The Terrifying Good News of Easter

by Lowell Chilton

We forget that just the day before yesterday we watched God die on a cross for us.
We forget that all beginnings come after an ending.
We forget that new life comes after death.
We forget that Easter is terrifying.

The new life of Christ comes only after death, a death into which all the Earth is joined through the cross. A death which is terrifying for we do not know what will emerge in it's place.

Read More

Standing in the Rubble of the Temple

by Lowell Chilton

Nearly 400 years ago, as the ship Arbella sailed toward Massachusetts, John Winthrop gave a sermon on the nature of Christian Community and Christian Charity. He spoke of the people living as a “shining city on a hill,” a place where people lived together fully:
          rejoicing together,
          mourning together,
          making the other’s conditions their own.

Over time, this sermon, and especially the attachment of America to the biblical image of “the shining city on a hill,” became embedded in the public consciousness of America. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both drew heavily on the image of the City on the Hill, encouraging the better angels of our being in service to our country and our people.

The temple of America,
the shining city on a hill,
a beacon of light in the darkness,
is built on stones promising justice for all,
stones of equality between peoples,
and stones of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Over the last 400 years, we (mostly) white European immigrants to this beautiful land, have held dear this image of America as the City on a Hill. We have spread the Gospel of America far and wide. We have mourned together. We have rejoiced together.

We have marveled at the beautiful stones of our temple and the gifts dedicated to the God of progress and self-reliance.

In ancient Judea, there was a literal temple. It was enormous. It stood on the top of the hill in Jerusalem and could be seen for miles around. It was destroyed the first time in 586 BCE and then rebuilt.

In the time of Jesus, the temple was a center of life for the people. It was the focal point of the three pilgrimage festivals. The temple was the very house of God. It was the place to which people went to seek favor with God. It was the symbol of hope for the people. The temple was the locus of their faith and the core of their identity.

And the temple was destroyed in the year 70.

The gospel according to Luke was written in the wake of this destruction.

Imagine for a moment being a first Century Palestinian Jewish Christian,
one who has lived through wars and insurrections,
who has seen many Messiahs come and promise salvation
          only to be smashed down again,
one who has seen the literal destruction of the Temple.

Imagine feeling the shock of the destruction of your identity and hearing the words of the Gospel today.

What would you feel?

What do you feel?

Perhaps for some of you it is not hard to imagine. For many people this week the Temple of America came tumbling down. For many people, the temple of America was never really there.

The promise of “all men are created equal” has long meant:

of largely European ancestry,


The City on a Hill, rejoicing together and mourning together, has all to often only been true if you are like me.

The City on a Hill never was.

We are a nation forged in hope and promise for a better future.

Promise which was made possible
through the genocide of those persons already living here,
through the enslavement of millions of persons
          brought here from their homes by force,
through the restriction of civic rights to millions more,
through mass incarceration with impact that ripples throughout the lives of families.

Over the last year and a half, the nation of Liberty and Justice for all has allowed hateful, divisive rhetoric to become normal.

Realizing that there are many motivations for voting one way or another, we as a nation have allowed those motivations to overwhelm our sense of duty to one another.

We have failed to make the other’s concern our own. We have failed to love our neighbor, when that neighbor is far away and different. In the days sense the election, accounts of racial slurs, physical attacks on immigrants, and fear deep in the heart of people abound.

This is not simply a political dispute.
This is not simply a party who lost feeling sad about losing.
This is not something that the people who are afraid and grieving can just buck up and get over.

Because now the myth of the Temple of America has been laid open and been brought down.

Standing in the wake of the destruction of the temple of America,
we remember that each of us is a beloved child of God,
created in God’s own image,
no matter what.

AND so is everyone else:
everyone who voted for Donald Trump,
everyone who voted for Hilary Clinton,
everyone who voted for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or Evan McMullen,
everyone who did not vote for any of them, or at all,

every immigrant,
every person born here,

every person regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,
every person regardless of religion,

is a beloved child of God,
created in God’s own image.


As hard as it is, as much as we may be hurting, we remember that God’s love has no limits.

We remember that other people are hurting too, for many reasons. There are many people who voted each way in this election, and we must be careful not to vilify the people who voted for a position other than our own.

Instead, we must look closely at the myth of the temple of America,
          see how it has caused pain for so many people.

We must seek relationships which build bonds
          across our community, and our country,
and which challenge our own concepts
          of what people believe and who they are.

Standing in the rubble of the temple, we will be tempted to listen to those who say I AM HE.

We remember that there is only God, the I AM, the source of all life, the very foundation of all being.

We remember that this I AM came into the world as Jesus the Christ
          to proclaim the Good News to the poor,
          to die at the hands of the world,
          and to rise up again.

We remember that we are joined to this death. We are joined to this resurrection. We are joined to this ascension.

We remember that we are presented with opportunities to testify to the love of God:
          to proclaim the Good News,
          to welcome the stranger
          to feed the hungry
          to comfort the afflicted and imprisoned
          and to seek justice for all persons.

We are presented with the opportunity to build community which
          mourns together,
          rejoices together,
          and makes the other’s condition our own,
          living as a shining city on a hill.

As we go forth we are surrounded by the Love of God and by all of those who have gone before us,
building the temple of God in the world through thought, word and deed.
          trusting in God,
          who calls us each by name,
          and whose love endures forever.


Humiliated Christ, Humiliated Church

by Lowell Chilton in , ,

A reflection on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Lectures on Christology. I wrote this last year at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and it is calling to me this week.

God became human for me
God became human for you
God became human for all

I could not see God
I would not see God
I do not see God

God become human went to the Cross
                                  died on the Cross
                                  humiliated on the Cross

God become human humiliated for me
God become human humiliated for you
God become human humiliated for all

I could not see God
I would not see God
I do not see God

Church of Christ flourished
Church of Christ was proud
Church of Christ obscured God

I could not see God
I would not see God
I do not see God

Church of Christ goes to the Cross
Church of Christ dies on the Cross
Church of Christ is humiliated on the Cross

Humiliated Church lives
Humiliated Church opens
Humiliated Church reveals

Reveals God for me
                      for you
                      for all

I might see God
I will see God
I do see God

A Nation Possessed

by Lowell Chilton

The massacre in Pulse is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. An armed individual shattered a community, killed forty-nine persons, and physically and emotionally injured many more.

And yet, Sunday was just another day in America.
On any given day in America, 36 people are killed by a gun.
On any given day in America, 76 people are injured by a gun.
On any given day in America, there is at least one mass shooting, where 4 or more people are killed or injured by a gun. Not including the shooter.

Read More

Growing up fast

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of the Lutheran Church of the Cross, Berkeley, CA.
The texts are: 1 Samuel 19-21,26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

I grew up in Tennessee, mostly. After college I moved out to Seattle for a job. Not long after I moved to Seattle, eight or nine years ago, I started volunteering with the youth group in the church I joined.

As is common in many youth groups, a favorite activity of this youth group was the lock-in. Despite my best efforts planning devotions and educational activities, the highlight was usually some variation on turn off the lights and hide.

Back then there was a kid, maybe 13 years old, who was small enough to fit under a small prayer table in the hallway during those hide in the dark games.

Now that kid is as taller than my shoulder, and I am quite tall. This summer I took him out for beer to celebrate his 21st birthday and he came to my moving away party, at a bar.

Time moves quickly doesn’t it. Certainly feels like it today. Jesus was only born two days ago and already we’ve moved on to when he is twelve. Where did the time go?

It seems a little jarring to have just been celebrating the incarnation, the birth of God into the world as Jesus of Nazareth. And now he’s a pre-teen. And like most pre-teen boys I know, he’s showing off, doing what he wants to do, and angering his mom.

All the other Gospel writers skip over this part of God’s time on Earth as Jesus. Mark and John don’t even talk about the birth. John the Baptizer starts foretelling things and then there’s this dude named Jesus preaching and getting followers.


Our ancient creeds skip over this too. To be fair, they also skip over Jesus’ adult ministry. They go from being born to Mary to suffering under Pontius Pilot. It often seems as though Jesus came into the world ready for ministry.

And yet, none of us go from birth to adulthood in one fell swoop. We all grew up, shaped by the world around us, by our relationships with our parents, and by participating in the life of the church.

Despite being God incarnate, Jesus was no different. As God incarnate, Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. As fully human, Jesus grew up surrounded by family, friends, parents, and the practice of religion of the day.

Last week we heard the Magnificat, the Song of Mary to some. Mary sings this song to Elizabeth, but it was probably not her original song, but rather music from her life of faith.

The Magnificat is remarkably similar to the song that Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the other prodigious youngster we heard about today, sings when she finds out that she is pregnant with Samuel. It is thought that this song or a version of it was a part of the worship practice in Mary’s day.

Since Mary spontaneously bursts into church music at learning of the pregnancy, it seems likely to me that she probably continued in her faith practices. She and her husband Joseph brought up Jesus in the life of faith of their household, teaching him the ancient songs and scriptures.

A part of this life of faith was going to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. We only have mention of the family going for Passover, but they likely would also have gone twice more each year, for Sukkot and Shavuot.


When Jesus was twelve, they made the trip for the Passover festival as usual and on the way home they noticed Jesus was missing.

It took them a whole day to notice.

Now they weren’t travelling alone, they were traveling with a large group. It was probably normal for the kids to find each other and walk together, roughhousing and goofing off.

So when he doesn’t show up when they stop for the night, they freak out. They talk to all their neighbors, trying to find out if anyone saw him. Finally, someone tells them that Jesus turned back into the city not long after they left it.


Mary and Joseph rush back to Jerusalem, which is another day’s journey,
they search everywhere-there were a great many pilgrims to search through,
and finally find Jesus at the end of the third day.

In the Temple.

Three days later they find him in the temple being a bit of a show off, impressing all the teachers with his questions and answers.

Now, he is the Son of God, and also God, but perhaps he has these great insights in part because he grew up with the religious formation of Mary and Joseph.

And because he made the yearly pilgrimage. And because he had friends and family and knew the world.

Upon finding him, after three days, his mother rightly gets angry with him:

Child, why have you treated us like this?
Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.


She is past angry, she is furious. And what does Jesus do.

He mouths off at her.

Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?
(NRSV modified (“I must be” -> “it is necessary for me to be”))

I like to imagine Mary responding to this with: “What did you say to me?” and a quick smack on the back of the head.

My great-grandmother says that this Jesus’ first miracle, that he survived back-talkin’ his mama like that.

In the midst of that back-talk though, Jesus was also letting it be known that he knew that he was called to teach, that he was the Son of God, and that he had a destiny to fulfill in the temple.

In this moment, in the temple, Jesus is both a prodigy and a jackass. He is fully human and fully divine.

That’s pretty powerful.

That God would so long for connection with humanity, and indeed with the whole of creation, that God came into the world as a baby.

A baby who grew up.

And in the process of growing up, learned the patterns of the faith from his parents and teachers, absorbed the patterns of life from the world around him, and engaged fully in the world around him, including being a smart-mouth to his mama on at least this one occasion.

That kid from my youth group has grown into a fine young man, but I sometimes still see the kid hiding under the little table in the hallway.

And before we know it, that little kid who was showing off in the temple is hanging on the cross, with his mama crying at his feet. And yet he lives on with us as we carry on the Church of Christ.

As we carry on the Church of Christ, we grow up with the faith and practices of the Family of Christ, of the Body of Christ.

And whether it is the faith of our childhood or something we come to as adults, we grow up in the patterns of the faith:
Christmas and Easter,
Birth and Death,
Baptism and Communion.

Today we are still celebrating the wonder and mystery that is God incarnate, that is God choosing
to live life as a human,
to have a mother and father,
and to be a child.

Let us cherish this moment,
let us dwell in the mystery of God incarnate having a human childhood,
let us not force Jesus to grow up too fast,
but also let us never forget what Jesus does for us when he grows up.