LOVE that IS God: a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13

LOVE in the World?A sermon for Epiphany 4C – listen to the sermon here

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. In the words of Joanie Mitchell, “I’ve looked at love from both sides now. From win and lose and still somehow, it’s love’s illusions I recall I really don’t know love at all.” The Apostle Paul, who by most accounts, knew precious little about love, is responsible for passing on to generation after generation, one of the greatest love poems ever written. 1stCorinthians 13 is without a doubt the most popular reading at Western Weddings, as brides and grooms whether they are Christians, pseudo-Christians, non-Christians, or simply influenced by Hallmark sentimentality, confidently select this passage to celebrate their love for one another.  Most preachers have to stop ourselves from rolling our eyes when prospective brides and grooms suggest this passage. We’ve been taught to understand that this text has nothing at all to do with the kind of love that lovers need to sustain a lasting marriage. Even if you know nothing at all about the rest of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, if you know anything at all about the love married couples share, you know that it is not anything like the love that is described in this text.

I’m as much of a romantic as the next person, but I ask you, patience, kindness, are one thing, and maybe you’ll get lucking and be able to avoid being envious or boastful, arrogant, or rude, and good luck to you if you do.  But never insisting on your own way, never being irritable or resentful, bearing all things, believing all things; please give me a break. Show me a couple who don’t ever engage in a battle of wills, or build up resentments, or succeed in bearing and believing everything about one another, well, that couple is in all likelihood headed for some serious trouble. My darling Carol is perfect in every way, and I of course am perfect in every way and we are sublimely happy, so happy that birds sing when we walk by and flowers stand tall in our saintly presence…Of course not! Carol is the love of my life and being married to her is the best thing that ever happened to me. But I am annoying to live with. I have a job that interferes with our life together on a regular basis. When I’m on a role, I can be arrogant and rude. Even though I’d never say a bad word about Carol, especially from the pulpit, I will tell you this, if Carol was never, boastful, arrogant, or rude, if she was always patient and kind, never insisting on her own way, never irritable or resentful, well I don’t think I would be able to live with her. That’s not the kind of love that any of us could live with, let alone be in love with. I want a real-life partner, someone who will engage me in all of who they are, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the not so beautiful, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Continue reading

What the World Needs Now is Love! 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – Epiphany 4C

Mr Happy ManThe Epistle Reading (Second Reading) for this coming Sunday is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Most of us have heard this reading over and over again at weddings as if it were some sort of recipe for happiness between lovers. So often we hear it as an impossible recipe and cast it aside as something nice but unattainable. What would happen if we could hear this passage not as a prescriptive recipe but as a descriptive revelation of the LOVE that is God. Couple this revelation with the knowledge that God dwells in, with, through, and beyond us and it becomes a description of the possibilities for each of us being LOVE in the world. The knowledge that LOVE dwells in us might just open us to being the love that the world so desperately needs. 

91 year-old, Johnny Barnes is a Bermuda native who embodies the LOVE that dwells in him. How might we embody the LOVE that dwells in us? What does, would, could, will the embodiment of LOVE look like in you?

Act As If… a sermon on Luke 4 by Bishop Gene Robinson

eye of the stormThe Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson understands what it means to be threatened because of the Gospel he embodies. While reflecting on the threatening reaction of those who heard Jesus’ first sermon as it is recorded in Luke 4, Bishop Robinson challenges us all to stand on the clifftop with the courage of Jesus. Well worth a listen to all those who are preparing to preach on this text on Sunday.

Congratulations! We Just Won the Lottery – Luke 4:14-21 – Epiphany 3C

Well, congratulations, it has happened again, for the fourth year in a row a miraculous truth has been revealed. So, let me take this opportunity to congratulate each and every member of this beloved community on this day, as I deliver the good news that we dear sisters and brothers, we have won the lottery! Let’s take a moment to rejoice and be glad in this marvelous news! So, how does it feel to know that we have won the lottery? That’s right my friends, for the fourth year in a row Canada has been ranked the number 1 country in the world for quality of life.

How many of you were born here in Canada? Congratulations, by happy accident you won the big lottery. You were born and have the great pleasure of living in the best country in the world when it comes to quality of life. How many of you, like me immigrated to Canada? Congratulations, you or your family came to the one place in the world that continues to be ranked number 1 in quality of life. Congratulations everyone because we all have the privilege of living in Canada, not only is Canada #1 in quality of life, but we have also been ranked as the second-best country in the world to live; second only to Switzerland. What a privilege it is to be us!  First in quality of life and second over-all in terms of the best country. Apparently, we have the best job market, and the most stable and affordable economy in the world! We are the most family friendly, best income equality, most politically stable, and the safest place in the whole wide world. We have a well-developed public education system and public heal system. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, you and I live in a country that has the best quality of life on the whole freaking planet!

What a privilege it is to be us! Good News! In case you’re interested our friends to the south are ranked as #17 in the world when it comes to quality of life!!! We’re number 1, they are number 17. When it comes to quality of life, we won the lottery!

Today, in your hearing, Today the Good News is that we enjoy the great privilege of living in a place where the quality of life is second to none! Surely, all your hopes and dreams have been fulfilled! Perspective is a curious thing. From where we sit, this good news is often drowned out by the sound of our belly-aching. Oh, woe is me, woe is me, woe is me. There is so very much to complain about. If only we could escape this or that. If only we could free ourselves from this or that. If only there was less of this or less of that. If only we could have more of this or more of that. Woe is me, woe is me, woe is me. Is it any wonder that our response to the gospel, to the Good News that Jesus proclaims is so very muted?

We listen to the gospel account of Jesus proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to those who are held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison and we tend to think one of two things. Either we identify ourselves as one of the categories of people Jesus is setting free, or we wonder what that kind of freedom might mean to our position of privilege. All too often, we see ourselves as the ones who need liberating.  I mean poor, poor pitiful me, right? We are enslaved to the system, right? Set us free from the day to day grind! Release us from our debts! TODAY!

Rarely do we see ourselves as the oppressors. If we are living in the number one country in the world for quality of life, how exactly did that happen? The system that is in place, the system that guarantees our privilege exacts a huge cost from the places that don’t enjoy such quality of life. We all know that the rich are rich at the cost of the poor. So, today, who needs liberating from who?

How quickly we move from release the captives to wait a minute those captives need to stay exactly where they. Those prisoners are far too dangerous to the status quo. Freedom ain’t worth it, not if I have to lose my stuff, not if I have to give up my privilege. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose and I’ve got plenty to lose.

Slow down Jesus, wait just a minute. After all is said and done, our security, our status, our quality of life depends on maintain the status quo. No wonder Jesus’ homies tried to toss him off a cliff; good news my……you fill in the blank. I suspect that we, like everyone who has ever lived find it easier to see ourselves as the  poor, the blind or the captive. Humans by our very nature always want more than we have; always looking for some kind of saviour who can make things better for us.

Today we hear Jesus’ deliver good news not to privileged people like us. Jesus marches into the synagogue at a time with his people are suffering terribly under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire and speaks words from the sacred scriptures that encapsulate their longings to be free and has the audacity to say: “TODAY!!” Today you are free!

Jesus challenges the way in which his people see themselves. Today, you already have it all. Today, you are rich. Today, you can see. Today, you are free. Today, your debts are cleared. TODAY! You don’t need a saviour! You don’t need a messiah! TODAY! You have it all. TODAY, it is time to stop looking back at the problems of yesterday or looking forward in fear of tomorrow. All that you have is Today and today is all you need to be free. By virtue of being alive you are already blessed beyond belief. If Jesus can proclaim this gospel to a suffering people, what might this good news mean for you and I, who are enjoying a quality of life that is second to none? Today, by virtue of being alive, we are blessed beyond belief. Today, we can see if we but open our eyes to see – there’ no need to be blinded by our past, or to let our fear of the future obscure our view of the fullness of life that surrounds us. Today we are free. We don’t need a saviour. Today the burdens that have been laid upon us by the systems of the past are declared null and void and we are free – that’s what jubilee is all about: freedom. Freedom to live in the moment. No longer in debt to the past or held captive to our insecurities, or blind to reality, for we are free today! No longer searching for a saviour, or a religious system to save us. Free to live and love today.

The Good News that Jesus is declaring is not the creation of yet another religious system, but the amazing reality that we are free Today, to live and to love. Free to embrace the richness of life. Freedom from all that blinds us to the beauty that surrounds us. Freedom from our fear of the future. Freedom from the captivity of the systems which entrap us and hold us prisoners. Freedom to forge new pathways. Freedom to embody all that we are, freedom to be reflections of the ONE who made us.  Freedom to imagine justice. Freedom to dare to create peace. Freedom to give it all away. Freedom to set the captives free and release the debts of those whose indebtedness assures our privilege.

Today, I am reminded of all those African American Spirituals; the songs that were sung by people who were enslaved. Those spirituals were sung at great risk to the singers. If their oppressors caught wind of what the salves were singing, the punishments were severe. So, the singers often used a sort of code that only the enslaved understood. Words were used to express African American hopes for freedom. Swing low sweet chariot, isn’t just an illusion to a bible verse, it’s a description of liberation, a way to say freedom is coming. That sweet chariot was the underground railroad.

One of the words or illusions that was used in these spirituals is heaven. Does anybody know what the word heaven was code for? Heaven meant freedom and for the African American slave, freedom was Canada! Comin’ for to carry me home.. Come take me to freedom in Canada… I looked over Jordan, and what did I see? I looked over the Mississippi River, or the Ohio River and what did I see? A band of angels…the workers of the underground railroad, Coming after me…helping to reach Canada Next time you hear…over Jordan…think over the border to Canada, to freedom. Over Jordon, heaven, home, all meant Canada because Canada meant freedom.

Congratulations beloved community, for today the good news is we are home, we are free. Free to be a beacon of hope for all those who seek freedom. For if we cannot see our way clear to respond to the incredible reality of our great privilege by freeing others, then it is we who are enslaving ourselves. The truth is we can be held captive by our privilege, or we can use our privilege to free those who are being held captive for the sake of our privilege. Today, Wade in the Water, take the river of this sweet life over Jordan, to our home faraway and come home to our lord and be free. Free to be the LOVE that is MYSTERY.

TODAY!!! – reflecting on Luke 4:14-21

Luke 4The last time Luke 4:15-21 came up in the lectionary, we engaged in a reflection on what we know of  Jesus’ first sermon…a bible study of sorts. I offer it here for those of you who are preparing to preach on this text.

 

The Acclamation sung before the reading is “God of My Childhood” by Miriam Therese Winter Listen to the reflection here

Spinning Wheel – A Sermon on Luke 4:14-21 for Epiphany 3C

Blood Sweat & Tears

This sermon explores the need to set the captives free. It was inspired by a Globe and Mail article written by David Clayton Thomas, former lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears and dedicated to the memory of an old friend who did not “go naturally” and will never be forgotten! You can listen to the sermon here to get you in the mood, watch the video of Blood, Sweat & Tears below

The year was 1969. I was just twelve years old and my family had only recently moved to Ladner, a small village south of Vancouver. I was the new kid in a tightly knit grade seven class. I remember being angry, a lot. Being twelve is tough, but being twelve and new in town; well that’s a kind of hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There were only two places I felt safe: One was my bedroom where I could escape into my books or listen to music. The other place was music class. We had a really cool, young teacher, she must have been fresh out of teachers’ college, because she had all these new ideas about something she called music appreciation. The songs we sang in Miss Conroy’s class were songs off the radio. Some days she’d let us put our heads down on our desks and she’d just play music and all we had to do was appreciate it. Not all of the music was stuff we’d heard on the radio, sometimes Miss Conroy would sneak in some jazz; not any kind of jazz I’d ever heard before, improvisational jazz; it was so cool to my twelve year-old ears that I gave Miss Conroy a pass when she would slip into teacher mode and put some classical music on the record player.

One day, Miss Conroy announced that we’d been listening to her music long enough; it was time we began to listen to our music. Miss Conroy explained that she was going to divide us into pairs and each pair would have to work together to select a piece of music to bring to class and share it. We would have to explain to the class, why the piece that we choose was worth paying attention to. Now even though there were all sorts of pieces of music that I thought would be great for this assignment, I began to panic. Who on earth would want to work with me on such a project? The thought of being teamed up with anyone of my classmates struck fear into my heart. I didn’t have any real friends in this class and as the new kid I knew that nobody would want to be stuck with me. Vision’s of being left out, all alone without a partner began to overwhelm me, as Mrs. Conroy announced that we would be drawing names out of a hat in order to determine who our partners would be. When my turn came to pull a partner’s name out of the hat, I didn’t even know what to hope for. I didn’t know people well enough to want anyone in particular to be my partner, there was only one person in the whole class that I knew that I knew well enough to know that I didn’t want to be my partner. I, like all my classmates was positively terrified of, for the sake of this sermon I’m going to call him Kenny. Kenney sure wasn’t twelve; he was a few years older than the rest of us. He was a big guy; dark hair, good looking, and unlike the other adolescent boys in the class, Kenny had already started shaving. Once during the lunch hour I witnessed Kenny bullying a younger boy into eating an apple core that had been discarded a few days earlier. The kid ate the rotting core rather than face whatever it was Kenny was threatening him with. Kenny was big, tough and loud. Most of us were frightened of Kenny and because kids are cruel, behind his back we diagnosed him as crazy. But there was something about Kenny, maybe it was his good looks, maybe it was the buckskin fringe jacket that he sported, or maybe it was just his wildness that made him the talk of the jittering boy-crazed girls in the class. So, I was more than a bit upset when of all people, I pulled Kenny’s name out of the hat. What piece of music could the two of us possibly have in common and how was I even going to talk to him? Miss Conroy slipped perilously into my bad books on the day she forced me into the company of the dreaded Kenny.

Ours was an uneasy partnership. There was precious little conversation involved. Kenny picked the piece of music. Kenny told me what I was going to tell the class about our piece of music. Fortunately, I actually knew and liked the piece that Kenny had chosen. It had been a big hit the previous summer and I owned a copy of the record. The only problem was that my copy was a 45. Kenny insisted that we just had to use the version that was on the album; not the version that they played on the radio off the 45. The version on the album included the trumpet solo that never made it onto the 45. It would have made the song too long for the hit parade! And that’s how I ended up in front of my classmates, standing beside a boy, who though handsome and tough had suddenly become monosyllabic as I struggle to explain why our choice of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Spinning Wheel, was music well worth appreciating.

What goes up must come down

spinning wheel got to go round

Talking about your troubles it’s a crying sin

Ride a painted pony

Let the spinning wheel spin

You got no money, and you, you got no home

Spinning wheel, spinning all alone

Talking about your troubles and you,

you never learn

Ride a painted pony

let the spinning wheel turn.

Did you find a directing sign

on the straight and narrow highway?

Would you mind a reflecting sign

Just let it shine within your mind

And show you the colours that are real

Someone is waiting just for you

spinning wheel is spinning true

Drop all your troubles, by the river side

Catch a painted pony

On the spinning wheel ride

Someone is waiting just for you

spinning wheel is spinning true

Drop all your troubles, by the river side

Ride a painted pony

Let the spinning wheel fly.

They just don’t write songs like that anymore. Kenny was right, the trumpet solo, is a must. Blood, Sweat and Tears had the best horn section. They could take a mediocre song and turn it into something special:  “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “God Bless the Child,” “Hidey Ho, Hidey Hi,” “And When I Die.” Thanks to Kenny, I bought every LP that Blood, Sweat and Tears ever recorded.

So, what has any of this got to do with this morning’s Gospel reading? Well the words that the writer of the Gospel of Luke puts into the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth have been spinning round in my head all week long. I keep hearing Jesus quote the words of the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison—to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” The year of God’s favour is the prophet Isaiah’s way of describing the year of Jubilee. Written into the Jewish law was a provision meant to address the systemic injustices that creep into the law as time goes by. It is said that every 50 years a Jubilee would be declared. Continue reading

NO! I Do NOT Believe IN Jesus! – a sermon on John 2:1-11 – The Wedding at Cana

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend that I was very close to during my seminary days. This friend has long since left the church. My friend asked me, “Dawn do you still believe in Jesus?” I remembered all the long conversations in seminary about believing in Jesus and at that very moment I had an epiphany of sorts. I hesitated to answer, because like all epiphanies, I recognized that if I let myself go to the place where my epiphany was pointing me to, I would be in very unfamiliar territory. My friend would not let me off the hook, “It’s a simple question Dawn.  Do you still believe in Jesus?”

“No.” I said, and my friend smiled, the way she used to smile when she scored a point against me in some theological debate. My epiphany was shedding light on what could prove to be a painful reality. After all, from where my friend now sits, outside of the church and beyond all the church’s teachings, belief in Jesus is kind of a non-negotiable bottom line for a pastor. From her perspective, I ought to be able to give an unequivocal, “YES” to her question.

“No.” I said it again. “I do not believe in Jesus.”

My friend’s smile seemed to shine brighter than my epiphany. It was as if she was already celebrating my departure from the church. Before she could welcome me to the place where she now stands, outside the church, I said it again. “No, I do not believe inJesus. But, ……….I dobelieve Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said .I believe what Jesus taught. I believe that the way Jesus lived embodies a new way of being human. I believe Jesus when he says, “Do not be afraid.” I believe Jesus when he speaks about the MYSTERY that we call God. I believe Jesus when he insists that justice is worth dying for. I believe Jesus when he risks everything for the sake of his conviction that non-violent resistance is the way to achieve justice. I believe Jesus, the way he lived, the way he died, and the way he lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who follow his way of being human. I believe Jesus. I also believe that it doesn’t matter a whole hill of beans whether or not I or anybody else believes inJesus. But it makes all the difference in the world and tothe world that we believe Jesus, because at the core of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught is LOVE. LOVE God with all your heart, with, all your soul, and with all your mind and LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself; this I believe is a way BEYOND the kind of humanity that is always consumed by itself. I believe Jesus’ call to look beyond our selfish needs, desires and wants, to move beyond our fears, to LOVE. Continue reading

Intoxicated on Life – Epiphany 2C Sermon – John 2:1-11

Intoxicated on lifeLooking back at old sermons can reveal the various ways in which our theology has developed.  This sermon was first preached in 2013. Since then, I have moved to a posture that has opened me to more humble statements about the nature of the MYSTERY that is the source and ground of our being, which causes me to refrain from using the word “God” to describe that MYSTERY. Re-reading this sermon, I was tempted to edit it in ways that better reflect my current posture. However I think, perhaps such edits are best left to those of you who may be tempted or inspired by this sermon to tell your own stories alongside the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of the wedding at Cana and thus reveal your own intoxication with life!. 

Listen to the Sermon here

The gospel according to John is my favourite of all the gospels. Maybe it’s my Irish heritage but I just love a good story and the more outrageous the better. The Irish have never been known to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and neither did the anonymous writer of the Gospel we can John. This gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written and it nearly didn’t make it into the biblical cannon because the religious powers that be cited all sorts of problems with this particular portrait of Jesus. Not the least of which are all the signs and wonders that Jesus commands in this gospel. So, just for the record, let me say that I don’t believe that this particular story happened exactly the way it was written. I don’t believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth had the ability to instantaneously change water into wine. I do believe that getting hung up on whether or not Jesus could actually work miracles is to miss the point of this story all together.

This morning rather than go into a long and drawn out explanation of the historical critical method of studying the scriptures in order to explain why the anonymous writer of the gospel of John wrote this particular story and speculate upon the particular theological points the author was trying to make to his second century audience, I would like to set the history aside for a moment and look at what the author might have been trying to inspire in the people who would hear and read his or her story about the Wedding at Cana. To do that, I want to get to the heart of this story to explore what it might be like for the people who actually encountered the Man Jesus of Nazareth. I mean, on the surface of it this story is about a kind of intoxication that happened to people who come into the presence of this strange man from Nazareth. The best way I know of interpreting a story is to lay down another story right beside it and let one story interpret another.

Once upon a time, I remember it was a damp and dreary day in Vancouver that stood out from all the other damp and dreary days. It was in the middle of February; it had been overcast or raining for weeks and weeks and weeks. I was riding on the bus to work. It was the same bus that I had been riding on for two years. Every weekday morning I would commute by bus from the suburbs to the heart of the city. Every morning at six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus, which carried all the same people to their same jobs. On a good day the trip would usually take 45 minutes. Nobody ever spoke on that bus. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of their travelling companions, but conversation would be reserved for sunny days, when people could only manage a word or two. It was like there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day, and yet we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it.

On this particular February morning in addition to being tired, I was also wet. The wind was really blowing and I had to rely on my hooded jacket to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water was just beginning to seep threw my jacket. I sat in my usual seat on the bus and I was determined to ignore the damp and get in a short nap before we reached the city. I was just dozing off when the bus screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of them, were recognizable. I’d seen them a hundred times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a “Hello,” him I’d never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me, and proceeded to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.

The young man, continued to fuss with his umbrella. He explained in a loud voice that the umbrella was a gift from his sister and he hoped that it wasn’t ruined. He asked the gentleman seated beside him if he could help him to fold it. The somewhat flustered gentleman proceeded to fold the umbrella without a word. When the task was completed the young man, thanked the gentleman and asked him what his name was. He said he wanted to be able to tell his sister, who the nice man was, that had helped him with his umbrella. Without revealing his name the gentleman assured the young man that it wasn’t necessary to thank him. The young man on the other hand, proceeded to break all the rules, and said that his name was Michael and he told us all that he had never ridden on this bus before. He usually had to get a bus that went to the city in the afternoon and then he would get a ride home after dinner with his sister. But on this day, he would begin to work full days at his job. So he had to catch the bus in the dark. He went on to tell us that the bus we were riding in was much nicer than the one he usually caught. He decided that this bus must be a new bus, and weren’t we lucky to get to ride on a new bus. Then Michael took off his hat, held it out in front of him so we could all see it, and declared that he was the luckiest person in the world because his mother had bought him this wonderful hat that kept his head dry.

Michael went on to tell us all sorts of details about his life. At first people managed to listen, without responding. But as Michael went on describing his wonderful life, people found that in spite of themselves they were drawn into the conversation. As we approached the tunnel, that normally causes traffic to back up in rush hour, it was clear that there must have been some sort of accident in the tunnel. It would be a long wait. There would be no escaping Michael’s enthusiasm. Before long we all knew that Michael worked in the mailroom of a securities company. He assured us that this security company was a safe place to work, because they didn’t take care of the safety of people, but just took care of pieces of paper that were called stocks and bonds. Michael told us just how much he loved his job. Having a job was the best thing. Before he had the job he didn’t have any money to help his parents. But now he had enough money to help his parents and lots left over. Michael told us that he was really lucky because he worked with really nice people who took good care of him and let him do all kinds of fun jobs. Continue reading

Baptism is a Ritual Expression of What IS – a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I have never much cared for John the Baptist. Everything that we read about John the Baptist in the Christian Scriptures makes me think of him as Jesus’ red-necked cousin. You know the kind of family member I mean. We all have one or two in our families. Some of you may have had the pleasure of being visited by one of your fanatical red-necked family members over the holidays. We’ve all been there. Stuck around a dinner table, trying to steer the conversation clear away from anything remotely political; fearing that at any moment our red-necked relative will go on a rant about immigrants coming into this country and threatening our culture, or the government wasting millions on foreign aid, or women with their feminist agenda’s wanting it all, and those lazy poor people who need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop expecting handouts, or heaven forbid, the relative whose neck so flaming red that they, at the drop of a hat, will sing the praises of the likes the orange fellow who lives in the White House, who they think is on to something because he refuses to be politically correct and tells it like it is. You know that relative of yours who keeps reminding you of the good old days and the need to return to them because if we spare the rod, we will spoil the child.

Take a moment and sit back and remember that relative, friend, or co-worker, and if you are blessed enough not to have such a person in your life, think about the folks who we see every day in every sort of media, the folks are calling for a return to the values you no longer share. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of someone whose constant wrangling makes you so uncomfortable that they embarrass you? Hold that image in your mind and listen as I do my best to imitate John the Baptist as he rants on:

“Pay attention people!  You think my raving on and on about repentance is annoying? You think my baptism is demanding? There is somebody coming who makes me look like a wimp. There is somebody coming who has real fire in his belly. Somebody who will take your tools out of your hands, and wipe the floor with you, and toss the lot of you into the fiery pits of hell! You brood of vipers!!! You just wait! Be afraid. Be very afraid!!! You’re all going to get yours!

Repent. Turn from your modern, pinko, new age, progressive, radical ways!!! Return to the good old days!!! Days when men were men and women kept a civil tongue in their heads and kids were seen and not heard. The days when this was a God-fearing country and we rode with our neighbours to the south, to keep the world safe for the likes of us. It’s time to toughen up people and start demanding a little respect from those people, you know the ones I mean, the ones who are different than us.”

I don’t know about you but these days I tend to give rednecks like John the Baptist a wide birth. If I do happen to stumble into a situation where I can’t avoid fanatics like John the Baptist, I tend to just let them ramble on, until they wear themselves out and then I take my leave, shake the dust from my feet and I move on. But the holidays, oh the holidays, it’s difficult to avoid red-necks during the holidays, especially if we are related to them. Well John the Baptist comes around every Advent ranting and raving, shouting at us to Repent, to Prepare, you brood of vipers!  No wonder, we are all very quick to move on to Christmas when we can ignore John and gaze adoringly at the baby Jesus, whose beauty makes us forget that Herod is looming in the background. But no sooner is the baby born, then in the wink of an eye Jesus is a grown man, and his dear cousin John is at it again, going on and on, threatening us by suggesting that Jesus is going to rain down on us bringing the Holy Spirit to baptize us with fire. With a winnowing fork in hand, he will clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. And the way that John tells it, it sounds pretty much like we are the chaff and not the wheat, and so, we are doomed to burn in that unquenchable fire, if we don’t do what John tells us to do. Repent! Repent! Repent I say! Repent! Be afraid! Be very afraid! The Lord is coming! Fire burns!!! Hell is on the horizon!!! Turn back! Turn back!!! Continue reading

Sermons on the Baptism of Jesus

Surely, we can learn to tell our stories, to enact our rituals, and to be LOVE to one another in ways that transcend, religions, cultures, and old hatreds?

Wear Your Baptism in Ways that Others Might See a Visible Means of Grace in You

Recognizing the Sacred In and Beyond the Stories We Tell: the Baptism of Jesus 

The Things We Do For Jesus! 

A Progressive Christian Wades Into the Waters of Baptism

Baptism: A Mystery of the Faith

Beloved, Lover, and LOVE Itself

The Things We Do For Jesus! – a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus

waters 4Baptism of Jesus Sermon — Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Originally preached: Sunday January 13, 2013    Listen to the sermon here

There’s a definition of what it means to be a priest that has always daunted me. A priest it has been said is “a keeper of the mysteries; a keeper of the sacred mysteries of our faith. People often confuse the idea of mystery with the idea of secret. But I can assure you that as a keeper of the mysteries of the faith it is neither my job nor any other priest’s job to keep the mysteries of our faith a secret. Yes, as an ordained pastor, one of my responsibilities is to be a keeper of the mysteries of our faith by ensuring that the communities that I serve hold those mysteries sacred. It is my job to hold the mysteries in such reverence that we all remember that the reality that we call God works in with and through those mysteries. Baptism is considered to be one of the mysteries of our faith. Baptism is a sacrament of the church and by definition a sacrament takes ordinary stuff – water – mixes that ordinary stuff with the Word and in the combination of water and the Word you have a tangible means of God’s grace. God’s grace is revealed in the sacrament of Baptism by the act of our gathering together and mixing the stuff of the earth with the Word. We have only two sacraments in the Lutheran church Baptism and Eucharist, and both of those things are sacraments because we gather together take ordinary stuff – bread and wine, or water and mix it with the Word of Jesus the Christ, and in the water, the bread, and the wine the means of God’s grace is made visible to us.

So, there you have it the technical definition of the sacraments, the mysteries of Baptism and Communion, in which the reality that we call God works in, with, through and under. But like all technical definitions of mysteries, these definitions fail to capture the essence of the MYSTERY that likes at their very heart, the MYSTERY of the reality that we call God. As a keeper of the mysteries, one would think that a priest, a pastor ought to be able to reveal, by way of definition something of the nature of the reality of the DIVINE.

The truth is I have no real definition to offer you of this reality that we call God. I read once, I wish I could remember where, the wisdom of a priest far more skilled than I who declared that he’d given up trying to explain God to anyone because in the end, he said, “I cannot lead you to God, anymore than anyone can lead a fish to water.” The most important thing I learned in seminary is that “I don’t know is an answer.” The truth is the more we learn the more we know that we don’t know. But this unknowing can be so unsatisfying, precisely because we believe that God is the one in whom we live and breath and have our being, we want to know the very nature of the One who is the ultimate Reality. Now, if these words haven’t already become so vague that the veil of unknowing has begun to make any tangible means of God’s grace seem invisible, and so beyond our grasp, let me leave the theology behind and tell you a story. Because one thing I do know for sure is that the shortest distance between the questions of what it means to be human and understanding our humanity is a story.

It happened on Thursday night. All week long I’ve been thinking about what I would say about the Baptism of Jesus and I wasn’t getting very far. It’s been a busy week, with lots of things to do as programs around here gear up again after the lull of the holidays. After teaching Confirmation on Thursday, I got home at about 9:30. The house was empty because Carol was off visiting the grandchildren for a few days. It had been a long day, and I quickly got into my pajamas, switched on the fireplace, and settled into my recliner in front of the television. The PVR was full of shows for me to watch and the opening scenes of Gray’s Anatomy dragged me into the complications of lives I would never have to minister to and I began to relax. The drama of medical emergencies mixed with the complications of various love affairs pulled me into a world where there was absolutely nothing expected of me and I was loving it right up until the moment that the telephone rang. Modern technology means that the name of the person calling usually appears on right there on the TV screen so that I can decide whether or not I’m going to answer the call. When the phone rang I expected it to be Carol calling to say goodnight, so I’d already pushed the pause button, expecting that after a quick goodnight I could get back to my shows. Buy the time I realized that there was no name on the TV screen but only a phone number, it was too late and I was already saying hello.

The caller was someone I’d heard from only once before. They were already halfway through a very nasty tale of woe when I realized that they were asking me to come out. It was a call for help. It was a call that I had every right not to respond to. I mean the caller wasn’t even a member of this congregation. It was late. I was already in my pajamas. It was dark outside.

I was annoyed. I mean really. Couldn’t this person have called me before I left Newmarket? What gave them the right to think that I would come out so late, in the dark, for someone I’d only met once before? The audacity. The sheer audacity of such a request was enough to make you scream. Give me a break. I listened to the caller’s plight with precious little sympathy. I asked her to hold on for a moment so that I could try to think of a way to help. What I really meant was: is there anyone in Newmarket that I can disturb at this time of night and ask them to go over and help. Some of you have offered to help in this way in the past. You know who you are and you can be sure that your names went through my mind as I tried to avoid leaving the comfort of my warm snug. It was only the thought of how annoyed I was to be disturbed at such a late hour that kept me from disturbing one of you. So I told the caller to hold on and I would be there in about half an hour.

I was cursing to bet the band as I went upstairs to get dressed. The air was positively blue. I was angry. I was going out, on what in my mind was the middle of the night, it was ridiculous. Hell, it was dangerous. It was dark. Yeah we were going to meet in a public place. But why the expletive, curse, fill in the blank your self, why the ………blanket blank, should I? I certainly wasn’t going out of love for my neighbour. I was ticked. I was going because it’s my job to go. Sure I knew that I had every right to refuse to go. But if I didn’t go, my shows would be ruined. How could I possible sit there and enjoy my shows when I knew that someone needed my help? Forget the shows, if I didn’t go, I knew darn well I wouldn’t get any sleep. Continue reading

The Baptism of Jesus and The Missing Verses in the Lectionary Gospel Text

JB in prisonWhile musing on the readings for this coming Sunday, I came across these notes that I made when these readings came up – Baptism of Jesus 2010. I offer them to my preaching colleagues in the hope that we might move beyond the story as it has been read during worship so that we might challenge old assumptions and images of the Divine.

According to the Revised Common Lectionary, the appointed Gospel reading for this Sunday when the church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus is Luke: 3:15-17, 21-22. But what about the missing verses 18-20?

Whenever the RCL leaves verses out of an appointed reading, I can’t help wondering what they are afraid of. Could the missing verses contain some hidden information that might threaten some established Christian doctrine? 

Most of us have heard this story of Jesus baptism so many times that we think we know it all. John the Baptist, proclaimed that the Messiah was coming and that the children of God, needed to repent and be baptized. This baptism of repentance was popular among Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries but troublesome to the Roman Empire. As his first public act Jesus went down to the Jordan River and even though John protested that he was unworthy to baptize Jesus, Jesus submitted to John’s baptism of repentance.

That’s how so many people learned the story and the way most people remember it. That is after all pretty much what the what the Gospel according to Luke actually says provided you leave out verses 18 to 20.   Continue reading

Bat Qol – The Daughter of a Sound: Hearing the Word Utter Our Name

Preparing to Preach on Jesus’ Baptism

BAT QOL pastordawnEach year, I begin my preparations for preaching on the Baptism of Jesus with this video in which  Heather Murray Elkins tells her story, “The Secret of Our Baptism.” Elkins opens us to a new way of hearing the Bat Col, the Daughter of a Sound, the Voice of the Divine, the Word, who speaks in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Shine for the sake of Jakelin, Felipe, and Refugees Everywhere, Shine! – an Epiphany sermon

Maybe it’s because I’ve directed too many Christmas pageants, but when I hear the story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus, I don’t think of three kings at all. No visions of regal visitors decked out in their finest riding atop camels guided by a star for me. Just memories of little boys, all decked out in colourful shiny robes that threaten to trip them up, giggling and roughhousing, with their cardboard crowns askew.  Of all the little boy kings that I’ve tried to corral, one of them stands out from all the rest.  Perhaps I remember him so well because he was so little that we couldn’t have him kneel at the manger because we were afraid that he would disappear into the hay and our audience would only see two Wise Guys paying homage instead of three, or maybe it was the speed with which he dashed in and out of the gang of shepherds who threatened to trip him up with their crooks.

But I really think it was the ingenious way he solved the problem of his lost gold, that makes little Jay stand out from all the other little boy kings. Little Jay’s mother, like all the mothers of all the kings, was responsible for creating a facsimile of the gift her wise son would bestow on the baby Jesus. Unlike some of the feeble efforts that I’ve seen over the years, Jay’s gift of gold was a cut above the rest. Inside an elaborately carved box that his Dad had picked up on his travels to the Middle East, Jay’s mother had placed upon a bed of statin a carefully created block of wood wrapped in golden gift paper. When the light hit the gift, it sparkled so very splendidly. It must have impressed Jay, because he was forever opening up his box to show his fellow cast-members his sparkling gift. During the dress rehearsal, Jay’s performance was splendid. Jay positively perfected the art of gazing up at the makeshift star that hung above the altar just east of our makeshift manger. When he arrived at the place where the newborn baby Jesus lay in a makeshift manger, who just happened to be a little girl that year, Jay strode right up to her mother Mary and opened the box containing his sparkling offering and proudly announced his gift of gold for the new born king.

“They,” whoever “they” are, say that if the rehearsal does not go well then, the performance will be wonderful. So, I was more than a little worried when our dress rehearsal went off so splendidly because that could mean only one thing, and I wasn’t looking forward to a performance where things went wrong.  Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, on the morning of his big performance, somewhere between his house and the church, Jay lost his golden gift.  All he had was an empty box when he showed up at his father’s pew wailing because all was lost.  Jay had no gold to give to the baby Jesus.

Today, as I reflect on the plight of so very many children, I can’t help thinking about that empty box and like little Jay, I simply want to wail. I think it was Boxing day, the second day of Christmas, when I first heard about the little 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas Eve, in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Felipe Alonzo-Gomez’s death has haunted the twelve days of Christmas. Little Felipe’s death coupled with the knowledge that another child had died earlier in December, is an obscenity that ought to reduce every adult to wailing. Little Jakelin Caal Maquin was just seven years old when U.S. Customs and Border Protection failed in their duty of care. Little Jakelin and Little Felipe’s protection was sacrificed on the altar of a political idea which continues to put the protection of a border over and above the lives of children who are fleeing violence in their homeland. I confess that I’ve been more than a little obsessed this Christmas season by the plight of refugees. I’ve found myself searching for all the information that’s out there, hoping against hope that somebody, anybody has a magic solution that will safeguard the lives of refugees. But alas, like little Jay, I show up to greet the Christ child, with what appears to be nothing more than an empty box. Continue reading

Epiphany Sermons

Epiphany falls on a Sunday this year. Traditionally, Epiphany was celebrated in grander fashion than Christmas. But time has seen the Christmas feast eclipse the festival of Epiphany. Here are a few of the Epiphany sermons I have preached over the past few years. 

You are the Light of the World here

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening. here 

Don’t Forget the Mystery of Our Faith here

Wisdom Seeks Wisdom here