Listen to the sermon here
You better watch out. You better not pout. You better not cry. You know who is coming to town. Yes, this is the weekend. In cities, towns, and villages all over the place you know who is coming to town. He knows if you’ve been sleeping. He knows if you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! I’m not too old to remember a time when I believed in the person you know in Canada as Santa Claus, but when I was a kid in Belfast we called him “Father Christmas”. I remember the excitement I felt about his pending arrival and I remember trying ever so hard to be good. I don’t remember being disappointed when I realized that Father Christmas was a conspiracy of sorts. Somewhere, somehow in my little child’s brain, I sort of transferred all the love, affection, anticipation, and fear that I harbored for Father Christmas over to THE FATHER. FATHER GOD, who I imagined as a grey-bearded old man who lived up there in heaven. We never went to church, but somehow the adults in my life managed to communicate to me that, I’d better watch out, I’d better not cry, cause HE knows if I’ve been bad our good and I’d better be good for goodness sake. I learned to say my prayers, to thank the Father for all the good stuff in my life, and to ask the Father to take care of Mummy & Daddy, Nannie and Granda, Gran, my aunts and uncles and oh yes don’t forget my brother Alan, even if little brothers are annoying, please Father take care of him and maybe make sure that Mummy and Daddy have all the money they need to buy us Christmas presents and if there’s time help us all to live in peace.
My childish notions about HIM, up there, eventually gave way to adolescent wonderings about why HE let bad stuff happen to all the good people, and why people died in accidents, or people got hurt, or sick and died. I remember being particularly preoccupied with thoughts about why bad, evil, nasty people got away with stuff; I mean why didn’t HE just use some of HIS all powerfulness to stop bad things from happening? Eventually, when I found my way into the church, I began to add qualities to the character of the FATHER. Gradually, the FATHER became gentler, kinder, wiser, and more gracious.
As I grew older, Sunday sermons, Bible Studies and Adult Education in the church taught me more theology. The FATHER’S ultimate sacrifice, becoming human and dying on the cross for me, opened me up to GOD who was willing to do anything in order to save me, and everyone else on the planet. This God of all-encompassing love was prepared to love everyone no matter who or what they were. Gone was the punishing God who condemned misbehavers to the fires of hell as the great FATHER welcomed all comers into Heaven and leaving the pits of Hell empty. Sure this benevolent FATHER sometimes appeared not to answer every prayer, but God’s ways I knew were infinitely wiser than anything that I could imagine, so if God didn’t do what we so desperately wanted God to do it was all for our own good.
Later when I went to seminary I learned to reject various theories of atonement that saw the need for any sort of sacrifice. I began to craft an image of God that went way beyond the male language that excluded my gender from the equation. I retired the old Gentlemen in the sky and welcomed the loving Mother into my relationship with God. My professors taught me to see images of God in the world and I began to open myself to the wisdom that my images of God were much too small to capture the vast mystery of our God.
As I opened myself to the riches of various faith traditions I began to see that the images that of God that I worshipped were inadequate to the task of expressing the wonder of God who is love and so I began to worship the Mystery of our God who is love.
Over the past few years, as this congregation has engaged the questions of our faith, and opened ourselves to the teaches of progressive theologians, historians, and pastors, I’ve come to believe that even the images that we have of God as Mystery continue to be woefully inadequate to the task of expressing who and what our God is. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of our questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.
The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us, what happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins.
What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.
They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…
What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint. There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the grand-puppeteer in the sky and have him solve all our woes and then I remember Jesus.
It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are one. Jesus who put people ahead of the law.
Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship.
Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see God the source of all that is and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.
The Temple was too small; God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the one who is the very ground of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the divine ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay or we can look for the One who lives and breathes in with and through us in the faces of those around us. We can let the dead burry the dead, or we can seek the divine One in the love of God that is embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us.
The curtain has been torn. The temple has been destroyed. Our idols and images are scattered amongst the ruins. So, let them rot, let them decay, for in rot and decay, lies the nourishment for new life. Out of the ruins will rise up a new thing. Resurrection is possible. The mystery that lies at the heart of creation is about to do a new thing.
I suspect that the mystery that lies at the heart of all creation is always about to do a new thing. LOVE is nothing if it is not fertile, fecund, lush, fruitful, prolific, bountiful, lavish, ever-evolving, dynamic, growing, rich, beautiful, gracious, extravagant…exciting, dangerous, scary, bold, tempting, sustaining, worth living and dying for.
All those centuries ago, when the Temple in Jerusalem lay smoldering in ruins, the followers of Jesus looked around and realized that Jesus was indeed their Messiah, for in his life and death lay their hope for in Jesus they saw the power of love. In time they began to see that LOVE born again in the faces of one another as they too began to live and love fully and extravagantly seeking the justice that Jesus sought, empowering the powerless, lifting up the lowly, loving, living and trusting that in God who is love they would find new life.
There are days when I miss the familiar; when I long for the idol’s I once worshipped. When I need the comfort of the man upstairs, or the mother’s arms to enfold me, or the church’s doctrine to save me. And I’m tempted to put my questions away, and hunker down in amongst the ruins, clutching my idols and praying for salvation. And then, I remember Jesus, and the life he lived so fully, freely and extravagantly and I remember that life, this life is pure gift, and like Jesus I want to live it, loving, sacrificing, struggling to make it better, tasting, seeing for myself, questioning and embracing every blessed moment of it. And I can’t wait to see resurrection up close and personal. I want to see this new thing that the creator of all that is and ever shall be is birthing in our midst. And I want to live it all trusting that God who is the ground of my being, will nourish, ground and sustain me through every beautiful challenging, blessed moment of it, come what may. Let it be so. Let it be so! Amen!
Live it all
trusting that God who is the ground of our being
will nourish, ground and sustain us
through every beautiful challenging,
blessed moment of it,
come what may.
God is the source of life
So worship God by living!
God is the source of love.
So worship God by loving!
God is the ground of being.
So worship God by
having the courage to be
more fully human, the embodiment of the Divine.