Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and former rector of Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church in Clarkesville, Georgia. She currently holds the Harry R. Butman Chair in Religion and Philosophy at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. A popular preacher, speaker, and workshop leader, she was recently noted in Newsweek as one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English language.
In this selection of new sermons, Barbara Brown Taylor walks us through the church year, from the expectancy of Advent to the fires of Pentecost and beyond. Her themes arise from the particular feasts or fasts, as well as from the perennial questions of faith: doubt, grace, anger, and jubilation. These sermons are models of good preaching, but more than that they are simply great stories well told. Whether speaking of Matthew's wise men who went "Home By Another Way" or Luke's importunate widow, known for "Bothering God," again and again Taylor opens the books of scripture before our eyes and shows us their hidden glory and power to save and transform us.
Advent and Christmas
God's Beloved Thief Wherever the Way May Lead Singing Ahead of Time Past Perfection
Home by Another Way The River of Life Miracle on the Beach The Company of Strangers Show Me a Sign God's Ferris Wheel Thin Places
Lenten Discipline Life Giving Fear A Tale of Two Heretics
The Voice of Love In the Name of Law and Order The Man in the Middle The Commendation Mother of the New Thirsty for Heaven It is Finished
Easter and the Great Fifty Days
The Unnatural Truth Believing in the Word Hands and Feet Blood of the Martyrs Rest for the Land He Who Fills All in All The Gospel of the Holy Spirit
The Season after Pentecost
Three Hands Clapping The Cheap Cure Out of the Whirlwind Perfect in Weakness To Whom Can We Go? Famine in the Land The Yes and No Brothers Wedding Dress Bothering God God of the Living God's Handkerchiefs
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Where I live, way out in the country, there are not many stop lights and there are even fewer street lights. People drive fast, and way too many of them never get where they are going. The side of the road is dotted with crosses marking the places where they died: one covered with pink plastic roses for the grandmother who never saw the stop sign; one with a teddy bear on it for the four year old who was not wearing his seat belt when his father tried to pass the truck. Near my house, there is a plain wooden one with one red rose on it for the motorcyclist who was killed by a local woman blinded by the sun.
All of these are bad enough, but what is even worse is to arrive right after the accident has happened. The traffic is backed up for half a mile, the blue lights are flashing. There are so many cars that it is hard to tell what has happened. That is why traffic is backed upnot because the road is blocked but because people want to know what has happened. They ignore the policeman who motions them to move on. They stare at the crushed vehicles, the broken glass. They look around for victims, or survivors.
Some of them pull over either to help or to gawk. I say "gawk," but it is only humanto want to know what has happened, to want to know if someone is hurt. For most of us, it is because we sense how easily it could have been us. I too have slammed on brakes when a stop sign appeared out of nowhere. I too have been blinded by the sun. That could be my car. That could be my body. Next week someone I love could be planting a cross on the piece of scorched earth where I died.
Today the wreck is right here, and we have all decided to pull over. For a little while or a long while, each of us has decided to put aside whatever it was we were supposed to be doing in order to figure out what has happened here. How did things get so turned around? Why did such a promising life come to such a bloody end? Was there anything anyone could have done to prevent it, or was it meant to be? Him instead of us.
It will defy our understanding, in the end. Those who offer us easy explanations are just in a hurry to go home. They do not want to watch the body being tugged from the car. They do not want to sweep up the glass or talk to the survivors. They just want to file their reports and go home, where no one will say, "Yes, but why him, why this, why today?"
The wreckage of the cross is so hard to understand that Holy Scripture gives us four reports on itnot one gospel but four in which the same story is told from four different perspectives. They all agree on some things: 1) Jesus died on a cross, at a place called Golgotha. 2) Two other people died the same day in the same way. 3) There was a sign above his head that spelled out the charge against him: "King of the Jews." 4) People were so sure he was not coming down that they divided up his clothes on the spot. 5) He was offered some sour wine before he died, and 6) he died, before sundown on the day before the sabbath.
Beyond that, each gospel has its own truth to tell, and the differences are striking. Luke reports a conversation between Jesus and the two men dying with him that the other gospel writers do not mention. John does not say anything about Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus' cross for a little while, nor does John make any mention of anyone mocking him while he died. Matthew and Mark's accounts are almost identical, except for a few differences in phrasing, but neither of them says a word about Jesus entrusting his mother to one of his disciples, nor his forgiveness of those who hung him on the cross.
This should not surprise anyone who has ever told a story in the presence of someone else who knows it.
"He was really scared," you say.
"No he wasn't," the other person says. "He was brave."
"I heard him praying under his breath," you say.
"He wasn't praying. He was rehearsing what he was about to say." "Well, can we agree that there was a big crowd there that day?"
"I never even looked. I couldn't take my eyes off him."
Different people see different things. Different people interpret what they hear differently, and the Bible respects thatrespects it so much that it offers us four distinct views of the cross on this day. Matthew and Mark agree on the first of the seven last words. The next three come from Luke's gospel, and the final three from John's gospel. Each of them shows us a different side of Jesus' death. Each of them shows us a different side of ourselves.
The first word is easily the most awful one. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Here is a man who was born under a star he may or may not have understood. Whatever else it meant, it meant that God's hand was upon him. He had gifts other people did not have, and from the first moment those people noticed him they could not seem to get enough of him. He was food for those who were hungry. He was medicine for those who were sick to death of business as usual, and they followed him around like children.
Twice in his life he heard a voice from heaven telling him who he wasfirst at his baptism and later on the mountain where he prayed. "This is my Son, my Beloved," the voice said. Not everyone heard it, but he did, and the love in that voice kept him going when other people might have dropped. When he had been up all night, when there was more to do than he could do, when his best friends missed his point and his enemies hounded him like a swarm of black flies, the love in that voice was his own food, his own medicine. "My Son. My Beloved." The sound of it covered him like a cloak. It was his promise, his reassurance that God's hand was upon him.
And then one day it was gone, just like that. It was the worst possible time, too. People were streaming into Jerusalem for Passover. The high priests were nervous. The Romans were nervous. Even his own disciples were nervous. The air had gotten green and still, the way it does before a tornado, only no one knew which way it was coming from. Then Judas left the room with a murderous look in his eye and the first drops of stinging rain began to fall. When the storm finally broke, it broke fast. There was a last, tortured prayer in Gethsemane ("Abba, Father... remove this cup from me...") but the cup was still there when the prayer was over. The silence was an answer he accepted, so that he was not startled to hear the mob of excited, angry people approaching in the night. They moved toward him with the confidence of people bearing arms, with Judas in the lead. The kiss was a surprisesuch a soft indictmentbut after that there were no surprises.
By noon the next day he was panting on a cross, receiving the fury of those whose values he had offended. They worked things he had said to them into their insults, so that his own words came back at him like rocks. Even those who were crucified with him got in on the act. A blasphemer was much worse than a robber, after all. So they insulted him too, filling his ears with filth and hate while he strainedstrainedto hear the voice of love that had sustained him all his life. If there were ever a day he needed to hear it, if there were ever a day he needed to be reminded who he wasbut there was no sound from heaven, no sound at all.
It was that silence, I think, that killed himnot the insults, not the nails, not the slow suffocation, but the silence of the Abba who would not say a word.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In at least two accounts, those were the last words he said, although there was one more sound after thata loud cryremarkably loud for a man whose lungs were so compromised. It was all he had left in him, and when it came out of him he died.
That is as far as we are allowed to go today. To go further might minimize the awful power of this day. Whatever happens next, there is this wreck to be dealt with, this bloody awful mess. Why him, why this, why today? I wish I knew. All I know is that, because of it, none of us ever has to feel what he felt again. Because he was all alone, and we have his company. At our most hurt, our most frightened, our most forsaken by God, we have this companion who has been there and will be there with us. Nothing we think or do in this state can shock him. Nothing we say can make him turn away. If we say, "Where are you, God? I'm all alone here," he said it first. If all we can do is cry out, he cried out first.
It sounds for all the world like the end of faith. Instead, it is the beginning. This Jesus died talking to his Abba, who would not talk back to him. Is there any other definition of faith? In his suffering, he is the comfort of those who have no comfort. In his abandonment, he is the God of those who have no God. Hearing no voice of love, he cried out, making a sound thatfor manybecame the voice of love.
(Purchase of this title helps you qualify for the free shipping option if it is being offered at the time of your order.)