God Beyond Our Personifications, Images, and Idols: a sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Christ Sophia pastorDawnLuke 1:47-55, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, John 1:6-8, 19-28
View the readings Readings: here

O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb, O Come, Christ Sophia, Midwife Divine Now Calls Us and O Child Within The Christmas Scene

Listen to the sermon here

 

Make Straight the Way for Our God: a sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, John 1:6-8, 19-28

europcarThis sermon was preached on Advent 3B 2011 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

When John the Baptist cried out from the wilderness to the world with his infamous exhortation to “Make straight the way of the Lord” he never could have imagined the highways and the byways that we 21st century preparers of the way encounter. These days the ways in which we travel are far from straight.

The day after I married the love of my life, Carol and I travelled to England to enjoy our honeymoon. The flight over the Atlantic had been packed, so even though we were dead tired when we boarded, it had been impossible to sleep. The days before the overnight flight had been filled with wedding celebrations, visits with family, that included conversations into the wee hours, followed by early morning trips to the airport as family members returned to their far flung homes.

I was exhausted as I tried to make my way through the construction site that is now Gatwick Airport. Dragging luggage past temporary signs designed to make do until the completed new Gatwick is unveiled just in time for the 2012 Olympics. Tired and confused we made our way past a shed, to the edifice that housed the car rental offices. While I secretly hoped that the perturbed looking woman behind the desk, would announce that they’d lost our reservation. Suddenly, the idea that anyone would entrust me with a vehicle in my brain-dead state, terrified me.

The very idea that I would be set loose behind the wheel of a right-hand drive car struck fear into my heart. Surely the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland had in place some laws designed to protect the British people. One look at my zoombizized persona, should have been enough to warn the purveyor of rental agreements, that I was not to be trusted with a vehicle designed to be driven on the left side of the road. But rather than, deny me access to such a dangerous weapon in my weakened condition, all this representative of Eurocar wanted to know was weather or not I carried adequate insurance. Sensing a way out, I suggested that the insurance coverage that came with my credit card might not be up to the task. A little too gleefully, I thought, the woman ensconced safely behind a desk, explained that they had just the right insurance for me. It seems that I would be on the hook for 12,000 pounds should I happen to total the car they were going to lend me. But for just 13 pounds a day, I could bring what was left of the car back on the hook of a tow truck if need be and I was covered.

It seems that nothing was going to deter this company from setting me loose on an unsuspecting British nation. So, as she handed over the keys, I bid a fond farewell to my mother, who sat waiting for my exhausted 78-year-old father, who was busy securing his own vehicle. I told myself that if Dad could do this, surely I could. So, Carol and I headed out to the parking lot to pick up our almost new, Voxhaul, Astra. It was beautiful and under normal circumstances I would have been delighted with this speedy little machine. But as I approached the driver’s door, I begin to tremble. It had been more than 20 years since I drove a car from that particular vantage point. It was cold and damp, so it took a while to get my GPS installed on the windscreen, and when I punched in the address of the hotel down in Bournmouth, I was relieved to see that the journey should only take about an hour and 40 minutes. I wanted nothing more than a clean bed upon which to lay my weary head. I warned my lovely bride Carol that we’d better find a place where I could get some caffeine or this might prove to be a disastrous trip. Continue reading

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

women Matthew1

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

Gestating in Darkness: a sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

gestatingThis sermon included quotes from James Carroll’s new book “Jesus Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age” Carroll’s book is a splendid exploration prompted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question “Who is Jesus for us today?”

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8. Our sermon hymn was “God Is Within”, Text by George Stuart to the Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos = All Through the Night

Listen to the sermon here

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanToday, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

T’is the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa.

Besides, I don’t believe that consumerism is the most dangerous thing about Santa. So, before you accuse me of being a Scrooge or even a Grinch, ask yourself who it is that most children worship at this time of year, and I think you’ll agree that Santa is the one we’ve all been trained to bow down to, and not just at Christmas. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our view of God has been more influenced by Santa Claus than by Christ?  I dare you to compare the number of children standing in the lines at the shopping centre to get their picture taken on Santa’s lap to the number of children in Sunday School? So many of us made that same trip to see Santa when we were little and when we finally got to Santa’s lap, he asked us the big Judgement Day question that Santa always seems to ask, “Have you been good this year?” There’s only one way to answer that question – even though we may have been as deviousness might qualify us as servants of that other mythical character that begins with santa and ends with  n.  For all too many people this laptop confession begins a pattern for interactions with an image we create of the Father-God, who watches and records our offences, making a list if only for the purpose of forgiving us because an appropriate blood sacrifice has been made on our behalf.

Think I’m being harsh? Just listen to that song that pours from muzak speakers, the song that spells out a theology of Santa Claus.  “Oh, you better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” The trouble with the theology of Santa Claus is that we keep applying it to God as we try to turn the Creator of all that is and ever shall be into a list-checking, gift-giver, whom we better watch out for, lest we be punished. Why then are we surprised that when our Santa-god fails to deliver or bad things happen to good people, that our childish faith in the Santa-god isn’t enough to sustain our trust?

Santa in his present incarnation is indeed pernicious, but like most mythical characters, he cannot be killed and any attempts to resurrect St. Nicholas to replace him are doomed, for the power of Santa’s materialism will always defeat the dim memories of St. Nicholas and his chocolate money. If we are going to break free of the cult of materialism, perhaps we out to try to convince Santa to use his mythical powers for goodness sake!

Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to say it, it’s time to let old St. Nick and his young assistant Santa die, so that a new Santa can be born; a Christmas resurrection if you will. We need a new Santa capable of changing our consuming ways. If the Coca Cola Company could use the advertising industry to transform St. Nick into Santa, surely we can resurrect Santa using the modern persuasive powers of social media to redesign the old salesman extraordinaire into a mythical character with powers fit for the needs of this century.

blue santina

SANTINA- all decked out in her Advent blue!

Imagine if you will, a new and improved Santina, all decked out in Advent blue, she has the power to open young minds to the needs of our neighbours and travels the world via her magic transporter beam, to gather the hopes and dreams of the poor and oppressed into one internet feed, which she magically imprints in our hearts and minds, so that we change the world, creating peace through justice! 

Oh, wait, we already have such a character. We don’t need St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, nor any new-fangled Santina.  We need the One we’ve always needed. The One who comes in the guise of a person. The One we seek is Christ. The One who lives and breathes in, with, and through us to create peace on earth through justice and love. The One who uses our hands, our feet, our lives to change the world!

Enjoy this version of Let There Be Peace on Earth in which Vanessa Williams uses not only inclusive language, but celebrates the Earth as our Mother!

The de Chardin Project: a theatrical triumph!

de chardin projectYesterday, I enjoyed an expansive evening at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille as playwright Adam Seybold’s “The De Chardin Project” brought one of my theological heros to vivid life. Before my very eyes, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gave new meaning to “forever!” Seybold’s bravery in taking on the complex work of Teilhard is matched by his sensitivity for the life and ideas of the man whose thinking continues to impress those who seek ways of expressing the complicated marriage of theology and science. In ninety short minutes Seybold’s script propelled us to the sun and back over and over again as the talents of Maeve Beaty and Cyrus Lane breathed life in to the divine/human love affair that is life

After years of pouring over Teihard’s work, I can empathize with the challenges of bringing his genius to a wider audience. The combination of talents that have come together in this production to stretch the audience’s perspective beyond the limits of tired arguments has succeeded in creating an experience which far exceeded my expectations. When I entered the theatre, I was sceptical. I wondered what would become of the ideas that I treasure. But it only took a few moments for Seybold’s words to woo me and before I knew it, Cyrus Lane’s tortured and dying Teilhard had me opening myself to a series of transformative moments, the like of which I’ve not enjoyed in the theatre for a long time. With Maev Beaty’s steady hand as our guide, Teihard’s questions took us on an adventure worthy of our deepest wonderings. Beaty’s moving ability to transform herself was aided by the subtle and sometimes startling staging. Director Alan Dilworth managed to not only direct his actors but his audience as well as we transcended the stage up, up, up, to the sun and back again into the deep interior of our being to capture precious grains of sand.

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, whether you’ve read Teihard or never heard of him before, this play is a must see. The run ends December 14. So don’t delay. After the adventure of The De Chardin Project the expansion of my ideas about reality, like forever, is just beginning as Maev Beaty’s passionate “Yes” echoes throughout my being!

Teilhard Love

We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest – a Magnificat of sorts

In response to today’s blog post “Magnificat for Ferguson, New York, and Canada’s Broken Justice Systems” a reader sent this splendid Magnificat of sorts, Ella’s Song by Sweet Honey in the Rock. We who believe in freedom cannot rest “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons” and we who believe in justice until the lives of our stolen aboriginal sisters are recognized as vital and are investigated with the same vigour as we would investigate the loss of the powerful and the mighty. God’s reign of justice will be achieved when the God who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us is embodied in all we do for one another.

Magnificat for Ferguson, New York, and Canada’s Broken Justice Systems

stolen sisters pastorDawnAs I prepare the liturgy for the Third Sunday in Advent, various interpretations and musical settings of the Magnificat litter my office. Over and over again, the words placed on the lips of the young child Mary who was “great with child,” a child in whom our hopes and dreams for a new kin-dom of justice are embodied, sing in my imagination. In these past few days, I have observed my Canadian sisters and brothers as we look with horror and sadness as news of  what look to us like travesties of justice steam across the border. As Canadians we comfort ourselves with the delusion that the kind of racism which results in what appears to be a systemic contempt for the lives of young black men does not exist here in Canada. We shake our heads in disbelief as grand-juries refuse to indite police officers in Ferguson and New York trusting that our own justice system would do a better job of seeking justice. Some of us go as far as offering up a prayer of sorts giving thanks that we live up here and not down there. Up here we believe that we are above the kind of racism that results in systemic contempt for the lives of so many simply because of the colour of their skin. 

Mary’s song echoes in my brain and the tears begin to flow; tears of solidarity with the grieving, angry, laments being sounded by our American cousins as they cry out for justice, longing for the powerful to be brought down from their thrones and the lifting up of the lowly. Feeling my own anger and frustration at the callus disregard for the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and little Tamir Rice, shot and killed by police who failed to determine that the gun Tamir was holding was a toy, I can’t help but wonder, “How long, O Lord.”

No sooner than my lament leaves my lips, I comfort myself with the thought that I don’t live down there in the U.S., and like so many Canadians, I am more than willing to leave the fate of my American cousins in God’s hands, for there is nothing I can do; thank God. I can happily go about my day, smug in my country’s belief that we are not like “them.” So, with Mary “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” as images of Canadians, black, white, brown, and yellow dance in my head as equal before the law. Even as I sing to myself my favourite rendition of the Magnificat, images begin to creep into my head; images that cause the tears to return, images of stolen sisters, and the “Highway of Tears” bridges the gap between my delusions and reality. Continue reading

Too Busy Preparing the Way??? – a sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

snowglobPreaching is a delicate art. Sometimes, in the midst of turmoil, preachers are called to let theology take a backseat as we flex our storytelling muscles. John the Baptist has been known t bring out the worst in preachers. It is difficult for many preachers to resist the temptation to mimic John the Baptist’s shrill rhetoric. Far too many Advent sermons fail to empathize with the travails of the season. This story/sermon is an attempt to bring comfort to those who are busy hustling and bustling during Advent; a gentle reminder that peace begins in us.

It was just a shabby little basement apartment. It was far too damp for a newborn baby, but it was all they could afford. It was a damp rainy west coast November afternoon when Carol’s Aunt and Uncle brought little Liam home from the hospital. They must have fought in the car on the way home from the hospital because the argument that they were having when they got out of the car seemed like it had been underway for quite sometime. Carol was waiting in the driveway with her four-year-old cousin Michael and her parents. They had spent the morning getting the shabby little apartment ready for the new baby’s arrival and trying to convince Michael that a new baby brother was a wonderful thing. Carol had no idea what her aunt and uncle were arguing about. She heard her mother mutter something about saving their battle for another time; after all they were about introduce Michael to his new baby brother Liam.

Carol was just thirteen when Liam made his appearance in the world. In those days, thirteen was considered a prime age for babysitting. So, Carol would head over to Aunt Val’s and Uncle Dave’s every day after school to help out. It was Carol’s job to take Liam for a walk each afternoon so that her Aunt Val could get supper on the table in time for Uncle Dave’s arrival from work. Carol would pack Liam up in his pram regardless of the weather and head for the park. Michael would tag along behind them. In the weeks that followed Liam’s arrival, Michael changed quite a bit. He became unusually whiney. He didn’t seem to enjoy much in life. He whined about everything. He whined about going to the park and he whined about having to leave the park. He whined whenever he was told to be quiet because the baby was sleeping and he whined when he was asked to help with anything that had anything to do with his little brother. Carol’s Mom said that it was all very normal; children don’t much like it when a new baby takes their position as the only child.

Carol disagreed with her mother, but she kept her thoughts to herself. Carol was convinced that Michael’s whining had more to do with his parents’ whining. Ever since they had brought Liam home from the hospital, Val and Dave had taken up whining themselves. They whined about dirty diapers, about being tired all the time, about the messy apartment, about the crying baby, about how small the apartment was and about how much whining Michael was doing. When they weren’t whining, Val and Dave were fighting. They fought about everything. They fought about whether or not the baby should sleep in their bedroom. They fought about whether or not Michael should be sent to his room as punishment for waking up the baby. They fought about dinner being late; about whether or not Uncle Dave should have to change dirty diapers because he was too tired from working all day. They were always arguing about money. One time they even managed to have an argument about paying Carol the .25 cents an hour that she was paid for helping out after school. As Christmas approached they argued about how they were going to pay for Christmas. The more they argued, the whiner Michael got. Continue reading

Irish Twelve Days of Christmas

This blog is made possible thanks to the support of the people of Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Holy Cross is a small progressive congregation with a wide variety of ministries. Like all small congregations, we engage in various fund-raising activities to support the work we do. The video below is from Songs for the Season a fabulous set of fund-raising concerts. Our own incomperable Gary Curran takes on the persona of Gobnait O’Lúnasa as he preformed Frank Kelly’s “Christmas Countdown”. Accompanying Gary is the fabulous Marney Curran. A great time was had by all!  On the GIVING TUESDAY, if you enjoy this blog, please consider mailing a donation to Holy Cross Lutheran Church 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3, so that we can continue host this site!

Advent Blue

When we leave behind our personifications of the Deity, we can’t help but rekindle our love of God in whom all of creation rests. Recognizing the Earth as sacred and moving toward an understanding of the Earth as a beautiful part of the Body of God is vital to our being in God. Peter Mayer’s hymn to our Blue Boat Home puts a whole new hue in my perception of Advent Blue!