“I Pray God, Rid Me of God” – PrideFest sermon

IMG_2298Today, Holy Cross had the honour of hosting York Region’s Pride Fest worship. In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, we did our best to be both sanctuary and celebration. Thank-you to everyone who came together to be LOVE for one another!

Listen to the sermon here

Watch video of the opening hymn here

Sanctuary for LOVE and LIFE – in the wake of Orlando

York Pride Fest SanctuaryIn the wake of Orlando, we at Holy Cross have the honour of hosting this year’s York Region Pride Fest Worship. As we struggle to find ways to respond to this horrific tragedy, the word “sanctuary” keeps me grounded. While the word sanctuary has its origins in the word for holy and was used to designate a sacred place for worship. As a result of the tradition of sanctuaries providing safe harbour for fugitives of all kinds, the word has come to mean safe haven or place of safety. “Sanctuary” how sadly appropriate for those of us seeking safe haven from the harsh realities so often inspired by perversions masquerading as religion that we shall shall gather together to create a sacred space of sanctuary, in the words of our hymn for the day, “For All the Children.” As I prepare to create sanctuary for others, I keep listening to this rendition which creates sanctuary in me. Shalom….

Demons or Baggage: Stop and Listen – a sermon for Pentecost 5C: Luke 8:26-39

voice withinBobby wasn’t like any other 10-year-old boy. Bobby had the face of an angel but the temperament of a devil. Bobby was a beautiful child. His blond hair and blue eyes together with his alabaster skin, pointed toward his Scandinavian heritage.  At first sight, Bobby appeared to be the kind of child that any congregation would be proud to count as a member. But, Bobby’s physical appearance was deceiving and Bobby’s presence in church was not welcome. Bobby didn’t go down to Sunday school classes with the other children.  The Sunday school teachers had tried to include Bobby, but after several parents threatened to withdraw their children, they asked Bobby’s parents not to send Bobby anymore. So Bobby stayed in the sanctuary with the adults. Most of the adult members tried to tolerate Bobby’s presence but for some, Bobby’s presence was simply unnerving. Bobby is autistic. Sitting and behaving in church was impossible for him. As long as we were singing hymns, Bobby was happy.  He would catch the rhythms of the music and rock back and forth and sing. He never sang the same words as the rest of the congregation.  But it was clear from his movements and the sounds that emanated from his lips that Bobby was singing. The trouble was that Bobby never stopped singing when we did. When his parents would attempt to put an end to Bobby’s song, he would flail about and sometime throw himself on the floor.

Now there are some churches where flailing about and throwing one’s self to the floor would be interpreted as a sign that the Holy Spirit was at work. But in this little Lutheran church, the reaction of the worshippers to Bobby’s outbursts made it clear that they feared that Bobby was possessed by spirits of the evil variety. Oh, they would never have come out and said that Bobby was possessed by demons, they just acted as if he were. Bobby’s favorite part of the service was communion.  I think that he enjoyed the opportunity to walk up to the front of the church and kneel at the altar.  When the Pastor would place a communion wafer in his hands, Bobby would giggle with glee.  Bobby never ate the communion wafer; he would just hold it up to the light and smile. The communion wine was another thing altogether. Sometimes Bobby’s mother would try to help him drink from the common cup.  Sometimes Bobby would dunk his wafer into the intinction cup and slop wine everywhere.  At other times Bobby would be so preoccupied with his wafer that he just let the cup pass him by. On a good day Bobby’s behavior only made people uncomfortable. On a bad day, Bobby’s behavior embarrassed some, offended others, and sometimes outraged many.

I remember being summoned to an extra-ordinary council meeting. The meeting had been called to deal with the complaints and concerns of several long time members of the congregation that had decided that Bobby’s presence could now longer be tolerated at worship. The people who were complaining were not bad people.  They were fine upstanding members of the congregation who found themselves unable to deal with Bobby’s presence in their midst. During the meeting we agonized over what to do.  Continue reading

A 69 Chevy Nova, Tea and the ONE In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being – a sermon for Pentecost 5C

chevy novaA sermon on Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39

I am indebted to John Philip Newell and his book: A New Harmony for the insights that lie at the heart of this sermon.   Listen to the sermon here

It was a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova, I bought it for $640 in the hope that it would last long enough for me to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia. At the age of 32, I had enrolled at UBC in the hopes of obtaining an honours degree in Religious Studies. I couldn’t really afford a car. But nor could I afford the time it would take to travel on public transit between the university and the bank clearing house where I needed to work the evening shifts in order to pay for my education. I was living in a shabby basement suit, where the rent was cheap and the parking non-existent. When I was lucky, I found a spot in the alley behind the house, when I was unlucky, I’d have to park a few blocks away. Walking in the dark alley at night was frightening to say the least. Often, I would encounter an old woman, who as near as I could figure out was living rough.The back alley had a number of old sheds and garages against which this old woman would sometimes create a sort of tent out of old clothes and cardboard. We never spoke to one another, but we did recognize one another.

I knew that she belonged in the neighbourhood and she knew that I belonged in the neighbourhood. Neither of us was comfortable in the back alley at night, and it was almost a comfort to run into one another, rather than an unrecognized stranger. One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I quickly unlocked my car and drove off to the University to study the religions of the world. My first class was Ancient Near Eastern Mythology, the Prof gave a 2 hour lecture on the development of Mono-Theism. I then had a 3 hour seminar in the methodology of Religious Studies. The seminar was made up of the my fellow honours students. The nine of us were receiving private instruction from the professor of Jewish Studies. Among my fellow students was a young man who would become one of my best teachers. Sannidhi was a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed a wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. Sannidhi taught me the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale imitations of the ONE God who lies at the very heart of all that is. It was from Sannidhi that I first learned the Hindu description of the God that I have come to love above all other descriptions of God.  I’ve shared it with you many times: God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Continue reading

Living Into Abundant Life: a sermon on John 10:10

Sacred spaceToday was Picnic Sunday at Holy Cross and we were blessed to worship on the shores of Lake Simcoe at the Loretto Maryholme Retreat Centre. The Worship Bulletin which includes the readings is available here.   A written text of the sermon I intended to preach can be found here, or you can listen too the abbreviated  sermon that was preached to the accompaniment of not so gentle breezes is printed below

 “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundant life.

Please take a moment to sink deeply in to this great abundance of which we are a part.

Wiggle your toes upon the surface of this magnificent planet of which we are apart.

Reach out and touch the astounding, intricate textures of the grass.

Let your eyes feast upon the immensity of the sky, the shimmering beauty of the lake.

Somebody please hug a tree!

On this day, in the midst of such profound beauty let us read the gospel that is found in the book of Creation.  It is just as Sir Francis Bacon insisted, some 500 years ago, true that:

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”

Lift up your hearts and listen as the cosmos declares in infinite and magnificent the Gospel the Christ:  “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundance: the dictionary defines the word abundance as an adjective meaning “existing or available in large quantities: plentiful. Copious, ample, profuse, rich, lavish, abounding, liberal, generous, bountiful, large, huge, great, bumper, prolific, teeming, plentiful, bounteous.

We stand in the midst of the abundance of Creation.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundant life, abounding life, generous life, bountiful life, large life, huge life, great life, bumper life, liberal life, prolific life, teeming life, plentiful life, bounteous life. Look around and you will see the Earth living abundantly. Take a deep breath and you can actually taste the abundance of life, teeming life, bounteous life, plentiful life, abounding life. The life of the Earth is indeed abundant.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!” Sadly, over and over again, generations upon generations of the followers of Jesus have failed to embrace the Gospel, which Jesus lived as he proclaimed the Good News of abundant life, by living fully, loving extravagantly and being all that he was created to be. For too long now the followers of Jesus have failed to embrace abundance as the core, the very essence of the gospel.  We have opted for a smaller, lesser, more confining, indeed, a more restricting narrative with which to proclaim the gospel. For most of the past 2000 years, the master narrative the followers of Jesus have chosen to tell has been the story of the fall of Adam and Eve and the need from redemption through the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Humanity has been defined as fallen, broken, in bondage, sinful, less than, small, worthy of contempt. The followers of the One whose passion was the gift of abundant life, have opted for a story that portrays life as little more than a testing ground for some other life, some after-life, some place other than where we are now, a place to which we can escape the smallness of this life. But look around, taste and see that it is as our ancestors imagined our Creator declaring after each marvelous day in the Genesis of Creation, it is good, it is very good.

Human beings are in the words of Julian of Norwich, “not just made by God, we are made of God.”

We are in God and God is in us because we are made of God.

What’s more, this amazing Cosmos is not something separate or apart from us, we are in and of the Cosmos.

The Cosmos is in God and God is in the Cosmos.

This sacred communion of which we are a part is positively teeming with diversity.

There are no duplications, each precious part of the Cosmos is unique, each part intimately connected.

The sheer abundance of the Cosmos is beyond our comprehension and yet so very accessible if we but reach out and touch it, or open our eyes to see it, our open our arms to embrace it, or breathe deeply to draw life within it.

This gospel of abundance is so much bigger than the story we have chosen to tell.

Carefully studying the book that our Creator has written which we call the Universe, it is clear, in the words of Thomas Berry, that:

“Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human.”

Embracing the abundant life that Jesus lived to proclaim, requires the faith to open ourselves to the splendor of the Cosmos of which we are an intricate part. The ongoing revelations provided by the Cosmos are clear for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Continue reading

St. Mary of Magdala: the Apostle to the Apostles: Luke 7:36-8:3 – Pentecost 4C

THE RESURRECTION OF MARY – An Idle Tale

Mary-Magdalene egg

He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!” He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says, “she is a “prostitute!”

My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where?  Where?  Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”

As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”,

I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”

He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”

“A sinner not a prostitute.”  I respond.

He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”

“Where?” I ask.

Again he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”

I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”

He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”

I lose control, “How do you know?  What words does the author use to say that his woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”

He still doesn’t get it, “What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”

Once again I push, “Show me.  Show me where?”

He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”

I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”

He replies, “amartolos”.

I push, “Does that mean prostitute?” We both know that it does not.

He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”

Still pushing I ask him to “Show me.  Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual.            

Show me where it says so in the narrative.”

He says, “It’s clear.”

Clearly we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you.  Show me. Show me!”

As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay.  Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute.  Show me!”

He couldn’t show me.  It’s simply not there.

Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute.  But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute.  

In the years that have transpired since than day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I’ve delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of Mary’s resurrection as the first Apostle. Continue reading