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According to experts, an interesting side effect of the current public health crisis, is the increasing number of people who report that they are experiencing exceptionally vivid dreams. Apparently, all the extra decisions we are making each and every day, should we do this, or that how can we do this or that, do we really need to do this or that, what shall we do instead of this or that; well these extra decisions pile up and our brains are maxing out. Dreaming is our brain’s way of coping or sorting through the events of our days. Now I’m not exactly sure, how taxed my brain is. If I’m honest my brain feels a bit numb these days. So, it could just be that reading the article about vivid dreams caused me to have a particularly vivid dream, the other night. Not surprisingly, I was dreaming about returning to the way things used to be. You know way back when. It’s hard to believe it was just about three months ago when we were all busy making all those plans, which we are so very fond of making. Back then, I had most of my year all planned out; church priorities, speaking engagements, vacation plans, things I wanted to do, people and places I wanted to see. And then one day, I was in my house, cancelling all my plans, wondering when I could get back to making plans again.
Well in this vivid dream of mine, I was sitting in front of a giant calendar, days, weeks, and months, all blacked out and I was weeping. It was all so black. I picked up a pen and I tried to put something on the calendar, and nothing happened. I grabbed a blank piece of paper and I checked to make sure the pen was working. The pen was working just fine. So, once again, I tried to put something on the calendar, and again, and again and again, but there was nothing, just days, and weeks, and months all blacked out. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big new eraser. I haven’t seen an actual eraser for years. But there it was a big pink eraser with sharp new edges. I picked it up and set about rubbing as hard as I could, trying desperately to erase the blackness from the calendar. But as hard and as fast as I rubbed, the blackness simply wouldn’t budge.
My arm became weary, and my grip on the eraser began to weaken, I was barely rubbing at all, when suddenly, the blackness began to fade to grey. So, I rubbed a little more gently, and as I rubbed flowers began to emerge, then birds, butterflies, green grass, daffodils, until one by one each square upon the calendar, gave way to a vision of Creation in which vivid colours emerged into visions of such beauty which leapt off the calendar and danced around the room. When I awoke, I felt a lightness in my being, before I began to remember the details of my dream. Lingering over a strong cup of coffee, I pondered the contours of this dream as I moved beyond the dream into a vision.
“Abba, the hour has come! Glorify your Only Begotten that I may glorify you, through the authority you’ve given me over all humankind, by bestowing eternal life on all those you gave me. And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus, the Messiah.”….“and this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God.”
For years, I thought of eternal life as a quantity of time and I confused eternal with everlasting. It is only in the past decade or so that I have understood the real meaning of eternal, is limitless. Limitless, by definition, cannot be time-bound. Limitless has no beginning and no end. Limitless is larger than we can imagine and smaller than we can imagine. Limitless is farther than we can see and smaller than we can see. Limitless is not a quantitative it is qualitative. So, if eternal life is not about life everlasting, then what exactly might the gift of eternal life be? One of the qualities of the eternal which I have come to understand is the limitlessness of grace, which comes to us as an integral part of life. The gift of breath itself is pure grace. Fourteen billion years of evolution have resulted in the cosmos producing human life. Our very being is a miracle of grace and each and every breath we breathe is pure gift. We are living breathing, walking, talking, loving, miracles. The breath which flows through us, enlivens us, and empowers us, this breath is the SPIRIT of ALL LIFE, that emanates from the ONE who is the source of our being.
The eternal quality of our life, of all our lives is knowing; knowing. To know, is to experience deeply. The ancients understood this as the essence of what it means to be human; to know. The anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John, puts into the mouth of Jesus words that I am only beginning to know, to experience deeply. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God.” The words translated from the Greek as “to know” are the same words used in the scriptures to describe the intimacy of lovemaking. This is eternal life, to know, to make love to God, the DIVINE MYSTERY who is LOVE ITSELF.
Eternal life is a quality of living that shares a deep intimacy with the ONE who is the SOURCE of our being. Knowing the presence of the I AM the ONE who IS wakes us from our distractions. Knowing the I AM, is a daunting way to BE. The renowned interpreter of myths and dreams, Joseph Campbell warns that, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I realize, that despite the reality that the life I’d planned for myself, back then, before this lockdown began, that life is gone, not postponed, it is gone. There is a new life waiting for us here, now, in this place where we find ourselves. All around us, the sheer magnitude of Creation’s beauty has the power to awaken us to the intimacy and wonder of the lovemaking in which the SOURCE-of-ALL that IS, continues to engage with Creation. If we let go of the life we planned, the life which is bursting forth all around us, has the power to draw us into life eternal, now.
The eternal quality of living draws us into this intimacy, in ways that can inspire such joy. But this eternal quality of living can also draw us into a LOVE which pierces our hearts. As the news of ever-increasing death tolls pierce our consciousness, we begin to envision new ways of being in the world. When I recall all the various plans which once drove me from day to day, I realize that this isolation has provided a much needed sabbath. It may not be a sabbath of rest, but it is a sabbath of return; a kind of retreat from what was into a place of what is, from which we can begin to dream of what might be. There are things we need to pay attention to in this sabbath of retreat. What are we being called to notice, to learn, to imagine, to prepare, to dream as what was gives way to what might be?
Lingering over my morning coffee, I looked out as rain fell gently upon the grass. Never before has the grass been so green. Beyond the colours, I see an image of the ONE who IS the Source and Ground of Being weeping like a prodigal parent tormented by wayward children who have lost their way. Eternal life is not all sweetness and light. Limitless LOVE demands a kind of attention which opens us to the pain of all those with whom we share this precious gift of life. LOVEmaking is a kind of knowing which can break our hearts just as surely as it can cause our hearts to race with a passion for intimacy. To know the Sacred, the Divine ONE is to see our CREATOR weep, to feel the pain of illness, violence, oppression, greed, destruction, and death. The temptation is to look away, to protect our fragile hearts, and fill our days with distractions, to flee from eternal life, from this knowing which brings such intensity. Tears, like rainfall of torrential proportions, are falling all around us. This gift of eternal life, this knowing, this lovemaking, is intense. Such deep intimacy with the ONE who is the SOURCE-of-ALL-BEING is not for the faint of heart. But this intimacy, this Eternal life, makes the flowers smell so very sweet, and the birdsong sound so sublime.
YAHWEH. Our CREATOR, the GREAT I AM WHO AM. I AM here, now in this sabbath of retreat: rejoicing, weeping, longing, singing, dancing, grieving, shouting, playing, living, breathing, waiting, touching, dying, rising, laughing, crying, feeding, loving, in, with, through, and beyond you. I AM here!
To approach intimacy with the ONE WHO IS, WAS, and Ever More Shall BE, LOVE, is life eternal. To make LOVE with the SACRED, the DIVINE, the HOLY ONE, is life eternal. Life without limits. Light beyond Light. Light which penetrates our distractions. A light which shines on the beauty and the pain of life, all life, with an intimacy which opens us to a way of being which is eternal.
I AM here. YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM. May you know, may you experience deeply, the power and the intimacy of eternal life, here and now, now and always, as you awaken to the ONE, who IS LOVE, awaken to what is, so that you may dream of what might be, in this ONE beautiful life in which we live and move and have our being, in, with, through, and beyond, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.
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Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus
The celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is a church festival that I have always chosen to ignore. The ancient tradition that has Jesus floating up into the clouds stretches the credibility of the church to such an extent that I’ve always assumed that the less said about the Ascension the better. But I was challenged by a parishioner to try to make some sense out of the Ascension story so that 21st century Christians would not have to check their brains at the door should they happen upon a congregation that still celebrated the day. What follows is a transcript of my attempt to leave behind the miraculous Jesus in order to be better able to welcome the human Jesus down from the clouds. I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong together with Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-city for their liberating insights.
Traditionally, on the 40th day after Easter, the church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. But because so few people in the 21st century are willing to come to church during the week, the Ascension is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Ascension. Since I have been your pastor we have not celebrated Ascension Sunday. But as this particular Ascension Sunday follows so closely after Jack Spong’s visit with us, I thought that it was about time that rather than avoid the Ascension, I’d like to try to confront it.
Jack has been telling his anti-Ascension story for quite a few years now. Just in case you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, let me remind you. It seems that Jack was speaking with Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. Jack says that Carl Sagan once told him “if Jesus literally ascended into the sky and traveled at the speed of light, then he hasn’t yet escaped our galaxy.”
With that said, let me just say, that the Ascension never actually happened. It is not an historical event. If a tourist with a video camera had been there in Bethany they would have recorded absolutely nothing.
I know what the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” But like the members of the early church, I do not have a literal understanding of the scriptures. And so, as I do not understand the Bible literally, neither do I understand the Nicene Creed to be a literal interpretation of the faith. Like all creeds the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian creeds are snapshots of theology as it was at a particular time in history.
We would do well to remember that the Creeds were developed to answer questions about the faith in a time when people understood the cosmos to be comprised of a flat earth, where God resides above in the heavens and located beneath the earth were the pits of hell. I know that the universe is infinite. I also know about gravity. I also know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus had helium flowing through his veins. I’ve flown around the world, and I can tell you that there is no heaven above the clouds. So, I can say with confidence that: The very present Jesus of resurrection faith did not literally elevate into heaven while his disciples looked on. Continue reading
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There is a time for everything, a season for every purpose under heaven: “a season for holding close and a season for holding back,” some translations say, “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” I’ve never fully understood, never deeply felt this season until right now, when we are smack dab in the middle of this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing. And I’ve gotta tell ya, “this sucks!” Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are in lockdown together and we are certainly not refraining from embracing. In fact, were it not for the tender embraces of my darling Carol, I dare say, that I could not cope with this lock-down. I give thanks every day for Carol’s presence with me. Her embraces feed my soul. My heart goes out to those of you who are at home alone. I’d dash over, right now and give you a big hug if I could. But I cannot.
There are so many embraces which are being held back right now. Embraces which I long for. What I wouldn’t give for one of those joy-filled tight, tight, squeezes from my grandchildren. There’s nothing quite like the joy of a child, when they race across a room, and launch themselves into your arms and squeeze for dear life. No wonder, desperate parents are devising those plastic barriers to serve as hug devices so their kids can hug their grandparents! I also miss those friendly, gentle hugs like the ones many of us exchange when you arrive at church and those reverent embraces we exchange during worship when we pass the peace. But the held back embraces, which I desperately long for more than anything else, are the gentle embraces we extend to comfort one another when our hearts are broken. There is no technology, no plastic barrier, no scribbled note, no well-wishing card which can comfort quite the way a gentle, tender, embrace which passes between friends and family who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Grieving our loved ones during these surreal days of physical distancing, accentuates our sadness. In our gospel reading, Jesus is heard to say, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Touching, embracing, and comforting are such an integral part of parenting. Is it any wonder then, that so many of us can resonate with that old spiritual right now, “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.”? I must confess that, on more than one occasion this week, I’ve actually missed the “old-faraway-father-sky-god” who I used to pray to. You know that old bearded grandfather in the sky who was in charge of everything, ready, willing and able to hear my prayers and respond in an authoritative way. That far-away-father-sky-god who I used to believe in would know just what to do in a pandemic. If I prayed all the right prayers to him, and I do mean him, if enough of us had just enough faith, in him, he would sort us all out. You know the way our parents used to sort things out for us when we were kids. This covid thing has got me feeling like an orphan; an orphan in search of a saviour, to say, “there, there dear, I’ve got this.”I’m feeling very much like “a motherless/fatherless child,” and so to hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned,” these words are like balm to sooth my soul. Yes please, Jesus. Help me Jesus. Help us Jesus. We want to feel your embrace!
“If you love me and obey the command I give you, I will ask the ONE who sent me to give you another Paraclete, an Advocate, another Helper to be with you always—the SPIRIT of truth, whom the world cannot accept since the world neither sees her nor recognizes her; but you can recognize the SPIRIT because she remains with you and will be within you. I will not leave you orphaned.” The SPIRIT is with you, and will be within you. We are not alone. Jesus insists, “On that day you will know that I AM in God and you are in me, and I AM in you.”
The I AM is in us and we are in the I AM. YAHWEH, the I AM, the SOURCE of all BEING, is in us and we are in YAHWEH. Or as the Apostle Paul says in the Book of Acts: “the ONE who is not really far from any of us – the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, “We too are God’s children.”
ONE in whom we live, ONE in whom we move, ONE in whom we have our being, ONE the LIFE in ALL. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died proclaiming that we have no need to seek salvation from anything other than the very SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through and beyond us.
In what has been called Jesus’ “Farewell Address” Jesus implores us, “if you love me and obey the command I give you.” In the Gospel according to the storyteller we call John, Jesus gives only one commandment: we are “to love one another as Jesus has loved us.”
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection embody the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who is LOVE. Jesus’ embodiment of the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY we call God, points us not to some lofty throne, but rather to the very breath we breathe; to the SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.
We are ONE in the SPIRIT. If this virus has taught us anything, surely it has taught us that we are ONE, for when one of us is ill or at risk, all of us are all ill and at risk. So, how then shall we comfort one another during this season of holding back, when we are to refrain from embracing. Well ironically, the very breath which carries the droplets we are all avoiding right now, is also the very breath which has the power to comfort us. I am not an epidemiologist; I am but a lowly pastor. I am not trained in science; I am but a humble theologian. As a pastor and a theologian, I am trained in the art of metaphor – metaphor – the very word actually means “to carry beyond words”. So, please allow this lowly, humble pastor and theologian to use the virus which is currently plaguing us as a metaphor. We are all perfectly capable of breathing in each and every pathogen which infects Creation today. We only need a few shallow breathes to separate us one from another and we have seen the diss-ease which results from this kind of infection; our planet is groaning, people are dying, refugees are fleeing, the poor are suffering, violence, greed and self-centeredness are rampant.
But if we have the Wisdom, to breathe more deeply, the healing power of the SPIRIT rises in us resurrecting the LOVE in whom we live, and move and have our being and gratitude, generosity, compassion, and peace flow in, with, through, and beyond us. I know metaphors aren’t perfect ways of communicating and there will be those who will see only the holes and the gaps in my metaphor. But metaphors by their very nature are not designed to be words which communicate perfect solutions, metaphors and by design crafted to carry us beyond words, toward a vison of what might be.
So, in this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing, I invite you to step away from the swirling fear which comes with the virus which plagues us, move deeply into your splendid isolation, and take a long deep breath. Breathe deeply of the SPIRIT of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. Feel the SPIRIT as the SPIRIT enters you, and feel the SPIRIT as you exhale the SPIRIT who IS LOVE. Let the SPIRIT whirl and twirl and dance in and around you and feel the gentle, tender, embrace of the ONE who IS, WAS, and evermore SHALL BE, LOVE.
We have not been left orphaned. We are held, embraced, comforted, empowered, by the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Breathe deeply of this embracing SPIRIT and know the power of resurrected LOVE to embrace, to heal, and to comfort us as we are carried beyond words, to the ONE who IS, BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.
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Six years ago, when Acts 17:22-31 last came round in the lectionary, I had the distinct pleasure of baptizing our grand-daughter. This sermon welcomes her to this grand journey of life that we travel as companions. The sermon begins with an adaptation of a creation story by by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith. the readings were included Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:14-21
As nearly as we can figure out, little Audrey’s journey to the baptismal font began some 13.7 billion years ago. Audrey’s journey, like all our journeys began with a bang!
“In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness. The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across eons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend. Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball. It was the greatest explosion of all time! An eruption of infinite energy danced into being. It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity. The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being. The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies. Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars! Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars. Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements. Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars. These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life. With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration. Molecules clustered together to form living cells! Later came the algae, and then fish began to inhabit the waters! Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky. Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too. This is our story. The story of our beginning, our cosmology.” (Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith)
This great cosmic journey is bigger that we can even begin to imagine. The vastness of millions, some say billions of galaxies of which we are a part, challenges the abilities of our minds to comprehend. We gather here in this infinitesimal part of the cosmos because we are convinced that at the very heart of the cosmos lies the REALITY which we call God. A REALITY beyond our abilities to express. This REALITY is a MYSTERY which down through the ages, all those who have looked up into the night sky or held a newborn in their arms, has been fascinated and perplexed by. The attempts of all those who have gone before us to comprehend, express, or explain have fallen so far short of capturing the essence of the BEING who called all being into existence. How do you express the inexpressible? How do we begin to speak of that which is beyond, the beyond and beyond that also? From the earliest cave drawings, itched in in wonder at the MYSTERY, our ancestors have tried to capture in art, poetry, literature, drama, song, and dance the hints of the MYSTERY which sustains all life. But all our attempts, be they simple sculptors or grand theologies, pale in comparison to the REALITY we so long to know and understand. As incapable of description as we are, each season of creation sends us back to the drawing board as we attempt to capture the beauty which surrounds us. Each new life which comes into our midst and each parting death causes to wonder and marvel at the complexity of our existence. No one can hold a baby in their arms and not be amazed at the miracle of life. No one can hold a hand as a body breathes it’s last and not wonder how or why and even where or who we might be. At the very heart of all life there is MYSTERY.
For those of us gathered here in this place, the overwhelming evidence of the ages convinces us that the REALITY at the heart of the cosmos, the ONE we call God is LOVE. In response to this LOVE we gather together to in LOVE so that we might also be LOVE; LOVE for each other and LOVE for the world. In the evolving complexity of our cosmos, we see over and over again the miracles and wonders of life spring forth and we can’t help ourselves but respond to the LOVE which sustains all life. From time to time, individuals have appeared who have opened windows into the REALITY of the ONE we call God. These individuals live their lives in ways that enlighten us on our journey.
We gather here in this place to remember Jesus of Nazareth, a person of wisdom and integrity who lived and loved in ways which opened us to the LOVE of God inspiring us to live fully and love extravagantly so that all may know LOVE. Jesus was confronted by the harsh realities of failed attempts to live beyond LOVE. Born into poverty and oppression, Jesus refused to respond to the cruelty of a world where hatred and greed had taken hold and insisted upon living in ways that might usher in a new Reign of Justice and Peace in a world where military might and violence prevailed. Jesus refused to take up arms against the powers that be, and insisted that peace could only be achieved through justice; for when everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough justice, enough love, then and only then can there be peace.
Evolution is a difficult and messy business. Humanity does not evolve without error or pain. When we lose sight of the REALITY which lies at the heart of our existence, when we fail to love as we have been loved, our journeys and the journeys of those around us become infinitely more difficult. Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest. Our best scientists have warned us not to misinterpret evolution’s natural selection as being all about “the strong shall survive.” More and more we are beginning to understand the role of co-operation on a cellular level as the building blocks upon which a species changes and survives. Modern evolutionary science points to social co-operation as key to survival. Social co-operation is if you’ll allow me, akin to a primitive form of love; a building block if you will to LOVE.
It should come as no surprise to any of us who are on this grand journey of life that every major religion in the world has at its core the wisdom which has commonly become known as the Golden Rule: “do on to others as you would have them do onto you.” Jesus, who was after all a Jewish rabbi, expressed the Golden Rule in terms his Jewish audiences would have understood from their own sacred scriptures: Love God with all your heart, with all strength, with all your mind and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Jesus lived and died for LOVE. The powers that be believed that execution would stifle this LOVE, but Jesus lived so fully and loved so passionately that the LOVE he lived for did not die. And so, we gather here, trusting that the LOVE we have experienced on our journey is akin to the LOVE that lies at the very heart of the cosmos; trusting that in that LOVE we live and move and have our being. We look at the world around us and see that only justice can bring the kind of peace in which our love can thrive. So, we seek to achieve that peace by ensuring that everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough work, enough joy, enough love. Like Jesus we seek peace through justice for all. Continue reading
When I was a child in Northern Ireland, my Mom would often as me a question which would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts which I suspect she learned when she was a child from her Mother. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me, “How much do you love me?” and I would answer, as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you to bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I love my Mom, “Five bags of sugar!” Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who grew up measuring love in bags of sugar.
As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with rationing during World War II. Sugar’s ability to make all things sweet tied it to people’s perception of a happy life. A “big bag of sugar” was more sugar than most people would ever see. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how people could begin to measure love in bags of sugar. To this day my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders, to measure love in bags of sugar; even though we have all since learned that consuming large quantities of sugar makes us sick. I suspect the wartime custom of expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosy…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague which saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posy, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few.
This week the world remembered VE Day; the end of war in Europe was commemorated from the confines of our physically isolated planet as we all seek refuge from the pandemic which has brought an end to many of our treasured cultural norms. The combination of Mothers’ Day, the 75 Anniversary of VE Day, a global pandemic was topped off with news of the arrival in North America of some beast called a “murder hornet.” These are strange times in which to live. According to the experts, many of us are experiencing culture shock. Think back to just two months ago. Way back then, we would not be confined to worshipping together over the medium of the internet. Less than two short months ago, we enjoyed the freedom of movement which all of us took for granted and many of us would have been gathered together in our sanctuary, singing, praying, exchanging the peace, sharing communion, and then feasting together over coffee, tea, and conversation. In less than two months, so very many things which we took for granted, are no longer possible and we do not know when or if they shall be returned to us.
Last week I listened as Bill Gates, the kazillionaire behind so much of the technology which characterized the past thirty years, insisted that many of us have had to learn new skills at a rate which has seen us absorb fifteen years’ worth of change in just six weeks. Gates called this phenomenon “cultural compression.” So, if you are struggling to come to terms with your new life, rest assured, you are not alone. Go easy on yourself. Humans were never designed to cope with the rate of change we are experiencing today.
Yes, we are privileged. We came into this crisis as the privileged few. We are certainly wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and grandparents. In addition to our wealth and privilege we also have all sorts of mechanisms in place to cushion the effects of whatever we may still have to endure. We know that there are others who are much worse off than we are, and yet, we can’t quite shake the angst which comes in the middle of the night. No amount of sugar or packets full of posy can obscure the shock waves which are impacting our way of being in the world.
So, reeling from the so many changes, I must confess that today’s Gospel text, makes me feel the way I used to feel when I would turn the tables on my Mom and ask her, “How much do you love me Mom?” As some of you know, my Mom lives on the West Coast, I miss her terribly and there I nothing more I’d rather hear than, “Five big bags of sugar!” There is something about your mother’s voice that has the power to sooth even our deepest upsets. Even if your Mom has long since gone on to “prepare a place for you,” I’m sure that you can still hear her soothing you in times of trouble.
Now, I know full well all the scholarly reasons for insisting that the words of the anonymous gospel-story-teller which we call John has put on the lips of Jesus, very probably come from the community of people who followed the ways of Jesus, rather than Jesus himself. I don’t care much whether or not Jesus actually said these words. However, I do care very much about the truth which these words convey about the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL. I know that love measured in “bags of sugar” and safeguards like “packets of posy” are expressions whose meanings have been lost over time. I also know that the words used to express the characteristics of the DIVINE MYSTERY have also lost their power over time.
We have forgotten so very much about those things we once took for granted. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so! Little ones to him belong! Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.” We are all grown up and in the face of so much suffering, it may indeed be time for us to put away childish things. When our physical isolation is over and we are released to return to our lives, our lives will not be as they once were. Nothing stays the same under normal circumstances. Life changes over time and the experts may just be correct when they tell us that the effects of cultural compression will have a colossal impact on the ways in which we return to life out there. But whether it’s bags of sugar, pockets of posy, or the sure and certain knowledge that “Jesus loves me!”, this I do know, LOVE remains constant.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me as well.” Our way of speaking about the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the source of ALL REALITY may have changed and will continue to change over time. But the truth that the DIVINE MYSTERY IS LOVE, this LOVE never changes. God IS, was and evermore shall be LOVE. In Jesus of Nazareth, his followers like the anonymous gospel-storyteller who we call John, in Jesus people for generations have seen the embodiment of the LOVE which IS God. Jesus’ Way of being in the world is LOVE alive in the world.
Jesus insistence that, “I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life.” is not some arbitrary barrier to be crossed or hoop one must jump through in order to know the DIVINE. But rather the followers of Jesus’ attempting to express the reality that for Jesus the Way of LOVE is the only Way of being. The Way of LOVE empowered Jesus to claim unity with LOVE. “I AM in LOVE and LOVE is in me!” “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is LOVE, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of LOVE.” Jesus loves me this I know; just as surely as I know that my Mom loves me. Just as surely that I know that there is nothing in heaven or on earth which can ever separate me from the LOVE that IS God.
It may indeed be scary out there. I suppose it has always been scary out there. But my Mom always pushed me out the door to meet the world, in the sure and certain knowledge that she loved me more than five big bags of sugar. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Trust in the DIVINE ONE who is LOVE. LOVE beyond the ability of mere words to describe. LOVE beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond you. LOVE is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Know that LOVE is in you and you are in LOVE and there is nothing which can separate you from the LOVE which is God. LOVE’s got this! Be LOVE and you will be well. Be LOVE and all manner of things shall be well.
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The Gospel of Thomas 70
1 Peter 2:2-10
He was screaming at me like some kind of lunatic. Clearly, he was furious with me. His face was beet red. He kept jabbing the air in front of my face with his index finger. The veins in his neck were raised and throbbing. He kept going on and on and on and on about how wrong I was. I tried to calm him down, but he could no longer hear anything I was saying. He was so inflamed by my original statement that nothing I could say or do short of falling to my knees and begging his forgiveness for having been so wicked would suffice. So, I just stood there, hoping that eventually he would wear himself out and quiet down long enough for us to agree to disagree. But his enthusiasm for his cause was stronger than I’d anticipated. He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life and that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO matter who they are, or how good they may be, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THORUGH JESUS CHIRST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AN DTHE LIFE! The sooner I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and quit trying to figure out ways to get people into heaven through the back door the better off I would be. Furthermore, unless I was willing to confess the error of my ways, then I had no business calling myself a Christian, because I was clearly damned to hell.
I can still see the anger and hatred in my old friend’s face. Anger that seemed so out of place. We were on retreat in the mountains of British Columbia. We had just listened to a sermon about the Many Mansions that God has prepared for the people of the world. Not surprisingly my friend took exception to the preacher’s emphasis on God’s different ways of including the different people of the world into God’s Reign. Over lunch we argued about just what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. NO one comes to the Father except through me.” My friend it seems had all the answers. Those who did not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will never be acceptable in the sight of God, they will never be included in the Kingdom of God, for indeed they are damned to hell!
I could not accept that a loving and gracious God could be so cruel. So, I walked away from my friend and his theology. I ignored Jesus’ words about how to get to the Father and focused on God’s many mansions. After all, the Bible is full of contradictions and to some problems you just must admit that there are no answers.
That method worked for me for quite awhile. Then one day, while I was studying for an under-graduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I was confronted once again by Jesus’ words. Words I believed to be incompatible with the gospel of grace and mercy. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I was studying the history of inter-faith dialogue. Our class was made up of Hindu’s, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Sikhs, and one lonely Buddhist. Together, we discussed the problems that have happened down through the centuries when people of different faiths encounter one another. One day we were given a particular assignment. We were teamed up with a member of another faith tradition and asked to bring to the table a piece of sacred scripture from our partner’s faith tradition that we found intriguing. Of course, that meant that we had to read the sacred scriptures of another tradition. Continue reading
Way back when I first began going to church, I had one of those bibles…and I dare say many of you have probably had one too…I had a red-letter bible. For those of you who’ve never had one, a red-letter bible is a bible where all the words of Jesus are printed in red and for a long time I actually believed that if it was printed in red, then Jesus actually must have said it and there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Christians who still believe that if they are printed in red they are the actually words of Jesus.
When I first began reading the New Testament, many of those red-letter words were difficult to read. The 14th chapter of the Gospel according to John was just one of the many texts that I read with great trepidation. “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.” These particular words in red led me to believe that my family and most of the people I loved, were doomed, because they didn’t believe in Jesus. So, you can imagine my delight when I went to a young adults’ retreat and one of the pastors told us that just because words are printed in red, it doesn’t mean that Jesus actually said those words. I remember going back to my home parish and asking my pastor why he never told us about the things he was taught at the seminary about the words of Jesus and I can still hear him answering, “Most laypeople aren’t ready to hear that. It would destroy their faith.”
It’s an old argument amongst the clergy. It’s as if some of, “them” whoever “they” are, believe that the world as they know it will come to an end as they know it if they were to let lay-people in on the secrets of the trade. Should we or should we not teach laypeople about the historical critical methods that we all learned in seminary. When I say we all learned, I’m talking about the vast majority of clergy from the mainline denominations, like the Lutheran church, the Anglicans, the United Church, Mennonites, even Roman Catholics, and I dare say more than a few Baptists. We all learn the historical critical methods that academic scholars have been perfecting over the years. But the sad truth is that very few of us actually teach the historical critical methods that we have learned when we get into the parish. Many of my colleagues still argue that either laypeople aren’t ready to hear it, or that they don’t want to hear it. Either way, they’re not about to start preaching it from the pulpit and run the risk of destroying people’s faith. Besides, the folks who clearly don’t want to hear any of it just might run them out of town.
I’ve never really understood this attitude. I think perhaps the fact that as a layperson I was relieved to hear that Jesus didn’t actually say all the stuff that’s printed in red. So, from the beginning, I’ve always tried to teach the historical critical methods that I have learned to apply to my own study of the bible. Continue reading
Mothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women. Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:
Listen to the sermon here
“I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life. NO one comes to Abba God but through me.” Over the course of two millennia, the ways in which these words have been interpreted by far too many people who insist that they are “Christian” is enough to make most mothers, be they Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Shikh, Jew, atheist, or agnostic, CRINGE. It seems to me, that to insist that it’s Jesus’ Way or the highway, as if Christians have the exclusive way of being in the world, violates the basic principles of the image we have of what it means to be a good mother. Today, while we celebrate all the various stereotypes of what it means to be or to have a good mother, I don’t think any of you would hold point to the image of a mother who favoured one of her children to the exclusion of her other children. Yet somehow, the image of God as “Father” of us all, is messed up with the notion of a God who insists on a particular Way of being in the world, a way of being that believes particular things about who Jesus of Nazareth is, was, and ever more shall be; a way of being that insists that only those who believe particular things about Jesus will be welcomed into God’s household. The Good News is, that New Testament scholars have learned a great deal about this passage that contradicts the so-called “traditional interpretations” of this text. New Testament scholars begin by teaching us that these words attributed to Jesus, were in fact written some 70 plus years after Jesus’ crucifixion by an anonymous story-teller that we call John, who in all likelihood put these words into the mouth of Jesus in order to address a particular problem in the community to which this story is addressed.
But, more important than the realization that Jesus may never have actually said these words is the reality that taken out of context and proclaimed in ways that exclude some people at the expense of others, these words fail to express the very ideas of inclusion that the anonymous story-teller that we call John was trying to express to his community in the first place. For as the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call John insists:
“In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well. Continue reading
Sermon Only – Watch the full service below.
“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want” or,“A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-side, I want for nothing.”
The translations of this ancient Hebrew hymn may be separated by centuries, but both the English translators of King James and the American Rabbi Jamie Arnold seek to move us deeply into the inner workings of our being.
Like the unknown ancient Hebrew who created this pathway to a realm beyond the surface of our thinking toward our deepest longings, our darkest fears and into our deepest peace, all translators, interpreters, readers, and listeners of this ancient LOVE song, approach the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.
IS , is the word is the present tense of the verb TO BE.
The verb “to be” is unique among all verbs.
The present tense of the verb to be: AM, IS, ARE
The past tense: WAS, WERE
The past participle: BEEN,
And the present participle: BEING.
TO BE a verb which struggles to communicate the very ISNESS of BEING.
For the ancient ancestors, the very essence of a being is contained in the name of that being. Is it any wonder then, that the verb “to be” in Hebrew was used by the ancients to communicate the name of the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS?
YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM, or I AM, WHO I AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE
Or as the anonymous gospel-storytellers put it, simply, “I AM.”
JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.
ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.
When we turn to this song of the ancients, we see, lush meadows, meandering waters, green pastures, and valleys crowed with figures of death and disgrace, pictures, images, hopes, dreams, and fears, laid out in words designed to lead us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.
Today, each one of us can, without much difficulty, move beyond the distractions of the moment toward our wants and our fears, all around us death is very much a part of life. At our fingertips we have access to images aplenty of the valley of the shadow of death which no amount of hand-washing can erase. In our lives there are losses and griefs which mask our ability to see beyond our fears. We know that the lush meadows are all around us, but the enormity of the world’s pain coupled with the uncertainty of tomorrow’s worries blind us to the WAY beyond. From the isolation of our homes, so many of us lumber through these days, longing for release, while others venture out on our behalf, fearful of what lurks in unseen molecules. If only there were a shepherd to lead us, a saviour to save us, a way to move us beyond, this, whatever this, is, was, or will become. No press conference, no medical expert, no brilliant scientist, bi astute economist, bi canny politician, can move us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. And yet, we long for green pastures and the memory of ONE who insisted that, “I AM”, this ONE continues to inspire possibility beyond words or images.
“The truth of the matter is, I AM the sheep gate.” “I AM the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe – you’ll go in and out and find pasture.” “I came that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Abundant life, life beyond our wants, beyond our fears, abundant life. The anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John speaks of Jesus as ONE who claims wandering sheep as his own, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God. For Abba and I are ONE.”
Therein lies the MYSTERY, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” Therein lies the WAY beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, ONE. “Even when” I, You, We, “descend into valleys crowded with figures of death and disgrace,” I, You, We, “will not succumb to fear, now knowing where” I, You, We, are, “I AM, I AM with YOU,” YAHWEH. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, with YAHWEH, ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY.
“Ancestral staff of family tree in hand, courage and comfort blossom under the sun, casting shadows revealing time in melodies measure for measure, these and these harmonies lay my frets to rest.” “When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-your-our-side, I, You, We want for nothing.” For the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, IS LOVE.
“Patience and perseverance, playing with polarity, stand and say, “Send me. Send me before you; tabling shame and sorrow for tomorrow that you may feast today, head anointed with oil, LOVE’s cup pouring-over the rim with plenty.”
We can move beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. Look around, there are lush green pastures everywhere. Our cups overflow with goodness. “Gratefulness and lovingkindness run me down and up, coursing through my vines to live in all my limbs, words and ways, coming home at last to sit and sabbath. Your ever-presence, here, now embodying, housing, LOVING CONSCIOUSNESS in time-space-and-soul.”
I, You, We, and the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, who IS, WAS, and every more SHALL BE, LOVE, I, You, We, and this LOVE are ONE. This ONEness into which LOVE draws us moves us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. It is our ONEness which transforms us into the Good Shepherd. You and the Abba are ONE. In LOVE we live and move and have our BEING. We set the table in the midst of all this, whatever this is, the table is set by LOVE, this, all this IS abundant life, eternal life. I, You, We ARE the LOVE who IS. We are the shepherds, we are the saviours, we ARE the ONEs. See beyond your wants, beyond your fears and let us dwell in the house of LOVE forever. Amen.
You can watch the full worship service below – download the Order of Service here