Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Way of Resurrection: Peace Through Justice (4/24/11 Easter)

The Way of Resurrection: Peace Through Justice
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Easter Sunday 2011

Gospel of Jesus Epilogue 1-8

Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told those who were close to him, who were mourning and weeping. But when those folks heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it.

Christ appeared to Cephas (or Peter).

[Paul wrote]: “Last of all, like the freak of nature I am, Christ appeared to me as well.”

Mary of Magdala said: “I saw the Lord in a vision, and I said to him, ‘Lord, I saw you today in a vision.’”

James, the Lord’s brother, and Cephas (or Peter), and John, the son of Zebedee, were pillars of the Jerusalem community.

[Paul wrote] “They agreed that I, Paul, had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Cephas had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised.”

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 83, 84. PS Mark 16:9-11; Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:1-2; 11-18; 1 Corinthians 15:5, 8; Luke 24:34; Acts 9:3-19; 22:1-16; 26:9-18; Mary 7:1; Galatians 2:7-9.

Lisa Miller is the religion editor for Newsweek magazine. She has written a new book that I recently reviewed on my blog called Heaven: The Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. It is a very good book. She writes about what people think, wish, trust, and hope about heaven.  It is also a survey of religious history. She reviews the variety of beliefs regarding afterlife and how they developed. She is not a believer in heaven herself but is thoughtful and sensitive to those she interviews and to the subject itself. I recommend it.

I started to wonder why it is that some people believe in heaven. What are the reasons?

1) One reason we are familiar with is religious bullying. Heaven and hell has become a carrot and a stick for enforcing behavior and obedience. Believe this, do this and don’t do that and you will avoid hell and go to heaven. That is the most shallow and popular motivation.

Yet there are other reasons that people embrace the concept of afterlife or at least wish they could embrace it.

2) We want to continue our relationships. The pain of losing loved ones may be softened by a belief that they are doing well or that we will see them again in heaven.


3) Anxiety about our own death may cause us to hope for continued existence. Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of religious myth imagined that the first conscious thought was: “I am!” Within seconds came the second conscious thought that threw humanity into despair: “One day I will not be.” The solution to that problem is that you will always be, the body is just a shell, a temporary vessel. There is no need for anxiety as your consciousness will float through one life after another or will rest in heaven with God.


4) Another reason to desire the afterlife is the injustice of this world. Life is not easy and it is not fair. Some have it better than others. Where is the justice for those born into miserable conditions of poverty and disease? Where is the justice for those who have been abused by others? The powerful get away with murder. The evil prosper. The desire for justice is likely the earliest impetus for belief in resurrection. Resurrection was the promise that God had not forgotten the righteous martyrs. God on his cosmic throne would eventually sort things out and bring a new heaven and a new earth.

Our religious systems developed and changed all in attempt to cope with the anxiety of consciousness. My dogs don’t worry about heaven or the futility of their lives. I do. That is our blessing and our curse.

5) For me, it is curiosity more than anything that creates desire for an afterlife. I would love to know how we will be doing in 100 years. I would love to come back or watch from above to see if humanity will make it through this time period and how it will do so. I would like to check back in on Earth in 200 years and again in 100,000 years and see what is happening. In addition to our future on this planet, I am curious about the Universe. I would love to travel to other star systems and to other galaxies and see if there is a party out there somewhere. Not only that, there is a great deal about Earth that I know nothing about. To say there are many things to learn is a ridiculous understatement. There is too much for one lifetime to absorb. The Universe, Earth, and Northeast Tennessee all are too large for one life to experience.

If I were obsessed with that desire to live beyond my death because of curiosity, injustice, pain for lost loved ones, disappointment with my own life, or the angst of non-being I can see how that obsession would turn into a hope and a belief, even a religion. We can see how people would see it differently and even fight over which speculation is the correct one.

I don’t insist. It is up to us as individuals to find our own teachers, walk our own path, and construct our own belief system. Someone said jokingly but seriously about our congregation that we are BYOG—Bring Your Own God. I like that. It entails respect. We are here to be present to and with one another as each of us makes our own quest. I will spout off all kinds of stuff. If it is helpful, you can take it, if not leave it.

I will spout a little.

A beef that I have with religion, spirituality, and with myself is that all can be a little self-focused. “Me” getting to heaven. “Me” having a spiritual journey. “Me” obsessing over “my” personal psychology. I think there is something to be said for a more collective understanding and experience. We are in this together and we have a responsibility for one another and for generations after us.

My second beef is this. We can believe whatever we need to believe about life after death and what all that might entail. But there is probably not much we can do about it now anyway. I find it incredible to believe that our eternal fate is tied to what we believe. In fact, even the Presbyterians know that. I certainly don’t want to debate with the Calivinistas, but I think the reason John Calvin in the 1500s invented the notion that it is all fixed, predestination, is so his followers wouldn’t worry about their eternal fate. It is all fixed, you can’t do anything about it, so bring your attention back to Earth.

Bracket all that eternal speculation. It’s all good. You are going to be fine whatever God has fixed up for you. If “God” exists and God has it set up for you to see Granny again, then that will happen. If not, it won’t, but there is nothing you can do about it now either way. Until then, we could use your help right here. We need to build schools and hospitals. We need to learn to make peace between nations and work for human rights. We need to be conscious about Earth for life in our present and in our children’s future. Figure out whatever speculation you need about the afterlife, then come back home. We have work and play to do here and now.

I am going to be 50 this August. I doubt that I will be here in 100 years. I would be 150. Maybe I’ll make it to 150 but the odds are against me. It is possible that I could come back in 2111 in some other form to check up on things. I kind of like that idea, but…well.

However, I feel I have an obligation and a responsibility to care about what happens in 100 years even though I will not be here. I have no way of knowing what will happen. I do think that what I do now will have some kind of effect, however minuscule, on the future. And yet I cannot do what I do now out of concern for the results. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna said:
“Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a person reaches ultimate truth; by working without anxiety about results.”
I also have an obligation and a responsibility to care about what happens now. If I am anxious about the results, I will not do what I need to do because it looks overwhelming. But I can do what I can do.
  • I doubt that I alone will be able to stop the insanity of removing mountain tops to retrieve coal. But I can at least say that sentence this morning in my Easter sermon.
  • I cannot stop the production and selling of weapons to militants around the world. Nor can I stop Empire’s wars. But I can say something at this moment about the possibility of peace through non-violence.
  • I cannot reverse climate change. But I can care. I can use whatever influence I have to say something and do the small things I can do.
My hunch is that there are a lot of things you care about as well. The need is likely greater than your efforts. The temptation to despair and give in is real and present. I think that is why the wisdom of Krishna is helpful today:
Do your duty, always; but without attachment.
Spiritual teachers always bring us to the present. Jesus told parables and he shot off witty one-liners about Life and Earth. He said things like,
“Do not be anxious about what you will eat or wear….be aware of the birds….be aware of the lilies.”
It is hard to construct a more “Be here, now” message than that one. Yet so much of life if we are not careful is wishing we were somewhere else or someone else. We even wish time away. But the gift is here and now. That is a sacred gift. Here and now is holy. And so are you. So is Earth. You are Earth. Nothing is more sacred and holy than this moment. Singing with the angels in heaven for 10,000 years will not be more sacred and holy than this moment.

We are here at this place and at this time. For whatever reason you have found yourself in this building this morning. It doesn’t matter the reason. Your life could go in all kinds of directions after the Benediction today. It will be sacred and holy. Whatever you do, you are living. When you have dinner with family or friends today it will be sacred and holy. When you go to work, school, whatever you do, it will be life. Life is real. Be aware.

The symbol of resurrection has something to do with the holy sacred work of keeping at it. Empire killed Jesus. The emperor operated under the philosophy that peace comes through victory. “We can force people into peace or at least keep them quiet.” The early followers of Jesus heard enough and saw enough in the life of Jesus to embrace something different. They saw a different way. The way of peace is not through force but through the power of non-violence. Peace comes through just relations.

These early followers experienced in some way his vision. It lived in them. Amidst all the injustices of life, they found a way to proclaim their own dignity.

Empire killed Jesus. But it didn’t defeat him.

That truth isn’t simply a Christian truth.

I was talking with Sandy Westin the other day. She is the Coordinator of the North American Region of United Religions Initiative. This is a global grassroots organization to foster peace and cooperation between people of different religions and to make a positive contribution to peace and justice on Earth. Different communities form Cooperation Circles and decide what and how they will live out the URI charter. We have a cooperation circle in Johnson City.

As I spoke with Sandy the other day, she told me a story about how a cooperation circle in Uganda made peace in its villages. She asked a religious and community leader in Uganda about what the URI was doing. He told her this story.

He said that there is a great deal of tribal violence in and between the villages. They wanted to find a way to stop the youth from engaging in violence. So they came up with an idea. They pooled their resources and came up with 50 American dollars to buy soccer balls. They decided to give a soccer ball to each village. Soccer or football is a beloved sport. They had been playing with coconuts. So the soccer balls were a huge improvement.

But the URI cooperation circle said there is a condition. The only ones who will be able to play in the soccer league are those who do not engage in any violence. If anyone is violent they will not be able to play. Once these conditions were agreed upon, soccer leagues were started in each village. It worked. They were serious about wanting to play soccer that it overrode the desire to be violent.

The village elders gathered and wondered what they could do next. The real tribal violence was between the villages. So they said to the players, “You know such and such village has some pretty good players. You all are pretty good, but they might be just as good.” The players said, “No, no.” The elders said well maybe we could have a tournament. The condition is that there be no violence. This was pretty tough. These tribal hostilities ran deep.  But they agreed.

As they played it turned out that some of the girls from one village would find an attraction to some of the boys from another village and vice versa. This created great consternation. The boys wanted to “protect their women” you know. But the rule was no violence. So what can we do? So the elders gathered and they all came up with a solution that they would have chaperones for couples from different villages as they dated. Instead of fighting, they played soccer.

What happened is that they learned to find a way to solve conflicts peacefully when violence was not an option.

That is a simple story. Simple and true. There are 100s of thousands of organizations around the globe and 100s of millions of people working for peace, Earth care, human rights and on and on, not knowing what the others are doing or that they even exist.

If there is an Easter message I want to share it is this:

May you see your own life moment by moment as holy and sacred.

Thank you for whatever it is you are doing to bring joy and hope to others—to be a blessing.

Do know that you are not alone.

Also know that what you do is worth it.

May you have a Blessed Easter.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Empire Strikes Back: Peace Through Victory (4/17/11 Palm/Passion Sunday)

Empire Strikes Back: Peace Through Victory
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 17, 2011
Palm/Passion Sunday

Gospel of Jesus 21:1-12

Led by one of Jesus’ disciples, the police show up at the place Jesus and the rest of his followers were gathered. Because Jesus had often gone to the place, Jesus’ followers knew the place too. And the police seized Jesus and held him fast. And the disciples all deserted Jesus and ran away.

They brought Jesus before the high priest.

The ranking priests bound Jesus and turned him over to Pilate, the Roman governor. Then Pilate had Jesus flogged and turned him over to be crucified.

And the Roman soldiers bring him to the place Golgotha (which means “Place of the skull”). And the soldiers crucify him.

Now some women were observing this from a distance, among whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. These women had regularly followed and assisted him when he was in Galilee, along with many other women who had come up to Jerusalem in his company.

Then Jesus breathed his last.

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 83, 84. Mark 14:43, 50, 53; 15:1, 15, 22, 24, 37, 40-41; Matthew 26:47, 50, 56-57; 27:1-2, 26, 33, 35, 50, 55-56; Luke 22:47, 54; 23:1, 33, 46, 49; John 18:1-2, 12-13, 28; 19:1, 16-18, 25, 30.

This is probably the most we can know about the death of Jesus.

The passion story in the Gospel of Mark is the first written narrative. The gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke followed Mark and elaborated. The gospel attributed to John is of a different variety but also likely is aware of Mark and takes on his own direction based on theological concerns.

The first narrative, Mark’s, wasn’t composed until at least four decades after Jesus’ death and is the product of scriptural and theological imagination. If you read Psalm 22 you will find details that Mark borrowed to construct the narrative.

The psalm begins,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
These are the same words Jesus is supposed to have uttered from the cross. One might think that he knew the psalm and quoted it. Possibly. But then from Psalm 22:
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
Compare to Mark 15:29
Those passing by kept taunting him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.”
That is an obvious case of the author borrowing and creating. Or this one from Psalm 22:
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
Compare to 15:24:
“…and they divide up his garments, casting lots to see who would get what.”
Mark, borrowing from the Psalms and from other scriptures created a narrative of the trial and the crucifixion. There is no likelihood that there even was a trial. The passion accounts in the gospels that we hear in church and that we watch on film and that preachers relish in recounting from the pulpits are fictions. Stories. These events didn’t happen. The theological explanation is based upon pure imagination.

I think it is important to admit that. I think it is important to say it publicly from a pulpit. Think of the weight of needless guilt that has been heaped upon people because these fictions were taken at face value. The legacy of taking these fictions literally has been:
  1. A theology of blood atonement. It goes like this: You are bad. In fact, you were born bad. Bad and sinful. That’s you. You deserve the punishment Jesus received because you are so bad. Jesus suffered and died because of you, for your sins. Even if you weren’t born yet when Jesus died, it doesn’t matter. You are still bad. And if you don’t believe all of this hocus pocus and repent, down the chute to hell for you. See how loving God is?
  2. The claim that the Jews “crucified our Lord”. Subsequently, we have had a 2000 year history of anti-semitism and violence against the Jewish people.
It is important that we tell the truth about history.

We know historically that the Roman Empire crucified troublemakers or perceived troublemakers by the hundreds. It was a spectacle of imperial power. It was state sanctioned torture. They would be crucified by the entrance to the city so all the passersby would see and know who is in charge. It is plausible that Jesus was one of these unfortunates. We don’t really know the reason Jesus was executed. He could have been the leader of a movement that upset authorities. It appears that Jesus was critical of the local religious and political authorities. They could have handed him over for revenge. He could have been perceived to be a leader of a revolutionary movement against Rome. Or he may have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The author of Mark and subsequent gospel authors writing many decades after the death of Jesus and after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple shift the blame from Rome to the Jewish leaders, eventually to all Jews. They know who they don’t want to offend if they want the Roman Empire to leave them alone. As the movements that eventually become Judaism and Christianity separate the early Christians distance themselves from Judaism and reflect this separation by the way they tell their story.

Two books I think are good on this topic. The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do? by the Jesus Seminar will show the method and result of how biblical scholars and scholars of Christian origins approach these texts. James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword offers our 2000 history of the relationship between Christians and Jews and the dark, violent legacy these fictional narratives have had on real people.

We don’t have to tell the story in the same harmful way.

Founder of the Jesus Seminar, the late Robert Funk, was refreshingly candid and blunt in his assessment of the state of religion. In his book, Honest to Jesus, he outlined 21 theses for the radical reformation of the church. This is thesis number 7:
The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.
I also particularly like thesis number 9:
The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
Robert Funk. He attended Johnson Bible College in Knoxville. He came to the school on scholarship. He was by far the brightest student. After about a year or so he was asked to leave. He was told that he didn’t fit in to the ethos of the school. He was asking too many questions that they weren’t interested in pursuing. The great thing about Bob Funk is that he never stopped asking those questions.

What do we do with Jesus? What is this story about? How do we read and participate in Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter in such a way that does not inflict spiritual violence on ourselves or others? How do we do it in a way that doesn’t insult our minds or crush our spirits? How do we read it responsibly? How do we read it in such a way that it leads to compassion, justice, equality, and hope?

One way to read the story of Jesus and his execution is to read it between the lines. We need to read it with awareness of the default reality of Empire. It is an Empire that crushes and executes and that sees itself as beneficent, as part of the divine order. God Bless Empire. We bring peace through victory.

That is the setting, that is the default, the everyday reality in which the Jesus stories appear. These stories of Jesus are about a movement that is much larger than Jesus. It is not about an individual whether the son of God on one hand or a clever poet on the other. Whether dying for sins or leading a rebel movement, it isn’t about him. He stands for something larger than himself.

The movement for dignity, compassion, justice, freedom, decency, bread and roses, is always there. It is mostly hidden. It is mostly underground. It is not in the news. It is carried out by thousands of people whose names are lost forever. We only know of them by glimpses, through stories of individuals like Jesus who as a literary symbol stand for them.

He wasn’t the only one executed by an empire, then or now.

Even more importantly, he wasn’t the only one who was active in bringing about awareness and hope. Attributed to him are parables and aphorisms about the kingdom of God. He wasn’t the only one with that dream. He is simply the tip of an iceberg, the crest of a wave, a cipher, a finger pointing to the moon.

A question we could be asking is, why did Rome execute so many people? Of what were they afraid? How do we capitalize on that fear? How do we resist it? I am asking these questions in the present tense because this Jesus story isn’t just about an event in history. These are questions for then and now. We are not gathered here on Sunday because we have objective, scientific dis-interest in some historical event. We are here because we are participants in life, in a movement for healing, wholeness, peace, goodness, joy, transformation—the kingdom of God.

Apparently, since we are still gathered in a Christian church, the Jesus story still has power. It still resonates as a resource for struggle and transformation.

The story of the execution of Jesus is the story of Rachel Corrie. Rachel would have been 31 this past week. But she died at the age of 23 standing in front of an Israeli bulldozer when it razed a Palestinian home. It didn’t stop for her. It rolled over her and crushed her to death. She was standing for justice. Empire crushed her. The struggle continues.

The story of the execution of Jesus is the story of Matthew Sheppard. Twelve years ago, a young college student was beaten, tortured, and tied to a barbed wire fence in Wyoming because he was gay. It is the story of fear, homophobia, bullying and ignorance preached in pulpits and too often ignored by those with the authority to stop it. The struggle continues.

The story of the execution of Jesus is the story the indigenous people of the Amazon. For three decades Texaco operated 300 oil wells in Ecuador horribly polluting the land and destroying the lives and culture of the people who inhabit the rain forest. These stories are covered over, rationalized, dismissed. Empire needs to keep happily motoring. The struggle continues.

The story of the execution of Jesus is larger than the human story. It is the story of the largest extinction of species in 65 million years, right before our eyes as our climate changes, our rivers and streams are filled with toxins, and our mountains are destroyed for the prize beneath them. Empire can’t stop itself. The struggle continues.
“Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
And yet…everywhere you look, you see resistance. Everywhere you look you see signs of green things growing from the stump of Empire’s destruction. It won’t be the same, but it will be something. Amidst all the craziness in the world now, there is sanity. There are pockets of decency and hope. Empire killed Jesus. But it didn’t defeat him. That is Easter. Next week. The struggle continues.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trouble and Transformation (4/10/11)

Trouble and Transformation
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 10, 2011
Gospel of Jesus 20:1-11

They come to Jerusalem. And he went into the temple and began chasing the vendors and shoppers out of the temple area, and he turned the bankers’ tables upside down, along with the chairs of the pigeon merchants. Then he started teaching and would say to them:

“Don’t the scriptures say, “My house is to be regarded as a house of prayer for all peoples’?—but you have turned it into ‘a hideout for crooks’!”

They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him,
“The Roman emperor’s people demand taxes from us.”

He said to them,
“Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor,
and give God what belongs to God.”

In Jerusalem, by the Sheep Gate, there is a pool, called Bethzatha in Hebrew. It has five colonnades, among which numerous invalids were usually lying around—blind, lame, paralyzed. One man had been crippled for thirty-eight years. Jesus observed him lying there and realized he had been there a long time.

“Do you want to get well?” he asks him.

The crippled man replied,
“Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool when the water is agitated; while I’m trying to get in someone else beats me to it.”

Get up, pick up your mat and start walking around,”
Jesus tells him. And at once the man recovered; he picked up his mat and began walking.

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 51, 53. Mark 11:15, 17; 12:13-17; Matthew 21:12-13; 19:45-46; 22:15-22; Luke 20:21; EgerG 3:1-6; John 2:14-15; 5:2-3, 5-9; Thomas 100:1-3

Some people are comfortable with the word spiritual. Some people are comfortable talking about God. Others are not. I am not sure but I wonder if the difference between those who can speak of God and to God easily vs. those who cannot is akin to personality differences. Some people are introverts others are extroverts. Some people are spiritual, others are not.

It doesn’t have to be a cause for judgment. One isn’t better than another, just different. At least it seems to me to be the case. Some people have no problem with the miraculous, with the supernatural, with connecting with things unseen. Others are doubtful about such things. Some attribute things that happen in life to God and seek to be more in touch with what God might be doing in their lives or wanting them to do. Others don’t see God in that way at all and come at things from a more mundane, secular, or “worldly” point of view.

I suppose one could view it as a competition and say that folks of the other type need to mature and be like we are, whatever it is we are. At best, different types of folks can enhance the lives of others while learning from them.

One of the reasons I like the four paths of Creation Spirituality is because I think they can have value to folks of both types. One can emphasize the via to God aspect, the spirituality aspect and one can also see these paths as vias or ways to more integrated ways of living. In this second view, one doesn’t need God at all. Serving a congregation that has both types of folks and the entire spectrum in between, a worship leader looks for metaphors that all or at least most can have some connection.

The school of thought called Creation Spirituality seems to be a nice bridge. It is Earth-focused. It is about life here and now. Meaning is not located outside of our existence but within it. We are Earthlings as are bugs, branches, and bonobos. But it is spiritual in that meaning and vitality comes from our engagement with what is present.

We participate in ongoing creation. Creation doesn’t necessarily require a Creator. I have just finished the latest book by Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design. He speaks of multiple universes and spontaneous creation in which there is no need of a divine being to either keep it going or to start it off. But, one could allow for a Creator in Creation Spirituality.

Here I am offering my interpretation. Any one of you could define it very differently. Whether you are secular or spiritual or a combination of the two, you may find the four paths a helpful way to orient your experience.

Principle number five of The Twelve Principles of Creation Spirituality says:
Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving:
- awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva)
- uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
- birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
- justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformitiva)
We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.
What I have been doing for over a year now in worship is to celebrate one of those four paths per season. I have found it to be a helpful way of framing our collective worship experience. I have chosen Spring to be the via transformativa or way of justice, healing, celebration. I like to say it is the way of compassionate action.

Not only is Creation Spirituality available for those who are comfortable with God language and to those who are not, it is also available to those from various religious traditions. In other words, Creation Spirituality is not limited to the Christian tradition.

It does fit within the Christian tradition too. I think the historical Jesus fits quite well as a model or focus figure. Not just Jesus, but the movement of which Jesus was a part. That movement included those who were with him and not just those named in the gospels, but those who are unnamed, marginalized, and forgotten by the orthodox tradition.

Bev and I spent the week in Salem, Oregon attending the Spring meeting of the Jesus Seminar. The seminar honored the work of Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza. She teaches at Harvard Divinity School. Her field is early Christian origins. She has not been a part of the Jesus Seminar. She in fact has been somewhat critical of its work. Her criticism of the seminar is that it focused too much on Jesus as an individual making him carry too much weight.

Her historical reconstruction includes a larger movement for justice and equality. She is quite suspicious, for instance, that the early movement consisted of Jesus and twelve male apostles. The Jesus Seminar is suspicious of that as well of course. Yet she says the seminar doesn’t go far enough. Its reconstruction of Jesus is still too focused on Jesus the sage, poet, and hero. She reminds us that there were more people involved. She finds hints within the tradition that show far more diversity than those who wrote the history wanted us to know. She goes outside of it to gather the stories of the forgotten. Schussler-Fiorenza defines history as remembrance of struggle.

When we read stories of Jesus we are not just reading about the Divine Son of God on one hand, nor an historical person who is a hero on the other. We are reading about a much larger movement for equality and justice that includes the stories of women and men, the marginalized, and the abused and the forgotten. We don’t find them in the texts, but they were there. Like specters they haunt the text. They are there now in our current struggles for equality, justice, peace, and healing. It isn’t just about Jesus, but Jesus as a pointer to a movement of human beings celebrating and transforming oppressive powers into the kingdom of God.

When Jesus is in the temple overturning tables, it isn’t just him. The temple incident was likely a staged action. It was a protest. The protest was not about selling pastries in the sanctuary. It was a protest against the temple’s collaboration with Rome and its lack of compassion for the poor. It had become a hideout for crooks. The money exchange was like laundering money. You rip off the poor then trade it for sacrifices to make you holy before God. In this staged action that featured Jesus, we can imagine that it took a number of people to pull it off. We can imagine this protest didn't just happen once but happened many times in many ways.

It takes a lot of trouble-makers to change history.

When Jesus has the conversation about the coin with the emperor’s image, we can imagine that that is part of a long conversation and struggle about taxation, about Roman imperialism, and about the different ways in which you cope, resist, and often simply starve. The preservation of this story is simply the tip of an iceberg of events and struggles happening underneath. This is a story that is live and happening today all over the world and in our own communities as the impoverished struggle with the powerful. It should lead us to discussions of injustice in our time and what are the risks that we might take naming those injustices and responding to them.

The healing at the pool of Bethzatha could lead us to empty arguments of whether or not supernatural healing occurs or whether or not Jesus was a miracle-worker and so on. I think this story might be preserved for a different purpose. It reminds me of the futility of brokerage systems (38 years waiting at the pool) and the possibility of transformation and healing when people (not just Jesus) people take responsibility for themselves and their sisters and brothers, symbolized by the man courageously picking up his mat and walking.

That story itself becomes a symbol for this kingdom movement.
  • In this new movement that did not end with the execution of Jesus, people pick up their mats and walk.
  • They find their dignity.
  • They discover their voices.
It takes a lot of trouble-makers to change history.

Sometimes we need to be troubled as well.

One of our church members saw what I was going to be talking about this week and emailed me. He told me about this song by Susan Werner. He liked it and thought it might fit the sermon. I think it does. It is called “Did Trouble Me.”

"To make me human, to make me whole."

That is the essence of this fourth path.

The via transformativa, or the path of justice, healing, celebration, compassion is a path, like all the paths, for those who are spiritual and for those who are not.

It is a path of engagement. It is a path that has been walked by many throughout history, the vast majority of those names are lost to us forever. We can imagine them, though. We can imagine women and men who work each day growing food, caring for bodies, teaching children, making beds, cooking meals, working in factories, building homes, and comforting the troubled.

It is a path also of troubling the comfortable.

Today we celebrate Self-Development of People. This is a program within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that allows partnerships to develop with low-income community groups. Our offering to the One Great Hour of Sharing that we will receive on Easter will go in part to Self-Development of People.

Here is an example:
In 2007, SDOP formalized a partnership with Development Promotion Group (DPG), a Chennai, India-based non-governmental organization that empowers community-based organizations to develop economic enterprises. Its primary focus is on the most neglected and vulnerable of rural and urban populations, with particular attention to the needs of women and children.

Over the course of this three-year intermediary partnership, 13 self-help groups in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have undertaken successful economic enterprises. Their ventures include a milk cooperative, a cement block business, a supermarket for home products, thatched roof production, charcoal making, and cashew nut processing. These projects have benefited a total of 229 families, as they begin their journey toward economic empowerment, self-sufficiency, and fulfillment of their leadership potential.
It takes a lot of trouble-makers to change history.

We are teaching our youth to be trouble makers. You are invited to participate with them for their work with the Appalachia Service Project. They will be spending a week in Kentucky working on homes, working with people, sharing their lives, experiencing the lives of people who make life choices amidst grinding poverty, and learning what it means to care. You can invest in their work after church today for our lunch and auction to fund their work.

This is the essence of the fourth spiritual path. Finding and making connections to provide hope and dignity to people and Earth.

It is just the kind of trouble we need.