On this the first Sunday in Advent we awakened ourselves to the cosmic contours of the darkness. Our first reading was The Star Within: a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith, followed by a musical video reflection My Soul by Peter Mayer which you can watch below. Our Gospel reading was from Mark 13:24-37. Listen to the sermon here
The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday concludes with these words attributed to Jesus by the storyteller know to us as Mark: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep Awake!” In the stories which have been handed down to us, Jesus is often heard warning, encouraging, sometimes begging us to wake up or to stay awake. So as I prepare for the Advent Season, this tune from Mumford and Sons keeps running through my mind. EMBODIED WAKEFULNESS is emerging as a theme for a season which often has our heads swimming in the clouds.
Sunday’s reading from the gospel according to Mark:
Jesus said: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then the Human One will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. (Mark 13:24-37)
This sermon for the first Sunday of Advent was inspired by a sermon written by Ian Lawton entitled “The Mother of All Virgin Births” in which I was captivated by his use of the phrase “pregnant with possibility.” I read Lawton’s sermon after first reading John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book “The First Christmas” in anticipation of Dom Crossan’s first visit to our congregation (2008). I was so eager to prepare the congregation for Dom’s historical approach to Christmas that I fear the sermon is overflowing, perhaps a little too pregnant with details. Luckily, the congregation was treated to the wonders of Dom Crossan’s brilliance for several days and learned well from the master about the delights of historical details. I post the sermon here, trusting that some of the details may be enlightening as we once again prepare ourselves for the Season of Advent.
Let me tell you a story from down-under; an Australian story that was doing the rounds a few years ago. Like all stories it may never have actually happened, but it is absolutely true because it happen again and again, in various and myriad ways. This story happened a while ago in Brisbane, Australia…
“The story begins in the dark. A university student named John was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a storm. The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong John could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car slowly coming towards him and slowly it stopped. John was desperate for shelter and without thinking about it; he got in the car and closed the door.
It took only a moment for John to realize that there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on! But the car started moving slowly. John looked at the road and saw a curve approaching. John was so scared, that he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched how the hand repeatedly came through the window but never harmed him. Eventually, John saw the lights of a pub down the road and so gathering his strength, he jumped out of the car and ran into the pub. Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying and he wasn’t drunk. Suddenly two other people walked into the pub. They, like John, were also wet and out of breath. They looked around and saw John sobbing at the bar, one of the men said to the other, ‘Look, Bruce, there’s that idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it.’
Spiritual Philosopher, Ian Lawton insists, “There is always more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than what our sight is able to see. Our eyes don’t simply pick up information relayed from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of what the brain works with is information already in the brain. We only use a small fraction of our brainpower. We very rarely exercise the full potential of our physical strength. We rarely access all that is available to our senses. We rarely maximize the potential of our mind, body and spirit in harmony. There is always more to life than meets the eye.”Continue reading →
We begin our quest for the Cosmic Christ on this the last Sunday of the Church calendar; traditionally the festival of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. Readings: John 1:1-6; Colossians 1:15-20; and Matthew 9:16-17. This sermon is the first in a series of sermons on our Quest for the Cosmic Christ which anticipates the season of Advent’s waiting and hoping for Christ to be born in us.
Many progressive Christians were introduced to Bishop Yevette Flunder by the Living the Questions interactive dvd series. She is a phenomenal preachers whose extraordinary gifts have the power to shake us out of our safe, comfortable, ways of being church. As we at Holy Cross Lutheran continue our ReVisioning process, Flunder’s sermon to the community at Drew Theological Seminary (2012) reminds me that there’s a whole lot of shaking going on in and around the church. Which begs the questions: What needs to continue to stand? and What needs a good shaking to make it fall down to make room for something else? Flunder’s sermon sent me back to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, (16:23-28) to review the story that inspired her powerful images. There I noticed for the first time a line which has previously eluded me. Following the shaking of the great earthquake, Paul and Silas’ jailer presumes that they have fled the scene. But the Apostle Paul shouts: “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all still here!.” Despite the shake up of christianity which progressive and evolutionary thinkers are championing: Don’t worry! We’re all still here!” Some of our great monuments have fallen and more will follow suit. But they give way so that something new can be born. Sounds like resurrection to me!
I usually have the presence of mind to book my vacation or some sort of continuing education event that takes me far away from the pulpit on Reign of Christ Sunday. Formerly known as “Christ the King Sunday” an attempt to move beyond exclusively male imagery for Christ (in whom there is no east nor west, male nor female) some church-folk have attempted to change the name of this festival to Reign of Christ Sunday. But merely changing the title fails to get beyond the struggles I have with this festival of the church year!!!!
Born in an age that was birthing fascist regimes, this particular festival of the church clings to it’s christian imperialist past. Instituted in 1925, by Pope Pius XI, (you can read the full proclamation here) the festival was designed to remind the world that Christ is the King of the World. The irony of proclaiming Christ as “King” when the life of Jesus of Nazareth positively denies “kingliness” seems lost on the church. The appropriateness of asserting Christ over the religions of the world lacks the kind of humility embodied by Jesus of Nazareth. So, this year I am not prepared to celebrate Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. Instead, we will take a leaf out of Matthew Fox’s book and craft our worship around the theme of the Quest for the Cosmic Christ.
Years ago, long before I ventured to seminary, Matthew Fox’s book Original Blessing opened me to the wonders of Creation Spirituality. So, I eagerly worked my way through his book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. I confess that my first reading of Fox’s tome left me in the dust of my own lack of understanding of traditional Christology. But even back then, without the benefit of theological training, I sensed something of the MYSTERY that I had always trust Christ to BE. I have returned to Fox’s work many times over the years and over and over again I have discovered a WISDOM that moves me beyond the limitations of the historical Jesus toward a more holistic vision of Christ which like Fox I believe has the potent ion to move us to a more wholistic relationship with Creation. I trust that the WISDOM of the Cosmic Christ will lead us into the Season of Advent so that we can be about the work of birthing the Cosmic Christ.
At the request of several of our American cousins, here are a few resources for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving celebrations invite us to remember not just our blessings, but the Source of All that IS. Readings for Thanksgiving can be found here. Our contemporary reflection was the video “A Good Day” featuring Brother David Steindl-Rast (below)
Our worship this morning preceded a congregational gathering in which we began the work of ReVisioning our congregation. After years of ReThinking Christianity we are beginning to move on to the work of articulating those things what it is that we do hold in common.
Using the Parable of the Good Samaritan the sermon explores the art of living in the questions. Listen to the sermon here
Yesterday’s post about the the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30 inspired some feedback which suggested that I was reading too much into the parable. It seems to me that the whole point of storytelling is to evoke something in the audience. The best storytellers (of which Jesus is one) recognize that they can have absolutely no control over where their audiences might take their stories. Parables are stories designed to shock and transform their audiences. Jesus could have selected a different style of storytelling. That the stories that have been passed down to us by Jesus’ followers come to us as parables suggests that shocking interpretations are consistent with the desires of those who pass them on. But for those who insist that God is the slave-master in the parable of the talents, here’s a little animated version of the parable; no dialogue, just the actions. I’m not prepared to identify the master in this tale with the Divine One who Jesus described as Love. It isn’t really about about God. But then again, it IS.
There’s a story that pastors like to tell. I think I first heard it when I was in seminary. It’s the story about a preacher who was leading a children’s sermon. This preacher told the children all about how squirrels gather nuts and hide them away for the winter. He explained to the children how important it was for the squirrels to store up nuts while they were available so that they’d have something to eat when the cold weather arrived. When he was finished, the preacher asked the children if they knew what his lesson about the squirrels was. One small child raised her hand, and she said, “I know, I know, it’s all about God.” The preacher was a little surprised, because he wasn’t talking about God at all, so he asked the little girl why she thought the lesson was about God, and she said, “because you’re the pastor and it’s always about God.”
Unfortunately, many of us have the same reaction when we hear Jesus’ parable of the talents. After all, it’s a story from the Bible, and Jesus told it, so the master handing out the talents must represent God. The only problem is, the master in Jesus’ parable is a real jerk! The kind of jerk, I for one, wouldn’t waste my time trying to worship.
The story says that the man gave the talents, which represent a huge amount of money, to his slaves. If the master in the story is God, then God must be very greedy indeed; expecting massive financial returns, without even bothering to communicate that expectation to the slaves. Fortunately for the first two slaves, they manage to double the master’s investment and the third slave managed to keep the master’s initial investment intact but couldn’t quite manage to earn any interest at all. Now, even given, the precious little I know about the stock market, I’d say the master had nothing at all to complain about. The master entrusted all he had to slaves, and they might have lost a great deal of money on their investments, but they managed to make their master richer than the master had a right to expect.
Let’s do the math. A talent represents about 15 years salary. Most scholars suggest you use a figure of $50,000 per year–times 15, that’s $750,000.00 per talent. So to the first slave the master gave 5 talents, that would be about three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars toady. To the second slave, the master gave two talents, that’s about a million and a half dollars today. To the third slave, the master gave, one talent; and that’s about $750,000.00.
According to the story this master had quite the reputation; upon the master’s return the third slave explains why he was so cautious with the master’s money. “Sir, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” According to the master’s reputation he is a thief who isn’t above taking what doesn’t belong to him. The third slave was prudent with the master’s money and did what was considered appropriate in the ancient world were banking methods were crude at best, and many people buried treasure for safekeeping; The third slave didn’t loose so much as a penny of the master’s money, and despite the fact that two of the his slaves have just returned to him an additional 7 talents, that’s a whopping great profit of about 5 and a quarter million dollars. Just imagine, that three of us managed to make our boss 5 and a quarter million dollars on an initial investment of 6 million dollars, that’s a return of 75%, well I don’t know where you do your investing but 75% profit is nothing to sneeze about. But instead of rewarding the trio, this master doesn’t deny his own reputation for reaping where he doesn’t sow, and he takes the talent from the fearful salve and gives it to the one who already has ten talents, and then declares that: “to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” As for the fearful slave who played it safe, the master calls him worthless and orders that he be “thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If this were all about God, then to say that God is harsh would be an understatement indeed. If this were all about God, then why in the world would anybody love God? For who can love such a cruel master? But more importantly, if this cruel master is God, then Jesus’ is describing a god that cannot be compared to the God Jesus boldly calls ABBA. For Jesus’ Abba would never be so greedy as to steal from another’s labour, nor would Jesus’ Abba take from the one who has the least, nor threaten to cast out the least of Jesus’ brothers for the crime of taking care of the gift that was given to him. Such a view of God is inconsistent with all that Jesus’ taught about Bod. So just because Jesus told a story, it doesn’t mean the main character in the story is necessarily God.Continue reading →
The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.
While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people. She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies. You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars.
The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.
After dinner, the young woman suggested that they pop down to the pub for a chat with her Grandmother’s neighbors. Usually, her Grandmother would have jumped at the chance to show her granddaughter off to her friends. But she seemed more than a little reluctant on this occasion. She so rarely refused her granddaughter anything, but it still took a great deal of cajoling before the young woman managed to talk her Grandmother into venturing out into the world. As they were putting on their coats to leave, the Grandmother asked her granddaughter to remove the white poppy from her coat.
The young woman looked at her Grandmother’s red poppy and refused. She began to lecture in that pompous way that only young people who don’t know any better can about the horrors of war and the need to stand up for peace. Her Grandmother insisted that she could stand up anywhere that she wanted to for peace but not in her local, not in front of her friends, not tonight. And then their battle began in earnest. They started calmly, but firmly arguing over the damn poppies. Before long, they were shouting and eventually the Grandmother, stormed out of the house and went to the pub without her granddaughter.
The young woman discretely went to bed before her Grandmother came home. Each woman slept fitfully, bemoaning the fact that they had declared their own kind of war.
Early the next morning the young woman rose quietly, hoping to dash off to London before her Grandmother awoke. She was just about to make a clean get away, when her Grandmother came into the living room. She was carrying a uniform. A uniform the young woman had never seen before; a uniform that stopped the young woman cold in her tracks.
Over breakfast the old woman explained that during the Second World War, she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The men were all off fighting and so the government had consented to letting women do their bit. Her job in the WAAFs was carried out on the home front. Every evening after she had fed her kids supper, she would send them off to the air-raid shelter with a neighbour, then she would put on her uniform and head off to the hills over Birmingham, where she would “man” an anti-aircraft gun.
After telling the young woman stories that she had rarely told anyone before, the old woman invited granddaughter to come her to British Legion later that morning. Awed by all she had been told, the young woman changed her plans and agreed to meet her Grandmother down at the Legion hall in about an hour.
On her way to the Legion hall, the young woman bought a red poppy and timidly pinned it to her lapel. When she finally caught up with her Grandmother, the old woman couldn’t help but smile when she saw the red poppy pinned to her beloved granddaughter’s lapel.
The young woman couldn’t manage a smile. Not threw her tears. The young woman was overcome by the sight of the white poppy that was pinned to her Grandmother’s lapel.
The two women fell into one another’s arms and for a moment, just a moment the two held one another other in the presence of a peace beyond words; a peace which surpasses all our understanding. The peace that only love can achieve. The peace that the world is dying to experience.
As the last post was trumpeted on that cold November 11th, separated by generations, perspectives, opinions, and commitments, two women stood united in love as they remembered. Together they stood hoping against hope for peace.
The worship service prepared the congregation for the Women of Courage event highlighting the stories of Canadian Aboriginal Stories which followed. Pastor Tom Doherty preached a powerful sermon on power directed pointedly to men. You can listen to the sermon here
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 and Matthew 25:1-13 – Here’s a sermon that I preached several years ago when this coming Sunday’s readings prompted me to use/borrow/steal from the book “Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration”, by Susan Cady, Marian Ronan, Hal Taussig (Harper and Row, 1986).
The parable of the ten, what??? Bridesmaids??? Really, ten bridesmaids, it sounds like the set up for some elaborate joke. Ten bridesmaids were waiting for a bridegroom, they waited so long that they fell asleep! I don’t know, you fill in the rest! I’ve never been much good at telling jokes, I’m more of a storyteller. Part of the fun of a story is the journey itself, but when you tell a joke you have to worry about punch lines. I tend to forget punch lines, or if I do remember them, I usually manage to mess them up and loose the laugh. So, there were these ten bridesmaids waiting for a bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish. The wise bridesmaids brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids did not. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Yada yada yada!
A little detail here, a little detail there and lo and behold we’re at the punch line. Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Ha, ha, ha, very funny…. I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this one, and leaving people hanging with that punch line. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you just don’t get it. You don’t get to come into the party!
Okay, I know this is a parable and that means that like all parables there’s a trick of some sort that we have to work out. So, for generations preachers have been unraveling this one and the usual explanation goes something like this….“Keep awake! Don’t fall asleep! And for heaven’s sake be prepared! Cause if your not. Christ will bar the door and you won’t get into heaven! So, Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Christ could come back at any moment and if your not ready! That’s it! Boom! Christ will deny you, the door will be shut and you’re not getting in. Oh and by the way, your going to burn in hell for all eternity. So, remember keep awake, be afraid be very afraid. Cause your gonna die! And if you haven’t brought along some extra oil for your lamp, well it ain’t gonna be pretty!”Continue reading →
L’Chaim – To Life!!! To all those blessed saints who have touched and continue to touch my life!!! All too often we forget the sacredness of the people in our lives! So here’s too all those saints who parade around us each and every day. May we have the wisdom to see the sacred in, with, and through them.