Over the years, I have learn so much from Parker Palmer. In this video Palmer warns of the perils of using effectiveness as our only measure and insists that by asking ourselves the question: “Am I being faithful to the opportunities and talents we have been given?” allows us to see beyond our obsession with numbers, results and immediate effects so that we can be about the work of love, justice, and peace.
To help remind us that we are stardust, begin with this video: The Call of the Pleiades – Gerald Jay Markoe
When I was a Child, I was afraid of the dark.
When I was a child I was afraid to venture forth from the familiar.
When I was a child I was afraid of loosing people I loved.
When I was young I would look into the night sky afraid that I’d never be able to understand it all.
When I was young, I would look up at the stars afraid that God was just a figment of our wishful imaginations.
When I was young, a pastor smeared ashes upon my forehead and I was afraid because I thought I might die in bondage to sin.
When I was young, I heard the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” and I was afraid because I knew that I was nothing more than a worthless sinner.
When I was young, I caught sight of my face in the mirror and I was afraid because the ashen cross on my forehead reminded me that soon I would be dead and to dust I would return.
When I first became a pastor, I mixed the ashes and the oil together and I was afraid that the power of the ritual would remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return and I was afraid because I loved you and couldn’t bear to loose you.
When the years passed, and ashen crosses became routine, I began to fear that the power of the ritual would fail to remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
When I first became a theologian, I was afraid because I feared that our confessions convicted us of crimes too horrendous to be our own.
When my questions drove me into the wilderness of doubt, I was afraid that the MYSTERY would overwhelm me and even more afraid that in the wilderness I would find no MYSTERY at all.
When I first opened myself to the wilderness that surrounds us, I began to see my fears and I was afraid that I was not worthy of the MYSTERY for which I longed.
When I awakened from my fears, my eyes were clouded by sleepy dust; that strange dried mucus that forms as our tears harden beneath squinting lids that are determined to hide from us the Light we both long for and fear.
When I began to clear the dust from my eyes, it took time before I found the courage to gaze into the night skies to see the millions of bright lights that beckoned me to open myself to the ONE who is MYSTERY.
When I began to feel the embrace of REALITY, I was afraid because I knew that I too am fearfully and wonderfully made capable of reaching out beyond myself to the MYSTERY we call God.
When I began to trust that I too AM the result of the initial bursts of creative energy that brought the universe to birth, I saw in the night skies the light from the dying stars whose dust contains the stuff of life.
When I see the light shining in the darkness, I am beginning to know that we share the light’s energy. The Being that flowed through our ancestors lives and breathes in us.
When I begin to understand that the elements that make up my being are the elements born of stardust, I know that my own molecules have known unimaginable joy, outrageous pain, indescribable beauty, unspeakable suffering, as we journey from dust to dust.
When I consider that we are all One, you and I and the MYSTERY who creates, nourishes and sustains us, we are ONE. I hear the words that Jesus spoke over and over again: do not be afraid, have no fear, fear not, for I and ABBA are ONE and where once I saw only wormwood and gall, I am beginning to see life and beauty, and love and eternity as we move from stardust, to dust.
To claim that we are stardust is to trust that we are connected to all that is, all that has ever been, and all that shall ever be.
We are not small. We are not insignificant. We are not just dust. We are intimately ONE with the Source of Being, ONE with Christ, ONE with the Spirit that breathes in all of us; ONE with another, for we are LOVE, and LIGHT, LIFE and DEATH, I and THOU.
Now when I mix the oil and ashes, I sprinkle a few sparkles to remind us that we are not just dust, but stardust, intimately, intricately, interconnected.
Now the darkness reveals the MYSTERY, the ULTIMATE REALITY, the ONE we call GOD, the ONE who gently beckons us forth into the light of life and the joy of living, trusting that here and now eternity is ours to embrace.
When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark.
I have lived too long under the condemnation constructed by stories that no longer inspire life.
In the starlight, the darkness gives way to eternity.
New stories are born; stories that share the truth of love and life, here and now.
I AM dust, the stuff that stars are made of.
I AM ONE with the LIGHT of LIGHTS, the Source of All Being.
Dust I AM and to dust I shall return; into the MYSTERY; the MYSTERY Who beckons us forth into life, beyond death, asking only that we have no fear, for we were made to embrace eternity.
Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
For we are divine, One with GOD, now and always. Amen
Here’s an Ash Wednesday homily for the 21st century!
We’ve all been there. Driving down the road – distracted by thoughts of this and that, when all of a sudden it happens, a car comes at you out of no where and you slam on the breaks or you quickly swerve to avoid a disaster. You could have been killed. You could have killed someone. Your life or someone else’s life could have been radically changed in an instant. As you pull back into traffic you are ever so conscious of the weight of you foot on the accelerator and you swear that you’ve got to be more careful. You begin to scold yourself. What were you thinking? Why weren’t you paying attention? Wake-up you could have been killed.
Welcome to Ash Wednesday. What have you been thinking? Why weren’t you paying attention? Wake-up — you are going to die!!! Ash Wednesday is your mid-winter wake-up call. Some of you may not need the wake-up call. Some of you know all too well that death is all around us. Some of you have lost someone dear to you. Some of you have felt that fear in the pit of your belly when the doctor suggests a particular test. Traditional Ash Wednesday worship would require us to focus on the brevity of life and remember that none of us will get out of this life alive. Our ancestors in the faith, entered into a morose season of Lent by via the awesome reminder that they came from dust and soon they shall return to the dust. Continue reading →
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” are the words that are spoken during Ash Wednesday’s Imposition of Ashes. I have always thought of the dust of the earth, funerals, and death during this age-old ritual. But last year during our worship, we added a new reading to our Ash Wednesday Liturgy. This new creation story embraces a perspective on reality that is all together different than that of our ancestors in the faith. This new perspective turned my thoughts toward life and eternity.
More and more I have come to believe that unless our worship together can embrace reality as it is viewed in the 21st century, we will fail in our efforts to make worship relevant in the 21st century.
The Star Within
a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith
In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness.
The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across aeons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend.
Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball.
It was the greatest explosion of all time!
An irruption of infinite energy danced into being. It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity.
The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being. The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies.
Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars!
Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars.
Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements.
Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars. These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life.
With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration.
Molecules clustered together to form living cells!
Later came the algae, and then fish began to inhabit the waters!
Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky.
Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too.
This is our story.
The story of our beginning, our cosmology.
And so we commence our Lenten Journey this night – this Ash Wednesday, with open hearts in the midst of our Creator.
As we partake in our daily things of life may we see them as sacred.
May we be empowered to perform simple acts of concern and love, and real works of reform and renewal.
Let us love deeply the earth which gives us air to breathe, water to drink, and food to sustain us.
May we remember that life is begotten from stardust, radiant in light and heat.
We are all one – all of creation, all that now live, all that have ever lived.
Remember we are stardust, and to stardust we return.
Remember we are part of the great mystery.
Remember we are stardust and to stardust we return!
The mythical stories of Jesus’ transfiguration remind me of old-fashioned love songs. You know the kind of songs that were playing on the radio when you first met, and when you hear them, you are instantly taken back to the days when you first fell in love. My wife Carol and I we have a love song and whenever our song comes on the radio, well, I swoon. “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by a group called Savage Garden; it doesn’t matter where or when, but if “Truly, Madly, Deeply” begins to play, well we are transported back to those early days. The words of the chorus are particularly appropriate for Transfiguration: “I wanna stand with you on a mountain, I wanna bathe with you in the sea.” Now I won’t go on because the lyrics of this particular love song are embarrassing. But I wanna talk to you about love songs and more particularly about standing on a mountain. How many of you have been to a mountaintop? I’ve been to the mountaintop! It’s so beautiful up there on top of the mountain. You can see forever up there. You can breathe deeply and feel the very Spirit of God breathing in you. It all makes sense up there on the mountaintop! It is so beautiful that you just never want to leave. There is nothing quite like being on top of the world.
I still remember some of my first mountaintop experiences in church. I didn’t begin to attend church until I was fifteen. So, it took me a while to get to the top of the mountain but I can still remember exactly what it felt like. Those trips up to the top of the mountain, the way I felt up there in the clouds, well it’s those mountaintop experiences that kept me coming to the church. It’s the Jesus that I met all those years ago that made me stay. The Jesus that I met all those years ago was simply amazing. I fell in love with Jesus and that love took me to great heights. The church I attended back then, was a lot like this place. The congregation was small and they loved to sing and they could certainly sing! All our trips up to the mountaintop began with a song. Singing those songs together lifted us up to the mountain and opened us up in ways that let us see Jesus. “And we walked with him and we talked with him, and he told us we were his own and the joy we shared as we tarried there, none other has ever known.” When that congregation sang they could take me to places I’d never dreamed. I knew that there in the midst of all that singing that, “Just as I am without one plea,” “God’s Amazing Grace would save a wretch like me,” and I learned from all that singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear,” as each Sunday we washed ourselves “in the blood of the Lamb.”
I didn’t know it then, because I was in the fresh flush of my love affair with Jesus, but those old songs, those old songs molded and shaped me in the faith. I don’t remember the words of the sermons I heard, but I can remember each and every word of those old hymns that we sang. Today, I must confess that as a preacher it saddens me to say it, but it is most certainly true, that people don’t go home humming the sermon. No, no matter how eloquent the preacher, the people will always go home humming they hymns and not the sermon. Those mountaintop experiences that I remember from my early days in the church, each and every single one of those mountaintop experiences were punctuated by hymns. Those old hymns molded and shaped me in the faith. Those old hymns taught me the faith of the generations that went before me, they nurtured my developing faith, and in so very many ways they came to define my faith. Continue reading →
Three years ago, the Strange History of Transfiguration Sunday inspired this sermon. I offer it here because the words of Desmond Tutu speak volumes as I work on this year’s Transfiguration sermon.
When our images of God are tied to the idol of a supernatural sky-dweller who has the power to solve all our problems, despair is sure to follow as our super-hero fails time after time to impress us.
When I was a very little girl, I was absolutely convinced that I had the power to change the mind of God! Confident that I held such power, I never missed an opportunity to exercise it. Now, I’ll grant you that like most children, I was also convinced that the universe itself actually revolved around me, so believing that I was powerful enough to change God’s mind, wasn’t exactly much of a stretch. In fact, when I was a child, it wasn’t all that difficult to change God’s mind. For instance, I could stop God from breaking my mother’s back simply by leaping over a crack in the pavement. “Don’t step on a crack and break your mothers back.” Now, in my young mind the only one powerful enough to crush my mother’s powerful spine, must be God. I also knew that God wasn’t particularly fond of ladders, and that if I refrained from walking under them, God would smile upon me. Continue reading →
Fifteen years ago, I travelled to Newmarket to preach for the first time at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. It was Transfiguration Sunday and I was preaching for Call. I knew that the following Sunday the Congregation would gather to vote on whether or not to call me as their pastor. I’ve been serving as the Pastor of Holy Cross for almost fifteen years and over the years the people of Holy Cross have nourished and challenged me and transformed me into a pastor. What follows is a transcript of the sermon I preached on that long ago Transfiguration Sunday. Old sermons reveal our old selves. While my theology has changed over the years and I would not preach this sermon in the same way now, I treasure the memory of that hopeful candidate for call. To the people of Holy Cross: Thank-you for transfiguring me! Shalom!
When I was a teenager, I was always in a hurry. I wanted to see and do everything there was to see and do. When I was nineteen, I knew that I just had to get out there and see what the world had to offer. So with nothing more than a backpack, a three month Euro-rail pass, and eight-hundred dollars in travellers cheques, I boarded an airplane bound for Amsterdam.
I was searching for adventure and I was convinced that Europe held the excitement I was looking for. Inside my backpack was the book that would make it all possible. Europe on Ten Dollars a Day. I was determined to make my eight-hundred dollars stretch the length and breadth of Europe. I was going to see and do it all! It wasn’t easy. In fact when I look back on it now, it seems like such a lot of hard work. Up early in the morning sightseeing all day long. Meeting new people. Fighting my way through the crowds of tourists. Searching for cheap places to eat and sleep.
After two months of travelling from one European city to the next, I just couldn’t face one more castle or museum. I figured that it was time to get away from the cities so I headed for the Alps. After a long train ride from Munich, I arrived in the Swiss town of Interlaken. There I boarded a coggle train that would take me to the Alpine village of Grunewald. The train was filled with tourists anxious to fill their rolls of film with pictures of the mountains, but it was overcast and there were no mountains to be seen. Continue reading →
This sermon is a departure from my usual style; a teaching sermon, working without a manuscript. Using Keynote various images where projected to assist in setting the context for Jesus teaching on non-violent resistance. My a reflection on the creative and transformational power of love explores the tactics of empires that dehumanize enemies. The two video presentations in the Keynote point to the power of seeing the humanity of our enemies. The audio of the sermon is included below as is the Keynote that accompanied it.
The sun is rising and its rays shine through my office window welcoming me into this new day. I reflect those rays through squinting eyes with a heart filled with gratitude and expectation: a good day.
A series of Lenten Evening Prayer Services which use readings from the Parables of Jesus together with readings from Peter Rollins’ “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.” Prayers are drawn from the writings of the Christian Mystics. Each service includes the worship bulletin as well as an audio recording of the service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
One: NO CONVICTION
A Copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.
Listen to the worship service here(service begins at the 48 sec. mark)
I have been asked to re-post our Lenten Evening Prayer liturgies in one convenient spot. These have been used several times at Holy Cross, so you can listen to the audio recordings or check out the worship bulletins.
Liturgical texts and readings taken from the writings of the mystics.
Intended for use during the season of Lent.
EVENING PRAYER: JULIAN OF NORWICH
Click here to download the Worship Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided
Evolutionary theologian Michael Dowd insists that “any understanding of God that is not synonymous with the all, reality, ultimacy, or nature is a trivial and inconsequential notion of God.” He warns that how we think about God matters because our attitudes about reality lead to real-world problems.
Since I was thirteen years old, I have borne the mark of my enemy. It’s faded quite a bit over the years, but if I look carefully I can still make out the marks left behind by, let’s call her, Betty Cherie’s teeth. Way back in the eighth grade Betty Cherie and I fell afoul of one another. I don’t really remember what it was that started the whole thing. It was one of those grudges that only thirteen-year-old girls can hold onto with any kind of tenacity. All I can remember is that Betty Cherie and I hated each other and the whole school knew it.
One afternoon our rivalry reached the point of war. I still cringe when I remember it. After all I was thirteen and I should have known better. I’d like to say that she started it. But, I honestly don’t remember how we got ourselves to the point were we were to meet each other in the playground to fight it out. Our adolescent duel took place in full view of the student body. We met at high noon, out behind the portables, out of sight from the teachers. It began with two sworn enemies pushing each other around. There was some hair pulling, I think I even got in a punch or two before she bit me. Continue reading →
In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount provides a distillation of the teachings of Jesus; teachings Jesus lived for, teachings that eventually made Jesus so dangerous to the oppressive Roman Empire that they executed him as an enemy of the state. The very heart of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on non-violence. I can think of no better way to begin my own preparations to preach on this crucial text than to look to the work of the great Walter Wink. I will always be indebted to this amazing teacher for all that I have learned and continue to learn from him. The videos below comprise the various parts of a lecture that Wink offered on the subject of Jesus’ teaching on Non-Violence. For anyone who aspires to follow Jesus this lecture is a must see. Wink’s books are well worn friends that I have often thumbed through to find more than a nugget or two to enable me to teach anew something that I have long since come to know as a result of Wink’s excellent work! His enlightening trilogy: Naming the Powers, Engaging the Powers, and The Powers that Be along with Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Wayshould be at every preacher’s fingertips as we proclaim Jesus’ radical way of being in the world. Follow this link to a sermon based on these resources.