Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good Friday: A Day We NEED to Acknowledge

 

So, here it is. I’ve been offended beyond words this year. It’s been taking place every year but this year it’s gotten to me. Churches are having Easter Worship Services on Good Friday. On the day when Christianity commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus, some churches are going to sing “Alleluia” and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. While we wait until Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death and the grace, they’re skipping the death and the grave part and going to celebrate Easter on the day Jesus died.

This should not be confused with churches that have Saturday Night Easter Vigils. Easter Vigils are a long traducclentition and take place after sundown on Saturday night which makes sense. In Jewish tradition Sunday started at sundown on Saturday night and so celebrating Easter after dark is not inconsistent with Christianity. But celebrating Easter on Good Friday is a whole other story.

My favorite poet of all time was a 17th century Anglican priest named John Donne. Donne’s poetry was a mixture of profound religious poetry which as being an Anglican priest, was not inconsistent with his being. His secular poetry was actually often a bit risqué and funny. I loved his cleverness and his plays on words. Anyone who knows me well knows I LOVE to play with words.

His greatest poem, to me, was Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward. I’m including it at the end lest you want to read it. He writes of riding westward when he should be looking to the east. His word:

This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me

His soul’s form was bending toward the east, but the rest of him was riding to the west.

Good Friday inspires this. Most of us, if we are honest, want to turn west and not look. The cross is horrible.

The cross is horrible. Crucifying someone was dreadful and awful. Jesus’ death was a horrible death. We cannot make light of this.

Over the centuries we have attempted to soften the blow as much as we can.

Pontius Pilate has often been portrayed as a decent man who was caught in God’s great cosmic drama. He, the only person in Jerusalem who could actually order this kind of execution, washes his hands in a bogus attempt to say he had no responsibility. Pilate, who was historically brutal and bloodthirsty, was guilty of executing an innocent man. No amount of water was going to clear him of this.

Judas betrayed Jesus for money. We often like to say that he too was an innocent pawn in God’s great cosmic plan. The reality is that Jesus was not difficult to find. The Romans did not need Judas but they found great pleasure in turning one of Jesus’ own. Judas recognizing his own treachery hanged himself.

Many people to not attend Worship on Good Friday. We love Easter and there is much to love about Easter. It speaks of Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave. Easter teaches us that Good Friday can be overcome. The horror of Good Friday brings us to the joy of Easter. Only death can bring about resurrection. To live forever we must die. For Jesus to come back, he had to depart. For Jesus to live again, he had to die and the day of his death was Good Friday.

Good Friday reminds us that Jesus was betrayed. It reminds us that Jesus was arrested and that he was denied. It reminds us that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” and the world killed Him. Is this harsh? Yes, it is very harsh but it is also very real. Jesus came into our midst and we killed him. Most of us, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, would have either been outside in the mob screaming for blood or staying home and pretending the events were not taking place. Like Donne, we’d have our faces pointing westward.

In one of the four Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah 50, the suffering servant says, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.” Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together!

Take note, in the Gospels, who contents with Jesus, who stands with him. There is nary a soul…

One of the roles of the Christian Church is to tell the story and retell the story over and over again. It’s is our job to invite people to turn and look eastward. It is our job to at least make sure we acknowledge that Easter does not come without Good Friday. Most of us would love to ignore this day, it is a dreadful day. It is a day when the guilt of what humanity did to God’s Son is exposed for the world to see.

Tragically, and obscenely, some churches are choosing to celebrate Easter that day. To me, it’s downright obscene. It crushes my spirit, it crushes my soul. Has Christianity turned so much into ‘feel good’ that we can no longer recognize that to walk in the light requires a journey into the darkness. Has Christianity become so much about feeling good that we should not take time to acknowledge our failures and our faults as a collective people?

May God forgive us.

GOOD-FRIDAY, 1613, RIDING WESTWARD.
by John Donne

LET man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom'd us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Audio Sermon Palm Sunday, 2014

So, Who is This Guy?

Texts Isaiah 50:4-9; Matthew 2:1-11

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

April 13, 2014

(While the sermon appears to cut off, it really doesn’t.  The editing was a bit tight at the end but this is a complete sermon.)

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus’ Wife?


 

News reports are out and a looming question this year is: Did Jesus have a wife?

A controversial papyrus scrap making that suggestion dates to the fourth through eighth century A.D., seems to have been verified that it dates back that long, thus making this a fragment of a document that existed in early Christianity.

This fragment is not new but the scientific verification does appear to be new. There are screams of forgery but I’m thinking that the document can easily date back to that time period----which actually doesn’t make it that big a deal in the realm of theological thought.

We know that there were numerous ‘gospels’ written in early Christianity. The Gnostics wrote gospels and people who attempted to discredit Jesus wrote gospels. It was not until around the 4th century when early Christianity determined the Canon of the New Testament and chose four Gospels to have been humanly written and inspired by God. Those Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are part of the modern New Testament and considered to be Gospel by all of Christianity. We know next to nothing about the authors, but the early church determined these four, and only these four, were inspired. Other gospels were either destroyed or not reproduced. Most of what we have of the Bible came to us from monks carefully inscribing manuscripts. They would not have used precious time to replicate non-canonical books and so most of these manuscripts just rotted away in the sands of time.

Every so often remnants of one shows up and a lot of fuss is made. While scientifically and theologically interesting, these really do not impact the faith and history of Christianity.

Interestingly enough, speculation on the marital status of Jesus isn’t that big a deal. Some say that because the Gospels never mention a spouse it means he was not married. However, a 30 Jewish man who was not married would have been very atypical and scholars suggest that Jesus NOT been married it would have been a major thing to report. The end result? We have no idea.

Many have suggested over the centuries that Mary Magdalene may have been Jesus’ spouse. While there has often been speculation that she was a prostitute, one thing we can say for sure is that she was not a prostitute. All serious religious scholars agree on this point as does the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. If Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, nor were her sins identified as 'sins of the flesh,’ why do so many people view Mary Magdalene as the sexy, 'fallen woman?'

It began as a shameful lie, invented by Pope Gregory I in 597 C.E., in which he combined three separate women from the New Testament into one. He combined Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and a woman who is not named but is referred to as a 'sinner.' It has been suggested that Gregory may have been trying to demean her memory so has to keep women down. Others speculate he might have been theologically ignorant----which I doubt. In any case, his bogus assertion has remained a part of Christian lore, though in absolute fairness the Roman Catholic Church and the vast majority of viable Christian scholars do not say this any longer.

What was she to Jesus? A close friend? A great disciple? Spouse?

The answer is we really cannot say for sure. The Gospels do not tell us she and Jesus were married and we have to live with the fact that this is an eternal mystery. We can speculate all we want but we need to realize that no matter what we conclude, it’s speculation.

So, this fragment was found. Big deal? Historically sure, but it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. There exist fragments that say all sorts of things and they will be found. They are interesting but they are not going to rock Christianity. If they do rock our faith, perhaps we need to developing thicker skin.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Marvelously Insidious Word

 

I always marvel at language. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to play with words. I’m a notorious punster who delights in hearing groans from a particularly juicy and cheesy pun. A great pun brings about not so much a laugh, but a huge groan.

Words matter and some words are actually pretty insidious in scope. We think of words like ‘hate’ and can see it is insidious. We can use ‘bad’ words and refer to them as insidious. There’s also the word ‘phlegm’ which is just about the weirdest words in the English language. I’m not referring to any of these words, however. A marvelously insidious word people often use is the word ‘but.’

Recently in a Facebook forum made up of alumni from my college, a very small, now defunct Roman Catholic Seminary College in upstate New York, there was a conversation about a church organist who was fired when it was learned that he was married to a same sex partner. I indicated that I loved my denomination, the United Church of Christ. I wrote about us welcoming everyone, etc. One person in the forum responded, “And that is what (his denomination) does, as well………….But……..” There it was, the word ‘but.’ “Everyone is welcome in my church……………but.” The translation for the people on the receiving end of that ‘but’ is that they are not welcome.

It really doesn’t matter how large we place the letters, how well we sing welcoming songs, and announce that people are welcome. If we use the word ‘but’ in the sentence, they are not welcome.

“We welcome the role of women in leadership……………………..but.” The translation is that women are not really in leadership positions. In churches this is especially maddening. On Easter we will all read from the Gospels telling us that the first real message of Christianity, “I have seen the Lord,” pronounced by women, doesn’t count as ‘preaching.’ Because St. Paul once referred to an obscure group of women in an obscure place who were creating problems and he wrote to the church’s leadership to silence these women in the church, people have proclaimed women cannot speak in church. They, of course, ignore the reality that the first people to proclaim the Christian Gospel, “I have seen the Lord,” were, in fact women. Women are welcome in leadership……but.

We welcome children in our church and what them to participate………but, not yet.

It goes further than church, however.

If someone says, “I love you……..but,” it’s pretty ominous. It either means they don’t really love you or they are going to place some major conditions on that love.

If someone says, “I’m sorry……but,” they are not really sorry. They are now rationalizing.

What makes the word ‘but’ so insidious is that it comes at the end of a wonderful statement. It’s the ultimate bait and switch. “You are wonderful………but.’ “You are my dearest friend……but.”

I was struck by this yesterday. In the middle of a heartfelt conversation one person decided to drop his bit ‘but’ in the middle of a caring discussion. He used a lot of good words of really respecting everyone…..but.

It’s a good reminder to me. When I say something, if I’m adding the word ‘but’ to my statement, I’m not really saying what I set out to say. For me, I’m going to watch my language and try and rid myself of using this marvelously insidious word in such a manner.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Audio Sermon for April 6, 2014

 

Come and See: Jesus

Texts John 11:1-45

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

April 6, 2014

 

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Audio Sermon March 23

 

Come and See: Hospitality as Spirituality

Texts Genesis 18:1-18; Acts 16:13-15

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

March 16, 2014

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Fred Phelps is Near Death

 

Fred Phelps is near death. In case you never heard of Fred Phelps, he’s the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church. The church is located in Topeka, Kansas and is an independent Baptist Church that sees itself as part of the primitive Baptist tradition. Most people who are Baptist separate themselves greatly from the activities of Westboro even if there are elements they agree with. The website of the church says it all: www.godhatesfags.com.

Westboro has become famous, or, perhaps better said, infamous, for picketing funerals of high profile people and picketing the funerals of soldiers who died in combat. They see these deaths as proof that God has come to hate the United States. They are anti-gay, anti-Jewish, etc. Whereas many churches, or hopefully most churches peak about God’s love, they are the only church website I’ve ever encountered that has a list called: Bible Verses About The Hatred Of God.

Mr. Phelps is now near death.

My one thought on this subject is this. Let’s be charitable. Mr. Phelps was not a man of great charity. I do not say that to be judgmental, it’s merely stating a pretty obvious fact. The name of his church’s website does not speak of charity. The ‘hatred’ list does not speak of charity. His sermons did not speak of charity. The picketing of funerals did not speak of charity. Frankly, the word ‘hate,’ over and over again did not speak of charity. I suspect that Fred Phelps would not welcome people speaking his name and using ‘charity’ in the same sentence. It was not who he was or what he was about.

He, in so many ways, mortified those of us who attempt to live in the way of Christ. When we speak of a God of love, what Mr. Phelps said about God, seemed to contradict that. So many people were hurt and personally devastated by how he chose to go about life and how the mission of Westboro Baptist Church was lived out.

It is not a time for mocking or even pious platitudes. I have one prayer for Fred Phelps. My prayer is a simple one. I want him to be in God’s presence and I want Mr. Phelps to be loved by God and to see, learn, and understand that God loves all of us, no matter what. To me, love always wins out and my prayer for Mr. Phelps is that, in death and in God’s presence, he sees, feels, embraces, and delights in God’s love. One day, I hope we all do.

Audio Sermon March 16, 2014

 

Come and See: How to Invite People

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 4:1-5

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

March 16, 2014

 

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