In 1972, I was fifteen years old and the number one song on the radio was “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy. We sang it with such power and conviction because “I Am Woman” had become our anthem; the anthem for a generation of women. So, we sang determined to blaze trails for ourselves that would ensure that women all over the world would be counted as equal. The year that I graduated from high school (1975) the United Nations declared as “The Year of the Woman” and they chose our anthem, “I Am Woman” as the theme song and once again “I Am Woman” rose to the top of the charts.
As I grew into my womanhood and explored the contours of feminism my sisters were “Doin It In the Streets,” marching for equality, demanding equal rights, and yes, we burned our bras. In the midst of the battle for equal rights for women and girls, the advertising industry announced proudly, “You’ve come a long way baby!” as they rolled out a cigarette designed just for woman (Virginia Slims); packaged and marketed just for women. “You’ve come a long way baby, so stop all your hooting and a hollerin. Settle down, it’ll happen! Don’t shout! Don’t be so angry you feminists! You don’t need to be a feminist. If you want to get ahead, just play the game.” So, I bought a power suit and I learned to do it better, and smarter, and faster than the men did it. So that I could make half as much as the men did.
Later, much later, when I realized that the business that I was in wasn’t making me happy and I discovered my true vocation, I knew that if I was gong to be taken seriously as a “woman pastor” I would have to study very, very, hard. So, I read more books than my male classmates did, went to more lectures, took more classes, earned more credits, explored more possibilities and managed to graduate from seminary at the top of my class. When I graduated from seminary in 1998, my bishop out in British Columbia, told me that although there were vacancies in his Synod, “none of those vacancies would translate into a call for a woman.” The rest as they say, is history, not her-story, but his-story.
B.C.’s loss was my gain and thanks to the good folks of Holy Cross, I was called to the best place in the world and in the past sixteen years we have come a long way baby. So maybe there’s no need to write about International Women’s Day. After all, we’ve been there, most of us have bought the T-shirt all of the women in my life are strong and invincible and all of the men of are feminists. We’ve come a long way baby. So, let’s just cheer Jesus on as he turns the tables over in the Temple. It is tempting to give Women’s Day a miss. I have come a long way. Baby! But I am white and I am wealthy. I am a person of privilege; the privilege of my race and the privilege of my class, mean that I can say I’ve come a long way baby and mean it. But the world that I live in may be bought and paid for by the blood, and sweat, and tears, of the countless women who continue to suffer in the oppressive systems and structures that enslave more than half of the world’s population. Our wealth, class, and race, may insulate us from the pain of our sisters, but even we can fall victim to violence and economic hardships that generations of discrimination have enshrined in our society. Those of us who enjoy the privileges that enable us to insulate ourselves from the harsh reality of economic abuse are just moments away from the dangers of physical violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and poverty in our old-age. There are lots and lots of reasons not to bother preaching to the converted about International Women’s Day. Sadly, there are millions and millions of reasons to preach loudly, long, and passionately about the plight of women in the world.
Equal pay for equal work, most of us agree, a few continue to hesitate, despite the fact that there are countless economic studies that demonstrate the equal pay for equal work is good for men as well as women. In 2015, the United Nations communique declared that at the current rate it will take seventy years for women to reach pay equity and that includes Canada, the United States and Europe; seventy years! Continue reading
Thursday March 8, 2018 is International Women’s Day. The appointed gospel reading for the third Sunday of Lent is from John 2:13-22 which recounts the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. My hope is that in this the year of Me Too, preachers might be inclined to tune their sermons to reflect Jesus’ liberating power! This sermon was first preached in 2012; fortunately the government in Canada has changed since then and great strides have been made. But there is much more work to be done!!! I was inspired to write this by the work of Beverly Wildung Harrison and the prophetic witness of Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911. It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Women have come a long way since 1911. Sadly, we must all confess that women have a long way to go before we achieve our vision of a world in which all people have equal access to opportunity. There is much for us to celebrate on this particular International Women’s Day and there is also much to lament. In our world the phrase “war on women” is bandied about by the media and each time I hear it anger rises in me and it is all I can do to stop myself from screaming. In our own country we have watched the steady erosion of hard one gains as our federal government continues to cut funding to women’s organizations and continues to refuse to launch a federal inquiry into the disappearance of far too many of our aboriginal sisters. Any serious reflection on the plight of women in the world makes my blood boil and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just follow Jesus’ example because maybe if we turn over a few more tables in the halls of power we might be able to draw some serious attention to the abuses perpetrated upon women for the sake of maintaining the status quo.
The story of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple has always intrigued me. The idea that Jesus could have become so angry with religious authorities for cooperating with the violent and oppressive, Roman Imperial system that he would create such a scene in the Temple is so far from the image of Jesus as the meek and mild long-haired peace-nick that we’ve all come to take for granted.
For generations, biblical commentators have gone to great pains to ensure that any hint of Jesus humanity is scrubbed clean from interpretations of this story. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. Jesus was a human being and therefore he was subject to normal human emotions. But the institutional church frowns upon anger. Indeed, in many places one can still find anger listed as one of the seven deadly sins. “ira” which can be translated as anger or wrath made the list of seven deadly sins. This list is often attributed to the early Christians. Indeed, there are those who would argue that these sins are biblical. However, they are actually the work of a 4th century monk named Evagirus Ponticus, whose nickname was Evagrius the Solitary. He spent most of his adult life living as a hermit in the desert. I suspect that if a modern psychologist were to take a brief look of Evagrius’ personal biography they could very quickly make a diagnosis of clinical depression. Evagrius himself prescribed tears as the pathway to God and was known to have spent days at a time alone and weeping profusely. He is best known for his writings on the various forms of temptation, which the institutional church latched onto with a vengeance. His original list included eight deadly sins. But the church erased “sadness” from the list and elevated the seven deadly sins to the category of mortal sins. Mortal sins were those sins that actually placed one’s soul in danger of eternal damnation. Continue reading
Lent 2B – Mark 8:31-38 this sermon is inspired by my study of the work of Dr. Cornel West. His words flow through the lines of this sermon and his prophetic imagination provides the hope-filled vision of LOVE parading around the world as justice.
Listen to the sermon here
The anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark, wants us to know that: “Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the one the oppressed people of Israel had been longing for, waiting for, expecting, hoping for, the Promised One, had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later.” Furthermore, the gospel storyteller makes it absolutely clear, “if you, wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, you must pick up your cross and follow in my footsteps.” Those of us who have the audacity to call ourselves Christian, those of us who seek to follow Jesus, must deny our very selves, we must pick up our cross, and we must follow in the footsteps, of Jesus. Follow in the footsteps of the ONE who is understands that he must suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the pillars of society, the powerful religious leaders and the scholars, follow in the footsteps of the One who understood that rejection meant that he would have to be put to death, and rise again. Quick change the channel. There must be something better on offer than this.
Change the channel, I can’t stand to watch this one again. I’ve seen it before. The hero, the beloved, the freedom fighter, justice seeker, peace maker, that one, the one we’re all rooting for, our saviour, suffers and dies. Change the channel, I’m not up for this. Don’t give me Jesus. I don’t want Jesus. I don’t want anybody telling me that suffering and death are the inevitable; especially my suffering, and my death. Change the channel. There must be something better out there.
I don’t want to know. Distract me. Distract me from the pain and the suffering. Change the channel. Find me something more interesting, more uplifting, more hopeful, more cheerful. Continue reading
That I should serve as the pastor of a church called Holy Cross is ironic. You see for years and years, before I ever dreamed of being the pastor of a church named Holy Cross, I’ve been trying to figure out how crosses became so popular. Personally, I can’t abide crosses! I hate them! I can’t abide the glorification of an instrument of torture and death! I have never understood why crosses are worn as jewelry! People would never dream of wearing an electric chair around their neck. I cannot for the life of me, imagine that any of Jesus’ followers would have ever considered wearing the symbol of Roman tyranny and persecution around their necks.
The early followers of the way; the first Christians used the fish as the symbol of their faith. For a very long time, I used to wear a simple fish necklace that a little girl made for me. Just before I went to seminary, my friend gave me a slightly more elaborate necklace with even more fish on it. Before I was ordained, I insisted that I’d never wear a cross. But then as an ordination gift my wife Carol had her son design a cross that is made up of fish and I must admit that it’s difficult to see this fish cross as an instrument of torture. But then I read a passage like the Gospel text from Mark 8:27-38 and once again the cross becomes a symbol of torture. In this text, the gospel-storyteller we call Mark has Jesus insist that, “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross an follow me.” All I can say is “Woa, wait just a minute Jesus. Take up my cross and follow you. Wait a minute; I know where you’re going. You’re on your way to Jerusalem and I know exactly what’s going to happen when you get there. You are going to stir things up, get yourself into trouble, upset the powers that be and the next thing you know they are going to nail you to the cross and you are going to suffer and die. If I pick up my cross and follow Jesus, I’m going to end up right there with Jesus, hanging from my cross, suffering and dying and for what? What’s it all about Jesus? Why are you so hell-bent on getting yourself crucified and why do you want me to join you?” Continue reading
This year, we at Holy Cross are giving up God for Lent. Letting go of our carefully crafted and tightly held images of the ONE who IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING is a daunting task. To aid us on our journey, we have decided to radically alter the way we worship together. It is a scary proposition for a pastor to venture out on a journey without the familiar trappings of familiar liturgy. Gone are the vestments, the prescribed lectionary readings, and the familiar words. The sermon is broken up into three short homilies. There are flowers in the sanctuary during Lent! The congregation is encouraged to move around the sanctuary. You can peruse my notes for the service in the pdf of my missal here. You can also watch the videos of the homilies – our videorgrapher is enjoying the Family Day weekend – so my head is missing from the first parts but thanks to a volunteer’s intervention my head is restored in the third video. It was quite a beginning to what promises to be an exciting journey.
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck. And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen. Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase. The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.
Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.
Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck. It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.
When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee.
Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago. She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart. Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy. Is that right?”
Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”. Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gently, but firmly said: “Let it go, child. Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)
In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament. Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure. My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness. Continue reading
This sermon is inspired by the work of Dr. Cornel West whose words and challenges infuse this sermon with courage and passion. The questions which frame the challenges are from W.E.B du Bois as quoted by Cornel West. Listen to the sermon here
On Ash Wednesday, this week, we began the season of Lent. Traditionally the Lent is a season for contemplation, repentance, confession, and self-denial designed to prepare us for Holy Week. 40 days, not counting Sundays because all Sundays are a celebration of resurrection, 40 days leading up to our commemoration of Jesus’ death and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 40 days inspired by the stories recounted by the gospel storytellers known as Mark, Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, which of course are patterned after the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about Moses spending 40 nights on Mt Sinai, or the 40 days and nights it rained in the story of Noah and the flood, or the 40 years the Hebrew people spent wandering in the desert.
The gospel-storytellers cast Jesus out into the desert where he encounters Satan, the personification of evil. The first Sunday in Lent always includes a reading from one of these three gospel-storytellers about Jesus’ encounter…..this year our lectionary follows Mark, which you heard as our first reading. I’ve chosen the version out of Matthew for our gospel reading because it expands further on Jesus encounter with the personification of evil.
For several weeks now, our Adult Study Class has been ReThinking the concept of Evil; that is we have been looking at evil in light of all the ReThinking of Christianity that we have been doing for the past several years. How does our evolving Christian theology change the way we think of evil? Once you move beyond the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall from grace as the prevailing explanation for the existence of evil in the world, from whence cometh the problem of evil. So, in preparation for those classes I’ve had the privilege of delving into the subject of evil. I’ve spent weeks, no months now, but it feels like years now, researching the topic of evil. I get all the fun jobs around here.
Turns out most of us don’t really believe in Satan. Sure, the guy still haunts the deepest darkest recesses of our psyche’s – both our personal psyche and our collective psyche. But when push comes to shove, we’ve confined Satan to the pits of hell, which of course we all know doesn’t exist anywhere but in our collective imaginations. What we have here in this morning’s story, is metaphor heaped upon metaphor. Metaphors are those things we use when we don’t really have words to adequately describe particular phenomenon. Meta which means beyond and phor which means words, metaphor means beyond words and that works both ways. Metaphors describe those things that are beyond words and when looking at metaphors we are supposed to look beyond the words of the metaphor itself. Satan is used to describe that which is beyond words and we need to look beyond the word Satan itself to understand the metaphor of Jesus encounter with Satan.
The gospel-storytellers place the story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. Baptism was and is a public act; a sort of declaration of intent to be a certain kind of person. Jesus is about to step into his life as a public teacher. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist who preached a baptism of repentance; repentance means to turn around, to turn from the direction you’ve been going, to turn around toward God so that you might live in God, recognizing that God lives in you. No sooner does Jesus engage in this public act which sets him up as a committed follower of YAHWEH in a world where committed followers of YAHWEH where hanging on crosses all over the place; no sooner does Jesus set himself up against the powers-that-be than he is driving by the Spirit into the wilderness where the personification of evil, Satan himself pays Jesus a visit for the sole purpose of enticing Jesus to follow Satan and not YAHWEH. Isn’t that always the way? Each and every time we resolve to follow one path, someone or something comes along and entices us to follow another. When that someone is the personification of Evil himself, well who else would be up to the task of tempting Jesus other than Satan himself. The gospel-storytellers are setting up a battle of cosmic proportions between good and evil. Our very lives write large upon the canvass of the heavens themselves, cause you know the big guy up in the sky and all the heavenly host will be watching this one; just as they tune in each and every time we are come face to face with the choice between good and evil. What better way to begin a season, which encourages contemplation, repentance, and confession? Continue reading
I find myself wishing that we were entering some other season of the church year. Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.
Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first Sunday of Lent. OH goodie! We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”
Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent. And I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century.
It is so easy for us to lean not on the ever-lasting arms of Jesus but on the scales of St. Anslem and find ourselves not looking forward to the promise of resurrection and the gifts of eternal life, but rather dreading judgment day knowing that the scales of justice must be balanced and fearing the moment of truth when our sins are piled onto the scale and knowing that our only hope for reconciliation with our Maker is that Jesus is sitting on the other end of the scale. Woe is me. Woe is me. For I am sinful. My sins are too numerous to count. There’s all the things I have done and all the things I have left undone. Thank God Jesus died for me. Somebody had to pay the price for my sinfulness. Jesus died for a reason, and you and I dear sisters and brothers are that reason. A blood sacrifice had to be paid. God’s justice demanded it and Jesus paid the price with his very own blood. Jesus took our place up there on that cross and the least you and I can do to say thank-you is to spend some time shouldering our own crosses as we retrace Jesus steps to Jerusalem. Continue reading
The gospel reading that is assigned for Ash Wednesday troubles me. Every year, when I sit down to prepare the Ash Wednesday service, I can’t help but wonder why the powers that be chose this particular reading for Ash Wednesday. There’s something odd about hearing the words ascribed to Jesus, telling us to pray secretly in our rooms and to brush our hair and wash our face so that no one will know what we are up too on a day when we gather together to pray and mark ourselves smack dab on the middle of our foreheads with ashen crosses so that everyone who sees us will know that we’ve just been worshiping. The juxtaposition of Jesus’ calling us to secrecy and this public display of piety is more than a little peculiar.
Like most preachers, I usually ignore the obvious tension between the gospel reading and our traditional Ash Wednesday worship practices. I usually do what I’ve been taught to do which is to focus our attention on our mortality. Ash Wednesday is the moment in the church year where we remember that none of us gets out of this life alive. From dust we came to dust we shall return. But after 19 years of digging around in the ashes, I thought I would shift my focus and wander around in the gospel reading to see if I could begin to understand something of what it might offer us as we embark on our Lenten journey.
My initial impressions of this text made me uncomfortable. As someone whose job requires that I pray in public, the idea that I share this activity with hypocrites who “love to pray standing in synagogues and on street corners for people to see them,” well this alone gives me pause to wonder. But that’s not what troubles me most about this reading: “when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to God who is in the secret place, and your Abba God—who sees all that is done in secret—will reward you.” I hear a call to intimacy in these words. This call to intimacy stirs my own desires for intimacy with our ABBA God. I long to spend time in this “secret place” where God IS.
I must confess that travelling to this secret place is not something that I do often enough. And so, this call to go to my room, shut the door, and pray, inspires more than a little guilt in me. I know that prayer is time spent in the presence of the Divine. In my mind, it is easy to rationalize by saying that prayer is a way of living, conscious that we live, and move, and have our being in God. But in my heart, there’s a desire for the kind of intimacy that I have experienced at various times in my life; the kind of intimacy that even just remembering it, nourishes, grounds, and sustains me in ways that are beyond words. This intimacy with the Divine is alluring but life itself is demanding and so there never seems to be enough time to go there to that secret place. Continue reading
Audio only version here
Are you all ready for Valentine’s Day? I am. I have to be ready because this year Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday. There are all sorts of other things vying for my attention on Ash Wednesday. So, my love and I will celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday, and pancakes lends itself more easily to being transformed into Valentine’s Day than Ash Wednesday does with talk about remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
My preparations for Valentine’s Day have me thinking about love songs. A few years back, when Peter Rollins was here, he suggested that we needed to employ more love songs in worship. I think that’s why every time I tried to write today’s sermon, I’ve been plagued by an ear worm. I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head, so rather than fight it any longer, I want to share my ear worm with you. It’s an old song, an “Old Fashioned LOVE Song,” that I first heard playing on the radio, back in 1975. Anybody remember the group Three Dog Night? Listen to my ear worm: Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.
That old fashioned love song was playing in my head every time I tried to climb up onto the mountaintop with Jesus. Each time I ventured into the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark’s vision of Jesus on the mountaintop, I heard the electric guitars of Three Dog Night. Those old cords summoned up the year 1975, the year that I graduated from high school. I was just 17 years old. I had precious little idea who I was when I was 17, I knew even less about what love is, but I sure thought I knew who Jesus was. I was hopelessly in love with Jesus. And even though I can’t carry a tune, I sang all sorts of love songs to Jesus. One of those love songs, I bet you all remember.
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
Now that’s what I call an old-fashioned love song. I can’t tell you how often I sang this love song to my beloved Jesus. Nor can I tell you how much my beloved Jesus has changed over the years. That naïve 17-year-old girl who sang it way back when, well she may not have known who she was, but she was absolutely sure who Jesus was. But the Jesus that she was so sure that she knew is a far cry from the Jesus she knows today. I think have a better idea about who I am today, and I suspect that I have a much better idea about who Jesus is. But I know that who I am today, is not who I will be in the years to come and I trust that who Jesus is will continue to change. Lovers always do. Think about the one with whom you share the deepest of intimacies. Think about how it was when you first became intimate with one another. Now think about the intimacy you share today. That quality of the intimacy has changed. As love grows deeper, fuller, we are blessed with new ways of seeing, of knowing, of touching, of loving. Continue reading
Readings include 2 Kings 2:1-14; Mark 9:2-10
Listen to the sermon here
When I was a kid the scepter of nuclear annihilation hung over the world’s psyche. Children were not immune to the images of mushroom clouds rising in the distance that held the power to destroy entire populations. I can still remember classroom drills in which we were instructed in the fine art of what to do if a nuclear missile was on its way. We practiced hiding under our desks. Our desks were supposed to protect us from a nuclear blast. It sounds funny now. But I remember the day that I put two and two together. We were watching a film of a nuclear test out in the desert of Nevada which showed dummies being blown away by the nuclear blast; dummies that were miles away from ground zero. It was then that I realized that our teachers were lying to us and that if the big one came our way we would all be blown to smithereens. If we got lucky and ground zero was just far enough away, we would all suffer the effects of radiation sickness. Images of rotting flesh on the bodies of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki haunted me and my fear spawned cries of outrage which developed into anger; anger that was embodied in my politics.
I was a very angry teenager. At the time, I believed that my anger was the result of the state of the world and I resolved to change the world. Ah the innocence of youth. It has taken decades and a whole lot of therapy for me to understand that my anger came from a deeper and darker place that rivaled the world’s warring madness. I was in fact a very lonely teenager. We moved around a lot. Every year of my life there had been a new school to contend with. Friendships were fleeting at best. The pain of moving from place to place left me longing for something I didn’t even know how to describe, and that pain came out as anger; anger which I directed at every adult who crossed my path, especially if that adult was in a position of authority. It didn’t take me very long to learn that anger isn’t exactly socially acceptable. So, I tried my best to bottle it all up. Until the day, I discovered what a lot of young people discover: the love affair between anger and politics. So, I took up the cause of my day and became an angry protester who actively fought the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
I was 13 in 1970 when Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver and I was there in the Pacific Coliseum at their very first fundraiser. My parents knew nothing about it. My friends and I hitchhiked into the big city to join all those who were protesting the nuclear tests that the Americans were carrying out on the Island of Amchitka. Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs headlined the concert that launched Greenpeace onto the world stage. So, inspired were we that we spent most of the following year organizing a student strike.
In 1971 at the tender age of 14, I was on the organizing committee of the very first High School strike in Canadian history. We managed to convince over 9,000 high school kids from all over the Greater Vancouver Area to walk out of their classrooms and march down to the American Consulate and demand that they put an end to the nuclear testing on Amchitka.
Those were the days my friends. We were going to change the world. Stop the bomb and put an end to the war in Vietnam. Feed the hungry, end racism. What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!
Peace now! Was our rallying cry. Looking back, I realize that I wouldn’t have recognized peace if it broke out in front of me. There was so little peace in my life at home. As for the life inside of me, well that was so full of turmoil that peace would probably have driven me to madness. The only thing stopping me from going insane was my focused anger at the injustices in the world. As long as I could rage against the world, I didn’t have to listen to the demons that were raging inside of me.
Then one day, I started hanging out with a gang. I haven’t got time to go into the details of my involvement with this gang; suffice it to say, if I knew what this gang was all about I would never have gotten involved with them. The kids in this particular gang all had one thing in common; the Lutheran church. These kids were part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’ve never heard of before; a retreat. A weekend at a place called Camp Luther. Somehow, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. Continue reading
Listen to the sermon here
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, I found myself studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done here on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach to you about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. Then two things happened on Thursday that transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.
Where once my images were shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the experiences I had on Thursday have transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of God beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. The first thing that happened on Thursday, happened not just to me but to the whole world.
You see on Thursday, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”
NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…
As I struggled to wrap my brain around the reality of what has been discovered, our little grand-daughters came for a sleepover.Audrey is three and Evelyn is two and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I’d almost forgotten all about Trappist 1 when I found myself leaning over little Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler. After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.
Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. Continue reading
AUDIO ONLY VERSION HERE
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” In the morning, while it is still very dark, I can often be found sitting in my home office clutching a warm mug of coffee. Some of my most creative hours occur just before dawn, as do some of me least creative hours. Staring at a blank computer screen, hoping against hope that the Spirit will inspire me with new insights, my vision is often distracted by the rising sun. My computer sits in front of huge bank of windows that face the eastern sky. I have seen some spectacular sunrises beyond my computer’s screen. No matter what task I am feverishly trying to complete, the blinding light of the sun always causes me to stop what I’m doing, reach for my coffee and pray. More often than not, I pray for this congregation. I pray for each and every one of you. I pray for the work we do together. I pray about the challenges we face together. I pray for the concerns you have expressed for the people in your lives. I pray about the various afflictions that trouble you. I often pray for the wisdom to respond to your needs. I also pray for healing and I pray that the demons that haunt us will be driven out. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
I know, right, I’m a progressive Christian pastor. I have long since stopped believing in a God who intervenes in our lives like some kind of grand puppeteer in the sky. So, why do I pray? To whom do I pray? And, what do I expect my prayers to accomplish? If there’s no Big Guy upstairs or out there who is waiting to hear and answer my prayers, and if Jesus isn’t some sort of super-human miracle-worker, who intervenes on my behalf, then why bother praying at all?
Let me say this very clearly, because sometimes I think that people get the wrong idea about what it means to be a progressive Christian: just because our ideas about who God is are changing and we no longer see Jesus as some sort of super-human healer, that does not mean that progressive Christians no longer believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer! I believe that prayer has worked and continues to work miracles! I pray fully expecting that prayer can make a difference. My prayers do not address a personified being. My prayers take the form of contemplation of the needs and concerns that rise up in me.
I would be the first person to sympathize with anyone who finds it difficult to understand how prayer fits into the ways in which we are just beginning to speak about who and what God might be. As our notions about God change, so do our notions about Jesus. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. But when we begin to see God as something other than a grand-puppeteer in the sky, who pulls all our strings, the way in which we see Jesus changes as well. This is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us convince the grand-puppeteer to heal someone, or something in our lives. Sometimes, usually when I’m up against something that frightens me, I really miss that old sky-god, and I long to walk in the garden alone with Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what we are supposed to do once we begin to move beyond personifying the LOVE that we call God, how and why do we pray?
So, as a progressive Christian, how do I think prayer works? The truth is, I simply don’t know how prayer works. Prayer remains a mystery to me. I cannot do anything more than speculate and like all speculation, I am fully aware that I may have it all wrong.
I may not know how prayer works, but I suspect that prayer works because the power to heal one another is ours. I have come to believe that part of being human, is the power to heal one another, to heal the planet, and to heal the world. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth loved so fully that he was able to access the power of his humanity to heal others.
I also know that healing takes many forms. There is a tremendous, largely unheralded power in the bonds between people, in the gentle touch we can offer one another, in the hospitable presence of the LOVE we can extend to both our friends and even to our enemies. I believe that the power that lies in the bonds that exist between us, is the power we access when we pray. I believe that whatever God is, exists in, with, through, and beyond the bonds that connect us to one another.
There’s a story that has always intrigued me that illustrates this reality. You can find the story in a book called “Outliers,” written by Malcolm Gladwell, who also wrote “The Tipping Point.” It’s the story of a modern-day miracle that takes place in a small American town.
Roseto, is a small working-class town in Pennsylvania that was founded back in the late 19th century. From its founding to the late 1950’s it was populated by Italian immigrants from a town also called Roseto in Italy. Roseto would have remained a relatively obscure little town had it not been for the work of a medical school professor called Steward Wolf. While attending a medical conference Professor Wolf met a GP from a town very near Roseto who told him that he’d been practicing medicine for 17 years and in all that time very few patients ever came to see him from Roseto who were under the age of 65 and were suffering from heart disease. Professor Wolf was very surprised by this, because in the 1950’s heart attacks were epidemic in the United States. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in men under 65. So, Professor Wolf decided to investigate. Colleagues and students from his medical school were recruited and they analyzed the medical records of the inhabitants of Roseto.
The entire population was tested and re-tested. The results were astonishing. No one under 55 had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. Indeed, the death rate from all causes in Roseto was 30 to 35% lower than the national average. Wolf’s team broadened their research and brought in sociologists and members of other academic disciplines. They found there were no suicides, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. Continue reading
Six years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of six years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fifth sermon in the series:
Prayer #5 – Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human! preached on Epiphany 5B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here
Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Colossians 3:14-15; Mark 1:29-39
Usually, the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing the sick leave me wanting more. They usually seem so incomplete. I have always wanted more details about how exactly Jesus was able to heal those who were sick. Usually, the stories about Jesus healing are read or referenced by the notion that Jesus was some sort of miracle-worker and we are predisposed to believe that Jesus had miraculous powers; that he was somehow able to harness the healing power of God and dispense it at will. We are encouraged to believe that that very same power is available to us if only we figure out exactly how to cozy up to Jesus and ask him in just the right way to heal us or heal those we love. But these stories found in the earliest of the Gospels and attributed to an early follower of the Way known as Mark, don’t portray Jesus as a miracle-worker at all.
I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breath, when the time came, I got myself up out of bead, and whoa-presto, it was as if the power of Elton John’s name had cured me and I was able to follow the Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, together with my friends I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother, the sheer power of all the rumors she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power that lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons isn’t difficult to believe. Lets face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional illnesses, so Jesus ability to cure people who are disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch. But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways that portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of God. Because after all, our image of God is that God is some sort of super-human miracle-worker. So for generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we look to God to cure all that ails us. And so we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. So, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change also. Continue reading