This Persistent Woman Is Wearing Me Out – a sermon on Genesis 32 and Luke 18:1-8

wrestlingBefore I read our Gospel text I took a few moments to reflect upon the story from the Torah that was our First Reading (Gen.32).  I showed the short film below which was created by Jewish scholars to help rabbis teach the stories of the Torah to young children. I use this video to teach the stories of the Torah to our Confirmation students. I think it is important for those of us who follow the teaching of the Rabbi Jesus, to pay attention to the way in which the stories that spoke to Jesus continue to speak to Jewish people here and now. Watch the video and then listen to the sermon here 

Our Gospel reading comes to us from a story told by an anonymous writer named Luke, who tells a parable that he attributes to the Rabbi Jesus: According to Luke: “Jesus told the disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and not losing heart. “Once there was a judge in a certain city who feared no one—not even God. A woman in that city who had been widowed kept coming to the judge and saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a time the judge refused but finally the judge thought, ‘I care little for God or people, but this woman won’t leave me alone. I’d better give her the protection she seeks or she’ll keep coming and wear me out!’” Jesus said, “Listen to what this corrupt judge is saying. Won’t God then do justice to the chosen who call out day and night? Will God delay long over them? I tell you, God will give them swift justice. But when the Promised One comes, will faith be found anywhere on earth?”

I too have met this tiresome, troublesome, annoyingly, persistent widow who constantly cries out for justice. This woman won’t leave me alone. I must confess that I would rather not have this woman clamouring at my door! Each and every time I encounter this woman, she goes on and on, she wears me out! I cannot go anywhere without seeing this woman. She is everywhere. Pointing to her oppressor and demanding justice. She is on the radio in my car as I go about my business. She is on my computer screen as I try to keep up with the news of the day. She is in my living room as I try to relax flipping channels seeking respite from her persistent cries for justice. She appears in my facbook feed, and tweets at me from my phone, I cannot escape her cries for justice. I am sick and tired of this annoying woman. I cannot escape her shouts for justice.
I’m not sure that anything at all can be done to secure justice for this annoying woman. Too much time has passed. There are no witnesses. Boys will be boys. She needs to forgive, forget and move on. Why doesn’t she just leave me alone. There’s nothing that I can do for her. There’s nothing I want to do for her.
I have my own troubles. People to see, places to go, things to do. If only she’d leave me alone. Her persistent cries for justice have begun to haunt me and not even sleep gives me respite from her persistent cries for justice. If only she’d stop going on and on and on and on about her oppressor, about the injustice that has been perpetrated against her.
Maybe if she would just shut up about it, I wouldn’t have to wrestle with her in the night. Round and round we go, pinning one another down, she demanding justice, me pleading for peace. This wrestling over things beyond my control is wearing me down. I’m starting to wonder who this woman thinks she is. Hell, I’m beginning to wonder who I think this woman is. In the darkness of the night I sometimes wonder if this persistent, complaining woman, is just some trumped up version of myself. In her eyes, I sometimes think I see a glimmer of something far too familiar, something ugly, fearsome, unpleasant, and lurking in my own memories. In the wee hours before dawn, I think I can actually see myself in her.
But no, I’m not going there. We are not going there. Women all over the world don’t want to go there. Defenseless, innocent, naive children all over the world we dare not see them in the face of this persistent woman.
And then, just when I think that I have her pinned down and I’m about to wrestle something anything out of this insane encounter, the light begins to dawn on me, as I realize that there in the face of this persistent woman is the ONE in whom we all live and breathe and have our being; the ONE whose name eludes us.
I awaken to the realization that this place where we have all been, this place where we cannot escape is indeed Peniel, for here and now, in the face of this persistent woman, in the face of every persistent woman, indeed in the face of every persistent man, woman, and child, crying out for justice we have seen God face to face. It isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always what we want to see or where we want to see it, but it is the face of the ONE that we call God; the face of God shouting, crying, pleading, for justice.
Wrestling with the persistent, pleading, ones who continue to demand justice from me, I rise wounded from Peniel – the place where I know that I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared. Limping away, forever changed, knowing that the wound that changes the way I walk in this world is the blessing given to me by those who have the courage to cry out for justice. Transformed by this wound I begin to see that I am at one and the same time both the judge who has the power to create justice and the one who cries out for justice.
In this Peniel, is  where ever and when ever we have the courage to look into the face of another and see the face of God, and our lives have been preserved. We cannot walk away from an encounter such as this without responding to the ONE in whom we see the face of God, with justice. Whether our role in this life long wrestling match is that of the judge or the seeker of justice, may we see God face to face.

God in the Guise of a Pleading Widow a Sermon on Luke 18:1-8

Like a Pleading WidowAi Weiwei’s exhibit “According to What? at the Art Gallery of Ontario inspired me to look beyond traditional interpretations of Jesus’ parable of the Pleading Widow to see our role as the unjust judge. The gentle breath of a newborn granddaughter enabled me to hear the DIVINE ONE persistently pleading for justice. Read the sermon manuscript below or Listen to the sermon here:  

I spent time exploring the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is a powerfully, disturbing, fascinating and compelling exhibit that I know will stay with me for years to come. Ai Weiwei is, according to the AGO’s description, “an artist with a very new kind of visibility. He has transcended his artwork to become a worldly figure who, for many, symbolizes the assertion of freedom of expression against great odds. Using the fame and recognition garnered by his art, Ai Weiwei has taken on issues that could not be raised publically in China.” The exhibit provides a unique window into a part of the world that continues to remain impenetrable.

Ai Weiwei and I are the same age but it is as if our worlds are light-years apart. I first became aware of his work during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Ai is responsible for the spectacular design of the Beijing Olympic Stadium that has become known as the Bird’s Nest. With his conception of the Bird’s Nest Ai hoped to represent freedom. He saw the Olympics as a splendid opportunity to demonstrate that China was opening up after decades of seclusion with a dismantling of the barriers erected by successive totalitarian régimes. Sadly, Ai’s dreams were dashed as the stadium was constructed and the Chinese government resorted to old methods to drive the poor from their homes in order to build on Olympic sites.

On the opening day of the Olympics, Ai wrote this about his of his decision to boycott the events: “Today China and the world will meet again. People will see that the planet is now smaller than at any time in history, that mankind should bid farewell to arrogance and indifference, to ignorance and discrimination, and understand that we share the same small piece of land. It will be a time to rediscover each other, to share what is good in life, to look each other in the eye and link all 10 fingers. The colourful festival is a time not just for celebration, but also for peace and friendship. To rediscover our future, we should say goodbye to our past. We must bid farewell to autocracy. Whatever shape it takes, whatever justification it gives, authoritarian government always ends up trampling on equality, denying justice and stealing happiness and laughter from the people.

We should also leave behind discrimination, because it is narrow-minded and ignorant, denies contact and warmth; and corrodes mankind’s belief that we can better ourselves. The only way to avoid misunderstanding, war and bloodshed is to defend freedom of expression and to communicate with sincerity, concern and good intentions.

The “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, which I helped to conceive, is designed to embody the Olympic spirit of “fair competition”. It tells people that freedom is possible but needs fairness, courage and strength. Following the same principles, I will stay away from the opening ceremony, because I believe the freedom of choice is the basis of fair competition. It is the right I cherish most. If we want it to be, today can be a moment of courage, hope and passion. This day will test our faith in the human race, and our determination to build a better future.”

The Chinese government has not reacted kindly to Ai’s public descent and he has felt the weight of their abuse. He remains under house arrest and was not allowed to travel to Toronto for the opening of his exhibit. It is only, Ai’s world renown as an artist and public dissident that protects him from the ultimate fate of so many Chinese dissidents.  Ai Weiwei’s courage in speaking out against injustice over and over again, has robbed him of his liberty and put his life in grave danger and yet he continues to publically protest the abuses of his overlords. Ai’s testimony, expressed in his art, speaks volumes to the world and even tough his protests fall on what appear to be the deaf ears of a régime that continues to oppress the people of China, one wonders how long these unjust judges will be able to resist his persistent pleas for justice. Continue reading

Wrestling With the Almighty: Locating Our Very Selves in the Sacred Story – a sermon on Genesis 32:3-31

Godbotherers

For those of you preaching on the text from Genesis 32:3-31:

You may not be able to tell from looking at me. But let me assure you that you are looking at someone who used to be a champion wrestler. Believe it or not, my wrestling skills actually helped me rise to the level of a world champion wrestler. Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement. When I was an amateur wrestler, I was a world-class champion wrestler. But like so many athletes, when my status changed from amateur to professional, I lost my championship status and although I still qualify as a professional wrestler, and I like to see myself as a champion, I’m no longer what you would call world-class.

Like many professional wrestlers my career began when I was but a child. Growing up I had a very clear advantage as I developed my wrestling skills. You see having a brother who was just 18 months younger than me meant that I had ample opportunities to hone my wrestling skills. My brother and I were always at it. I’ve got to say that even though we shared the same weight class for most of our childhood, when it came to world class wrestling holds, I had him beat. I had this wicked arm-hold sleeper, and that together with my full Nelson followed by a knee-arm press, was guaranteed to have my brother screaming uncle and agreeing to be my obedient servant until in no time at all. For years I reigned as the champion of our little world! I was unbeatable. My brother didn’t stand a chance. My reign as world champion would have continued if it weren’t for the abrupt ending of my amateur status.

One morning when I was about 13 and my brother was 9 and a half, we were going at it,  and to his credit my bother had me in an ingenious hold. Somehow, he’d managed to secure me with what we professional wrestlers call an arm bar. That’s where you’re opponent wrenches your arm behind your back and applies just enough pressure to cause pain, but not enough to break anything. But just when Alan was approaching the point of no return, I managed with a feat of superhuman strength to rise up, twist around and swing for all I was worth and connect with what I though must be my brothers chest. I expected that such a thrust would have released my arm from Alan’s iron grip. But he still had me. I was about to hit him again, when for no apparent reason Alan released me from his grip. In an instant I wiggled free, spun around and connected with what I figured would be a fatal blow. Just before my blow connected with it’s victim, I realized that I was doomed.

Continue reading

Whose Persistence? Preparing to Preach on the Parable of the Pleading Widow

pleading widowLooking back on a sermon I preached twelve years ago on this week’s readings from Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8, I am struck by how much my own images of the DIVINE ONE we call “God” have changed and yet remain oddly similar. The intervening years have afforded me the opportunities to begin to leave behind notions of an anthropomorphic God who intervenes in our lives. As I have embraced the writings of progressive and evolutionary theologians, I have struggled to understand and articulate DIVINITY’s nature from the perspective of panentheism (everything is in God). There are those who suggest that this is a departure from the Christian tradition. Yet looking back, I am beginning to see this movement as a natural progression of the tradition. Indeed, so much of what I have always loved about Lutheran theology has freed me to explore this path. So, I offer this old sermon as a snapshot of my own pathway toward new visions of the Divine. I trust that my early efforts to move beyond the notion of God as the “unjust judge” will move some to begin to see God in, with, and through all those who persistently plead for justice. 

What little I know about the art of wrestling I learned from my brother Alan. He and I are just eighteen months apart in age and together we participated in many a wrestling match. All too often one or the other of us would be bothering the other and before we knew it we were rolling around on the floor wrestling. I’ll have you know that up until the age of about twelve I was quite a good wrestler. Up to that point I usually managed to hold my brother to the ground and with my knees firmly pinning his arms I would be able to get my brother to agree to my point of view. But my brother’s adolescent growth spurt put an end to my winning streak. Just as soon as my brother was big enough to pin me to the ground I decided to stop bothering him. Bothering my brother became dangerous and I had to give it up in order to save my dignity. Continue reading

Today We Celebrate the Life and Witness of St. Teresa of Avila

An excerpt from “Love Poems From God” by Daniel Ladinsky,

(Penguin Compass, London: 2002)

(1515-1582)  “Teresa was born in Avila, a beautiful high mountain village of Spain.  She was one of thirteen children, three girls and ten boys, in a wealthy family.  The Spain in which Teresa grew up was permeated with 700 years of Arabian culture; the eradication of Arab power was followed by one of Spain’s darkest periods, the insanity of the Inquisitions, which, in the fourteenth century, along with other grievous deeds, forced mass conversions of Jews to Christianity.”

“Teresa was her father’s favourite child, and the most spirited.  Her mother died during childbirth when Teresa was thirteen, after which she had little supervision.  It is believed she had a lover at the age of fifteen, which caused her father to send her to a convent boarding school, only to see her return home two years later because of poor health.  When she was twenty-one, Teresa ran away from home to join a convent.  At that time many convents were more like hotels for women, allowing them a great deal more independence than they would be allowed at home, though after two years at the convent Teresa had a near-death experience that changed her life.  A spiritual awakening began in which she cultivated a system of meditation that sought quieting the mind to such an extent that God could then be heard speaking.  Over the next twenty years she experienced many mystical states but not until she was fifty did she begin the most far-reaching aspects of her life’s work.” Continue reading

Gratitude for the Great Fullness of Life Is Only the Beginning – Thanksgiving

A couple of years ago, I began experiencing chest pains, nausea, and cold sweats. As these are signs of a heart-attack, I went up to the local walk-in clinic and soon there-after I found myself sitting in the emergency room. The doctors and nurses were convinced that I was in the midst of what they now refer to as a “heart event”. While awaiting some further tests, my mind raced to all the worst possible scenarios that I could imagine. Fear was my over-riding emotion. Fear that my heart was failing. Fear that decades of not putting my health first was catching up with me. Fear of what my future might hold. Fear of impending medical procedures. Fear of not being able to work, to pay our bills, especially our mortgage. Fear of turning into some sort of invalid. Fear that my future was being taken out of my control. Fear that I was getting old long before I expected to.

There is nothing like an emergency room to strike fear into your heart, especially when the pain that drove you there is throbbing in your chest. So, by the time I’d spent several hours enduring various tests, I thought I was ready for anything. That is until a young doctor who looked like he was about twelve years old walked into my cubicle. A part of me wanted to ask this child-doctor to go find a grown-up doctor, because this was serious business and I wanted to talk to an adult. Fortunately, I managed to suppress my ageism.  You cannot even begin to imagine my delight when the child-doctor pronounced his diagnosis. Gallbladder. No heart-attack. A severe gallbladder attack. These kinds of attacks are quite common in people who have recently managed to lose weight.  My reward for loosing 50 pounds was an afternoon in the emergency room.

I couldn’t believe my luck. I begin thanking everyone and everything for my extremely good fortune. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to medical science. Thanks be to my heart. Thanks be to the child-doctor! Thanks be for the opportunity to do better in the future. Thanks be for a future! I wept with joy! A gallbladder attack is a wonderful thing. A gallbladder attack is not a heart attack. I could go home. I could go back to work. I could pay the mortgage.

All my worst fears were gone. I would take this as a warning to never ever take anything for granted. When I went outside, everything looked so beautiful. It was as if I had awakened from a nightmare. I was so very grateful that I promised myself never again to take my health for granted, never again to take life for granted, never again to forget what a precious gift life is. From now on, I was going to pay attention to the wonders of this amazing gift of life. Continue reading

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you? – Thanksgiving Sunday sermons

Thankyou autumn

Follow the links for previous sermons:

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

Who IS God? – Not One, Not Two – inspired by Garrison Keillor & Joan Chittister

The Blessing of Michael’s Story – a Thanksgiving

Brussel Sprouts, Ebola, and Thanksgiving – seeking the ONE who IS

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you

After You Move Beyond Personifying God?

Over the course of the past nine years a group of little people have come into my life. Lovely little people who call me Gran. There are seven of them and participating in their little lives is a source of such great joy. Each stage of their development is a wonder to behold. I particularly enjoy watching their parents as they attempt to teach these little darlings the things that they need to know about being human. One of the first things that we teach little humans is the fine art of saying thank-you. It takes a fair amount of repetition to teach a child to say thank-you. Over and over again, after giving them exactly what they want, we ask, “Can you say thank-you?” and the little darlings repeat the words “Thank-you.” Sometimes all we have to do is ask the question: “What do you say?” in order to hear the words “Thank-you” uttered in such a delightful way as to inspire us to praise them as such good little girls and boys.

Expressing gratitude is a skill that all tiny little people must learn in order to develop into well-rounded human beings. Indeed, scientists insist that being grateful is a prerequisite of happiness. Happy humans it seems, are humans who embody gratitude. But there is more to gratitude than simply saying thank-you. I remember learning that gratitude includes more than simply expressing our thanks. It happened when I was about sixteen and actually noticed the beauty of a sunset and for the first time I realized that I was part of something so much bigger than myself. I know I must have seen the sunset before, but this time I actually saw the sun set. We were driving down the road, my friend Valerie and I were riding in a car driven by her mother, Lola. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia.  Just a few clouds.  You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden, Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and  just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening. 

These happy, glowing, smiling people made me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear.  What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it.  It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing.  The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent. A work of art. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice.          

Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So, I stood there.  Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Actually noticing a magnificent sunset was the beginning of a journey beyond myself as the reality that I am part of something so much bigger than myself continues to permeate my being.

Back then, I expressed my gratitude by very much the same way as my grandchildren are being taught to express their gratitude, simply by saying “Thank-you”. The object of the Thank-you being God. At the time, God was an old bloke up there in the sky somewhere. As my images of God changed over the years, my Thank-you’s continued to be expressed to my ever-changing images of God. But I must confess, that it was a whole lot easier to say thank-you to God when God was some big guy up there, out there somewhere? It was so much easier when I thought of God as “Father” or even as “Mother” to express my gratitude by simply mimicking the behaviour that I’d been taught as a child, “Can you say “Thank-you” Oh yes indeed I can say thank-you. “God is great, God is God, let us thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed, Give us Lord Our Daily Bread.” Continue reading

Faith: A little dab’ll do ya! – Luke 17:5-10 – World Communion Sunday

Today all over the world, churches of all sorts of denominations will gather to celebrate communion. World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to embrace the embodiment of the infinite variety that exists in within the communities of our fellow Followers of the Way.  Today, we uphold the reality that no matter how communion is celebrated we Followers of the Way are all companions. For to be a companion is to literally share bread together. The word companion is made up of two Latin words, “com which means “with or together” and “panis” which means “bread”. To break bread together is to be a companion.

Humans began engaging in the sacred act of breaking bread together generations before Jesus embraced the sacred act of sharing a meal together to strengthen the bonds of companionship among his followers.

How many of you remember the very first time you participated in the companionship of communion? I suspect that for many of us are of an age where we can remember when are communion practices were less inclusive than they are today.  For several generations many mainline denominations tried to limit communion to those who had been “properly” instructed in the “meaning” of communion. In Lutheran churches children often had to wait until after they were Confirmed in order to be welcomed at the table. Back then, Communion wasn’t so much celebrated as it was endured as a sort of ritual reward for penance. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the somber communion rites of the past. But, I suspect that many of us still carry the residue of less than life-affirming theologies that taught us to view Communion as a sort of ritual that needs to be endured as a way to remember a “blood sacrifice”, a kind of quid pro quo for our sinfulness.

I can still remember my very first communion. It was, for all sorts of reasons, a life changing experience. Fortunately, for me my first Communion was free from the trappings of penitence. There was little or no thought of a blood sacrifice for sin. You see, my first Communion happened by way of what some would call an oversite or an accident, but I think of as a grace-filled DIVINE blessing.

As I’ve told you before, I did not grow up in the Church. My family’s experiences in Belfast had shown us the worst that the Church can offer and so, my brother and I were never encouraged to go anywhere near a Church of any kind. We were baptized as infants as a kind of insurance policy and I never darkened the doorway of a church until I was fifteen years old. I was an incredibly lonely teenager. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, country to country, school to school; always on the move. I learned very early not to make friends with people because if you make friends it is so much more painful when you have to move away.

Longing and loneliness were predominant emotions that characterized the deep homesickness of my younger self.  Looking back to my younger self, I can see a little girl who was homesick for a home she never really knew because when you move about as much as we did, no place ever feels like home. Eventually all you can feel is this deep longing for something you cannot quite name. So, one day, at the tender age of fifteen, a new acquaintance that I was tempted to turn into a friendship, invited me to come to church with her. Continue reading

Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi

On this the Feast Day of Saint Francis, an evening prayer service with texts from St. Francis. The liturgy was developed for use during Lent. But on this autumn day St. Francis’ words provide warmth and peace. Enjoy!

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

Evening Prayer Audio – the silences are intentional.  Enjoy!

Ubuntu: A Person Is A Person Through Other Persons – Luke 17:5-10 – The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Ubuntu -- pastordawn.com

colemansListen to the sermon here: 

In his book, “The Orthodox Heretic”, Peter Rollins creates a parable which he calls “Finding Faith.”

According to Pete, “There was once a fiery preacher who possessed a powerful but unusual gift. He found that, from an early age, when he prayed for individuals, they would supernaturally lose all of their religious convictions. They would invariably lose all of their beliefs about the prophets, the sacred Scriptures, and even God. So the preacher learned not to pray for people but instead he limited himself to preaching inspiring sermons and doing good works. However, one day while travelling across the country, the preacher found himself in a conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. The businessman was a very powerful and ruthless merchant banker, who was honored by his colleagues and respected by his adversaries. Their conversation began because the businessman, possessing a deep, abiding faith, had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself to the preacher and they began to talk. As they chatted together this powerful man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. He spoke of how his work did not really define who he was but was simply what he had to do.

“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “And in my line of work I find myself in situations that challenge my Christian convictions. But I try, as much as possible, to remain true to my faith. Indeed, I attend a local church every Sunday, participate in a prayer circle, engage in some your work and contribute to a weekly Bible study. These activities help to remind me of who I really am.’

After listening carefully to the businessman’s story, the preacher began to realize the purpose of his unseemly gift. So he turned to the businessman and said, ‘Would you allow me to pray a blessing onto your life?’

The businessman readily agreed, unaware of what would happen. Sure enough, after the preacher had muttered a simple prayer, the man opened his eyes in astonishment. ‘What a fool I have been for all these years!’ he proclaimed.  ‘It is clear to me now that there is no God above, who is looking out for me, and that there are no sacred texts to guide me, and there is no Spirit to inspire and protect me.’

As they parted company the businessman, still confused by what had taken place, returned home. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs, he began to find it increasingly difficult to continue in his line of work. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, rather than a man of God, he began to despise his work. Within months he had a breakdown, and soon afterward he gave up his line of work completely.

Feeling better about himself, he then went on to give to the poor all of the riches he had accumulated and he began to use his considerable managerial expertise to challenge the very system he once participated in, and to help those who had been oppressed by the system.

One day, many years later, he happened upon the preacher again while walking through town. He ran over, fell at the preacher’s feet, and began to weep with joy.

Eventually he looked up at the preacher and smiled, ‘thank you, my dear friend, for helping me to discover my faith.’”

In a parable handed down to us from our ancestors in the faith, Jesus’ disciples ask him to “increase their faith”. It is a request that I believe many of us can identify with for who among us has not at some point or other asked for the gift of more faith? If only we had more faith we would be able to believe and if we could believe we’d have the courage to  cope with whatever crisis is overwhelming us. If we could only believe, we’d be able to understand why, or how, this or that. If we could just believe strongly enough, we’d have the courage to risk, to speak out, to stand-up for, to open up to, to ask for, to go on, to do something. If only we could believe in God, believe in the life death and resurrection of Jesus, believe in the power of the Holy Spirit if only we could get it all straight in our heads we’d be able to tell all the world what it is we believe. In the meantime, we’ll just keep on struggling to believe.

For years, and years, I used to believe that what was necessary was to just believe. So, I struggled to understand what all those “I believe statements” that the church, the community of believers asks its followers to make.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ,

his only Son our Lord,

he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, died and was buried.

He descended into hell.

On the third day he rose again,

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Over and over again, in liturgies, Sundays after Sunday, the church; the institution of the faith, offered me the opportunity to stand among the faithful to declare what it is that we believe. Whether it was the Apostles or the Nicene or heaven forbid the Athanasian creeds, the Church made it very clear exactly what it is that we are supposed to believe in order that we might number ourselves among the faithful. The very word “creed” itself, was handed down to us from our ancestors creed from the Latin “creedo” which translates into English as “I believe”. Continue reading

Hell Is Here On Earth – Luke 16:19-31

1 percentFor those of you who are working on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, here’s a copy of a sermon I preached a few years ago.

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was quite young and like most young people I didn’t have much money so I lived in some pretty weird places. I once shared a house with a bunch of people that I met working in the travel industry. I didn’t know them very well when I first moved in but as the months dragged on, I got to know some of them better than I would have liked. There were five of us living in a four-bedroom house about a block from Spanish Banks in Vancouver. The house’s proximity to the beach made up for some of my roommates’ shortcomings and the rent was cheap.  So, even though I didn’t like the idea, I didn’t kick up much of a fuss when one of my roommates brought home a puppy.

Now there are those people who would argue that all puppies are cute, I just don’t happen to be one of them. Besides this thing was a Doberman and I don’t care if it was cute, I don’t like Dobermans. I was trying to convince my roommate David that he couldn’t possibly keep a Doberman in our house, when two of my other roommates showed up and quickly became besotted with the creature. One of my roommates when so far as to insist that the puppy was the cutest thing she had ever seen and that we simply had to keep it. While she was hugging and kissing the puppy, David got quite annoyed and pulled the puppy away from her and insisted that this dog was not going to be a pet. He declared that we needed this dog to grow up and be a guard dog, and if that was going to happen then we needed to start treating this dog as we meant to continue.

I had no intention of sharing a house with a Doberman, let a lone a guy who wanted to have one as a guard dog, so I started looking for another place to live. Before I moved out of that house, I had the unfortunate opportunity to watch David as he tried to train his puppy. First of all, David had to give the dog a name and it had to be a name that would instill fear into people, so that’s how the puppy ended up with a name like Vader, as in Darth Vader.  None of us were supposed to cuddle the dog or pat the dog or play with the dog. That was just fine with me. But one of our roommates, Ellie was forever getting into trouble for treating the puppy like a baby. So, David insisted that Vader be chained up outside. A few months after I moved out of the house, I went back to visit and discovered that even Ellie was afraid to go into the backyard because Vader was actually turning into a viscous guard dog. She told me that David had been leaving Vader chained up for longer and longer periods of time and no one in the house would dare to go out into the back yard to feed Vader. I found out from the others that even though they’d tried to get David to pay more attention to Vader, he insisted that it there was nothing wrong with the way he was treating Vader. For months David left Vader chained in the backyard for days at a time and as the dog got bigger and bigger, the three roommates that were left in the house with David became more and more afraid of the dog and eventually they had to insist that David move out.  A few months later, I heard that David and Vader had parted ways. It seems that Vader had taken a chunk out of David’s arm and David had to have the poor creature put down. For some reason Jesus’ parable about Lazarus reminded me of Vader the Doberman. Continue reading

You Are More Powerful Than You Think – Cosmos Sunday – Psalm 139

In our ongoing celebration of the Season of Creation, today we shift our focus to the Cosmos. Usually, the word “cosmos” conjures up starry images of far distant constellations. Staring out into space can make us feel small and insignificant. But on this Cosmos Sunday, I’d like us to move us from our usual perspective of the cosmos. Perspective is a powerful tool, especially when we contemplate our place in the cosmos. You see the word “cosmos” refers to the entire universe, every dimension of time and space, spiritual and material. The cosmos includes the glittering galaxies that are so distant that we must peer at them through sophisticated giant telescopes as well as the deep domains within each minute molecule which we can only peer at through the lenses of sophisticated giant microscopes.

In addition to the material dimension of universes, the cosmos also includes the dimensions of time, our imaginations and of the spirit. Take a cube of sugar for example. Scientists tell us that you could fit the entire human race into the volume of single sugar cube; that’s right all 7 billion of us in a single tiny sugar cube. Something about the emptiness of matter that is beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend.

The cosmos is both infinitely large and infinity small. None of our telescopes and none of our microscopes can actually capture the vastness of the infinitely large nor the infinitely small, we must rely on our imaginations for this perspective on the cosmos. Staring out in the night sky can make you feel very small. Looking around the Earth, which is in and of itself a small planet can make you feel small and insignificant. But as the psalmist insists, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Hebrew word that is translated as fearfully can also be translated as awesome. Your very being is so very wonderful that it inspires awe. Awe and wonder are the very first religious impulses. Congratulations, for you are awesome, tremendous, wonderful. And yet, so often we can only see ourselves as small in relation to the cosmos; small and insignificant, small and powerless.

I remember, once long ago, when I was feeling so very small, insignificant and powerless. I was only ten years old. My Grandfather had a way of belittling people that was crushing. Granda had been taunting me over something I had said. The adults had been talking about war in the Middle East. The year was 1967, the year of the Six-Day War. I was just ten and didn’t understand the details of what was happening. But I did understand the drills we went through at school. Those of you of a certain age may remember hiding under your desk as we practiced what we would need to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Somehow our wooden desks were supposed to offer us some sort of protection. It was madness. A kind of madness that all of us, even the adults in the room all bought into. Continue reading

LOST: Done That! Been There! – Homecoming Sunday – Luke 15

They say, whoever they are, that “you can’t go home again.” You can’t go back to a place you once called home because in your absence that place will have changed. I remember, travelling across the world and needing desperately to return home. I’d been travelling for several months and I had intended to stay away for many more months. I was in England when doctors informed me that there was a tumor lodged between two of the bones in my foot that needed to be removed. I can still remember the doctor telling me that there was a distinct possibility that the tumor was a malignant cancer. Suddenly, home seemed like the only place in the world I wanted to be. Even though I was already in the city of my birth, I knew without a doubt that Birmingham was not my home. The only trouble was, that during my travels my parents had moved from the one town to another. Even though the place where my family was living was familiar to me, it was not the home which I had left behind. So, when I arrived at my parents’ new home, everything felt very different. Perhaps the most important change was in me. I was not the starry-eyed young woman that I once was. The future was suddenly very uncertain. Fears that I had never ever had to deal with, were suddenly part of who I had become. But I was home and even though home was the last place I expected to be, home was the only place I wanted to be. So, I set about trying to feel at home in what was for all intents and purposes a very different home than I had hoped to come home to.

When I think about Jesus’ parable of the lost on this Homecoming Sunday, I can’t help wondering how many of us here at Holy Cross feel like we have come home to a different church. Now, I know that many of us haven’t really been away but bear with me for a moment so that we can explore the contours of the metaphor of coming home. All of us carry with us, all sorts of images of what we want and need the church to be. Some of us long to return to an image of the church as it was at a particular time in our lives when we felt at home in the church. Some of us long to come home to a church that was full of particular people, or to a church that sang certain songs, or worshipped in certain ways, or comforted us with particular ideas, or inspired us with certain hopes. Others of us, long to come home to the church of our dreams, a church that never really was, but a church that we are convinced we would feel very at home in. You know the kind of church home I’m talking about, a place full of people who are exceptional, a place filled with inspirational activities, a church that accomplishes stuff, important stuff, vital stuff, a church that has absolutely no financial worries at all.

There’s an old gospel song that comes to mind:

There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood

No lovelier spot in the dale

No place is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the vale

Whatever the contours of the church of your longing, I suspect that the most important ingredients that make up the church of your longing revolve around the people.  A church is not a church without the people and one thing I’ve learned about people, is that people are complex creatures. Take that lost child, the one who is known as the prodigal, no matter how you look at this parable, one thing is clear, the child that returned to his home, was not the same child that left his home.

Think about the other lost child, the one who can’t quite seem to share his father’s enthusiasm for his brother’s return. That lost child, is not the same person as the one who went out into the fields in the morning, the child who thought his future was secure, is no longer the same child as the one who returned to find his Dad throwing a lavish party for his wastrel of a brother, whom he believed he’d never have to contend with again.

Then there’s the Dad, who certainly isn’t the same person that he was before his youngest child left him behind. He’s not even the same person that his older child left that very morning. Nothing stays the same. We are all changing, all the time. Is it any wonder that it is so very easy to get lost? Looking in on this parable, I can see myself in each of these three lost souls. I’ve certainly messed up in ways that make me want to tell the younger child, “Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt.”

I’ve also lost people, for all sorts of reasons that have left me miserably longing for their return. So, I can see exactly why the lost father, who let’s face it played a pivotal role in both his children’s angst. I mean, that child would have never left if the Father hadn’t acted the way he did and as for the older child, well how could the Father forget about him? Why didn’t he even bother to invite his eldest child to the party? We’ve all messed up in our dealings with people, enough to cause us to lose them. We can all relate to the kind of longing for the lost that would cause us to throw a party if they ever returned. Continue reading

Jesus Was and Is an Absolute Fool – Luke 15

lost-and-foundI am indebted to two beloved seminary professors for the formation of this sermon: Dr. Donna L. Seamone and Dr. Ed Riegert. All preachers stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us!!!

Jesus was and is an absolute fool! An absolute fool, I tell you! Among the teachings of Jesus, the parables of the lost and found are so well known, so familiar that we are in peril of failing to hear the foolishness they advocate.

Although only a few of us have had the opportunity to tend a flock of sheep, most of us at one time or another have been responsible for the welfare of a flock. Whether that flock be sheep or co-workers, clients, customers, students, friends, or children none but the foolish among us would leave 99 to the perils and dangers of the wilderness in order to go looking for one idiot who’d been stupid enough to get themselves lost.

We may not keep our coins at home, but I daresay that most of us have felt the sting of loosing a drachma or two or three in this recession. Only a fool would waste a moment searching for our losses when our portfolio’s are so full. I dare say that if we managed to find or recoup our loss, we’re hardly likely to invite the neighbourhood to a party that would in all likelihood eat up more than we had found. Continue reading

Lighten Up! – Luke 12:22-31

“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body. Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?”   Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! When we try to understand a biblical text, it is helpful if we keep in mind three particular contexts. The first context to keep in mind is the context of the story itself. What is happening in and around the characters in the story itself. The second context to keep in mind is the context in which the storyteller tells the story. What is happening in and around the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke. The third context to keep in mind is our own context. What is going on in our lives and in the lives of the communities in which we live?

So, let’s begin by looking at the context of the story itself.  Jesus is speaking to his disciples. The year is somewhere between 30 and 33 of the Common Era. The place is Palestine, a far-flung province of the Roman Empire. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are a conquered people, living under the oppression of a foreign power. The people to whom Jesus is speaking have no power. They are being persecuted, oppressed, and terrorized.    Life is difficult. There’s a very thin line between life and death and the people to whom Jesus is speaking understand that by listen to this rebel Jesus they are risking death. All Jesus’ listeners really have is hope, hope that one day their Messiah will rescue them from their cruel taskmasters.

Fast forward about 60 years or more to the context in which the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke tells this story. Conditions have deteriorated. The Jewish people have rebelled against their Roman oppressors and they have been crushed. The Temple, the very heart of who they are as a people, has been destroyed and much of Jerusalem along with it. Both Jews and the followers of the Way have been driven out into the wilderness as outlaws. Historians tell us that after the rebellion Rome inflicted abominable terrorism upon the people of the once proud Jewish nation. The smell of rotting flesh was very familiar, thousands upon thousands were crucified as enemies of Rome, their corpses left to rot upon makeshift crosses. For the Followers of the Way life was worse. Excommunicated from the synagogues they met in secret fearing not only the Romans but their Jewish neighbours as well.

Fast forward to today. What is going on around us as we hear this story? Well, there’s a crazy orange megalomaniac sitting in the most powerful office the world has ever known. We are told that this powerful buffoon has seriously contemplated exercising his power to nuke hurricanes. All around us the dangers of climate change are being felt as winds blow, and sea-levels rise.  Money, money, money is the order of the day as we all scramble to ensure that we get what is ours.

So, we are busy people. We are well informed people and we know more about what is going on in the world than any other generation before us. We are stressed out and we don’t know what to do first.  And so, we come to church, seeking what? guidance? solidarity? comfort? inspiration? or maybe just a little distraction from the stress of it all. But even here we can’t relax because here too we are met with stress inducing challenges. Churches are closing all over the place. The once mighty flagships of our own Lutheran church have already closed, and our beloved little Holy Cross is struggling to survive. There are just a few of us left and we are finding it more and more difficult to meet our challenges. In all three contexts to which this story speaks, there is so much for people to worry about.

Indeed, in all three contexts the temptation to despair is immense. To all three contexts, Jesus says the same thing: LIGHTEN UP!  “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.  Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!  Lighten up!

Look around. Look at the beautiful people who are here. Look at where we are. We live in one of the best places on earth! We are richer than the vast majority of people on this planet. We have wealth beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. We have this building! We have each other. There are no oppressors on our doorstep waiting to torture us. The first followers of the Way would have loved the opportunity to worship in such a fine place as this.

We are all relatively healthy. Most of us live very comfortably. So why is it so difficult for us to hear Jesus say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!

I know, I know, it is easier said than done. It is so very difficult not to worry when we are so stressed out. Stressed out. Think about that phrase for a moment. I don’t remember my parents ever complaining about stress. Being “stressed out” is a condition of our age. We have become masters of the art of catastrophizing. We can awefulize a situation faster than a Roman centurion could grab his sword.

I know I’ve said this many times but think about the way we greet one another. “Hi how are you?”  What is the most common response to this simple question? “I’m busy.” We have become obsessed with our own business and it brings us precious little pleasure. When we tell someone we’re busy, they usually respond with something like, “you think you’re busy. let me tell you how busy I am.” We no longer human beings we are human doers, obsessed and stressed out by all the stuff we need to do and all the stuff that we aren’t doing. It’s no wonder that we catastrophize and awefulize all day long. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy this life of ours.

Take the weather for example. We are entering a spectacularly beautiful autumn. The weather has been fabulous around here.  And yet, all this week instead of remarking on how lovely it is outside, people insist on awefulizing the weather. “Winter’s coming.”

“Yeah it may be lovely now. But winter is coming.”  It’s as bad as Game of Thrones, “Winter’s coming.”  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Doesn’t matter that winter can be beautiful. Doesn’t matter that we all enjoy the luxury of beautiful centrally heated homes. Most of our cars have heated seats. I even have a car that will heat my steering wheel. Heck we have cars. We won’t have to trudge here on snowshoes. Nevertheless, we moan winter is coming.

There are lunatics running the world. Churches simply can’t survive in our modern world.           We are fighting a losing battle. People these days are spiritual but not religious. So, we huddle together and we do what everyone else is doing these days, we catastrophize and we awefuize because winter is coming. These days seems as though worrying is the only way we connect with one another. So many of our speech patterns revolve around our stress. Take a moment to step out of yourselves and pay attention to how and what we are saying to one another. The experts say that the average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day. How many of your 60,000 thoughts are negative? How many of the conversations we have with one another lean into your fears? Think about social media? How many posts or articles do you read that strike fear into your hearts?  Global warming may not be as big a problem as global whining.

To all of this catastrophizing and awefulizing Jesus insists:  “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.”  “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up! To which I’m sure you may be thinking, “Easier said than done.”

Don’t get me wrong our problems are real. But can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single hour to your life?   Lighten up. Let’s try to be spiritual but not religious. One of the best definitions of spirituality that I have come across recently comes from the social researcher Bene Brown, who writes, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us,

and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”   To which I say, in the spirit of Jesus “Lighten up dear friends.”

If we can connect to one another in ways that do not begin with catastrophizing and awefulizing, perhaps we can begin to gain a sense of perspective that will not only bring meaning to our lives together but may just remind us of the many things we love about one another. I know we have all sorts of challenges in our little church. It is difficult not to worry. I stay up nights worrying about our life together as a community.

One of the things that I have come to believe is that if the only level at which we can connect with one another is through our worries, we will lose any desire that we may have to connect in the first place. We need to connect in ways that remind us of our many blessings and inspire us to share our blessings.I’m hoping that we can begin by stepping out of ourselves and looking at how we talk to one another. If we try to become witnesses of our own behavior. Think about what we are thinking. Are we leaning into fear? Are we connecting through negative language? Are we connecting through misery?

The best way I know how to step outside of myself is with humor. When I hear Jesus say, “Do not worry!” I hear him say it with an Irish lilt. “Sure, what da want to be worrying about. Have ya taken leave of yer senses? What good is worrying going to do ya? Look at the birds – sure they’re not worried. Look at the flowers – they can’t worry. Look around the birds can fly. The flowers are lovely. How stupid you to be worrying in such a place as this? Stop worrying.”

Now as lovely as an Irish lit is, I can still find something to worry about. And it doesn’t quite make me laugh. And laughter is what is called for because laughter is one of the deepest surest ways that humans connect. So, the other day, I was wondering how we get from worrying to laughter. Now I’m not a comedian. So, I’m not going to try to joke us out of our troubles. But I am a student of human behavior and apparently, it’s almost impossible to take someone seriously if their wearing one of these.  (put on a Red nose).

“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!

Okay, this might work better if we all wear a read nose. (distribute red noses)

As your go through the week and you find yourself slipping into catastrophizing or awefulizing or even just complaining, put on your read nose.  And say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.”   “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!

We have all sorts of challenges to deal with. If we can put our challenges into perspective and connect with one another without catastrophizing or awefulizing, together we can meet whatever challenges come our way in the LOVE that IS the ONE who nourishes grounds and sustains us in the beautiful life, in this beautiful place, in these wonderful times.  For we are after all is said and done, a spiritual people.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”   Therein lies our hope. Lighten up! Look at the birds. Look at the flowers. Remember the CREATOR of ALL that IS created the duck-billed platypus. So, laugh a little.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus You’ve Got to be Kidding!!! – Luke 14:25-33

choose lifeI am indebted to Pastor Michael Rodgers for preaching a sermon long ago that stuck with me for decades. This sermon is inspired by his brilliant work! 

Jesus you’ve got to be kidding! “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple?…None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions?”

Hate your father; hate your mother; hate your wife; hate your children; hate your brothers; hate your sisters; hate even life itself and oh yes while you are at it, give up all you possessions and then, and only then will you be ready to take up your cross and follow Jesus. What is Jesus talking about? Has Jesus forgotten about the fourth commandment? Are we to forget about honouring our parents? Wasn’t it Jesus who said that we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves? Didn’t Jesus try to talk people into loving their enemies?  Has Jesus forgotten that his Abba is LOVE itself? Why does Jesus rant and rave about hating our father’s, mothers, children, sisters, brothers and even life itself?

It is difficult to recognize the Jesus in this text. This is not the gentle Jesus of my childhood. This is not the happy Jesus who smiled out from the pictures in my illustrated Bible.This is not the Jesus that the rightwing conservative Christians point to when they harp on about family values. This is not the gentle Jesus we have come to expect. This Jesus sounds too harsh. This Jesus wants to turn us into religious fanatics who hate everybody and give up everything, even life itself.

For a few years now, there has stood on the shelf above my desk a quotation from Deuteronomy 30. I put it there so that these word’s of WISDOM might guide me in my decision making. According to the writers of Deuteronomy, our CREATOR says:  “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live”. Our CREATOR says “Choose life!” How do I reconcile this to the Gospel lesson in which Jesus  says whoever does not hate even life itself, cannot be a disciple of Jesus? Why was Jesus so harsh?  What is going on here? Continue reading

Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside: Job 38:1-18, Luke 5:1-11

On this the first Sunday of the Season of Creation, we pause to contemplate the Ocean. I say the Ocean because even though we can the Ocean by many names, there is only one Ocean. Covering 71% of the Earth’s surface in one interconnected body, the Ocean contains 321 million cubic miles of water. This one gigantic Ocean contains 97% of the Earth’s water in which somewhere in the neighbourhood of 250,000 different species of life make their home. Only about 5% of the Earth’s Ocean has been explored by humans. The truth is that we humans know very little about the Ocean. We do know that at its deepest point, the Ocean reaches a depth of 6.8 miles.

For me, the Ocean has always been, what the Celts describe as a “thin place” – a place where the DIVINE permeates our being; a place where all the divisions we have constructed between the sacred and the ordinary disappear. A distant memory of my small barefooted self, clutching a bucket and spade, splashing in tide-pools, humming an old song, “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, Oh I do like to be beside the sea!”, a memory that brings with it the sweet, salty smell of the sea.

I have not always been land-locked. Childhood memories of trips to the seaside in Northern Ireland, followed by high school memories of skipping class to pay amongst the waves, youthful excursions sailing up the coast of British Columbia, and long walks along Vancouver’s sea wall, permeate my senses with memories so sweet that I can almost hear the sound of waves lapping on shore, bringing with them the sure and certain knowledge that life is sweet and good. “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea!”

When my Dad was just a teen-age boy, he joined the British Merchant. Years spent travelling the Earth’s Ocean spawned a healthy respect for the power of the Sea; a deep abiding respect that he engendered in his daughter. To this day, while I do like to be beside the seaside, the deep, dark, open waters of the Ocean with their unknown secrets inspire a fear in me that can make my land-loving legs tremble.

What lurks beneath the Sea from which our ancient precursors first emerged? Deep, deep, darkness harbours mysteries of our origins over which the CREATOR of ALL that IS brooded and the RUACH swept over the face of the deep drawing forth life; our primal memories of the Sea inspired perhaps, by the breaking of the waters that heralded our own birth. Some four billion years ago, the miracle of tiny, living cells percolating in the depths remains a mystery we long to unravel. Six hundred million years ago, life miraculously moves onto the land, out of the waters of our gestating mother the Earth life emerges in all its magnificent complexities. Staring down into the depths of the Ocean, I have often been struck by the magnitude of my own insignificance and yet, here I am. Here you are. Here we are. All of us floating along in the blue-boat home of ours, even as sisters and brothers, cousins, and friends in the southlands prepare themselves for the power of the oncoming rush of the Ocean’s furry.

Storms rage upon the Ocean each and every day. But not until the Ocean threatens to encroach upon the Lands, do we shift our gaze and wonder at the depth of life’s mysteries. Knowing that in the coming days, like Job shaking his fist at the heavens, there will be those in the path of a storm named Dorian, who will be left with nothing but their own shaking fists with which to protest the cruel vicissitudes the powers of the Ocean. Dorian from the Greek word meaning “gift” as if such furry could be tamed by a name. This gift-storm will surely stir us, if for but a moment from the momentum of our lives, inviting us to spare a thought for our fellow creatures.

Recalling our connections one to another inspires a kind of concern that causes some to exclaim, “There but for the grace of God…” A kind of trivial response of inconsequential value in the face of such suffering.  Is it any wonder that the god of our ancestors scorns our shaking fists in our sacred scriptures, where out of the storm YAHWEH can be heard to demand: “Who is this obscuring my plans with such ignorant words?”

Dare we turn the pages to seek comfort in a later text. As from the confines of a small boat, Jesus directs us out into deeper waters. Do we have the courage to risk deeper waters? I wonder.

Before a storm the calm upon the surface inspires such confidence in us as we quietly navigate without risk. As the storm rages, the temptation is to rush to the shore and abandon our small boats. Even if there are fish out there to be caught, why take the risk? After all we’ve been work hard for years and have caught nothing and lost more than we can bear. Our boat is too small. Our spirits are weary. And still Jesus says, “Pull out into deep water.”

In the midst of the turbulence we long for calm clear waters in which to sail. Fearful of the depths, can we hear Jesus, urging us to go deeper. Deeper, where pretentions having floated to the surface give way to authentic connections. Deeper, where we must hone our focus in order to see what really matters. Deeper, where conscious communication opens our lungs so that we can breathe with compassion. Deeper, where the LOVE that lives in us longs to stir us beyond our fear. Deeper, where MYSTERY dwells, compels, and empowers. Deeper, where darkness gives birth to awakening.

To this day, while I do like to be beside the seaside, the deep, dark, open waters of the Ocean with their unknown secrets inspire a fear in me that can make my land-loving legs tremble. And yet, here I sand, clutching my bucket and spade, full of visions of castles yet to be built in the sand, nursing my fears that the crashing waves might just wash it all away. Somewhere from deep, deep, within, I hear the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. “Pull out into deep water.” Go deeper still.

May the ONE who gave birth to the OCEAN fill us with the courage to go deeper still.   Deeper where the LOVE that lives in us longs to stir us beyond our fear. Do not be afraid.

 

 

Entertaining Angels: Hebrews 13:1-3

Hebrews 13Readings:  Luke 14:1,7-14; Mechthild of Magdeburg’s “The Flowing Light of the Godhead”; Hebrews 13:1-3

Listen to the sermon here:

I am often reminded of the fact that one of the most basic parts of my job of being a pastor is pointing out the sacred. Most of what I do revolves around noticing when we are in the presence of the HOLY, the MYSTERY, the ONE who is so much more that we are, the LOVE that lies at the heart of all that IS. My job is to point to the sacred ONENESS, the LOVE that many call GOD and say “there,” or “here,” or “now,” “don’t miss IT.” All too often we find ourselves in the company of angels, messengers of the LOVE that IS God, and we don’t even notice it.
For the most part we humans can’t quite grasp the magnitude of the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality and so we do what humans always do: we personify this ONEness, or we use symbols and metaphors to indicate the presence of the sacred in our midst, and we tell stories. Stories that include burning bushes, ladders into the sacred realm, shepherds, lost coins, all sorts of symbols and metaphors that point to the ONE who IS. We have told some of those stories so often that the REALITY of the MYSTERY that these stories were created to bring down to earth, seems ever so distant and far away, lost in the mists of time. The REALITY that so many call God has been cast out there far away beyond our reach. So, week after week, I try to bring the stories, symbols and metaphors a little closer to the world that we inhabit so that you might be able to see in your own stories the angels that you have entertained without even knowing it. 
In October of 1977, when I was twenty years old. I was young and adventurous. With a rail pass in my hand, a back pack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars worth of American Express Travellers cheques in my pocket, I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. I was tired. Several months of back-packing in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head for Greece, where the living is easy, where the warm sun, blue skies and equally blue waters held the promise of rest and relaxation.
As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Chania on the island of Crete. I knew that on Crete I could find work. So, I planned to mix a lot of rest and relaxation with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean. As the train rattled through Austria, towards what was then called Yugoslavia, it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness. I remembered my previous journey, by car, through Yugoslavia and how at the time, I had marvelled at the diversity of this strange little country. I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as their ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra modern city of Belgrade; the showcase of what was then Tito’s communist regime.I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor people in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade with its towering sky-scrapers and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in Yugoslavia.
I was awakened from my dreams by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the right papers and that my back pack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, guns, and uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty years. He carefully read over the Visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa that I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar alphabet.The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I knew what was happening, I was being escorted off the train. I was shaking so badly that the young men on either side of me had to hold me up. I am not sure that my feet even touched the ground. After a long lonely wait in a drab windowless room, a woman entered. In broken English she told me that my visa was not in order. I gathered from what she was trying unsuccessfully to explain to me, that my passport contained the visa from my previous visit to Yugoslavia, but was missing an official exit stamp. She demanded to know why there was no exit stamp in my passport. Needless to say, I could not explain. I told her that I had only spent a little over a week in Yugoslavia the year before and then gone on to Greece. I told her that I didn’t know that an exit stamp was necessary and that I couldn’t understand why the Yugoslavian consulate would have issued my current visa if my paper work was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. After several fruitless attempts to try and get her to tell me what I was supposed to do, I found myself in a small room. Its only window was reinforced with bars.
In the darkness of a Yugoslavian holding cell, I sat down and I began to cry. I cried like I have never cried before or since. I was terrified and my sobbing was uncontrollable. After a while I became conscious of a sound that did not come from me. “Susssssssssh.”
I realized that I was not alone in the darkness. Someone else was in the room with me. In the shadows, I could make out the shape of a woman. My sobbing began to subside as she continued, “Shussssssh.” The woman began to pace back and forth in our tiny room and gradually her shusssh turned into humming. She hummed unfamiliar tunes that somehow managed to calm me. Occasionally her humming would turn to singing. She sang softly and quietly and my sobbing began to ease.
In the shadows I could not tell how old she was. Her hair was long, dark and curly. She wore a plain cotton dress, ankle socks and a beaten up pair of shoes, whose laces flapped back and forth as she paced. It took only a few hours for my travelling companion to contact the British Embassy, sort out the mess and secure my freedom. The sunlight was just beginning to find its way into our room when my captor arrived to release me. As I left, I took a close look at my roommate. I smiled, hoping that she would understand my smile as gratitude for her kindness. Her tender sounds had calmed me and helped me through one of the darkest nights of my life. She returned my smile and added a wave of her own. Then the guard roughly escorted me out into the bright lights of the customs house.
Before I boarded a train that would take me safely out of Yugoslavia, I thought that perhaps I should try to help my roommate. Maybe I should try to find out why she was being detained. Perhaps I should try to help her get out. But this was not a place that welcomed questions and the warm sun of Greece beckoned me. And so, I boarded the train and I left. My few hours of captivity – I chalked up to just one more adventure on the road and I rarely thought of my room-mate again. Continue reading

The Guests Watched Jesus Closely: sermon – Luke 14:1, 7-14

humbleI have often heard Jesus’ teaching about who sits where at a wedding feast used to encourage a kind of humility that requires those who would follow Jesus to take a back seat or better still adopt a cloak of invisibility lest we be mistaken for the proud and self-righteous.  Canadians have a special affinity for this particular way of interpreting this text. It seems to me that the image of Canadian humility suggests that Canadian Christianity has had a huge impact upon our national psyche. I know that there are many who would insist that our humble national character is a direct result of living in the shadow of the Americans, whose national identity is anything but humble. I have to admit that the constant drumbeat of “We’re number one!”, “We’re number one!” coupled with a patriotism that champions the idea of American Exceptionalism which is the notion  that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary. With such pride of place, you can be sure that each and every one of our American cousins is endowed with the confidence on knowing exactly where they belong at the head table. So, is it any wonder that living next-door to a nation that instills such patriotic ardor in its citizens, that we Canadians would find a more humble approach more appealing.

Don’t get me wrong; I know that stereotypes rarely express the full character of a nation and so, it would be a mistake to paint all Americans with the same brush. But I dare say that you’d be hard pressed to find a Canadian who would disagree that even the most enlightened of our American cousins who might be found from time to time to speak softly, doesn’t underneath it all carry a big stick. Where Bravado flows through our American cousin’s national character, most Canadians prefer a quieter, softer, gentler approach, lest we be confused with the worst of American stereotypes:  “the ugly American.” Continue reading