Feast Day of St. Mary of Magdala: the Apostle to the Apostles

THE RESURRECTION OF MARY – An Idle Tale

Mary-Magdalene egg

To commemorate this festival day, I repost this not-so-long-ago encounter with a visiting New Testament scholar to entice you to follow Mary out of her tomb and beyond the streets to her place at the head of the fledgling community that became the church: 

He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!” He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says, “she is a “prostitute!”

My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where?  Where?  Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”

As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”,

I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”

He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”

“A sinner not a prostitute.”  I respond.

He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”

“Where?” I ask.

Again he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”

I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”

He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”

I lose control, “How do you know?  What words does the author use to say that his woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”

He still doesn’t get it, “What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”

Once again I push, “Show me.  Show me where?”

He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”

I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”

He replies, “amartolos”.

I push, “Does that mean prostitute?” We both know that it does not.

He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”

Still pushing I ask him to “Show me.  Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual.             Show me where it says so in the narrative.”

He says, “It’s clear.”

Clearly we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you.  Show me. Show me!”

As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay.  Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute.  Show me!”

He couldn’t show me.  It’s simply not there.

Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute.  But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute.  

In the years that have transpired since than day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I’ve delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of Mary’s resurrection as the first Apostle. Continue reading

Prayer: 21st Century Questions – There’s an App for that! Luke 11-1-13

prayer appJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel reading Luke 11:1-13 leaves me wondering what an enlightened 21st humanoid is supposed to do with Jesus 1st century ideas???

Cast you minds back to another time and place and tell what the numbers 33, 45, and 78 have in common??? Vinyl Records anyone? When I was a kid music came from a portable RCA record player. The sound quality wasn’t all that great, but somehow we didn’t seem to care. Later when I was a teenager, my parents got a fancy state of the art Phillips stereo cabinet and suddenly sound seemed to be coming from booth ends of the room. I never did understand how those old record players managed to pick up sound from the grooves in the vinyl to45 produce music. I still remember my father’s first reel-to-reel tape recorder, and then there were the eight-tracks, followed by cassettes, followed by CD’s.  I can remember these things, but I have no idea how they made music. It doesn’t matter how many times people try to explain it to me, I still think it’s a miracle that such beautiful sounds can come out of machines.

These days I don’t use records, tapes or CDs to listen to music. My music is stored in “the cloud” and when I want to hear I song I make sweeping motions on my iphone screen and presto, I can make music fill the room. I don’t know what the cloud is. I asked the personal assistant on my iPhone, her name is Siri and she told me she was sorry but she couldn’t tell me because Steve told her not to tell anyone. Some people think the cloud is located in a 225-acre facility that Apple built in North Carolina. Continue reading

Prayer: To Whom Shall We Go? Luke 11:1-13

PanentheismJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of God to those of a cosmic superhero who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what God is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the One who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.

Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about God. Continue reading

The Steadfast LOVE that GOD IS: a sermon for Hosea 11:1-11

God's Admiration for us copyHere’s a sermon I preached a few years ago on this Sunday’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Just as the people of Israel’s images of God changed over time, my own images of the Divine have changed since I preached this sermon. However, I still resonate with ways in which the Book of Hosea seeks to broaden the reader’s understanding of God away from traditional notions of anger and wrath toward images of steadfast love, for I too have had to broaden my own understanding of the Divine many times over the years. I suspect that I am only just beginning to imagine the contours of the steadfast Love that God Is.

Tommy was one of those kids that, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. I was never quite sure whether or not Tommy was rotten or whether trouble just followed him wherever he went. Whatever the reason, Tommy managed to live up to the reputation of the typical middle child. His older brother seemed to be perfect in every way, the model child and his younger sister was the cute and adorable baby of the family, leaving the field wide open for Tommy to become the black sheep of the family. And as black sheep go, Tommy was a doosey.  Tommy was also the son of my friends and so even though, I would have rather not have been part of this kid’s life, the fact that he was the Karen’s beloved son, meant that I had to learn to deal with him.

I can still remember an afternoon, long ago, when Tommy was barely three years old. A bunch of us had gathered to celebrate Karen’s birthday.  Tommy was in a foul mood.  I decided that he just didn’t like the fact that on this particular day he wasn’t the center of attention.  He seemed to do whatever he could to upset his mother. 

Her patience with him was beginning to get on my nerves and I was relieved when Karen announced that it was time for Tommy to take his nap. After a very long and loud temper tantrum, Tommy was eventually quiet in his room; a little too quiet, it seems. It wasn’t until I got into my car to leave and happened to glance up toward Tommy’s bedroom window that I realized just why he had been so quiet. Hanging outside of Tommy’s bedroom window was the evidence of this little boy’s stubborn streak. Somehow, to this day I still don’t know how he managed to do it, but somehow little Tommy had managed to stuff the mattress from his bed out the window. Continue reading

Preaching on Prayer: Shush!

BATH QOLIn this coming Sunday’s gospel reading Luke 11:1-13, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. As a pastor I have been asked to teach people to pray. Each time I have been asked to teach someone to pray I have cringed inside because I do not feel up to the task. For some reason the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” keeps playing in my mind. I keep telling it to, “Shush!” so that I might hear the “bath qol” but the daughter of a sound eludes me. Below is a portion of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject of prayer. If nothing else, it reminds me to shush!

I began this sermon by asking the congregation to sing from memory the old hymn: I Come to the Garden Along. Feel free to sing it to yourself!

I think my earliest memory of prayer is a distant memory I have of skipping along the sidewalk chanting a familiar refrain: “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Most of us can remember a moment from our childhood when a superstition was instilled in us that caused us to perform some ritual in order to placate the unseen power that could determine our fate. Whether it was avoiding cracks, or walking under ladders or black cats, we were trained from an early age to believe that there were powers out there that could determine our future.   Continue reading

Preaching on Hosea

Hosea and GomerThe next few Sundays will include readings from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. To say that this is a strange little book is an understatement. However, I’m tempted try my hand at writing a sermon on this ancient soap opera. For those colleagues who are considering doing the same these short videos provide images to get you in the mood. Of course you could just tune into a modern soap opera to get your creative juices flowing.

Three Queens, the Birth of Laughter, and the Non-Existent Kitchen – a sermon for Pentecost 9C

three queens

Scripture Readings:  Genesis 18:1-15 and Luke 10:38-42

Listen to the sermon here 

The eightenth chapter of the book of Genesis provides us with is a great story of a marvelous genesis! Everytime I hear this story it makes me laugh! I laugh and then I wonder, what are we supposed to do with a story like this? Are we supposed to believe it? Is it true? Is it history or is it myth? Is it an exaggeration or is it a fairytale? If were supposed to believe it, tell me how? I can just about believe that a 99 year old man could impregnate a woman, but I’m not likely to believe that a 90 year old woman could give birth to a child; not in the desert, not in a time when healthy young women died in childbirth; I mean its laughable really. And maybe that’s the whole point!

I’d ask all the women in the congregation who’ve successfully completed menopause to put up their hands, but I’m smarter than that. So, let me just ask the women in the congregation who’ve got all that behind them, what would you do if you overheard a bunch of men who claimed to be God suggesting that you were going to give birth. There’s precious little to do but laugh! I’m nowhere near 90 and I can tell you that I’d laugh so hard I’d be on the floor in hysterics! Hysterics  please don’t pardon the pun; the pun is definitely intended; for hysterics comes from exactly the same Greek word that we get hysterectomy from; and there’s about as much chance of me believing that a 90-year-old woman could give birth as there is of me believing that a woman who has had a hysterectomy could give birth. So, obviously I’m not about to suggest that we should take this story literally.

When we reduce the stories of Genesis to the level of literal history, we tend to reduce the story to the ridiculous and we make them all the more unbelievable. Notice I said reduce the stories, because I really do think that we do the stories an injustice when we try to literalize  or historicize them.Indeed, not only do we do the stories an injustice, but more importantly we do the story-tellers and injustice. For I am convinced that those ancient story-tellers told these stories they way they told them for very important reasons. I’m willing to conceed that there may indeed be a trace of history in this particular story, but that over the generations the storytellers embellished the history more than just a little. There are a great many biblical scholars who suggest that Abraham and Sarah weren’t really that old. They insist that Sarah was simply past the normal childbearing age. We know that the average childbearing age in the ancient near east began just after a young girl began menstruating at about twelve and ended sometime before the young woman died. The mortality rate for women in the ancient near east was high precisely because of the risks of childbirth, so most women didn’t make it out of their 20’s. A 30 or 40 year old woman was a rare creature indeed, so a 90 year old Sarah was positively miraculous. About as miraculous as a 99 year old Abraham.   Men did live longer than women in Ancient times but not that much longer…40 was considered old, 50 was remarkable and 60 was amazing, so 99 would have been a miracle indeed.

So, if this is a case of exaggerating the facts, well then the Hebrew storytellers, were a lot like the Irish storytelling I grew up listening to: full of blarney. Every good exaggerator knows that if you are going to exaggerate, you will only get away with it if you exaggerate a little. Think of all the fishing stories you’ve ever heard, if the fish that got away is this big, your less likely to believe the story than if the fish is this big. This big you can get away with. A forty-year-old woman giving birth would have been something, but a 90-year-old woman giving birth well as they say in the south, that dog just ain’t gonna hunt. Continue reading

“Martha, Martha, Martha!” – Preaching on an all too familiar text! Luke 10:38-42

From an Academic Paper to a Sermon

You can read the academic paper here and the sermon here

martha 2I am usually on vacation at this time of the year. So, I have only had a couple of  opportunities to preach on this coming Sunday’s gospel text (Luke 10:38-42). The story of Jesus’ sojourn at the home of Mary and Martha is such a familiar text, which over the years has been used and abused by preachers to inflict such harm on their listeners. During my seminary years, this text awakened the feminist in me in ways that I am still unpacking. So, I went back to my seminary years to uncover an academic treatment of this text that I included in my Masters Comprehensive paper in 1998. Reading the paper took me back to a time when I seriously doubted my call to ordained ministry. Back then I was unsure about my ability to tolerate the institutional church or indeed whether or not the institutional church would be able to tolerate me. I am happy to report that there are pockets of the institutional church were feminists can thrive and I have been blessed to be called to serve in one of those pockets. 

I preached on this text was in 2004 and I post both the academic paper and the sermon based on the paper as a resources for those of you who will take up the text this week. I have not edited the sermon, despite my inclination to do so. Old sermons provide a snapshot of old preachers. Like most snapshots, I’m not altogether happy with the picture of myself. I’ll post a copy of a more recent sermon on this text in the next blog post…stay tuned!

You can read the academic paper here   and   the sermon here

Compassion and Kinship – That We May Be ONE: Fr. Gregory Boyle

Greg BoyleDuring my visit to Chautauqua last week, I was introduced to Fr. Gregory Boyle. As the Chaplain for the week, Fr. Boyle introduced us to his work at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. “Homeboy Industries provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community. Each year over 10,000 former gang members from across Los Angeles come through Homeboy Industries’ doors in an effort to make a positive change. They are welcomed into a community of mutual kinship, love, and a wide variety of services ranging from tattoo removal to anger management and parenting classes. Full-time employment is offered for more than 200 men and women at a time through an 18-month program that helps them re-identify who they are in the world, offers job training so they can move on from Homeboy Industries and become contributing members of the community – knowing they count!” Fr. Boyle’s work in and of itself is astonishing. But his ability to share the wisdom his work has taught him through the art of storytelling is miraculous. It was a joy to sit at this master’s feet!!! Here’s a talk he gave back in 2012.  I’ve already ordered his book Tattoos on the Heart and look forward to gleaming more from this wise holy man!!!

Imagining Donald J. Trump as the Good Samaritan – reflecting on the bruised and battered church…Luke 10:25-37

trump busJesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories of all time. The trouble with such a familiar story is that we all know it so well that  we hear it on autopilot. We know the characters almost as well as we know how we are expected to respond to this story. We can point to the priest and the Levite and explain why they acted the way they did. We can even explain how shocking it would have been to a first century Jewish audience to hear a Samaritan described as “good.” Most of us have heard this parable interpreted so many times that we already know exactly how we are expected to feel when we hear it and what we are expected to learn from it. “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself” and who is your neighbour, why even the lowly Samaritan, the one you would least expect is your neighbour. We know this story backwards and forwards and yet like any good story, there is always something that we can learn from it or it wouldn’t have been told as often as we have all heard it. But just in case familiarity with the story is getting in our way of hearing the radically outrageous truth to which this story points, let me tell it one more time with a slightly different twist.

Like all parables this didn’t actually happen but then again it is always happening. Last week on my way back from Chautauqua, let’s say somewhere near Buffalo, I was attacked by a band of thieves. They stole my car and left me lying by the side of the road. A bishop happened to be passing on her way to Toronto, she saw me lying there bruised and battered, but she had people waiting for her, meetings to attend, and she could not be late, after all she is a bishop and people are counting on her. So, she put her foot down on the accelerator and hurried past me. Later, a bunch of pastors who were car-pooling home from a spirituality retreat came tooling down the highway. They saw me lying by the side of the road and they considered stopping to lend a hand but they had congregations to return to, members to visit, and sermons to consider. So after much consideration the pastors decided to hurry past lest they be waylaid by my problems. Suddenly, travelling from the opposite direction came a sleek, decked out bus with the words “TRUMP Make America Great Again!”  in bold letters along the side. Lo and behold it was the orange fellow himself, Donald J. Trump heading up to Buffalo to appear before a “huuuge crowd” of adoring fans. Without hesitating for a moment, the Donald appears with a first-aid kit and begins to dress my wounds. I recognized him right away, and wanted to crawl away and die, but the Donald just loads me into the back of his bus and off we go to the nearest casino, which he just happens to own. At the casino the Donald puts me up in a room fit for a queen and instructs the staff to take very good care of me. It sure wasn’t easy being helped like that, by such a loathsome, despicable man. You know that I’d have to be in a very vulnerable state to accept help from the likes of Trump and his merry band of nut-bars. Thank goodness that this didn’t actually happen. But I can’t help wondering what I might learn about my own prejudices from such an encounter, or what I might learn about his woundedness, or indeed what we both might learn about our shared humanity. (stop it now!!! I know what you’re thinking…just try to remember the Donald is human)

Over the years, I believe that I have played most of the characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  I suspect that most of you have as well. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the lawyer, trying to get Jesus to explain the secrets of life to us. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the priest when we see a broken down car on the side of the road, with its occupants standing around looking desperate for help, but we pass by, not because we are bad people, but because the rules of our society tell us that only fools would consider stopping on the side of the road to help strangers. After all it might be a trap, and surely they have a cell phone so they can call the police who will surely come soon to help them and all of you have surely played the role of the Levite. Oh, you may want to be a good Samaritan, but there are just too many street people, too many requests for money, too many people sleeping out in the cold, and to many vacant faces staring up at us. It’s so difficult to know how or who to help. So, we strike up uneasy compromises with to salve our consciences. We give away whatever coins we happen to have as if a few coins can really help. We go about our business failing to even bother asking how we might help, for fear that from the vacant face, we might hear a voice that demands more of us.  Continue reading

A Journey Into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew’s Gospel: with John Shelby Spong

BiblicalLiteralismThanks to the generosity of my congregation, I am provided with time for Continuing Education. So, last week I journeyed down to the Chautauqua Institution to listen to Jack Spong articulate the thesis of his latest “last” book:  Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy. Jack’s 85 years have afforded him much wisdom when it comes to exploring the sacred texts of Christianity in ways that can open us to new visions of a Christianity capable of nourishing 21st century minds. I’m happy to report that Jack has yet another “last” book scheduled for publication in 2018 under the working title: “Charting a New Reformation.” As always it was a blessing to be guided by Jack!!! Thanks to the Chautauqua Institution for making Jack’s lectures available to a wider audience.

 

“I Pray God, Rid Me of God” – PrideFest sermon

IMG_2298Today, Holy Cross had the honour of hosting York Region’s Pride Fest worship. In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, we did our best to be both sanctuary and celebration. Thank-you to everyone who came together to be LOVE for one another!

Listen to the sermon here

Watch video of the opening hymn here

Sanctuary for LOVE and LIFE – in the wake of Orlando

York Pride Fest SanctuaryIn the wake of Orlando, we at Holy Cross have the honour of hosting this year’s York Region Pride Fest Worship. As we struggle to find ways to respond to this horrific tragedy, the word “sanctuary” keeps me grounded. While the word sanctuary has its origins in the word for holy and was used to designate a sacred place for worship. As a result of the tradition of sanctuaries providing safe harbour for fugitives of all kinds, the word has come to mean safe haven or place of safety. “Sanctuary” how sadly appropriate for those of us seeking safe haven from the harsh realities so often inspired by perversions masquerading as religion that we shall shall gather together to create a sacred space of sanctuary, in the words of our hymn for the day, “For All the Children.” As I prepare to create sanctuary for others, I keep listening to this rendition which creates sanctuary in me. Shalom….

Demons or Baggage: Stop and Listen – a sermon for Pentecost 5C: Luke 8:26-39

voice withinBobby wasn’t like any other 10-year-old boy. Bobby had the face of an angel but the temperament of a devil. Bobby was a beautiful child. His blond hair and blue eyes together with his alabaster skin, pointed toward his Scandinavian heritage.  At first sight, Bobby appeared to be the kind of child that any congregation would be proud to count as a member. But, Bobby’s physical appearance was deceiving and Bobby’s presence in church was not welcome. Bobby didn’t go down to Sunday school classes with the other children.  The Sunday school teachers had tried to include Bobby, but after several parents threatened to withdraw their children, they asked Bobby’s parents not to send Bobby anymore. So Bobby stayed in the sanctuary with the adults. Most of the adult members tried to tolerate Bobby’s presence but for some, Bobby’s presence was simply unnerving. Bobby is autistic. Sitting and behaving in church was impossible for him. As long as we were singing hymns, Bobby was happy.  He would catch the rhythms of the music and rock back and forth and sing. He never sang the same words as the rest of the congregation.  But it was clear from his movements and the sounds that emanated from his lips that Bobby was singing. The trouble was that Bobby never stopped singing when we did. When his parents would attempt to put an end to Bobby’s song, he would flail about and sometime throw himself on the floor.

Now there are some churches where flailing about and throwing one’s self to the floor would be interpreted as a sign that the Holy Spirit was at work. But in this little Lutheran church, the reaction of the worshippers to Bobby’s outbursts made it clear that they feared that Bobby was possessed by spirits of the evil variety. Oh, they would never have come out and said that Bobby was possessed by demons, they just acted as if he were. Bobby’s favorite part of the service was communion.  I think that he enjoyed the opportunity to walk up to the front of the church and kneel at the altar.  When the Pastor would place a communion wafer in his hands, Bobby would giggle with glee.  Bobby never ate the communion wafer; he would just hold it up to the light and smile. The communion wine was another thing altogether. Sometimes Bobby’s mother would try to help him drink from the common cup.  Sometimes Bobby would dunk his wafer into the intinction cup and slop wine everywhere.  At other times Bobby would be so preoccupied with his wafer that he just let the cup pass him by. On a good day Bobby’s behavior only made people uncomfortable. On a bad day, Bobby’s behavior embarrassed some, offended others, and sometimes outraged many.

I remember being summoned to an extra-ordinary council meeting. The meeting had been called to deal with the complaints and concerns of several long time members of the congregation that had decided that Bobby’s presence could now longer be tolerated at worship. The people who were complaining were not bad people.  They were fine upstanding members of the congregation who found themselves unable to deal with Bobby’s presence in their midst. During the meeting we agonized over what to do.  Continue reading

A 69 Chevy Nova, Tea and the ONE In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being – a sermon for Pentecost 5C

chevy novaA sermon on Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39

I am indebted to John Philip Newell and his book: A New Harmony for the insights that lie at the heart of this sermon.   Listen to the sermon here

It was a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova, I bought it for $640 in the hope that it would last long enough for me to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia. At the age of 32, I had enrolled at UBC in the hopes of obtaining an honours degree in Religious Studies. I couldn’t really afford a car. But nor could I afford the time it would take to travel on public transit between the university and the bank clearing house where I needed to work the evening shifts in order to pay for my education. I was living in a shabby basement suit, where the rent was cheap and the parking non-existent. When I was lucky, I found a spot in the alley behind the house, when I was unlucky, I’d have to park a few blocks away. Walking in the dark alley at night was frightening to say the least. Often, I would encounter an old woman, who as near as I could figure out was living rough.The back alley had a number of old sheds and garages against which this old woman would sometimes create a sort of tent out of old clothes and cardboard. We never spoke to one another, but we did recognize one another.

I knew that she belonged in the neighbourhood and she knew that I belonged in the neighbourhood. Neither of us was comfortable in the back alley at night, and it was almost a comfort to run into one another, rather than an unrecognized stranger. One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I quickly unlocked my car and drove off to the University to study the religions of the world. My first class was Ancient Near Eastern Mythology, the Prof gave a 2 hour lecture on the development of Mono-Theism. I then had a 3 hour seminar in the methodology of Religious Studies. The seminar was made up of the my fellow honours students. The nine of us were receiving private instruction from the professor of Jewish Studies. Among my fellow students was a young man who would become one of my best teachers. Sannidhi was a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed a wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. Sannidhi taught me the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale imitations of the ONE God who lies at the very heart of all that is. It was from Sannidhi that I first learned the Hindu description of the God that I have come to love above all other descriptions of God.  I’ve shared it with you many times: God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Continue reading

Living Into Abundant Life: a sermon on John 10:10

Sacred spaceToday was Picnic Sunday at Holy Cross and we were blessed to worship on the shores of Lake Simcoe at the Loretto Maryholme Retreat Centre. The Worship Bulletin which includes the readings is available here.   A written text of the sermon I intended to preach can be found here, or you can listen too the abbreviated  sermon that was preached to the accompaniment of not so gentle breezes is printed below

 “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundant life.

Please take a moment to sink deeply in to this great abundance of which we are a part.

Wiggle your toes upon the surface of this magnificent planet of which we are apart.

Reach out and touch the astounding, intricate textures of the grass.

Let your eyes feast upon the immensity of the sky, the shimmering beauty of the lake.

Somebody please hug a tree!

On this day, in the midst of such profound beauty let us read the gospel that is found in the book of Creation.  It is just as Sir Francis Bacon insisted, some 500 years ago, true that:

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”

Lift up your hearts and listen as the cosmos declares in infinite and magnificent the Gospel the Christ:  “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundance: the dictionary defines the word abundance as an adjective meaning “existing or available in large quantities: plentiful. Copious, ample, profuse, rich, lavish, abounding, liberal, generous, bountiful, large, huge, great, bumper, prolific, teeming, plentiful, bounteous.

We stand in the midst of the abundance of Creation.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundant life, abounding life, generous life, bountiful life, large life, huge life, great life, bumper life, liberal life, prolific life, teeming life, plentiful life, bounteous life. Look around and you will see the Earth living abundantly. Take a deep breath and you can actually taste the abundance of life, teeming life, bounteous life, plentiful life, abounding life. The life of the Earth is indeed abundant.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!” Sadly, over and over again, generations upon generations of the followers of Jesus have failed to embrace the Gospel, which Jesus lived as he proclaimed the Good News of abundant life, by living fully, loving extravagantly and being all that he was created to be. For too long now the followers of Jesus have failed to embrace abundance as the core, the very essence of the gospel.  We have opted for a smaller, lesser, more confining, indeed, a more restricting narrative with which to proclaim the gospel. For most of the past 2000 years, the master narrative the followers of Jesus have chosen to tell has been the story of the fall of Adam and Eve and the need from redemption through the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Humanity has been defined as fallen, broken, in bondage, sinful, less than, small, worthy of contempt. The followers of the One whose passion was the gift of abundant life, have opted for a story that portrays life as little more than a testing ground for some other life, some after-life, some place other than where we are now, a place to which we can escape the smallness of this life. But look around, taste and see that it is as our ancestors imagined our Creator declaring after each marvelous day in the Genesis of Creation, it is good, it is very good.

Human beings are in the words of Julian of Norwich, “not just made by God, we are made of God.”

We are in God and God is in us because we are made of God.

What’s more, this amazing Cosmos is not something separate or apart from us, we are in and of the Cosmos.

The Cosmos is in God and God is in the Cosmos.

This sacred communion of which we are a part is positively teeming with diversity.

There are no duplications, each precious part of the Cosmos is unique, each part intimately connected.

The sheer abundance of the Cosmos is beyond our comprehension and yet so very accessible if we but reach out and touch it, or open our eyes to see it, our open our arms to embrace it, or breathe deeply to draw life within it.

This gospel of abundance is so much bigger than the story we have chosen to tell.

Carefully studying the book that our Creator has written which we call the Universe, it is clear, in the words of Thomas Berry, that:

“Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human.”

Embracing the abundant life that Jesus lived to proclaim, requires the faith to open ourselves to the splendor of the Cosmos of which we are an intricate part. The ongoing revelations provided by the Cosmos are clear for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Continue reading

St. Mary of Magdala: the Apostle to the Apostles: Luke 7:36-8:3 – Pentecost 4C

THE RESURRECTION OF MARY – An Idle Tale

Mary-Magdalene egg

He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!” He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says, “she is a “prostitute!”

My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where?  Where?  Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”

As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”,

I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”

He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”

“A sinner not a prostitute.”  I respond.

He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”

“Where?” I ask.

Again he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”

I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”

He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”

I lose control, “How do you know?  What words does the author use to say that his woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”

He still doesn’t get it, “What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”

Once again I push, “Show me.  Show me where?”

He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”

I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”

He replies, “amartolos”.

I push, “Does that mean prostitute?” We both know that it does not.

He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”

Still pushing I ask him to “Show me.  Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual.            

Show me where it says so in the narrative.”

He says, “It’s clear.”

Clearly we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you.  Show me. Show me!”

As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay.  Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute.  Show me!”

He couldn’t show me.  It’s simply not there.

Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute.  But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute.  

In the years that have transpired since than day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I’ve delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of Mary’s resurrection as the first Apostle. Continue reading

In the Sweet By and By, I’ll Fly Away! – a sermon for Pentecost 3C – Luke 7:11-17

Metaphor - pastordawnThird Sunday after Pentecost

June 9, 2013 – Readings: 1 Kings 17:17-24 and Luke 7:11-17

Listen to the sermon here

As some of you know, I had a short vacation. I booked the last week of May for a little stay-cation and we had all sorts of plans for the week. Unfortunately, those plans all came to naught because Carol was sick with bronchitis. So, in between playing nurse-maid, I was able to read a few books and catch up on all sorts of movies and tv shows. One of the most incredible dramas that I was able to watch happened toward the end of my week off, when I watched 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali win the 86th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. Spelling Bees always freaked me out when I was a kid, because I have never been able to spell. I used to come down with a mysterious version of the flue whenever a spelling bee was scheduled and the symptoms of this strange flue always convinced my mother to keep me home from school. But I’ve really been missing out all these years because spelling bees are really incredibly exciting. Now even though young Arvind is only 13, this was not the first time that he has been a finalist.  Arvind finished in third place in both 2011 and 2012 and both times he was eliminated on German-derived words. So, after correctly spelling “tokonoma” a Japanese derived word that isn’t even in my spell-check, Arvind was the last speller standing when his inquisitors announced the word that stood between him and the championship: “Knaidel.” When Arvind asked for the derivation of the word his quizzer revealed that it was German-derived-Yiddish. The audience groaned. But Arvind was prepared. Indeed, when he was interviewed after the competition he revealed that he had indeed studied this word. Which you can see in the instant reply of the event, when Arvind smiles and nods slightly when the definition of the word was given to him. The roar that went up from the crowd when Arvind correctly spelled a word that would have surely stumped me. 

I have always been a lover of words. As a young child, I loved learning new words. Each new word opened up a whole new way of expressing reality. To this very day I like nothing better than learning a new word so that I can better express myself and the world around me. Selecting just the right words each week with which to comment upon the connections between the written words on the pages of scripture with our reality is one of the joys and the torments of my life’s vocation. When I discover just the right words to shed some light on a particular text, all is well in my world, and there’s such relief when I can string together the words. But there are also those days and nights when words fail and I am left staring at a blank computer screen. Fortunately for us, our worship does not stand or fall on the quality of the words I string together in a sermon. Our liturgy is filled with music and the words of the songs we sing are all designed to shed light upon the connections between the scriptures we read and the reality of our lives. So, whenever I can’t find the right words for a sermon I often find myself review the music I have chosen for our liturgy.

Yesterday, when my blank computer screen caused me to begin to sing, the African American spirituals that we’re singing today, sent me on an internet search for a song I remember from my childhood. It’s a country and western piece that I hear in my head being sung by none other than Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. The words go like this: Continue reading

Mary and Elizabeth: Visitation or Escape?

rape victimsMay 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim.  Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped.  So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent.  I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading

Help Me Jesus! Help,Help Me Jesus! Help Me Jesus! Yeah Get Me Outta Here! – a sermon on Luke 7:1-10

questionThe song sung prior to the Gospel is Jann Aldridge-Clanton’s “Welcome New Wineskins” sung to the tune of Blessed Assurance. (Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians). As for my appropriation of the Beach Boys, “Help Me Rhonda”…my apologies!  I am indebted to Christopher B. Zeichmann’s article “Rethinking the Gay Centurion” in The Bible and Critical Theory Vol 11 #1, 2015. 

Listen to the sermon here