Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: Why do we think he is male, and why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Slide1This particular discussion was inspired by this (admittedly facetious) blogpost entitled “Where Would Jesus Pee?”

In it, Andrew Seidel raises an interesting point:  Jesus had a biological mother, but no biological father.  Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit intervened to cause Mary to become pregnant, all of the genetic material was from his mother.

Now, a person of female gender has two X chromosomes (XX) while a person of male gender has an X and a Y (XY).   The gender of their child is determined by which chromosome they get from the father – either the X or the Y.  But, since Jesus has no biological father, then all of his genetic material would come from Mary, meaning he got an “X” instead of a “Y” and so must be female.

I recently presented this as part of our church’s “Message for All Ages” (being very careful of how I presented it, given that grammar school aged children were present).  Then asked the question, “So, what do you think; why isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

As you can imagine, this produced some amazing facial expressions (and answers) from kids and adults like!

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: How can we be sure he was genetically male, or even that he presented himself as a typical male, for that matter?  Why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

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A Message for All Ages: “Glass of Water”

The challenges of life are like this glass of water. Carry them by yourself for only a short while and it’s not too bad. Worry about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if we carry them all day long, or longer, we will get to the point where we think of nothing but the pain of holding them.

HoldingWaterGlass

Prop: a half full tumbler of water (needs to be clear glass – not a plastic or paper cup).  

If a younger child might be your volunteer, you may want to take steps in anticipation of a spill or the glass being dropped – such as a towel on the floor underneath to use in mopping up spills, and to serve as a soft landing spot.

You can begin the lesson by pointing out – in a humorous way – that this is not a lesson about “Is the glass half full, or half empty?”

Ask for a volunteer to come and hold the cup. Have them hold it at arm’s length, sideways to the audience if possible, so that the water level and any dip of the arm are plainly visible to the congregation.

Ask “How heavy is this glass of water?”

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Keeping the Christ in Christianity

Those who seek to minimize the Christ in their Christianity do so out of a conviction that we must not offend, and must not intimidate (through “churchy” language and ritual) those who are looking for a touch of the divine in their lives. This is a worthy impulse, but we must be careful to not allow such thinking to seduce us into creating a faith for ourselves that is inoperative and unchallenging.

NotCrossRev. Heath is absolutely right in her recent article in Christian Century entitled “On Throwing the Baby Jesus Out with the Bath Water”: we need to keep the “Christ” in our Christianity.

In my view, the tradition that has been passed down to us, combined with the teachings and example of Christ and others as found in the New Testament and elsewhere, forms a foundation or framework for our faith: denying, minimizing, or casting aside that framework really would leave our faith “rootless” as many Evangelicals often (erroneously) label we who are Progressive Christians.

Christianity is not about supplying all the answers or enforcing a rigid set of doctrines and laws to live by. Jesus preached against exactly that sort of thinking and practice in the First Century, and it doesn’t work any better now than it did then. (And, frankly, doing so has never worked well.)

On the other hand, our faith isn’t just about making us feel good about who and where we are at the moment, either: Yes, we are to love and accept ourselves and each other as we are right now, but we are called to continually seek to do better, not simply accept what is.

Keeping Christ in our faith is challenging, and should always be so: if our faith is not challenged, if it is not continually being refined in the tension of this place we exist that lies between what was and what is to come, then our faith would be fruitless and meaningless. It would simply be a rationale for accepting things as they are, rather than challenging us to become better: to become more just, more thoughtful, and more compassionate.

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A Children’s Message: “Out of Darkness”

Finger Lights
Finger Lights

Preparation:

You’ll need small and inexpensive LED lights to give to the children. I recommend “finger lights” like those shown in the image associated with this posting.  Clicking on the image will bring you to a product page for them on Amazon.com.  Be aware that there are several vendors who make these lights: some are good quality, many are not.  The ones shown here are good and reliable (and cheap, when bought in quantity).

The Presentation:

Tell me what do you think of when you hear the word “darkness”?

(Solicit responses from the children, looking for ways in which they connect to darkness, prompt if necessary.)

Why would we want to talk about darkness here, in Church?

(Solicit thoughts, looking for the idea of salvation and Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter as God’s way of redeeming us from darkness.)

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A Meditation on John 21:1-9

We aren’t called to be passive in our faith, but to be active, to look for Christ’s presence at all times, for it is always there. We are to employ our hands in the service of the Body of Christ, for it is then that we will enjoy the fullness of all he has set before us. Christianity is not just a faith of introspection and meditation, it is also a faith of service and action, of making a difference.

The last chapter in the last of the four Gospels, the Gospel of John, is the final statement in the narratives of Jesus’ walk among us here on earth.  And so, as such, we can imagine that it has much to tell as we voyage forth into the world, leaving behind the physical presence of Jesus, just as a child ventures forth from home, eagerly heading to school on their own for the first time.

John is unique among the four Gospels.  It was written a few decades after the others and has a great deal of material not shared with the other three.  And unlike the so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, John is very much focused on the future of the community of believers.

John 21 focuses on our role as believers living and working in the world: Are we to be active or passive agents of the Body of Christ?  How will Christ be present in us in this role?  How will our own strength and faith be sustained as we do so?

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An Expository Reading of Pilate’s Questioning of Jesus

Presented at Sudbury Memorial UCC Church, November 25, 2012
Scripture: John 18:33-37

Prologue…

Today we celebrate “Christ the King” or “The Reign of Christ” Sunday, the last Sunday of the Liturgical year, a time when we ponder the meaning of Christ’s Lordship here on earth, and in our lives.

In exploring this today, we will focus on the topic of Fact vs. Faith.  For us to allow the Son of God to have Lordship over our lives, then Christ must be real and tangible truth to us in some way.  But, what does that mean?  How do faith, fact and truth intersect?  How does the truth of Christ become reality in our lives?

In 1975, James Cone, a well known African American Theologian, got right to the heart of this issue when he wrote that “Jesus is Black.”  People were shocked by this, as you might imagine.  Many rejected the idea, others tried to understand it as a metaphor.  But Cone insisted, saying that his critics didn’t understand, the TRUTH is that for African Americans, Jesus is Black.  He must be, otherwise, Jesus is not talking to those of us who are African Americans, but only to those who are White.  In order for Jesus to speak to us, to really be what he says he is – God with Us – then, for Cone and many others, Jesus must be Black.  Otherwise, Jesus is not someone that Cone can relate to as a member of a race that has been oppressed and marginalized for centuries because of the color of their skin.

In hearing this, our reaction may be “But, that’s not the truth!”

Really?  How can we be sure?  …Does it matter?

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Reflections on the Passion (Palm Sunday, 2012)

Presented at West Boylston First Congregational Church, UCC, April 1, 2012 (Palm Sunday).

(NB: This message was preceded by a dramatic reading of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus from Mark 14 & 15, which included the Congregation participating as the mob that shouted out [to Pilate] “Crucify Him!.”  The reading is available as a Pamphlet from St. Gregory’s Church of Muskegon, MI.)

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be here this morning, to be one of those shouting “Crucify Him” during our dramatic reading from Mark?

How does it feel to be one of them, one of the mob, one of those calling for His death?  To turn on him in his hour of need?  How does it feel?

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How Can This Be?

Presented at West Boylston (MA) UCC Church, December 18, 2011.

Readings:
       2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
       Romans 16:25-27
       Luke 1:26-38

I’ve been considering Mary’s question in this morning’s reading from Luke. Gabriel tells Mary that she will soon have a child, a son; that he’ll be a great King, and that he will sit on the throne of his ancestor, David.  Mary then asks “How can this be?

As Christians, this is a question we often ask ourselves, or perhaps others ask of us: How can this be?   A lot is wrapped up in that simple little question: How can a baby be born of a virgin?  Why is God doing this?  Why does it matter?

I begin by asking myself “what was Mary thinking when she asked this?”  I’m not so sure the common assumption, that she’s wondering how a virgin can give birth, is what she is so perplexed about.

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Power and Silence – First Sunday of Advent

Sermon given at Payson Park UCC Church, Belmont, MA November 28, 2010.

Scripture readings:
2 Samuel 11:2-5; 11:14b-15 and 11:26 – 12:7a (Bathsheba & David)
John 7:40-8:11 (The Story of the Adulterous Woman)

My thoughts today are on two themes, Power and Silence, which are both found in this morning’s scripture readings. We will look at how Power and Silence interact with each other in each story, and how they tie these two stories together across a one thousand year gap in time. Then we’ll close with some reflections on what we’ve learned and how these two themes are reflected in the coming of Christ, and Advent.

Let’s start by considering our Old Testament reading, and the setting of Nathan’s audience with David.

Nathan’s story is presented as a legal dispute. This is significant. For thousands of years throughout the ancient world disputes were brought to the local ruler or wise man for judgment. It was a very public event, with many people there: those seeking a resolution to their disputes, spectators, the King and his Court, all listening to the proceedings.

When Nathan presented his case to David, it was in such a setting; which, given what he intended to do, was a wise move! I suspect that if he had done this in a private audience with the King, he might have succumbed to a “Sword Malfunction.”

Let’s imagine what the scene must have been like: David is there with his badges of authority, a scepter and crown. He is sitting on a simple chair in front of the crowd. Scores, and perhaps hundreds of people are standing around the edges of the courtyard, waiting for their turn to be heard. David’s advisors are waiting off to the side for him to call on, if needed.

Then Nathan steps forward to tell his story. The King listens, his anger rising as he hears the tale, and when he can’t restrain himself any more, his face red, gripping his chair with both fists, he leans forward and says “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity!”

And then Nathan said four simple words, “You are the man!”

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