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The Pilgrimage of Faith – Chuck Rush (4/29/18)

The Pilgrimage of Faith Micah 4:1-5; Heb. 11:1, 8-10, 13-16 In the 19th century, when the discipline of Archeology began, most archeologists presumed that civilization preceded the advent of religion. You have to be a fairly wealthy society to be able to afford priests. Building temples costs real money, tell me about it- slate roofs, stained glass...
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Easter Sunday, Live Passionately – Chuck Rush (4/1/18)

Easter, 2018 Live Passionately April 1, 2018 Mk. 16:1-8 [embedyt][/embedyt] We gather this morning to remember the love that transcends death. We gather to beckon the hope that burial cannot contain. And may we manifest the passion that God has shown us. Passionate life is so beautiful, so powerful. The most profound sermon preached across our world last weekend was...
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The Lonely Vigil – Caroline Dean (3/18/18)

“The Lonely Vigil” Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean Christ Church, Summit New Jersey March 18th 2018 [embedyt][/embedyt] A reading from the Gospel of Luke Chapter 22:39-48 Jesus prays at the Mount of Olives (This is Luke’s version of the Garden of Gethsemane narrative – this story is located between the Last Supper & the Arrest in the Holy Week narratives. The...
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#MeToo – Chuck Rush (3/11/18)

#MeToo Exhibit March 11, 2018 Ps. 1; Mt. 5:1-9 The #metoo movement bubbled to the surface at Christ Church and we have fifteen entries, thirteen from women and two from men. The reflections speak to the betrayal that comes from the misuse of authority, the violation and helplessness that compounds with...
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Dispatch from Jerusalem – Chuck Rush (2/11/18)

[embedyt][/embedyt] Dispatch from Jerusalem February 11, 2018 Psalm 121 and John 17:17-23 (Common English Version) You walk up and up to Jerusalem. It is on the top of a small mountain, 3500 feet on one side and 5000 feet on the other side. And the Temple Mount is on the highest point in the city. 3000 years ago, Solomon...
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As One With Authority – Julie Yarborough (2/4/18)

Rev. Julie Yarborough February 4, 2018 Mark 1:21-39 “As One with Authority” There was something special, something unusual about Jesus. Time and time again, the gospels tell us that people noticed something different when they encountered him. Some wondered with awe, “Who is this man?” Others scoffed, “Who does he think he is?” Either way, it is...
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What is the Truth? – Chuck Rush (1/21/18)

What is the Truth? January 21, 2018 John 18:38 There has not been nearly enough done with this passage of scripture. It is an exchange between loveless power (Pilate) and powerless love (Jesus). This whole account in John is a highly stylized literary interpretation of a conversation that is highly imaginative. But it strikes me as just an...
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An Interfaith Call to Compassion – Chuck Rush (1/7/18)

[embedyt][/embedyt] An Interfaith Plea for Compassion January 7, 2018 Isaiah Matthew File this under “Why I go to Church”. A few years ago, the religion scholar Karen Armstrong suggested that our world needed a Charter for Compassion. She thought all of the world’s religions should come together around the shared value of compassion as a central spiritual expression....
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Vulnerable Hope – Chuck Rush (12/10/17)

[embedyt][/embedyt] Advent 1, 2017 Love Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 1:26-28 I had my grandson John John riding with me on the tractor. I say to him, “John John, I thought this would be a good time to talk about your future”. John John is a loquacious 4 year old. I say to him, “John John, when you...
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To Think For Yourself – Chuck Rush (10/29/17)

[embedyt][/embedyt] Thinking for Yourself October 29, 2017 Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 3:25-28 [embedyt][/embedyt] 500 years ago, Martin Luther penned 95 Theses to the front door of the Church in Wittenberg in what turned out to be a moment that changed epochs. At the time, we only had one church in the West, the Roman Catholic Church. And the Vatican needed...
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God’s Newness and Personal Transformation – Chuck Rush (10/15/17)

[embedyt][/embedyt] God’s Newness and Personal Transformation October 15, 2017 Revelation 21; Acts Apart from their extraordinary contribution to human happiness, what do the following have in common: Erasmus, Leonardo de Vinci, Michaelangelo, Christopher Marlowe, King James I of England, Sir Francis Bacon, Thomas Gray, Frederick the Great of Germany, Margaret Fuller, Tchaikovsky, Nijinsky, Proust, A.E. Houseman, T.E....
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Positive Presence – Chuck Rush (9/24/17)

Positive Presence 9/24/17 Rm. 12:2,9; Phil. 2:14-17 Friday afternoon, I drove to Brooklyn to see my daughter Annie. Just as we are merging on the Holland tunnel, a young woman a couple cars ahead of me just butts in line instead of merging alternatively like everyone else. The guy she cuts off goes ballistic. You can see his arms...
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A Reconciling Presence – Chuck Rush (9/17/17)

A Reconciling Presence 9/17/17 Romans 12:16-21; Philippians 2:1-4 I’ve been reading the latest book by John Gottman, the expert on marriage at the moment. Professor Gottman has studied over 30,000 couples in his love lab at the University of Washington. His work is simply empirical. But lately he has started to draw some conclusions after two decades of...
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Of Monuments and Morals – Chuck Rush (9/10/17)

Of Monuments and Morals September 10, 2017 Numbers 14:18; Mt. 28:19, 20 The Bible has a profound observation of moral fact in our first scripture this morning. It says ‘The Sins of the Fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” It suggests that the consequences of our actions not only have implications horizontally,...
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Tikkun Olum: Repairing the World – Chuck Rush (8/27/17)

Tikkun Olam- Healing the World 8/27/17 Isaiah 61:1-4 (I will restore their devastations); Mt. 10:38-39 I was interested to read the Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal last week by the former Host of Meet the Press, David Gregory. David Gregory worked his way up the ladder at NBC, covering national politics for the past couple decades...
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Love, Hate, Life & Death – Caroline Dean (8/20/17)

[embedyt][/embedyt] “Love, Hate, Life & Death” August 20th 2017 Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean A reading from Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’...
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Be Grateful for Your Problems – Chuck Rush (8/13/17)

Being Grateful for your Problems 8/13/17 Ps. 33:1, 4-8; Lk. 22:24-8-28; 39-44 One morning, the dour playwright Samuel Beckett was walking with a friend through the streets of Paris on their way for a coffee. It was one of those spectacularly crisp warm mornings of spring that make Paris so magnificent, so Beckett’s friend said, “Doesn’t a day...
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God’s Kin-dom on Earth – Julie Yarborough (7/30/17)

Matthew 6:9-16 Rev. Julie Yarborough Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Christ Church, Summit July 30, 2017 [audio mp3=""][/audio] “God’s Kin-dom on Earth” Jesus often used common ordinary objects to illustrate his teachings. Stories known as parables, which are short and simple on the surface, but complex when examined closely, are sprinkled throughout his lessons. Often just...
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Spiritually Shaped Character – Chuck Rush (7/23/17)

Spiritually Shaped Character July 23, 2017 I Corinthians 13:1-9, 13; John 13: 34, 35 This morning Kerry and Sarah dedicated themselves to raising baby Mason. And we ask for the support of God and the support of the whole community indirectly because it is the character piece of raising the next generation that is so challenging. They will...
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A Work in Progress – Chuck Rush (7/16/17)

A Work in Progress July 16, 2017 Luke 15 We call this the parable of the Prodigal Son but it should probably be called the Patient father. Jesus teaches us what God is like. God is like a poor woman that finds a coin that she values a great deal and is filled with joy over its return....
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Lay Your Burdens Down – Caroline Dean (7/9/17)

“Lay Your Burdens Down: If the Yoke Fits” Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean July 9th 2017 A reading from the extra-canonical book of Sirach Chapter 6: about being “yoked” – bound together with wisdom & not letting her go. “Come to wisdom with all your soul and keep her ways with all your might. Search out...
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Lies, Honesty, Love – Chuck Rush (5/21/17)

Lies, Honesty, Love May 21, 2017 Gen. 3:1-12; Mt. 5:8 g ago, there lived a King who was particularly fond of gardening. Everything he touched bloomed. In particular, he was very fond of flowers and all through out the palace ground, there were hundreds of beautiful flowers over acres of garden. The King was aging and needed to...
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“Don’t Eat Dead Squirrels” Confirmation Sunday – Caroline Dean (5/7/17)

Confirmation Sunday May 7th 2017 Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean “Don’t Eat Dead Squirrels” [embedyt][/embedyt] A Reading Leviticus Chapter 19 verses 2 & 18: God said tell the whole congregation of Israel, “Be Holy, because I, the Lord your God am Holy. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord, your God.” Let us pray: God of...
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Care For The Earth – Chuck Rush (4/30/17)

Care for the Earth April 30, 2017 Genesis 41:15-24; Genesis 41:27-36 I put on a tie recently and noticed that it was covered in gunk… Looking closer, I made out the image of two hand prints from my grandson Michael’s yogurt covered hands… Apparently he thought I had tied a napkin around my neck for his personal convenience....
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Eternally Transcendent Love – Chuck Rush (4/16/17)

Easter 2017 Eternally Transcendent Love [embedyt][/embedyt] Mark 16:1-8 The Easter story is that tragically, perhaps inadvertently, unwittingly, we killed God’s messenger. But God is not so easily rebuffed. Torture cannot stop God. Even death does not stop God. And the resurrection is God coming after us in love transcending death. What kind of love is that? Literally beyond...
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Palms, Protest and Passion – Caroline Dean (4/9/17)

“Palms, Protest & Passion” Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean April 9, 2017 [embedyt][/embedyt] A reading from Matthew Chapter 21:1-11 “When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her;...
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Sermons & Presentations

Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, An Altar in the World, tells a story about a time when she was guest preaching at an Episcopal church in the south. She arrives early to check out the sanctuary & get settled in. She immediately noticed that behind the altar there was a striking mural of the resurrected Jesus, stepping out of the tomb. After greeting a member of the altar guild, a manicured and proper southern lady, Barbara walks up behind the altar to get a closer look at the mural. She says that Jesus looked “as limber as a ballet dancer with his arms raised in blessing…except for the white cloth swaddling his waist, Jesus was naked. His skin was the color of a pink rose. His limbs were flooded with light.”
Barbara felt protective over Jesus with so much skin showing, he is all exposed in such a public place. She recognized the beauty in this painting that in Jesus' moment of transcendence, he remained human, he came back wearing skin. But then she also quickly noticed that something was missing, the wounds in his hands and feet were apparent – though not grotesque. His arms were thin but strong, but then staring at his underarms, she noticed - that Jesus had no body hair! “Beautiful, isn't it?” asked the woman who was polishing the silver. “It surely is that,” Barbara said, “ but did you ever notice that he has no body hair? He has the underarms of a six-year-old and his chest is a smooth as a peach.” And the woman shrank in awkwardness. “Uh, no, um, wow…” she said.

This may or may not have sent me on a Google hunt to find a picture of a hairy Jesus, but alas, in the collective Christian imagination, Jesus is really into hygiene. Seriously though in a majority of these portraits, Jesus skin is silky and “rosey” and white and “hair free.”

And this perfectly manicured Jesus is problematic especially when I imagine Jesus in our gospel reading today. First of all - let's get something straight up front, Jesus was not fair-skinned, which is another sermon for another day. Second of all Jesus most certainly did not have access to spa treatments, sunscreen, or a personal trainer. I mean seriously though it looks like he baths in milk and does mint julep masks every day! And yes, Jesus was crucified, but he looked damn good doing it! The reality is that Jesus was a poor drifter teacher who trudged around in dirt and grim and touched lepers. And who knows, Jesus may have even been uglier or fatter or shorter or grey-haired or balding than our perfect-bodied Jesus! Why would that be such a scandal?

It would be a scandal - because we are generally uncomfortable with our own bodies – we decided to manicure Jesus' body and make it perfect to make us feel a little more at ease about the imperfections and struggles in our own bodies.

So Jesus' messy body – with smelly feet and bad breath and hunger and pain and a couple grey hairs – one day in his travels encounters a man who's body is covered in leprosy. And the man's frail and weak body covered with open wounds throws himself on the dirt ground at Jesus' feet in desperation. And Jesus heals him and restores him to his community. And I need Jesus to have a messy, real body in this scene. Because imagining the rosy pink flesh that is unblemished and perfect touching the broken body of the leper with open wounds just doesn't do it for me. “Rosey-skinned”

And perfect bodied Jesus doesn't fit in this story for two reasons:

1) Jesus' body certainly stands in contrast to our leper friend. The leper's flesh is rotting and open to infection, while Jesus' skin is shiny and new. If Jesus' body in our cultural imagination is perfect, unblemished, without warts or bad breath or hangnails, then we can hold his body at a bit of a distance. And the reverse is also true, Jesus can hold our bodies at a bit of a distance – and he would hold the body of a man with leprosy at a distance.

2) Leprosy is contagious, physically and socially – by touching this man, Jesus risks, pain, brokenness, loss of feeling, loss of limb, being socially ostracized. So when Jesus' body touches this leper – he risks being contaminated with this curse – this social and physical death. He puts his body on the line. And to top it off Jesus risks his own religious authority – if he contracts leprosy, everyone will think that it is his fault- that he deserves this suffering because he has sinned.

And so rosey-skinned-unblemished-no-body-hair-Jesus just doesn't do it for me in this scene. He is too ethereal, too perfect to risk touching a leper. The rosey-skinned Jesus has a special body and he can stand apart from us – he doesn't really get what it's like to be human. The Jesus with body hair, he is on our team, he is vulnerable, he touches lepers. He has skin in the game. He is moved with pity to touch a man who is untouchable.

But here is where the rubber hits the road, (START SLIDESHOW) just like the portrait of Jesus' perfect body we idealize the perfect human body now more than ever, and our relationships with our bodies are so complicated and loaded that we often cope by ignoring our bodies until they scream at us for attention.

Think about the struggles that land in our bodies: Struggles in our sex lives, with body image, with our relationship to food, our ability to balance rest and work, our relationship with other people's bodies, bodies that don't fit quite so easily into nice categories. We have an insidious cultural habit of demeaning and objectifying bodies in order to sell perfume. And don't get me wrong the Christian church has been the worst, trying to control our sexuality, and creating negative images of our bodies to suppress and oppress certain people with shame.

All of these complications and struggles divorce us from our bodies. Like the leper our bodies are fraught with illness – we are the most addicted, overweight, prescribed adult cohort in human history. These sacred vessels created in God's image are at risk of being subsumed by the quest for the “perfect body.” This dichotomy between our own body and the perfect body - divorce us from our bodies – suppress the beauty that we already are for some ideal or we ignore our bodies because they are loaded with shame

So here's the deal – This leper story is a story about isolation. This man is divorced from his own body, and kicked out of his religious, social and familial support system to battle this disease alone. And to top it off he is isolated from God, in their cultural context, this disease is proof that he has sinned before God and is therefore paying penance for his sins in suffering. So this man is left utterly isolated.

Jesus' miracle here is that he restores this man to his own body. When you have leprosy you lose sensation – you lose your connection to your nerves, which can eventually cause loss of limb. And so when Jesus heals him – he now is restored to his own body. This man is also restored unto his community, and they can now begin tending to the wounds of his soul from the pain of social isolation.

Like the leper we need Jesus to restore us to our own bodies and to restore us to authentic communities that can help us heal.

Why are people cast out in our society because of their bodies? Maybe they are too fat, too thin, too old or too young. Maybe they happen to love the “wrong body.” People are isolated because they are differently-abled, or their bodies carry the weight of illness or chronic struggles. We carry shame around in our bodies, not just eating disorders and a distorted idea of what “healthy” bodies look like but the general feeling that we are unaware of our bodies and our connection to God through them.

When we affirm Jesus' imperfect skin, we also need to affirm our own sacred skin. How does our culture try to divorce us from our own bodies? How do we lose touch with the sacred goodness of each unique body that is created in God's image, with one uniform and oppressive definition of “healthy” and “beautiful?”

Here me now when I say, “you are a person of beauty and worth, created in God's image.” How does that mantra change us? How can we develop rituals to remind ourselves of the sacred connection of our bodies and souls and minds? What does cherishing and affirming your body look like for you? Is it a yoga practice or a sport? A good bath, a long walk? Is it a nap or a morning routine?

Jesus says, “This is my body – broken for you”

Jesus body was broken

Our bodies are broken

And yet we celebrate them today as a place of sacredness – that God calls “GOOD.”

A beautiful miraculous gift – these things that we walk around in

These bodies that heal and breathe and walk and sing and dance

These bodies are our spiritual homes

May we gather in communion today with this mantra

“I am a person of beauty and worth – created in God's image”

And may that mantra heal us and draw us into communion with God and each other.