Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Truth about Love: A Resurrection Sermon
Posted by Halden on March 31, 2013 Leave a comment (0) Go to comments

And now, after the end, now at the beginning, will shall speak, yet again of Love. Love eludes us. Only slightly more frequently and more intensely does love seize us, make us love’s own in the very moment when we find ourselves most lethargic, most unable to take another step. At the moment when we know nothing of love, love owns us, makes us transparent to the actions and call of love.

Love is implacable. It will be satisfied with nothing other than the complete consumption of our whole self, indeed of the very notion of self. Love cares not for our self-thought, cares not for our constant introspection. Love is movement, the movement that happens precisely as our bitterness, anger, sorrow, and rage seem to consume every fiber of our being. Love is the short-circuit that somehow breaks through, somehow catches hold when every element of our feelings are captive entirely to hate, cynicism, rage, futility, tears.

Love brings us to our knees, draws forth our hands, making them to reach out in both supplication, and in service, precisely at the moment when all that we are clenches our fists. Love brings us to tears when our eyes have never been more tightly shut. Love is an openness that flows nonsensically, from a frozen, cold, dead, unopenable heart.

Love is slavery. A slavery more mysterious, more nonsensical than any we have known till now. It is the slavery of joy, a joy that persists in the face of all sorrow. It is not taught. It cannot be learned. The slavery of love cannot be bought, obtained, trained for, or made real by any power or process we could devise. One never knows it until it happens, until it takes hold. When suddenly, in a moment that calls for nothing other than wisdom, for measured, well-thought out decision-making, there isn’t even the faintest hint of a decision to be made. In that moment all that stands before us is the inevitability of the call of love. The call that can only call forth in us the response of obedience: “Here am I! Send me!”

Love is freedom. It is a freedom that persists in the midst of grief. It is a liberation that persists, dwells, never forsakes those who suffer at the hands of its call. Love is the liberation of the traumatized, the forsaken, the forgotten. But more than that love is the liberation from our petty dramas unto a life of self-abandonment. It is a freedom that breaks every fetter, save for the fetter that it, itself is. It makes all else irrelevant, inconsequential, utterly bereft of power. The freedom of love is the freedom from being held back, even by one’s most deep-seated pathologies, sins, violences, lies, and dysfunctions. The freedom of love is liberation unto gift, mission, shouts of praise—amidst the fullness of lament, protest, rage, and yearning that this world might give way to the coming Kingdom.

Love is desperation. Love screams for the consummation of its promises. Love never ossifies. Love calls forth, unceasingly. Love demands that love alone remain. Love cannot be contained, cannot be limited, cannot be reasonably dispensed, cannot be orderly. Love, being love, can do nothing other than demand, proclaim, and scream for its sovereignty, its victory, its fullness.
Love is hope. Love believes a future when the foundations crumble and explode all around us. Love believes a future when we sit in dust and ashes. Love screams against any resignation that would see our present distress as the final word. Love is a senseless, stupid hope, a hope against hope that there yet is another Word, a dawning Kingdom, a New Creation, a making right that is coming, and that cannot be stopped.

Love is boldness. It is a boldness that remains in the face of insurmountable fatigue. It is that small, imperceptible movement, that unnoticeable gesture of a hand, raising itself in protest against death. It is a resolve that remains when all reasons for hope have vanished from memory and thought. Love believes all things.

Love suffers. Love that does not suffer is no love at all. Suffering is the mark of true love. All love that seeks to hold itself back from suffering is the most repulsive of lies, the most abominable of counterfeits. No, love is only as it places itself in the path of pain, only as it abandons its safety, its desires, its rights, its reasonable requests, it’s hopes for satisfaction, for respite, for being cared for in return. Love is love when all these things melt away in the sheer gravity of Love’s imperative. Love is love when it suffers freely, asking nothing in return, save only to be remembered.

Love dies. Power triumphs over love. Love is trampled underfoot. It is the destiny of love to be defeated. Love is love precisely in that it gives itself over to defeat rather than dominate another. Love that refuses death has nothing to do with love. Love comes to an end because its gaze always lies outside itself. Love cannot secure its own survival, indeed, love is nothing less than the rejection of survival as a thing to be pursued. Loved only pursues the other. Love lives only for them.

Love rises. Love triumphs over death, over power, over reason, over fairness, over hate, over nature, over logic. The love that suffers, the love that dies, that very love has complete victory. Love is the movement from an unimaginable, extinguished future to a confidence that nothing shall ever separate us. Love is resurrection. It is the cry for resurrection and the coming of resurrection. It is death and life, abandonment and salvation.

Love will never leave us alive. Love will kill us. To love is to die. To love is to lose. To love is to weep, scream, and yearn for a victory that we can never own, never produce, never anticipate. To love is to give ourselves up to death.

Love will leave no one among the dead. Love will not finish its work until death itself is defeated. Love is death’s death. To love is to rise. To love is to have nothing, yet possess everything. To love is to have one’s tears wiped away, to shot for joy, to rejoice in a victory that we never owned, did not produce, and did not anticipate. To love is to be caught up, inexplicably in an indestructible life.
To love is to die alone, forsaken by God and humans alike. To love is to be resurrected into a life beyond anything we could ask or think. To love is to share the ambiguity, suffering, death, and future of Jesus of Nazareth.

Love is never something we do, never a practice we perform, never a thing we learn, never a craft in which we become proficient. Love is an inexplicable, unconscionable, and immoral grace that we learn only by undergoing it. Love is what God does to us, for us, with us, in us, and on our behalf. Love is God’s robbing us over ourselves, our sin, our power, our narratives of success, of victimhood, of all forms of self-seeking.

Love is the suffering of God. Love is the power that lies beyond all powers. It is the power of God to abandon everything for the sake of the worthless, the rebellious, the sinners, the unclean. Love is God’s refusal to let go of even one of us wayward creatures. Love is what God puts Godself through so that we might never be separated from God.

Love finds us. The only thing more true than love’s elusiveness is its coming to us in power. We are those who have been seized be love. In spite of ourselves—and really, really, it is in spite of ourselves—we have been found by love. Oh how love could be dismissed as foolishness had it not so surely found us! Had it not stormed forth from the tomb, wounds and all and gone ahead of us to Galilee! How easy it would be to brush it off and move one with real life had we not been found, been seized, been transfigured, been redeemed, been unforgettably loved, and loved yet again! How easy it would have been!

But such easy paths are no longer possible for us. Something far more difficult, and infinitely more wonderful has happened to us. We have been found by love. Our bloodlines have been redrawn by the coming of Love. Our flesh, our bodies have been claimed by the fire of an unquenchable love. We are left in the wilderness of love. We are left clinging to each other as the death continues to rise up in our sinews and souls. We weep together, we bleed together, we die together, we live together, we laugh together, we sing together, we shout together. We are together. And this is the work of love. And this love will triumph, for in Jesus, it has.

Betrayal and Resurrection

30 03 2013
by Sylvia Keesmaat (

(A Sermon Preached at the Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013, at Christchurch, Coboconk on Genesis 1.1-2.4a; Genesis 3; Exodus 14.10-31, 15.20-21; Ezekiel 36.24-28; Romans 6.3-11; Luke 24.1-12.

Imagine it, if you will.
God had such high hopes.
God had hovered over the darkness,
breathed over it
and gathered all the creative energies of life.

God hoped,
and out of the darkness flowered light.

And not only light:
sky and earth,
dry land and seas,
fruit and flowers,
leaves and grasses.

Animals that walked
and animals that flew,
animals that crept
and animals that swam.

The skies, the seas, the earth,
all of it teeming with the creative hopes of God.

But there was more:
the earth creatures,
woman and man,
to care for and rejoice
in the earth,
to be company and friends with God.

God had hope for enjoyment and conversation,
hope for praise and delight.
God would be with them and nothing could go wrong.

Until the snake and the fruit.
Until the fruit was bitten, chewed, digested,
until evil was bitten, chewed, digested.
The snake knew, the earth creatures knew.
Now was the time for death.

But in the midst of that betrayal,
in the midst of the loss of hope,
in the midst of deep fear,
in the face of death,
God does something that is beyond imagination,
beyond hope.
God gives not death, but life,
not death, but promise,
a promise that one day, one day,
in the midst of death, there will be new life.
Imagine it, if you will.
They had such high hopes.
They had gathered their belongings,
said goodbye to all that they had known,
and embarked on a grand adventure.

They were pursuing a dream.
A dream of freedom,
a dream of a community shaped by the character of their God,
a dream of food grown by their own hand,
enough to feed their children.

A dream of  communal worship.
A dream of life in abundance,
freed from slavery,
freed from the violence that killed their children.
They had a dream.
At first the freedom was intoxicating.
No more slavery.
No more death.
No more long, hot hours in the dusty fields,
unable to stop for a rest,
unable to stop for water.
No more beatings.

The first days were shaped by stories of promise and by song.
By a pillar of fire before them at night,
and a pillar of cloud by day.
Their God was with them, nothing could go wrong.

Until they camped by the edge of the Red Sea.
Who noticed first?
Who cried out as the dust cloud of the pursuing army rose in the distance?
How quickly did the news spread throughout the camp:
“the Egyptians are on their way,
and here we are trapped by this sea.
God we thought that you knew where you were leading us?
How deep did the sense of betrayal go?
God, why have you led us out here?
Why didn’t you just let us die in Egypt?
Is there some perverse joy you take in raising up our hopes
and then dashing them?
What kind of a story is this, anyway?
We were already living in a story of death.                                                                        Now it is also a story of betrayal."

And in the midst of that betrayal,
in the midst of the loss of hope,
in the midst of deep fear,
in the face of death,
God does something that is beyond imagination,
beyond hope.

The waters roll back,
the sea bed is dry,
even the smallest feet
walk safely,
the overwhelming walls of water
framing dry ground.
A path to new life opens in the face of death.

And death itself? When the waters roll back, death is defeated.
The powers of death cease to exist.
Death no longer pursues this group of wanderers,
cautiously walking the path to freedom and new life.
Imagine it, if you will.
God had such high hopes.
If only I could put these people in their own land.
They would worship only me.
They would show all the other nations,
what my kingdom looks like:
what it looks like when the hungry are fed,
when the poor are cared for,
when the stranger is welcomed,
when creation is cared for,
and when enemies are forgiven.
What it looks like when I live among people, on the earth.

God had such high hopes.
God would be with them, nothing could go wrong.

Until the people turned to the gods of their neighbours.
Until they worshiped their military might,
ground down the poor,
and took their land,
ignored the needs of the earth,
enslaved the stranger,
and picked up the spear in the face of the enemy.

Until betrayal became the grief at the heart of God,
and when faced with the choice of death
or the choice of life,
the people choose death.

And in the midst of that betrayal,
in the midst of the loss of hope,
in the midst of deep fear,
in the face of death,
God does something that is beyond imagination,
beyond hope.

God promises water for the barren ground,
a living, pumping heart of flesh,
to replace the closed, cold heart of stone.

In the midst of death,
renewal and new life.
Imagine it, if you will.
The disciples had such high hopes.
The kingdom truly seemed to have come.
Where Jesus walked healing had come,
sins were forgiven,
the hungry fed,
evil fled.

Even creation rejoiced,
Where Jesus walked.

That heady walk to Jerusalem.
The entrance on a donkey.
The cheers of the crowd.
The mounting hope of death overthrown.

If Jesus was with them,
nothing could go wrong.

Until the night of betrayal.
Until the night of death.

Grief became their cloak,
their place of refuge,
as they remembered their own failures,
their own scared flight,
their own denials and fears.

And in the midst of that betrayal,
in the midst of the loss of hope,
in the midst of deep fear,
in the face of death,
God does something that is beyond imagination,
beyond hope.

Jesus is raised, death is defeated,
life becomes the last word,
the heart of flesh that stopped, begins again.
With a steady beat life flowers out of darkness,
death is destroyed,
and new life begins.
Some parts of it we don’t need to imagine.

We’ve all been there.
That place of new dreams, that place of hope.
We’ve all tried hard to walk the path to freedom,
to leave behind the old slaveries.

We’ve tried to live in the abundance of creation,
be the people who live in community with God,
be the place of forgiveness and healing,
be a people of hope.

We’ve tried,
God knows we’ve tried.

And still we find our feet on that other path.
That path of betrayal,
that path of denial,
that path of fear,
that path of death.

We’ve held the scabbard when the soldier pulled the sword.
We’ve tried to look like we were giving the kiss of love,
in the midst of our collusion.

We have betrayed
and we have been betrayed.
And there is no health in us.

And we have forgotten,
that in the midst of our betrayal,
in the midst of loss of hope,
in the midst of deep fear,
in the face of death,
God does something that is beyond imagination,
beyond hope.

You see, this story is our story.
The pattern getting clearer with each turning of the page.

If we can see beyond the range of normal sight
to the life that God brings
again and again and again,
in the midst of deep darkness,
in the face of death;
if we have eyes to see new life in the midst of death
then will we be able to see the promise and hope
of resurrection.

And perhaps if we can see that,
we might also see that
not only did Jesus rise again in the flesh
be we too,
even though bind ourselves to betray,
we too,
can be the place where new life happens.

And maybe then we can see,
that death is not the last word,
not the only word,
that betrayal is not the last word,
not the only word,
that denial is not the last word,
not the only word.

Rather, we might see that
the word who became flesh
gives us new words:
new life,

These words become true
in our flesh,

as we walk the path of  new life,
as we, like God, live into a kingdom
that is beyond imagination,
and beyond hope.

What Christianity Means (Note: Not “to Me”)
March 31, 2013

One of the insidious developments among my students, readers, auditors, and interlocutors is consumerism about theology. Instead of arguing, say, about whether this or that understanding of the Atonement was right or wrong, was true to the Biblical data and faithful to the tradition or not, more and more one hears the assertion, “I don’t like that way of looking at it.”
In other discourses, that would be a sign of extreme ignorance or a form of mental illness. “I don’t like that way of looking at gravity” or “I don’t like that way of understanding compound interest” or even “I don’t like that way of theorizing about poetry.”

To be sure, intuition per se must be respected. Often people make sound judgments that they cannot (yet) articulate, much less can they outline a chain of evidence and inference that led them to this or that conclusion. So if someone tells me that she finds a particular interpretation of providence troublesome or a version of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) problematic, I try to listen for what might be the issue at stake. Perhaps she is onto something important that is deficient about the theology and it just isn’t yet in focus.

What concerns me instead is the increased frequency with which I encounter well informed people who “just don’t like” one or another theological tenet and so feel utterly free to reject it.
Substitutionary atonement is a little too bloody for you, reminds you too much of your demanding parent, causes your friends to look at you strangely? Then don’t believe it!

Genesis 1-3 seems difficult to square with biology, makes you feel uncomfortable in school, causes you to wonder about the authority of Scripture? Just mythologize it!

Sexual intercourse being restricted to marriage strikes you as old-fashioned, cramps your romantic life, prompts your cool friends to mock you? Well, escape it!

Again, I offer here no brief for slavish devotion to tradition. I’m on record as espousing a variety of nontraditional views, from kenotic Christology to feminism, from a “just deserts” view of hell to a demurral from the ordination of clergy. And often theology emerges from initial feelings of dislocation and disquiet, from a sense that something is wrong with the teaching I have received and it warrants another look.

What I am troubled by is the blithe sense that if I don’t like a teaching, I am free to dismiss it. Not to argue with it, not to demonstrate the superiority of alternatives to it, but simply to ignore it as unpleasing to me in some way. And that’s just weird. If theology is anything, it is a description of reality.

Theology deals with Pretty Big and Complicated Subjects, as a rule, so its descriptions are always subject to the limitations of the theologians, and that means theology is provisional and therefore questionable. What theology is not, however, is a discourse of mere preferences.

You may wish the Bible authorized you to sleep with anyone you love (or even just like), but it just doesn’t, and you are not free in any responsible intellectual sense to think it does. You may wish that theology allowed you to be a shark at work and a martinet at home, but it doesn’t. You may wish that you could confess any doctrine and practice any ethic and worship any version of God you prefer and still call yourself a Christian, but you’re free in that case only to demonstrate your ignorance of how words work.

In a distinction I first encountered in Chesterton, you certainly are free (politically and socially) to call yourself a giraffe, but if you want to communicate, you’d better have a very long neck, a spotted coat, and backward-bending knees to be taken seriously as such. You certainly are free (politically and socially) to call yourself a Christian, but if you want anyone serious to take you seriously, your beliefs and practices have to conform with what literally defines Christianity—among which sources is not your own individual opinion.

Today is the day in which we Christians say to each other, “The Lord has risen!” Among the appropriate responses is not, “Well, I prefer to think otherwise. This whole bodily resurrection thing seems so primitive to me, rather embarrassing, actually, and I’d much rather affirm the glory of a new springtime, the miracle of the life cycle, and the promise of hope in everyone’s heart.”

By all means, let’s provoke each other to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24), and among those “good deeds” can be better understandings of theology—that is, interpretations of the Bible and of everything else God has shown us that correspond better to the evidence; cohere with what else we hold as fundamentally true, good and beautiful; and issue in holy love. What isn’t on the table is milk and cookies if you just like them better than bread and wine.