Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday flotsom and jetsom

Remember the John Denver lyric (I think it was from "Rocky Mountain High") that goes, "like coming home to a place I've never been before...."? (We week-end hippies tried to hate him, but damn, the boy had a way with words.

I had that experience today. I was out on the deck and noticed a bowl with a plant in it. I took the plant out and washed out the bowl and found a friend I had forgotten losing. The bowl is about 8 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep. It is stoneware with designs of a fish and a cross and a tree on the side and on the bottom, a quote from a John Donne poem, "The Broken Heart".

"My rags of heart," the quote goes, "can like, wish, and adore. But after one such love can love no more."

I used to use the bowl to hold the bread at communion--a fresh baked loaf or pita bread. It is a lovely brownish and black bowl that I had forgotten all about. I brought it in and love having found it.


I heard there was a Presidential primary today and went to vote for Obama but they wouldn't let me vote because I wasn't on the role since it was an exclusively Republican primary. I saw a neighbor on the way in and she told me she'd been only the 100th person to vote and it was late afternoon. I thought the wheels must be falling off the democracy if that were so but then I was glad only 100 Republicans showed up. Hopefully they'll forget in November too.

Now I have to find a way to tell my neighbor I'm not a Republican.


Here's my Easter sermon this year if you'd like to read it. Since I don't use a text to preach, it isn't exactly what I said....

The Feast of the Resurrection 2012

Jerusalem is on the 32nd parallel—just about where Savannah, Georgia lies. So Spring dawns are chill there—and, because of the Mediterranean Sea. There is mist and fog at daybreak. So, those women—and it’s always women who are coming to the tomb, women only, women and no men—were already a tad disoriented and confused by the fog before they got to the Tomb. And they were carrying spices and oils, bought at great price, through the dew-damp grass to visit the grave of one they loved so deeply, so profoundly and had lost to death so painfully, so cruelly.

We weren’t there. But those women were there—Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome. There were there, coming to do “women’s work”…the funeral duty of Jewish women…the work of anointing and perfuming Jesus’ dead and decaying body for the last time.

Confused by the dim light and the mist, the women remembered the great stone that was blocking the tomb of Jesus—the stone that would, on this day, after this last anointing of the corpse, be sealed forever. But who would move that stone? They did not think they could roll it away, so how would they get to Jesus’ body?

But the stone was already rolled away. And when they looked in the tomb they saw only this: a young man dressed in white.

They had come to find Jesus’ body. Instead, this inexplicable, white-clad youth was waiting for them. And everything flew out the window in that moment. Suddenly, nothing made sense. Their already tattered, mournful lives were turned upside down and inside out and a powerful feeling came over them.


The Greek word for their feeling is this—ek-tham-be-o-mai. That’s the confusing verb St. Mark uses to describe the feeling that came over those grieving women so long ago, so far away.

Ek-tham-be-o-mai. It is a difficult word to translate. I looked it up in eight different English translations and came up with eight different English ways of saying what the Greek says with one word: ek-tham-be-o-mai.

The King James Version of the Bible translates it as affrightened. The Revised Standard Version says amazed. The New Revised Standard Version says alarmed. The Living Bible translation is startled and surprised. The Modern Language Bible and the Good News Bible say, struck with terror and filled with alarm. The New English Bible, in it’s so-very-British way, translates ek-tham-be-o-mai to mean dumb-founded while those scholars who created the New International Bible chose to say grew apprehensive. And The Great Bible—the first Anglican translation—puts it this way: they were sore afraid.

When those women, emerging from the mist to find the stone rolled away and Jesus missing in action and a young man dressed in white in the tomb, took it all in and confronted their feelings in that astonishing moment. They were—depending on who you listen to—affrightened, amazed, alarmed, startled, surprised, filled with alarm, struck with terror, dumb-founded, apprehensive and sore afraid.


During my time at Harvard Divinity School, back in the early ‘70’s, I audited a seminar on the Gospel of Mark taught by Dr. Kristor Stendahl, Dean of the Divinity School and the once and future Lutheran bishop of Sweden. Kristor Stendahl was a New Testament Scholar of remarkable learning, profound wisdom and great good humor. He is a tall, lanky man, nearly 6 foot 5 inches tall, who injured his neck in a skiing accident and had to have his spine fused so that his head is always slightly bowed.

Professor Stendahl once explained that the doctors told him they could fuse his spine so that he stood upright or always looked down. “I chose the latter because it was the more humble position,” I heard him explain. After all who had heard him had time to reflect on the nobility of his choice, he added, “actually, I tend to read a lot….”

I was auditing the class because they were reading and studying Mark’s Gospel in Greek and I didn’t feel secure enough about my grasp of that wondrous language to take the course for a grade. The dozen or so people in the seminar were remarkable linguists—none moreso that Scott Tonk—the only other Episcopalian in the room. Scott Tonk was so proficient at Biblical languages (and SO AWARE of how proficient he was) that he—how do I say this kindly—was an annoying, obnoxious geek.

And that’s the kind way of saying it.

Near the end of the semester—the day that the seminar was dealing with the passage that is today’s gospel lesson—Scott outdid himself.

“Dean Stendahl,” he said—really, he talked like that—“I have a radical new translation of today’s passage that will span the centuries and make Mark’s Gospel speak powerfully to us today.”

Stendahl looked up…well, actually, because his neck was fused he couldn’t look up exactly…when he wanted to “look up”, he leaned back—like this—and said, “O you do, do you, Scott?”

All semester the other people in the room had been laughing at how stuffy and arrogant Scott Tonk was and now, we were sure, he was going to push the envelope of arrogance and go over the edge of stuffiness.

“Besides the Greek text,” Scott said, “I will be referring to St. Jerome’s Latin version of Mark.”

Stendahl got up from his chair, walked across the room—like that cartoon character who “Kept on Trucking”, found a book in the bookcase and tossed it onto the table. “Here, Scott,” he said, “here’s the Aramaic New Testament in case you need it.”

Scott actually opened the Aramaic New Testament to Mark 16 before he began translating. “The women went to the tomb and looking inside saw a young man dressed in white and, then, Dean Stendahl, then we get to the troubling word—ek-tham-be-o-mai—and here, Dean Stendahl is my new translation that I think will enable St. Mark to speak to us across the centuries—they saw a young man in a white robe, sitting on the right side” (remember, remember, this was 1970) “and their minds were blown….”

The rest of the students in the room were about to fall off our chairs. We were choking back laughter and derision toward Scott Tonk. We all figured Dean Stendahl would finally, decisively, once and for all blow Scott out of the water and deflate his arrogant attitude. We couldn’t wait for what came next.

But Dean Stendahl merely said, “thank you Scott, I’ll finish translating this passage…BUT THE YOUNG MAN SAID TO THEM, ‘LET NOT YOUR MINDS BE BLOWN….’”


You see, their “minds were blown”. The world as they knew it, reality as they experienced it, the Truth that had always been “true” for them was forever and always dismantled, turned inside out, taken apart and thrown on the trash heap. Magdalene and Mary and Salome—their minds were blown.

Everything that made sense to them ceased to exist when the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty and an angel spoke to them.

Their minds were blown—as they should have been.

And here is my invitation to you…to me…to all of us—LET YOUR MINDS BE BLOWN!!!

The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. Everything we believed or understood or thought about reality and Truth is meaningless. Nothing is as it seems to be. And it can never be again.

What is dead doesn’t have to “stay dead.”

The tombs of our lives are empty. Listen to me: DEAD THINGS DON’T HAVE TO STAY DEAD.

Listen closely—this is very important, vitally important, profoundly important: LIFE is stronger than DEATH.

“The battle is o’re. The Victory is won.”

God loves you SO MUCH. God LOVES you so much. God loves YOU so much…that God died for love of you. And more than that, God LIVES again and always and forever for love of you…for LOVE of you…for love OF you…for love of YOU.

And that LOVE is so vast, so wondrous, so incomprehensible, so marvelous, so mysterious, so deep and wide, so deep and so wide, that because God lives forever, you and I will live forever….

Just that. Just that and nothing more.

Nothing more is needed.

The Tomb is empty. Christ is Risen indeed.

Let your hearts be full of love incomprehensible, love beyond all possibility, love eternal, love complete. Let your hearts be full of love….

And let your minds be blown…. He is Risen. The Lord is risen INDEED.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.