A little change of pace for 2nd Sunday of Easter...
2011-04-24 by David Howell
You Have A Few Purple Hairs Yourself
John 20:19-31; 1 Peter 1:3-9
After having worked in New York City for several years, she was promoted to Midwest Regional Manager. She was so excited about the promotion she gave little thought to what life might be like in Appleton, Wisconsin, the location of the regional office. The first thing she discovered was that there was very little public transportation available there, and that she needed to buy a car. Still in an exuberant mood, she bought herself a red Volkswagen Beetle, and the day she picked it up, she had her hair dyed red—not a garish, ridiculous red—just a nice red tint. She was, after all, a professional and had to meet with clients and vendors and consultants and other people whom she was obliged to impress with her competence and not distract with her style of dress. Still, she also had her nails painted VW Beetle red in honor of her new car, and that day she particularly enjoyed her habit of clicking her nails on desktops—not incessantly but only occasionally—as a signal that she thought it was time for whoever was speaking to shut up. The rattling of those nails on those long shiny wooden tables in the oppressively attentive atmosphere of business meetings made a shocking clatter compared to the male voices droning on and on about statistics and strategies. She found that the sound caused everyone to look at her, attention to which she responded with a playful smile on her VW Beetle red lips.
When she had first moved to New York, she thought the people there were crazy—every meal was a meeting; every minute was minded, mastered and monitored in a monomaniacal frenzy and milked for every ounce of productivity possible. For the first month of working from seven in the morning to nine at night six days a week, she’d come home exhausted, sleep the dreamless sleep of the dead, and drag herself off to work the next day. But after a month, she began going out after nine for fun with her colleagues. She learned that all the extra money she was making was not to be squirreled away in IRAs and mutual funds like her parents back in "da old country in Visconsin": oh no, this money was to be spent—immediately, incessantly—on cleaning services, launderers, coiffures, chauffeurs, spas, night clubs, restaurants, waiters, maitre d’s—an endless cast of smiling servants eagerly waiting to gasp for air after the clouds of her perfume dispersed. After a month of learning to wield this sort of power over people, she found she rather liked it. She found she really only needed five hours of sleep, because all those frantic appointments kept her awake, and because she had all those servants to meet her every need.
In Appleton, however, it was difficult to find these kinds of servants, and her company’s facility had its own cut-rate cafeteria to which employees brought bag lunches. This sort of behavior in corporate executives appalled her, especially when she learned that they also washed their own clothes, changed their own storm windows, and cut their own lawns. Another conversation about when to fertilize the grass, and she thought she’d lose her mind. So she bought the Beetle and set to work nights to find someone who knew about life as she had once enjoyed it, someone who was moving up and out of Appleton.
She found Brad. She saw in a second he hadn’t bought his suits or shoes in Appleton. She saw in a second he had no idea who Ray Nitschke was or why there were heads of dead animals mounted on the walls of bars. They immediately fell to comparing notes about night-life in Boston and New York and were able to fill a full week of nights with conversation about that topic alone.
For his part, Brad was glad she made no secret about where she purchased her undergarments. For Brad, that was about enough.
Their romance rapidly progressed to the point of negotiating arrangements to live together, when peculiar things began to happen. She began noticing dings in her Beetle doors. She had never owned a car before since she had always taken limos to airports and taxis to work, so she had never known the agony of seeing that first dent in the perfect, shiny shape of the door of a new car. It was amazing to her how such a tiny imperfection could spoil the look of the entire car. She took it to her insurance agent who reminded her of her $500 deductible, and then she took it to the repair shop whose owner, after two days, proudly showed her the repair job.
She immediately saw where the ding had been. "It’s still there, I can see it, and the paint. . .the paint doesn’t match! It’s...it’s flatter! It looks worse than before! It’s terrible!"
Soon she found another ding, a deep ding in the other door, a ding that bespoke malicious intent, that suggested she and her Beetle were a target of some criminal conspiracy. She immediately reported the new ding to the police who assured her that they would try to track down the thugs who had perpetrated this heinous crime, and then she returned to her insurance agent demanding two new doors. She was reminded that although her insurance would pay whatever it cost over $500 to have the second door repaired, it would not pay for a new door, much less two.
She ordered the doors anyway and decided to talk to her lawyer—who was Brad.
Now they had become very close in their commiseration about their mutual disgust for Appleton. She had even taken Brad home for Thanksgiving to show him to her parents. When they showed up, her nieces and nephews were all watching the Thanksgiving Day parade on the big screen TV, the technology for which included a tiny screen up in the right hand corner upon which the older nephews kept an eye on the pre-game show for the football games. Everyone said, "Nice to meet you" to Brad, and the meal was great, and afterwards there were enough munchies and beer for several football games, which the guys watched on the big screen, while the nieces and nephews watched videos or played Nintendo in the kids’ rooms—it being too muddy to play outside. During commercials, when everyone got up to get a beer or to empty themselves of it, Brad was left alone on the couch to play his pocket video game, while she fidgeted through an interrogation conducted by her grandma and great aunts about her handsome young man.
After Thanksgiving was over, Brad said he enjoyed himself very much, so they began to take up negotiations in regards to living together again. Though they agreed that living together would be more convenient and theoretically more cost effective, they were stuck on one item: she needed more space than his two bedroom apartment—an extra room or two or a whole house perhaps, for her computer and her clothes. "I can’t get all my clothes into your closet; they’re expensive, and I won’t have them ruined," she said.
Brad magnanimously suggested he could use the front hall closet for his clothes, but she countered with a jab about how that would look to guests whose coats had to be hung there. When they switched to the computer issue, they crashed again. She simply had to have her own computer and therefore her own desk, and there was definitely no room for two computer workstations in his spare bedroom nor would one look good anywhere else.
This need to find a bigger and more expensive place obviously cut into the cost effectiveness benefit, and since the deal wasn’t playing out perfectly, it wasn’t getting done. Apparently it was easy enough for them to share a bed, but unthinkable for them to share something that really mattered like closet space or a computer. As if to issue a final test of their relationship, she flung the dings in her Beetle at him, "You’re a lawyer. Can’t you do something about those dings? Can’t you go after the police or sue the car dealer for poor workmanship or the insurance guy for fraud? My car looks awful! It’s not supposed to be that way! It’s brand new! It’s these people’s jobs to keep it that way!"
When it became clear that Brad could do nothing about any of these problems, she dumped him—even after that promising first impression he left on her family who liked how nicely he dressed and how carefully he folded his napkin after dinner. She dumped her car, too and fought with the dealer for a year after the bill came for the two Beetle doors she no longer wanted.
She decided to try a new place to find companionship—a Lawrence University hangout. The only unaccompanied young man she noticed on her first visit had purple hair, which kind of appealed to her in her present pouty mood. Now not even I can imagine what young ladies say to young men with purple hair as an ice-breaker these days, but they did get on famously, and he was soon explaining to her that his hair was dyed purple because it was Lent.
She had long lived with the assumption that Lent was the reason people went out for a fish fry on Fridays or the reason people briefly gave up necessities such as television or chocolate, because these were the kinds of things she remembered her Catholic schoolmates had done. She hadn’t realized Lent could lead one to change one’s appearance so radically. When she began to gently burden this Christian lad with how boring Appleton was, he began to get quite excited as if he hoped to win over her affection by showing her a whole new world: "On the contrary," he began, "today I was just a half an hour out of town looking into a puddle in the woods and seeing the most extraordinary things."
It was a good thing that she had nothing to eat or drink in her mouth at the time or this statement would have most certainly led to unsightly stains on her new red dress. As he went on to explain how he had seen in said puddle several species of beetle larvae, some red water mites, and even a few copepods and nematodes, she grew pale and began furtively glancing about her for some manner of escape.
"But didn’t you get full of mud?" was all she could manage to ask.
"Oh sure!" he said, but then he went on to explain that kneeling in mud was like kneeling in life itself, and he told her about the biology of mud—about how healthy mud is seething with invisible creatures and about how vital it is that such creatures populate the mud in order to change death into nutrients for the soil, so that the trees grow tall and healthy, so that the birds of the air have food and shelter for their young and hidden places from which to sing their marvelous spring songs to which he listened with thanksgiving in his heart as he sat there that day in the mud. He would take her there the very next day and show her all that extraordinary life in a puddle of mud and explain to her the facts of life—that at the most basic level of the structure of the stuff of the universe, scientists have learned that matter appears and disappears quite randomly, and about how in those milliseconds of the transition between invisible energy and visible matter one can readily imagine how it’s possible for the invisible God to be the source of creation and life, how it’s possible for the invisible God to have become visible flesh in Jesus the Christ, and how it’s possible for the invisible Christ to be truly present in the bread and wine shared at the table of the Lord.
She downed a shot, looked at him a long time, and then fled.
Much of life, I think, is increasingly understood and evaluated only through what can be seen. From an early age, we devour millions of amazingly images. When we can’t manage to get real life to measure up to the perfectly polished images of it that we see, we become distressed and obsessed with those irritating dings in the doors of life, and we start dumping things, even relationships—perpetually moving on to things we think look better. Yet when our minds are so distressed and obsessed with what we can see, how are we to celebrate and love "with an indescribable and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:8) the One whom we cannot see? "Seeing is believing," both we and Thomas say, but Jesus says instead, "Blessed, are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (Jn 20:29).
So how is it that the fellow with purple hair can see the everlasting source of life in mud and not consider mud boring or worry about the stains on his pants or worse, consider mud a mere wetland drainable for industrial development? It is because Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into this disciple of his, just as God Almighty breathed the breath of life into Adam whom he had formed from the mud. The good news is that in baptism all of you have already received this Holy Spirit through whom God promises always to attempt to break through the power the appearance of perfection has to possess us. In baptism, dear Christian friends, you already have a few purple hairs yourself.
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Dramatic Monologues, Jonah, Easter Sunday
2011-04-22 by David von Schlichten
Dramatic monologues are tricky and should be done sparingly. They easily become hokey or gimmicky and can be overdone.
They have been well-received at St. James, but I am sure I don't always get them right.
Thank you, David and Rick, for your input.
On a related note, I do a one-person play based on the book of Jonah that I have performed at about ten venues over the last several months. If you type in my name, David von Schlichten, at YouTube, you can watch the play. I'd love feedback.
EASTER SERMON IDEAS
What are people preaching on for Easter? I'm unsure yet. I'd love to hear people's ideas.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
First Person Dramatic Monologues
2011-04-22 by David Howell
I heard Tom Long say that if a preacher is going to do dramatic monologues that he or she better do them well.
Unfortunately, I heard that after a couple of attempts on my part.
2011-04-21 by Rick Brand
I think that 1st Person dramatic monologues like your Maundy Thursday piece are excellent alternatives for services such as this. How often do you think they should be used?
Maundy Thursday and Malchus
2011-04-21 by David von Schlichten
Sermon on Maundy Thursday
on Thursday, April 21, 2011, Year A,
The Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 929)
I don’t actually mind being a slave a whole lot. My master is Caiaphas, the current high priest. I mean, I’d rather have my freedom, but it’s not so bad being a priest’s slave, because you don’t have to do as much outdoor manual labor. I basically just follow him around all day, and he’s often indoors. I pour his wine for him, get him his food. I help with slaughtering animals for sacrifices and with clean-up. I work long days, but many slaves have it worse.
And Caiaphas is pretty good to me. He gives me extra meat from the sacrifices for me to take home to my family. Sometimes he’ll give me a few silver coins to spend any way I want. He never whips or hits me, and occasionally we have conversations about God and keeping the Law. He’s very smart and knowledgeable. Everybody thinks Caiaphas is strict, and he is. He’s one of these guys who acts all severe but who really is a softie.
Except when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. Caiaphas has a lot of love in him, but he has no love for this Jesus guy. “His teachings go against the Law of Moses!” Caiaphas says. “In my day, people respected the Law of Moses. This Jesus claims to be the Messiah! Bah! Young smart alleck doesn’t know the first thing about God.” Man, can Caiaphas rant. His face turns all red. Sometimes he spits a little when he gets talking.
“Sir, remember your health,” I tell him. “It’s not good for you to get all excited.” I can usually get him to sit down. I give him a glass of wine.
Then, often, his face will melt from anger to sadness, and he’ll say, “I just worry what’ll happen to our nation. If this Jesus gets out of hand, the Romans will see him as a threat and will crush our nation. This country is going to pieces. It didn’t used to be like this.” When Caiaphas gets talking like that, his face looks so old and haggard, worn-out. The wrinkles and creases in his face become more obvious. A tired, scared old man.
The raising of Lazarus was the last straw for Caiaphas. “Jesus is becoming so powerful that the Romans are going to storm in and wipe us all out so that we don’t threaten their authority.” Caiaphas said. Then he added with the calm that comes from making up your mind about something, “What we need to do is kill Jesus. Get him out of the way so that the Romans back off. With one clap of his hands, he added, “for the sake of all of us, this Jesus must die.”
Caiaphas made arrangements with Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ followers, so that we could arrest him without the public around. Tonight, then, was the night, the night of the Passover. This Judas guy showed up just as we were finishing out seder, the Passover meal.
Caiaphas stood up and greeted him and said, “Are you ready to take us to him?”
Judas nodded, staring at our table that still had food and wine on it from our seder. He said, “We just had our Passover seder. Jesus washed all our feet, and then he gave us bread and said it was his body and gave us wine and said it was his blood, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. Body and blood shed.”
Caiaphas snorted. “What’s all that supposed to mean? Body and blood shed?”
Judas looked at Caiaphas and said, “It means he’s on to us.”
Caiaphas stayed behind to get ready for Jesus’ trial but had me go along with Judas to help with the arrest. A crowd of us made our way. We went to Gethsemene with our torches, Judas leading the way. The air was muggy. The moon was full. I could see him in the distance, lying face down on the ground. As we got closer we could see some men lying asleep a few yards away. Then one of them sat up, shook the others. Now they’re all up, including Jesus. He turns and faces us, calm, as if he’s been expecting us. We have our torches. My heart’s speeding up. Judas steps forward and kisses Jesus. That’s the sign. We move in to take him.
One of his followers pulls out a small sword. Flashing in the torchlight. I go for my dagger, but he slashes at me. I drop to my knees in shock. I can feel the blood gushing out of the side of my head. My ear lies on the ground in front of me. My mind shocked blank. What has just happened does not make sense to me. It’s like a dream. Unreal. I can hear throbbing in my ear even though it’s been cut off. I hear Jesus yelling at the disciple to put away his sword.
Jesus kneels down in front of me. This dark face with a broad nose and glistening eyes. He has a mole on his left cheek. He touches my wound and the throbbing stops. He stands up, and the guards take him away.
Somebody checks on me. “Are you okay?” I touch the side of my head. My ear is back.
“That Jesus guy healed your ear,” the person says. “That disciple cut it right off, but now it’s back on. Can you hear okay?”
I nod. “Yes. I can hear. Everything is loud and clear.”
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