I had all but decided not to post my regular sermon resources for Holy Week. It seemed somehow inappropriate, in these surreal days, to look to previous sermons for inspiration. However, after various followers of this blog got in touch to inquire as to when they might expect to find posts for Holy Week, I have relented. Blessings upon your Holy Week preparations.
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“Can these bones live?” It’s a bit of a stretch to compare physical distancing and self-isolation to the valley of dry bones. If you are watching this, chances are you are safe and warm. The ability to shelter in place, or to self-isolate is a blessing afforded to the privileged. Mindful of our many blessings, we still cannot ignore how we are feeling right now. Our bones may not be dry, our hope may not be gone, and we are not doomed. But many of us are longing to return to our lives. In many ways if feels like we are in a Valley of Dry Bones, and I long to return to the life l knew.
For many of us it has been about two weeks since we began to seriously distance ourselves from one another. Stay at home orders have physically separated us from our families, friends, neighbours, work, our congregations and in many ways our lives. I don’t know about you, but his enforced separation has brought with it all sorts of emotions. In the scrambling to discover new ways of staying connected, I neglected to allow myself the opportunity to do the very thing that as a pastor, I often counsel others to do. I wasn’t paying attention to how and what I was feeling. I confess that there was a big part of me that was afraid to feel; afraid that given half the chance, my feelings would cause me to curl up in a ball, assume the fetal position and weep.
Weep for all that we have lost.
Weep for those who are suffering.
Weep for those who are dying.
Weep for the dead.
Weep for the healthcare workers.
Weep for the children.
Weep for the people of my congregation.
Weep for my loved ones.
Weep for myself.
I was doing a pretty good job of keeping busy, tending to what needs doing and then I sat down to write this reflection. The words, “Jesus wept.” unbound me and my tears began to flow. As I wept, I tried to figure out, why? I know that this, whatever this is, this too shall pass, and I know that all shall be well. So, what do I have to cry about?
It wasn’t until the tears subsided that I began to recognize that what I am feeling is grief. In all sorts of online conversations this week, people have mentioned “that uneasy feeling that I can’t quite figure out.” People have described having a “foggy brain” or the inability to focus or to concentrate.” I particularly resonate with those who have mentioned a “low-grade, stress headache.” I now suspect that these are the tell-tale symptoms of grief.
Grief comes in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Our world has changed so rapidly, and we all know that there will be many more changes before this is over. We may not know what is coming, but we know it’s coming. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to fall. We know that this too shall pass. But we also realize that things have changed, and many things will never be the same again. The loss of the everyday stuff that we all took for granted, our economic fears, the loss of connection, all these things are hitting us all at once and we are grieving. As we imagine what our future holds, we experience what is known as anticipatory grief. There is more to come and even our primitive minds know that something bad is happening, something we may not be able to see. Our sense of security is under threat.
Waves of grief can overwhelm us. Grief can cause us to deny our reality: the virus won’t affect us, it’s just like the flue, don’t worry. Grief can make us angry: how long do we have to stay home? Grief can make us strike bargain: If I stay home, follow the rules, me and mine, we’ll be ok. Grief can make us sad. Grief can also help us to accept what is happening, feel our feelings and help us to hope. It has been said, by the grief experts that: acceptance is where the power lies. But the thing about grief is that it comes in all sorts of waves, following no specific rhyme or reason. One minute we are able to accept what is happening and the next moment we are in denial, or sad, or striking bargains.
Underlying all our grief is fear. Fear constricts us, binds us up in ways that make life impossible. Bound by fear, feels to me like being trapped in a tomb. Jesus says, “Lazarus come out!”
Lazarus is the Greek for the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means: “the one who God helps. In this parable of the raising of Lazarus, Lazarus is us, for each one of us is “the one who God helps.” By God I don’t mean a personified, super-hero, out there, or up there. By God I mean the ONE in whom we live, and move and have our being; the ONE who lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us. By God I mean the one who is in here, and the ONE who IS beyond here; BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.
One name for this God of whom I speak is CHRIST. When I read or hear the words “Jesus wept”, I know that CHRIST wept, just as surely as I weep, for our tears are CHRIST’s tears. In the words of St. Paul, we do not grieve as ones without hope.
I keep hearing “Stay home! Stay safe!” Yes, this is good advice. But please be kind to yourselves. Be gentle with yourself. Take time to grieve. Feel what you feel. Weep when weeping comes.
We grieve as ONE, for there is nothing in heaven or on earth, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God, no virus, no isolation, nothing in life or in death, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. This too shall pass. All shall be well. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears.
Soon, we shall hear Jesus’ call, “Lazarus come out!” and we shall emerge unbound free to live and be LOVE in the world. For now, our hands are CHRIST’s hands. So let, us be CHRIST in our care for one another. Resurrection, just as surely as springtime, resurrection is coming. Let it be so. Let it come soon.
Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells a story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journalist looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist, she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”
The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home, and I have a cup of tea, and I come back and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from all the earth.”
The journalist is intrigued and asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”
For many of us, social distancing, has created a wall between us and separated us from our lives. Bumping up against this wall over and over again, our noses can almost smell the fear filled mortar which oozes from the newly laid brickwork.
This week people have asked me to pray for them. But many more people have asked me, “to whom shall we pray? Most of us learned to pray to a faraway-sky-god and we were taught that faith meant believing that the faraway-sky-god was waiting around to answer our prayers.
As the news gets bleaker and bleaker and the danger draws closer and closer, our loved ones, our livelihoods, and our lives are threatened. So, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing for a personified-parent-god to be the super-hero who come to our rescue? And so, we pray and sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall.
Earlier this week, a well-intentioned priest sent some of my colleagues and I an urgent message urging us to combat COVID-19 by praying without ceasing and then he quoted the words of Jesus: “That is why I tell you, keep asking and you will receive; keep looking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted.”
If asking and knocking could save even one person from this virus, I would not get off my knees. And, I suspect that I would have a great deal of company down there on my knees. The problem with telling people to pray, or promising people that you will pray for them is that so many of us learned to pray to an image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that fails to capture the magnitude of the CREATOR of all that IS. We were trained to look up to the heavens as we beseeched a god who we cast in the role of a cosmic superhero, ready, willing, and able to intervene on our behalf. Our prayers were crafted with a transactional mindset which perceived life from a dualistic perspective: either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, answered or unanswered prayer. You either believe in God or you don’t.
Slowly, as we have learned more and more about the nature of reality, our longing to connect with the Source of All reality has caused us to expand our images of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As the CREATOR OF UNIVERSES shakes off our way too small superhero costume, we are left standing among the snakes and scorpions, and yes, the virus, wondering: to whom shall we go? how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray? I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE, to whom, or how do you pray in a crisis such as this?
We were trained in the art of transactional prayer, I believe, so do this, help me, save me, help them, save them. But what if prayer is not transactional but transformative? If prayer is transformative and not transactional, then we don’t need the super-hero god to reward our prayers by giving us whatever we ask for. If you, with all your short comings, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the MYSTERY, who is the DIVINE, give. How much more, well how about the transformative power of the HOLY SPIRIT?
Jesus does not promise a successful transaction as our reward for persistent prayer, but rather the HOLY SPIRIT herself. The transforming power of the SPIRIT is ours. For the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, breathes, the very breath of the DIVINE, the SPIRIT, the RUACH breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us.
What if the transformative power of prayer opens us to the presence of the ONE in whom we have our BEING? What if prayer is a way for us to open ourselves to the persisting presence of the DIVINE which permeates the universe; a way to be open to a universe that is saturated with the sacred? What if prayer is a doorway to consciousness; a practice to strengthen our intention to work toward the answers to our prayers? What if prayer doesn’t change a thing? What if the power of prayer is its potential to change us? What if prayer opens us, breaks down our walls, opens doorways, points us toward the connections we so long for? What if prayer helps us to see clearly, to pay attention, to connect, to care about our neighbours, to welcome the stranger, to seek justice, to be merciful, and to love extravagantly? What if prayer is the way to recognize the ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us?
What if our intentional, traditional, formal prayers are not the main event but rather a spiritual practice, an educational tool designed to prepare us by reminding us who we are and what is important about each moment. So that we can live more deeply and compassionately connected to the DIVINE, to Creation and to one another? In other words what if what we have always thought of as prayer is just the beginning, an opening up, into being the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God? What if prayer is transformative? Our lives have changed so very much in the past week. We can only imagine what is going to happen next week or next month. We can respond to these changes with fear and try to find a super-hero to save us. Or we can let our prayers open us to transformation.
Let us pray without ceasing. That is to say, let our prayer be our striving to live these moments in loving relationship to the HOLY ONE, in loving relationship to our neighbours, all our sisters and brothers, and in loving relationship to ourselves. Transformative prayer is our living, loving, and being in which, we relate to one another giving and receiving the LOVE that is the MYSTERY that we call God.
Jesus we are told was fond of telling one story to shed light on another story. So, in the SPIRIT of Jesus, let me tell you a story that sheds light on our Gospel story.
Once upon a time there was a wise old woman who lived in a small village. The children of the village were puzzled by the woman’s great wisdom, her gentleness, and her strength. One day a few of the children decided to test the old woman. They just couldn’t believe that anyone could be as wise as everyone claimed this old woman was. They were determined to prove that the old woman wasn’t very wise at all.
One day the children found a baby bird and one of the boys cupped the bird in his hands and said to the other children, “All we need to do is ask the old woman whether the bird I have in my hands is dead or alive. If she says the bird is dead. I will open my hands and let the bird fly away. If she says the bird is alive, I’ll crush it in my hands, and she’ll see that the bird is dead. So, the children, went to the old woman and presented her with this challenge. “Old woman,” the boy demanded, “Is this bird in my hands dead or alive?”
The woman became very still, studied the boy’s hands, then she looked carefully into his eyes. “It is in your hands whether the bird will live or will die.” The wise old woman smiled, and repeated the wisdom from within, “It is in your hands.”
Each one of us holds within our hands the transformative power of the SPIRIT. It’s in our hands! So, as you wash or sanitize those powerful hands of yours, pray without ceasing. As you practice physical distancing, pray without ceasing. For with every act of compassion, you are praying. Pray without ceasing so that we might be opened up to a way of being in these challenging days, a way of being that opens us up to the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God! Today, and in the coming weeks and months may all our fears be transformed into compassion so that we may be LOVE in these ever-changing moments. Let it be so. Amen.
My questions are adapted from and inspired by John Shelby Spong’s exploration of prayer in A New Christianity For a New World (chapter 11)
If you miss the livestream, we will upload worship to this site in the afternoon.
Social Distancing does not have to mean Spiritual Isolation. Join us as we seek connection with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.
Pastor Dawn Hutchings, Marney Curran, Eric Schultz and Andrew Slonetsky will bring worship to your home. We will broadcast from the church sanctuary as we practice social distancing.
We abandoned the regular lectionary our readings were Matthew 11:28-30; Colossians 3:12-17; and Mark 1:29-35 you can read them in our service bulletin, found here
It was almost five years ago now, and I can still see her smile. It was a beautiful smile; a smile which I often return to in my mind’s-eye. I have long-since forgotten her name. But her smile, I will never forget. It was a smile which she brought to me every day for about a week. A smile that calmed me, soothed me, at a time when my fear was at a fevered pitch. I had travelled to Vancouver to be at my Mother’s bedside. Mom was deathly ill, and we weren’t sure that she was going to survive. Standing there, looking down at the woman who nursed me through all my childhood illness, I felt so very helpless. Even though I am a pastor, and I have been trained how to visit the sick, visiting my Mom, I was simply her daughter.
Helpless and afraid, just standing there or sitting there, waiting for the doctors and nurses to heal my Mom. Every morning the smiling woman would come into the room and she would sooth my fear. All it took was her beautiful smile. Yes, she was on the hospital staff and yes it was her job to come in every morning to take my Mom’s food order. But she wasn’t required to be so very kind. Her kindness went beyond her smile. I could hear her kindness in her voice and feel her kindness in the patient way she tried to coax my Mom into ordering something to help her to get stronger. I could hear her kindness when she turned her attention away from my Mom to focus on me. “You should go for a walk. Get some fresh air. You’re no good to your Mom, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Her kindness, was not part of her job, not required of her, but like her smile, her kindness soothed my fevered fear and dove away the demons long enough for me to recognize her as my Sister, and to capture a glimpse of the LOVE she embodied. Our ancestors tell us that Jesus had the same kind of power. I don’t know if he eased fevers or drove away daemons with a smile, but I believe that kindness had a role in Jesus’ ability to bring healing.
On Friday, I found myself in a grocery store. It was as if we all spiked a fever at the same time. Some of us were trying to keep our selfish demons at bay. Yes, there were more than a few who were completely possessed by demon. But on the whole, our polite Canadian instincts managed to keep us relatively civil. But our civility was sorely tested as we searched for an easy way out of the grocery store. I witnessed a few ugly moments. I also saw many kindnesses. Strangers helping one another. Strangers sharing information. Strangers expressing dire warnings. You could almost feel the fever rising.
Driving home, I remembered the last time she gifted me with a smile. She had very kindly convinced my Mom to try ordering a dinner, when she turned to me and explained that she was going to be off work for a few days. But that I shouldn’t worry about my Mom because she had left a note with the nice young man who would be there for the next few days. She had told him to take good care of us and she had explained that my Mom needed extra help with the menu. Then she placed her hand on my arm and gave me that beautiful smile of hers, and it was as if the fever finally left me. In the kindness of a woman whose name I cannot remember, I was embraced by the LOVE in which we all live and move and have our being.
Over the next few weeks and months we are all going to experience more than our fair share of fevers and we will be visited by fearful demons. This pandemic threatens all of us and it threatens those we love. Our fevers and the fevers of our neighbours will require as much kindness as we can muster. The demons that are lining up to haunt us will only be driven off by LOVE. Now more than ever, is the time for each one of us to, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “clothe (y)ourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances we have against one another—forgive in the same way God has forgiven us. Above all else, put on LOVE, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Let CHRIST’s peace reign in (y)our hearts since, as members of one body, we have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the WORD of CHRIST, rich as it is, dwell in you. Instruct and admonish one another wisely.”
We don’t have to smile. We don’t have to be kind. We can let our demons run wild. We can infect one another with fear and let the fever continue to rise. Or we can take strength from one another, trusting that the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being IS LOVE.
Dear sisters and brothers, beloved, when all is said and done, and COVID-19 becomes a but a memory, let it be said of us, above all else, we put on LOVE and clothed ourselves with compassion, with kindness, gentleness and patience. Let us embody the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, so that all the world may know the healing power of the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
As I write this, the media and public conversations are dominated by the concerns we all share about the COVID-19 Pandemic. As family, we at Holy Cross have been taking our cues from Public Health officials at the regional, provincial, and federal levels. While there is still no evidence of community transmission in York Region and we continue to be advised that the risk remains low, we are being warned to expect this to change. This is why we have already begun to prepare by adopting best-practices now. As we learn together, our Public Health Protocol continues to be adjusted to reflect the wisdom of experts in this quickly changing new world we find ourselves in.
As your Pastor, I am extremely proud of the way our Holy Cross Family has stepped up. Many thanks to our Church Council and to the volunteers who have helped to enact the necessary changes to our life together. Over the course of the next few weeks and months more will be asked of each of us as we continue to care for one another, our loved ones, and the community around us.
This week, I met with the members of our CARE Team to explore how best we might continue to care for one another. We all know that if we are feeling ill or if we suspect that we have been exposed to the virus, we must stay at home. We are grateful to everyone who has already done so and we suspect that more people will be required to stay home in the future. As a result, we are asking those of you who are self-isolating to let us know. Simply, call the Church phone 905-898-1682 and leave a voicemail. Messages will be checked 3 times a day. Members of our CARE Team will then be able to respond accordingly and check in with you from time to time.
The CARE Team will be coordinating volunteers to respond to the needs of those who are self-isolating, eg. shopping, or regular conversation. If you are able to volunteer to carry out small errands or to be a conversation partner, please email me and I will ensure that your name is added to our volunteer list.
In addition to the CARE Team, PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me for any reason: phone or text: 905-868-0897, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Please take a few moments to review our UPDATED Public Health Protocol which is attached with this letter (updates have been highlighted).
Scheduled activities will continue at Holy Cross: As all of our gatherings are classified as “small,” as of now, we do not fall under any advice to cancel. Sunday services and planned activities will continue. Fortunately should it become necessary to cancel, we do have access to various methods to livestream services. We will continue to innovate as necessary. Any and all updates will be posted on our website and emails will be sent. The health and welfare of the community will continue be our priority!
Social Distancing is a new idea which we hope will go a long way to limiting the spread of the virus. But it is not a comfortable fit for a loving family like ours. However, I have long since learned that the Holy Cross Family is made up of very wise and compassionate people. I have every confidence that together, we can rise to the challenges of being LOVE to one another and to our neighbours. Fortunately, we have access to modern means of communication, and it is my hope that we shall all find ways of keeping in touch with one another. Communication will be the key to opening the floodgates of compassion.
Remember, we are created and empowered to be LOVE by the ONE who IS LOVE.
Our compassion for one another and for our neighbours is a powerful way to ensure that all shall be well.
I shall continue to hold each and everyone of you in my heart and thereby my prayers, trusting that the ONE in whom we live, and move, and have our being, lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.
May each of us continue to take comfort from the knowledge that there is nothing that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God.
I remain, yours in CHRIST,
Pastor Dawn Hutchings
Readings: Thomas Aquinas “EMBRACE THAT” found here
St. Teresa of Avila “DESIRE YOU” found here
Gospel of John 4:1-42 found here
Watch the video below which was shown in worship after the reading of the Gospel: The Woman at the Well (below) and then listen to the sermon.
I did not know her. She had been calling the church for years and I had been responding to her calls for help for, I’d say about three years. But I did not know her. She was just another woman down on her luck who needed help to buy food for her family. She would call, almost every other week and because she did not have transportation, I would drive over to whatever hovel she and her two boys were living in. But I did not know her. She was just another woman who couldn’t seem to get her act together and so she relied on hand-outs from the church to supplement her social assistance. Whenever I went over to wherever it was that she was living, she would always invite me in and I would always agree, but just for a moment, I’d tell her I was very busy and I had other places to go and other people to see. But the truth is, the places where she managed to find shelter always smelled so band and I usually just wanted to be on my way so that I could escape the odors that permeated the filthy apartments in musty basements. Her various homes were so depressing that I could not bear to sit down. She would always offer me tea and I would always politely refuse, claiming that I’d just had a cup, thank-you very much. I did not know her.
I suppose I did not want to know her. Maybe I’ve met too many women just like her. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe the thought of becoming immersed in the sinkhole of sadness that is her life was just too much to bear. So, I’d just smile and give her a handout. I’d learned a long time ago not to ask too many questions; her problems were more than our meager resources could handle. I’ve been down that road before, so I’d hand over the grocery vouchers and indulge in some small-talk. I did not know her. I did not want to know her. Continue reading
There was a commercial that a while back on the TV and each time it came on, I couldn’t help myself, it made me smile and if I let myself, it made me laugh. It was a collection of scenes in which lovely little babies laugh. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh and before you know it you’re hooked and you just can’t help yourself you are laughing too. Laughter is a great tonic! Laughter is good for the soul! And yet, for some unknown reason we tend to exclude laughter from our religious life. Religion is serious business and so we don’t laugh much in worship. There’s a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that served as a warning sign for me as I was preparing this sermon. “NOT YET TICKLED” writes St. Teresa, “How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved—hurry.” The thought of being tickled by the DIVINE is delightfully refreshing.
I must confess that I don’t spend much time laughing with God. Listen to this quote from the writings of St. Teresa: “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” “What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did Christ. “Love” which is Teresa’s name for God. “Love once said to me, ‘I know a song would you like to hear it?’ And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy Me.” Enjoy Me. What a different place the world would be if we could only hear God beseeching us, “Enjoy Me.”
We are a serious lot we Christians. Duty, responsibility, guilt, and consternation have left us precious little time to “Enjoy!” We’ve got things to do, stuff to learn, values to instill and standards to uphold, so we’ve put enjoyment on the back-burner. After all, God is far too high and mighty to be trifling with, we daren’t laugh in the presence of our God. And yet, God continues to tickle us. Over and over again, with the most absurd wonders, and we can’t help ourselves, but smile. Creation is so full of laughs. Life is so funny! And church, I mean, whenever I think of the ridiculous things we get up to in church, well its enough to make you laugh until you cry. So to those of you who insist upon personifying our Creator, don’t you try to tell me that the Creator of all that is or ever shall be, the one who is responsible for creating humour itself, doesn’t just roar with laughter at the stuff that we get up to. So, isn’t it just possible that when it comes to laughing babies, God has plenty of scope for delighting in us? Surely, laughter is one of the most sublime forms of prayer? We ought to lighten up and enjoy our time with God. Cause lord knows, serious people are all well and good but who wants to spend time with a bunch of folks who can’t enjoy a joke.
So with that said, let’s turn to this mornings Gospel reading. This story is a real tickler! But in order to get the jokes, you’ve got to know some of the stuff the insiders knew. It’s a bit like trying to understand British humour, sometimes you don’t quite get the joke, if you don’t know something about life in Britain. The Gospel of John is full of stories that play on the local humour of Palestine in the first century. This story, about the Woman at the Well is full of double en-ton-dras. Indeed, this story is so outrageous that when the powers that be were sitting around deciding which books would make it into the New Testament, The Gospel of John almost didn’t make the cut. This story was far too racy and I mean racy in both senses of the word, this story was about race and it was far too risqué for the likeings of the religious authorities who were functioning as the thought police for the early church. So, sit back and allow yourselves to be tickled as I let you in on the jokes. Continue reading
This is not the sermon which I planned to preach this morning. On this International Women’s Day, I planned to preach about the unnamed women who walk with Jesus. I was going to riff off of the Leviticus text (Lev.15:19-30) which outlines the way in which women have been cast out from the temples of power simply for being women. Shedding blood comes naturally to women. But for millennia men have feared the life-giving abilities of women so much that they have judged the natural functions of our bodies as unclean. I planned to tell you about my own experiences of being cast out from the holy of holies. I was going to use my story as a way of celebrating just how far women have come in my lifetime.
You see when I was just seventeen years old, I was elected to the Church Council of my home parish. It was the late nineteen-seventies and the liturgical renewal movement was beginning to make its way through congregations. In my home parish it was decided that Council members would function as Worship Assistants. For the first time the pastor would have an assistant to help serve communion. For the first time in the life of our church laypeople would serve communion and pronounce the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
I say laypeople, but I should really say laymen. You see, even though I was serving on Church Council, the pastor told me that the time wasn’t quite right for me to be a Worship Assistant. At first, I thought it was because I was too young. But then one afternoon, my beloved pastor told me that women were not permitted behind the altar. I had only been attending church for about two years, and I’d never learned about this particular rule. Imagine my surprise when my pastor explained that I couldn’t go behind the altar because in the Bible women were not allowed into the holy of holies because of our monthly cycles. I could not be a worship assistant because I could not stand behind the altar.
I was going to use that little story to make the point that the church has come a long way. You see, all the while my pastor was telling me that I couldn’t, the church already was. In 1976, Pamela McGee became the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in Canada. Today, I planned to preach a sermon in celebration of all the unnamed women whose faith has propelled them to move beyond societies attempts to limit their participation. I planned to celebrate the women who have been ordained in Canada these past 44 years. Daughters of this church whose faith gave them the courage to reach beyond the limits carved out for them by the taboos and fears which all too often defined them. Daughters who even though they bleed, they saw Jesus out there and decided to follow.
Well that’s what I planned to preach about and then I began receiving communications from York Region’s Public Health department. Listening to York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, I learned a new phrase: social distancing. Social distancing, suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation of our reading from Leviticus. In the course of this past week, we have all been learning not to touch one another. Indeed, we are not supposed to touch our own faces. Fear has birthed all sorts of new taboos as we try to navigate our new reality. If only blood were the cause of these taboos. But alas, miniscule droplets have become the basis of so much fear that there isn’t a drop of sanitizer to be found in any of our stores. Continue reading
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 twenty 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
Way back when I first began the formal process of becoming a pastor, the church committee responsible for helping people become pastors, recommended that I get a “spiritual director.” Among the many pieces of paper that the candidacy committee gave me, included both a definition of what a “spiritual director” is and who I might approach to be my “spiritual director”.
I remember three things about the church’s recommendation:
- A spiritual director walks with, guides, encourages and challenges people to deepen their relationship with the divine.
- A spiritual director is someone whose wisdom is derived from their own deep relationship with the divine together coupled with formal theological education.
- The spiritual director is someone in whom the candidate for the ministry of Word and Sacrament can place their trust.
Although, I was blessed to know several people that that I trusted who might be able to walk with me, guide, me encourage me, there was only one person who I could trust to challenge me; I mean really challenge me. The problem was, I wasn’t actually sure if Henry’s theological education was quite what the church had in mind. Nevertheless, I decided to ignore that particular detail as I proceeded to invite Henry to serve as my “spiritual director”.
I had met Henry years earlier when we both were working for a package tour operator. Henry was responsible for graphic design and we worked together to produce some pretty snazzy travel brochures. At the time, I thought Henry was a little odd. He was older than everyone in the office. Henry came from Brooklyn and looked very much like the stereo-typical Jewish rabbi. I’m talking full black beard, black clothes, and a yarmulke. Turned out, Henry looked like a typical Jewish rabbi because he was a Jewish rabbi. Henry was working as a graphic designer to put food on the table for his family while he took a long-deserved break from serving as the director of a Jewish Yeshiva. Henry and I became fast friends.
Ours was a strange sort of friendship. Most of our conversations comprised of a series of questions without answers. I’d ask Henry a question, to which Henry would respond with an even deeper question, which would inspire and even deeper question with which I would be compelled to respond; it was kinda like dancing with ideas. Years later Henry would teach me that our dancing was actually an ancient form of the Jewish art of pilpul used by Talmudic scholars to get to the very heart of the sacred mysteries. It took me years to realize that Henry had become my spiritual director long before I ever asked him to formerly take on the role.
It turned out that Henry had studied at one of the best rabbinical schools in New York and was an accredited to be a “spiritual director”. Somehow, despite the urging of the church to select from their list of suggestions, I managed to get my candidacy committee to approve Henry as my spiritual director. To this day, I think the committee members over-looked the fact that Henry is Jewish, only because Henry offered to serve as my spiritual director without me having to pay him the going rate, which back then would have cost me way more than I could afford. As it turned out, Henry’s direction was priceless. So, many of the treasures that Henry shared with me continue to shape and direct me to this very day. Continue reading
I am indebted to Jim Kast-Keat, a pioneering preacher who inspired me to open this sermon with the video below. I am also indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for teaching me more that I can articulate with words. His excellent book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic opened the Gospel According to John in ways that have helped me to see aspects of the Divine to which I was once blind. Much of the sermon consists of extensive quotes from chapter 9 of Jack’s book.
Readings: John Chapter 2 and John 3:1-17
Watch the video below carefully before reading or listening to the sermon the sermon below.
So, before tackling the story of Nicodemus, I want to toss two balls into the congregation. The first ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents something all too familiar, biblical literalism. We know all too well that this particular ball has been distracting the church and most of the western world for the past few centuries. The second ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents historical biblical criticism. This particular ball is newer. It’s only been seriously tossed about for the past couple of centuries, but it is a really serious contender for our attention. But these balls have acquired a rather rhythmic bounce that tends to mesmerize us. Add to that these other balls the balls of church doctrine and theological dogma and before you know it we are so distracted that we forget what game we were trying to play in the first place as we try to keep up with the various passes made by players that have taken on a professional edge that leaves us watching from the sidelines unable to focus one of them.
None of these balls commanded the attention of the early Christians. They simply weren’t interested in taking the scriptures literally, nor were they particularly interested in the historicity of the scriptures. As for doctrine and dogma, well they were left to the professionals who only came to town on those unpleasant occasions when the league needed to ensure that it’s franchises continued to rake in enough money to keep the game on a sure footing. The scriptures, like all sacred writings, were about so much more than words scribbled on a scroll. The scriptures, like all scared writings, are about the mysteries of life. But these balls have been served up for us to play with and literalism and concerns about historical accuracy have done a magnificent job of distracting us from what really matters in these texts. Our fascination with the details of the fight-patterns of the balls that are tossed around whenever the stories in these texts play through our lives, have caused us to miss so many moon-dancing bears over the years.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love tossing these balls around and over the years I’ve learned to play ball with the best of them. But when a moon-walking bear dances onto the court, at the very least, we ought to notice the bear’s moves because the only way we’re going to learn to dance with these bears is by paying attention. Continue reading
When I was just a kid, I had what can best be described as an adolescent crush on a teacher. Looking back on it now, I’d have to say that I fell head over heels in love with my teacher. It was the kind of love that only a 13 year-old girl could have; so intense and all consuming. I came to believe that this teacher was the wisest, kindest, most interesting person in all the world. This teacher knew more than anyone else, especially my parents. This teacher was cooler, funnier, more daring and definitely more in tune with my life than anyone I had ever met. I was convinced that if I could only be just like this teacher would mean that I too would be cooler, funnier, more daring and definitely more in tune with life. So, like most adolescent girls who are suffering from a crush I became obsessed with this teacher. I was young and I was in love, and like most thirteen year-old’s the I was convinced that the world revolved around me, so I set about pursuing my passion. This teacher taught English, so naturally, I decided that when I grew up I too would teach English. This teacher loved poetry, so I too became passionate about poetry.
One day this teacher announced that we could gain extra-credit if we wanted to enter a local poetry writing contest; and even though I was pretty sure that year I’d be getting a mark that would be somewhat better than an A, I began to write poetry. I was very serious about my poetry writing. I carried a pad of paper with me everywhere I went, and I began to ruminate about my life. I don’t remember any of those early attempts to wax poetical, but I do remember that each and every one of those poems was about me; me and my life, me and my unrequited love, me and my passion, me and the horrible way that no one paid much attention to me. Me, Me, Me, Me, it was all about me.
As the time drew near for us to submit our poetry to the competition, my teacher announced that there would be a special class after school, so that those of us who were planning to enter the competition could get some feedback on our efforts. So, by the end of the week, I would have to choose one of my great works for feedback. I spent hours pouring over one poem in particular. Tinkering with the words, trying to get things just right. I was so very proud of the final draft. I’d carefully copied it out on to a crisp piece of foolscap. Arranged the letters in the middle of the page so that they looked just so. I could hardly wait for school to be over so that I could rush to see what comments my beloved teacher had placed in the margin. There were barely a handful of us who stayed after school.
Looking back on that scene, we were a nerdy little crew. I was positively breathless as my teacher handed my offering back to me. To this day, I can’t remember a single line of my great work, but I can tell you word for ward what was scribbled in red in the margin of the ever so white foolscap. “A little self-involved, try looking outward.” I was devastated. How could anyone be so cruel? I’d poured my heart out only to have it stomped on by the indifference of truth. Continue reading
On this the first Sunday of Lent the powers that be designed our lectionary so that the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures and our Gospel reading would speak with one voice. Sadly, the powers that be have used the myths about Eve to set Jesus up to save us from the church’s idea that all humans need to be saved from original sin. A while back, I said to a group of Roman Catholic Women Priests, that I would never read Eve’s story in public without provided the listeners with the information necessary to hear the story as it was written rather than how it is miss-remembered. So, before I read the second creation story which is found in the Book of Genesis, let me remind you of some of what has been forgotten about this story.
(see the video for the unpacking of Genesis 2:15-25 and Genesis 3:1-7 – the song we sing between and after the Genesis reading “Mother Eve Chose Love of Knowledge” which can be found in “Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action” by is Jann Aldredge-Clanton, with composer Larry E. Schultz – verse 1 between the readings and verses 2 & 3 as our Acclamation)
Sadly, the spirit of the mis-remembered Eve continues to walk with Jesus. Generations of Jesus’ followers have forgotten all about Eve. The church has failed to teach Jesus followers about Eve the giver of life and the seeker of knowledge. The church has stripped Eve of her power to breathe life, and her wisdom in seeking knowledge. The church has offered up a miss-remembered fallen woman, a temptress, to be punished over and over again. Eve has become the cross women must bear in our bleeding and in our birthing. The church has offered Eve up as if she is little more than a doctrine, the doctrine of original sin; a doctrine born of the fall and served up by Augustine in the fourth century to solidify the church’s role as the arbitrator of salvation. The trouble is there was no fall. We are not fallen creatures. We were never perfect creatures who fell from grace. For there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. Jesus never said a word about the fall or about original sin. Yet, generations of church hierarchies have offered Jesus up as a sacrifice sent to save us from “the Fall”.
During the Season of Lent, we are encouraged to repent. Repent comes from the Greek, Metanoia – which means to turn around or to change your way of thinking. It is long past time for us to re-member the story of Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Everything and repent, change our way of thinking. By portraying Eve’s quest for knowledge as a “Fall from Grace” the patriarchal church hierarchy has spawned leaders who have created and maintained systemic misogyny for generations.
Just listen to the words of the Church Fathers spew their venom: Clement of Alexandra reflecting on Eve’s story insisted that: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” No less a figure than Tertullian himself proclaimed that, “Women were the reason Jesus had to die on the cross; they were the “gate to hell,” and a “temple built over a sewer.” Saint Augustine wrote, “Men by themselves are the image of God, while women are not, they are merely men’s helpmates.” Saint Albert the Great, preached, “Women have faulty and defective natures; their feelings drive them to evil while reason drives men to good. Women are by nature, lying, deceptive creatures; one must be on guard against every woman as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil himself.” Saint Thomas Aquinas proclaimed, “Women are defective and misbegotten. “ The mystic John Chrysostom wrote, “Amongst all the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.”
Now I know that some may shake their heads and insist, that the church has long since given up misogyny. I will confess that I struggled with the idea of this Lenten preaching series on the Women Who Walk with Jesus, precisely because I too want to believe that we have come a long way baby. But then news of yet another male member of the privileged church fathers serial sexual abuse of women came to light. The recent confession by the L’arche foundation about Jean Vanier guilt, is sad but it is not shocking, not even very surprising. Those of us who are among the “firsts’, the first generation of women to serve as pastors, are not surprised by the depths of misogyny that continue to spawn snakes. It will take more than a generation or two of women in positions of power to affect the necessary repentance. Changing an institution’s systemic misogyny requires more than simply changing our way of thinking about women. We must repent, turn around and change the way we act not just how the church acts towards women, but how we women think about ourselves.
I can’t help but wonder how different the church, indeed the world would be if the church had not miss-remembered Eve. I dream of a church in which Chavah, Eve, Mother of All Living, walks with Jesus breathing life into our quest for wisdom., with Chavah, Eve, the Mother of All Living walking with Jesus perhaps we can learn to look to Eve’s decision to choose knowledge over blind obedience and begin to celebrate the rights of women everywhere to choose, with Chavah, Eve, the Mother of All Living walking with Jesus, perhaps we can begin to celebrate women’s bodies rather than abuse them.
I dream of a church and indeed a world in which young girls will naught be taught to see their own bleeding as a curse but as the miraculous gift of potential new life. I dream of women and men who follow Jesus’ example of reaching out beyond the lines drawn by the religious establishment, or cultural expectations. I dream of a world where young girls and boys will be raised to imagine the DIVINE as our ancestors did, El Shaddai, The Breasted ONE. I dream of a church where we can once again see the humour and the humility in the stories our ancestors told. Humour and Humility, both words come from the same root as the word humus – which means earth. For we are, when all is said and done, both women and men, simply Earth Creatures.
So, let us always re-member our common earthiness. May the Breasted ONE who breathed life into us, female and male, continue to breathe in, with, through and beyond us. May the spirit of Eve the Mother of All LIVING, continue to walk with us, as we seek the knowledge and the wisdom to follow Jesus, with humour and humility. Amen.