Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Jesus realizes that his hour has arrived, when two Greeks seek him out. That always seemed an odd bit of trivia to me, more suited to Jeopardy than the Gospel of John. Jesus spoke with Samaritans, lepers, women, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, religious and community leaders. What’s the big deal about a couple of Greeks?

Then this text was read at our bilingual contemporary worship Sunday night, the appointed text for the 5th Sunday in Lent, and I realized what a big deal it was. Here we were, navigating the fault lines between English and Spanish, Black, White and Brown, Young and Old, Traditional and Contemporary; all in an effort to embody a larger reality. Something more true and foundational. We felt like a flame clinging to the match in the teeth of fierce cultural (even congregational) winds.

For the first time, I heard this little reference, which acts almost like a throwaway line in the narrative, as a critical marker at the intersection of the Kingdom of God and the Powers That Be. These two Greeks seeking Jesus out is the reality of the Kingdom’s presence that breaks into the world like a raging flood, washing the flimsy pilings out from under the houses of fear and isolation the world builds on the shore of diversity, in order to take advantage of the lovely view.

Of course Jesus knew that the end was near when these Greeks came looking for him. How could he not know? He was beginning to transcend the barriers of culture, the boundaries between communities---the inviolate borders that exist between people and which serve the interests of those in power.

Jesus threatened to make all of that irrelevant not by slicing and dicing people up into new groups, but by drawing a big circle around all of them: Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, Greek, Male, Female, Gay, Straight, Sinner, Redeemed.

It struck me how tone-deaf we are today in the church toward this marker of the Kingdom. We still treat it like a throwaway line in the Passion narrative, while we collude with the Powers That Be to preserve our institutions as much as the Scribes and the Pharisees ever did.

The world draws us to it like iron to a magnet. We drag our faith along with us, and the world turns our faith into traditions and gives it back to us de-fanged and de-clawed. Traditions are faith tamed and made manageable. They are to faith as the cardboard cutouts of celebrities we stand next to like tourists having our pictures taken.

Can we hope to be the church and ignore this central component of the Kingdom that breaks down our Us and Them world into the Family of God? Can we continue without understanding that our faith, by its very existence, calls into question the Powers that Be every single day.

These Greeks coming to seek Jesus out were the down payment on a new world order that unites instead of dividing, by holding up the one thing that trumps all else. The all en-compassing Love of God that transforms everything, even the judgment of the cross, and makes us new here and now.

Monday, March 16, 2009


We all begin here:
the silent enormity of
eternity’s bored stare;
the wish before the candles
are lit,
the pointy hat,
the elastic cutting your chin.
One morning you stand before the mirror
fogged with steam
a rainbow of clarity
rubbed in with a towel
and the familiar face
you’ve been attending to for years
hands you a note from your father.

The clean white page
is the measure of the universe
it is E=MC2
it is every pair of socks you packed
and carried from place to place
and never needed.
You are as inconsequential
between the margins and the faint blue lines.
Your pen is filled with smoke.
The angels will fly through the words you write
blowing them apart
like the wise gray heads of dandelions
muttering their little pronouncements
straight from the mouth of God.

Copyright: Charles Oberkehr

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


When my wife left for work this morning
I bolted the door,
(a dead bolt it just occurred to me)
because out of the blue
(or maybe not)
the click of the cylinder
reminded me of dying.
I went back to the kitchen
to finish my breakfast and coffee
considering that maybe my life ends
just this easily
a flick of the wrist
and eternity is as inconsequential
as a bowl of half warm oats
and a newspaper forever waiting to be read.
And then my father
(dead eight years)
sat down in his checkered robe and slippers
his hair going in a thousand directions at once
and took the Sports page.
I started to object
but who knows when forever
actually starts
everything immutable is in parentheses
the rest is up for grabs.
Tonight my wife
will turn her key in the lock
with a flick of the wrist
and (God willing) announce “I’m home”
(at least that’s what I’m expecting)

Copyright Charles Oberkehr, 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Big Night Finally Arrives

Last night, we held our first bilingual contemporary liturgy, getting it in under the wire before a major winter storm hit. Today there’s a foot of snow on the ground, and I am letting the flu-ey bug that I held at bay with varying degrees of success yesterday, have its way with me.

Even with forecasters calling for a violent nor’easter to hit just about the time the liturgy was supposed to begin, we managed to have about 30 people there. Not bad for a first try.

On Thursday, we took out a section of 5 pews to make a place for the musicians and singers to be in the nave on the same level as the congregation. The young people loved it, the older folks…not so much. At the 10:00am service there were a lot double takes, smiles and frowns.

During the sermon, I said that some people will love this and some will hate it. But whether you love it or hate it is really beside the point. The point is whether arranging the sanctuary this way helps us to further the mission of our congregation. Will we be able to reach people with this liturgy and this arrangement that we wouldn’t reach otherwise? That’s really what it’s all about. If it doesn’t do that, we put everything back and try something else. I can see some people are going to have to chew on that awhile.

We had two keyboards, a teenage girl on the drums who insisted that her grandmother get her there so she could play, two guitars, and four singers. Being on the same level with the congregation lent a sense of intimacy to the liturgy. The whole thing lasted about 50 minutes. Snow was just beginning to fall as a few of the people were leaving. Two widows who live in the same building were beaming as they left. They said how exciting it was. I watched them cross the snowy street to their apartment building. Of all the people I pictured coming to this service, I never would have imagined it would be someone like them. God always has something to surprise you up his sleeve.

Inside, most of the people were talking in the aisle. There was a sense that the wind had shifted, and there was a kind of freshness in the air, like after a rain. We still have a lot of wrinkles to iron out, but there was a sense in the sanctuary that something unique had happened and even the imperfections were part of it. Maybe the most important part.