Tag Archive | Easter

Rolling Stones UUP 4/16/17

 

easter stone

What an effort it must have been

To climb down from that cross

So many centuries ago

They thought you were dead forever

It certainly looked like that

You’d prayed your last prayer

Healed your last leper

Driven out your last demon.

They even buried you.

It must have felt so good

To lay your head down

The funeral cloths were soft.

The darkness was comforting

So weary you were

Tired, hurt, bleeding.

You’d seen so much

Suffered so much

Done so much

What harm could it do

To give into rest

For a few days

It must have been hard

To hear the weeping

Of those who had loved you

Of those who had betrayed you

The stone was heavy

But you had to push it aside

Rolling away defeat

Banishing hopelessness

Overcoming fear.

What an effort it must have taken

To come back not knowing

What people would think

How they would respond

Would they think the miracle

Was only about you?

Thank you for letting us know

That we each have the chance

The opportunity, the responsibility

To be reborn

Resurrected.

Again and again.

Like the earth

Each spring

Each morning

Forever and ever

Amen.

 

Happy Easter. There are other holidays at this time of year.  The Jewish Passover celebration is one of liberation, of freedom from slavery. The ritual meal, the Seder, recalls the time the Jewish people spent in Egypt as slaves, and tells the story of their escape to the Promised Land.  That holiday can hold deep meaning for those who do not identify as Jewish.  We weren’t able to hold a Seder this year but next year it should happen.

 

Oester is the pagan celebration of spring and fertility, usually celebrated at the Spring equinox.  It is where we get the name Easter, and it is also where the Easter Bunny comes from. Rabbits don’t normally lay eggs, but the Goddess Oester was in the form of a rabbit, an animal known for its fertility.  She is always portrayed with an egg.  The holiday holds meaning for those who do not identify as pagan.  It is also a particularly fun one for children.

 

Easter is the story of Jesus and his death and resurrection.  A Christian story, it too holds meaning for those who do not identify as Christian.

 

The Easter story is a rich one, an important one, and not an easy one to understand.  It has been the source of hope and renewal for millions.  Millions have fought and died over how it should be understood.

It is good to be celebrating Easter this morning as a Unitarian Universalist!

We can dig into the story, ask some hard questions about it, and – best of all – we do not have to agree on all the answers. No religious wars here.

Easter is most simply a story about a victory of life and love over death.

 

If Easter had not happened, Jesus would have likely been remembered as simply one more in a long line of Hebrew prophets.  Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and so many others who called their people back to God, to faithfulness, and back to caring for others, particularly for the poor and oppressed.

 

He was a teacher and a healer, traveling around preaching to ordinary people with a fairly ragtag group of followers.

He made some people mad.  The occupying Romans certainly weren’t happy with him; some of his followers thought he was the messiah, a new king that would free his people and bring Israel back to her glory.

 

The established religious authorities weren’t crazy about him either. He ranted about the money lenders in the temple.  And, just like the pay day lenders of today, I am sure they made a lot of financial contributions to those who had the power.  He healed people and he didn’t charge them for it.  He fed the hungry, also for free.  Yes, he must have made a lot of people mad.

 

So who was Jesus?  Was he a man, a malcontent, a prophet, a lunatic, or a God?  Find your own answer to that question, and cherish the freedom you have to do so.

 

And, who killed Jesus? Was it the Romans or was it the Jews?  Or was his death planned all along by God?  People have died because of the various answers to that question.  Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, but still Jews have been blamed for his death by many Christians over the centuries and even today.  Would the holocaust have happened without that version of the Easter story?  And if his death was God’s plan, why would the Jews or even Judas be blamed?

 

I say it was the Romans, with the strong encouragement of both the religious and secular authorities of the day.  It was the 1% trying to protect their wealth and power from a movement that frankly scared them.   It is the answer that makes the most sense to me, but you get to decide for yourself what makes sense to you.

 

The idea that it was God’s plan is worth exploring more deeply, however, as it raises an important theological issue.

 

The issue even has a name, “theodicy.” The term comes from the Greek and involves the effort to reconcile the traditional characteristics of God as all good, all loving, and all-powerful with the fact of evil in the world.  In simple terms, the question is why do bad things happen to good people?  If God is running the world, then why does God let those things happen?

I handle that issue for myself by understanding God as a force for good, and not as an all-powerful being.  Others believe that even bad things come from God, as lessons, as tests, or as punishments.

It is an issue worth exploring, and the Easter story is a prime example of how the same event can be interpreted in different ways.

 

Jesus was a good person and a bad thing happened to him.

 

It is clear that Jesus despaired.  He felt that his God had left him, forsaken him.  It is an emotion that I think all of us have felt at one time or another.  Even if we have never believed in God, there are times when most of us have been alone and afraid and have felt that there is no help for us anywhere in the universe.  It is not so very hard to identify with the suffering Jesus.

 

We can also identify with his followers and their grief and fear after his death.  Some of us will never forget when Martin and Malcolm were murdered, when the Kennedy brothers were killed, or when Harvey Milk was slain. Many of us wept bitter tears at those times.  I know I did.

 

But Easter, although an upsetting story in so many ways has a miracle at the end. The stone gets rolled away and Jesus comes back to life – or at least his spirit and his message lived on.

 

Easter can also lead us to reflect on what is blocking our own pathway to a more abundant life.

What is the stone that seals us into a metaphorical tomb?  Is it an addiction that has made our life unmanageable?

Is it a relationship that isn’t working, a job that is so tedious that it exhausts you for anything else, an earlier trauma that just won’t heal? Did someone else put that stone in your path? Is it racism, sexism, homophobia, or your social class? What is holding you back from being who you were meant to be?

 

Can you, do you have the courage and strength to begin to roll that stone away all by yourself?  Most of us need some help, because those stones are very heavy and are hard to get rolling.  It is also scary, as it can be comfortable in a tomb, safe and protected from further harm.

 

The resurrection of Jesus can be interpreted as a metaphor, and some see it as a fact.  In either case, what does it mean?  Does it signify hope for all of us?  Did his death save us?  Who do we mean by us?  What do we mean by salvation?

 

Very early in Christianity, there was a lot of argument about this.  OK, there is still a lot of argument about this.

The earliest Universalists, prior to the 4th century even, were divided over some of these issues, but they were in agreement that if the death of Jesus provided salvation, it was salvation for everybody by the grace and goodness of God.  No exclusions.

No restricting salvation to just Christians; it is universal.  Not everyone agreed then and not everyone agrees now.

There is a New Testament verse that is often quoted that deals with some of this.  John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

The conservative interpretation of this text has caused a lot of grief.  It freaked me out when I was younger.  “God loves us, he sacrificed his son, believe this or you will die.”  The book of John is the most mystical of the Gospels, and taking it at all literally doesn’t make any sense to me, and it also doesn’t really do it justice.

Are humans so evil that such a sacrifice would be required?  The verse itself says God gave his son out of love.  Perhaps it was a simple gift, and not a sacrifice.

Maybe the message from God was instead, “Here is this man in whom I have invested my spirit, listen to what he says, believe him, follow him, and life will come to you.”

The Easter story should be one of pure joy, of pure relief.  There was suffering and there was death, but out of it came new life and new hope.  Jesus reappeared after only three days.  The tomb was empty.  He came back to life.  His followers saw him in ordinary people and in each other.

 

Can we listen to this story of hope? Can we find out how to get our own heavy stones rolled away so we can find our way back to life?  Can we learn to do justice and love mercy?  Can we love our neighbor as ourselves? Can we see every human being as both our parent and our child?  How long will it take us?  Are three days enough?  Three years?  Three decades? Three thousand years?

 

Those questions are for each of you to answer, each in your own way.  But as Unitarian Universalists we are called to life, to be born and reborn again and again.

 

You can live with your questions, cherish your doubts, and believe what you must, but don’t let anything keep you shut inside a cold tomb of despair, afraid of trying new things, afraid of trying. Come back to Life instead, rejoice in the springtime, and savor the good that you find around you.

 

Come back to hope and commitment; come back to searching for a better way; roll those heavy stones away.  Blessed Be. Happy Easter.

Rolling away the stone @thebfuu 4/5/15

the-stone-is-rolled-away

 

What an effort it must have been

To climb down from that cross

So many centuries ago

They thought you were dead forever

It certainly looked like that

You’d prayed your last prayer

Healed your last leper

Driven out your last demon.

They even buried you.

It must have felt so good

To lay your head down

The funeral cloths were soft.

The darkness was comforting

So weary you were

Tired, hurt, bleeding.

You’d seen so much

Suffered so much

Done so much

What harm could it do

To give into rest

For a few days

It must have been hard

To hear the weeping

Of those who had loved you

Of those who had betrayed you

The stone was heavy

But you had to push it aside

Rolling away defeat

Banishing hopelessness

Overcoming fear.

What an effort it must have taken

To come back not knowing

What people would think

How they would respond

Would they think the miracle

Was only about you?

Thank you for letting us know

That we each have the chance

The opportunity, the responsibility

To be reborn

Resurrected.

Again and again.

Like the earth

Each spring

Each morning

Forever and ever

Amen.

 

 

Happy Easter. There are other holidays at this time of year. The Jewish Passover celebration is one of liberation, of freedom from slavery. The ritual meal, the Seder, recalls the time the Jewish people spent in Egypt as slaves, and tells the story of their escape to the Promised Land. That holiday can hold deep meaning for those who do not identify as Jewish

 

Oester is the pagan celebration of spring and fertility. It is where we get the name Easter, and it is also where the Easter Bunny comes from. Rabbits don’t normally lay eggs, but the Goddess Oester was in the form of a rabbit, an animal known for its fertility. The holiday holds meaning for those who do not identify as pagan. It is also a particularly fun one for children.

 

Easter is the story of Jesus and his death and resurrection. A Christian story, it too holds meaning for those who do not identify as Christian.

 

The Easter story is a rich one, an important one, and not an easy one to understand. It has been the source of hope and renewal for millions. Millions have fought and died over how it should be understood.

It is good to be celebrating Easter this morning as a Unitarian Universalist! We can dig into the story, ask some hard questions about it, and – best of all – we do not have to agree on all the answers. Hallelujah! No religious wars here.

Easter is most simply a story about a victory over death.

 

If Easter had not happened, Jesus would have likely been remembered as simply one more in a long line of Hebrew prophets. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and so many others who called their people back to God, to faithfulness, and back to caring for others, particularly for the poor and oppressed.

 

He was a teacher and a healer, traveling around preaching to ordinary people with a fairly ragtag group of followers.

He made some people mad. The occupying Romans certainly weren’t happy with him; some of his followers thought he was the messiah, a new king that would free his people and bring Israel back to her glory.

 

The established religious authorities weren’t crazy about him either. He ranted about the money lenders in the temple. And, just like the pay day lenders of today, I am sure they made a lot of financial contributions to those who had the power. He healed people and he didn’t charge them for it. He fed the hungry, also for free. Yes, he must have made a lot of people mad.

 

So who was Jesus? Was he a man, a malcontent, a prophet, a lunatic, or a God? Find your own answer to that question, and cherish the freedom you have to do so.

 

Jesus went to Jerusalem the week before Easter. On Palm Sunday he entered on a donkey and crowds of the poor welcomed him.

On the other side of town, at the same time, there was a procession honoring Pilate, the Roman governor. A different crowd greeted him and cheered him on.

Jesus had a meal, a Passover Seder and then he was betrayed by one of his followers, a man named Judas. A quick trial of sorts followed and then he was hung on a cross, tortured, and died. It was a common form of execution in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire.

 

So who killed Jesus? Was it the Romans or was it the Jews? Or was his death planned all along by God? People have died because of the various answers to that question. Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, but still Jews have been blamed for his death by many Christians over the centuries and even today. Would the holocaust have happened without that version of the Easter story? And if his death was God’s plan, why would the Jews or even Judas be blamed?

 

I say it was the Romans, with the strong encouragement of both the religious and secular authorities of the day. It was the 1% trying to protect their wealth and power from a movement that frankly scared them.   It is the answer that makes the most sense to me, but you get to decide for yourself what makes sense to you.

 

The idea that it was God’s plan is worth exploring more deeply, however, as it raises an important theological issue.

 

 

The issue even has a name, “theodicy.” The term comes from the Greek and involves the effort to reconcile the traditional characteristics of God as all good, all loving, and all-powerful with the fact of evil in the world. In simple terms, the question is why do bad things happen to good people? If God is running the world, then why does God let those things happen? I handle that issue for myself by understanding God as a force for good, and not as an all-powerful being. Others believe that even bad things come from God, as lessons, as tests, or as punishments.

It is an issue worth exploring, and the Easter story is a prime example of how the same event can be interpreted in different ways.

 

Jesus was a good person and a bad thing happened to him. He suffered. He cried out in despair and thought that his God had forsaken him. He died and he was buried, sealed in a tomb by a heavy stone.

 

Some interesting things are said to have happened while Jesus was on the cross. One of my favorites is from John 19.

“standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.”

 

This is a curious verse in that there was not just one, or even two, but three Mary’s there. And who was the disciple Jesus loved? Didn’t he love them all? Or was there one special one? And who was it? Was it Mary Magdalene? Or was it a male disciple because he said “Woman behold your son?” It is hard to tell as these writings were all oral traditions before they were written down, but it is interesting that both the nature of the relationship and the gender of the “disciple whom he loved” are fairly ambiguous.

 

This is obviously not a traditional interpretation of that verse, but is another one worth thinking about. In any case, the verse shows that even as he neared death, Jesus cared about both his family and his friends. He wanted to make sure they would take care of each other after he was gone.

It is also clear that Jesus despaired. He felt that God had left him, forsaken him. It is an emotion that I think all of us have felt at one time or another. Even if we have never believed in God, there are times when most of us have been alone and afraid and have felt that there is no help for us left anywhere in the universe. It is not so very hard to identify with the suffering Jesus.

 

We can also identify with his followers and their despair after his death. Some of us will never forget when Martin and Malcolm were murdered, when the Kennedy brothers were killed, or when Harvey Milk was slain. Many of us wept bitter tears at those times. I know I did.

 

But Easter, although an upsetting story in so many ways has a miracle at the end. The stone gets rolled away and Jesus comes back to life! Hallelujah!

 

Easter can also lead us to reflect on what is blocking our pathway to a more abundant life. What is the stone that seals the tomb that you may have buried yourself in? Did someone else put us there? Are you able to roll that stone away by yourself? Do you need some help? If you want to come back to life, the stone has just got to go! Roll it away!

 

The resurrection of Jesus can be interpreted as a metaphor, and it can also be seen as a fact. In either case, what does it mean? Does it signify hope for all of us? Did his death save us? Who do we mean by us? What do we mean by salvation?

 

Very early in Christianity, there was a lot of argument about this. OK, there is still a lot of argument about this.

The earliest Universalists, prior to the 4th century even, were divided over some of these issues, but they were in agreement that if the death of Jesus provided salvation, it was salvation for everybody by the grace and goodness of God. No exclusions. No restricting salvation to just Christians; it is universal. Not everyone agreed then and not everyone agrees now.

There is a New Testament verse that is often quoted that deals with some of this. John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

The conservative interpretation of this text has caused a lot of grief. “God loves us, he sacrificed his son, believe this or you will die.” The book of John is the most mystical of the Gospels, and taking it at all literally doesn’t make much sense to me, and it also doesn’t really do it justice.

Are humans so evil that such a sacrifice would be required? The verse itself says God gave his son out of love. Perhaps it was a simple gift, and not a sacrifice.

Maybe the message from God was instead, “Here is this man in whom I have invested my spirit, listen to what he says, believe him, follow him, and life will come to you.”

The Easter story should be one of pure joy, of pure relief. There was suffering and there was death, but out of it came new life and new hope. Jesus reappeared after only three days. The tomb was empty. He came back to life.

 

Can we listen to this story of hope? Can we find out how to get our own heavy stones rolled away so we can find our way back to life? Can we learn to do justice and love mercy? Can we love our neighbor as ourselves? Can we see every human being as both our parent and our child? How long will it take us? Are three days enough? Three years? Three decades?

 

Those questions are for each of you to answer, each in your own way. But as Unitarian Universalists we are called to life, to be born and reborn again and again.

You can live with your questions, cherish your doubts, and believe what you must, but don’t let anything keep you shut inside a cold tomb of despair. Come back. Come back. Come back to Life. Come back to hope and commitment; come back to searching for a better way; roll those heavy stones away. Blessed Be. Happy Easter.

 

Easter Again

easter stone

Video posted (here)

Opening words (here)

Reading (here)

Sermon text:

It is Easter again. The holiday rolls around like clockwork at around the same time each year. That is a good thing. We need Easter in our lives, and once a year is not too often.

 There are also other holidays at this time of year. The Jewish Passover celebration is one of liberation, of freedom from slavery. The ritual meal, the Seder, recalls the time the Jewish people spent in Egypt as slaves, and tells the story of their escape to the Promised Land.

Oester is the pagan celebration of spring and fertility. It is where we get the name Easter, and it is also where the Easter Bunny comes from. Rabbits don’t normally lay eggs, but the Goddess Oester was in the form of a rabbit, an animal known for its fertility.

Easter is the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection. It is about finding hope in the midst of terrible tragedy and death. Most simply it is a story about a victory over death. It is good that the story is set in the springtime of the year. It is convenient that it coincides with the ancient pagan celebrations of fertility and rebirth. But Easter is much more complicated than the fact that the crocuses are blooming and the earth is ready to be reborn.

If the mystery of the resurrection had not happened, Jesus would have likely been remembered, if he was remembered at all, as simply one more in a long line of Hebrew prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and so many others who called their people back to God, to faithfulness, and back to caring for others, particularly for the poor and oppressed.

I recently read the book Zealot, the life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth written by Reza Aslan. The author is Muslim and he got a lot of undeserved flack on Fox news with the interviewer asking how he dared to write about Jesus since he is not a Christian. It was a ridiculous criticism. You don’t have to be something to write about it intelligently. The book was good, and I would recommend it, although there was not much in it that was completely new to me. He did an excellent job of writing about the political situation in Galilee and Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Jesus was one of many prophets, healers, and revolutionaries who were active at the time. Most of them were also crucified, which was the standard Roman punishment for rebellion against the state. He was not the first of such zealots, nor was he the last. The Jews rebelled against the Romans 70 or so years after Jesus. They lost that struggle, that armed revolt, and their temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

Jesus was mostly a teacher and a healer, traveling around preaching to ordinary people with a fairly ragtag group of followers. He made some people mad. The occupying Romans certainly weren’t happy with him; some of his followers thought he was the messiah, a new king that would free his people and bring Israel back to her glory.

The established religious authorities weren’t crazy about him either. He broke their rules time after time. He ranted about the moneylenders in the temple.

And, just like the payday lenders of today, those moneylenders made a lot of financial contributions to those who had the power.

He healed people and he didn’t even charge them for it. He fed the hungry, also for free. Yes, he must have made a lot of people mad.

So who was Jesus? Was he a man, a malcontent, a prophet, a lunatic, or a God? Find your own answer to that question, and cherish the freedom you have to do so. There is, I think, some truth in all of those definitions.

As the story goes, Jesus went to Jerusalem the week before Easter. On Palm Sunday he entered on a donkey and crowds of the poor welcomed him.

On the other side of town, at the same time, there was a procession honoring Pilate, the Roman governor. A different crowd greeted him and cheered him on.

Jesus then had a meal, a Passover Seder, and afterward he was betrayed by one of his followers, a man named Judas. A quick trial of sorts followed and then he was hung on a cross, tortured, and died. It was a common form of execution in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire.

So who killed Jesus? Was it the Romans or was it the Jews? Or, did God plan his death all along? People have died because of the various answers to that question. Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, but still Jews have been blamed for his death by many Christians over the centuries and even by some today.

Would the holocaust have happened without that version of the Easter story? And if God planned his death, why then would the Jews or even Judas be blamed?

My money is on the Romans, with some strong encouragement of both the religious and local secular authorities of the day. It was really just the 1% trying to protect their wealth and power from a movement that scared them.  It threatened their power and their privilege.

The idea that Jesus died because it was God’s plan is one that generates more questions. Did Jesus die for our sins? Why would God kill his son? Are humans so evil that such a sacrifice would be required? Is God so cruel that he would require such a terrible death for someone who was doing so much good?

The idea that Jesus died for our sins was a fairly late development in Christianity. His life, and his resurrection were celebrated, but the crucifixion was not glorified. Crosses did not show up in the early churches for almost 1000 years. (http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/107992.shtml?utm_source=f)

The theology of the atonement: that Jesus died for our sins continues to be a mainstay of conservative Christianity. Universalists have always challenged that, as it is not in keeping with the concept of a God of love.

Whatever the cause, Jesus clearly suffered. He cried out in despair and he thought that God had forsaken him. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is an emotion that I think all of us have felt at one time or another. Even if we have never believed in God, there are times when most of us have been alone and afraid and have felt that there is no help for us left anywhere in the universe. We cry out in despair, in anger and frustration. It is not so very hard for us to identify with the suffering Jesus.

We can also identify with the grief of his followers, his disciples, the women and the men. How they must have wept as they laid him in the tomb! All of us have known grief and loss.  He was their leader and their minister. He was the one who healed them, fed them, and loved them. They believed that he would bring about a new world order, the kingdom of God on earth. Then, suddenly, all was lost. He was captured and executed. Jesus was dead and so too were all their dreams. There would be no better world. There would be no justice and no mercy.

Out of this time of grief and total despair, the miracle of Easter was born. Easter makes no real sense unless we understand that it comes after Good Friday. It is only the winter that makes us long for and appreciate the spring. Real laughter comes only after the tears have been shed. What is dead must be laid aside, so that hope can walk through the open door of the tomb.

Jesus came back to life, when all had believed him dead. Literally true or not, his followers believed that they spoke with him again. If nothing else, his message lived on in their hearts. The love of God was stronger even that the heaving stone that was placed in front of the tomb.

Easter, for us, can be a time that is about coming back to life, about rolling away whatever stone is our blocking our way. The stone could be fear. It could be shame or regret.

It could be anything that is in our way, anything that is keeping us from living lives that are full of meaning, and of joy.

The Easter story brings relief at its end. There was suffering and there was death, but out of it came new life and new hope. Jesus reappeared after only three days. The tomb was empty. He came back to life.

Can we listen to this story and believe that we can follow his example? Can we find out how to get our own heavy stones rolled away so we can find our way back to life? Can we do justice and love mercy? Can we love our neighbor as ourselves?

Can we see every human being as part of our family? How long will this resurrection take us? Are three days enough? Three years? Three decades? Three thousand years?

It is Easter again.   It is time once more to resurrect our dreams, our hopes, and our energy.

Easter

easter stone

What an effort it must have been

To climb down from that cross

So many centuries ago

They thought you were dead forever

It certainly looked like that

You’d prayed your last prayer

Healed your last leper

Driven out your last demon.

They even buried you.

It must have felt so good

To lay your head down

The funeral cloths were soft.

The darkness was comforting

So weary you were

Tired, hurt, bleeding.

You’d seen so much

Suffered so much

Done so much

What harm could it do

To give into rest

For a few days

It must have been hard

To hear the weeping

Of those who had loved you

Of those who had betrayed you

The stone was heavy

But you had to push it aside

Rolling away defeat

Banishing hopelessness

Overcoming fear.

What an effort it must have taken

To come back not knowing

What people would think

How they would respond

Would they think the miracle

Was only about you?

Thank you for letting us know

That we each have the chance

The opportunity, the responsibility

To be reborn

Resurrected.

Again and again.

Like the earth

Each spring

Each morning

Forever and ever

Amen.