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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

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, 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. 

Luke 19:28-40

Yesterday morning, I was proud to stand with my two sons, one of my daughters and thousands of men. We stood around city Hall because Mayor Mike Rawlings called upon the city of Dallas to end a culture that allows for Domestic Violence.

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As we gathered around city hall yesterday morning, I was struck by the similarities to Palm Sunday. Palm fronds were replaced by rally towels, though we waved them above our heads, fronding, to similar affect. Like on Palm Sunday, we demanded a change in the culture of oppression and violence. We forget, too easily that Palm Sunday was a grand political protest. It began on the Mount of Olives (where all political protests and militaristic invasions took place in Jerusalem) and the words of the people invoke revolution. By invoking the words of the prophets they call Jesus, Messiah, and call for a new era where justice is only ever overruled by mercy and never corruption.

Palm Sunday was a protest.

Yesterday morning, like Palm Sunday, was a day we believed in the power of people to radically change a culture by the sheer force of their common purpose and shared conviction. In a day before non-violent resistance, Palm Sunday was a peaceful protest against violence. Like it was yesterday.

Dallas Cowboys stood in front of their crowd, and said, ‘I want Dallas to be known not by its 5 Super Bowl Championships but as the city that has made the greatest difference in affecting a change in a culture of domestic violence.

I was inspired. But I was also sad. One of the prophecies of Palm Sunday came true.

“Rabbi, tell your disciples to be quiet,” some of the Pharisees tried to reason with Jesus-talk the crowd down from their dangerous proposition.

Jesus response: “if they are quiet then the stones themselves would shout.”

I was sad yesterday because it was not the church that called 10,000 men to end domestic violence. Sure, the church participated and provided some of the best speakers, but it was the Mayor and the Dallas Cowboys that provided the real leadership and the City of Dallas who will lead the charge.

“If my disciples are silent, the rocks themselves will shout out.”

I am disturbed by the fact that 1 in 4 women will be victimized by partner violence by the time they are old enough to graduate college.

I am disturbed by the fact that 13,000 cases of Domestic Violence were reported in Dallas last year—that’s 35 a day and, by the way, it is just as prevalent in that park cities as it is anywhere else in Dallas. DV does not know race or socio-economic status.

But what really pains me is this:

Statistically, church members are just as likely to be abusers and victims.

Sunday, is the most common day for Domestic Violence to occur.

There is a direct correlation between the score of the Cowboys game and hte number of domestic violence calls.

I know that we have been silent and I know that the stones themselves are rising up to speak because if the United Methodist Church had addressed Domestic Violence these statistics wouldn’t hold!  And so the stones themselves are speaking out.

The passion story is more than a story of salvation and sacrifice. It’s a cautionary tal

e of a church that Jesus foretold and the disciples lived out.

 

(The Duck Church)

At the rally yesterday, one of the best speakers was a preacher whose name I,unfortunately, cannot remember, He told a story that floats around pastors from time to time. It’s about Duck Church.

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There was once a town full of ducks who waddled everywhere. One Sunday morning, they waddled into church and heard an inspiring sermon from Duck Matt Gaston. He told them three important things.

1) Remember that you are ducks.

2) Know that ducks have wings

3) You were made to fly!

The duck congregation went crazy. Duck Richard Hearne shouted loud amens throughout and the congregation was visibly stirred. Duck Damin Spritzer played a beautiful piece on the pipe Organ and the duck choir quacked along with a song so beautiful that many members of the congregation closed their eyes and felt like they were flying for the first time.

At the end of the service, many ducks shook wings with Duck Matt and thanked him for reminding them that they are ducks with wings who are called to fly.

And they all waddled home.

The story of duck church is the disciples’ Passion story. The “multitude of disciples” were all fired up talking about the power of God and the new kingdom of peace and by the end of the week Jesus is left standing there, looking around. “for all of his acquantances” the scripture says—not just the close friends but even down to the acquaintances—stood at a distance.

We have been blessed to be a blessing, but far too often we just act blessed.

I feel like I’ve spent far too much of my life arguing and working on issues over which we, in the church, easily disagree. I’m from NJ, so arguing is in my DNA, but I need to find ways to get past that. What if we spent that time working, really working, on the issues over which there is unity and there are a great many issues in our world over which we find unity!

No one in this room believes it’s a good thing to abuse women and children. Even abusers have remorse over their actions, which is part of why the cycle continues.

I don’t think anyone in this room is okay with the fact that someone dies of hunger-related causes every 7 seconds in the world.

I don’t think anyone in the church is content with the fact that many people find suicide their best option.

I think we would have a hard time finding churches that support bullying in our schools.

And yet so many great ills in our society continue in the face of a silent church!

 

(The Sirens)

I’ve always been intrigued by Greek mythology. One danger, in particular, always struck me: the sirens. The Sirens sat on a rock through some oceanic pass that offered a deadly shortcut. The sirens were beautiful sang a song so glorious that sailors would steer their ships towards the sirens, wreck the ships on unseen rocks and were then gobbled up by the sirens. There were only two ships who successfuly navigated the sirens.

One was Odysseus. In a time crunch he had to pass by the sirens. TO navigate it safely, he stuffed wax in the ears of his sailors, blindfolded them and tied himself to the mast of the ship.

The other was Orpheus, a musician, who simply sat at the bow and played more beauitful music.

Odysseus’s way is the way of the stones

Ours is the way of more beautiful music

Orpheus

(So the Stones Don’t Have To)

So I say, let us raise our voice so that the stones don’t have to.

Let us raise our voice for love because safe sanctuaries are not enough, we cannot rest until our homes are sanctuaries for love.

Let us raise our voice for education so that little girls grow up knowing that the men who love them cannot strike them.

Let us raise our voice of manhood, so that little boys grow up, knowing that

real men don’t resort to violence,

that real men hold their brothers accountable and

that gentleness is not the opposite of manliness.

Let us raise our voice of justice because silence is the friend of oppression.

Let us raise our voice so that abusers might lower theirs, choosing to give up control

Let us raise our voice so that the children of Dallas never have to stand in the way of their father’s fist, so that families don’t have to lie about their bruises, so that abusers don’t speak in code as a way to warn their spouses that they are out of line

Let us raise our voice so that abusers might find wholeness, pride and acts of repentance that lead to redemption.

Let us raise our voice for gentleness now but let us not just speak about domestic violence.

Let us raise our voice so that the children in our schools never live in fear of a bomb, a gun or a fist.

Let us raise our voice so that those who feel there is no way out will know that there is always hope in Jesus Christ.

Let us raise our voice to shout down the demons of suicide, the demons of loneliness, the demons of hopelessness because our music is far more beautiful than anything the demons have to offer.

Let us “lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty!”

I don’t want to wait for the stones to sing about it, the mayor to write about it or congress to incentivize it.

Let us raise our voice for community now!

Palm Sunday is a day of revolution and Jesus is looking for recruits!

(The Promised Land)

I see Paige Flink, director of the Family Place, here. Wouldn’t it be great, Paige, if, on some Easter Sunday, we are able to walk out together and board up the doors of the Family Place? Not because funding has run out but because our mission is accomplished.

Wouldn’t it be great if our kids didn’t fear going to school anymore?

Would’t it be amazing if suicide no longer marred our society with unseen scars?

Then, maybe then, once we have accomplished great work on these matters about which we agree, perhaps we will have worked together enough to work better together on issues about which we are not yet on one accord because once you’ve worked with someone, once you’ve sweat side-by-side with someone on soemthign that matters you see them in a new way.

(Adding Days and Minutes)

But this is a tall order. The scope of the work to be done is great and can paralyze.

What if, in our life time, we were responsible for adding hours—so that domestic violence only occurs once a day in Dallas instead of 35 times a day?

What if, in our life-time, we were responsible for making it every 30 seconds that someone dies of hunger, instead of every 7 seconds—a difference of 512 lives / hour?

Or we could remain silent. We could “stand at a distance” as the disciples and the women who followed Jesus did. It will not keep God from working. “Even the stones will shout out,” Jesus says.

“The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice.” The fix is in. We know how the story ends. God does not need us, but God wants us—to hasten the day when the last wound is inflicted, when the last bruise heals, when we meet down by the riverside and study war no more, when the last drop of blood has been shed, when the savior does not have to die.

This is why we wave our palms.

This is why we sing this day—so that world won’t have to wait…so that God won’t have to raise up the stones.

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