Jesus: Human or Divine? – A Question for Palm Sunday

SPONG Living pastordawn“….when he returned to the city…Jesus entered the Temple precincts and began teaching. The chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?’ And I,” replied Jesus, ‘Will ask you a single questions; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions. What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Was it divine or was it human?” They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘divine,’ he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?” But if we say ‘human’ we have the people to fear, for they regard John as a prophet,’ So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know.” (Matthew 23:23-27)

Divine or human? We don’t know? Really? Of course we know? Divine or Human? You bet we know! We’re just afraid to say. These few verses are usually ignored during the lead up to the big events of Holy Week. It seems to me, that they may well provide those of us who live in the 21st century about as much angst as they provided to people of the first century, but for entirely different reasons. I think perhaps, the writer of the gospel according to Matthew, whoever he was, may have been messing with his first century audience. “Human or divine?” was just as much of a loaded question in the first century as it is in the 21st century but for entirely different reasons. The writer of the Gospel According to Matthew may have placed the question in the mouth of Jesus, but today, just as I’m sure it did all those centuries ago, the question echoes back and forth between Jesus and the listeners to the narrative until it is not so much about John the Baptist’s authority to baptize as it is about Jesus himself. Which is exactly what the author designed the interchange to do in the hearts and minds of his listeners. “By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?”

In good rabbinic style the author of this text has Jesus reply to a question with a question. “I will ask you a single question; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions.” Do you want to know why I came riding in here on an ass? Do you want to know what gives me the right to mock your notions of Messiah? Do you want to know by whose authority I rube the Roman’s noses in it, parading into town mocking their leadership with a farce designed to make you laugh at the way they dare to laud their power over us? Do you want to know what or who gives me the right to march into the Temple at Passover and turn the place upside down, attacking the financial system that lies at the heart of our peoples’ collaboration with Roman oppression? Do you really want to know by whose authority I challenge the injustice that surrounds us? Do you really want to know? Well I’ll tell you if you answer me this? “What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Come on you tell me. Was it divine or was it human?” They lopped of John’s head for daring to challenge injustice. Served it up on a silver platter for the crime of challenging Roman authority. Do you really want to challenge my authority? Human or divine? Come on tell me, I dare you.

They discussed it among themselves and they knew they were trapped. “If we say, ‘divine,” he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?” But if we say, ‘human” we have the people to fear, for they regard him as a prophet.” So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know?”

Human or divine? We don’t know. Of course they knew! They know and we know. We are just afraid to say. Because if we say, we know full well what the next question will be and we don’t want to go there. Human or divine may not be a 21st century question. It is a question that has different implications in our day than it did back when the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew put it into the mouth of Jesus. To question someone’s authority in the first century meant pretty much what it does today. We, like our first century ancestors in the faith, want to know if Jesus has the right stuff to challenge the system. If Jesus has the right stuff; then maybe just maybe he’s worth paying attention to. Show us your credentials Jesus. We want to know who you are before we take any advice from you; especially advice that will have us taking a stand against the powers that be. Continue reading

On Palm Sunday, An Inconvenient Messiah Parades Into Our Midst

palm sundayI wrote this sermon years ago, when I’d first given up theologies which required a subscription to the notion that humans fell from grace and need a Messiah to save them. It’s funny how we cling to ideas about what it means to be human as if centuries of human evolution have no bearing on who and what we are. The illustrations in this story come from an old shoebox of clippings; they do not cite the source, but the name Ed Riegert is scribbled in the margins. Ed was my homiletics professor. He used to encourage us to keep a file of stories that we might tell. That old shoebox has long since been replaced by a hard-drive. But the shoebox still draws me back from time to time. This sermon was a first attempt to move beyond notions of atonement that paint a picture of humanity I no longer cling to. Perhaps it will be helpful to those who are beginning open themselves to a new understanding of who Jesus is.

For previous Palm Sunday sermons click here, here, or here

There was once a man who suffered from various illnesses for a very long time. This man had seen countless doctors who over the years had performed countless tests on him and had prescribed lots of medicine. But, the man’s condition did not improve. This man even tried home remedies to make himself feel better. He drank herbal teas, and took mega-doses of vitamins along with his prescriptions. But still he did not feel any better. Then one day the man heard about a doctor who was said to be an outstanding diagnostician. So the man called the doctor to make an appointment and even though the doctor was booked for months in advance the man was delighted when the receptionist managed to fit him in. As the date of his appointment drew near the man was excited by the prospect of finally getting to the bottom of his problem. At last, he would find out just what was wrong with him and in no time he was sure that this brilliant doctor whose praises were sung by one and all, this doctor would be able to cure him. The day of the appointment arrived. After the doctor had thoroughly examined the man and had reviewed his tests, she sat down with him and she said, “My friend, you are not a healthy man. But you can be well again if you will only follow my advice. What you need to do is lose about sixty pounds, get involved in a regular program of exercise, and eat more grain, fruit, and vegetables. You don’t need to take any more of the medicine that has been prescribed for you and you don’t need all those vitamin pills.” When the man heard this, he was indignant. He demanded that the doctor prescribe some new medicine for him, possibly some experimental drug not yet on the market, which would cure his illness. The doctor smiled patiently and repeated her advice. “You don’t need medicine,” she said. “You need to change your lifestyle.” The man simply cursed the doctor and stomped out of the office. For the rest of his sickly life, he told everyone that she was a quack who didn’t deserve to be called a doctor. Continue reading

Jesus Sets Us Free to Save Ourselves: a sermon for Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-11

palm brsIn our parish, on Palm Sunday our liturgy stays with the commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Trusting that our members will join us on Good Friday, we have not adopted the practice of rushing to the Passion of Christ. This allows us time to linger over our Hosannas. Our worship began outside with the reading of Matthew 21:1-11, followed by a procession of palm waving, hosanna cheering congregation. This year I changed the first reading to the story of Jacob’s wounding during a wrestling match with God in Genesis 32:22-31, followed by an feminist interpretation of Psalm 118, and the Gospel text John 12:12-15. I am indebted to Michael Morewood’s book “Is Jesus God” for the inspiration behind this sermon and to John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The Last Week” for the historical details. 

For previous Palm Sunday sermons click here, here, here, or here

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! Save us from who? Save us from what? Save us for what? What is all the shouting about?

Two millennia ago, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, when Jesus mounted that donkey it was pretty clear who needed saving from who; it was clear what they needed saving from and it was fairly clear what people longed to be saved for. The people longed for freedom: freedom from the brutality of their Roman rulers, freedom from the ravages of poverty, freedom from the strict oppression of their religious authorities, and freedom from the fear of illness and death. Life among the conquered peoples of first century Palestine was cruel, oppressive, impoverished and filled with fear and suspicion. Whatever hope of deliverance there was all too often false hope. Among the oppressed there are always calls for revolution and the conquered people of first century Palestine had seen more than their fair share of wanna-be saviours.  Some of their young people had fallen prey to the incitement of the Zealots and in youthful, exuberant, impatience had taken up arms against their Roman oppressors. Some of their neighbours had betrayed their own people and taken up whatever crumbs the Romans were offering, sold their souls and become collaborators, lining their own pockets at the expense of their own people. But far too many people had given up and given in, settling for whatever life they could eke out under the cruel regime hoping against hope, that someday, someone, somehow would come along and save them from the horrors of life. And so, they longed for the good old days; The days when their people and not the Romans dominated the land, the days when one of their own was king. But not just any king, they wanted a king like David; a king who would ride at the head of their army full of pride and power and conquer all their enemies. The elders, the wise ones, pointed to the past and heralded David as a Messiah; an anointed one; anointed by God to lead the people. How they longed for such a messiah to rise up among them and lead them; lead them to victory against all their foes and save them from their miserable existence. One by one, they’d hear these wanna-be messiahs, these trumped up saviours, call the people to rise up. But they knew, with each successive saviour, there was no hope that they could triumph over the mighty Roman army and so over and over again, they hunkered down, waiting and watching, longing and hoping for the one who could save them. Continue reading

Faith and Begorrrah – A St. Patrick’s Day Sermon

Tomorrow is  St. Patrick’s Day and I was asked about the sermon I preached two years ago when the celebration fell upon a Sunday. The person who asked about the sermon remembered laughing a lot during its delivery and encouraged me to re-post it. So, pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, sit back and enjoy a laugh.

Readings:  Numbers 27: 1-11; Acts 13:44-51; John 12:1-8

guinnessbeerSt. Patrick’s Day doesn’t often fall on a Sunday, but as our congregation’s Annual Meeting would begin immediately following our worship service, I decided to be somewhat playful and irreverent with a sermon designed encourage folk to think beyond words on a page. The first reading brought the wonderful story of the Daughters of Zelophehad to church and as this reading does not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary it was fun to play withirish these feisty women. The reading from the book of Acts is actually the prescribed reading for the commemoration of St. Patrick and the Gospel text is prescribed for Lent 5C. The Guinness was just for fun! Enjoy.

Read a transcript of the sermon here

Listen to the sermon

http://pastordawn.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/st_patricks_sermon.m4a

Beyond the Serpent. Beyond the Idol Jesus. Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that Also: a sermon Lent 4B – John 3:14-21

bronze serpentA sermon that peers beyond the mess we have made of John 3:16. 

Listen to the sermon here

 

Janis Ian and Miriam Therese Winter: Two Jersey Broads – Who Knew???

MT Winter Janis WinterAt the tender age of fifteen, I was introduced to Miriam Terese Winter’s classic “Joy Is Like the Rain” when I nervously attended a “Christian Youth Group.” Later, MT Winter’s feminist resources for worship changed the way I approach worship-planning. Janis Ian’s classic “Seventeen” was released in my seventeenth year and captured my teenaged angst in ways that have taken me a lifetime to begin to understand. Since then, the music of these two women have floated in and out of my life in various revolutionary ways. So, this conversation between two powerful women of spirit and song resonates in me. Enjoy!

Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.

 

“I Am Woman” – a sermon for International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

Gospel Reading:  John 2:13-22  and I Am Woman by Helen Reddy

Listen to the sermon here

Where are the Angry Women? Where are the Angry Christians? Where are the Angry Humans? – a sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent – International Women’s Day

International Women's DaySunday March 8, 2015 is International Women’s Day. The appointed gospel reading for this the third Sunday of Lent is from John 2:13-22 which recounts the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. This sermon is inspired by the work of Beverly Wildung Harrison and the prophetic witness of Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. 

Today is International Women’s Day a day. International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911. It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Women have come a long way since 1911. Sadly, we must all confess that women have a long way to go before we achieve our vision of a world in which all people have equal access to opportunity. There is much for us to celebrate on this particular International Women’s Day and there is also much to lament. In our world the phrase “war on women” is bandied about by the media and each time I hear it anger rises in me and it is all I can do to stop myself from screaming. In our own country we have watched the steady erosion of hard one gains as our federal government continues to cut funding to women’s organizations and continues to refuse to launch a federal inquiry into the disappearance of far too many of our aboriginal sisters. Any serious reflection on the plight of women in the world makes my blood boil and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just follow Jesus’ example because maybe if we turn over a few more tables in the halls of power we might be able to draw some serious attention to the abuses perpetrated upon women for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

The story of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple has always intrigued me. The idea that Jesus could have become so angry with religious authorities for cooperating with the violent and oppressive, Roman Imperial system that he would create such a scene in the Temple is so far from the image of Jesus as the meek and mild long-haired peace-nick that we’ve all come to take for granted.

For generations, biblical commentators have gone to great pains to ensure that any hint of Jesus humanity is scrubbed clean from interpretations of this story. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. Jesus was a human being and therefore he was subject to normal human emotions. But the institutional church frowns upon anger. Indeed, in many places one can still find anger listed as one of the seven deadly sins. “ira” which can be translated as anger or wrath made the list of seven deadly sins. This list is often attributed to the early Christians. Indeed, there are those who would argue that these sins are biblical. However, they are actually the work of a 4th century monk named Evagirus Ponticus, whose nickname was Evagrius the Solitary. He spent most of his adult life living as a hermit in the desert. I suspect that if a modern psychologist were to take a brief look of Evagrius’ personal biography they could very quickly make a diagnosis of clinical depression. Evagrius himself prescribed tears as the pathway to God and was known to have spent days at a time alone and weeping profusely. He is best known for his writings on the various forms of temptation, which the institutional church latched onto with a vengeance. His original list included eight deadly sins. But the church erased “sadness” from the list and elevated the seven deadly sins to the category of mortal sins. Mortal sins were those sins that actually placed one’s soul in danger of eternal damnation. Continue reading

Learning to Die Daily: a sermon for the second Sunday in Lent

let suffering speak

Lent 2B – Mark 8:31-38 this sermon is inspired by my study of the work of Dr. Cornel West. His words flow through this lines of this sermon and his prophetic imagination provides the hope-filled vision of LOVE parading around the world as justice.

Listen to the sermon here

Resisting Structural Evil: Love As Ecological-Economic Vocation by Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda

Resisting Structural EvilIn the midst of teaching an adult education class on evil from the perspective of progressive Christianity, I was contacted by Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda who had come across this website and wondered if I would be interested in her new book. What followed has been a splendid introduction to the work of a progressive christian ethicist who, despite the fact that she just happens to be Lutheran, I have failed to discover before now! That our little class just happens to be struggling with the problems of systemic evil and looking for signs of hope in the midst of our entanglement with institutions and structures which bind us up in evil that is hurting, oppressing, and condemning whole populations to poverty, prompted me to latch on to Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s invitation to take a look at her new book, if only for the resonance of the title  Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation with our current struggles.

Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s resume includes her work as Wismer Professor of Gender and Diversity Studies at Seattle University where she teaches Christian ethics and lectures and consults international on climate justice, economic globalization, white privilege, moral agency, Earth ethics, and being public church. 

ResistingstructuralevilResisting Structural Evil is a must read for those of us who are seeking ways to live in a world where we benefit from systems beyond our control which oppress and abuse whole populations and threaten entire ecosystems. Confronting the evil in which we are all implicated is a task so daunting that many of us are loath to engage the powers of evil lest we be overwhelmed by the multitude of problems in the world. Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s work provides a framework for a spirituality which can nurture and sustain us as we embrace our call to resist evil. After reading her excellent articulation of the moral crisis, enriched by Moe-Lobeda’s ability to embody ethics with stories that resonate with our deep hunger for justice, structural evils are unmasked with an eye to countering hopelessness. Sowing seeds of hope with a spirituality of love that is capable of engaging both Mystery and reality is not for the feint of heart. Yet, Moe-Lobeda’s carefully laid out, totally approachable, framework for the kind of morality capable of  responding to the vision of justice which permeates her work, provides the reader with the courage to see new ways of being Love in the world!

Our little class has already benefited from Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s invitation to resist structural evil. We began by devoting ourselves to unpacking the wisdom is the lecture she gave to the Common Good Cafe at University Temple United Methodist Church in Seattle, WA. entitled A Spirituality of Resistance. The talk provides a wonderful overview of Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s important work. Watch the video and see for yourself. Then, order her book! I know that we will be spending more time working with her book as we digest the rich nourishment of her wisdom!     

Too Often Christianity’s Cross-Eyed Perspective Distorts the Good News that God is LOVE: a sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent – Mark 8:27-38

fish necklacesThat I should serve as the pastor of a church called Holy Cross is ironic. You see for years and years, before I ever dreamed of being the pastor of a church named Holy Cross, I’ve been trying to figure out how crosses became so popular. Personally, I can’t abide crosses! I hate them! I can’t abide the glorification of an instrument of torture and death! I have never understood why crosses are worn as jewelry! People would never dream of wearing an electric chair around their neck. I cannot for the life of me, imagine that any of Jesus’ followers would have ever considered wearing the symbol of Roman tyranny and persecution around their necks.

The early followers of the way; the first Christians used the fish as the symbol of their faith. For a very long time, I used to wear a simple fish necklace that a little girl made for me. Just before I went to seminary, my friend gave me a slightly more elaborate necklace with even more fish on it. Before I was ordained, I insisted that I’d never wear a cross. But then as an ordination gift my wife Carol had her son design a cross that is made up of fish and I must admit that it’s difficult to see this fish cross as an instrument of torture. But then I read a passage like the Gospel text from Mark 8:27-38 and once again the cross becomes a symbol of torture. In this text, the gospel-storyteller we call Mark has Jesus insist that, “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross an follow me.” All I can say is “Woa, wait just a minute Jesus. Take up my cross and follow you. Wait a minute; I know where you’re going. You’re on your way to Jerusalem and I know exactly what’s going to happen when you get there. You are going to stir things up, get yourself into trouble, upset the powers that be and the next thing you know they are going to nail you to the cross and you are going to suffer and die. If I pick up my cross and follow Jesus, I’m going to end up right there with Jesus, hanging from my cross, suffering and dying and for what? What’s it all about Jesus? Why are you so hell-bent on getting yourself crucified and why do you want me to join you?” Continue reading

Liturgies for Lenten Evening Prayer Inspired by the Mystics

I have been asked to re-post our Lenten Evening Prayer liturgies in one convenient spot. These have been used several times at Holy Cross, so you can listen to the audio recordings or check out the worship bulletins.

Liturgical texts and readings taken from the writings of the mystics.

Intended for use during the season of Lent.

EVENING PRAYER:  JULIAN OF NORWICH

Click here to download the Worship Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided

Click here to listen to the Worship Service

EVENING PRAYER:  THOMAS AQUINAS

2 Evening Prayer Lent which is to be printed double-sided

EP 2 Thomas Aquinas — the silences are intentional

LENTEN EVENING PRAYER: MECHTHILD OF MAGDEBURG

Evening Prayer Service Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided.

Evening Prayer Service audio – the silences are intentional – enjoy them.

LENTEN EVENING PRAYER: FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Evening Prayer Service Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided

Evening Prayer Audio - the silences are intentional.  Enjoy!

LENTEN EVENING PRAYER: HILDEGARD VON BINGEN

Evening Prayer Service Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided

Evening Prayer Audio - the silences are intentional.  Enjoy!

Parables Ancient and Modern: Lenten Evening Prayer with readings from the Orthodox Heretic

Orthodox HereticA series of Lenten Evening Prayer Services which use readings from the Parables of Jesus together with readings from Peter Rollins’ “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.” Prayers are drawn from the writings of the Christian Mystics. Each service includes the worship bulletin as well as an audio recording of the service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. 

One:  NO CONVICTION

A Copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here (service begins at the 48 sec. mark)

Peter Rollins reads NO CONVICTION

Two:  Translating the Word

A copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

 Three: Great Misfortune

Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here - it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Four: The Book of Love

 Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Five: Betrayal

Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Awe and Wonder: A Lenten Practice

AWE copySo many of our Lenten practices revolve around theories of atonement that cast the HOLY ONE as a participant in a grand bargain that saw Jesus of Nazareth die as a sacrifice for sin. For those of us who have left behind theories of atonement that set Jesus up as  payment for our sin, Lent can seem a very lonely place. While many churches busy themselves with rituals that encourage repentance from the perspective of confessing our unworthiness to a grand-inquistor deity,  it is tempting to give up the season of Lent all together. But with the explosion of information about the nature, beauty and complexity of the cosmos, perhaps we can achieve the humility that the ritual of confession offers in ways that do not require us to adopt the attitude that human’s are unworthy creatures in need of a god who would demand satisfaction at the expense of a blood sacrifice. 

Each time I look up into a starlit sky I am overcome with a sense of awe and wonder that is in and of itself a prayer that inspires humility in me. A sense of awe and wonder at that which is beyond ourselves is the beginning of a prayer that always leads me to a sense of ONENESS with all that IS. 

This morning, my Lenten devotion came to me in the form of this splendid video The Overview, which describes the awe and wonder of those who have had the privilege of looking at the earth from the perspective of space. They describe their awe and wonder, their prayer if you will, as the “overview effect”. The overview effect serves to connect these space travellers to the earth itself and moves them to the kind of humility that helps me to realize that awe and wonder can serve as nourishment for my own Lenten journey.

As we gaze in awe at our marvellous planet perhaps we can be moved to tread more lightly upon her. Perhaps awestruck by the beauty and wonder of creation, we can look to all the inhabitants of the earth and see that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made. I trust that a humility based not on a belief that we are wicked, unworthy creatures, but rather on a experience of awe and wonder, will lead us on a Lenten journey to a place where we will have the courage to gaze upon the cross and see beyond the violence to the hope of resurrection.

An Alternative for Lent: A Progressive Christian Looks at the Rite of Confession

JOHN OF THE CROSS as
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck.
 And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen.  Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase.  The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.

Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.

Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck.  It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.

When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee. 

Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago.  She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart.  Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy.  Is that right?”

Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”.  Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gentle, but firmly said: “Let it go, child.  Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)

In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament.  Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure.  My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness.  Continue reading

Beyond the Wildernesses: a sermon for Lent 1B

JusticeThis sermon is inspired by the work of Dr. Cornel West whose words and challenges infuse this sermon with courage and passion. The questions which frame the challenges are from W.E.B du Bois as quoted by Cornel West. Listen to the sermon here

Since You Asked: I Refuse to Take on Any Lenten Disciplines!

JOHN OF THE CROSS wordsIn the midst of this brutally cold winter I can find no signs that spring is around the corner. To say that it is cold outside is an understatement of epic proportions. Regardless of the challenges of this wild winter, I cannot simply retreat to the warmth of the fireside. I have places to go and people to see. By the time the driveway is shovelled, the ice is scraped, the windshield juice is topped up in my car and all the extra time it takes to navigate the roads in this weather, I can barely complete the regular tasks this busy modern life of ours demands, let alone feel guilty because I’m not adopting some contemplative spiritual exercises that harken back to a simpler time! I heard someone say, “If you are currently not experiencing any stress in your life, you should immediately lie down because it appears that you may be dead.” So, please don’t ask me to take on any Lenten disciplines!

I have also heard it said,  that in Canada the most common response to the question “How are you doing?” is the word “Busy!”. Canadians and I suspect Americans, Europeans, and most inhabitants of the so-called First World, seem to feel the need to justify our existance by assuring others that we are leading busy lives. While I am absolutely convinced that lives lived in the twenty-first century are busier than the lives of our ancestors, I’m not so sure that being busy is something we ought to be proud of.

Growing up, I remember all sorts of predictions about how life in our immediate future would be filled with so much leisure time as a direct result of the technology that would be at our fingertips. But as technology advances, our ability to work wherever and whenever the need arises has severely curtailed our leisure time. Our lives are busy and we have forgotten what it means to be human beings because most of us have become human doers. We have forgotten how to simply be.

I find it reassuring, comforting even, that our ancestors understood  our Creator as YAHWEH, which translated can be understood as “I AM WHO I AM or I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE. That the name of God should be understood as the verb “to be” helps me to understand myself as one who is created in the image of the great I AM and not the great I DO. I am a human being not a human doer! What I need from a season like Lent is not a prescription for more things to do. But rather, the encouragement to simply be. 

Might I suggest that we can begin this encouragement to simply be by simply greeting people with a simple word of peace. If such a greeting seems awkward to you then perhaps simply asking people how they “are” rather than how they are “doing” will suffice. Such a subtle change may not be enough for some people to refrain from telling you what or how they are “doing” and you may find them insisting that they are indeed “busy”. But a little gentle persistence may enable some to respond about their very being. Reminding one another that we are beings and not just doers might lead us toward some peace. Shalom, As-salam alaykum, Peace dear beings, Peace…..

Laugh! It Is Lent – a sermon for the first Sunday in Lent 1B

TickledA sermon preached on Lent 1B 2012 which began a journey into the wilderness with the Mystics. St Teresa of Avila and my granddaughter’s laughter inspired this sermon   Listen to the sermon here

I find myself wishing that we were entering some other season of the church year. Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.

Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first Sunday of Lent. OH goodie! We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”

Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent. And I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century.

It is so easy for us to lean not on the ever-lasting arms of Jesus but on the scales of St. Anslem and find ourselves not looking forward to the promise of resurrection and the gifts of eternal life, but rather dreading judgment day knowing that the scales of justice must be balanced and fearing the moment of truth when our sins are piled onto the scale and knowing that our only hope for reconciliation with our Maker is that Jesus is sitting on the other end of the scale. Woe is me. Woe is me. For I am sinful. My sins are too numerous to count. There’s all the things I have done and all the things I have left undone. Thank God Jesus died for me. Somebody had to pay the price for my sinfulness. Jesus died for a reason, and you and I dear sisters and brothers are that reason. A blood sacrifice had to be paid. God’s justice demanded it and Jesus paid the price with his very own blood. Jesus took our place up there on that cross and the least you and I can do to say thank-you is to spend some time shouldering our own crosses as we retrace Jesus steps to Jerusalem. Continue reading

Embracing Mortality: a reflection for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wed. 2014 MortalityReadings for Ash Wednesday click here

Bulletin for Ash Wednesday click here

You can listen to the sermon here

On Ash Wednesday we are invited to begin a journey into the mystery of our existence. Since the days long ago when the first of our kind gathered together around under the starlit sky, humans have gazed upon the stars and offered up their questions, longing to know who and what we are, where we come from, why we are here, are we alone in the universe, who made us, why are we here, and perhaps most daunting of all our questions: what will become of us. Tonight, an answer of sorts is offered. Dust.

From dust we came and to dust we shall return. Among all the creatures that inhabit creation, we humans are unique in that we alone are conscious of our own mortality. We know that we are made up of the stuff of the earth; that we sprang forth out of the dirt, the dust of the earth, the same dust that was once the stuff that stars are made of. Out of that dust we are made and when our life on this earth is over, we shall return to that dust. We are after all is said and done, mortal. The life that we know will one day end and the stuff that we are made of will be returned to the earth. We hope that out of our remains new life will spring forth and for some of us this is enough; to be part of the endless cycle of life.

For others of us, the recycling of our remains is not enough. Remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return strikes us as bleak, and we long to be more than just the sum of our parts. We long to be more than just the stuff that is housed in our bodies. We want more than just this present incarnation of dust. We fear the inevitable decomposition of who we know ourselves to be. We can’t help wondering what lies beyond the dust that we are. Most of the time, we can keep our fears under control as the demands of our bodies to be fed, watered, and amused keep us busily scurrying to and fro, this way and that, with precious little time to spare. Day after day we avoid the questions our mortality stirs in us. From time to time, we catch sight of our aging selves in mirrors that reflect the passing of years as we journey closer to our own earthly demise. Sometimes a nagging pain, a frightening diagnosis, a sudden impact, the death of a friend, or a night like tonight reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return and we are forced to deny the reality of our eventual demise because it is just to frightening to contemplate; or to embrace the reality of our dustiness trusting that the Love that lies at the heart of all that is will not abandon us to the abyss of nothingness. Continue reading