The Crucified One has been raised!

Easter morning at DBC was wonderful! I know, I should not be the one to say so because I led the service and was at the wrong side of the lectern to offer an objective view. But what made the service wonderful had little to do with me. The music and singing was full of inspiration, beauty and power. (Thanks to our musicians, singing group, soloists, children’s percussion section and a responsive congregation!) We read some of the greatest words of scripture and we received Communion on the most significant day of the Christian year.

The congregation is always interesting on Easter Sunday. While many of the regular members are away, we are always augmented by visitors and friends. We begin the day with an Easter morning breakfast and perhaps this helps to set the tone of celebration and joy. Or perhaps it is just that everyone knows that on Easter morning we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus so they come to church ready to give thanks and rejoice. Well, there was certainly a great atmosphere on Sunday. (If you were there, you were one of the reasons why). It was a great joy to welcome and meet congregation members new and old.

My message was based on Mark 16, the major reading for the day. We are reading the Gospel of Mark together at DBC this year and I have been finding it particularly rewarding. I would love to think I did justice to Mark 16 on Sunday but I am sure that, in fact, I did not; (I am not sure that anybody could). I concentrated on the sudden and open ending of the Gospel that seems to invite the readers to continue the story of Jesus in the daily living of their own lives.

I don’t think I made enough of the words of the young man in white who met the women at the tomb. ‘You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One; he has been raised, he is not here . . .’ (Mark 16.6). Sometimes, especially on Easter Sunday, we are so taken up with resurrection that we forget the cross. It is as if we have moved on. The cross is no longer important and all that matters is that Christ was raised. Yet in Mark’s Gospel the resurrection narrative is so short and the passion narrative so long that the reader is left with the abiding impression that, important as resurrection is, the crucifixion remains central. The words of the angelic figure confirm this impression. It is specifically the Crucified One who has been raised. The reader and the church is called to follow in the way of a crucified Messiah. The church is called not to arrogant triumphalism but to self-giving service. Here the risen Lord is to be encountered. I hope our congregation heard something of that message on Sunday morning as we also heard of the new hope offered to all, even to disciples who, like Peter and the rest, had already failed but were not forsaken!

I shall plump for ‘tin’

I am struggling with my sermon for tomorrow. I wanted to talk about the plumb line of Amos 7. 7–8 (I will be using the lectionary texts Amos 7.7–17 and Luke 10.25–37). The problem is that I have become convinced by the argument that the Hebrew word translated ‘plumb line’ should really be rendered ‘tin’. Of course this cannot be found in any English translation. At DBC we use the NRSV which reads:

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by”.

Douglas Stuart translates the same passage in his commentary on Hosea-Jonah (Word Biblical Commentary 31):

This is what (Yahweh) showed me: He was standing on a tin wall and he had some tin in his hand. Yahweh said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” I said, “Tin.” (Yahweh) said, I am going to put tin [moaning] within my people Israel, I will no longer pass him by.”

Perhaps we should use Stuart’s translation for our Old Testament reading and ditch the NRSV this week? Either way, I am plumping for ‘tin’ and hoping I can make it as memorable an image as the plumb line ever would have been. We will see!

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 Hebrew verse from Jerusalem Pottery

Psalm 23 Hebrew verse from Jerusalem Pottery

In our Sunday morning service yesterday we organised our worship around the 23rd Psalm. We read the Psalm, our singing group gave a beautiful recital of Goodall’s, the Lord is my Shepherd and we sang Townend’s version of the Psalm together. I spoke about alternative ways of reading Psalm 23 and I concentrated on the image of God as travelling companion. My approach was greatly influenced by that of Dr Tom McDaniel whose brilliant Psalms course I attended at Palmer Theological Seminary in the early 1990s. In preparing for my sermon I also found these resources from James Charlesworth, Karl Jacobson and  Rabbi Harold Kushner to be very helpful. Have a look for yourself and let me know what you think.

Sunday 17 May

Our communion service on Sunday morning was a particularly happy one because we received a new member into our fellowship. During my sermon I talked about the nature of the church and church membership. I referred to Vernard Eller’s The Outward Bound: caravaning as the style of the church, a book that had greatly influenced me in the ’80s while I was living in the United States.

Outward Bound 01

I made use of Eller’s imagery and the contrast he draws between two models of the church: as commissary or caravan. The language, of course, is American but the content seems to me every bit as pertinent for a British audience. The caravan Eller has in mind is that of a journeying group of people rather than the mobile home variety. It seems to me, 25 years after first reading Eller, that our consumer society presses us all the more toward the model of church as commissary. In this model the church dispenses salvation to a passive consumer clientèle. In the caravaning model all the members join together, help each other and journey together from where they are to where they would like to be. Of course, I argued for the caravaning model. I hope it served to make further sense of the covenant we make, when receiving new members, to walk together before God in ways that are known and yet to be made known.

Did Eller’s book have any influence on these shores?

I also made reference during my sermon to the new title from Brian Haymes, Ruth Gouldbourne and Anthony R Cross, On Being the Church. I am still reading it but, so far, it is a treat!


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