Monday, June 26, 2006

Sermon Notes Sunday June 25, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

This past April the National Geographic Society published (with much fan fare) “The Gospel of Judas.” This Gospel is a dialogue between Jesus and Judas in which Judas is described as the favorite disciple who is given the most important assignment of all, to give him up to the authorities so that he can die.

Dead Sea Scrolls
First discovered in 1947, discoveries continued into the 1950’s
Primarily Hebrew writings. Give details about the Jewish monastic group called the “Essenes.”
“The DaVinci Code” mistakenly refers to these as Christian writings. The Essene community pre-dates Jesus.
Display of these manuscripts coming to the Pacific Science Center for a exhibit beginning September 23rd.

Nag Hammadi Library
Discovered 1945 near Nag Hammadi, Egypt
Coptic texts
Apocryphal Gospels, Gospel of Thomas, first translated into English in 1977

The Gospel of Judas
Discovered sometime in the early 1970’s by a local man near El Minya, Egypt.
Was sold to an antiquities dealer in Cairo who demanded $3 million for the books.
First viewed by scholars in 1983 who were unable to meet the demands of the seller.
Eventually the books were left in the safety deposit box of a bank in Hicksville, NY where the remained for 16 years.
In 2004 scholars in Geneva announced that they had an ancient book called “The Gospel of Judas.” This is what has been published this past April.

You can read the “Gospel of Judas” in a few minutes, its not a very long book. Immediately you will recognize that this book comes from a different religious tradition than our own. That religious tradition is “Gnosticism.”

The root “gnosis” means knowledge. Gnostics believed that Spiritual fulfillment came through the right knowledge. In the first century as Christianity grew Gnostics began to fit this new religion into their religious system.
Some basic Gnostic beliefs:
Salvation comes through right knowledge; salvation releases the self from the flawed physical body.
Jesus was a teacher of true Gnosis
Jesus’ resurrection was the release of his spirit.

Gnosticism also held women in high regard. Gnosticism lifted up women as true disciples and many of the Gnostic texts are attributed to women who were followers of Jesus.

Was Judas a Friend or Foe?

Many commentaries note the similarity of the name Judas and the name Jew or Judah. Throughout much of Christian history Jews have been persecuted and aligned with Judas for betraying and killing Jesus.

Perhaps we should quit looking at Judas as a greedy enemy and we should spend more time recognizing when we are like Judas. When are we too zealous for the cause and end up missing the point? When are we more worried about money than about blessing God? When are willing to sell out our friends in order that our goals, our plans might be achieved? How often do we end up reaching out for Jesus after we have tried to ignore or destroy him?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sermon Notes Sunday June 18, 2006

Text: Luke 7:36 - 8:3

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

2006 is the fiftieth anniversary of the United Methodist Church recognizing the ordination rights for women. Preaching for us on the first day was Rev. Marion Kline who was one of the original women to be ordained as an elder in the Methodist Church. She shared with us the difficulty of securing an appointment in that time. This year she was received as a clergy member of the PNW.

Throughout the conference each of our communion services were presided over by women who are elders in our conference. The Women in Ministry gave their annual “Ruth Award” to all the women of the United Methodist Women who have for many years worked as an example of ministry for the UMC.

Women play a vital role in the life of the church. And for Father’s Day this year I think it is a fine opportunity for us to recognize that there is a history within the church of men taking the spotlight from women, while women get on with the work of doing ministry.

One of the exciting ideas to come from “The DaVinci Code” is the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that Mary fled to France with the child of Jesus and Mary.

The case for Marriage: Rabbi’s would normally be married. The Gospel of Phillip refers to Mary as “The Companion” of Jesus.
The case against: Jesus, while a rabbi, may have been one who like those in the Essene community believed in celibacy. The Gospel of Philip is not a reliable document.

The DaVinci Code also makes a strong argument that the early church worked to make women second class citizens within Christianity. The primary example given is the church tradition that was created when Pope Gregory in 591 called Mary Magdalene a prostitute. There is no scriptural reference to that effect yet it is a tradition that is believed by many people today. The Pope was clearly trying to discredit Mary Magdalene. It wasn’t until 1969 that the Roman Catholic Church finally acknowledged that there is no scriptural evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

It is evident that by the third century the church had become a patriarchal society. One could argue that it started that way from the first 12 male disciples. Yet each of the four canonical Gospels record that WOMEN were the first to go to the tomb and experience the resurrected Christ. While the disciples may not have understood fully they kept the record of the high place Jesus gave women in the kingdom of God.

So on Fathers Day I believe one way we can empower Fathers is to recognize the women who have taught us about the faith. We need more “Fathers of faith.” It is my hope that the United Methodist Men will be as equally strong in mission as the United Methodist Women have been for generations. It is my hope that we will have as many men willing to teach Sunday School as we have had women. Just as it is my hope that someday there will be as many women in ordained ministry as there are men.

Fathers are not empowered when women are made second class. Men in ministry are not empowered when obstacles are created for women in ministry. Men and Fathers are empowered when men and women recognize the unique gifts God gives all of us for ministry.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

All tied up

The 133rd session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference is now in session.

Well here we are at Annual Conference. This is a special year from me as it is the 20th anniversary of my first conference. I was a page at conference in 1986 when it met at Whitman College in Walla Walla. This year we are meeting at UPS where the majority of our conference sessions are held.

Many things about the life of the Annual Conference are the same as they were 20 years ago. The committees are largely the same, we even have the same colors for nametags and printed paper for each of those committees. The controversial social issues are virtually the same.

Nineteen yeas ago when I attended my first conference at UPS one of the PK's (Preacher's Kid) taught me how to tie a tie for the evening worship service. I didn't wear a tie all the time but for the evening worship services we were encouraged to wear our best clothes, and it was fun. That not to say that I always wore my best clothes during conference, I distinctly remember as a college student wearing shorts, Birkenstocks, and a Bart Simpson T-Shirt. But now I like to wear slacks, shirt and tie, 20 years ago that was the norm, now I am in the minority. I have learned to laugh at the comments and the looks. I suppose some see my wearing a tie as "sucking up." I find it ammusing that when everyone was wearing ties I was wearing sandals and t-shirts and now that everyone is wearing sandals and t-shirts I am wearing a tie. Whatever.

Primarly I wear a tie because I believe the work of the Annual Conference and our worship together is important and wearing a tie reminds me of that. It also helps me to remember all those other years at annual conference and that PK who 19 years ago taught me to tie a tie.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sermon Notes Sunday June 11, 2006

Pharisees, Heresies and the DaVinci Code

Some distortions of the DaVinci Code:
The Council of Nicea created the Bible
The Bible is a collection of works over many centuries. This collection was largely agreed upon 150 years before the Council of Nicea. While there were other Christian groups the majority agreed upon the texts we have now. The primary debate at the Council of Nicea was the question of the nature of Jesus in regards to the debate brought by a group called the Arians.
Priory of Sion
This group was created by some bored French men in 1956. Pierre Plantard who had delusions of nobility created the “Priory of Sion” creating fake documents tying him to the former French monarchy. These forgeries were “discovered” and led to the publication of a book called “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.” The book suggests that this priory is protecting the true lineage of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ descendents are protected by the Priory of Sion
If you were to accept the idea that Jesus had descendents through Mary Magdalene the number of those descendents today would be in the hundreds of thousands not a limited few. It’s simply mathematically impossible for a small line of descendents to exist today.
“The Last Supper” by DaVinci hides secret information about the secret bloodline of Jesus.
There are mysteries in DaVinci’s works but the gender of the person to his right is not one. Renaissance paintings often depicted John with a fair face and long hair. John is the disciple Jesus loved according to the Gospel of his name, not Mary.

Our Gospel reading this morning came from the Gospel of John, chapter three the first 17 verses. A Pharisee Nicodemus visits Jesus. He comes by night we are told. Perhaps this is to remind us that Nicodemus is in the dark or perhaps it means that he doesn’t want anyone to know he is visiting this Rabbi Jesus. Nick begins by flattering Jesus “we know that you are a teacher of who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do, apart from the presence of God.” Then we have this very confusing dialogue about being born from above. Nick is shown as the fool who doesn’t get it.

The primary belief of the Pharisees was that all Jews should live according to the Law, the writings of what we call the Old Testament. They were one of a number of groups within ancient Judaism that functioned something like political parties or denominations. The Pharisees are experts of Jewish Law and experts in law tend to become wrapped up in the literal, certainly that’s what happens to poor Nic.

It is my impression that many Christians and many more non Christians want clarity about Christian belief. They desire Christian Pharisees to interpret for them, what Christians believe. Sometimes the Christian Pharisees gain a great deal of power and influence because they are so effective with interpreting and if necessary creating Christian Law.

Christian’s get edgy when “true doctrine” is challenged and “The DaVinci Code” is intentional at pressing those buttons. So here we are today talking about the Book and the Movie. The protesters don’t want to watch the movie or read the book out of fear that they will become contaminated. They are happy to have the Church or their local pastor reveal the truth to them. The fundamentalists love to cry out when traditional Christian Teaching is attacked.

I think a number of people are talking about “The DaVinci” code because people are genuinely curious about the life of Jesus and the ancient Church. I believe Christian people and non-Christian people genuinely want more information about the foundations of the world’s largest and most powerful religion.

I believe we must be like Nicodemus and seek out the truth from Jesus Christ. Nic didn’t fully understand what Jesus was saying. As the early church considered Jesus’ life, death and resurrection they talked about Love. The reading from the letter to Timothy says, “Love comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk. . .” The first concern for our faith is to talk about Love. When the church forgets to be loving it deviates to meaningless talk.

This story Dan Brown has created has people talking once again about who Jesus is and what we believe about Jesus. For this we owe Mr. Brown our thanks.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sermon Notes Sunday June 4, 2006

Movement of the Spirit: Acts 2:1-21

Our United Methodist Symbol is a flame next to a cross. This symbol represents the Holy Spirit moving the church forward. This symbol was created when the United Brethren Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church became the singular “United Methodist Church.” With this union there was much hope for ecumenical relationships and the movement of the Holy Spirit brining the church together in unity.

Those dreams of unity have long disappeared as differences within the church regarding doctrinal standards, the place of “experience” in theology and disagreements about our social principles threaten to create the “Untied” Methodist Church.

Church history is filled with movements of unity becoming fractured. Our reading today describes the very movement of the Holy Spirit as the people began speaking and understanding a variety of languages. The first movement of the Holy Spirit was a movement toward diversity. Within a period of two hundred years there were many church communities spread to the edges of the Roman empire. Each of these early Christian communities began incorporating their understanding of the Jesus story into their culture and society and there was a diversity of Christian schools of thought.

When Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire in 313 Constantine began to align the power of Rome with the power the Church. The council of Nicaea in 325 was brought together in order to create some order within the faith. At stake was the accepted understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ and the relationship of Jesus to “the Father.” The “Nicaean Creed” was created from the decisions of this council. Groups such as the Arians and the Gnostics were deemed Heretics by the majority.

In the 11th century the church split over a debate of what is called the “Filioque clause.” The phrase literally means “and the son” The great debate was whether the Holy Spirit comes directly from “the Father” and/or from “the Son.” The Eastern Church rejected the clause as an addition to the original creed and the Western Church was increasingly accepting it. The result was a church split that was as much about language, culture and politics as it was about theology.

This wouldn’t be the last church split. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 theses (arguments) primarily aimed at the practice of the selling of indulgences. Indulgences were papers of forgiveness sold by the church. It was a great little fundraiser. With the new invention of the printing press Luther’s arguments spread rapidly and soon a separatist church movement was born.

Not all church splits were differences of theology. Henry the VIII divorced himself from the Roman church when Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry’s marriage with Catherine of Aragorn. Henry simply took matters into his own hands and Parliament created the Church of England.

Methodism was born not out of a theological controversy but with the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of John Wesley. John’s desire was to strengthen the faith within the Church of England. He despaired at those who would attend church for the appearance of faith. He was moved to help the poor and saw that it was the churches work to care for the poor and oppressed. It was his deep desire that the people of America could receive the sacraments that moved him to ordain preachers to send to America and effectively split himself from the Church of England.

The history of the church is a history of diversity and the movement of the Holy Spirit bringing unity and moving people to the needs of others, sometimes at the expense of church unity. There are some who are anxious about the future of the United Methodist Church as we continue to debate with one another about theology and society. Yet there are also movements of unity. The Methodist of the UK and the Church of England are talking about unification. The Church of England and Roman Catholic Church are strengthening their ties. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches are talking with one another in an increasingly friendly manner.

How do we become open to the movement of the Holy Spirit? We begin by being continually willing to grow as individuals and as a community. We must be willing to change and to be changed.

This Pentecost can be an anniversary date for you to reflect on and to look forward with. First: In what ways have you noticed the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life this past year?

Secondly: What changes do you feel the Holy Spirit calling you to consider in this next year? (more devotional time, giving up a bad habit, closer relationships?)

Third: How are you going to allow the Holy Spirit to move you and strengthen you in the next year. What are you going to do today, what are you going to do on Monday that begin the process?