Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Was Jerusalem a Killing Machine?

Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Was Jerusalem a killing machine? Should a sign have been posted at the various entry points of the city that read:

“WARNING: Entry into Jerusalem by any prophet or those sent by God may be hazardous to your health?”

Jerusalem is an ancient city and its very name has a long and interesting history of evolving into what it is today. Jerusalem is known as the holy city and the city of peace. How strange then that we would hear Jesus describe it as a place occupied by people who kill and stone prophets and those God sends to them. The word Jerusalem also means, “foundation of peace.”

What is the foundation of peace? There are many different beliefs about what brings peace. There are some who believe that peace is “unnatural” or unrealistic in our world of conflict and terror. But if peace is possible, what is the basis for such peace? I broke up a few fights on the campus where I was the principal. My goal was to restore peace, not just temporarily end the combat. What was the initial foundation for the cessation of hostility?

Power or threat of the use of power against the combatants was the understood reason that fighters would stop fighting. As the principal, the kids knew that I could call the sheriff and he would respond with much more force than I was willing or able to administer. Usually between me, other teachers, and security we would pull the fighters apart and get them to separate rooms to be checked for injuries and to be offered first aid. We would then begin the process of trying to find out what caused the conflict. Most of the time both combatants would tell their stories and offer a clear action that set off the battle and that action was usually not their behavior, but the other person’s provocative act against them.

Historically individuals, empires, and nations have justified their decision to engage in “war,” by claiming to be the victim of the other combatant whom we usually call “the enemy.” We normally ascribe all manner of evil intent to our enemies while proclaiming our absolute innocence in causing the conflict. And that was true of my students. They had learned almost instinctively that claiming to be the victim of others gave them ethical and moral grounds for retaliating in the most extreme ways.

So, what is the foundation of true peace of wholeness, fullness of life, the shalom of God? Just as fights on a high school campus do not really arise out of one simple act of aggression, so the foundation of God’s peace in the world must address the very nature of how we have all agreed peace is established. In Jerusalem those who came to the city as prophets or ones sent by God were carrying a message about the way people were being treated in Israel.

They told the leaders of the nation that treating the poor with contempt and refusing to care for them and for the strangers within their borders is the foundation for conflict. They denounced public sacrificial worship as a sham if there was no attempt to establish justice for the poor and the disadvantaged. The prophets who brought such messages were taken seriously enough to be denounced as trouble makers and when they persisted were normally killed or stoned by the very people they were sent to rescue from a world of violence and conflict.

So it is that Jesus says: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”

What a strange way for Jesus to describe himself and his mission to the world. The Gospel writer knew that Jerusalem was destroyed when he included these words of Jesus and anyone who heard them would remember that Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by fire and systematically dismantled by Rome. Did Jesus know that Jerusalem would end up in flames when he spoke these words?

I believe he did know that all individuals and nations who build their foundation for peace and prosperity on the violent sacrifice of others who were less powerful, as the leadership of Israel and Rome did, were destined to fall prey to the very foundational violence of peace that they believed to be their only realistic way of surviving.

As a principal of a high school with gang kids, it was clearly their understanding that peace and prosperity for their gang could only come through more fire power and violence directed towards any other gang that might challenge them.

Jesus understood that violence replaced justice and understanding and compassionate care for others early on. The story of Cain and Abel was a story told in Israel that captured their progressive understanding of the foundation for war and peace. When Jesus used the metaphor of himself as a mother hen rather than a soaring predatory eagle (Rome’s symbol) or a jackle (Herod Antipas, the fox), he was seeking to establish a new way of understanding God and God’s foundation for peace.

Recently I was reading a commentary by N.T. Wright, the distinguished New Testament scholar and bishop in the Church of England. In speaking about Jesus’ use of the mother hen image for himself, Wright recalled how frightening fire is to domesticated animals held captive in a barnyard area. When a fire strikes a mother hen instinctively tries to get her small chicks to gather and she places her own body over the bodies of her young. Wright spoke of cases where after a fire hit a barnyard how mother hens would be found burned to death while their young chicks would survive the holocaust.

Jesus saw the flames of violence coming for the city of peace. He saw the injustices of Israel’s leaders and Rome’s arrogance in colonizing the world as the foundation of “Pax Romana,” but not the foundation of God’s Peace of justice and mercy. He grieves over the fate of Jerusalem as they continue to base their future on the sacrificial system of exclusion and violence and their even greater loss of seeking protection under God as the one willing to die in their place.

It is this foundation of God becoming the final sacrifice, of giving his life so that we might discover the foundation of true peace, of Shalom that Jesus becomes. During our Eucharistic celebration on Sundays and other times, we sing or say what is called the Sanctus.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosannah in the highest.
+ Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosannah in the highest.

Embedded in the Sanctus are the very words taken from our Gospel this Sunday: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We say these words as part of our liturgy even if we do not know its context or meaning or even agree with what we think it might mean.

To see Jesus, we must welcome him into our community. We must allow him to gather us as a mother hen would gather her chicks. We must seek the deep peace of God called shalom that is based upon the justice, mercy, and compassion of God.

You see, Jesus bring us the message of peace from God; Jesus is the message of Peace from God; and Jesus is in Trinity, the God who sends this message of life and hope. Amen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This past Sunday we heard about Jesus and his disciples on top of the world where Jesus met with Moses, the law giver and Elijah, the prophet. During my sermon I said that the Gospel writer, Luke was giving us a chance to see who Jesus is by showing us Jesus as the very light that is God. It is important for us to see Jesus as the light of the world because we so often fail to see him or recognize him in one another. I said that from this mountaintop experience of transfiguring light we would be heading back down the mountain where our ability to see God, not just in others or in ourselves, but in Jesus would become more difficult.

When I said the lights were going from dim to darkness that encircled the cross, I was not referring to the amount of lumens our planet sends out into the universe. We are probably one of the most lit up and light-filled generation in the history of the world. I was speaking of a different sort of darkness that allows us to see others as our mortal enemies and so different from us as to be a threat. I am speaking about a darkness that denies God as the Father of all human beings, even our enemies. I am speaking about a darkness that leads us to believe that there is simply not enough to care for everyone on the planet. I am speaking about a darkness that sees violence as the path to peace and fails to comprehend the complexities of how we are alienated and estranged from one another.

The last Sunday of Epiphany and Easter Sunday are two great times of light that celebrate what the Gospel proclaims: “God is light and in him there is no darkness.” Lent allows us to practice being light in the darkness. We do not go out looking for the darkness in others, we find that our darkness is a perfect opportunity to learn how to let the light of Christ fill us and enlighten us.

What does this practice look like? Well, for starters, we acknowledge who we are. On Ash Wednesday, we have a cross made of ashes etched on our foreheads and we hear these words: “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These words are not said in anger or judgment, but in full recognition that we are not God, but rather human beings who can imitate God’s ways of love and light in the world. When Jesus became truly human, he did so to shed light in a dark world. To show us how we can be God’s light in the world even as we humbly confess that we are not God.

Next, Lent is a time of confession. Some have said that confession is good for the soul. This may be true, but it is even more critical than just being good for the soul. It is life or death for the soul and for the world. Sins that are not confessed must go somewhere and what we do not confess, we normally cast onto other people. Jesus had words about judging others and failing to see our own sins. Here is the passage about the speck in another person’s eye while a log is in our own eye as Eugene Petersen translates it in The Message:

A Simple Guide for Behavior From the Gospel

7:1-5 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

Confession is the way we avoid casting our sins on others as if they are unforgivable and so must be seen and rejected in the other person. Absolution is God’s way of love that allows us to change by being honest with ourselves. Will that make a difference in someone’s life? Yes. Is that a way of letting God’s light guide you through the darkness of our times? Yes.

Lent is also a time of prayer. Imagine the times we have silently or not so silently spoken what might be considered a curse of someone who in one way or another gets in your way. Imagine the headlines in the daily news about those who suffer unimaginable violence and suffering. Imagine those everyday happenings where you observe beauty in creation or in another person.

Prayer is not just confession, it is petition, intercession, thanksgiving, adoration, and praise. Perhaps when faced with a person, place, or thing that might result in a wrathful response from you, you might consider offering a blessing. When faced with the horrors of pain and suffering in our world, you might offer a prayer for those who suffer. When seeing the beauty that surrounds you and comes at you from so many directions, you might consider thanking God, praising God, and adoring “the One in whom we live and move and have our being.”

Will that make a difference in someone’s life? Yes. Is that a way of letting God’s light guide you through the darkness of our times? Yes.

Lent has often been seen as a time of giving up things as a spiritual discipline. To what end? Why give up something? The primary reason to give up something is to explore one’s dependence upon God rather than the behavior, food, drink, or other substances of our lives upon which we feel we are dependent. There are various levels of giving up that can certainly teach us how much we avoid developing a relationship of trust with God. What will you give up in order to deepen your relationship with God? Will that make a difference in someone’s life? Yes. Is that a way of letting God’s light guide you through the darkness of our times? Yes.

Finally, Lent is a season of giving to those in need. Such giving also challenges our normal habits of spending and consuming. What if I give up going to a movie and instead donate the cost of that movie and the popcorn and soft drink to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund? Will that make a difference in someone’s life? Yes. Is that a way of letting God’s light guide you through the darkness of our times? Yes.

May God bless you as you travel with the light of Epiphany towards the light of the resurrection with your path lit by the light that is in you.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


During the Search Process I was asked to respond in writing to a series of questions to help the committee get to know the candidates better. I have included one of these questions and my response for August, 2001.

Over the course of a year, what key messages do you want your parishioners to hear reflected in your sermons and why?

I would focus on three main messages:

Love that Accepts Us Unconditionally

I would want people to hear about the love of God for all of us and how God’s love is constantly seeking to break down the walls that separate us from one another. It is difficult to admit one’s limits, needs, and failures. Our humanity guarantees they exist. Acknowledging them, or even imagining another could love us in spite of them, is another thing entirely. Even the healthiest souls need to be reminded of the gracious truth that we are loved so completely that we can dare to change and look at our lives with complete honesty. Such love is the power of God at work in the world.

Paul Tillich, a giant among modern theologians, describes beautifully what I have come to experience in my own life and wish to share with others. He speaks about grace that suddenly strikes us.

We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. ... It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: 'You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!' . . . If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance."

(The Shaking of the Foundations, p. 162)

Love that Invites a Creative Eucharistic Response

I would want to share how God’s love has transformed individuals and whole communities. I would invite members of the parish to look at their own responses to God’s love corporately and individually. I believe it is important to honor the ways in which God has been served by those at Christ Church who have gone before the current congregation.

In addition, your profile pointed to the many wonderful silent ministries that are currently being done among you. Those who do these ministries need to be able to share with others why they do what they do; how their ministries started; and how what they are doing brings them a sense of joy and spiritual connection to the community and God.

I would invite others to explore new ways to express their gratitude to God through their unique God given gifts. I would hope that this message would result in some wonderfully creative expressions of God’s love and additional support for the ongoing ministries of the church.

Love that invites us to be transformed and to transform the World

Our baptismal covenant is an invitation and a pledge to change ourselves and the world. We pledge to seek and serve Christ in ALL people. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people. We commit ourselves to respecting the dignity of every human being. Ongoing renewal of our baptismal vow, in word and deed, is fundamental to spiritual growth, both individually and collectively.

May God bless you all.
Father Bob Cornner+