Guest Post for April Fiet – My Fears, Dreams and Faith for an Easter Baby

april-fiet-sbBack in February, Rev. April Fiet wrote a great guest post – In Defense of Men in Ministry – here on the blog. I was honoured to have her write here. She is the first blogger that I have connected with over social media to the point that I would call her a friend!

I am honoured she asked me to write for her over at “At the Table with April Fiet.”

Click this link here >My Fears, Dreams and Faith for an Easter Baby

26MaternityFinal

As some of you know, Courtenay and I are expecting our first child. Well, the due date was yesterday and we are still waiting. But as we wait, I have been thinking in new ways about how this child-on-the-way will change our world. I was delighted to share about my hopes, dreams, fears and faith over at April’s blog.

So go read my post there, and then click around on her blog. She has some excellent stuff, like “RIP Women in Ministry” or “At least I’m Better Than You.

You can also find April on Facebook at April Fiet or on Twitter: @aprilfiet

As well, if you want to follow Courtenay, you can find her at @ReedmanParker on Twitter. 

And as usual, you can share here in the comments, find me on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor and on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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Today, God is dead.

We have made it to the cross.

We began our journey on Ash Wednesday.

We have descended into the valley of Lent.

And now we are at the bottom.

 

We are at the foot of the cross.

High above us hangs the Messiah that we waiting and hoped for in Advent.

High above us is Jesus who called his followers from their fishing boats

and then healed the sick

and cast out demons

and taught in synagogues

 

High above us hangs the Christ who rode into Jerusalem a King

and the crowds shouted Hosanna, they shouted save now.

and the Christ ate with his disciples and gave them new bread and new wine.

 

High above us hangs the God nailed to a cross

by the same crowds who called him King,

by the best political and religious authorities of the day

by those whose power was most threatened by a God who had come close.

 

High above us hangs the symbol of our greatest power.

We have put God to death.

 

God_is_DeadToday, God is dead.

 

We have made it to the bottom of the valley of the shadow of death

And along the way we heard the shouts of Hosanna and crucify him come from our lips.

And along the way we felt the what it was like to hold the hammers and the nails in our hands.

And along we way we knew that the only way we could try to be God, to be our own little gods would be to use our most god like power.

 

Death.

 

God came to us.

God showed us his face.

God healed our infirmities.

God reconciled our shame

God called us out of our brokenness

God forgave of us our sin.

 

And all we could do was respond with death.

 

God_Is_Dead_by_deviantkupoGod is dead.

And creation killed God.

And humanity killed God.

And we killed God.

 

We are at the foot of the cross.

High above us hangs the greatest symbol of our power.

A dead God.

 

And little do we know.

God has come to show us, to heal us, to reconcile us, to call us, to forgive us.

God has come to receive our judgement and to take our death.

 

As the Messiah hangs, as the Christ hangs, as Jesus hangs, as God hangs, God is gathering us all beneath the cross.

Beneath death.

Beneath not just God’s death, but all death.

Humanity’s death

Creation’s death

All of our death.

Because death is our power.

 

But God has an even greater power.

God is gathering us at the foot of the cross. To show us greater power.

God is going to turn all of our death into something different.

Into something new.

 

God is dead.

And yet God is not ended.

And yet God is not over.

And yet God is not finished.

 

God is transforming death.

God is transforming us.

God is transforming everything.

 

cross-silhouette1God is not ended, death is ended.

God is not over. Death is over.

God is not finished. Death is finished.

 

We have made it to the cross.

We have come to the bottom of the valley, to the shadow of death

To the shadow of the cross.

 

And it is the here.

 

God is making all things new.

God is making us new.

God is making death into life.

High above us hangs Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, Jesus God in flesh.

Jesus who is putting death to death.

Jesus who is God’s great power.

Jesus who is life.

Noah, the Silence of God, and Holy Week

We are in the last few days of Lent before Holy Week begins. As one who bears the responsibility for planning, preparing, presiding and preaching for Holy Week, the coming days will be busy, full and emotionally draining. As a pastor you carry, whether you like it or not, the emotions of your people. The anticipatory expectation of a saviour on Palm Sunday. The dread of Maundy Thursday. The deep guilt and grief of Good Friday. Finally the joy of Easter Sunday. It can be a roller coaster of emotions through the week.

imagesOn the brink of Palm Sunday, with palm branches ready and Hosannas waiting to be sung, I have been constantly coming back to the movie Noah. Last week I wrote a review of the Movie on some of the Biblical themes, and in particular the Christological symbols. Like I said in the review, I thoroughly enjoyed Noah and found it to be rich and deep movie. However, one symbol I didn’t say too much about was the silence of God.

*SPOILER ALERT*

While God never actually speaks in the movie, God is a noticeable presence. The characters in the film regularly reference the fact that God has not spoken to human beings in a long time. The filmmakers have said that they didn’t want to put words in God’s mouth, and others have noted that none of us hears God’s voice in that way. God’s silence is something we can resonate with. Any person of faith has struggled with feeling God’s absence and experienced God’s silence.

However, the reason I keep coming back to the silence of God in Noah has more to do with the ‘why?’ of the matter. Why has God chosen to be silent with creation and especially silent with human beings? What has driven God to refrain from speaking with these little creatures that God cares so much about?

The opening scene of the movie is Cain’s murder of Abel. This theme of murder in human relationships, with each other, and with creation permeates the movie. Humanity’s ability and capacity to kill becomes the relevant question at the climax of the movie.

I have a theory as to why God remains silent. I think the murder is so offensive to God that God can’t bear to speak to humanity again. God has created this beautiful, fragile, precious thing called ‘life’ and humanity cannot stop destroying it. I think that by the time things devolve into the antediluvian world – where humanity is murdering creation and each other – God is wondering whether creation should continue at all. Or whether human beings should continue being a part of creation. And so God decides to ask the last ‘righteous man’, Noah, to make the decision.

In the end, the film doesn’t really resolve God’s dilemma. Noah chooses to allow humanity to continue, yet does so knowing that humanity still carries the capacity for evil, for murder and death. Noah believes he has failed. Yet, because of Noah’s decision, God undeniably and visibly becomes not silent at the conclusion of the movie – the rainbow becomes the sign of God new word, or new covenant with creation. God has ended the silence with humanity, despite humanity’s flaws.

Which brings us back to Holy Week.

Palm-SundayThere is a certain silence to Holy Week. Through most of Lent, Jesus speaks at length in the gospel readings. He speaks with Satan, with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, and with the blind man. But in Holy Week, Jesus seems to clam up a bit. And we all get the sense that this unresolved dilemma is facing God again. What is God going to do? What is humanity going to do? Jesus and the authorities are on a collision course towards death. Humanity can’t stop our killing, but this time God isn’t leaving the choice up to us. This time this beautiful, fragile, precious thing of life, this time God will not give us power over it.

This time life will overcome death. 

Palm Sunday IconBut it is going to take some silence on God’s part along the way. God makes room for our voices during Holy Week. Voices like “I do not know him” or “Surely not I, Lord” or “Crucify him!”

But they all begin tomorrow with that first word spoken by the crowds as Jesus enter Jerusalem.

Hosanna.

Hosanna, which we confuse with Hallelujah.

Hosanna, which does not mean praise the lord

But really means ‘Save now’.

In the midst of the silence this coming week, as we re-tell the story of passion. I am going to be thinking about that word – Hosanna.

It is the first word of Holy Week, but it is also a word for every Sunday. A word that we, at least as liturgical Lutherans, sing every time we gather for the Lord’s supper:

Hosanna in the highest. 

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest

Save now in the highest.

Save us from our sin.

Save us from death.

Save us from ourselves.

And unlike the Noah movie, where the question facing God of what to do with humanity goes unanswered, God will answer.

God will answer our Hosanna.

God will save us now,

With life.


 

What are your plans for Holy Week? Have more thoughts about Noah? Ever experienced the silence of God? Share in the comments or on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Lazarus in the Valley of Dry Bones

John 11:1-45

(Read the whole lesson here)…Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go… (Read the whole lessons here)

Sermon

ValleyofDryBones-620x3101The prophet Ezekiel said: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 

We have have made our way through the season of Lent. 5 weeks, 5 encounters between Jesus and another aspect of the human condition. Temptation in the desert, Doubt with Nicodemus, Shame with the woman at the well, Refusal to see with the Blindman. We have journeyed through the Lenten wilderness, one where our flaws and sufferings have been put on display, where Jesus has met us with mercy.

But today, we take a turn towards Holy Week. Jesus still meets us in an aspect of the human condition, in grief. But the story foreshadows what is to come.

The prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

We begin with Jesus staying somewhere other than where he needs to be. His friends are in trouble, Lazarus is dying. They are hoping that he can come to help. But instead, he stays. And then after a few days of waiting, Jesus announces that Lazarus is dead and then decides to go to his friends in Judea. His disciples are puzzled, but his answer to them tells us that something is about to happen. “Let us go, that we may also die with him”.

As Jesus finally makes his way to Bethany, the real drama begins to unfold. News of Lazarus death is spreading, Jesus has arrived in time to grieve and mourn, but too late help. On is way to town, Martha, Lazarus’s sister comes out and meets Jesus on the road. Martha, the busybody, the one who needs to work goes to Jesus let her grief, her frustration out. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him.” Martha’s word are accusatory. They are desperate. She is filled with grief. She utters words that could very well be our words.

“Lord, if you… than this…” We have all been where Martha is. We have all suffered loss, felt grief, felt abandoned or ignored. We have all suffered and wished for God’s intervention. We know what it is like to be Martha. To want the past to be different, to even be desperate enough to hope that it can still be changed.

drybonesThe prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Jesus is gentle enough with Martha to let her make her accusations, to let her share her desperation. Jesus could have done something, maybe he still can.

And then Jesus answers Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”

Can we imagine hearing those words? Can we imagine the God of the universe, come in flesh, speaking to us, “Your loved one will rise again.” Can we imagine standing in front of God almighty as God declares that death is no barrier, that the powers of this world that we think are unassailable are a mere trifle to God.

Martha is too lost in her grief to really take in the moment, she doesn’t really get who is speaking to her and what Jesus is saying. She responds almost automatically,

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha gives a formulaic response, but one also resigned to death. Martha is clinging to the promise as best she can, but she does not see the immediacy of Jesus’ statement. And still Jesus stays with her, “I am the resurrection and the life”

And the Prophet Ezekiel said: Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy toUnknown-1 these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The God of the universe has just declared that Lazarus will live… But we don’t get the impression that Martha has really absorbed what Jesus is saying to her.

And so Jesus continues down the road, and this time Mary, Martha’s sister comes to meet him. She accosts Jesus with the same statement that her sister gave, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And maybe this time it is Jesus who now understands something. These two women cannot see past their grief. They can only experience the rawness of their brother’s death. They can only painfully long for their brother to be alive, they can only see the empty hole their dead brother has left in their world.

This time, Jesus simply stays with these grieving women. He doesn’t try to remind them of who he is, he doesn’t try to buoy their spirits with what he is about to do. He simply shares in their grief. He weeps with Mary. He is moved by their fragility and their weakness. Jesus knows that is about to call Lazarus out of his grave, but still the deep grief that Mary and Martha carry moves him in spirit.

We have all been here. This is the essence of what it means to be human. To know that everything around us is limited. That we only have so many days on earth, we only have so much we get to do and be and experience. And so we grieve the rest, all the things, all the people that we didn’t get enough of.

Maybe this grief is a lesson. Maybe it isn’t the disciples, or Mary or Martha who need to see God’s glory. Just maybe Lazarus hasn’t died so that we can see, but so that Jesus, so that God, can live grief in person. So God can truly understand what it means to grieve.

And when Jesus finally knows incarnate grief, knows what it is mourn like we do, Jesus makes his way to the tomb. Jesus has learned grief, but Mary, Martha, the disciples, the crowds, us, we are about to see what it is like to be God, what death really means when it stands before the creator of life itself.

Ezekiel said: So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

As Jesus, Mary and Martha, the disciples and the crowds stand before Lazarus’ tomb, he declares,

“Take away the stone”

And Martha protests. Martha the one who has just confessed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, says “There will be a stench for he has been dead four days”.

Martha, stuck in her grief, is telling Jesus there will be a stench. She is speaking to God, to the One who uttered the word “Let there be…” in creation. The one whom is the Word of God made flesh.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus rarely looses his cool, but at this moment, full of grief too, Jesus snaps are Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed…” Jesus has declared that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and we are about to see what that really means.

The prophet Ezekiel said: Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

468304834_640And the stone is rolled away. And that very first promise that Jesus makes to Martha,

“Your brother with rise again”

That promise comes to fruition. Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

And we too are about to enter into Holy Week. Into a period of remembered and renewed grief. We know what is going to happen, we know that Good Friday is coming. We know that humanity is about nail Jesus, that we are about to nail God to the cross.

But we go with these words ringing in our ears,

“On the third day, he will rise again”.

And the promise rings true for also for us ,

“You will rise again”

Amen.

 

The Christology of Noah: A Theological Review

noah-movie-poster-castI saw Noah yesterday.

I loved it.

It was a beautiful story in terms of its cinematography, the visuals were stunning.

Now, a lot of the praise for Noah ends with the visuals. For some reason, many seem to think that Noah doesn’t follow the biblical narrative, and so the critique of Noah then continues with the movie’s faithfulness to the story… or lack there of.  Albert Mohler has written an absurd movie review, which makes me question whether he has even seen the movie or read the story. To all those who are complaining that Noah deviates from the flood narrative, I just want to say,

“Have you read the flood narrative recently?”

Noah is a deeply scriptural AND theological film. It tells the story of the biblical flood in a way that we need to hear it. No… Noah is not a word-for-word retelling of the flood epic found in Genesis 6-9. But any filmmaker who sets out to put Genesis 6-9, as written, to film will have missed the point before beginning.

Director/writer Darren Aronovsky has produced something as faithful and with as much integrity to the text of Genesis as I can imagine. The flood epic’s context (as in the stories that preceded and linger in Noah’s background) is always present in the movie. Aronovsky has not ripped this story out of the bible, but instead uses themes and images from all over Genesis.

Noah shows that Aronovsky has so thoroughly researched this story, that he puts most Christians and some scholars like Mohler to shame. Noah is a very biblical movie. Noah is a brilliantly biblical movie rich in scripture, unlike many other movies about the bible.

But let’s talk about Genesis 6-9 first.

Anyone who has actually read the flood story would know that it is a very redundant story. In fact, everything seems to be repeated over and over. It is almost like two different versions of the story have been layered on top of each other to make one story.

images-2Well, that’s because there are two stories. Two versions, different details. In one version it rains 40 days, another 150 days. Noah is told to take a pair of each kind of animal, then he is given instructions to take 7 pairs of clean and one unclean. The family enters the Ark twice.

Genesis 6-9 is not literal history. Noah was never a real person. Russell Crowe is now the most literal Noah that ever existed. The Biblical story of the flood is a nearly word-for-word, line-by-line rip-off of the Gilgamesh Epic. The Gilgamesh Epic ripped off the Atrahasis epic. The Atrahasis epic was based on the Sumerian flood epic.

The story of the flood does not belong to Christians. It doesn’t belong to Jewish religion. It doesn’t really even belong to the Bible. It is an Ancient Near Eastern story told by the people living in the floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

So when Darren Aronovsky “deviates” from the biblical account of the flood, he is working with a story that already has been re-told with generous liberties taken. The flood is a re-write of another story, which is the re-write of another, etc…  However, the movie Noah does something fascinating – Noah stitches together the early chapters of Genesis with other biblical themes. The biblical flood story doesn’t do this. In fact, Noah is a character hardly referenced outside of the flood narrative itself.

The Biblical Images in Noah’s Background – SPOILER ALERT

Darren Aronovsky has said in interviews, that he sees Noah has his midrash. A mid rash is a Rabbinical narrative sermon. It is the Jewish practice of re-telling the biblical narratives, and filling in the gaps of the story to make a theological point. Pretty much a sermon. If Noah is a sermon, it is brilliant one.

MV5BMjAzMzg0MDA3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzOTYwMTE@._V1_SY630_SX426_The opening scenes of Noah are the first murder in the book of Genesis, and Cain’s murder of Abel becomes the foundation of the movie. This violent reality haunts every relationship, every action taken by Noah and his family. This murder continues being repeated, generation after generation, between brothers, between families, between peoples, between human beings and the earth. The murdering is endless, and thus ‘The Creator’ decides to start over, to wipe wicked human beings from the face of the earth.

Some would accuse Aronovsky of using the movie to spout modern environmentalist rhetoric about care for the earth, veganism even. This is not the case, Aronvosky is simply sticking to the text. Some of the earliest tensions in the Bible are the commands given by God to human beings in the creation stories. In Genesis 1, human beings are told to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over it. In Genesis 2, human beings are told to serve and protect creation, to care for it and keep it. These competing views on the role of human beings towards the planet are not just a modern issue, they have been at odds since the beginning.

Lastly, there is a moment in the movie when Noah looks a lot like Abraham. Noah is Abraham’s ancestor to the 10th generation. At, what could be argued is the climax of the movie, Noah is standing above one of his offspring, knife in hand, ready to kill because of what he understands to be God’s command. This issue of families murdering one another, that begins with Cain and Abel, is not actually resolved with the flood. In fact, the escalation of murder that the flood turns out to be, is no solution to the problem of humanity’s death-dealing ways at all.

And while many would claim that this moment in the movie shows us the power of the human spirit because Noah chooses not to murder out of love, I think this is about God. God, or ‘The Creator’ as God is called in the movie, has no lines. God doesn’t even take a form, but is an implied presence. ‘The Creator’s’ role in the drama is still paramount, and I think Aronovsky is telling us about the important change of mind that God has after the flood. The human problem of death, of violence, of killing one another remains. Noah foreshadows what is to come with Abraham – someone willing to murder his own child for God’s sake.

Instead, God is changed, and God finds mercy towards human beings. The characters of Noah don’t actually change throughout the story. They experience tremendous hardship and tragedy, but they remain, at the end, who they were at the beginning.

In the flood epic and in Noah, it is God who changes. Aronovsky hasn’t missed this part of the story either. Which leads me to:

The Christological Character of Noah.

In a number of scenes in the movie, Noah is shown praying. Noah prays a familiar and biblical prayer – “I can’t do this.”

NOAHAt one point, Noah is on his knees asking God that this burden be removed from him. Noah might be a Genesis character, but this is a New Testament image. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Noah is asking that God would choose someone else.

The burden that Noah is given is not to build an Ark, not to predict a flood, not even to save the animals, as he seems to think is his burden for most of the movie. The real burden is to determine whether humanity is worth saving – whether or not humanity is redeemable.

Ultimately, we discover that this question isn’t answered, at least not by Noah’s actions. He saves his family, but in his mind this is failure. He has failed to perform God’s will for humanity, failed to wipe us all out.

However, as we see that more violence is not the solution or the way to prevent violence, God’s change towards mercy gives us the smallest clue or hint towards the dilemma facing God.

Whether Aronovsky knows it or not (and sometimes this is where stories become more than their tellers can control), God’s change to mercy is a key Christological question. With Noah, God realizes that asking humanity to redeem themselves and to prove themselves worthy of being saved is impossible. Noah realizes too that all humanity has the capability of sin within them.

The question of whether or not to save us all is really not answered until the garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus prays, “I can’t do this” it is not all about a human being afraid of being crucified. Rather, as Douglas John Hall suggests, the question of Gethsemane is whether God is going to complete the incarnation. God has shown up in flesh, God has lived in flesh, but Maundy Thursday is now the moment to decide if that last step – incarnate death – will be taken. Once this step is taken, God is going to complete the redeeming. God is going fulfill the reconciling. God-in-Christ is going to re-join creation with creator, re-join what was one in Eden.

As I watched Noah, I couldn’t help but see this question as the real issue. Is humanity redeemable? Aronovsky seems to have come to the same place that the bible comes to over and over again. Human beings just cannot redeem themselves.

And just maybe, as ‘The Creator’ shifts to mercy, Noah foreshadows a God who now knows this. God will be the one who will choose whether we are worth saving. Asking us to give up violence us will not suffice. God will need to take away the power of our violence by overcoming death. Life will become how we are redeemed. God will allow Godself to succumb – on the cross – to our desire for violence and death. And instead of responding with greater violence, with fire or flood, God will respond with resurrection and new life.

Noah is beautifully rich and beautifully deep. It is scriptural and theological to its core. If you want to see a movie about the bible?

Go see Noah. It will not disappoint.

images-1

Have you seen Noah? What did you think? Share in the comments, or  on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik