Tuesday, April 21, 2009

5th Page for April 19, 2009

This is a digital copy of Caravaggio's "The Incredulity of Thomas" that I found on Wikipedia.

When I look at the face of Thomas, it seems to me that Caravaggio is mocking him for wanting "hands on" proof of the real presence of the Risen Jesus.

I have always found the phrase "Doubting Thomas" to be judgmental, and loaded with the implication that it is wrong to be possessed of questions or doubt.

In my sermon I made the connection between the "bad rap" that doubt has received, and the harm that has been cause when the Christian church has failed to be humble- and has assumed that it had the exclusive franchise on truth. Alongside our history of spreading the gospel around the world, and doing good works in God's name, we have a darker history of managing to find some category or group of people to actively exclude, wherever we have gone.

Thomas, who is literally poking around, seeking the truth of things, may be for us not only the patron saint of "doubters", but also of all those who did not want to be left out.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

The fifth page for Good Friday, April 10, 2009

I met a woman this week who was born in Eastern Europe, and was trained as a translator. I have felt for some time that part of my work as a minister is to in some sense “translate” ideas and values rooted in the Ancient World into language that connects with us in our context. This woman told me that when she was going to university, her “mind was blown” when she heard a professor say that languages evolve. Later in our conversation, this woman told me that when she met her future husband she knew very quickly that there was an important connection between them, but she had no words to describe how she felt. Years later she learned the term “soul-mate”, and felt that it fit. She said that in the language of her home country, there simply was no word for how she felt about this man.

Things can happen, and we can have thoughts and feelings for which there are no adequate words. We may end up doubting the validity of our experiences, if we can’t find a way to talk, or even think about them. My new friend found that the discovery of the term “soul-mate” liberated her, and made it possible to explore in greater depths her relationship with this man. Her own language of thought “evolved” when she was able to add this valuable concept.

It seems to me that the writers of the Bible were often in the position of having to tell a story, or describe something, for which they lacked words and concepts. They did what we do- they drew on the “tools” available to them, to describe and to interpret (attach particular meaning) events and experiences.

When the first followers of Jesus began to tell the stories of his life, and his teachings, and the dramatic events of the time we call “Holy Week”, they would naturally have drawn on the poetry, and the religious ideas of the time and place in which they lived. One of the religious ideas which provided a framework for discussion of the death of Jesus on the cross was the story in the Old Testament book of Leviticus about the sacrifice of the “scapegoat” to atone for the collective sins of the nation of Israel.

Canadian song-writer Steven Fearing has this line in his song “When My Work Is Done”:

“Hold a hammer tight enough
The world looks like a nail”

If by our cultural and religious conditioning we have been “programmed” to believe that God is an angry, vengeful being whose favour must be re-established each year by making blood sacrifices, then it may be difficult to move beyond this way of thinking about Jesus’ death on the cross.

But if our religious language is allowed to evolve- if we are able to learn new words, new poetry to talk about these things- we might be able to see God and ourselves in a whole different kind of relationship.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The fifth page for Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009

In my sermon this Sunday I told the heart-breaking story of Dr. Janusz Korczak, one of countless victims of the Holocaust brought down on Jewish people during the madness of the Third Reich. Korczak was a paediatrician, an author, a teacher, and a tireless advocate for the rights of children. He founded an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw, Poland. When Warsaw was occupied by the Wehrmacht, Korczak and the children under his care were moved into the newly created ghetto, partitioned from the “Aryan” side of the city.

In August of 1942, the order came down that the children and staff of the orphanage were to be “deported” to the East. This was the euphemism for being loaded onto trains for transport to the gas chambers at Treblinka, northeast of Warsaw. Korczak’s biographers have reported that he was offered several opportunities to escape the “deportation”, possibly because of his prominence as an author of beloved children’s books, as well several outstanding works of educational philosophy.

Korczak refused to leave “his children”. He did all that he could to lessen the anxiety and the fear of the children as they were paraded from their quarters to the train yards. He boarded the train with the children, was taken to Treblinka, and none of them were ever seen again. There are memorials to Korczak and the children in a cemetery in Warsaw, at Treblinka, and in Israel.

As we make our way into Holy Week, and towards Good Friday, we are again confronted with the ghastly reality of Jesus’ death on the cross. In my own contemplation, I have struggled to make the distinction between a sacrificial death, such as that of Janusz Korczak, and a required sacrifice. I can honour the courage and nobility of any person who would live and die for others. I see that courage and nobility in Jesus, and in others. But that does not mean I believe that God desires such things to happen.

I no longer believe what I was taught in Sunday School: that Jesus’ death on the cross was a required and necessary part of God’s plan. Because Adam and Eve had sinned, and gone against God's will, every person who was ever born, was born in sin- they were dirty with sin. The only way for any of us to get clean was to be washed in the blood of Jesus.

Am I over-stating the case? Think of these words from the old hymn, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away”: "He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood."

Why would God, who made the whole universe, and made all the rules, set things up so that the only option was for Jesus to be killed?

I struggled with these questions as a child, and wrestled with them more intently as an adolescent. I have now reached a place in which I feel able to say, “No!” This way of thinking about Jesus’ death may satisfy certain human tendencies, but I do not believe that it reflects God’s will.

I will say more about this in my sermon on Good Friday, and then post that sermon as an extra “fifth page” for this week.