War is not an Inevitable Part of Our Reality! – a Remembrance Day sermon

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Yeah right Jesus…have you seen the news? Blessed are the peacemakers.  They better be blessed because all their peacemaking is more than likely going to get them killed than it is to see them heralded as the Children of God!

Today, we commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I. But, since the end of that “War to End All Wars” the world has experienced the horrors of World War II in which millions suffered and died in the Holocaust, and even more millions were killed in battle and it took the dropping of not one but two atomic bombs to put an end to the madness. Since the end of World War II with its genocide upon genocide the world has seen the violence and untold murders perpetrated by the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. More recently repressive regimes together with the greed of capitalist consumption continue to perpetrate violence and genocide upon the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, and the Rohingyas. Refugees fleeing violence are cast as fearsome caravans, and kids just out to enjoy some country music are gunned down in affluent neighbourhoods. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. Jesus hasn’t got a clue. About the only thing peacemakers are likely to inherit is the right to die trying.

Wars and rumors of war are the order of the day. Face it, humans are a violent lot and violence and war aren’t about to end soon. So, I’m sorry Jesus, but this way of life that you keep encouraging us to embrace is only going to get us all or over-run, or enslaved, and killed. But then what would Jesus know? War sure ain’t what it was in Jesus’ day. War has gotten uglier as our means of destruction have gotten more efficient.

Had enough yet? Do you wish you could just find a remote and turn me off? Doom and gloom, just like the news. Over and over again the drumbeats get more and more intense. These are dangerous times. So, be afraid. Be very afraid. We live in the midst of violence and war as horrible as it is, war is a necessary evil. So, before you tune me out, please hear me out. For the times they are a changing.

The truth is our ancestors were far more violent than we are. The truth is, and statistics will bear this out, the truth is that violence has been in decline for years and years and years. Today, dear friends we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ history. So, blessed are the peacemakers because peacemakers will be called the children of God.

Now lest you think that I am suffering from delusions, let me lay out a few facts. For centuries now, violence has been on the decline. I don’t have time to delve into the orders of magnitude in the decline of violence over the centuries. So, let’s just look at the last century. Many of us look back fondly at the good old days, of the last century, because we honestly believe that things are getter worse and not better. But the truth is that since 1945 in Europe and the Americas, there has been a steep decline in: interstate wars, deadly ethnic riots (otherwise known as pogroms), and military coups, worldwide, there has been a steep decline in deaths in interstate wars. Back in those good old days, like the 1950s the average number of deaths in battle stood at about 65,000 deaths per conflict per year. Today, that number has shrunk to less than 2,000 deaths per conflict in a year Don’t get me wrong an average 2,000 deaths per conflict per year is still way too many deaths. But since the end of World War II there has been a 90 percent reduction in deaths resulting from civil wars and genocides; a 90% reduction represents, in the history of violence, a colossal decline in violence and war. (Steven Pinker)

For the sceptics among you, who aren’t that worried about the rumors of war because you’re more concerned about violent crimes in your own neighborhoods, let me just direct your attention to our more violent neighbours to the south. In the US, the FBI compiles what it calls “Uniform Crime Statistics” which tell us that violent crime is going down, in fact in the past ten years crime rates overall have returned to levels last seen in the 1950’s. Canadian statistics are even better. You are far less likely to become the victim of a violent crime than your parents were. As for your grandchildren, they have never been safer than they are right now. That’s what the statistics tell us. As a species we have never experienced such peace. It is unprecedented. (Steven Pinker)

So, why are we living in fear? Statistics indicate that we’ve never been so afraid. Even in Canada, where we once took pride in our military because they were among the world’s most respected peace-keepers, we are responding to our fear, and over and over again we hear calls for us to build up our military, not as peace-keepers but as well-equipped warriors.  We are afraid, we are very afraid.

We are safer than we have ever been. We are living longer than we have ever lived. Statistically, humans have never had it so good. So, why are we living in such fear. Granted, we all know that humans now have the ability to wipe out human life with the kind of efficiency that we have never had. Our weapons have fearsome capacity. But surely, the reductions in violence and war that we have been able to make, might point us in the direction of further reductions in violence and war. Surely, if we find ways to ramp up our efforts, we can capitalize upon the great strides towards peace that we have already made? Continue reading

Lest We Forget – A Peace Remembered

The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.

While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people.  She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies.  You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars. 

The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London. Continue reading

Lazarus: It’s All in the Name! – John 11:32-44

WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.”  and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.

Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.

For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress.  I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”.  I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!

How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear!

I could almost hear Marcus Borg insisting that the two important questions one must ask when trying to get to the heart of any Bible story:

  • Why do you suppose they told this story?
  • Why do you suppose they told this story this particular way?

All these years of struggling to understand this gospel story and getting hopelessly caught up in trying to explain how it is that Jesus might have been able to raise a dead man from the grave. Searching, for some reasonable explanation. Perhaps Lazarus wasn’t really dead. I mean 2000 years ago, if he’d slipped into some sort of state where his heart-rate and breathing slowed down to such an extent that people thought he was dead, well they might have buried him before he recovered. The ancient world is full of stories of people being mistaken for dead. There must be a perfectly good scientific explanation for this story.

Can’t find a reasonable explanation? How about we just settle for reality that we will never know exactly what happened and we will simply have to accept that Jesus was so remarkable a human being that over the years the stories that his followers told were bound to have been exaggerated? I mean, I know how to tell a good story. I know that the secret to a really good story is a kernel of spectacular truth that you weave marvelous details around in order to get to an even more spectacular truth. Remember the bubbles bubbling away. Bubble, bubble, bubble, the bubbles are not the point, what’s happening beneath the bubble, beyond the bubbles.

As Lazarus bubbled to the surface, I finally began to realize that Lazarus is not the point of this story. Then Jesus’ bubbled to the surface, and I began to wonder, maybe Jesus isn’t the point of this story either. Then it was as if the Jesus bubble burst right before my eyes and up through the cosmic ooze came a bubbling crude.  Suddenly I could see power, the amazing power of resurrection, but not Lazarus’ resurrection, not Jesus’ resurrection, not even our resurrection, but resurrection nonetheless. It’s all in the name! Lazarus!

I raced to my Hebrew dictionary. It wasn’t there. No Lazarus to be found. It must be Greek, so I flipped through the pages of my Greek lexicon until there it was Lazarus, the Greek for the Hebrew Eleazar. Eleazar = break it down   El means God. eazar from the verb: to help, God is my help. Ok, maybe, God sure helped Lazarus, but how does that help me?

And then it hit me! Eleazar, the son and successor to Aaron.  Aaron the brother of Moses. All these years of reading and studying this story, how could I have missed it? Aaron the first high priest of the people of Israel and Eleazar is Aaron’s successor. Eleazar the supreme representative of the priesthood who held the office longer than any Jew before or since Jesus. I might have missed it, but there is no way that the people at the turn of the first century would have missed it.

Why would the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John tell this story and why would he tell it this way? Was he trying to tell his listeners something about the priesthood?

New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan reminds us that the stories in the gospels mimic the teaching style of Jesus. Jesus taught through parables. Parables are stories designed to enlighten his listeners to the truth. Dom reminds us that you don’t ask the same questions of parables as you do of history. Nobody ever worries about whether or not the story of the Good Samaritan actually happened, because it makes absolutely no difference whether or not it actually happened because the story tells us something that is true about life. The writers of the New Testament, says Crossan, imitated Jesus’ teaching style and taught their listeners the truth about Jesus using parables about Jesus; parables like the two different birth stories in Luke and Mark. These stories are not history, they are parables designed to teach their listeners that Jesus was very special; more special even than Caesar at whose birth legend has it, a star appeared in the sky. The writers of the gospel communicated the truth about Jesus through story because history hadn’t been invented yet…the concept of history would take several hundred more years to develop.

So, if we look at the story of the raising of Lazarus not as history but as parable, what truth about Jesus can we learn? Well for starters we can stop worrying whether or not it actually happened. The truth in this story doesn’t rely on our ability to believe the unbelievable. Lazarus the very name itself is the biggest clue. The priesthood. The religious authorities of the day were as good as dead. Religion lay rotting in the grave. The religion of Jesus’ people had been killed by the long years of occupation by foreign gods and there was nothing left to pray over but a rotting corpse, a corpse, which Jesus called back to life.

“Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’’ So, they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’  When Jesus had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus , come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’”

Years of occupation from foreigners and their gods had left the priesthood bound and gagged and defensively hovering in the caves of the dead. Jesus wept over the state of Lazarus and called the priesthood out from the dead.

The anonymous gospel-story-teller that we call John let his story bubble up in ways that would have caught the attention of his late first century audiences. As this story bubbles up in us, can we see our own story in this parable? Can we see that Christianity is bound up held captive and lies rotting in a tomb of our own making?

Some say Christianity is dead. Others say Christianity is held captive by those to whom the gospel, the Good News that whatever God is, God is LOVE, is so foreign to them that it’s as if they are following some other god. Others say Christianity is on life support and it’s time to pull the plug. As for me, well I believe that only Jesus can bring Christianity back from the dead. I’m not talking about the Jesus whose been dressed up in foreign clothes, not the vengeful, vindictive, Jesus, or the mealy-mouthed, sweetness and light Jesus. I’m talking about the Jesus that the gospel story-tellers told their stories about. The Jesus that continues to bubble up from within a story that runs deeper than the bubbles. I’m talking about the radical Jesus, the scandalous Jesus, the Jesus who wept over the sorry state of the religion of his people. The Jesus who could not tolerate a society that kept so many people in poverty or the religious establishment who co-operated with the powers that be in order to maintain the status quo. The Jesus who reached out to those on the margins of society and called the rich and the powerful to reach out beyond our comfort zones. The Jesus who abhorred violence and walked in the pathways of peace. The Jesus who was so disgusted with the state of the priesthood that he turned the tables in the temple. The Jesus who preaches the radical gospel that God is LOVE and that loving God is about loving our neighbours and loving our enemies. This Jesus who preaches love, compassion and grace and not judgment, tyranny and hate. This Jesus has the power to call Christianity out from the depths to which we have sunk.

When the Gospel According to John was written, the Temple had been destroyed and many of the Jewish people had escaped Jerusalem and the followers of the Jesus escaped Jerusalem. Just as Jesus reached into the riches of the Jewish tradition so too did the religious authorities of who escaped to Jabneh who reached into the riches of their Jewish tradition and out of the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judiasm and Christianity. Out of this experience we reached into the depths of the best of who we can be, the best in the Jewish tradition and the best that was developing in the Christian tradition and out of that new life was resurrected.

For us, the followers of Jesus, Jesus can bring life where there is death. This Jesus knew nothing of the church’s theologies or doctrines. Jesus knew nothing of the doctrine of the fall, or of original sin, or the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian creeds, or of judgments based on these well-intentioned attempts to sort out who and what Jesus was and is. Jesus was a good Jew who understood that the Creator of all that is and ever shall be loved creation and all its creatures and this being, this Creator, this Source, this YAHWEH this great I AM, the one Jesus called his ABBA,  continues to love creation and all its creatures and so this Jesus understood himself as someone who comes that we might have life and live it abundantly.

And so, on this All Saints Sunday, we should all take a good look in the mirror and see what this Jesus would see in us. Each time we look into a mirror we must remember that in everyone, Jesus saw a beautiful, beloved, child of God. Now, more than ever we need to see ourselves as beautiful, beloved, children of God, saints, sacred, holy, children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must look beyond our mirrors and see everyone as beloved children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must be able to look into the eyes of those we see as enemy, into the eyes of those we fear, into the eyes of the stranger and we need to see in those eyes a beautiful, beloved child of the MOST HOLY, a saint, sacred, holy, child of the ONE who is LOVE.

Friends, Jesus is weeping. Can we hear Jesus calling out from the dead? Can we be called from the dead? Surely, it is time to let the dead bury the dead. Let the worst of our religions die.  Let those things in Christianity that have caused pain and agony in the world, die.  Let us  come out from the tombs we have made and unbind one another from our respective grave clothes so that we can dance and sing? So that we can dance to the life around us! So that we can rejoice in your sainthood! It’s all in the name. And the name is LOVE.

 

All Saints – Giving thanks for the Divine in One-another!

All Saints’ Day is a day for remembering.  The word saint simply means “holy”. In the New Testament, all those who believe and were baptized were referred to as saints. It wasn’t until round about the third century that the church began using the word saint to refer to those who had been martyred for the faith. Over time these martyred saints were held up for veneration and people used to pray to them to intercede on their behalf. I’m not going to go into all of the institutional abuses that led Martin Luther and the later reformers to abolish the veneration of the saints. Except to say, that while the Reformation put an end to the veneration of the saints in the protestant churches, it did not abolish the concept of sainthood.

Within the mainline protestant denominations, we use the term in much the same way as it was used in the New Testament to describe the faithful. We talk about the communion of saints to describe all the faithful who have gone before us who now rest in God, together with all the living who walk in faith. So today as we celebrate the saints, we give thanks for all the faithful those living and those who have gone before us.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Joyce of Belfast. St. Joyce who in her own way taught her children to love God and to pray always. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Joyce of Belfast, my Mom, who was the first to teach me the Lord’s Prayer, and who puts flesh on Christ’s command that we love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

Today I remember and give thanks for the life and witness of St. John of Wales, whose life in the church as a choir-boy was followed by long years of self-exile and whose keen wit and lack of patience with hypocrisy instilled in me a desire for honesty and integrity in the articulation and living of the faith. I give thanks for St. John, my Dad, whose open heart has stretched his discerning mind and enabled many to see the humour in this God-given life we live.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Valerie of Ladner. St. Valerie so loved and feared God that she dared to reach out and invite a wayward soul to come and worship God. St. Valerie sang God’s praise, rejoiced in the communion of saints and helped a young friend find a home in God’s holy church. And so toady, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Valerie, my high school friend, who was the first to invite me to come and worship God.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Wilton of Lunenburg. St. Wilton loved God all the days of his life and served God with gladness and distinction. St. Wilton went far beyond his call as pastor, he opened up the scriptures to those who eagerly sought the truth of God’s Word with love and dedication and he went on to inspire a diligence to scholarship that nurtured the faith of so many young people. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Wilton, my first pastor, who taught me to be uncompromising in my study of the scriptures, and steadfast in my love for God.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Lola of Washington. St. Lola whose appreciation for God’s grace overflowed in her love for the world. St. Lola whose desire to share God’s grace and truth, led her to give of her time and talent to the care and redemption of so many young seekers. St. Lola whose love for God’s creation inspired her to teach so many of us to give thanks to God for all that God has made. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Lola, my mentor in the faith, who taught me to love as I have been loved.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Fritz of Chicago. St. Fritz whose dedication to the Word of God was displayed in all he did. St. Fritz who opened so many minds to the beauty of God’s ways, who taught, inspired and entertained as he sought to reveal  the wonders of God’s unimaginable grace. St. Fritz who taught me that no question is unaskable for it is God who blessed us with minds and who bids us to use them in our love for God and for one another. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Fritz, my friend, who was the first to call me to the ordained ministry of Word and sacrament.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God, for the life and witness of St.s Sharon and Irene of Pt. Roberts, St. Ellen of Lonsdale, St.s Jerry and Daniel of Minnesota, St. Nancy of Seattle, St. Anne of Vancouver, St. Donald of UBC, St.s  Carol, John, Eduard, and Donna of Waterloo, and for the great cloud of witness both living and dead who have testified to God’s love in my life.

Toady, I give thanks and praise to God for the cloud of witnesses who gather to worship God and to love one another in the parish I serve. I give thanks for all the glorious saints of Holy Cross who have nourished, challenged and helped me to grow in Christ.

Today, I encourage each and every one of you, to remember and rejoice, as you give thanks to God for the great cloud of witnesses who have been a blessing to you; who have revealed God’s love to you; who have taught you God’s holy Word of truth; who have loved you, nourished you, challenged you and inspired you to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbours as you love yourself.

Who are the saints in your life? Think about the saints who revealed God’s love to you. Remember and rejoice for by their love, they taught you God’s Word, and taught you to celebrate God’s grace. Remember and rejoice in the saints of God, who are responsible for having passed the gifts of faith on to each of us. Saints who you may never read about in the church history books, but saints who by their life and witness managed to reveal a measure of God’s amazing grace to the world.

These saints of God who are so dear to us and so precious to God, are just ordinary folks who in the course of seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, in striving to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, they ended up touching our lives in ways that changed us and had a profound effect on who we are today.

Today is a day for remembering and rejoicing in the communion of saints. Today is a day for giving thanks to God for their lives and for the witnesses that they have been and are in our lives. But today is also a day for looking around us to discover our own place in the communion of the saints. Take just a moment to think about how people will remember and give thanks for your sainthood. Whose faith have you nourished? Whose faith will you nourish? How will you nourish people in the faith? What role are you prepared to play in the Communion of Saints?

          The Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III says it well listen to St. Otis preach it!