Love in the Time of Theodicy

I don’t manuscript sermons, but this final sermon in the series, “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Bible but were afraid to ask,” at First Christian Church of Oakland, was on one of the toughest questions out there: “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there suffering?” So I’m doing my best to re-create my sermon based on the outline I used in my sermon this past Sunday, June 16, 2013, my second-to-last sermon as pastor of FCCO.

When I was in seminary, I worked as a chaplain at a respite care center for homeless people. The people I worked with had been to hell and back, or not quite back yet. I remember one man who had gone through deep grief—a physical setback, the loss of a family member, and real constant pain due to an infection in his leg. I was in the midst of a brief love affair with process theology at the time, and I had the textbook pastoral response for him: “I want you to know God is suffering with you.”

He patted my hand kindly, said, “I know you care about me and you’re trying to help, but the God I worship doesn’t suffer.” (more…)

The Cross and the Lynching Tree—Atonement Theology and Beyond

Several people have expressed interest in my recent sermon about my concerns with atonement theology. Let me first say that I might never have preached this sermon if our church weren’t doing a sermon series on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Bible But Were Afraid to Ask,” where congregants got to submit questions that formed the basis of our worship. One of my favorite congregants asked the question, “If we worship an all-loving, justice-oriented God, how could He demand that his son be sacrificed?” Here’s a close approximation of the sermon I preached. (I preach from notes so I can be more present with the congregation, but this is my best recollection of what I said.)


I remember the exact moment I decided to start hosting bible study in this congregation. I had been here a year or two, and one of the newer members of the congregation led a communion meditation about Jesus’ love and compassion and about the Roman empire’s violent murder of Jesus. He never mentioned how Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan of salvation. And so after worship one of the longtime members of the congregation said to me, “You have to start teaching these new people that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.”


The new member overheard this and jumped in. “I’ve actually studied this. I know that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. I know it’s kind of conventional wisdom. But I’ve read a lot and I’ve decided that idea of God needing a blood sacrifice in order to forgive us is just Cosmic Child Abuse. It doesn’t fit with my understanding of a God of love.”


The longtime member turned away from him, faced me head on, and said, “See? You need to start teaching them that Jesus died on the cross for our sins!”


The weight of ministry (or “Atlas Shrugged….can we find a better solution?”)

I stand before you a reformed woman. I mean re-formed. As in, I am beginning to inhabit a new form or shape. One bowling ball less than two weeks ago, as the guy from the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead would say. I did a six-day juice cleanse and lost an alarming 13 pounds, but more importantly I kicked my fierce, one might say compulsive, addiction to carbs. I’m only on day 4 of my post-juice healthy eating lifestyle, but it really feels like it’s going to stick. And while my deepest passion and love is my church, I think that my immanent departure from the congregation (June 30) has a lot to do with it. (more…)

A Good Friday poem by Sandhya Jha and Tai Amri Spann-Wilson

Tai Amri and I had five minutes to preach on the “third word” at a Good Friday service yesterday.

We co-created this poem, each taking a stanza and passing the growing work back and forth, over the course of an hour, in response to the following passage:

John 19:25-27: Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.


Mother, Behold Thy Son. Behold Thy Mother.


Pre-teens skating on church steps, leaving their mark

black wheels on marble—

Hipsters sipping single origin espresso served

by carefully ungroomed baristas.

Heavy woman swaying into wispy man

eastbound on the 57 rolling down MacArthur;

Clustered together, pressed together and utterly, completely alone. (more…)

Malcolm, Martin, the Mahatma and a couple of Mary’s: A resurrection story

Malcolm, Martin, the Mahatma and a couple of Mary’s: A resurrection story
Holy Saturday sermon By Sandhya Jha
New Spirit Community Church, Berkeley, CA
March 30, 2013
The Gospel : Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Malcolm. I’ve been thinking about him especially as someone who saw brokenness and named it.
Now I’m a Martin girl. I’m all for nonviolence and I love me some Jesus. I love that Martin Luther King’s thinking was shaped by Mahatma Gandhi and is somehow, to me, inextricably connected to my own people’s generally peaceful struggle for freedom in India. (more…)

Consensus, my congregation, and a miracle in progress

“I can’t wait to tell my friends back home that I’m a Quaker missionary,” said my co-pastor at the end of the meeting. Born into the Friends tradition, he had just led us through a Spirit-based consensus model for decision making as the second half of our meeting to determine what our next steps together would be. “In all my years living in this model, I have never seen consensus done better than what you did today.”

“Suck it, Quakers,” I cheered quietly. (more…)