Wade in with Me: Matthew 25.31–46

Delivered at Ames UCC on April 7, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

2019.4.7 more to learnGO TO HELL
In other words, sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.

Today’s passage from the gospel of Matthew is commonly referred to as The Final Judgment. In it, we are told that the Son of Humanity will come to Earth as a king, dividing the good and the bad according to their treatment of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, and the imprisoned. On the right hand are sheep, who have done well. On the left are goats, who have not. Sheep get to go to heaven and goats are shuffled off to hell.

I am not a believer in a unique day of judgment, a singular returning of Christ that will result in a cataclysmic change, despite what this scripture says. Such a prediction does not resonate with my experience of God or my study of the whole canon of scripture.

Birth, death, and resurrection are cyclical, not linear as a final day of judgement would imply. The Christ is always being born, always being denied and made dead, always persisting, nevertheless.

YEATS
Having said that, there is an extra-Biblical description of a second coming that feels wildly accurate to me. It is a poem by William Butler Yeats. It reads, in part:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Now, that is an apocalypse I can believe in.

In Matthew’s vision, there is no room for humanity as we are and as we always have been. Which is to say both fallible and occupied, body and soul, by God’s own self. The blanket condemnation in Matthew does not align with a God ever-present and well aware.

Yeats’ poem, though, feels painfully familiar. Right now things are falling apart, from sodden soils to norms for public behavior. Anarchy is loosed upon the entire word. I don’t need God to send anyone to hell; we are doing a perfectly good job of going there together ourselves.

Despite the number of times and myriad ways we as individuals and as a congregation, as with so many other individuals and organizations, have cared for the hungry, thirsty, foreign, sick, and imprisoned, it feels like things are falling apart at a greater and greater rate. The original goodness of creation feels all but lost.

GOOD
Because remember that in the beginning, everything was good.
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Listen, Even When You Don’t Like What You Hear: John 13.1–33

2018 Maundy ThursdayDelivered at First United Methodist as part of the annual ecumenical Holy Week services, shared by First United Methodist, First Christian Church, and Ames UCC.

Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

DETAILS
The details of this story do not make sense.

It starts out coherently enough with Jesus washing everyone’s feet, then explaining that no one is better than anyone else and that they must be servant leaders.

Then Jesus becomes vague in his teaching.

Jesus tells the disciples that the person who takes bread from him will betray him. This is a reference to Psalm 41.9:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

The disciples are confused because they don’t know who that will be. Fair enough. Jesus makes a startling statement that someone will do an unspeakable act yet withholds the most vital piece of information: who.

So, Simon Peter asks the beloved disciple to ask Jesus who it will be. Maybe we should take this as a sign of just how rattled Peter is that he does not ask for himself.

The beloved disciple says, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus then gives the bread to Judas and tells Judas “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

Here’s where the details don’t add up: The scripture says no one understood what Jesus meant by that. Was he telling Judas to go do some shopping? How is it that no one understood what Jesus meant when, having said he would be betrayed by the person who took bread, he then gave bread to Judas and told him to go do it?

Were they not listening?
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Evil is Tiny: Luke 19.29–44

2017.4.9 lamassusDelivered at Ames UCC
on April 9, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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ORIENTAL INSTITUTE
There is a museum at the University of Chicago called the Oriental Institute. Have any of you been there? It was founded in 1919 as a research facility for understanding the evolution of humanity and human culture from the ancient Near East. Much of the collection was “acquired” in the 1920s–1940s.

It has some pretty spectacular holdings, like multistory statues of man–beasts from Sargon II’s palace in Iraq and a King Tut from Egypt. As 21st century citizens, we are accustomed to human-made objects that scrape the sky, but in the millennia before Christ, when the average building would have been closer to human height, these artifacts of royalty and state power could only have been awe- and fear-inspiring. A throne room the size of a football field and flanked by those statues, called Lamassus, might explain why Jonah, for example, rejected the role of prophet to Ninevah.

The museum also has records from the kingdoms of Sargon and Sennacharib and the Hittites and ordinary, civilian objects: jewelry, cosmetic containers, scarabs, ivories, hair pieces, and glass all-seeing eye beads kind of like the ones I have in my own home.

Then there are religious objects: temple souvenir plaques from 2000–1600 BCE, smaller statues for home worship and piety, and “incantation bowls.” These are clay bowls, like the one Greg made for our baptismal font, with incantations or prayers written inside. They are generally about protection from evil and illness and were used by all manner of religious traditions, including Judaism and Christianity.

One on display at the Oriental Institute shows an evil spirit tied down at the center of the bowl. It is inscribed with Zechariah 3.2:

But [the angel of] the Lord said to the Accuser, ‘The Lord rebukes you, O Accuser; may the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! For this is a brand plucked from fire.’

Which gets me to today’s scripture: Jesus’ ride on a donkey with his disciples rejoicing at his side—what we call the triumphal entry—makes explicit reference to scripture: 2 Kings, the Psalms, the prophet Habbakuk, and twice to the prophet Zechariah.
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Mutuality: Luke 15.1–32

Delivered at Ames UCC  on March 19, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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RING OF TRUTH
I have a friend who, when her kids were young, convinced them that she could tell if they were lying or telling the truth because of the “ring of truth.” They sincerely believed that grown-ups could hear a little bell ding when people spoke truth and a silent void at lies.

When I was a young child hearing the story of the starving son come home, I did not hear a ring of truth. I felt bored and I felt annoyed. Yeah, yeah, yeah: The guy realized what a mess he’d made of his life, apologized, and asked his dad for a job. And that older brother, who had done all of the work all along, shouldn’t have been angry with him because Big Daddy God is generous and loves us stinkers and do-gooders alike. And so we should try to be the same.

It felt so obvious. A sledge-hammer of a message without any subtlety. So any ring of truth, for me as a young person, was drowned out by my intellectual snobbery, defensiveness, and snoring.

Which is why I am so glad we read it here along with the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

LENT
I’m also glad we are reading these during Lent. These forty days are a nod to the forty days of Noah’s time on the ocean, the Egyptian slaves’ forty years wandering in the desert, and Jesus’ post-baptism forty days of faith formation in the wilderness. The idea of this season, which was instituted by our imperial Roman forbears in the early 300s, is to really prepare for Holy Week and Easter.

Because if there is any one story whose truth is suspect, it is resurrection.

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Stay Faithful: Mark 11.1–11

PalmSunday2016Delivered at Ames UCC
on March 20, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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IT BEGINS
Holy Week begins today, outside of Jerusalem. Jesus is with the disciples. He reaches the Mount of Olives. This place has been an important place in the history of Judea: It is where King David went to weep (2 Samuel 15.30) and it is where Zechariah said God would bring the end and then take control as king of all (Zechariah 14.9).1

Jesus continues on. He rides a donkey the disciples “procured” at his request. The last time we saw a donkey was when Mary rode one, pregnant with Jesus. The donkey is also a reminder of Zechariah’s prophesy (9.9b):

See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

It’s enough to give you the shivers. But that’s not my goal, at least not entirely. Each gospel was written down decades after the facts. They rely on both human memory and the human will to make a case for Jesus as Christ. It is up to us to discern which is at play in any given section and, either way, which parts of those stories resonate most with our personal encounters with the divine.

It is a lot of work. So, for today at least, I am not going to join with Mark in trying to convince you of something about Jesus. I will try, instead, to simply to give some of the context, as best scripture and scholarship can currently show, for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.Without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

I do so in the hope that each of you will participate fully in our services this week. Without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Easter is just a chocolate bunny. Delicious, but hollow.
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Bearers of Easter Hope: Mark 13.1–8, 24–37

GoodFridaycrossDelivered at Ames UCC
on March 13, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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heard rather than read.

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THE END IS NEAR
This temple will crumble. False prophets will betray you. War is inevitable. The Earth will shake and people will starve. These are the signs predicted by Isaiah (13.10, 34.4), Ezekiel (32.7–8),
and Joel (2.10, 31; 3.15).

You will see them very soon. So stay awake! Do not disappoint your God! Be ready!

As Jesus prepares to end his life, he predicts the end of everyone else’s, too.

Why? Because he was the anointed one and knew something others did not? Possibly. But also because Jesus, at least in Mark, was an apocalyptic leader by nature.

And because it had happened before.

APOCALYPSE
Apocalypse comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means to uncover or reveal. Within an apocalyptic mindset, there is truth to be uncovered or revealed through a being not of this world.  Apocalypse assumes that there can no redemption for humanity without a radical intervention. And, in fact, that intervention is coming. The outcome will be judgment and destruction of the wicked, followed by resurrection, and afterlife.
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