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A Good Friday Reading

The people who heard me preach during Lent know that as a part of my Lenten discipline not only did I give up french fries, but I took on the challenge of participating in the Cooper River Bridge Run.  I am not a runner, nor do I play one on TV!  This was a major endeavor and one that the congregation seemed to enjoy.

There was another part that didn’t get near the publicity.  Each morning I added a reading to my morning routine from the wonderful little book Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.  It has been a wonderful addition to my day, often giving me something to ponder, something to store away, something that I wish I had said.

breadandwineIn the later category was a wonderful essay by Morton Kelsey entitled The Cross and the Cellar.  I am not preaching on Good Friday, but if I were, I think I might just “borrow” these words.  Something for us all to consider on this Good Friday.

Let us look at some of the people who brought Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion.  They were not monsters, but ordinary men and women like you and me. 

Pilate was a coward who cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice.  Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don’t have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.

Caiaphas was a devout and sincerely religious man.  But his essential flaw was that he thought he had the whole truth.  He thought he had to protect God from this man.  Those who put their creeds above mercy and kindness and love, walk in his steps even today.

Judas wanted Jesus to call upon heavenly powers, take control of the situation, and throw the Romans out of Palestine.  When he failed to do this, Judas no longer wanted anything to do with him.  Judas’ fault was that he couldn’t wait.  When we can’t wait and want to push things through, when we think we can accomplish a noble end by human means, we are just like Judas.

These were the things that crucified Jesus on Friday in Passover week A.D. 29.  They were not wild viciousness or sadistic brutality or naked hate, but the civilized vices of cowardice, bigotry, impatience, timidity, falsehood, indifference – vices all of us share, the very vices which crucify human beings today.

This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves.  This confrontation often leads us to the pit.  The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory is possible if we strive on.

I so find myself in each of these individuals, which is why I really need to find myself at the foot of the cross to remember.

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“You really should read…”

I get this all the time!  From friends who have just finished a book and want to talk about it; from church members who have been struck by something they came across in a magazine; from TV shows who just entice me with some tidbit of the latest best seller.

But the worst of all are my family.

“You need to read this book.”

Sometime it is phrased in a work-related kind of way—“Dad, you should read this book.  It has great sermon illustrations!”  Other times they just think I should.  “You need to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  “You need to read The Hunger Games.”

Eventually they just wear me down and I give in.

And they are usually right!  (Please don’t let them know I said that!)

So as Anita sat in the airport, downloading a book to her Nook to read on the plane to the CBF General Assembly, she commented, “I think this is something you would like.”  Midway from Atlanta to Dallas she commented, “You probably should read this book.  By the time she was nearing the end (“I haven’t gotten anything done today because I have to finish this book”) she was pretty insistent!

“You HAVE to read this book!”

She was right.  (Again, please don’t let her know I said that!)

 I just finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  (Or should I say it just finished me!)  I don’t know what was worse–not getting anything done because I had to finish it, or not getting anything done because I am still trying to work through all the ramifications of the story.  (Full disclosure—Do Not Read this book if you are bothered by language and sex.  Probably not a Church Book Club Selection.)

BUT…

The premise of his book is that as settlers came to America they brought they gods with them.  The Irish brought the leprechauns, the Vikings brought Thor, the slaves brought their gods.  They all came together in America where the Native Americans already had their god living in the land.

But as time passed, the rituals faded away.  As time went on the myths were no longer believed.  As time went on the beliefs died—and so did the gods.  Well, some of them died, or at least just disappeared.  Most of the others are “demoted” into less deity-like professions–undertaker, taxi driver, prostitute.  At the same time other gods come in to vie for people’s attention, affection, worship.  The book is about the storm that is coming.

That is the question raised by this book.  What happens when the sacrifices aren’t made, when the temples aren’t built, when the people don’t believe?  What happens to god?  (Little ‘g’ is intentional.)  What happens when we replace our god?

I had lunch recently with Reverend Doctor Lt. Colonel John Painter.  (I just wanted to see if I could get all the titles in one line in the right order!)  John is a chaplain at the VA Hospital and we were talking about ministry and life and stuff.  The kind of thing that ministers do when we get together.

I mentioned that I was reading Gaiman’s book.  As I was talking about the premise of the book John recalled that in the Sumerian world, the moon goddess was a major deity.  John was deployed to the Iraq several years ago and reads the ancient languages like I read the sports page.  The major seat of worship was Ur, home of Abraham, and not far from where he was deployed.

(I looked her up by the way.  Her name—Sin.  Cue CCR!)

Sin was a major god.  There were temples to her and worship services—but suddenly they all just went away.  I asked if there was some literature from that “going away” period, but he didn’t know of any.

I wonder what happened?  Was there some new knowledge that let them know that the moon wasn’t the most important being in the heavens?  Was the temple just too far away to get to on a regular basis?  Did a new more attractive god show up that offered more for less?

What happened?

What is happening?

When more and more profess that they are “spiritual but not religious;” when the ancient rituals are replaced with modern convenience; when the stories are avoided because they clash with our sensitivities, our lifestyles; when sacrifice means settling for a car one level down; when worship is planned around soccer matches and the NFL?

I have to wonder.  Will Jesus soon be a cashier at Wal Mart?

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