GOD Is Positively Drunk On SPONDIC LOVE!

Standing on a hilltop in a cemetery, equipped only with words carefully selected to comfort the bereaved, shivering so fiercely that I feared our collective shivering was powerful enough to set off a chain-reaction which might topple the tombstones which flanked us, I paused to catch my breath and wondered what force could have enticed us out into the frigid air. Minus 25º Celsius and I have no idea what the windchill factor was. I only knew the layers of clothing I’d wrapped myself in were not going to save my scalp from frostbite, not now that I had removed my hat out of respect for the deceased. The tiny frail widow, wrapped in a blanket shivered with such force that I began to fear for her life. The casket before us twinkled as the Sun brightly shone and I wondered if it might be warmer inside its highly polished veneer. It wasn’t until my carefully chosen, mostly familiar words, ceased and I invited the gentle, kind, bereaved woman to speak that I fully understood the power of the force which compelled us onto that frigid hilltop cemetery. With one sentence, the grieving widow said it all when she spoke haltingly to her beloved, “I just want to thank you for loving me.”

LOVE. Only the power of LOVE could have brought us together on that glorious hill to stand shivering in epic cold, to proclaim LOVE’s effervescence. As each ray of the Sun’s light danced across the casket’s veneer, I could see LOVE’s power in all its splendid glory. For not even the coldness of death can defuse LOVE’s ability to sparkle. I confess that words like effervescence and sparkle were inspired by the time I have spent this week studying today’s Gospel reading which is the story given to us by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John. Listen to the story which is often called the Wedding at Cana:

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”

And they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

So, they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

I love this story! Indeed, in the BC days, you know the before covid days, when we could gather in person, whenever this reading came along, I would bring champagne to serve at communion.

The celebration of the wedding at Cana positively calls out for the popping of corks, and lots of bubbles to tickle your nose. Oh, how I miss those champagne communions. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to pop those corks! I can tell you how very much I look forward to the day when we can gather and celebrate over wine and bread the LOVE which is the MYSTERY, we have come to call God. If you listen with your mind’s ear, I’m sure you can hear the corks a poppin!

What a wonderful way to celebrate what philosopher Beatrice Bruteau calls spondic LOVE. Spondic comes from the Greek word which means “libation” and spondic LOVE is the LOVE which flows in and through the Cosmos pouring into each and every nook and cranny of Creation. Spondic what a splendid word, positively effervescent, sparkly, in the way it depicts LOVE’s ability to bubble up all over the place.

Years ago, I discovered a phrase used by St. Augustine of Hippo when he was attempting to describe the nature of the Trinity.  Augustine described the DIVINE MYSTERY as LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE Itself. This age old trinitarian formula captures the effervescent MYSTERY in ways which begin to capture for me the ONE which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. At the very core of REALITY is Spondic LOVE which flows and flows and flows. The fifth-century writer Pseudo-Dionysius insisted that, “God is like a sober drunk falling over Godself in a desire to share divine life.”

God is positively drunk with LOVE! Is it any wonder then that when asked what he believed was the meaning of love, Martin Luther King wrote: “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”?

Sadly, far too many of us limit our understanding of the word love to the imperfect love which is all too often settled for in this life, the love which says, “I’ll love you as long as you love me.”  Which simply put means my love is contingent on you doing and being exactly the way, I want you to do and be or the kind of love which sees a couple turning inward in their devotion to one another, shutting off the world. This kind of love, this malpractice is then projected onto the MYSTERY we call God as we design a god in our own image, one whose love is based upon our behavior or who leads us to abandon the world. Spondic LOVE is palpable. It flows in, around, and beyond us drawing us into floods of mutuality, drawing us ever closer to the ONE who is in the words of Ilia Delio, the LOVER, BELOVED, and BREATH of LOVE. For we live and move and have our being in the LOVE which is DIVINITY! The kind of LOVE which insists, “I want you to have everything!” It is this kind of LOVE which unites us in our desires for our neighbours! We want them to have everything! Everything they need to be this LOVE in the world. For to be LOVE in the world is to be fully alive, effervescent, bubbling, rising up again and again, to life, to libate. Libation which comes from a beautiful Latin verb which means “to pour as an offering.” LOVE’s spondicity bubbles in us when we embody the LOVE which permeates the Cosmos, when we become LOVE in the world.

Just like the bubbles in champagne, being LOVE in the world is not a linear thing. It doesn’t suddenly happen and then you become LOVE in the world from now on. Like the bubbles this LOVE flows in, with, through, and beyond us, rising here, there, and everywhere. Ours is the task of joining LOVE’s flow. We begin by noticing, recognizing, and naming LOVE where, when, and in whom we see it. Then we trust LOVE’s flow to carry us beyond ourselves and into the lives of our neighbours, ready, willing, and able to be LOVE in their lives, simply because we just can’t help ourselves, we want them to have everything.

Jesus said, “I have come to give you life; life in all its abundance.” or as some translations put it, “I have come that you may have life and live it abundantly!” Live it to the full! Live life until you are drunk on LOVE falling all over yourself with a desire to share DIVINE life.

 “I just want to thank you for loving me.” That’s all she had to say. Somehow, the Sun shone more brightly, and standing shivering before the power of LOVE, I could see beyond the casket’s veneer to the life which had been lived so well. Setting aside my carefully chosen words, I spoke from my heart about the LOVE which brought us into the beauty which surrounds us to herald a man whose embodiment of LOVE will never die. When the familiar words had been spoken all our eyes turned to the widow, who summoned all her strength to kneel before the casket just long enough to bestow one last kiss to her BeLOVed. May this LOVE, which is positively SPONDIC bubble and flow in, with, through, and beyond you, filling up every nook and cranny of your days, here in this splendid Creation which is absolutely soaked by the flow of the ONE who is our BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also! Remember this ONE is drunk, falling all over LOVEself in a desire to share DIVINE life! Enjoy the bubbles! Then be that LOVE in the world! LOVE in the name and for the sake of our LOVER, BELOVED, and the BREATH of LOVE. Amen.

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NO! I Do NOT Believe IN Jesus! – a sermon on John 2:1-11 – The Wedding at Cana

recorded on Jan. 20, 2019

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend that I was very close to during my seminary days. This friend has long since left the church. My friend asked me, “Dawn do you still believe in Jesus?” I remembered all the long conversations in seminary about believing in Jesus and at that very moment I had an epiphany of sorts. I hesitated to answer, because like all epiphanies, I recognized that if I let myself go to the place where my epiphany was pointing me to, I would be in very unfamiliar territory. My friend would not let me off the hook, “It’s a simple question Dawn.  Do you still believe in Jesus?”

“No.” I said, and my friend smiled, the way she used to smile when she scored a point against me in some theological debate. My epiphany was shedding light on what could prove to be a painful reality. After all, from where my friend now sits, outside of the church and beyond all the church’s teachings, belief in Jesus is kind of a non-negotiable bottom line for a pastor. From her perspective, I ought to be able to give an unequivocal, “YES” to her question.

“No.” I said it again. “I do not believe in Jesus.”

My friend’s smile seemed to shine brighter than my epiphany. It was as if she was already celebrating my departure from the church. Before she could welcome me to the place where she now stands, outside the church, I said it again. “No, I do not believe in Jesus.  But, ……….I do believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said .I believe what Jesus taught. I believe that the way Jesus lived embodies a new way of being human. I believe Jesus when he says, “Do not be afraid.” I believe Jesus when he speaks about the MYSTERY that we call God. I believe Jesus when he insists that justice is worth dying for. I believe Jesus when he risks everything for the sake of his conviction that non-violent resistance is the way to achieve justice. I believe Jesus, the way he lived, the way he died, and the way he lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who follow his way of being human. I believe Jesus. I also believe that it doesn’t matter a whole hill of beans whether or not I or anybody else believes in Jesus. But it makes all the difference in the world and to the world that we believe Jesus, because at the core of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught is LOVE. LOVE God with all your heart, with, all your soul, and with all your mind and LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself; this I believe is a way BEYOND the kind of humanity that is always being consumed by itself. This LOVE moves us in to a new way of being. I believe Jesus’ call to look beyond our selfish needs, our selfish desires, our self-self-centeredness, and to move beyond our fears, to LOVE.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge between believing in Jesus and simply believing Jesus. Now I realize that some people would say that they don’t see much difference between believing in and simply believing.  Well that’s where the story of the Wedding at Cana is helpful. You see, so many people see the story about the Wedding at Cana as a miracle story; a story that proves Jesus is who people say he is. You either believe in Jesus or you don’t. You either believe in the fact that Jesus turned actual water into wine, or you don’t. You either believe in miracles or you don’t. Well, I believe the story of the Wedding at Cana, but I do not believe in miracles; at least not the kind of miracles that defy reality. I believe the story about Jesus turning water into wine. But I don’t believe that any water actually turned into wine. I believe the story, but I don’t believe that Jesus was some sort of super-natural being who  instantaneously changed water into wine. I believe the story, because the story points to the truth. Continue reading

Rest in the Grace of the Cosmos

Here we are again. Riding the wave of a worldwide spike. Separated from one another by our approaches to the oncoming rush of a variant which has so many of us isolating in our homes while others must venture out into the fray to keep things functioning, while still others are left to fend for themselves, out there, in the cold and cruelness of a world in which this wave is but the latest in a long line of viral injustice.  From behind the hoped-for protection of our masked façade we mumble our weariness. For we are tired. Tired of listening for news of this wave’s impact upon billions of us. Tired of being separated from all but a few of those billions. Tired of wondering, when, or how, or where this latest wave will take us. Who can blame us for trying to distract ourselves from tidal realities? Struggling to home-school, endless Zoom meetings, overdosing on news reports, bingeing endless entertainment, escaping down technology’s rabbit holes, or gorging on festive leftovers, these distractions of privilege are exhausting.

Yesterday, I sat here in the comfort of my living-room clutching a warm cup of tea as the sun sparkled through these windows, tempting me to venture outside into the Artic frigid air, wondering what I might say to offer you comfort, or inspiration as we ride this wave together and apart. The warmth of the teacup in my hands pulled me from my melancholic thoughts to remind me of the vast BEYOND. Upon this cup the imprint of a Starry Starry Night, and it brought words from the past into this moment. In my mind’s ear I heard the artist Vincent Van Gogh’s words urging me to look beyond myself. Van Gogh said, “When I have a terrible need of, dare I say religion, then I go outside at night and paint the stars.” Over and over again, a prayer welled up in me, “The stars, the stars, the stars.” As our Day Star glistened outside my window, sending LIGHT cascading around this room, I traversed galaxies in my mind’s eye squinted to see what lies beyond myself. “The stars, the stars, the stars.”  I prayed again and again, as the swell of the Cosmos caressed me with a tenderness beyond words. Longing to linger in the embrace of the ONE who is revealed in, with, through, and beyond the Cosmos, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, resting in the grace of the Cosmos. When the wet, cold, tea fell into my lap, I was refreshed, no longer feeling the need to gasp for air as the threatened pandemic tsunami continues its approach.  For I AM.  I AM held within the LOVE which is the DIVINE ONE.

Refreshed, restored, and empowered, I climbed the stairs to my office to read once again, the words which will be read in far flung places as christian communities celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Continue reading

Let 2022 Be Your Ode to JOY!

The myths recorded at the end of the first century about the birth of Jesus are a series of parables designed by their creators to challenge the oppressed followers of the teachings of Jesus to free themselves from the bondage of empire. One of the parables which make up this nativity befitting a great human, is the Parable of the Wise Ones. Wise Ones, sages from the East followed the star of their dreams seeking the one who would fulfill the hopes and dreams of many for leader who would embody the WISDOM necessary to lead the people out of bondage. Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Matthew recorded the Parable of the Wise Ones: “Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod; suddenly sages from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the one born ruler of the Judeans? For we have seen his star at its ascent and have come to reverence him.’  When King Herod heard this, he was shaken, and all Jerusalem with him; then calling together the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah would be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, by no means are the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod secretly called for the sages and learned from them the time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go, search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word so that I may also go and reverence him.” When they had heard the king, they left, and there suddenly was the star that they had seen at is ascent going before them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they rejoiced; their joy was exuberant. On entering the house, they say the child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and reverenced him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The gospel-storyteller weaves a parable for generations which draws us into the miracle of birth in the midst of challenging of times. The Parable of the Wise Ones is carefully designed to inspire communities of listeners who knew all too well the trials and tribulations which threaten every baby born into the turmoil of oppression and violence. In the parable, Jesus is portrayed as a child who will grow into a great liberator who challenges not only his own generation, but generations to come to live fully, no matter what the obstacles to freedom may be. The Parable of the Wise Ones, like all parables if we let them, when liberated from the misperceptions of history, has the uncanny ability to challenge us to embrace new ways of seeing reality. Ways which will liberate us from our fears, liberate us from oppression, and empower us to resist violence. The power of a parable’s ability to liberate generations comes from the hope which parables inspire.

The Parable of the Sages manages to challenge even the wisest among us to see beyond the challenges, beyond the threats of violence, beyond even the end of the gospel-storyteller’s story, which we all know is coming, for not even death can diminish the joy of new birth. For who among us, when the star stops over the place where the baby lay, does not feel the hope rising in us, when the sages, knowing full well the dangers surrounding the birth, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they rejoiced and their joy was exuberant.”

Their joy was exuberant! Joy the very emotion which inspires hope!  Considering the many challenges, the dangers, toils, and snares through which we have come these past two years, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing to feel some joy? Joy to the world! Yes please!  We need a little joy in order to hope for liberation in this new year! What I wouldn’t give for a star to stop over the place where all the answers lie waiting to be discovered, waiting to free us, so that we can abandon our fear and live life abundantly, here, and now. That’s the thing about parables, you can’t take them too literally. Staring up into the heavens searching for a star to lead us, won’t bring us the joy we need to inspire the hope we need to free us from our fear, so that the promise of abundant life can be born again and again, and again.

I had almost given up hope of experiencing joy this Christmas until I was reminded of the gift of joy given by an unlikely creator of hope. I was watching one of those endless end of the year news programs. You know the kind of show that tries to sum it all up with a few segments which remind us of the momentous, almost forgotten, happenings of the year gone by. (click here to view the news segment) Well, it turns out that 2020, in addition to being an “annus horribilis” that’s the Queen’s Latin for “disastrous or unfortunate year,” 2020 was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. Needless to say, the planned celebrations were put on hold, and they remained on hold all of last year. Nevertheless, the news program decided to run their tribute to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as part of their year-end windup. Over the years, I’ve learned very little about Beethoven’s life other than the fact that this epic creator of music, lost his hearing and continued to compose music which is beyond compare. What I learned in the ever-so brief snippet, which is characteristic of so much news programming, is that in addition to losing his hearing in his late-twenties, Beethoven suffered from chronic lead poisoning, he may have had colitis, he suffered fevers and headaches which lasted for months. His health challenges became so unbearable that Beethoven entertained the idea of suicide. Choosing instead to live for his art, Beethoven contended with the political oppression, wars, and rumors of wars of his time. Living in Vienna, which was primarily a police state at the time, Beethoven chose to set to music the Friedrich Schiller poem Ode to Joy. As the final movement of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy may be the most famous revolutionary call to freedom ever created. Says conductor Marin Alsop, “it’s about coming to terms with challenge, strife, and struggle and deciding it is worth it.”

Beethoven tapped into the dejection of his fellow citizens to create a gift designed to keep the idea of freedom alive. The writing of the Ninth Symphony by a man who was deaf may just be the greatest act of faith in the reality of life’s worth! For Beethoven gave birth to the Ninth Symphony using his mind’s ear. Listen with your own mind’s ear and I suspect the power of Beethoven’s creation will still be able to stir joy in you. Marin Alsop insists that Beethoven’s loss of hearing may have liberated him from self-censorship. “He kept moving forward in terms of experimentation, in terms of taking risks.” With the Ode to Joy, Beethoven reminded his world, and continues to remind our world, that “even in the darkest of times there is potential for joy.”

I wonder what the numerus losses our world has experienced in the past two years may have liberated us from. What joys may we discover in this liberation? In the freedom from the way things were? In the discovery of stars to guide us? In the joy we allow ourselves to take in each new birth.

These 2020s may not be the roaring twenties of a bygone age but consider for a moment the enormity of the blessings we enjoy in this century. All around us there is potential for joy. The kind of joy which inspires hope, the kind of hope that creates abundant life. If we let it, 2022 has the potential to be our ode to joy, for we have all we need to create abundant life here and now. Not just for ourselves, but for all our neighbours. Yes, we do need to come to terms with our challenges, we need to understand the oppressive nature of the empires we serve, for only then will we be able to fully see life’s tremendous worth.

Friends, at your birth a star shone brightly in the sky and the sages who visited you, they rejoiced, and indeed their joy was exuberant. The wise ones in your life have given you many gifts. May their joy and your giftedness work wonders in you. For we have challenges to meet. Now is the time to claim the freedom of life without fear which is the joy of abundant life. May this new year bring you great joy! May this new year be the beginning of your ode to joy!  Your gift to the world! Happy New Year! Happy New Year!  Amen!

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You beautiful CHRIST-Child YOU!

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones

The old and the young

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear.

John Lennon’s almost mournful Christmas wish resonates in my very being this Christmas.  A few weeks ago, we were all looking forward to making up for last Christmas and hoping that this year Christmas would be Merry and that our New Year would be a good one without any fear. And here we are on this the Second Day of Christmas looking toward a New Year being told that we should be afraid, very afraid. So far the 20s haven’t exactly been the roaring 20’s which our grandparents enjoyed. 2020 and 2021 have challenged all, if not to be afraid, then at least be careful, very, very, careful. Celebrating in the midst of a pandemic which keeps rushing at us in ever increasing waves isn’t easy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled to feel all the feelings we long to feel at Christmas.Anticipation, Excitement, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love . . .

The other day, as I waited in a long line up to get my booster shot, I heard someone say, “This sure doesn’t feel like Christmas.” To which his companion said, “No matter how hard I try I just can’t get into the Christmas Spirit.” I almost wept as the woman in front of me shook her head and yelled, “Don’t worry Christmas will soon be over.” I managed to restrain myself from saying, “Ba Humbug!” But I certainly thought it.

Driving home with a sore arm, I remembered another Christmas long ago. That’s the thing about Christmas if functions as a kind of time machine to Christmases past. Way back then, I was struggling to feel all the feels of Christmas. I was young and very serious about my faith, and I wanted to feel something more than I was. I remember on Christmas Eve felling so melancholy that I cornered my Pastor in his office. I sat right down and told him that I was having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas. The poor man. To his credit he just smiled, closed the door, sat down, and listened as I poured my heart out about how nothing was really the same and how difficult I was finding it to get into the spirit of Christmas. I told him that this year it was as if something was missing, and I asked him if he thought I might be losing my faith.

He just smiled, and said that, “someday I would look back on this Christmas with the same kind of longing that I was looking back on previous Christmases.” He said that each of us has an emptiness deep inside which cannot be filled by the past. He went on to say that the emptiness couldn’t be filled by looking to the future either. He insisted that, our emptiness can only be filled in the present moment. He said that our emptiness is filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.

I honestly, didn’t understand a word Pastor Ernst was saying. I was very dissatisfied with the quality of his advice. It sounded to me that he was telling me to pray, to pray now in this very moment. Probably because back then I thought prayer was the answer to every question, so why wouldn’t I interpret his words as a call to prayer. But I’d already tried to pray, and it hadn’t made a bit of difference. If anything, trying to pray only made me feel worse. So, I thanked Pastor Ernst for his time and wished him a Merry Christmas.

As I left his office, I couldn’t imagine ever longing for this particular Christmas. Looking back on it now, what I wouldn’t give for a few more moments with old Pastor Ernst, for the passing years have proven him to be a very wise man, indeed. “Someday, you will look back at this Christmas with longing.” Each of us has an emptiness deep inside that cannot be filled by longing for the past or for the future. Our emptiness can only be filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.”

It has taken me years to understand the wisdom that Pastor Ernst shared with me. My understanding began that very afternoon. The preparations for the Christmas Eve Sunday School Pageant were in a state of pure bedlam. The madness wasn’t helped by the presence of the baby Jesus. Tradition dictated that the youngest member of the congregation be given the honour of playing the role of the baby Jesus. This particular baby Jesus was just eight weeks old, and according to her mother she suffered with colic. I had absolutely no idea what colic was, but there was something about the look in her mother’s eyes which compelled me to take the baby from her. I’d always been good with babies, and I was sure that I could calm her down, if I just got her away from the madness that was going on around us. The church had a little nursery attached to the sanctuary, so off I went with the baby Jesus in my arms. It took some doing but after some furious rocking in a rocking chair baby Jesus lay quietly looking up at me.  She was a strange little Jesus. She had the most striking red hair, and the most amazing green eyes. She frowned up at me as if to say, “Who are you?” Not wanting her to start screaming all over again, I rocked a little faster, it seemed the faster I rocked her the more content she became, ah colic. It took some doing, but finally the scowling baby Jesus smiled up at me. It was overwhelming. 

With the sounds of duelling shepherds and excited angels out in the narthex, I sat rocking this lovely little CHRIST child. And suddenly I was filled with the glory of God. Filled to over-flowing. Connected in some mysterious way to something so much bigger than myself. It was as if, in that little child all the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lay. At that very moment I held eternity in my arms.

I’m sure most of you are convinced that you will never look back with longing at this Christmas. Not unless you allow yourself to see the DIVINE MYSTERY in the faces of those you see here and now in these moments. There are CHRIST Childs everywhere, even in your very own mirror. For you are a beloved Child of the DIVINE MYSTERY.  In you the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lie. If you’ve been longing for loved ones, long gone, or far away, if you’ve been missing all the feels you were longing to feel, if you’ve been pre-occupied by what the future may hold, if you know an emptiness deep inside… It is time to stop and take a good look around you. 

Christmas time is a time to be present here and now. Christmas time is eternal time.  And it is true, the empty place inside cannot be filled by longing for what was or for what is to come. The empty place inside can only be filled here and now in this moment, by our God who inhabits eternity. The good news is that this is only the Second Day of Christmas, you have ten more days to be fully present to each moment you are blessed to be you. If you like, do a little dance, you know a dance like Ebenezer Scrooge did when he woke up and realized he hadn’t missed Christmas at all. Wake up to this moment and keep Christmas well. Rejoice for we are richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Born into the ONE who is the LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond us, CHRIST-Children everyone. And so, this is Christmas, time to live in this moment, you beautiful CHRIST-Child you.  Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY for life here and now!

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LOVE Comes By Here and Our Weary World Rejoices!

On the Saturday before the Christmas, Anna’s mother called me with the bad news. Seven-year-old Anna was in hospital. Her white blood count was dangerously low, and it didn’t look like Anna was going to make it home in time for Christmas. Anna’s mother asked me if I would help with the hospital visiting. Over the years, a group of us had become all too familiar with this particular routine.  Anna didn’t like to be alone when she was in hospital and so friends of the family used to help out when needed. Because I lived only a few blocks from the children’s hospital and because Anna liked my bedtime stories, I often found myself taking the night shift with Anna. Bedtime at the hospital was quite the routine. Anna loved to be told the same bedtime stories over and over again.  It sometimes took a couple of hours to get her to the point where she would even consider closing her eyes. And when she got to this point Anna always insisted that I sing to her. My abilities as a chanteuse are severely limited. I’m simply not a great singer. The DIVINE CREATOR of ALL that IS clearly didn’t see fit to grant me the ability to carry a tune. But this didn’t seem bother Anna.  For some unknown reason – perhaps she was tone deaf, or maybe she just had a warped sense of humor—but Anna loved to hear me sing. And so, on the Saturday evening before Christmas, I found myself at Anna’s bedside. I had already told her several of her favorite bedtime stories when Anna asked if I would read her a story. She pointed to a brand-new picture book which lay on the cabinet beside her bed.

The book had no words, just pictures. The pictures told the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and the shepherds who were watching their flocks out in the fields. As I turned the pages Anna, and I took turns telling the various parts of the familiar story to one another. When we got to the part where the Angel Gabriel appeared before the shepherds, Anna took over. She knew her part well: “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the CHRIST. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Anna was well practiced in delivering these lines she had played the part of the Angel in several Christmas pageants. She delivered the lines perfectly. And then went on with her story: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying” Anna signalled to me to join her in the angels’ lines: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on Earth peace among those whom God favours!”

As I spoke these all too familiar lines, a huge lump rose up in my throat. I wanted nothing more than to curse God right there and then. What kind of God allows a beautiful little angel to be stuck in hospital? What kind of God allows the dreams of a beautiful little girl to be destroyed by lousy timing? What kind of God, promises peace on Earth and then disappears for 2000 years leaving us to our own devices? I managed to keep my questions to myself as we continued to turn the pages.

When we got to the last scene of the book, Anna declared how wonderful it was that the baby Jesus and the shepherds and the wise guys and Mary and Joseph all got to hear the angels sing. I said that according to the story only the shepherds heard the angels’ song. But Anna told me not to be silly because surely the angels would have started singing again when they saw that everyone had finally arrived at the stable. I asked Anna what she thought the angels might have sung. She got a wicked little grin on her face and insisted that they probably sang her favorite bedtime song. I just laughed at the mere thought of angels singing that particular song to the baby Jesus. You see, over the years of tucking Anna in, I was forced to try to sing quite a few lullabies to her. And with my limited abilities, I can assure you that it wasn’t easy. Not for me and not, I’m sure for the nurses who may have overheard my feeble attempts. But of all my crappy renditions, Anna’s absolute favourite was “You are my sunshine. My only sunshine.” And so, staring down at the picture of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, the shepherds, wise guys and assorted angels, I began to sing Anna’s favourite lullaby for the baby Jesus. Now to spare the other people in the ward, I sang ever so softly. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you please don’t take my Sunshine away.”

When I’d finished singing, Anna sang a lullaby for the baby Jesus. I’ve never heard Away in a Manger sung so sweetly. By the time Anna got to the last verse, a few others had joined in. That’s how it began. A couple of nurses and some of the other children and their parents joined us in an impromptu caroling session. We sang all the Christmas carols we could think of. When we couldn’t think of another carol, Anna asked me to sing her other favorite song. I couldn’t remember what her other favorite song was.  Anna just smiled and said you know the one where I get to pretend to play the drum. I thought she meant The Little Drummer Boy and I said that I was sorry but, I don’t think I ever knew that that was one of her favorites. But I did know that it was a song beyond my ability to sing. But from the expression on Anna’s face, it was clear that I’d guessed the wrong song. Anna began to beat out a rhythm on the table by her bed. It took me awhile and I remembered. Kum by Ah My Lord …Anna’s favorite song. Come by here my Lord. Come by here. Someone’s crying lord come by here. Someone’s fighting Lord come by here. Someone’s hurting Lord, come by here. Someone’s praying Lord, come by here.

In a world gone mad, in a world where we have yet to learn just how to love one another, Christ comes to us. When we are hurting, when we are in pain, when our world is darkest, Christ comes to us. When we are sick and tired. Christ comes to us. When we have given up and can no longer bear to hope.  Christ comes to us. CHRIST is our GOD which is the LOVE taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Christ laughs with us, cries with us, rejoices with us, suffers with us, heals with us, walks with us, shouts with us, struggles with us and loves with us. That beautiful parable of Jesus’ birth in the midst of deep darkness is the story of a child born to liberate people from fear. In that beautiful parable of Jesus’ birth is the Cosmic truth of LOVE’s power to burst forth even in the darkest of times.

For our GOD is the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being. Our GOD lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. LOVE comes to us in each and every person who is working right now to keep us all safe and healthy, the doctors, nurses, orderlies, delivery drivers, retail workers, scientists, lab technicians, politicians, bureaucrats, paramedics, police, public health workers, vaccinated people, people wearing masks, people staying at home, people cancelling events, every single person who is doing their part to take care of their neighbours, is the way our GOD comes to us. As we feast during these Holy Days and when the feasting is done, I pray that LOVE will continue to work in us, through us, and beyond us to heal our weary world, for we are ONE with the LOVE which is DIVINITY and when one of us is suffering, we all suffer. So, let LOVE be born in us over and over again, as often as it takes for all the world to know that LOVE is the SOURCE of ALL, so we need not be afraid.

Have no fear for LOVE is born over and over again, in us, among us, through us, and beyond us. Therein lies the hopes and fears of all the years, met in LOVE tonight. Come by here O LOVE, come by here. Come by here and help us to bring the good news of great joy for all the people. Come by here and help us to sing Glory to God in the highest heaven and on Earth peace good will, and good health to all. Come by here O LOVE.  Come by here. O LOVE come by here.

Do you hear what I hear? It is the sound of the SPIRIT of LOVE breathing in us. LOVE has come by here. LOVE has come by you. LOVE comes into the world day after day after day. Embrace LOVE, so that you can bring Good News of great joy. Joy to the world. For LOVE has come! You are ONE with the LOVE, which IS BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that ALSO, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself! Merry Christmas!  GOD has blessed us everyone! Amen.

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Damn You COVID and Damn Your Evil Spawn COVID

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” Who among us isn’t dreaming of a Christmas just like the ones we used to know? A Christmas without Omicron! If only we could throw away our masks, forget about who is vaccinated and who isn’t and never have to take another rapid test again. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Dreaming of a simpler time when all was merry and bright. The very word Christmas has the power to transport us beyond time itself to a place where one Christmas melds into another and our memories adopt a kinder gentler view of what was. Christmas can be, if we let it a Thin Place were the membrane between what is and what can be is stretched so thin that we can see beyond the ordinary to the sacred. I don’t know about you, but I was planning to forget about last Christmas and dash into this coming Christmas with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I dreamed of waking up Christmas morning like Ebenezer Scrooge, having survived the ghosts of COVID, to happily sing and dance and greet the new morn, ready to keep Christmas well. Instead, I find myself in danger of descending into a pre-Christmas funk, where I am tempted to abandon my dreams of a Christmas just like the ones I used to know and pulling the covers up over my head and settling into a long winter’s nap until the world returns to a more even keel. Ba humbug! Ba humbug I say! Damn you COVID and damn your evil spawn OMICRON.

Forgive me, I just can’t help it, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know. I can’t quite hear the melody of White Christmas. There’s another earworm playing in my ear. The song playing now in my head is not what most people would consider Christmas music. It is a song that I remember from my childhood. It is a song my Granda used to sing when he was in his cups. It’s an old, World War II classic made popular by Vera Lynn: When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart So kiss me my sweet And so let us part And when I grow too old to dream That kiss will live in my heart

My Granda could make me weep when he sang that song. I was too young back then to understand the myriad of meaning in this song, but even so, the very idea of being too old to dream, brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it was just childish of me to have believed that the ability to dream would last as long as life itself. Somehow the very thought of being too old to dream seemed like an impossibility. As I’ve grown older, I can well imagine life without dreaming. Life in the world can shatter dreams and sometimes even rob us of the desire to dream. Over the years I’ve known more than a few people who have given up on their dreams, and others who refuse to waste their time dreaming, and even some who are too weary to even bother dreaming. I understand that in the darkness of this long COVID nightmare many of us are struggling to summon up our collective courage to dream. Or even worse, so many of us aren’t prepared to dream big, as we content ourselves with selfish little dreams. So as Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, let’s look to the Christmas story, and to the myth which has sustained generations of dreamers, to see what we might learn from a dreamers’ dreamer about the power of dreams.

Listen to the Parable of Joseph as it is told by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Matthew:  “Now this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to have a child in her womb from the HOLY SPIRIT. Joseph her husband was a just man and unwilling to shame her, he wanted to divorce her secretly. But when he deliberated this, suddenly an angel of the MOST HIGH GOD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, child of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for in her is conceived a child from the HOLY SPIRIT. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what had been spoken by the MOST HIGH GOD through the prophet: “Look now! The young woman shall conceive a child in her womb and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,” which translated means, “GOD is with us.” When Joseph got up from sleep, he did as the angel of the MOST HIGH GOD commanded him. He took Mary as his wife, yet did not know her sexually until her birthing of a son and they named him Jesus.”

Across the stage of many a Christmas pageant, this character Joseph whose dreams saved the child whom we long to embrace marches each and every Christmas. Just as the year grows to the apex of darkness, the character of Joseph the dreamer appears in the birth myth which we celebrate as the coming of the LIGHT. Scholars remind us that the character of Jesus’ father, known as Joseph, does not appear in Christian writings until the ninth decade, some 50 to 55 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph’s appearance in the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s beautifully crafted Jewish myth is ever-so brief. Joseph wanders onto the pageant stage in a stumbling and bumbling fashion. The literary character Joseph is well suited to the pageant stage. Generations of little boys in bathrobes that are just long enough to trip them up has embodied this rather comical vision of a father for generations. For who but Joseph would load a woman great with child upon a donkey to set off unprepared, without so much as a hotel reservation, only to find themselves forced to give birth in a stable, without adequate provisions. To our modern eyes Joseph is a bit of a bumbling fool who is hopelessly ill equipped to be a father. Poor Mary. Poor Jesus.

But wait I’m getting ahead of myself. First there was the dream. But then isn’t that just like us, we 21st century audiences, fast-forwarding to the good bits, eager for the heavenly hosts so that we can join in their singing? We are so unlike the first century audiences of this grand literary pageant. Remember, our pageant writer was a Jew, who created his drama for Jewish audiences, audiences eager to dream, audiences sick and tired of the horrors of life in first century Palestine, audiences who were eager to share in the dream of salvation, salvation from their wicked oppressors. Audiences would have heard the name Joseph and known, like all ancient audiences that everything is in the name. Jewish audiences knew their own stories and to their ears the name Joseph foretells the presence of a dreamer. Joseph the hero of old; a dreamer of sorts who was pivotal in saving the Jewish people by engineering their escape from famine by enticing them to safety in Egypt.

Joseph was a character which Jewish audiences would have known so well, standing proudly in the tradition of their ancestors. This founder of the Jewish people, Joseph understood oppression. First the oppression of his older siblings who sold him into slavery. This Joseph whose life is intimately woven around dreams, went on to become an interpreter of dreams. This Joseph who had a habit of being visited by angels in dreams would have been so familiar. This Joseph who after his father dies becomes the protector of his father’s children. This Joseph who finds it in his heart to protect and nurture his wicked siblings. A first century audience would have had no trouble transferring their ancestor Joseph’s characteristics onto the father of Jesus. Angelic visitors would not have surprised these first audiences, any more than Joseph’s eventual flight into Egypt for safety would have; for it is all in the name “Joseph.”

The anonymous gospel storyteller we call Matthew was skilled in the art of mixing the extraordinary stories of his ancestors with the hope of new birth. An unexpected, inconvenient pregnancy, in an occupied land, whose people are longing for a liberator, a saviour. Joseph the dreamer is just the kind of character to safeguard the babe born to realize the dreams of the people. In our dreams we can see visions not of what is but of what might be. In our dreams we can see a more enlightened version of ourselves.  In our dreams we can travel beyond our abilities to bear the darkness into the light. But have we grown too old to dream? I wonder?

Cast your minds back to last Christmas when we were dreaming of a vaccine to protect us from COVID. I can see myself standing and shivering on front porches of the homes of loved ones, exchanging Christmas gifts and dreaming of the day when we could go inside to be together. I can see myself weeping for joy right after receiving my first dose of the vaccine we had longed for. Yeah, I know that this Christmas won’t be just like the ones we used to know. But this Christmas, like every Christmas will be a Christmas for dreamers. This Christmas as we gather in small, safe, vaccinated, rapid tested, groups of loved ones, to feast, to celebrate, and to enjoy one another’s company, let’s raise our glasses and toast our dreams for this big, beautiful world of ours. Let us open ourselves to the possibilities which can thrive in the fertile ground of our many blessings.

When I consider the myth of Joseph the dreamer, I can’t help but marvel at Joseph’s role as a refugee displaced by Empire, fleeing danger in order to keep his family safe.  The literary character of Joseph symbolizes the millions of refugees who have been displaced by various empires, empires which are tribal, national, or economic. These millions of refugees, like Joseph need to find refuge from the terror inflicted upon them by forces beyond their control. As we celebrate the birth of LOVE 21 centuries ago, can we spare a dream, a really big dream for those who are seeking shelter now. Today, 80 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes. Each day that number grows by over 44,000. Here in Canada our own government has set a goal of settling 400,000 new immigrants each year. To reach this goal, we need to be welcoming 81,000 new immigrants every year. Unfortunately, the pandemic has cramped our style and this year only 7,800 new immigrants have been landed in Canada. We will have to dream bigger in order to welcome enough families to meet our modest goals. My dream for this year is that you do not settle for small selfish dreams, or dreams limited by our fears. For we are richly blessed.  Blessed with homes. Blessed with political and financial privileges. Blessed with vaccines, with boosters, with hospitals, medical insurance, doctors, nurses, scientists, delivery workers, and freedom from the fears which the violence of empire inflicts upon the least among us. Dream of ways to support radical policies of welcome. Dream of ways to welcome new immigrants.  Dream of ways to reach out beyond our borders to care for the refugees, the displaced people fleeing violence, oppression, and climate disasters. Dream of ways to live selflessly sharing our many blessings. Let us celebrate LOVE’s birth by opening ourselves to the transformation which is possible when we allow ourselves to dream, to dream big. In the midst of all the uncertainty of this Christmas, let’s muster up the courage to dream big! When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart  kiss me my sweet…

I can my Granda singing. This Christmas, it won’t be just like the ones we used to know. But this Christmas we are blessed by LOVE’s birth in us, among us, and beyond us. Let dreams inspired by a newborn babe laying on a bed of straw, open us to the possibilities of LOVE; the LOVE which is DIVINITY. In our visions of LOVE lie the hopes and dreams of all the Earth. It is the LOVE which lives in our hearts that fills our dreams with visions of the LOVE our world longs for.

I remember after a particularly heartfelt rendition by my Granda, I asked him: “Granda when will I be too old for dreaming.” The question took my Granda by surprise and after a long silence, Granda insisted that I wouldn’t be too old to dream until I became the dream itself.

I have come to believe that dream itself is LOVE, the LOVE which is DIVINITY.  My dream is that when I grow too old to dream, when you grow too old to dream, we’ll have LOVE to remember, and in that LOVE I will be held, tenderly, compassionately, eternally. In the meantime, dear friends, let’s dream big dreams, big dreams inspired by our many blessings and filled with visions of hope, justice, peace, joy, and in, with, through and beyond us all, the ONE that is God, our LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE itself will flow endlessly.  Dream Dear ones. Dream Big. Dream selflessly. Dream well!

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“GOD the FATHER” is not fit for service in the Me Too Age! But Mary IS!

A few years ago, as the “Me too!” movement was beginning to take shape, I came across a retelling of the Christmas story which continues to resonate with me. Listen to the way Tanner Gilliland, tells Mary of Nazareth’s story:

“God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth will be stepping down as Supreme Lord of the Universe amid allegations of sexual assault from Mary, the mother of his son.In a guest column of the Jerusalem Times, Mary detailed God’s grooming tactics, exploitation of power dynamics, and physical coercion that ultimately resulted in the birth of their son, Jesus. “I was still just a maiden,” Mary recalled. “I had never been with a man, let alone a deity. Then one day God sent one of his angels to tell me he was going to get me pregnant. This was a huge shock. God is the father of my spirit, so I had never considered that kind of relationship with him. “He tried to flatter me, telling me how favored I was. I was frightened but couldn’t say no.  I’ve heard about what God does to people who refuse him. I figured it was safer to just go with it. “Then one night, without any kind of warning or petition for consent, I was overshadowed by the spirit. Nine months later, out came the son of God. You can’t imagine how terrible it is to see everyone celebrating Christmas and not be able to express what really happened.” God, who had been previously unavailable for comment for 2,000 years, issued this statement: “I was a total mess. It’s not easy to micromanage an entire universe with a temper like mine.  I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. At the time of the incident, approval ratings were at an all-time low and having a son seemed like my only shot at redemption. It was a terrible thing for me to use my position as Sovereign Creator to coerce Mary like that. Henceforth, I relinquish my position as Lord God Almighty, forfeiting all dominions, principalities, and powers associated with that office. My children are hereby free to govern themselves. Let’s hope they do a better job than I did.” God declined to answer reporters’ questions, but a spokeman did say he plans on spending his new found time on his old passion—gardening.”

Tanner Gilliand’s parable of Mary may leave some people tut-tutting about poor taste. But I would challenge you to think carefully about Mary before you begin to sing the praises of Christianity’s nativity parable. Our traditional ways of heralding Mary’s role in the nativity parable are childish at best and at their worst they leave most inhabitants of the 21st century shaking their heads at the hypocrisy of those of us who claim to follow Jesus. I believe that the ridiculous ways in which we portray Mary, make it impossible for people to take the teachings of Jesus seriously. This coupled with our infantile portrayal of the actions of the DIVINE MYSTERY, have more than a little to do with so many followers of Jesus, walking away in droves from Christianity. So, let’s take a long hard look at Mary’s story, so that the DIVINE MYSTERY is not reduced to our wayward, infantile imaginings. I believe that a closer look at Mary’s story might just resurrect ways of understanding Mary which provide signposts to direct us toward following Jesus in ways which will bust the DIVINE MYSTERY out of the prisons of our miss-rememberings. Continue reading

Sermon: NATIVITY – a parable born in the darkness of trauma.

For the past few weeks, as the seemingly endless atmospheric rivers have flooded my beloved British Columbia, I have watched in horror as familiar towns and neighbourhoods have been inundated with unprecedented flooding. I spent more than 20 years of my life living along the delta land created by the mighty Fraser River and not once, has that blessed river ever visited such devastation upon my neighbours. As we struggle to grasp the enormous impact of something which up until now, most of us never heard of, one atmospheric river after another dumps record shattering amounts of rainfall, day after day, and week after week. It is as if atmospheric rivers have unleashed the tears of our Mother the Earth and there is little we can do to comfort her. Watching the devastation climate change is inflicting upon our privileged neighbours compels us to expand our gaze to include our less privileged neighbours in distant lands, who are being forced to flee their homes with nowhere to go and precious aid being offered. The recent failure of COP20 in Glasgow to achieve any significate response from collective governments causes my own tears to flow.  I am reminded of the ancient words of our ancestor Paul who wrote in the letter to the Romans:

“We know that the whole Creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the SPIRIT groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Alas, my patience has worn thin and I’m not sure I even know what to hope for let alone how to hope that Creation’s groaning will finally move individuals, nations, corporations, and indeed our whole world to respond with significant change to heal the wounds we have inflicted on our Mother the Earth.  

During the season of Advent, we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the LIGHT. Sometimes, the present darkness causes me to despair for even a hint of LIGHT. Today we join our ancestors who embarked into the darkness of Advent, equipped with parables created by long forgotten ancestors, in which generations have seen LIGHT. While many may ask: What can a parable of unborn hope in the first century, offer us in the 21st century? I invite you to listen as together we seek LIGHT for our own times, in this present darkness. Listen to the Gospel Parable created by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke:

“Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the HOLY SPIRIT. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does this visit come to me? That the mother of my SOVERIGN comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the HOLY ONE.”

Is this a charming little story fit for little more than the pageants of a bygone age? Or is this a parable with power to reveal LIGHT in our present darkness? Perhaps only the darkness in which this parable was created can provide the answers which will LIGHT our own darkness. No one knows who created this parable. The author is anonymous, the name Luke was assigned to the gospel long after it was created. We do know that the unknown creator of this parable, wrote his Gospel account sometime between 70 and 90CE. That’s 40 to 60 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps two are three generations had passed; two or three generations of reflecting upon the life and death of Jesus. Continue reading

ADVENT Moments: WOMB of MYSTERY

Within the womb of MYSTERY, we wait.

Gestating in darkness, we fear the ending we cannot see.

Surrounded by unknown dangers, we wait.

Gestating in darkness, we dread the anticipated demise of treasured ways of being.

Longing for the light, we imagine daemons lurking in the dim recesses of life’s challenges.

Gestating in darkness, we cling to feeble notions of salvation.

Grasping at old and tired prophecies, we are quick to abandon WISDOM.

Gestating in darkness, we forget the SOURCE of our fragile being.

Gulping breathes too shallow to heal us, we settle for the trivial, calming, numbness of mundane pleasures.

Within the womb of MYSTERY, the darkness embraces, nourishes, challenges, refusing to severe the cord which sustains us, until we are ready to see the ending, we could not see beyond our fear.

Gestating in MYSTERY, we wait, for the ending which gives birth to hope.

In our waiting, the darkness tenderly enfolds us until the breaking of the waters of life.

Within this womb of MYSTERY, we wait. Amen.

Annunciations from the Margins

Greetings favoured ones! I begin this series with a little annunciation in the style of the Angel Gabriel, “Greetings favoured ones! As Advent begins, we begin our explorations of what I am calling “Parables of DIVINITY.” Parables are stories designed to turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions. Advent is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the parables told by our ancestors about the MYSTERY of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Now, I am often asked if the parables we tell during Advent are true. By which my questioners usually mean, “Did these parables actually happen the way the bible says they happened?” To which I always respond, “ABSOLUTLY! They are most certainly true!” I then add the words of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, who would insist, “I don’t know if these things happened the way they are written in the bible. But I do know that they are true.” Our Parables of DIVINITY series begins with a splendid parable in which truth is revealed. It is the kind of truth which has the power to turn our carefully held assumptions inside-out and upside-down. Unfortunately, the radical nature of our first Parable of DIVINITY has been domesticated and simplified, dumbed down, and rendered mundane and inoffensive. Inoffensive that is except for the matter of that tiny little word which is the victim of so many inaccurate translations. If only the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Matthew hadn’t made such a rookie error when he translated the Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah into Greek, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do. You see whoever this Matthew was, he certainty didn’t pay enough attention when he attempted to use the words of Isaiah to describe Mary of Nazareth. Instead of doing his homework, Matthew relied on the work of previous male translators who mansplained a simple Hebrew noun into Greek which resulted in a young woman named Mary ending up as a perpetual virgin. I kid you not. These gentlemen translators managed to take the Hebrew word for a  “young woman” mistranslate it into Greek as “virgin”, and the anonymous guy we call Matthew either never bothered to check his Greek Septuagint, or for reasons of his own, he decided that Mary was a not just a young woman but also a virgin and years later the Church, and I’m talking about the Imperial Church of Rome here, they added the perpetual part and before long, women everywhere have had to deal with the glorification, or the vernation, and objectification of virginity. But I digress. Insane notions tying virginity and motherhood up in a neat bow while tying women up in knots is a subject for another sermon. 

What I want to talk about today are two Parables of DIVINITY, which I’m calling “Annunciations from the Margins. “Annunciation” from the Latin verb “annuntiare” which can be translated as “to announce” or “to proclaim” or my favourite translation, “to bring tidings.” Usually during Advent, these tidings are thought of as “tidings of great joy.” But not all tidings are joyous. Especially when those tidings are delivered to people who live in the margins of society. Before we deal with the familiar parable of the Annunciation of the YOUNG WOMAN Mary, I’d like to remind you of the first Annunciation parable in the Bible. Now some of you may think I’m talking about the parable of Hannah which is found in 1st Samuel. Probably because Hannah’s Song finds expression in Mary’s Magnificat.  These are parables we’ll get to later in Advent. For now, you’ll have to cast your minds all the way back to the book of Genesis to discover the first Annunciation parable. Genesis 16 to be exact. Listen to this marvelous translation of the parable of the Annunciation of Hagar. You remember Hagar from the story of Sarah and Abraham. Our parable takes place back when Sarah went by the name Sarai. By the way, Sarai is a Hebrew name which translates as “my princess” or as I like to think of Sarah it can also be translated as DININITY’s Princess. As you no doubt remember, Hagar was the woman Abraham turned to when DIVINITY’s Princess could not conceive a child. Like Sarah, Hagar would become the mother of nations. But as our parable begins the women are estranged and Hagar has run away, she’s taken flight. Listen to the Annunciation of Hagar:

“Now the messenger of the ALL-SEEING GOD found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And the messenger said, “Hagar, slave girl of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?” And Hagar said, “From my mistress Sarai am I fleeing.”

The messenger of the INSCRUTABLE GOD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and subject yourself to her.” The messenger of the WELLSPRING OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Greatly will I multiply your seed, so they cannot be counted for multitude.” Then the messenger of the FOUNT OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Look!  You are pregnant and shall give birth to a son, and you shall call him Ishmael (meaning GOD hears), for the FAITHFUL ONE has heard of your abuse, He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live in the sight of all his kin.” So, Hagar named the LIVING GOD who spoke to her: “You are El-ro’i”; for she said, “Have I really seen GOD and remained alive after seeing GOD?”

Sometimes I forget that Hagar and not Moses is the first to be heralded by our ancestors for having seen DIVINITY and lived. Hagar a woman living in the margins, in slavery, fearing for her life, flees for her life and she sees DIVNITY and she lives. Hagar the name itself is of Arabic origin and can be translated as “stranger” or “forsaken” or “one who flees”. Remember when reading parables, especially Parables of DIVINITY, pay attention to the names, they will reveal truth to those who listen carefully. Hagar is an Egyptian slave whose position in the household of DIVINITY’s Princess is marginal. The announcement of her pregnancy may or may not be good news. It all depends upon what position you are in, and Hagar’s parable sets her squarely in the margins of the society in which the parable is set. Indeed, it could be said that the character Hagar’s subsequent role as mother of the nations of Islamic people continues to set Hagar and her descendants in the margins of many of the communities in which we live.

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Advent and the Quest for the Perfect Christmas – Luke 1

Recorded on the First Sunday of Advent 2018

Let me begin, good friends, by addressing you in the same way that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we know as Luke addressed his congregation, for I trust that each one of you are indeed “Theophilus”. LOVER of GOD from the Greek words: “theo” which means “God” and “philus” which means “lover”.

Dearest lovers of God, welcome to the Gospel according to Luke. ‘Tis the season for the first two chapters of Luke which read much like a Broadway musical. While others may have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events exactly as they were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses, the anonymous, gospel-storyteller that, for the want of knowing his or her actual name, we call Luke, has put together an opening to his portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in the grand style of Jewish midrash, with a cast of characters aptly named to put his audiences in mind of some of the Jewish people’s greatest heroes; a real blast from the past with a view toward a new kind of future. Over the years, those who have heard Luke’s account have added the musical score which includes Zachariah’s “Bennedictus,” Elizabeth’s “Hail Mary” as well as Mary’s “Magnificat”. And that’s just in the first chapter!

The Gospel we call Luke came into the life of the Christian community in the late 9thor early 10thdecade of the Common Era, or some sixty years after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. It opens with a magical birth story never intended to be viewed as history. Let me say that again. It opens with a magical birth story that was never intended to be viewed as history. The story is filled with supernatural signs: angels that sing, fetuses that communicate, a virgin that conceives and even a post-menopausal pregnancy. It is the author of Luke’s attempt to capture in parabolic language the essence of who he thinks Jesus is – namely the one through whom God can be experienced.

Like I said before, the author is unknown to us. The name Luke was given decades, perhaps centuries after the book was actually written. All we really know about the author is that heby his own admission, was not an eye-witness to the events of Jesus’ life. We know from his own writing that he wrote excellent Greek; a feat only accomplished by the most highly educated people of his day. Based on the way he wrote, and the phrases he used, experts have concluded that he was in all likelihood a gentile convert to Judaism who then became a Christian. By his own account, he is writing not an accurate detailed account, but rather, an account that will make theophilus, the lovers of God, believe. His account takes the form of a series of short stories; short stories that are easily dramatized. Some, New Testament scholars believe that these stories were told over and over again in dramatic ways; ways designed to hold the interest of their audiences. Continue reading

The Season of Advent

At Holy Cross, our Advent will take us a different path this year. We will not be locked down like last year, so in-person gatherings will be possible. Alleluia! We will also continue to offer pre-recorded videos online.  Our path will see us travel not along the route usually mapped out by the Revised Common Lectionary but on a new route. A route provided by the work of the Hebrew Bible Scholar and Episcopal priest Wilda C. Gafney in her newly published “A WOMEN’S LECTIONARY FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH”.  Our readings will be loosely based on Gafney’s suggestions and the translations of scripture will be hers. I have chosen themes which will function as signposts along our way. These weekly signposts will guide our exploration of the PARABLES of DIVINITY which have nourished generations of Advent travellers.    

PARABLES OF DIVINITY

ADVENT ONE:  Annunciations from the Margins

ADVENT TWO:  Gestating in Darkness

ADVENT THREE: Magnifying DIVINITY

ADVENT FOUR:  Birthing DIVINITY 

For more information visit http://www.holycrosslutheran.ca

ONE with the LOVE which permeates the Cosmos! – John 1:1-5

Years ago, a good many years ago in fact, when my life as an adult had only just begun, I was backpacking around Europe, and I began to hear people talk about the land of the mid-night sun. Now, talk of the mid-night sun always took me back to my childhood memories of my Dad reciting the Robert Service poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee. As a kid, this Canadian epic always sparked my imagination, as I dreamed of those, “strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.” for “The Artic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights”… and on and on it goes spinning a which always fills me with glee as I warm my soul by the heat of the cremation of Sam McGee, wondering about all the other strange things done in the mid-night sun. So, when the possibility arose to actually travel up to Narvik in Norway to see the mid-night sun I was off. My rail-pass covered all of Scandinavia, which before I had the opportunity to ride the Scandinavian rails, I had only seen on distorted maps which made it look ever so small in comparison to Canada’s vast land mass. The distortion of maps deceived me into believing that it would be a short trip from Bergen to Narvik. Little did I know that in 1977 it would take me almost three days to travel the more than 1,000 km; a trip which included disembarking over and over again to lend a hand to the conductors as we worked together to clear the tracks of snow.

It was an epic trip on which my once innocent 20-year-old self learned to swig akvavit like a Viking. As the train finally pulled into Narvik, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It was barely nine o’clock and the sun was already beginning to set. Alas, the sun does indeed shine at midnight in the summer months, but in Norway summer does not include the month of August. Disappointed I resigned myself to abandoning our plans to camp on the hillsides which envelope the port of Narvik. Fortunately, the youth hostel was full, and we were forced to hike up and out of town to find a suitable spot to pitch our tents. As we toasted ourselves by the fire, my mind wandered back to the Cremation of Sam McGee and I wondered, if I’d ever learn what strange things are done beneath the mid-night sun. Continue reading

Ach! Away and Give My Head Peace! – Mark 13:1-8

When I was a child and being particularly annoying, there’s an Irish expression which I remember many of the adults in my life would hurl in my direction: “Ach away and give my head peace!” These days I find this expression rising in me, over and over again, as a sort of prayer which has taken on a mantra-like quality. “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”Over and over again this week, this manta has welled up in me as I have attempted to sooth my anxious self. COP26 … climate danger … global warming… fossil fuel lobbyists … politicians . . . blah, blah, blah… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Remembrance Day … war dead…post-traumatic stress disorder, . . . Ethiopia . . . Afghanistan. . . a new American civil war. . . wars and rumours of war… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Truth and reconciliation. . . unmarked graves. . . no safe drinking water . . . compensation lawsuits . . . spiralling suicide deaths… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” COVID. . . covid-idiots . . . anti-maskers . . . rising case counts . . . booster shots . . . vaccine shortages . . . family divisions . . . “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”

Alas, this week not even Jesus would give my head peace. For as we approach the end of the Church year, our lectionary offers us a reading from the book attributed to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, we call Mark, and I am thrust into commentaries about the end of the world! Continue reading