Well, congratulations we made it! When 2017 began, there were a great many people who wondered if the man who was waiting to be sworn in to the most powerful office in the world would take us down a path of mutual self-destruction. While it has been an amazing year, our worst fears have not come to fruition. 2017 may go down in history as the year that a narcissist drove us all to distraction, but the doomsayers’ predictions that, “the end is nigh” have not come to pass. I suspect that pessimists of all sorts have been predicting the end of the world since the world began. So, on this the last day of this very strange year, we greet one another in the same way as our ancestors greeted one another: “Happy New Year!” and even as we bid one another a Happy New Year, we know that the forecast for the coming year looks bleak.
There is little doubt that 2018 will see the continuation of the abuse of our planet. We humans will go on burning the stuff that we know full well is causing climate change that will have catastrophic effects on the environment. Species will continue to become extinct. Peace in the Middle East is more elusive than ever. Most of us aren’t expecting a lull in terrorism anytime soon. The mess in Syria will continue to be a mess from which refugees will continue to flee. The flow of refugees will continue to expose the racist underbelly of far too many cultures.
The madman in North Korea and the narcissist in Washington will continue to taunt and threaten one another, while the world wrings its hands. Nationalism and tribalism isn’t going away in the New Year. Indeed, we all know that the most powerful office on the planet is in the hands of a man whose ignorance knows no bounds. The prognosticators, the talking heads, the prophets of our day are warning of a new and frightening Cold War that will continue to threaten our way of life. The poor are still with us. Despite all our technological advances, despite our proven ability to feed everyone on the planet three times over, men, women, and children continue to starve to death in all sorts of places all over the planet. We also know that basic human rights that we take for granted like clean drinking water are denied to far too many communities in this country, a land that actually contains one quarter of the world’s fresh water. We know that the rich keep getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle-class is disappearing, and we know that money can’t buy us happiness. Yet, in the midst of all these obstacles we continue to bid one another a Happy New Year. Even though we know that the folks we are wishing a Happy New Year will continue to face not only these obstacles but the realities that illness and death will no doubt touch their lives in some way or another, precisely because illness and death are part of life.Continue reading →
I have tried to locate the source of the parable told in this sermon about the encounter between the little boy and the old woman. But despite the many authors who claim it as their own, I suspect that its origins go back farther than I have been able to trace. The Readings for this first Sunday after Christmas offer us the parable of the Presentation of in the Temple: Psalm 42:1-3, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:8-20
The nativity stories about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are parables carefully crafted by the Gospel storytellers to make us think. This morning we have another parable that is also carefully crafted to make us think. The question 21st century readers of this parable may well ask is, “What is it that the gospel storytellers want us to think about this parable often referred to as the “Presentation of Jesus”?
One ancient way of discovering meaning in a parable is to tell the parable alongside another story and allow the second story to interpret the first. So, let me tell you a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. The little boy knew it was a very long trip to where God Gives, so he packed his suitcase with some tubes of Smarties and some cans of Coke and he set off on his quest to meet God. When the little boy had gone half a mile or so, he met an old woman. She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to the old woman and he opened up his suitcase. The little boy was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry. So, he offered her some of his smarties. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled at the little boy. Her smile lit up her whole face. I was so lovely, the boy wanted to see her smile again, so he offered her a drink of Coke. Once again, the old woman smiled at him and the little boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a world. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he bot up to leave, but before he’d gone more than just a few steps, he turned around, and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. The old woman gave him her biggest smile ever. When the little boy opened the door to his own house a sort time later, his mother was surprised by the look of pure joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy declared, “I had lunch with God.” And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on his mother’s face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties in the park with God.” And before her son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected.”
Our expectations have been groomed to point us up, up and away, out there, far beyond the everyday clatter of our lives. Sometimes, we expect that just for a moment the sacred will pierce our reality. At other times, when we are in need, we summon up the sacred in the guise of a god all dressed up in majesty, strength, wisdom, authority, and immense power, yet gentle, loving, and attentive to our every need.Continue reading →
During these twelve days of Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Messiah, is a word the ancient Hebrews used to describe the anointed one. The one whom God would send to change the world. In Greek the word for Messiah is Christ.
My thoughts swirl around a poem written by the unknown writer of the Gospel of John in which the birth of the Christ is describe as the WORD. It’s a mysterious cosmic poem that moves our minds away from the mundane everyday ordinary stuff of life to the extra-ordinary mysteries of creation, which when you think about it is what every birth does.
Just holding a newborn in your arms and before long you’ll find yourself pondering the mysteries of this life. Who are we and where do we come from? Why are we here? What does it all mean? These are all perfectly wonderful questions and speculating upon the many possible answers to those questions is a fascinating process. But in the end, our words will always fail us when it comes to answers. As we are speculating about the birth of this beautiful little baby, the baby is alive and among us, and needs to be fed and changed, nurtured, guided and protected.Continue reading →
Christmas, every Christmas is a Thin Place. According to the Irish, a Thin Place is a place where the boundaries between heaven and earth fall away. Every Christmas is a Thin Place where the boundaries between our everyday existence and the reality that we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves, well these boundaries fade away at Christmas. Thin Places are those precious moments in time when the sacred can be seen in the everyday stuff of life. Christmas with its powerful parables, myths, metaphors, and symbols acts as a giant welcoming Thin Place were the boundaries and veils fall away and we are able to recognize the sacred in ourselves, in one another, and in the world around us. I could go on and on about the power of Thin Places to open us to the reality of the LOVE that we call God. But rather than try to explain how the Christmas stories, parables, myths, metaphors, and symbols create thin places, let me tell you a story designed to create a thin place where together we can see the veil between the scared and the everyday fade away.
It was the day before the day before Christmas and Angela had just about finished decorating her band new swanky apartment on the West-side. Everything was just perfect; each of the decorations had been chosen with such care. Just like all the furniture in her apartment each and every one of the Christmas decorations was brand spanking new. In a couple of hours Angela expected that her apartment would be full of guests. Her guests had been as carefully chosen as each of the items that adorned her apartment. It was all designed to show everyone how very well Angela was doing.
This Christmas, unlike so many other Christmases that Angela had endured, this Christmas everything was going to be perfect. Angela planned to lavishly entertain her guests. The evening’s entertainment was guaranteed to get Angela’s Christmas off to the best of starts. At least here in her lovely new home, Angela would be in control. Unlike the chaos of her family’s Christmas gatherings. All her life, Angela had endured the trials and tribulations of her family’s dysfunctional yuletide gatherings; gatherings that always ended up with various family members arguing over some perceived slight. Tonight, things would be different. Tonight, Angela hadn’t invited a single member of her outrageous family to come and dine. Tonight, Angela’s guests were made up of the great and the good, new friends and work colleagues; people Angela could count on to behave admirably. Tonight, everything would be perfect. All she needed to do to finish off the room, was to assemble the new nativity set that she had just purchased upon her beautiful fireplace mantle. She hadn’t planned to purchase a nativity set, but when she saw the hand-carved, olive- wood nativity set in the window of the swanky gift shop, she just knew that it was perfect. Continue reading →
Every Christmas, the parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols that proclaim the birth of God among us do more than recount the birth of a baby in an ancient faraway land. Every Christmas, these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols proclaim the birth of hope in us; hope not just that some far off supernatural being is going to come and save us from the worst of who we are, but hope that the Source of ALL, the Creator of Universes, the ONE Who IS, WAS, and Every More Shall BE, the ONE in Whom we LIVE and MOVE and Have our Being, this ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, is born over and over again to live and breathe in, with, through, and beyond us. The words just don’t do this reality justice, so we resort to the power of these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols, to move us beyond words so that we might approach the truth of our humanity. It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, is it any wonder that we approach this sacred celebration of who and what we are, by telling stories.
Together, at Christmas, we participate in the birth of a child. We see in the image of a new born baby swaddled in our hopes and dreams. All our longings for LOVE and peace rest in the images that live and breathe in this story that has been handed down to us. It is a story we know so well and yet, it is a story that we have barely begun to understand. Like all stories, we can simply listen to it, or read it, and respond with little more than a nostalgic nod to simpler times when we hoped that someone or something out there, or up there, would come and save us from ourselves, our warring madness, and selfish greed, or we can open ourselves to the transformative power that some stories have and we can boldly dare to participate in the story, engage it, wrestle with it, and make it our own. If we let it, this story can open us to that which lives and breathes beyond the words of the story. The characters in this story can live and breathe and have their being in us.
Sadly, we all too often get bogged down in the words themselves, measuring them and testing them as we try to pinpoint the origins of the words and miss all together the many truths that this story can convey. Some folks never get past arguing about the history. They just can’t seem to understand the power of myth to convey truth. The ancient scribes, who passed this story on to us, knew well the wisdom using mythology to convey truth. So, on this Christmas Eve, in the presence of one another, let us seek the wisdom of the ages remembering that wisdom is a precarious treasure; a treasure that has the ability to enrich our lives. At the heart of this story is a newborn baby. Each and every one of us is wise enough to know that there is nothing like a newborn baby to help you get to the very heart of reality. For who among us can hold a newborn in our arms and not wonder? Awe and wonder is the place where wisdom begins. A newborn baby positively oozes with the aura of the mystery that lies at the very core of reality. Who is this little creature? Where did it come from? How did get here? Who created it? What is it? What is life? What is it all about?Continue reading →
Christmas Eve sermon based on the Gospel readings from Luke 1:26-38; 1:39-55; 2:1-20. I cannot remember where I first heard the story I tell in the sermon. I suspect it is from some sermon I heard long ago because the outline is on a fading piece of foolscap in my barely legible handwriting. I did a quick search and could only discover the was a version of the story in a sermon by Janis B. Scott who does not site her source. My retelling/elaboration of the story is, I hope, a reflection of the MYSTERY that is once again born every holy night.
Christmas Eve reminds me that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, let me tell you a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. The adults in this little boy’s life were somewhat perplexed by the little boy’s desire and did their best to distract him with all sorts of stories about the baby in the manger. They even went so far as to promise to bring the little boy to church on Christmas Eve, where they assured him that there was a chance that there, he could speak to God. But the little boy knew in his heart of hearts that a private meeting with God would be so much better. What he really wanted was quality time with God. He remembered seeing a show on the television about God and Jesus and a bunch of stuff he didn’t understand. The show convinced the little boy that God must live somewhere very far away where there is lots and lots of sand and all the men wear dresses; except for the soldiers, who wear flappy skirts. The little boy decided that this strange land far away, was just the place to go so that he could meet God. He knew that this land must be very far away because he’d never seen it on his travels. So, the little boy decided to pack his back-pack with some food for the long journey. The fact that his Mom had just completed the shopping for their Christmas feasts meant that he had lots of wonderful things to choose from. So, into his back-pack he loaded up a few tubes of smarties, some chocolates shaped like turtles and best of all some always forbidden fruit that came in the form of cans of pop.
With his pack, full of provisions, the little boy set out on his long journey to meet God. When he’d travelled about half a mile or so, he met an old woman. The old woman was sitting on a park-bench staring at some pigeons. The little boy sat down next to the old woman and opened his back-pack. He was just about to take a drink of pop when he noticed that the old woman looked hungry, so he reached back into his pack and produced a tube of smarties, and proudly offered them to her. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled fondly at the little boy. Her smile lit up her whole face. Her smile was so lovely that the little boy just had to see it again, so he offered her some chocolate turtles and a can of pop. Once again, the old woman’s face beamed as she smiled with delight. The little boy was overjoyed.
The two of them sat there on that bench all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it began to grow dark, the boy realized how very tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. That’s when the old woman gave him the biggest smile he had ever seen.
The impending darkness sent the little boy back to the safety of his own home. When he opened his front door, his Mom was surprised by the look of joy on her son’s face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy replied, “I had lunch with God.” And before his Mom could get in a word, he added, “You know what? God has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her grown son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked his mother, “Mum, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties, and Turtles and I drank pop with God.” And before her stunned son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected!”
I’ve always loved this story because it is so delightful to imagine God in the guise of a little boy or as an old woman; almost as delightful as imagining God in the guise of a baby lying in a manger, in a stable, long ago. God comes to us over and over and over again in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of shapes, in all sorts of guises. As Julian of Norwich was fond of insisting, “We are not just made by God, we are made of God.” Think about that for just a moment: We are not just made by God, we are made of God; not just you and I, but each and everyone we met is not just made by God, they are made of God.Continue reading →
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we try to reach beyond the lectionary to the folks who won’t make it to church on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning by forgoing the prescribed readings in favour of reading the entire Birth Narrative.
Click on these links to find sermons I have preached on Advent 4
Readings from the first chapter of Luke included the stories of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth and Mary’s radical song – The Magnificat. Listen to the sermon here
Last night my brother Alan and I were chatting online about Christmases past. We reminisced about the Secret Sam Attaché Case he got the year I had to settle for a Chatty Cathy Doll. My Brother’s toy transformed him into a secret agent allowing him to peer around corners with a Secret Sam periscope, and take photographs, while the case was closed. Alan’s toy transformed him into a spy capable of holding his own in the world of counterespionage, while I had to settle for Chatty Cathy Doll that could only say a few words when I pulled the string on the back of her neck. We both agreed that girls’ toys sucked. That is until the following Christmas when I talked my Dad into buying me my very own microscope and my brother and I spent the holidays looking at pond scum. We would head down to the pond and fill jars with the scummiest water we could find and then head home to look at the microscopic creatures that inhabited this strange little world. While we were chatting, my brother told me about a colleague whose son died quite suddenly last year. Suddenly, without warning the nostalgia of Christmas disappeared as we contemplated the horror of losing a child. For so many families this and every year Christmas is forever transformed from the simple joys of nostalgia to the painful experience of longing for simpler, gentler times, when all Christmas had to do was jingle a bell or two to bring out the child in us. Life is a complicated mystery. Life is full of unanswerable questions. Life is filled with all sorts of experiences and emotions. Yet, every year we look to our Christmas traditions, stories and rituals to open us to the possibility of all the joy and peace that life has to offer.
I ended our chat by sharing a treasured memory of good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I would enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one in which Alistair Sim plays Scrooge. So, last night, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”
No ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I did dream dreams of Christmas’ long ago. You see, Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of these movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you.
When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts? We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well.Continue reading →
There is a meme doing the rounds on the internet that points an accusing finger at today’s readings: It’s a joke of sorts, that begins with the headline: “God Steps Down Amid Sexual Assault Allegations” The joke continues: “God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth will be stepping down as Supreme Lord of the Universe amid allegations of sexual assault from Mary, the mother of his son. In a guest column of the Jerusalem Times, Mary detailed God’s grooming tactics, exploitation of power dynamics, and physical coercion that ultimately resulted in the birth of their son, Jesus.”
There is another meme that’s been going around the church for centuries. Listen, I think you may know it: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, (wait for it….) born of the virgin Mary, … The Apostles’ Creed…As a progressive Christian congregation…we no longer recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship… Nor do we recite the Nicene Creed…
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human.”
In the Evangelical Lutheran Book of Worship and even in the old green Lutheran Book of Worship, the creeds are what is a “may rubric”. Open up your hymnals to page 104
“The Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed may be spoken” The word “may” indicates that the creeds don’t have to be recited, but that they “may be spoken.” The creeds take us back centuries to a time when various factions in the church couldn’t stop arguing about the nature of Jesus’ humanity. These arguments lead to battles in which hundreds and indeed thousands and thousands of people were killed. Historically, the creeds functioned as a kind of laying down of the law, this is what you shall, no “may” about it this with what you “shall” believe. Most Lutheran churches continue to recite the creeds in worship, even though they are a “may rubric”. So, I wasn’t surprised last week, when I attended an ordination service in which our Bishop Michael presided, that I found myself being asked to recite the words of the Apostles’ creed. Nor was I surprised as the congregation around me dutifully recited the words of the Apostles’ creed, that I couldn’t for the life of me, no matter how much I would like to have simply played ball, I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words of the Apostles’ Creed as an act of worship. There’s just something about Mary that trips me up every time I try to say the words, for I do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.
Jesus’ mother may have been many things, but I do not believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. You see, I’ve been to seminary and I have studied the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament and I know that the very best New Testament scholars in the world teach us that our English translations of the Gospels are based on the anonymous gospel storytellers’ incorrect translation of the Hebrew text found in the book of the Prophet Isaiah’s words “Behold the Lord Himself will give you a sign, a Virgin shall conceive and she shall call his name Immanuel.”
The Hebrew word which some men chose to translate as “virgin” is more accurately translated as “young woman” or “young maiden” There is a Hebrew word for “virgin” but that word for “virgin” does not appear in the Hebrew text. Over the centuries the anonymous gospel storytellers’ inaccurate translation has been repeated so many times that Mary’s virginity is now considered “gospel” — pardon the pun. Continue reading →
As is our custom, during the season of Advent we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the Light. Together, in that sacred darkness we hear the voice of the one who cries to us from the wilderness. John the Baptist strides across the Advent stage to point us toward the One who is, was, and evermore shall be the Light. Each of the four Gospels highlights the plaintiff cries of this strange, wildman who shouts to us from the wilderness, which inhabits the darkest recesses of our collective consciences. According to the gospel storytellers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John this harbinger cries out warning everyone to repent, to turn around, to prepare the way for the One who is coming into our midst.
No one knows who wrote the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We can say that Jesus’ disciples did not write them. The names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were given to the books long after they were written. Scholars tell us that the gospel known as Mark is the oldest, written sometime after the year 70, Matthew and Luke are dated somewhere between 80 and 90, and the Gospel according to John was written anywhere between 90 and 120. Last week I told you about the horrific context in which these gospels were written. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 war between Roman and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” The scale of destruction was staggering. According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”. Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the one, true God, and refusing to worship the various caesars and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords.
In the midst of this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising with the destruction of the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism; both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written in the midst of this apocalypse and born of the pain of YAHWEH’s people. The Temple dominates the story of Jesus because the Temple had been destroyed by Rome when the gospels were born.Continue reading →
This 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 →
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 →
The memories described in this sermon were provoked by the writings of Thomas Moore. I am indebted to Moore’s chapter on “The Christmas Tree” in his book “The Soul of Christmas” for opening me to some of the realities of our tree rituals. Dr. Seuss provided the Whos from down in Whoville. you can listen to the audio here or watch the video 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 they 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!
If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there. Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach. At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home. I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence. That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone. In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.
I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.
You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.
I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.
Take a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland. You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror. Continue reading →
There was a young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood. It was the east end of a very large city. Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could. The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish. She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.
Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters. The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys. Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.
Ed had been living on the streets for years. He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot. Ed was a wild man. He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather. Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.
Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived. He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee. They never talked much, though. Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world. The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets. She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading →
Today, 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.Continue reading →
While the world out there is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we here in the church embrace the season of Advent. Our Advent worship invites us to slow down so that we can take a journey into the darkness. Last week, I talked about the importance of darkness in the birthing process; for the seed needs the darkness of the earth to germinate and grow just as surely as we humans need the darkness of the womb to develop. So, as we prepare ourselves to give birth to the Christ, I invite you into the darkness precisely because in the darkness gestation happens and gestation gives rise to birth.
This Advent, our liturgy’s lectionary, the prescribed readings for worship in most mainline congregations, turns to the Gospel According to Mark. All year long, except for a few Sunday’s a reading is selected from the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel of Mark was written in the darkness. We don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Tradition did what tradition often does and this writing was attributed to Mark because it was customary for important writings to be attributed to an important person. The technical term for this is pseudepigrapha; a fancy way of describing the ancient practice of attaching the name of an important person to a piece of writing to ensure that that piece of writing garners some of the respect the name has acquired over the years. That’s why even though the four gospels were written long after the disciples of Jesus were around, each of these gospels bears the name of an Apostle. The gospels were not written by the disciples of Jesus. Scholars tell us that the Gospel according to Mark was written sometime after the year 70. That’s at least 40 years after the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth.Continue reading →
Preaching 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 to 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 →
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! I suspect the Welsh tune HYFRYDOL might also have something to do with my appreciation of this splendid addition to my Advent tradition! Enjoy