Bury the Cross: John 20.1–18

2018.4.1 JulianDelivered at Ames UCC on
Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
at 10:30 a.m.

ICONOGRAPHY
This year, to celebrate the ever-rising Christ, we have buried his cross.

In the earliest days of the Christian movement, death was a real possibility for followers of the Way because they refused to participate in the religion of the state. So, in order to find each other, and reduce the risk of being caught they communicated through code: symbols for bread, fish, and butterflies.

The bread and the fish stood for Jesus’s miracles of feeding and for the feeding of each other that was such an important element in the early days.

The butterfly was, of course, for the resurrection. It’s a perfect symbol for the story it tells: Butterflies undergo a profound transformation in their chrysalis phase. When it is done, they are no longer bound by the same rules that governed their bodies before.

The cross didn’t come into common use until much later, until the persecuting state adopted the religion but needed a theology to justify the pain they continued to inflict. See how your God suffered? You should, too.

There are examples, though, even in those thousand years when a crucifix was the only symbol in use, of the faithful experiencing the feeding and the freedom found on either side of its splinters and pain.

JULIAN OF NORWICH1
During Wednesdays this Lent we studied the work of a woman called Julian of Norwich. We don’t know her actual name because when she had last rites and was sealed into a small cell attached to St. Julian’s church in Norwich, England, in the 14th century, she gave up her worldly identity.
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What is Truth?: John 18.28–40

2018.3.11 thurman tooDelivered at Ames UCC
on March 11, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
at 10:30 a.m.

 FAQs
Today I’m going to frame my time as six frequently asked questions about this portion of Jesus’s story, concluding with a seventh, a Sabbath of reflection.

One: Why was Jesus arrested? Because of his growing movement, which became particularly visible on what we now call Palm Sunday.

Two: Why would local Jewish authorities want to squelch a movement that offers hope to their own nation under foreign occupation? Maybe because they are afraid. Maybe because what Jesus did felt heretical in some way. Maybe because they don’t want to lose the little bit of power and material comfort they have achieved under than occupation.

Three: Why have so many of us been taught that it was all Jewish people in Jerusalem who wanted Jesus dead, when John makes it clear it was just a small group of authorities? Because of the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew, the common people call for execution and it is the priests who try to protect Jesus; this is the opposite of John.

Four: Why do the local Jewish authorities bring the regional Roman authority into the mess? Because under Roman rule the local Jewish authorities could not impose the death sentence themselves.1

KINGDOM
Five: What is all the king talk about?
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The Gospel isn’t Always in the Bible: John 11.1–44

2018.2.19 trifledDelivered at Ames UCC on February 18, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
at 10:30 a.m.

VIDEO AND IMAGE
How many of you watched the cell-phone footage from the high school students in Parkland, FL, last week? Here’s what one of the teens who recorded them said:

I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive…But I knew that if those videos survived, they would echo on and tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things, I hoped. And that would be my legacy.1

Did any of you see the photo of the woman at the scene with an Ash Wednesday cross on her forehead?

It was actually a photo of two women and the caption said they were parents waiting outside Parkland’s Douglas High School. One woman is blonde, the other red-headed. The red-head is in the arms of the blonde, her mouth open and her eyes closed, her face pressed against her friend’s chest. The mouth of the blonde woman is pulled tight in a grimace, her eyes barely open. It is her forehead that is marked with an ashen cross.

Her forehead is marked with the same ashen cross so many of us received on Wednesday, too. Earlier on the same day that her child died or was at risk of death, she received the cross of Christ mixed with the oil of Psalm 23, and heard the words “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”

Unlike the teenager with the cell phone video—whose comments are such an indictment of the world we have allowed him to grow up in—we do not know the mom’s motivation for receiving the cross of ash that day. Nor do we know how it is speaking to her now.

I wish we did. I wish I could know how her faith is serving her today. How did it feel when she saw that cross in a mirror later in the day? Has that ritual provided comfort? Has it become a hollow lie? What function does a ritual reminder of mortality serve when every day gives us opportunity to witness actual mortality? And sometimes really gruesome and preventable mortality?
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Servants of Love Incarnate: John 2.1–11


2018.1.14 non being
Delivered at Ames UCC
on January 14, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
at 10:30 a.m.

JOHN IS DIFFERENT
If John’s gospel were the only one we knew, if we studied it and dedicated our lives to it, then read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we would be shocked. It’s all lies, we would think! That’s not the truth about Jesus! Likewise, if we had only ever studied the synoptic gospels, synoptic meaning same, we would be baffled by John. It is that different.

John’s gospel does have Jesus traveling and teaching, he does endure trial, death, and resurrection. But John’s chronology is different than in the other three. There is no Eucharist, no Last Supper, in John. Jesus shows no concern for the Kingdom of God in John, only for his own special identity. Jesus talks more in John’s gospel than in the synoptic gospels, with great long dialogues, but never in all of that does he share any parables, those stories of mustard seeds and buried treasure.

And John is the most anti-Semitic of all the gospels. Maybe not universally so, maybe not condemning of all of Judaism, only of specific strains or communities of Judaism at the time. But I am guessing that not many 21st century Christians are all that familiar with the differences between contemporary streams in Judaism, let alone those of the ancient near east, so reading the subtleties of critique in John can be dangerously misleading.

I decided, as a result of that, and this era’s resurgence of overt hatred of and aggression toward people who are Jewish, to modify our readings of John to avoid easy misunderstandings and make clear where we are as a church. Rather than “the Jews” it will read as “the authorities” or whatever the appropriate target of Jesus’ concern may be.

But the difference I really want to focus on today is an omission in John at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the inclusion of the story today.
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Amos 1.1–2; 5.14–15, 21–24: River’s Source


2017.11.12 rivers
Delivered at Ames UCC
on November 12, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

JUSTICE
Amos, like all good prophets, does not mince words. Moved by the will and vision of God, he states clearly that the trappings of religion are traps. Religious practices that remain in the sanctuary, that do not translate into faithful lives in our streets, are a trap. We must break out of the traps we set in the name of God in order to free ourselves and each other in response to the will of God. We must let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

For many of my colleagues, this is the one day a year where they can “safely” preach about justice. By which Amos, and all of the prophets, means a balancing of the scales between the haves and have-nots in the world that we live in right now. This is, obviously, not a worry for me. We are a congregation that readily acknowledges the imbalances of the world and gives generously of our time, talent, and treasure to even them out. So what more is there to say? Should I just invite us to do high fives and move on to the next hymn? We could be to the coffee and cookies in 15 minutes!

OUR STREAMS
As I prayed this scripture, and about our church—as I considered our consistent willingness to jump into justice and righteousness—I found myself wondering about the stream’s source and its structure.

Because water takes a toll. Whether it is sitting or trickling or raging, water changes everything it touches. Water grows plants but water also rots wood. Flood water can ruin a home but clean water can revive it.

And God would have justice roll like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Justice and righteousness, those are rivers that come with a lot of debris, sudden rapids, and toxic spills, as well as seemingly eternal doldrums, unmoving.

If we are to create the conditions so that justice and righteousness are as strong as the Niagra and as wide as the Mississippi, then we had better make sure the riverbeds are deep and the banks strong. We had better keep our eyes as much on the source of justice and righteousness as those destinations, or we may find ourselves overwhelmed by waves or so tired of rowing our oars that we jump ship for dry land, just like Amos’ original audience.

So today I want to look at the waters of creation and those of baptism.

CREATION
The Bible is not, of course, a biological textbook. It is a metaphysical one, it is a theological assertion about the nature of life. And it asserts that life began in the moment holiness invited deep water to do a new thing. And it asserts that it is good.

Over and over again in Genesis as the divine brings forth from water and not-yet-substance the elements of life that are familiar to us, and those that are strange, God says, “It is good.” Creation is good and God has faith that we have the capacity to tend to that goodness.

We fail, of course, out of our hubris, but we do not destroy the goodness. Every river, including those of justice and righteousness, continues to flow out from Eden, keeping us connected to our source, to the goodness we need and the goodness to which we can return.

Which is what Jesus then invites us to do, when he steps into water to make a new thing.
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Our Public Square

Published October 27, 2017 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

On Thursday night I sat down with my wife in a church basement for pie. We were attending a fundraiser for an area humane society. Everyone was friendly and smiling, thanking us for coming. I had spice cake, one of my favorites. It was the best hour of my day. Not just because of the frosting or the cause, but because nobody was calling me a heretic, witch, Satanist, pedophile, or abomination; no one was blaming me and my church for AIDS, the high suicide rate among people who are transgender, or the end of the world.

Let me go back a few days: On Monday night, my church came together with two non-profits and nine other churches (the Ames cluster of AMOS, A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) to take responsibility for building an Ames that works for all families. Nearly 150 of us committed to identifying an actionable solution to the massive gaps in mental health care in Story County. We then asked for commitments from the candidates for Ames’s mayor, City Council, and hospital board. All Council and mayoral candidates agreed to continue to support the Story County Housing Trust Fund, which we identified and launched through an earlier AMOS effort, and to meet with us within six months of taking office, if elected. The hospital candidates all agreed to put us on the Board’s agenda—rather than just the open comment period—within three months so that we can formally bring our proposal regarding mental health services forward.

It was a fantastic night. For over an hour and fifteen minutes we listened, clapped, cheered, and reminded ourselves that the public square is ours. And it is ours to maintain as a place of civility and respect and tangible outcomes that benefit our common good.

Tuesday was pretty quiet. I spent my time preparing for the two different Bible studies I lead on Wednesdays, as well as a Halloween party our youth and their parents had been planning for LGBTQIA teens and friends on Wednesday night. We were still sorting out who was bringing the soda (not caffeinated!) and how many pizzas I had to order. Normal party prep.

Early Wednesday morning I woke up to a text from my church’s office administrator, which in itself is very unusual. Her message, from the night before, read, “We’re getting brigaded on Facebook. A conservative blogger is pretty upset about our party and is sending her followers after us.” I logged on, saw what she meant, and sent an email to the congregation. I asked them not to engage with online bullies, because that is both unproductive and antithetical to the embodied, real-time faith we are called to practice.

I also reminded them that, “On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, this moment is a reminder that there has never been one kind of Christianity. Not in the days and months after the ministry, murder, and mystery of Jesus Christ, nor in the centuries since. At Ames United Church of Christ, we stand confidently in our conviction that the diversity of human gender and sexuality is just one example of the outcome of God’s invitation to the tehom, to create life, a truth with basis not only in love but in biology.”
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Des Moines Register Op-Ed

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, the Des Moines Register published this Op-Ed piece, Ames church deserves kudos, not hate Campaign, for inclusive Halloween party for teens by Rekha Basu, in support of my church, the Ames United Church of Christ, after it suffered online attacks from a blogger and her followers. Thanks to the Des Moines Register for spreading the good news about our work.

We Are No Jonah

Here is the summary statement and call to action that I delivered at an action on October 23, 2017, which my church participated in through our membership in AMOS.

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Tonight we received public commitments from those who hope to represent us and our families in the city of Ames:

  • All of the mayoral and city council candidates said that they would vote to continue funding the Story County Housing Trust Fund.
  • They also all agreed to meet with us regarding new issues within six months of taking office, should they be elected.
  • All of the candidates for the city hospital’s board of trustees said they would work with us on mental health care availability, including putting us on the agenda at a board meeting within three months.

It feels good to have the people who want to be elected to governmental power recognize our own civic power. But I think there is more at stake here than these commitments and that recognition.

I’m a Christian priest, so my lens for understanding the world is a combination of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian testaments, and my life in Christian community. One of my inheritances from that tradition is the story of Jonah.

2017.10.23 AMOSThe story says that God asked Jonah to go to a big city and call on its rulers and people to repent of greed and self-righteousness.

Jonah’s response? He runs away.
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Take a Sabbath from Hate: Genesis 1.1–2.4a

Delivered at Ames UCC on September 10, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
All are welcome.

GENESIS
In the beginning there was substance, the deep, the tehom. God blew on the tehom, just as God would across every living thing, to invite a cooperative life.

First, there was day and night. And it was good. Then sky, and it was good. Next land and plants. Ever so good. Stars, sun, and moon were given their places and schedules. And it was good. Swarms of fish and sharks, pterodactyls and sparrows began their generations. They were all good. Cattle and worms took up their places above and below ground. And it was good.

Lastly God made a human creature. Then God divided that human creature into different shapes, a sacred variety all reflecting God. God told humanity to take good care of this holy creation. And it was very good.

Genesis is not, of course, a scientific account of creation. It does not presume to contradict or supplant the big bang theory or astrophysics in general. We preserve it as a theological account of the planet and our place on it. Genesis 1 is a story to remind us that everything God touches is good. Everything God wills is good. Everything of God, is God, and is good.

It also clearly argues that though we are not number one on God’s list, our place at number six comes with responsibility for all who came before us.

MARY AND JULIAN
I’ve been doing a lot of study the last couple of weeks, about some of those who came before us, our faith ancestors. I’m preparing for our Wednesday morning and evening study of gospels that did not make it into the Bible, like that of Mary Magdalene. I’m also looking ahead to our Lenten study of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic, who was the first woman to compose a book in English.1

In the beginning of the fragment of Mary’s gospel that remains, she quotes Jesus as saying, “Every nature…every creature, exists in and with each other.”2 She goes on to share further revelations from Christ resurrected that oppose church and gender hierarchies. All that matters is the soul that transcends the body and resisting any assertions of power over people. I think we know why she didn’t survive the Biblical vetting process.

For Julian, her thirty years of meditation on visions of God in Christ made strong her belief that God is in us and we are in God and there can be no evil or pain or judgment from God to us. Her most famous theological statement is “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian isn’t saying that life will be easy—how could she after witnessing two rounds of the plague—but that suffering is never God’s will.

Both of these women are reiterating, in their own way, that same sense of God’s goodness from Genesis 1. Even a thousand years apart, even with an empire and a church working to silence them, the goodness of God found voice.

So what keeps going wrong?
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Give Thanks that We are Not Complicit: Revelation 21.1–6, 22.1–5

2017.8.27 dragon Delivered at Ames UCC
on August 27, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
Please join us Sundays
at 10:30 a.m.
All are welcome.

RESENTFUL
I am so tired of being jerked around. I am so tired of having my days and my nights hijacked by headlines. I am sick of the incivility in the public square and nauseous from the increasingly punitive nature of public policy.  And I resent, I resent to my core, the energy I must expend to reclaim my time from those who would distract me from sharing and working for the good news that there is enough for all.

In other words, I get, to a small extent, where John of Patmos is coming from.

John of Patmos, was a Jewish follower of Jesus living as a refugee under the violent rule of the Roman Empire in 90 CE. John of Patmos was in shock from seeing his homeland of Jerusalem conquered—again—and the house of God on earth, the temple, destroyed—again. He was baffled by the willingness of others who claimed to follow Jesus to compromise with that Empire, to go along to get along. As he eventually writes, this is an empire that makes statues more important than people!

John of Patmos is also terrified that the world is coming to an end.

So, he takes all of that emotion—his rage, his sorrow, his questions—to God. Where are you, God? Why have you let this happen, God? What are we to do, God?

He takes it all to God in meditative prayer and this scripture that we now call Revelation is how he heard God answer.
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