Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ecotheological Commentary: Third Sunday of Easter, Year A "Conversion to Earth"

Third Sunday of Easter in Year A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Hearts burning, eyes opened, lives changed, communities revitalized.  These are the outcomes following the aftershocks of Jesus’ resurrection which we read about in today’s pericopes. Two followers of Jesus recognize the risen Christ in the breaking of bread after having been instructed by him as a mysterious stranger accompanying them on their walk to Emmaus. Peter’s sermon leads to the conversion of 3000 people to faith in Jesus Christ.  In both cases a new start is made with hope for a better way to live and stronger faith in God.

Many environmentalists and ecotheologians speak of a different kind of conversion that is needed today as we witness the global climate and biotic catastrophe that is being wreaked upon the earth.  Thomas Berry, Larry Rasmussen, and Mark Wallace all speak of a “conversion to earth.” Says Rasmussen when talking of Thomas Berry’s work The Great Work (Harmony Books, New York, 2000): 

[W]e badly need a religious and moral conversion to Earth, not to say cosmos, if ‘ecozoic’ rather than ‘technozoic’ (Berry, p. 55) is to characterize the coming great work. ‘Growing people up’ for a different world, one that assumes Earth as the comprehensive community, is the task, a task which understands that human ethics are derivative from Earth and the ecological imperative, not vice versa” (Larry Rasmussen, “The Great Work Underway,”, accessed April 21, 2014).

Would that the conversion to earth would happen as swiftly as the conversions that occurred in the readings we have for the Third Sunday of Easter!  The two disciples’ eyes were immediately opened when Jesus revealed himself at table.  And in response to Peter’s sermon to the crowd gathered on the Day of Pentecost, those gathered were “cut to the heart” and wanted to know what they could do in response to the knowledge of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Three thousand persons were baptized and reoriented their lives around the apostles’ teaching as they began building community, and sharing meals and prayers.

Realistically, we know that the chances of our ecologically-oriented sermon converting even one or two hearers to earth-consciousness may be slim. Yet we are compelled to prophetically speak about God’s incarnating and redeeming our sin-filled world as much as Peter was to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem.  The urgency of the need for prophetic and pastoral voices in the pulpit is underscored by nearly daily reports of the worsening ecosystems of our planet—from coral reefs bleaching and dying, to species disappearing, to island nations submerging.....

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Holy Humor Sunday Sermon

“The Breath of Jesus: Balloons and Laughter”
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
April 27, 2014
Texts: John 20:19-31

“Laughter is the best medicine,” as the saying goes.  And there’s medical research to back that up.  “Over the years, researchers have conducted studies to explore the impact of laughter on health. After evaluating participants before and after a humorous event (i.e., a comedy video), studies have revealed that episodes of laughter helped to reduce pain, decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system in participants.  Today more than ever before, people are turning to humor for therapy and healing. Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. Many hospitals now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment to illness.” (, accessed April 15, 2014)

What better place to employ this kind of medicine than church?  How many of us bring the pain of life into the pew with us and are seeking a few moments of relief?  And isn’t it wonderful that we have Jesus himself modeling laughter for us!  
Jesus’ breathing on his disciples could be thought of as the “holy laugh” that brings forgiveness and new life.  How good it feels to take in that air, feel it expanding our lungs, and expelling it in a physiological act unique to the human animal—laughing. 

They even use Laughter Clubs to treat patients dealing with cancer.  Patients put their fingertips on their cheekbones, chest or lower abdomen and make “ha ha” or “hee hee” sounds until they felt vibrations through their bodies. Let’s try it!

It is hard for people not to join in because laughter is so contagious.  According to one of the doctors who leads these Laughter Clubs, at the end of a laughter therapy session, patients have said things like "I didn't even think about cancer during Laughter Club," and "That felt great! Things have been so hard that we hadn't laughed in months." One eight-year-old daughter of a cancer patient who attended Laughter Club said afterwards: "I never thought about laughing every day, but now I realize I can. Like even when I don't feel happy, I can still laugh and feel better."

As I’ve said many times before, Jesus was a trickster, and he loved to make people laugh.  
Kids loved to be around him because he told humorous stories, poked fun at the stuffy religious leaders, and rode that donkey like a tricycle into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  In a few weeks we’ll see Jesus fill the room of disciples with the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. 
And today he’s appearing out of thin air, like a rabbit out of the magician’s hat, and breathing into that room like he’s blowing up a balloon.

[Kids pass out balloons] Now, everyone blow up your balloon, and just pinch the end.  Don’t tie it off – just hold it like that.  What do you notice about the balloon compared to before when there was no air in it?  How is it different?  (Changed shape, more colorful, pushing out our edges, expanded, we get filled up)

This is what happens when the breath of Jesus fills us.  We are changed, expanded, filled up.  We are not the same as we were.

Now, when I count to three everyone let go of your balloon.  What happened, what did you notice? 
(It takes off, things are in motion, it impacts someone else, you can't predict where it's going to go, it comes back to us, it can be done again.)

That’s what happens when Jesus releases us out into the world as his disciples.  Things take off.  People are in motion.  People’s lives are impacted.  And you can never predict where it’s going to go.

Who would have guessed that one year ago as we mourned the death of our beloved Rich Huff that new life would be breathed into our congregation through the Chinese and Silent Auction that has raised thousands of dollars for children and families in need in our area.  Talk about a breath of fresh air!

Who would have guessed that six months ago as Devon and Jindrah Kemper lay in intensive care, their bodies precariously balanced between life and death, and then facing months of therapy and recovery, that today they are dancing and laughing along with the rest of us!  Talk about a breath of fresh air!

What did you hear when we released those balloons into the air?  Noise, yes, and laughter. 

But also pffftt - when we do things in the congregation that are filled with the holy ruah breath of Christ, we can expect that some people will go ppppffftt.  Thomas certainly did.  What a tragedy that God’s comedic timing seemed off that day.  Thomas was not in the room when that breath of forgiveness and new life blew across his fellow disciples.  And so when he was told, he dismissed it: pffftt!  There are many Thomases in this world who see only the death and destruction around them and find no reason to rejoice, no reason for hope.

One of my favorite movies as a child was called The Red Balloon.

It was a 1950’s French short film about a boy who is befriended by a balloon that seems to be alive.  
It follows him everywhere, watches over him, accompanies him wherever he goes. 
The boy comes to love the balloon who is his companion in his lonely life.  It is a delightful story about wonder and joy.  But one day the bullies in the neighborhood set their sights on the boy and his balloon, chasing him through the city and attacking him.  
A mean child takes aim at the big red balloon with his slingshot, and a stone pierces the balloon.  

I literally felt myself deflate with sadness watching the balloon die, its shiny skin crinkling and shrinking as it fell to the ground.  It was one of the saddest moments I can remember as a child, the first time I watched a thing of innocence and beauty lose its breath of life.

But then, watch what happens (minute mark 30:30:

I can imagine that this is how Thomas felt when he finally encountered the risen Christ for himself. 

Lifted up with hope and the breath of new life, we, too, are carried on the wind from God.  We are like all those balloons, sent to the ones who need to be filled with Christ's Spirit.  Freed from sorrow, at least for this moment, we can let loose with our laughter, blow our kazoos, sing Zippity Doo Dah, and dance around like holy fools! 
May God’s joke on evil and death tickle your funny bone!  May the laughter of Christ fill your lungs and your body with hope!  And May the balloon of the Holy Spirit lift you up and fill you with joy!  Amen! 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ecotheological Commentary: Second Sunday of Easter, Holy Humor Sunday

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary by Leah Schade

Second Sunday of Easter in Year A
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

For a growing number of churches, the Second Sunday of Easter is celebrated as “Holy Humor Sunday.” In the early church, the Sunday after Easter was observed by the faithful as a day of joy and laughter with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The custom of Bright Sunday, as it was called, came from the idea of some early church theologians that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Easter was God’s supreme joke played on death—risus paschalis—“the Easter laugh!” On this Sunday people dress in clown outfits, paint their faces, wear underwear on the outside of their clothes, men dress as women (and vice versa), and jugglers and jokesters add to the carnival of joy. As Campbell and Cilliers describe it: "Christian carnivals and other carnivalesque celebrations embody the new age—the new, inverted order—that has broken into the world in Jesus Christ” (Charles L. Campbell and Johan H. Cilliers, Preaching Fools: The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012, p. 77).
Preaching on this Sunday might interpret Jesus’ breathing on his disciples as the “holy laugh” that brings forgiveness and new life. How good it feels to take in that air, feel it expanding our lungs, and expelling it in a physiological act unique to the human animal—laughing. Further, the image of the divine ruah, or breath of God, could be developed from an ecotheological perspective in terms of the breath of fresh air for which our planet, choking on pollution and climate disruption, longs. Like Ezekiel prophesying to the wind in the Valley of Dry Bones, the very Spirit of God enters into lifeless bodies and revives them. In a great rush the wind blows—the same wind that blew across the waters of creation; the same wind that parted the Red Sea; the same wind that will blow into an upper room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. This wind—the same wind that was first blown into the lungs of Adam—is blown into the lungs of the disciples bereft and grieving, and today is blown into our atmosphere longing to be set free.

Read more:

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – “Those Who Wash”


Maundy Thursday disorients us. On purpose. Think of the implications of what Jesus was doing. For those who wash, their status is lifted.

Click below for the reflection on Maundy Thursday:

Sermon: Palm Sunday (The Tricycle Sermon)

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
Texts:  Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-9

[Beginning from the back of the congregation]. Let’s rewind back to the beginning of our service.  Everyone stand up and hold your palm branches.  We began our story at Bethphage which is a little town right on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  And what happens?  Jesus sends two disciples into the town on an errand.  He says to go into the town where they’ll find a donkey, which they are to untie and bring to him.  And sure enough, they return with a donkey, which Jesus sits on and rides into Jerusalem.

Now we’ve heard this story so many times in our lives that this does not seem out of the ordinary to us.  But to the people who gathered along the roadside to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, this was a ridiculous sight.  They called him, “Son of David.”  This means they regarded him as the rightful heir of the throne of Israel.  They thought of him as a king.  They knew the stories about Jesus’ power - the healings, casting out demons, bravely confronting the Jewish religious authorities.  To them, this was the Messiah, the Anointed One whom they and all of Israel had been hoping for since the glory days when King David ruled over Israel and conquered the surrounding lands in the name of Yahweh.

But does their king come riding into Jerusalem on a chariot befitting someone of his stature?  No.  Does he ride a fabulously decorated horse and regally trot through the gate?  No.  He’s sitting on a donkey.  This would be the equivalent of the Queen of England straddling a tricycle and pedaling into London.  

Wave your palms and shout, Hosanna to the Son of David! (ride tricycle down the aisle).  Wasn’t that ridiculous? 

(You can have a seat now.) Or think of President Obama making a triumphant trip into Washington DC.  How does the president get from country to country?  Air Force One - his own private military jet.  And how does he get to the Capital?  He rides in an armored limo surrounded by an armored motorcade that whisks him through the city. 

Now imagine if, instead of this stately motorcade, Barack Obama was riding in one of those little clown cars. All political jokes aside, this would be a comical sight, wouldn’t it? 

The humor in this situation would not have been lost on the crowds gathered along the roadside.  In fact, they might have been a little put off by what they saw.  What does he think he’s doing, riding a donkey into Jerusalem?  This is not befitting the king of Israel.  What’s going on here?

There they are, spreading their cloaks and palm branches in front of him.  This is their way of indicating how highly they regard Jesus.  It would be like laying out the red carpet at the Oscars only to have the movie star walk in wearing muddy boots and work clothes.  They are throwing down their cloaks and palms for this man they adore and he’s acting like a commoner.  Jesus is actually poking fun at himself, satirizing the pedestal upon which they are trying to place him.

The crowds seem oblivious to the joke.  Undeterred by the comic discrepancy, they begin shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Do you know what the word “hosanna” means?  It means, “save us, we pray.”  They are expecting Jesus to whip them into a frenzy of violent revolutionary upheaval, and to use his demonstrated power to wreak havoc upon the Roman military, drive the oppressor from their holy land, and go on to conquer the world in the name of Yahweh - just like King David.  But instead, Jesus is riding around on the equivalent of a tricycle.  What’s going on here?
Jesus is trying to open their eyes.  A few weeks ago, Jesus opened the eyes of a man born blind.  Today he’s doing the same thing.  He’s trying to get the crowds to see something that they are blind to.  What is it that they are supposed to see? 

According to the Jewish calendar, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on the 10th day of the month of Nisan prior to the Passover.  “The 10th of Nisan was the day on which the Passover lamb was selected.  On this day Jesus symbolically presented himself to the people as Messiah intent on being the Passover Lamb,” (Horton, p. 437).  What Jesus is trying to get them to see is that he is not the Messiah they want him to be.  Jesus is not going to exercise his power through violence. 

Biblical scholar Stanley Horton explains:  “Jesus’ actions showed that he is not a king of violent or political force; rather he is a humble king, offering salvation and ruling with peace.  The Messiah foretold by the prophets was a direct contradiction to the popular expectations . . . In contrast to earthly kings who used horses, chariots and other symbols of war to show their might, this King distinguished himself by riding upon a donkey.  Donkeys were not used for warfare.  They were a simple beast of burden, used by the common person for transportation and carrying loads during times of peace.” (Horton, 439, 441.) 

Let me be clear here.  Jesus is not rejecting power, but only its use to dominate others.  He is not rejecting greatness, but is showing how it is to be used to be in solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Wink, 111).  He is trying to open everyone’s eyes to a different way to exercise power.  And the way he’s doing it is through humor, self-deprecation, and symbolism that is in accordance with ancient prophecy.  His donkey ride on Palm Sunday is at once comic and tragic, meant to jar us with its contrasts, and open our eyes to see things in a different way.

As I think of this man on a donkey, I think of other images that have entered into our modern consciousness that have shaken us up and gotten us to think in a different way.  The picture from the 60’s of the war protester putting a flower into the barrel of a soldier’s rifle.  
It is at once comic and jarring in its contrast of military power versus idealistic peace.  A flower is no match for a gun!  Exactly.

The picture from the 80’s of that lone student in Tienamen Square facing the phalanx of army tanks. 
It is at once comic and tragic in its portrayal of human rights versus military might.  A single unarmed man is no match for a powerful army.  Exactly.

And then I think of the story of Ashley Smith, a woman who was tied up in her apartment by an armed rapist and murderer.  She talked to him gently about God, family and pancakes, until he released her, and then gave himself up to authorities peacefully.  It’s at once laughable and terrifying.  A single unarmed woman is no match for a muscular criminal holding a gun to her head.  Exactly.

And yet what happened in all of these instances? 

The power of nonviolence seeped into the consciousness of domination and began to turn the tide.  The images and stories are so powerful that they become icons for what is possible when we begin to see things in a different way.

Later, after Ashley Smith was released unharmed, one of the police officers said, “It was an absolutely best-case scenario that happened, a complete opposite of what you expected to happen.  We were prepared for the worst and got the best.”

We are prepared for the worst, aren’t we?  We know what we’re heading into this week.   Jesus’ commitment to nonviolence will, ironically, lead to his most violent death.  A single unarmed man is no match for the government and the religious establishment; a single man hanging on a cross is no match for the power of death.  Exactly.

And yet, what is happening here?  Jesus is determined to open the eyes of someone -- even if it is just a few blind men and women along the way.  Even if it’s just your eyes that become open.  He wants people to see that having power does not give one the right to lord it over others by means of wealth, shaming or violence.  Power is not to be used to grab all you can and then do anything you can to protect what you’ve got. 

Jesus is giving us another way to see power.  And how are we supposed to see it?  No one says it better than Paul:  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” we’ll sing in a moment.  But how can we crown a king who wants no crown or throne, and wants to ride around on a silly donkey?  We can do the same thing the crowds did thousands of years ago.  We can take our palms and say, 
“Hosanna” -- save us, we pray.  Save us from ourselves.  Save us from our blindness.  Open our eyes.  Let us see the truth.  Let us see how you want us to enact power in this world in God’s name.

And then with this prayer on our lips, we can have faith in our hearts that even while the world around us is preparing for the worst . . . we know that we can expect the best.  Amen.
     Horton, Stanley, The New Testament Study Bible, Matthew, Executive Editor:  Ralph W. Harris; World Library Press, Inc., Springfield, MI, 1986.
     Wink, Walter, Engaging the Powers, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1992