Monday, June 20, 2016

Our Nurturing and Compassionate Papa God

by Rev. Chris Jorgensen
preached on June 19, 2016

Scripture: Galatians 4:4-7

Since the Orlando shootings, there has been a steady stream of commentary from politicians, the mainstream media, and social media about the most important thing that needs to be addressed in the wake of such violence. Some people say it's gun control. Some people say it's LGBTQ liberation. Some people say it’s race. Some say it's mental health. Some people say it's standing in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers. And I think those are all critically important conversations for us to have.

But I want to talk today about yet another important conversation. I believe it is something that perhaps undergirds the way we approach all of these issues: and that is how we see God. Because I think that our understanding of God and our relationship to God determines whether we walk through the world as an oppressor or a seeker of justice, as a peacemaker or a terrorist. Or probably for all of us - somewhere in between those two extremes.

And on this Father's Day, I want to suggest something that might be a bit radical and contrary-seeming for a self-avowed practicing feminist like myself. I want to suggest that our world might be safer, more peaceful, more graceful, and above all more loving if we revisit and take seriously this idea of God as Father. But I also want to invite us to disentangle it from God as monarch or king.

Theologian John Cobb (who you have heard me quote before) argues in his new book that Jesus’ most revolutionary theology was this privileging of the image of God as Father. Much more specifically, this Father God is the one Jesus called Abba. In both the gospels and in the letters of Paul, this Aramaic word Abba is left untranslated into Greek. Cobb and others argue that it is less like our modern day “Father” and more akin to Daddy or Papa.

And you hear this Abba language in our scripture from Paul today. Cobb argues that in this excerpt, Paul is describing the very moment that Christian believers receive the liberation of knowing that God is not a judgmental lawgiver but a loving Father, and at that very moment, Christ speaks the word Abba into their hearts. In other words, to know God and to be liberated by God was to have God’s identity as Abba revealed in them.

Cobb writes: “This was the revolutionary insight of Jesus: seeing God as Abba and understanding Abba’s love as intimate and tender. Jesus’ Abba is the God of the prophets, qualified as love.”[1] And Cobb claims that this move by Jesus was perhaps as groundbreaking in his Jewish tradition as Mother God language is for us today. In both contemporary Mother God language and Jesus’ ancient cry of Abba, the kingly patriarch God makes way for the nurturing and compassionate Papa God.

I do want to say something about this kingly, patriarchal, Father God though. I am not sure about you, but this all-controlling, judging God is the one who dominated my imagination most of my childhood. This image dominates for many people today.

And I think it makes sense that we might be attracted to this God. This “Almighty” God reflects a deep longing in us. We want this God because we want God to be all-powerful. We want God to spare us from the inevitable suffering of life. We want God to agree with us and force others to agree with us as well. And so, many times, we imagine this kingly Father God as a coercing God, an intimidating God. And maybe this is an image that we as a culture unfairly project onto human fathers – this judging, controlling God to whom we submit because we hope he can save us from the pain of being human.

But anyone who has been a parent or had parents knows. We know that children can be taught but not forced to agree with a parent's own viewpoint. We know that children can be kept safe through control for a while but eventually grow up and go out into an unpredictable world. A loving father's, a loving parent's power is the persuasive power of love, not the coercive power of dominion. Jesus' Abba God is the same God who is named as Love himself in First John. And this Almighty Love is not based in fear of violence or rejection or punishment. Our Abba God's power is not coercive. It is compassionate and transformative.

Feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson writes about “love as the shape in which divine power appears.”[2]  Love is the shape in which divine power appears.

Now, I know we all have different and possibly complicated relationships with our fathers, our daddies, our dads, our papas, our fathering figures. My dad and I had what I would guess is not unusual. We had a bit of a volatile relationship at points in our lives. He and I are very much alike in temperament and very different in political orientation (though things have certainly evolved over the years). And while we clashed regularly throughout my young adulthood, I always looked to him to be a source of strength and protection when I felt afraid, and I often felt like I didn’t live up to his expectations. I would venture to say that my image of God the Almighty and All-Powerful Father and my image of my dad were actually pretty similar.

In 2008, my dad had an open-heart surgery that went badly. It was supposed to last 4 hours and ended up being 13 because of complications. This resulted in him being on a heart/lung bypass machine way longer than is optimal and being under anesthesia longer than the medical team would have liked. Even after he was off sedatives, he was essentially unconscious for a day-and-a-half. We really weren’t sure about his brain function at that point, though his body seemed okay.

So we were so relieved when he started to regain consciousness, but then there was another obstacle to overcome. He had been intubated (so there was a tube down his throat), and he was on a respirator. He was still sort of out-of-it from the long time he had been sedated, but he was awake enough to be super agitated about this respirator situation. And he needed to get his breathing and heart rate regulated before they would remove him from the respirator. This was a problem. Because he was so agitated by the breathing tube, every time they would test to see if his breathing and heart rate was regular enough to remove it, he would fail the test. And he would have to stay on the respirator and get even more agitated.

It was terrible to see and I’m sure even more terrible to experience. Soon, the respiratory therapist enlisted the help of my mom and me to calm my dad down during each breathing test. And I was overwhelmed by this request. I felt like a helpless little girl. Here in this hospital bed was my dad who I had always counted on to protect me, even when we didn’t get along. And he was suffering. And I didn’t know what to do.

And then, as we prepared for the next breathing test, this realization came over me. I could help.

I could help because I had so much practice, having spent so many nights with my own inconsolable baby daughter who would cry because of fear or frustration or illness. And for that one moment, I was transformed from a helpless daughter to compassionate Mother because my dad’s, my Abba’s own vulnerability called forth this power in the shape of love that I inherited from Him. God’s own power gave me the courage and calm to hold my dad’s hand and stroke his forehead and whisper over and over that it was okay, and everything was going to be okay. He passed that breathing test. And my dad was so grateful to the respiratory therapist who took out the breathing tube that he promised to take him fishing one day. And he did.

But that day, in that hospital room, I experienced our Abba God’s love. The love that never forces or coerces or wields a weapon. That vulnerable and powerful love, calling out to us and emerging from us, like the synchronized breathing of a newborn baby on her daddy's bare chest.

May we know such love and amplify it into the world.

May it be so.


[1] John Cobb. Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed (Kindle Ed.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Location 412.

[2] Elizabeth A. Johnson. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 1992. p. 269.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In Mourning and in Hope, with an invitation to action

In Mourning and in Hope
by Pastor Chris

We continue to mourn for the 50 people killed and 53 people injured in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. On Sunday evening, I was invited to say a few words at a vigil in honor and remembrance of the victims.

Here are some of my words:

At the Urban Abbey, we are committed to changing the conversation about LGBTQ people from whether they are of sacred worth to how LGBTQ people embody the very image of and teach us about God.

And so tonight we declare:

That every person who died in the Orlando shooting was a person of sacred worth.

Every person who was killed or injured was a beautiful & beloved fully human child of God.

This is not debatable.

And if I may offer one word of hope from the Christian tradition. This may not be your tradition, so feel free to take it metaphorically.

In our tradition, Jesus was crucified by the powers of oppression because he had disturbed them. Because his radical message of love that breaks down all barriers and knows no boundaries had started to take hold.

And they were scared. So they killed him. A year ago same sex marriage became legal. And I fully believe that the violence and vitriol toward LGBTQ people has been heightened because we are inevitably…inevitably headed toward full inclusion of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But today in Orlando the powers of oppression created a monster that crucified the very people who were embodying love that knows no bounds.

But this gathering…this gathering and ones like it in New York, in Dallas, in Florida, all around the country and all around the world ...all of us gathered in this spirit of courage and love...this is what resurrection looks like.

Let us continue to rise, and rise again, together. 



The struggles we face in changing our world are many.  The systems are complex and difficult to change.  There are so many aspects of the way we live together that we must examine that it becomes challenging to even begin to find a place to make change.  I would like to propose for a moment that in our grief, in our worry and in our hopefulness, we begin one step together.  I would invite you to look towards the work of the Brady Campaign that works for reforms that would change the way fire arms are sold and used.  It is time to begin thinking and imagining and dreaming a world that is worthy of our children and grandchildren.  It is time to write to our representatives to let them know that we are longing for leaders who will do the work of making change, even if that makes them unpopular with folks like the NRA.  Please give a look.  Take time to learn.  Join me in writing a letter to our representatives.   My letter is to let them know we want them to work for a safer world and that I will be writing again every time new legislation is presented to remind them that I stand for background checks and a ban on assault weapons…and that is just the start.

Thank you from your local Abbot,


Monday, June 6, 2016

What Gift Can You Bring?

A sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen
Preached June 5, 2016

So the other day, I walked into the Abbey super excited. And I said, "Debra, guess what?!" And she was like, "what?!" "There are rock hyrax in the new African Grasslands exhibit at the zoo!" And she kind of just looked at me, so I thought maybe she didn’t understand.  And so I continued, "Rock hyrax, Debra! That's the same as rock badgers, just like I preached about!" And she was like, "Yes, Chris, I know. You have explained rock badgers to me extensively. But I do have one question: are you ever going to preach just, like, a normal sermon?"

So, just for Debra, today you get a normal sermon. And if you're bored or fall asleep or something, it's on her. In all seriousness, sometimes relatively straightforward ideas call for relatively straightforward sermons. Now, don't get me wrong. Paul, the writer of the scripture we heard today is never simple. But I think there are some things about how Paul talks about gifts that actually are pretty clear.

First, Paul tells us that gifts are from God. All the gifts or skills or aptitudes or talents that that you might possess are gifts from God. That's pretty simple, right?

Second, different people have different gifts. The commentators on Paul note that whenever he talks about gifts, he is always sure to mention that different people have different gifts AND no one gift is better than another. All gifts are equally valuable.

I remember one time I was talking to my friend Brad Tharpe. He is an ordained American Baptist pastor, and I met him at a bioethics conference when he and I were both administrators in academia. We were in this weird position of both being the non-faculty Assistant Directors of bioethics programs, so we were essentially in charge of handling all the administrative stuff that the faculty really didn't want to deal with. And while we both enjoyed the people we worked with, well, it was kind of a thankless job. It was a detail-heavy, administratively labyrinthine, thankless job - that he and I were both amazing at. Because we have the gift of administration. Paul actually names administration as a gift in 1 Corinthians.

Well, one day we were commiserating over lunch about how thankless and boring this gift of administration was. And Brad told me that in seminary he did all this research on Paul's use of the word administration, convinced that it maybe had some secret meaning in Greek that made it really awesome. Like other gifts we might have preferred: maybe prophecy. Or wisdom. Or healing. But, he told me, it turns out that, nope, it's just good old administration. Or government. But that doesn't sound very inspiring either.

But Paul would not have appreciate conversation because to Paul all of the different kinds of gifts were from God, they were equally valuable, and all of them were needed for the good of the community. Borg & Crossan in their book on Paul write that for Paul, when he talks about "life in Christ," it is always a communal matter. You can hear in our reading today and other places in Paul’s letters about the different members of Christ's body. And he says that just as the parts of one's literal body have different functions, so we, the members of Christ's body, have different gifts. We are all different, and we all have something to contribute. We all have gifts that we need to share to live in Christian community with each other.

And so I have a question for you: Have you discerned your gifts for this community? What is the gift that you have to share here?

  • Is it offering people hospitality at the Farmer's Market on Saturdays? 
  • Leading a small group? 
  • Do you feel called to journey with people who are struggling as part of our pastoral care team? 
  • Are you a real wizard with an SOS pad and can wash dishes after worship? 
  • Can you sing or play an instrument in the Music Guild? 
  • Teach children in our one-room schoolhouse? 
  • Brew beer when we enter phrase three of Urban Abbey? 

... Okay, that last might not be allowed, but maybe one day. Anyway, I’m asking you to dream, discern, ask a good friend what your gifts are, and then ask God how you can share them with this community. Maybe you will see a way you can serve that we haven't even imagined yet. But think about it. Pray about it. Because your gifts are all unique, and all equally valuable, and we need all of them to be the world-changing community God is calling us to be.

I want to close with a quote from Marianne Williams. And it is especially for any of us in this room who might feel uncomfortable naming and claiming our gifts.

Hear this good news:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

May we have the courage to shine together.

May it be so.