Priest.  If your Jesus had lived through the day, I can only imagine what he would have done to his “Peter.”  If my master dies, I die with him.

What’s my name?  Why would you ask that? I am a servant girl of the Chief Priest.  That’s all you need to know! That’s all that anyone knows.

My mother named me—she must have.  I asked him once, the Chief Priest.  I was four.  “Do I have a name?”  He chuckled at me.  “The bitch wants a name!” he exclaimed to the man next to him.  “You are my servant, “ he said kindly.  “Now get to your chores,” he said less kindly.   He wouldn’t give me a name.

When I am sick, I attend to my work.  I am a servant girl of the Chief Priest.

When my father died, I attended to my work and not his body.  I am a servant girl of the Chief Priest.

When my master forgets his purse, I give whatever I have to him as he needs it.  I am a servant girl of the Chief Priest.

When my sister’s master became a rival of the Chief Priest, I hated my sister.  I am a servant girl of the Chief Priest.

If I don’t do what he says, I die.  You should know that.  Your Jesus knows that.  No matter what, I am a servant girl

This past week, I took a handful of college students up to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to walk a prayer labyrinth.  I walked the labyrinth looking for direction about some upcoming decisions.  At times, I’ve been trying to make things happen and was curious if I was supposed to make them happen or just see what happens.  As I began walking the labyrinth, my thought began to quickly wander.  I’m not typically good at this naval-gazing spiritual reflection stuff.  By the time I made it to the center, I had calmed the random thoughts and focused on one thing: ‘how do I lead a meaningful discussion about the labyrinth experience when this is over.’   I walked into the labyrinth looking for discussion points and had forgotten to reflect on my question–my spiritual need.  So I told myself (or God told me), ‘stop planning, just be.’  In a flash, I realized that God had just answered the question that led me to the labyrinth in the first place–am I working to hard to make things happen?

Similar to my experience walking into the labyrinth, it seems to me that many pastors (by which I mean, myself) read the scriptures looking for talking points.  We hone in on the meaty stuff, ignore the stuff that won’t obviously connect with our people and, I believe, frequently miss the bigger picture and beauty of the scripture.  If I hadn’t caught myself, I’m not sure I would have ever opened myself to God to hear the message.  There might be a sermon in there.

Conversations with the students afterwards was great.  Here are some highlights of our insights together:

  • The longest, uninterrupted pathways were the ones that were the farthest from the center.  In order to stay close to the center, you have to keep turning and changing direction.
  • Entry into the center was a surprise.  The end of the journey into the center happens very suddenly from the outside of the circle when we thought we were far away.
  • It’s hard to tell where we are on our journey…how close or far away.  It’s even harder to tell where other people are on their path–even if we know who started before or after us.
  • “My feet were deliberately walking along a particular direction for the first time in a long time.  Usually I just lollygag my way around.”  Seems to be true of real life as well.
  • There is only one path.  That being said, we can choose to ignore the lines, jump to a different spot on the path or just go straight to the center.  OR, we can follow the path layed out before us which was (literally) difficult to see at times.  We wondered how many people missed some of the pathway lines and ended up back in the middle after thinking they were on their way out.  IF we chose to ignore the lines, intersting outcomes can happen, but we all saw how cheap of an experience it would be to simply walk into the middle and then walk out.
  • At one point, one person got lonely, abandoned his path, put an arm around me and started walking with me.  At first, I was annoyed. ‘didn’t he listen to the rules?  This is supposed to be a solo journey.’  Then I realized, ‘this is cool…he abandoned his path to walk with me because he didn’t want to be lonely.  I should be willing to work with that.’  We walked togehter for a bit.  Eventually, he decided to let go and walk on his own again. 

If you’ve never walked a labyrinth before, make sure to give it a try and experience what it is to wander in the direction of God.

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