Following Prostitutes and Christ – a sermon for Epiphany 3A – Matthew 4:12-23

Vancouver's east endWhen I was in my early twenties, I grew weary of sharing space and I decided that I wanted an apartment all to myself, despite the fact that I couldn’t really afford an apartment all to myself. But I was determined and that’s how I ended up living in a very rough neighborhood in the east end of Vancouver. My parents weren’t’ very happy about the neighbourhood and worried about the unsavory characters that lived in the run-down building where I found a spacious one bedroom apartment that I could just about afford. The apartment was just a couple of blocks away from the office where I worked, so I was able to walk to work. I ignored all the warnings of my family and friends and I convinced myself that I could handle anything that came my way.

In my heart of hearts I was rather pleased to be living in such a poor rough and tumble neighbourhood. I was young and foolish and the neighbourhood was exciting. Every Sunday I would make the trip back to my home church in the suburbs. Sometimes I would make a second trip out during the week to attend a Bible study. Like so many young people, I was harsh in my criticisms of the elaborate life-styles of my elders. At bible studies, I was always bringing up the plight of the poor and the oppressed and challenging people to do something. Various members of my own family often accused me of being a bleeding heart liberal. I wore their criticism with a certain amount of pride, convinced that I was living out my beliefs.

Although I walked to work each day, I didn’t know any of my neighbours, until one morning I was surprised by a knock on my apartment door. I wondered how anyone would get past the lock on the front door. So, I peered through the peephole and was relieved when I saw a young woman at my door. I unbolted the door and in swept Brenda. Brenda was all smiles and laughter as she explained that she and her roommates were out of coffee and she wondered if I might be able to lend them some coffee.  When I explained that I had just used up the last of my coffee making my own morning brew, Brenda told me not to worry, she and her roommates would be happy to join me. When Brenda returned, she introduced her roommates, Janice and Sue and we all sat down together for our morning coffee. Continue reading

WHY: by Nina Simone in honour of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Recorded on April 7, 1968 – just three days after the assignation of Dr. King, recorded live at the Westbury Music Fair. There’s a rawness to this performance that speaks volumes. The song was written by Nina Simone’s bass player Gene Taylor.

It’s not about a messiah, it is about each one of us working together to overcome the things that separate us! – a sermon on the birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

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First Lesson: “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” – Martin Luther King – here

Second Lesson:  From “Love Your Enemies” – Martin Luther King- here

Gospel – John 1:29-42

Listen to the sermon here

Let Freedom Ring Through You! Celebrate the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Monday is Martin Luther King Day, Friday our American neighbours will inaugurate the man who will occupy the most powerful office on the planet. In many ways, this new president appears to represent so much of what Dr. King struggled to overcome. So this year, it seems more important than ever to lift every voice and sing the praise of all those who bear witness to the kind of justice that Jesus of Nazareth embodied. 

Epiphany 2A; John 1:29-42 Jan.19, 2014.  A sermon in celebration of the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The audio includes the Acclamation, sermon and Hymn of the Day:

Listen to the sermon:

https://pastordawn.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/epiphany_2a-mlk.m4a

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” During the struggle to open the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, there were some very dark days. As many of you know, during my first years in ministry, it was a struggle that I did not want any part of.  I was for all intents and purposes living in the closet, even if it was the most transparent of closets, the walls of that closet made it very clear to me that my job would be at risk if I spoke publicly about who I am. So, in the early years, I was determined to keep my mouth shut about my own sexuality and fight the good fight from the relative safety of the background. Then, by virtue of my office, I was asked to speak publicly at a forum being held by York region, mental health professionals who were gathering resources to support GLBT youth. The organizers of the forum knew that many young people suffered because of their family’s involvement in churches that propagated hatred toward gays and lesbians and they wanted me to speak directly to these issues so that mental health professionals might be equipped to begin to counter some of the religious propaganda that was damaging so many young people. A few days after I spoke at this public forum a note was hand delivered to the mailbox at the parsonage. The note contained two quotes from the book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind it is abomination” and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

I was shaken by the quotes and even more shaken by the fact that they were hand delivered to my home. I tried to shake off my fear by telling myself that the note represented the ravings of a fool. But when I shared the note with members of the church council, I was reminded that in my world these words represented Bible quotes but in the real world they constituted a death threat.

I confess that at the moment, I realized that violence might actually be a consequence of my speech, I beat a hasty retreat back into my closet. I was determined to stay within the relative safety of the cozy, obscure little world in which Lutheran pastors usually live out our ministries. But calls kept coming in for help. So, I ventured out of the closet and mail continued to come in spouting hatred and suggesting violence as a very real possibility. There were some very dark days and even darker nights and from time to time I was sorely tempted to return in kind some of the hatred that was coming my way. One of you, I don’t know who, although I do have my suspicions placed a note in my church mailbox, right over there. The note contained these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let me just tell you, that those words stopped me on more than one occasion from lashing out in anger and on several occasions those words helped me to remember that I am called to love; love not only when it is easy or convenient, but to love in the face of hatred.

Now our struggle was not nearly as difficult as the struggles of others. I would not for a moment even begin to suggest that we have tasted the kind of hatred or been subjected to the kind of violence that was faced by the freedom fighters who achieved so much under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. I do however know very clearly that we drew our inspiration from their struggles. The life and witness of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and continues to inspire millions of people to seek justice, to stand up for freedom and to love in the face of hate.  Dr. King is more than just an inspiration to justice seekers and peacemakers, he is an example of what it means to impact the evolution of our species.  Humans are better beings as a result of the many ways in which Dr. King changed the way we interact with one another. Creation is not the same as a result of the life and witness of Dr. King. Continue reading

Jesus, the Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World? It ain’t necessarily so! (a sermon for Epiphany 2A – John 1:29-42)

Lamb of GodI am indebted to John Shelby Spong for giving me the words to articulate my own objections to the label attached to Jesus by a late first century writer also known as John. Most if not all of this sermon is derived from Jack Spong’s work. For more details I would refer you to Jesus for the Non-Religious and The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. We at Holy Cross were privileged to have Jack speak to us about both of these books. In fact a year before it was published, Holy Cross was the test audience for the material in The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. This sermon ought to have all sorts of footnotes, but I trust you will forgive me for simply confessing that I can no longer tell were Jack leaves off and I begin. Suffice it to say that this sermon is my feeble attempt to put Jack’s work into the form of a sermon.

When I turn the gospel according to John and read about John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, saying:  “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I want to scream,  “NO!” I have come to believe that our images of God are far too narrow. As far as I’m concerned most of our ideas about God fall far short of every even beginning to describe who God might be. One thing I’m absolutely certain of is if we can imagine ourselves being more loving, more gracious, or more merciful that our theology suggests that God is, then we had better go back to the drawing-board and think again. The ways in which we have traditionally interpreted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, paint a picture of a God who is far less loving, gracious or merciful than you or I. Nobody in this room, would demand a blood sacrifice of a lamb, let alone the blood sacrifice of their own child. So, the image of God that is based on this kind of theology must be judged as inadequate to the task of evening beginning to provide us with a glimpse of who our God is.

As we go back to the drawing-board, we ought to take a long hard look at how we arrived at this image in the first place. Thank goodness for the work of our friend Jack Spong who has enabled us to see beyond the literal to the more-than-literal meanings of the various ways in which the followers of Jesus have understood the life and teachings of Jesus. During the years that followed the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers were left wondering what it was all about. How could someone in whom they had seen the fullness of God, be taken from them in such a horrendous way? How could their God allow it?   What were they to do? Over the years that followed, Jesus’ followers looked back at the life, death, and resurrection of Christ through the lens of their own religious experiences. Jesus’ followers were primarily Jewish and so it didn’t take long for the familiar Jewish symbol of the Lamb of God to be applied to Jesus as a way of making some sense out of his death.  Today most Christians associate the symbol of the Lamb of God with the Jewish celebration of Passover.  While the Gospel narratives do indeed locate the time of Jesus death during the celebration of the Passover, and there is indeed a sacrificial lamb involved in the Passover, the actual phrase “the Lamb of God” comes not from the religious rites of Passover, but rather the religious rites of Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement.  Phrases like “the Lamb of God”, “died for our sins” and “washed in the blood of the lamb” can all be found in the religious rites of Yom Kippur.  Continue reading

Wear Your Baptism in Ways that Others Might See a Visible Means of Grace in You – a sermon on Baptism

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Readings:  Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 3:13-17

Listen to the sermon here

Baptism of Jesus

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Join us tomorrow as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Everyone is welcome!

See you at 10:45am at Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Our Hymn of the Day will be Marty Haugen’s Song Over the Waters

Sermons on the Baptism of Jesus

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Recognizing the Sacred In and Beyond the Stories We Tell: the Baptism of Jesus 

The Things We Do For Jesus! 

I Really Don’t Like John the Baptist

A Progressive Christian Wades Into the Waters of Baptism

Baptism: A Mystery of the Faith

Beloved, Lover, and LOVE Itself

A Progressive Christian Wades into the Waters of Baptism

baptism 33A sermon for the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17

Listen to the sermon here

Wading into the waters of baptism is no simple matter for a progressive Christian. Once you leave the myth of perfection in some distant garden back there in the mists of time, reject the notion of humanity’s fall from grace as a result of original sin, and give up worshipping the sadistic image of a god who demands a blood sacrifice, it’s difficult to navigate the waters of baptism without spouting notions that the institutional church condemns as heresy. But today is the day when the church celebrates the baptism of Jesus and the stories about the baptism of Jesus that have been handed down to us by our ancestors suggest that on this day of all days, we should have the courage to follow Jesus into the river of life even if it does challenge some of our long held assumptions about what it means to be a child of God.

I venture into these troubled waters as someone who treasures the sacrament of baptism. Long before I ever entertained the idea that I might one day respond to the call to become a baptizer, I became a lover of this particular sacrament of the church. I am now, and I have always been one of those people who find it almost impossible not to shed a tear or two at baptisms. The beauty of all that hope and expectation all wrapped up in the guise of a tiny little human has a way of generating in me a watery contribution as my tears join the sprinkling to wet the babies head. When the baptized is an adult my tears flow even more bountifully. Let’s face it folks these days the reality is that infant baptisms are rare enough. Adult baptisms, especially in mainline churches are so rare that the nostalgia alone is enough to send us into spasms of uncontrollable weeping for seer joy at the thought that it is even remotely possible that someone has been able to see beyond the church’s doctrine long enough to embrace the amazing possibilities of the sacrament to provide any benefit in this the twenty-first century.

When we look back to the stories told in the synoptic gospels about the baptism of Jesus we are sometimes so distracted by the opening of the heavens, the descent of the dove and the voice of God declaring Jesus to be the beloved, that we miss an important detail of the way in which the early followers of the Way chose to tell the story of Jesus public coming out party. New Testament scholars remind us that the stories told by the writers of the gospels were written at the end of the first century; a time when it would have been clear to all those who had ears to hear, that by going down to the river Jordan to be baptized by John would have stirred up the political and religious waters. John the Baptist was a revolutionary who made no bones about the fact that the religious authorities and the political rulers were leading the people down the wrong path. John’s shouting in the wilderness was his way of warning the people to repent; to literally turn around and follow a different path. John was doing far more than ranting when he condemned the religious authorities as a brood of vipers; he was calling on the people to reject the teachings of the authorities. John’s insistence on repentance was a call to revolution, a revolution designed to overthrow  the status quo. John was out there in the wilderness because it wasn’t safe for him to spout his own particular brand of incendiary fire and brimstone rhetoric within earshot of the authorities. By going down to the River Jordon and submitting to John’s baptism of repentance Jesus was choosing to identify himself with a political revolutionary.

That the writers of the gospels chose to tell there story in ways that see the God of Israel give Jesus a shout out, and the very spirit of God descending like a dove onto the shoulders of Jesus, turns John’s baptism of repentance into a kind of passing of the torch from one revolutionary to the next. Yet, despite the gospel-writers having cast Jesus into the role of revolutionary torchbearer none of the gospel writers shows Jesus following the ways of his predecessor John. There is no record of Jesus calling people to repent nor is there any record of Jesus ever having baptized anyone. All we have is Jesus “Great Commission” which if New Testament scholars are to be believed, Jesus probably never even said, “go therefore and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, it’s true, most preachers, dare I say modern-day baptizers, learned in seminary that rather than being an instruction given by Jesus the Great Commission was actually added to the story by the early followers of Jesus. But I digress, the point I’d like to emphasize about Jesus’ trip down to the waters of the Jordan, is that by choosing to publicly submit to John’s baptism, Jesus was making an important statement about his own public ministry. For just like John, Jesus intended to challenge the religious and political authorities.

That the gospel writers have Jesus head off into the wilderness to find his own way prepares us to follow Jesus down a completely different path than the one his predecessor John pointed toward.

So on a day, when the church looks back upon the baptism of Jesus, surely we can take courage from Jesus’ example of wandering off into the wilderness to find our own way of challenging the religious authorities of our day. Continue reading

Bat Qol – The Daughter of a Sound: Hearing the Word Utter Our Name

Preparing to Preach on Jesus’ Baptism

BAT QOL pastordawnEach year, I begin my preparations for preaching on the Baptism of Jesus with this video in which  Heather Murray Elkins tells her story, “The Secret of Our Baptism.” Elkins opens us to a new way of hearing the Bat Col, the Daughter of a Sound, the Voice of the Divine, the Word, who speaks in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Matthew 3:13-17

Epiphany Sermons

epiphanyEpiphany arrives on Friday Jan 6. Traditionally, Epiphany was celebrated in grander fashion than Christmas. But time has seen the Christmas feast eclipse the festival of Epiphany. In our modern culture few churches will offer Epiphany services on Friday and Sunday will see us choosing to follow the lectionary to travel beyond the arrival of the wise-guys to the Baptism of Jesus. But for those who enjoy a moment to reflect upon the changing of the seasons, here are a few of the Epiphany sermons I have preached over the past few years. 

You are the Light of the World here

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening. here 

Don’t Forget the Mystery of Our Faith here

Wisdom Seeks Wisdom here

“Happy New Year” even if the forecast looks bleak! a sermon for New Year’s Day

forecast-realityWhat does it mean to bid someone a “Happy New Year” when we all know the future looks bleak? Our readings included: Matthew 2:13-23; Luke 2:15-21 & 2:22-38. Listen to the sermon here:

Do You See What I See?

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Do you see the baby?

Some of us have followed the star, we have journeyed to Bethlehem and we have seen the ONE who comes into the world as a child. Now what? Do we see the needs of the child? Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and be about the work of ushering in the Reign of Justice that this child, any child needs in order to live in peace? I wonder? 

I still hear the echoes of Rachel’s voice weeping unconsolable in Ramah; weeping for the lost children of Newtown and every town where violence, greed, madness or neglect robs the child of those things that belong to children: playful laughter, safe homes, warmth, nourishment, learning, embraces, peace….a future. 

Mystic, poet, philosopher, and theologian Howard Thurman’s poem “The Work of Christmas” comes to me as a challenge for the days, months and year ahead:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

The Herods of this world have had their way for far too long. Let the slaughter of innocents end. We have seen the child and we know the wonders of a star-lit peace-filled night. So, let the work of Christmas begin with all of us seeking justice and making peace so that children everywhere can grow in LOVE. Shalom!

A Blessing for the New Year (John O’Donohue)

The art of blessing is often neglected. The birth of a New Year calls forth the desire in us to bestow a blessing upon those we love. Several years ago, John O”Donohue, one of my favorite Irish poet’s created a New Year’s blessing for his mother entitled Beannacht-for Josie. It is a blessing of superior quality. And so, on this New Year’s Eve, may you all receive this beannacht with my added blessing for a peace-filled New Year in which the God in whom all of creation is held, might find full expression in your miraculous life! 

Beannacht John O'Donohue pastorDawn.pages

So this is Christmas: Rachel Weeping!

Rachel weeping“A voice was heard in Ramah sobbing and lamenting loudly: it was Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, for they were no more.” Matthew 2:18

Matthew 2:13-23 seems like such an offensive text to be reading so soon after Christmas. And yet, this gospel text, known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents” is indeed the prescribed lesson for the first Sunday of Christmas.  Amid our celebrations, and in the midst of the gospel writer’s account of the birth of Christ, this horrendous story of the slaughter of innocents begs the question:  WHY? It’s Christmas for heaven’s sake! My preaching professor, used to remind us of the first thing we should do when we are preparing a sermon on a particular text is to ask the obvious question. “So What?”

So What? Well for this child of the sixties, only one Christmas song comes to mind when I read of the slaughter of the innocents, it’s the one Christmas song that asks the question:    So What? We’ve just celebrated Christmas? So what does this mean? Please listen. “So this is Christmas?”


John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980. Shot by a deranged fan. And so is it any wonder, the melancholy why in which he sang this song, haunts our Christmases? So, what possible difference can Christmas make? We haven’t even had a chance to finish our celebrations and the news is far from good. Thousands continue to die in Syria, and the Sudan, Palestine is a mess. The people of the Philippians continue to suffer in the aftermath of disaster.  The war on Terror rages on as one side scores points on the other at the cost of human flesh and the word “drone” has taken on a horrific meaning.   Hunger continues to claim the lives of the poor despite the fact that we have more than enough food to feed the world. Poverty continues to enslave millions the world over. In just a couple of weeks the most powerful nation on Earth will hand over the reins of power to a man whose temperament for office is terrifying.

And so this is Christmas, and what have we done?

For we are the ones to whom a child was born.

We are the ones to whom a saviour was given.

A saviour who is Christ the Lord.

A saviour sent to provide hope to the world.

And we are the ones in whom Christ lives.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, for God has done great things for us!

Christ lives and breathes in us.

So, we are the ones God has sent to save the world.

So, this is Christmas and what have you done?

Clearly we have work to do!

The work of Christmas has barely begun.

If the slaughter of innocents is to end, we had better get busy.

Rachel is weeping for her children.

And God knows why she weeps.

Rachel weeps because her children are no more.

And Rachel, their mother, refuses to be comforted.

Rachel’s children—our children, yours and mine—born for love and mercy, die from neglect and ugliness and Rachel weeps bitterly. There’s a little book of prayers called: “Children’s Letters to God”. The prayers in that book have the power to make you smile and cry all at once. The very first letter to God in that book reads: “Dear God, in Sunday School they told us what you do. Who does it, God, when you are on vacation?” We may smile, but sometimes it feels as if for all intents and purposes, God is on vacation. For surely God would not stand idly by and allow so many innocents to perish?

Once we broaden our images of God; the source of our being, the One who dwells in us, we can begin to see that the place where we have traditionally located the Divine One changes from up there to in and around here and we can begin to seek God not out there but within and around us. If God is on vacation, it is because we are on vacation. For the Divine one works in, with and through us to sooth the pain caused by violence and greed.

So, let me assure you sisters and brothers, our God is not on vacation. Despite appearances to the contrary, our God is not absent, but God is surely weeping. For in Christ God showed us the way. The Christmas story insists that our God is in-fleshed and dwells among us.  This changes everything. It’s not enough to pray with words expecting some far off deity to change the world. The changing of this world will happen when we begin to live into our full humanity and the sacred nature of our very being shines forth with LOVE. In, with and through us is how the LOVE we call God changes the world.. For we are God’s people on earth; Christ’s body on earth and it is through Christ’s body that God will save the innocents. There’s no time for us to waste feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get busy.

There’s a song that helps me to remember the hope born in Bethlehem. These Hands

 

And so this is Christmas… Rachel weeps.  We’ve been on vacation long enough. Our God has taken on flesh and dwells among us!  It’s time for the work of Christmas to begin again. We are God’s hands!

 

It’s time to reclaim religion: Rabbi Sharon Brous

sharon-brous“At a moment when the world seems to be spinning out of control, religion might feel irrelevant — or like part of the problem. But Rabbi Sharon Brous believes we can reinvent religion to meet the needs of modern life. In this impassioned talk, Brous shares four principles of a revitalized religious practice and offers faith of all kinds as a hopeful counter-narrative to the numbing realities of violence, extremism and pessimism.”

 

Go Tell It on the Mountain!!!

OdettaWhile the world hurdles toward the New Year celebrations, we linger in the Twelve Days of Christmas. This is the second day of Christmas, which means there is still time to enjoy the music of Christmas and so, I offer up one of my favourite singers: Odetta proclaiming the Good News in her own splendid style with Go Tell it on the Mountain.

Christ is Born In You – Christmas Eve sermon

christmas-eve-2016Merry Christmas one and ALL!!! Here’s the Christmas Eve sermon based on the Gospel readings from Luke 1:26-38; 1:39-55; 2:1-20. I cannot remember where I first heard the story I tell in the sermon. I suspect it is from some sermon I heard long ago because the outline is on a fading piece of foolscap in my barely legible handwriting. I did a quick search and could only discover the was a version of the story in a sermon by Janis B. Scott who does not site her source. My retelling/elaboration of the story is, I hope, a reflection of the MYSTERY that is once again born on this holy night.

Listen to the sermon here

We Need New Words to Praise the Silent Night Cosmically!

Silent NightSilent night, holy night is a perennial favourite! T’is the season for nostalgia. But what if we are serious about providing more than nostalgia in our worship? Can we, or do we even dare to offer worshippers new images that endeavour to engage our reality? Can we touch the spiritual but not religious crowds that wander into our sanctuaries seeking an encounter with the Mystery we call God, with a hint of our unknowing. Or are we content to address only the nostalgia seekers with safe images designed only to warm and not excite the imagination? Dare we beacon the nostalgia seeks beyond their memories toward the future? I wonder?  Maybe we can summon up the courage to compromise by simply adding a few new verses?  

The challenge belongs to all of us to write new words to enable us to sing our praise with integrity. Here’s a sample, with thanks to Keith Mesecher.

The Holly and the Ivy

One of my favorite Christmas movies. Produced in England in 1952, there is no sentimentality here. The story is raw and engaging. Clergy will hear the echoes of their lives  in the frustration and doubts expressed by the Parson who is brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Richardson. This movie was censored in the United States because too many of the characters do not believe in God and say so. The ending does not resolve their unbelief. It is a brilliant snapshot of another time that reminds us that the good old days never really where. I love this film’s honest unresolved angst. Enjoy!