The art of blessing is often neglected. The birth of a New Year calls forth the desire in us to bestow a blessing upon those we love. Several years ago, John O”Donohue, one of my favorite Irish poet’s created a New Year’s blessing for his mother entitled Beannacht-for Josie. It is a blessing of superior quality. And so, on this New Year’s Eve, may you all receive this beannacht with my added blessing for a peace-filled New Year in which the God in whom all of creation is held, might find full expression in your miraculous life!
The readings included John 1:1-9; the Gospel of Thomas 70, and Matthew 2:1-12 You can listen to the sermon here
This year, in addition to all of the many holiday festivities that we are accustomed to enjoying over the Christmas holidays many of us added the time-consuming guilty pleasure of binge-watching. Binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon which results in hours and hours spent watching entire seasons of a TV series in one or two days. Thanks to things like Netflix, Apple TV and YouTube there are a so many TV series available but one that has me in its grip at the moment has more power to demand my attention as a result of a passion that developed in me when I was but a child.
When I was just ten years old, we lived in Newmarket for less than a year. By that time I had already lived in Birmingham, England, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Toronto and Newmarket. I was in grade five and I went to J.L.R. Bell public school. My teacher, Mr. Jones, was a particularly gifted storyteller. Mr. Jones had the ability to hold our little class in the palm of his hand simply by weaving tales of the world beyond our little lives. I can still remember the wonder and excitement that he generated when he announced that we were going to begin to study the explorers. I had no idea what an explorer was, but the globe that Mr. Jones spun on his desk as he explained that for years and years and years everyone believed that the earth was flat and that if you travelled far enough you ran the risk of falling off the edge, well I was hooked. Then he pulled down a large display map that was suspended on what looked to my ten-year-old eyes to be a window-blind and pointed to what looked like a funny shaped boot and told us that our study of the exploration of the world would begin in Venice, Italy in the year 1384, with the birth of Marco Polo.
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Venice, Italy, 1384, Marco, Polo, none of these words meant anything to me except for one, so I was hooked. What was a Venice? What was Italy? What could he possibly mean by 1384? Whatever was a Marco and what on earth did a Marco have to do with a Polo? Polo’s were the little mints that my Nannie kept in her purse.
At the tender age of ten, Mr. Jones launched me upon a grand adventure, which would lead to my life-long love of history and of words. For days and days and days, Mr. Jones wove fabulous tales of the discoveries of Marco Polo as he traveled upon the Silk Route to China where he met the fascinating Kublai Kahn whose very name summoned up both mystery and danger. The adventures of Marco Polo had me hooked on history but Mr. Jones didn’t stop there, no. Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, John Cabot, Jacque Cartier, Henry Hudson and a host of others who Mr. Jones taught us about with only the globe and that mesmerizing map of his to aid him, all served to open me up to ideas and concepts that turned me into a student of history and a lover of stories.
I had to leave Mr. Jones class before the end of term because once again my family was on the move. We were right in the middle of following Thomas Cook to the shores of what would eventually become my home on the west coast of British Columbia, when I handed over the atlas that Mr. Jones had lent me. I was trying hard not to cry as I bid, the man who was at that very moment my favorite person in the whole world, good-bye. It was when Mr. Jones encouraged me to continue my journey into the past that I had what I know recognize as an epiphany. With that great big wall map as a backdrop and the globe in front of me, I knew that I too was an explorer. What I didn’t know, what that particular epiphany didn’t reveal, was that I was also a storyteller.
Epiphanies are marvelous, miraculous events that have the power to reveal the very depths of who and what we are. Strictly speaking an epiphany is a flash of insight. The word epiphany comes from the Greek for the appearance of the divine. When the word was first explained to me, my teacher suggested that the word epiphany could be used to describe that moment in a cartoon when the light-bulb appears above a character’s head. A flash of insight! A moment of discovery that enlightens the mind and can change a life, open up a whole new world, herald a new way of being, unravel a mystery, or reveal the Divine in our midst.
It is hardly and any wonder, that the celebration of the Epiphany, was once second only to Easter in the church year. The recognition of God in our midst, no that’s something to celebrate! Over the years, Christmas has eclipsed the celebration of Epiphany. We won’t even bother coming to church on Tuesday for the feast of Epiphany. These days most Christians don’t even wait until Epiphany to take down their Christmas decorations. Yesterday, I saw Valentine’s Day decorations in the grocery store. The world scarcely pauses to notice. Perhaps the wise-guys are to blame.Continue reading →
Some of us have followed the star, we have journeyed to Bethlehem and we have seen the ONE who comes into the world as a child. Now what? Do we see the needs of the child? Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and be about the work of ushering in the Reign of Justice that this child, any child needs in order to live in peace? I wonder?
I still hear the echoes of Rachel’s voice weeping unconsolable in Ramah; weeping for the lost children of Syria and every place where violence, greed, madness or neglect robs the child of those things that belong to children: playful laughter, safe homes, warmth, nourishment, learning, embraces, peace….a future.
Mystic, poet, philosopher, and theologian Howard Thurman’s poem “The Work of Christmas” comes to me as a challenge for the days, months and year ahead:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.
The Herods of this world have had their way for far too long. Let the slaughter of innocents end. We have seen the child and we know the wonders of a star-lit peace-filled night. So, let the work of Christmas begin with all of us seeking justice and making peace so that children everywhere can grow in LOVE. Shalom!
As the clock ticks and we swiftly journey toward Christmas Eve, I suspect many are rushing around trying to finish every last thing. This little video entitled, “The Christmas Scale” reminds me of the importance of the pauses! May you find a moment or two today to slow down, breathe and enjoy the Joy in those pauses.
This sermon owes much to the work of Richard Rohr whose work opens me to the LOVE who lies at the core of REALITY, the ONE we call God. The source of the story that I tell about a Christmas Eve way back when has been lost to me. I cannot remember when I first heard it. It’s power to open me to the LOVE that is God remains with me and so I treasure the story and tell it so as to open others. To open ourselves to the cosmic nature of the Christ we used different scripture readings. The readings can be foundhereDuring the sermon copious amounts of chocolate oranges were smashed open and distributed. You can listen to the sermonhere
Christmas Eve is a night when the phrase “way back when” is uttered by storytellers often. I remember way back when I was just a little girl, you know long, long, ago, way back when Christmas celebrations were so different. Way back when I was a child, we didn’t hang fancy, especially dedicated stockings on the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. No, way back when, people didn’t have the money to waste on special, fancy, Christmas stockings that were only used once a year. Way back when, we just went into our sock draw and pulled out the largest sock we could find and we’d hang it up, in the hope that if we’d been good we’d get some goodies instead of the dreaded lump of coal that our parents had been threatening us with for weeks. Come Christmas morning, way back when, we were happy when our sock was filled not with stocking-stuffers like we have these days, but with the same thing we got every Christmas in our stockings, an apple, an orange, a few toffee’s and a couple of coins. You see way back when, fruit was seasonal and fresh apples and oranges were a real treat. These days we can haul crates of tiny delectable oranges from the grocery store all year long. But way back when, oranges at Christmas were a real treat.
Now I never did like oranges very much, so I would always try to trade my orange with my brother so that I could have two apples instead. You see way back when children were easier to please and Christmas was different. Which leads me to another story. I don’t remember when or where I first heard this story about way back when World War II had just ended and refugees were loaded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people. Back then; refugee camps were filled to overflowing with children who’d lost their families during the war. Apparently there was this little boy in a camp in France; we’ll call him Andre. Andre couldn’t have been more than about seven years old and he could barely remember the family he lost almost three years before the war ended. He’d been living in the refugee camp, more of an orphanage really, for almost a year. A few nuns who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly ran the camp. But they did there best and the children were, after all was said and done, lucky to be alive. The children hardly noticed that Christmas was approaching until one of the nuns announced that a neighbour had promised to come by on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the three tiny sections of his share of the orange that oozed precious juice down his half starved throat. Andre spent the days leading up to Christmas Eve dreaming of having a whole orange of his very own. He thought about the smell of the orange, dreamed of peeling the orange, and carefully considered whether or not to devour each and every section of the orange all at once or whether he should divided it and save a section or two for Christmas morning.Continue reading →
The quotes in this sermon are from Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and Joseph Holub’s “Fear Not” The Acclamation sung prior to the sermon is “The Magnificat” from Holden Evening Prayer, by Marty Haugen, featuring Gary Curran and Linda Condy: Listen to the sermon here
The story told in this sermon can be found in Maeve Binchy’s book of short stories “This Year it Will be Different.” As always I am indebted to those progressive grinches Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Michael Morwood for their insights into the sacred. Our sermon hymn was No Obvious Angels. The readings were all from Luke 1:1-56.
Years ago, I struggled with most of the stuff I was reading both in the bible and about the bible. I’d been attending church every Sunday since I was 15 and I was doing my best to be a Christian. But the more I read the bible, the more I studied the stories in the bible, the more difficult it became to reconcile all of the inconsistencies. Nowhere are those inconsistencies more apparent than in the stories about the birth of Jesus. Long before I ever dreamed of going to seminary to become a pastor, I was introduced to the work of progressive scholars like Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan and Jack Spong. It was a relief to learn how to take the bible seriously without taking it literally. It was also a relief to discover that my pastor and indeed most of the pastors I knew didn’t take the bible literally. But I have to admit that Christmas in the Church just hasn’t been the same since I learned that the stories about the birth of Jesus that appear in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke are not historical narratives. I must also confess that since we here in this community embarked upon this grand adventure together of ReThinking our Christianity, the celebration of Christmas in our worship together has become more and more of a challenge. There are days when I feel like a progressive Grinch who is determined to steal Christmas. Then there are other days when I feel like the Grinch’s little dog, who try as he might he just can’t seem to balance those reindeer antlers on his tiny little head. There are days, and some sleepless nights when I simply long for the good old days, when we could sink into the sentimentality of the season without having to delve into scholarship or worry about our evolving theology.
I miss those Advents when we all acted as though prophets foretold the birth of Jesus centuries before it happened, when we suspended disbelief and went along with the idea that angels visited Mary and Joseph, and we marveled at the fact that Mary conceived will still a virgin. It was easier when that Star guided wise guys and heavenly hosts actually visited shepherds abiding in their fields. Damn those progressive Grinches who’ve robbed us of our simple ways of celebrating the birth of Jesus
and as for those radical Grinches who have us questioning everything from the divinity of Jesus to the cosmic reality of the Christ, well I for one wish they’d leave us alone to sing our songs in peace. We Whos did just fine down here in Who-ville before those Grinches tossed all the elements of the birth stories upon their sleighs and left us here wondering what to do and how to sing. For however shall we celebrate the birth of the Son of God now that we know Mary couldn’t have been a virgin, and Matthew and Luke were the worst historians ever?
Well fear not my friends, because like all Christmas stories ours too has a happy ending. The good news is that those progressive Grinches who have stolen Christmas, do indeed have a heart after all. Even that Grinch Marcus Borg knows a thing or two about opening his heart to the wonder of the stories about Jesus birth. Yes, Borg, just like the rest of those Grinches like Spong, Crossan, and Morewood, leads us to understand that the stories of Jesus birth didn’t actually happen the way the gospel storytellers wrote them. The good news is that Borg, just like the rest of those Grinches, does have a heart big enough not to just stop with the reality that the birth stories are not history. Borg’s heart is big enough to cope with his mind’s ability to give us a better question than, “Did the birth stories happen they way they were written? When Borg encourages us to ask: “why did the gospel story-tellers tell their stories they way they told them?”
Borg’s heart leads him to remind us that the stories may not have happened exactly the way they are written, but they are absolutely true because these stories are always happening. The sacred is always being discovered in the ordinary stuff of life. Every birth is sacred because in every birth their lies among the muck and the mess of birth the reality of Divinity which lives in, with, through, and beyond each and everyone of us. The birth narratives open us to the reality of the sacred, which lies at the very heart of life; all life. Humanity is born over and over again, and over and over again comes the sacred possibility of abundant life; life in which we are capable of living deeply and loving more fully that we can possibly imagine.
In the life and teachings of Jesus people experienced this divine abundance and it opened them up to the possibilities of a world in which the reign of God who is LOVE accomplishes peace through justice. Why did the gospel storytellers write about the birth of Jesus they way they did? Could it be that the divinity embodied in the life of Jesus of Nazareth could not be killed by the worst that the Romans could conceive? The storytellers told the story of Jesus birth using the tools that they had available to them to open their contemporaries to the reality that in Jesus the sacred dimension of life was experienced in the flesh. These parables about the birth of Jesus have opened generations to the sacred Holy One in whom we live and move and have our being. When we begin to experience the more-than-literal meaning of these parables about the birth of Jesus, we are opened to the sacred in our midst in ways that only LOVE can open humans.Continue reading →
This Sunday, 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.
‘Tis 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.
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!
As the world turns expectantly for news from the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris, we hope that leaders everywhere can find the courage to commit us all to change our ways. Prophets have been warning us for decades of the dangers of climate change. The figure of John the Baptist looms large during the first half of Advent. This angry misfit shouts and us, convicting us of hastening the end. This sermon from three years ago, asks questions which ring true today: Do we have the courage to join John the Baptist? Do we have the stamina to become a prophet of doom? Our planet may be depending on us! You can listen to the sermon here or read the text below.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted. The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things; I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet. All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.
I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months. I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot. My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as the supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other. I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure.
Anyway, we were driving along the road. 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. Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird. Happy, glowing, smiling people make 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.Continue reading →