About Rev. Dawn Hutchings

Pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

Sermon: NATIVITY – a parable born in the darkness of trauma.

For the past few weeks, as the seemingly endless atmospheric rivers have flooded my beloved British Columbia, I have watched in horror as familiar towns and neighbourhoods have been inundated with unprecedented flooding. I spent more than 20 years of my life living along the delta land created by the mighty Fraser River and not once, has that blessed river ever visited such devastation upon my neighbours. As we struggle to grasp the enormous impact of something which up until now, most of us never heard of, one atmospheric river after another dumps record shattering amounts of rainfall, day after day, and week after week. It is as if atmospheric rivers have unleashed the tears of our Mother the Earth and there is little we can do to comfort her. Watching the devastation climate change is inflicting upon our privileged neighbours compels us to expand our gaze to include our less privileged neighbours in distant lands, who are being forced to flee their homes with nowhere to go and precious aid being offered. The recent failure of COP20 in Glasgow to achieve any significate response from collective governments causes my own tears to flow.  I am reminded of the ancient words of our ancestor Paul who wrote in the letter to the Romans:

“We know that the whole Creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the SPIRIT groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Alas, my patience has worn thin and I’m not sure I even know what to hope for let alone how to hope that Creation’s groaning will finally move individuals, nations, corporations, and indeed our whole world to respond with significant change to heal the wounds we have inflicted on our Mother the Earth.  

During the season of Advent, we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the LIGHT. Sometimes, the present darkness causes me to despair for even a hint of LIGHT. Today we join our ancestors who embarked into the darkness of Advent, equipped with parables created by long forgotten ancestors, in which generations have seen LIGHT. While many may ask: What can a parable of unborn hope in the first century, offer us in the 21st century? I invite you to listen as together we seek LIGHT for our own times, in this present darkness. Listen to the Gospel Parable created by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke:

“Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the HOLY SPIRIT. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does this visit come to me? That the mother of my SOVERIGN comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the HOLY ONE.”

Is this a charming little story fit for little more than the pageants of a bygone age? Or is this a parable with power to reveal LIGHT in our present darkness? Perhaps only the darkness in which this parable was created can provide the answers which will LIGHT our own darkness. No one knows who created this parable. The author is anonymous, the name Luke was assigned to the gospel long after it was created. We do know that the unknown creator of this parable, wrote his Gospel account sometime between 70 and 90CE. That’s 40 to 60 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps two are three generations had passed; two or three generations of reflecting upon the life and death of Jesus.

The context in which our gospel-storyteller wrote down his parable was as dark as it gets; a darkness which can only be described as horrific. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 a vicious war between Roman Empire and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”.  

Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the ONE, true God, refusing to worship the various caesars, and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords. During this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people into surrendering. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising by the destroying the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism, both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written during this apocalypse. Our sacred stories were born of the pain of a traumatized people.

Sadly, we Christians all too often read the gospel accounts without any reference to the horror of the Jewish War, which dominated the lives of the gospel-writers. Historians tell us that the view of Jerusalem after the year 70 would have included ten-thousand corpses hung on crosses, surrounding the Temple Mount. Out of such darkness the four gospels were born. Each of these four gospels navigates this darkness in a very particular way.

Try to imagine for just a moment that you are wandering around the ruins of Jerusalem a decade or so after the destruction of the Temple. All your life you have looked to the Temple and the Holy of Holies as the dwelling place of YAHWEH your God. Your religious practices, your cultural life, even the economic structures on which you rely all revolved around the Temple. You cannot think about or imagine YAHWEH without referencing the Temple. The Romans have destroyed the Temple. How could this happen? Why did YAHWEH allow this to happen? Why are you and your kinfolk being punished? What could your people have done to deserve this?

You are not alone in asking these questions. The rotting corpses of those who came up against the mighty Roman Empire fill your nostrils with the stench of defeats so enormous that the unspeakable crosses your mind: “Where is God when God’s dwelling place is destroyed?” “Has YAHWEH abandoned the children of Israel?”  “Why else would God let the Romans execute Jesus?”

Some of Jesus’ followers began to doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. They would have been taught what Jesus had been taught. They would have heard of Jesus’ teachings about non-violent resistance. They would have heard of Jesus’ insistence upon justice for the poor and the marginalized. They would have heard of Jesus’ claim that the reign of God is at hand. They would have been taught of Jesus’ insistence that they love their enemies as well as their neighbours.

Perhaps in the midst of the carnage which their enemies had wrought, Jesus’ teachings began to look less attractive. The Temple lay in ruins and Jesus had been executed. Jesus had insisted that He and the Father are ONE, and that as much as you do onto the least of these you do on to me.

In the teachings of Jesus, they were challenged to see the CHRIST in one another. Jesus taught them that God dwells in and with them. For the gospel storytellers Jesus would take the place of the Temple, for in Jesus, YAHWEH lived and breathed. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw the ONE whose Way of being in the world could deliver them from the Romans, even as the Temple lay in ruins. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw their MESSSIAH, their CHRIST, the ONE in whom YAHWEH dwells. In the destruction of the Temple, the followers of Jesus discovered what they had always known, that YAHWEH cannot be contained in a place because the HOLY ONE IS within and around them.  

From within the darkness of the crisis flowing from the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism inspired the Jewish people to seek God not in a place but in the life of the people, as they began to turn more and more to the Torah to inspire them to encounter the DIVINE in the stories of the people and in their collective struggle to live. The Jewish people looked to the life of the people and discovered the WISDOM of YAHWEH in their midst.

As Rabbinic Judaism thrived, Christianity inspired the followers of Jesus not to seek DIVINITY in a place, but in the life and teachings of Jesus who they heralded as the CHRIST, the WISDOM of God embodied in one of them. Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, two religions born of shared darkness, destined to follow parallel paths which would often intersect with tragic consequences.

Almost two-thousand years have passed since the birth of these two ways of knowing and relating to the HOLY ONE and once more darkness surrounds us. Peace through justice, the promise of Shalom continues to elude us. As we wander in the darkness, we cannot help but notice the rotting corpses of our own crisis. Millions die needless deaths as a result of greed and hatred. The poor cry out as we privatize and monetize the gifts of the Earth and line our pockets with treasure extracted from the weak and the powerless. The oppressed cry out for justice as we militarize the keepers of peace and shots ring out while the judgments of our power structures leave those whose skin is not lily white breathless. Fear abounds as we extort wealth from whole populations guarantying the birth of terrorists who perpetuate horrors the likes of which make the Roman Empire appear meek.

Wars and rumors of wars rage on, as the Earth suffers the ravages of our abuse; atmospheric rivers rain down Earth’s tears flooding both the privileged as well as the powerless. The ice-caps melt, the oceans rise, lands buckle and slide, and children are taught to fear the sun. Injustice, oppression, poverty, disease, racism, hatred, form the contours of our self-centered flailing in the darkness.

Just like our Jewish forebears and our Christian ancestors we look for a Messiah, a Saviour to rescue us from the crisis we have wrought. Where is God? Has YAHWEH abandoned us? We look to the heavens, but God is not there. The temples we erect to house God are dominated by the very evils which inspired the crisis Creation is enduring. God is not there? Where is God? Science and reason have exposed our images of God as mere idols unworthy of our worship. In this darkness, we long for a saviour to rescue us from our very selves.

Like our ancestors who endured the crisis of the Temple’s destruction we too must seek new meanings from old revelations and open ourselves to what is happening all around us so that new WISDOM can be born in us. We have been blessed with the WISDOM of the HOLY ONE who dwells among us. The sacredness of Creation in all its many expressions cries out to us like John the Baptist, repent, turn from your ways, repent, and prepare the way for our GOD.

In the midst of our darkness, we are learning so much about the nature of reality. Science is teaching us about the realities of the Cosmos and revealing things our ancestors couldn’t even begin to dream of.

When God is no longer a person up there in the sky, where is God? When God is no longer personified in ways which can be controlled and manipulated by the powerful, who is God? When we stop creating images of God which are mere projections of ourselves, what is God?

I believe religion is an art form. Like all art, religion takes practice if it is to live and grow and find expression in ways which inspire truth, beauty, and justice. Like all art, religion’s truth and beauty is judged by a religion’s ability to inspire us to live life more fully. So, let us look to our Christianity and judge this art form by its ability to inspire us to live more fully, to love more deeply, and to create peace through justice in all the Earth.  Religion, like any art form, when it is practiced well, inspires us to live, to love, and to create. Let us judge our practice of the art of Christianity by Christianity’s ability to inspire abundant life on Earth by caring for Creation, by reflecting the LIGHT which sines in the darkness.  Let us judge our images of DIVINITY by their power of our imaginings to inspire life, love, and peace through justice, as we work together to comfort and heal the Earth. 

YAHWEH survived war’s destruction of the Temple. The LIGHT will survive science’s destruction of our personifications of DIVINITY.  The HOLY ONE is not confined to a place. Nor will DIVINITY be held captive to our various personifications of the MYSTERY which is LOVE. The SOURCE of ALL that IS, the ONE which lies at the very heart of reality, the DIVINE MYSTERY which nourishes, grounds, and sustains us, will survive our inarticulate, often misguided practice of religion.

The HOLY ONE, lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond all of Creation. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, that which we call the CHRIST, has the power to save us, if we open ourselves to the reality that CHRIST, is born in us when LOVE abounds. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, the ONE we call the CHRIST, has the power to inspire the abundant life which our human nature, indeed that all of Creation longs for. So, let the LOVE gestating in darkness leap for joy within us. Let us care for one another, as we heal the Earth so that LOVE is born in us. Let the LIGHT of LOVE, the ONE we call the CHRIST find glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond us. Where is God in the darkness we have wrought? God, which is LOVE is here. Right here.  Right here. Right now. In you, and in me, and in all our sisters and brothers. Let us reflect this LOVE in our lives. Let there be LIGHT. So, that we might practice the art of Christianity in ways which will inspire abundant life in all of Creation. Let LIGHT be born in us. Let CHRIST be born in us. Do not be afraid. For the ONE who is coming is far greater than all our images, personifications, and all our idols. The ONE who is coming is CHRIST the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, who from the beginning of time has found glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond Creation. The ONE who is coming is the LIGHT we need to see in this present darkness. The LIGHT is the LOVE which lives and breathes and loves in, with, through, and beyond us, inspiring abundant life in all of Creation. Let us reflect this LIGHT as we comfort, heal, and LOVE our Mother the Earth, for even in our present darkness LOVE leaps for joy in you!

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ADVENT Moments: WOMB of MYSTERY

Within the womb of MYSTERY, we wait.

Gestating in darkness, we fear the ending we cannot see.

Surrounded by unknown dangers, we wait.

Gestating in darkness, we dread the anticipated demise of treasured ways of being.

Longing for the light, we imagine daemons lurking in the dim recesses of life’s challenges.

Gestating in darkness, we cling to feeble notions of salvation.

Grasping at old and tired prophecies, we are quick to abandon WISDOM.

Gestating in darkness, we forget the SOURCE of our fragile being.

Gulping breathes too shallow to heal us, we settle for the trivial, calming, numbness of mundane pleasures.

Within the womb of MYSTERY, the darkness embraces, nourishes, challenges, refusing to severe the cord which sustains us, until we are ready to see the ending, we could not see beyond our fear.

Gestating in MYSTERY, we wait, for the ending which gives birth to hope.

In our waiting, the darkness tenderly enfolds us until the breaking of the waters of life.

Within this womb of MYSTERY, we wait. Amen.

Annunciations from the Margins

Greetings favoured ones! I begin this series with a little annunciation in the style of the Angel Gabriel, “Greetings favoured ones! As Advent begins, we begin our explorations of what I am calling “Parables of DIVINITY.” Parables are stories designed to turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions. Advent is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the parables told by our ancestors about the MYSTERY of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Now, I am often asked if the parables we tell during Advent are true. By which my questioners usually mean, “Did these parables actually happen the way the bible says they happened?” To which I always respond, “ABSOLUTLY! They are most certainly true!” I then add the words of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, who would insist, “I don’t know if these things happened the way they are written in the bible. But I do know that they are true.” Our Parables of DIVINITY series begins with a splendid parable in which truth is revealed. It is the kind of truth which has the power to turn our carefully held assumptions inside-out and upside-down. Unfortunately, the radical nature of our first Parable of DIVINITY has been domesticated and simplified, dumbed down, and rendered mundane and inoffensive. Inoffensive that is except for the matter of that tiny little word which is the victim of so many inaccurate translations. If only the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Matthew hadn’t made such a rookie error when he translated the Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah into Greek, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do. You see whoever this Matthew was, he certainty didn’t pay enough attention when he attempted to use the words of Isaiah to describe Mary of Nazareth. Instead of doing his homework, Matthew relied on the work of previous male translators who mansplained a simple Hebrew noun into Greek which resulted in a young woman named Mary ending up as a perpetual virgin. I kid you not. These gentlemen translators managed to take the Hebrew word for a  “young woman” mistranslate it into Greek as “virgin”, and the anonymous guy we call Matthew either never bothered to check his Greek Septuagint, or for reasons of his own, he decided that Mary was a not just a young woman but also a virgin and years later the Church, and I’m talking about the Imperial Church of Rome here, they added the perpetual part and before long, women everywhere have had to deal with the glorification, or the vernation, and objectification of virginity. But I digress. Insane notions tying virginity and motherhood up in a neat bow while tying women up in knots is a subject for another sermon. 

What I want to talk about today are two Parables of DIVINITY, which I’m calling “Annunciations from the Margins. “Annunciation” from the Latin verb “annuntiare” which can be translated as “to announce” or “to proclaim” or my favourite translation, “to bring tidings.” Usually during Advent, these tidings are thought of as “tidings of great joy.” But not all tidings are joyous. Especially when those tidings are delivered to people who live in the margins of society. Before we deal with the familiar parable of the Annunciation of the YOUNG WOMAN Mary, I’d like to remind you of the first Annunciation parable in the Bible. Now some of you may think I’m talking about the parable of Hannah which is found in 1st Samuel. Probably because Hannah’s Song finds expression in Mary’s Magnificat.  These are parables we’ll get to later in Advent. For now, you’ll have to cast your minds all the way back to the book of Genesis to discover the first Annunciation parable. Genesis 16 to be exact. Listen to this marvelous translation of the parable of the Annunciation of Hagar. You remember Hagar from the story of Sarah and Abraham. Our parable takes place back when Sarah went by the name Sarai. By the way, Sarai is a Hebrew name which translates as “my princess” or as I like to think of Sarah it can also be translated as DININITY’s Princess. As you no doubt remember, Hagar was the woman Abraham turned to when DIVINITY’s Princess could not conceive a child. Like Sarah, Hagar would become the mother of nations. But as our parable begins the women are estranged and Hagar has run away, she’s taken flight. Listen to the Annunciation of Hagar:

“Now the messenger of the ALL-SEEING GOD found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And the messenger said, “Hagar, slave girl of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?” And Hagar said, “From my mistress Sarai am I fleeing.”

The messenger of the INSCRUTABLE GOD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and subject yourself to her.” The messenger of the WELLSPRING OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Greatly will I multiply your seed, so they cannot be counted for multitude.” Then the messenger of the FOUNT OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Look!  You are pregnant and shall give birth to a son, and you shall call him Ishmael (meaning GOD hears), for the FAITHFUL ONE has heard of your abuse, He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live in the sight of all his kin.” So, Hagar named the LIVING GOD who spoke to her: “You are El-ro’i”; for she said, “Have I really seen GOD and remained alive after seeing GOD?”

Sometimes I forget that Hagar and not Moses is the first to be heralded by our ancestors for having seen DIVINITY and lived. Hagar a woman living in the margins, in slavery, fearing for her life, flees for her life and she sees DIVNITY and she lives. Hagar the name itself is of Arabic origin and can be translated as “stranger” or “forsaken” or “one who flees”. Remember when reading parables, especially Parables of DIVINITY, pay attention to the names, they will reveal truth to those who listen carefully. Hagar is an Egyptian slave whose position in the household of DIVINITY’s Princess is marginal. The announcement of her pregnancy may or may not be good news. It all depends upon what position you are in, and Hagar’s parable sets her squarely in the margins of the society in which the parable is set. Indeed, it could be said that the character Hagar’s subsequent role as mother of the nations of Islamic people continues to set Hagar and her descendants in the margins of many of the communities in which we live.

Continue reading

Advent and the Quest for the Perfect Christmas – Luke 1

Recorded on the First Sunday of Advent 2018

Let me begin, good friends, by addressing you in the same way that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we know as Luke addressed his congregation, for I trust that each one of you are indeed “Theophilus”. LOVER of GOD from the Greek words: “theo” which means “God” and “philus” which means “lover”.

Dearest lovers of God, welcome to the Gospel according to Luke. ‘Tis the season for the first two chapters of Luke which read much like a Broadway musical. While others may have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events exactly as they were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses, the anonymous, gospel-storyteller that, for the want of knowing his or her actual name, we call Luke, has put together an opening to his portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in the grand style of Jewish midrash, with a cast of characters aptly named to put his audiences in mind of some of the Jewish people’s greatest heroes; a real blast from the past with a view toward a new kind of future. Over the years, those who have heard Luke’s account have added the musical score which includes Zachariah’s “Bennedictus,” Elizabeth’s “Hail Mary” as well as Mary’s “Magnificat”. And that’s just in the first chapter!

The Gospel we call Luke came into the life of the Christian community in the late 9thor early 10thdecade of the Common Era, or some sixty years after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. It opens with a magical birth story never intended to be viewed as history. Let me say that again. It opens with a magical birth story that was never intended to be viewed as history. The story is filled with supernatural signs: angels that sing, fetuses that communicate, a virgin that conceives and even a post-menopausal pregnancy. It is the author of Luke’s attempt to capture in parabolic language the essence of who he thinks Jesus is – namely the one through whom God can be experienced.

Like I said before, the author is unknown to us. The name Luke was given decades, perhaps centuries after the book was actually written. All we really know about the author is that heby his own admission, was not an eye-witness to the events of Jesus’ life. We know from his own writing that he wrote excellent Greek; a feat only accomplished by the most highly educated people of his day. Based on the way he wrote, and the phrases he used, experts have concluded that he was in all likelihood a gentile convert to Judaism who then became a Christian. By his own account, he is writing not an accurate detailed account, but rather, an account that will make theophilus, the lovers of God, believe. His account takes the form of a series of short stories; short stories that are easily dramatized. Some, New Testament scholars believe that these stories were told over and over again in dramatic ways; ways designed to hold the interest of their audiences. Continue reading

The Season of Advent

At Holy Cross, our Advent will take us a different path this year. We will not be locked down like last year, so in-person gatherings will be possible. Alleluia! We will also continue to offer pre-recorded videos online.  Our path will see us travel not along the route usually mapped out by the Revised Common Lectionary but on a new route. A route provided by the work of the Hebrew Bible Scholar and Episcopal priest Wilda C. Gafney in her newly published “A WOMEN’S LECTIONARY FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH”.  Our readings will be loosely based on Gafney’s suggestions and the translations of scripture will be hers. I have chosen themes which will function as signposts along our way. These weekly signposts will guide our exploration of the PARABLES of DIVINITY which have nourished generations of Advent travellers.    

PARABLES OF DIVINITY

ADVENT ONE:  Annunciations from the Margins

ADVENT TWO:  Gestating in Darkness

ADVENT THREE: Magnifying DIVINITY

ADVENT FOUR:  Birthing DIVINITY 

For more information visit http://www.holycrosslutheran.ca

ONE with the LOVE which permeates the Cosmos! – John 1:1-5

Years ago, a good many years ago in fact, when my life as an adult had only just begun, I was backpacking around Europe, and I began to hear people talk about the land of the mid-night sun. Now, talk of the mid-night sun always took me back to my childhood memories of my Dad reciting the Robert Service poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee. As a kid, this Canadian epic always sparked my imagination, as I dreamed of those, “strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.” for “The Artic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights”… and on and on it goes spinning a which always fills me with glee as I warm my soul by the heat of the cremation of Sam McGee, wondering about all the other strange things done in the mid-night sun. So, when the possibility arose to actually travel up to Narvik in Norway to see the mid-night sun I was off. My rail-pass covered all of Scandinavia, which before I had the opportunity to ride the Scandinavian rails, I had only seen on distorted maps which made it look ever so small in comparison to Canada’s vast land mass. The distortion of maps deceived me into believing that it would be a short trip from Bergen to Narvik. Little did I know that in 1977 it would take me almost three days to travel the more than 1,000 km; a trip which included disembarking over and over again to lend a hand to the conductors as we worked together to clear the tracks of snow.

It was an epic trip on which my once innocent 20-year-old self learned to swig akvavit like a Viking. As the train finally pulled into Narvik, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It was barely nine o’clock and the sun was already beginning to set. Alas, the sun does indeed shine at midnight in the summer months, but in Norway summer does not include the month of August. Disappointed I resigned myself to abandoning our plans to camp on the hillsides which envelope the port of Narvik. Fortunately, the youth hostel was full, and we were forced to hike up and out of town to find a suitable spot to pitch our tents. As we toasted ourselves by the fire, my mind wandered back to the Cremation of Sam McGee and I wondered, if I’d ever learn what strange things are done beneath the mid-night sun. Continue reading

Ach! Away and Give My Head Peace! – Mark 13:1-8

When I was a child and being particularly annoying, there’s an Irish expression which I remember many of the adults in my life would hurl in my direction: “Ach away and give my head peace!” These days I find this expression rising in me, over and over again, as a sort of prayer which has taken on a mantra-like quality. “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”Over and over again this week, this manta has welled up in me as I have attempted to sooth my anxious self. COP26 … climate danger … global warming… fossil fuel lobbyists … politicians . . . blah, blah, blah… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Remembrance Day … war dead…post-traumatic stress disorder, . . . Ethiopia . . . Afghanistan. . . a new American civil war. . . wars and rumours of war… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Truth and reconciliation. . . unmarked graves. . . no safe drinking water . . . compensation lawsuits . . . spiralling suicide deaths… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” COVID. . . covid-idiots . . . anti-maskers . . . rising case counts . . . booster shots . . . vaccine shortages . . . family divisions . . . “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”

Alas, this week not even Jesus would give my head peace. For as we approach the end of the Church year, our lectionary offers us a reading from the book attributed to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, we call Mark, and I am thrust into commentaries about the end of the world! Continue reading

The World Comes to an End Every Day! – Mark 13:1-8

As we near the end of the Church Year, our lectionary turns to texts about the end of the world. Three years ago, when this text came up, we had only just begun posting video recordings of sermons…the world has ended many times since then. It happens every day…but back then we had no idea what lay before us..and yet…here we go again…

It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate.  It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.

Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died. Continue reading

Do You Believe in Miracles? – The Parable of Lazarus

The other day, someone asked me, “Do you believe in miracles?” To which I quickly, without much thought, emphatically replied, “Of course I believe in miracles!” My questioner couldn’t have been satisfied with my answer, because he went on to insist that I couldn’t possibly believe in miracles because he had it on good authority that I didn’t believe that Jesus could raise people from the dead. After a long list of things my questioner, insisted that he had it on good authority that I didn’t believe in, my inquisitor concluded that as a progressive christian pastor, I couldn’t possibly believe in miracles. This mini-inquisition concluded when I assured my inquisitor that I do indeed believe in miracles, but perhaps not the same miracles as he believed in.

The particular miracle in question, is the miracle described in the gospel story assigned for this All Saints’ Sunday. My inquisitor was doing his best to get me to confess that Jesus of Nazareth possessed the super-natural ability to raise the dead. He seemed fixated on forcing me to recant any notion which I might have about the nature of reality. The proof of my doctrinal errors, were, in the not so humble opinion of my inquisitor to be found in the gospel story about the raising of Lazarus. “DO YOU OR DON’T YOU BELIEVE THAT JESUS RAISED LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD?” he shouted at me in all caps, as our email correspondence disintegrated into his failed attempt to have me take leave of my senses. Continue reading

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

As some prepare to celebrate All Saints Sunday and are struggling with the gospel reading, I have been asked several times to repost this sermon from 2018. I will be dipping into the parable of Lazarus again on Sunday, may the communion of saints continue to call us out from our tombs!

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

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

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

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

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

Reformation: None of Us Know What We are About to Become

“Semper Reformanda” – “Always Reforming”  the rallying criesof the reformers. A short little phrase shouted out by the agents of change to express the Church’s need to be always reforming. Now, to reform is by definition to make changes. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure how many more changes I can bear. Since March of 2020, we have all endured 20 long months of change. Talk about a reformation. Churches all over the planet, closed the doors to their sanctuaries. Trapped in the relative safety of our homes, we found ourselves gathering not in sanctuaries, but in the ever-changing platforms of the internet. Liturgies and sermons were changed and adapted in ways we could never have imagined or entertained, as we scrambled to find ways to worship together even as we were being kept apart. Pastoral care, baptisms, funerals, committee meetings, annual meetings, bible studies, all these had to change and adapt. While here at Holy Cross we embarked on this interminable eucharistic fast. If you had told us way back when this long covid nightmare began that it would last this long, I’m not sure we would have had the courage to endure it.

Back in the early days, many of us assumed that we would be back inside our buildings by Easter, celebrating together. But Easter came and went, so we looked toward Homecoming, hoping that the summer months would get us to a place where we could come home into our sanctuaries. Then before we knew it, Reformation Sunday came and went, so we looked toward Christmas, and then Christmas came and went, and then another Easter, on and on it went through the second summer, and second Homecoming, and now here we stand, pardon the pun. But here we stand, ready to at last to tentatively open the doors to this sanctuary so that we can gather together, in-person for worship.

I say tentatively, because I’m not sure what will happen when we open the doors. So, much has changed. None of us are the same as we once were. There have been so many losses. Monumental losses. There have been surprises. So very many surprises. Challenges, where do we begin to list all the challenges we have encountered? The enumerable challenges have resulted in an untold number of changes. Change upon, change, upon change. If ever the church has needed to embrace the need to always be reforming, it has been during these past 20 months. So, if like me, you are longing for some freedom from semper reformanda, the need to be always reforming, well who can blame us?

Over the past few weeks, I suspect that like me, you have also heard, or perhaps even said yourselves, phrases like, “won’t it be nice to get back to normal?” The trouble is there is no going back to normal, not for any of us and certainly not for the church. Each of us is forever changed by our experiences. The Church, which was struggling long before lockdowns, is forever changed by this long exile from our sanctuaries. The truth is, normal wasn’t working very well for the Church. As weary as many of us are of all the changes we have experienced during this exile, most of us know, we know it in our bones that none of us can go back to the way things were. That’s just not how life works. We have all changed, our families have changed, our friends have changed, our neighbourhoods have changed, our country has changed, our world has changed, and so has our church. And so, in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther, “Here I stand, for I can do no other.”

Here we stand on the threshold of a new tomorrow. On Reformation Sunday we will open the doors to this sanctuary. Some of you will be able to cross the threshold into this place and others of you will have to continue to cross technological thresholds in order to be with us. All of us will have to cross various thresholds in order to continue to emerge from this long exile. Thresholds, or doorways, are by their very nature liminal spaces. Liminal means transitional. Liminal spaces, or thresholds are also what our ancestors often referred to as “thin places”. Places where the boundaries between the SARCED and the ordinary are very thin.

I always feel very vulnerable in thin places, betwixt and between, what was and what is to come. That vulnerability can sometimes make me fearful or cause me to put up defenses. Not knowing what I will encounter beyond the threshold can be frightening. Sometimes, I find myself lingering in doorways, wondering how to muster up the courage to move through the threshold into the unknown.

If I am honest, I suppose that there is part of me, the fearful part of me, that would just as soon stay right where I am. It may not be where I want to be, but I’ve become accustomed to the way things are here and now and I’m not sure I’m ready for whatever lies ahead. So, here I stand, in this empty sanctuary, doing what I’ve learned to do during our exile, not knowing what comes next, full of anticipation and trepidation as the words of our ancestors echo down through the centuries, “semper reformanda”

From within this threshold, this thin place, my skin is not as tough or as thick as it has needed to be during these long months. I can feel the excitement begin to penetrate my defenses, and my fear is beginning to be replaced by my longing to move through this doorway into whatever the future holds. But before I can move ahead, the words of the gospel which has been proclaimed on Reformation Sundays for generations, penetrate this thin place, as I anticipate the transformation of this ordinary room into a sacred sanctuary. From the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John, we hear that, Jesus said to the people who had believed in him,  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31)

Free, who among us doesn’t long to be free. Free to gather. Free to hope. Free to laugh and sing and rejoice. Free to dream. Free to grieve together. Free to comfort one another. Free to hope. Free to be all that we are created to be. I know, I know. Here I sand. Here I stand in a threshold that is wider than I would like, a threshold which will take longer to pass through than I would like. But here I stand, longing for the freedom to be all that I am created to be. I don’t yet know what lies beyond this threshold. None of us know what we are about to become. Sure, we know something about the restrictions which lie on the other side of this doorway. COVID hasn’t gone away, and we will have to take care of one another. Some of us aren’t going to cross this threshold with us. We’ve lost some dear friends. Many of the problems we had before going into exile are still there or have grown into bigger problems. It’s tempting to simply grow thicker skin and set up stronger defenses. But here we stand, in this thin place. And low and behold, there are new people standing here with us. We’ve learned new ways to be with one another. We’ve extended the size of our sanctuary, beyond these walls, to include room for people who are just beginning to get to know us and whom we are just beginning to get to know.

There are new opportunities for us to explore as we begin to unpack the blessings which flowed like manna in the wilderness of our exile. All those smiling faces on screens who ventured into newly created space on internet platforms, you too are here on this threshold, you are like sacred manna sustaining us, even as we have been manna sustaining you. So, here we stand, together, in this thin place, this liminal space, this threshold, to quote the good Dr. Luther, “for we can do no other.” Here we stand in the doorway into a new way of being together.

Semper reformanda, always reforming. There’s a SACRED freedom in all this change, a freedom for us to linger as we both remember, with more than a tinge of nostalgia, the way things were, together with the freedom to hope and dream for what we will become as we change and grow together. So, let our celebration of Reformation, be just that, a celebration. Let us take the time we need to recall what was, to see what is, and to dream of what might be. Let the truth of where we have been, the truth of what is, and the truth of what lies ahead, set us free to be all that we are created to be. Our lives together are a gift and LOVE is the point of our lives together. Let these truths set us free to be all that we are created to be. Let truth free us to be LOVE in the world, the whole world, all the various worlds in which we live and move and have our being. Whether those worlds are here in this place, or over the various media through which you are able to connect with one another.

Let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE, LOVE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.  Here I stand. Here you stand. Here we stand. For we can do no other. May the truth set us free to be LOVE, now and always, in-person, on-line, crossing thresholds, creating sanctuary for one another, nourishing, grounding and sustaining one-another, manna for one another, manna for the exciting journey LOVE invites us to make, here and now. Semper Reformanda!  Always Reforming.

Watch the full Reformation Worship video below

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The SACRED in Me Greets the SACRED in You – Mark 10:46-52

The MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call, “GOD” is with you all! Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY. During this long COVID isolation, I have longed to see you all. Alas, the limitation of my pastoral roles as presider and preacher have been limited to prerecorded videos, which means that although you can see me I cannot see you. So, over the past 20 months, I have tinkered with the traditional liturgical greeting, which as it is written, goes like this, “The LORD be with you.”  to which the assembled congregation responds, “And also with you!” Now, I gave up using the word “LORD” to symbolize the MYSTERY which is BEYOND words, years ago. I also gave up the rather strange practice of clergy somehow telling this “LORD” were to be, i.e. with you. Now, over the years my liturgical tinkering has evolved, moving from “The LORD be with you.” to “The LORD is with you.” And then to, “GOD is with you!” And then, to using all sorts of different words to symbolize the MYSTERY which is beyond words. I used  words which included feminine, masculine, and gender neutral images to symbolize the DIVINE MYSTERY. Words like the ancient Hebrew El Shaddia for She Who Has Breasts, or modern word gender neutral words like CREATOR.

For the past few years, my liturgical greeting is an attempt to expand our words beyond personifications, whether those personifications are masculine or feminine. And I want to hint at an image of the DIETY which is beyond our ability to express. And so, the word MYSTERY which although this word also fails to express the DIVINE ONE, the word MYSTERY is my attempt to point us BEYOND images. The MYSTERY which is LOVE, comes from my conviction that the life, the teachings, and the death of Jesus of Nazareth embodies Jesus conviction that GOD is LOVE. So, for several years now, when we assembled in this place, I greeted the congregation with, The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “GOD” is with you all! To which the assembled congregation, responded, “And also with you!” Oh, how I missed hearing your responses. Standing alone in my living room, proclaiming to the camera in my phone, “The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God is with you all!” this was a lonely exercise, which fell flat to me. So, early on in this long isolation, I began responding on your behalf, “Thanks be to All that IS HOLY!”

All that IS HOLY! All that IS, there’s that little word IS, from the verb to be. To be which is the Ancient Hebrew name for the God Moses encountered in the burning bush, YAHWEH, I AM WHO AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, this is my name says the MYSTERY, the verb to be. Thanks be to all that IS, all that IS, the very MYSTERY itself. BEING beyond words.  Thanks be to all that IS HOLY! All that IS HOLY!

HOLY an English word from the Germanic word for “whole” a way of expressing the SACRED, that which is DIVINE, DIVINE wholeness, ONENESS. I so long to see All that IS HOLY! But here I stand, still preaching into my phone, and I cannot see you, you beautiful HOLY, SACRED, BEINGS, who are ONE with the MYSTERY which IS the LOVE we call, “GOD.” I want to see! In the Gospel text assigned for this Sunday, the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call, Mark, It tells the story of a blind beggar named  Bartimaeus, who was sitting at the side of the road as Jesus was leaving Jericho. The gospel-storyteller writes that when the blind beggar, “heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, “Heir of David Jesus, have pity on me!” Many people scolded him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder,

“Heir of David, have pity on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.”

So they called the blind man. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “Get up; Jesus is calling you.”

So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and went to Jesus.

Then Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Rabbuni,” the blind man said, “I want to see.”

Jesus replies, “Go, your faith has saved you.”

And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.”

I want to see! Like the blind man, I too want to see. I want to see ALL that IS HOLY! I want to see the ONE which IS the MYSTERY and I want to see ALL that IS HOLY, the SACRED, ALL which is ONE with the MYSTERY which is BEYOND words. I want to see. I no longer believe in the “LORD,” the image of DIVINITY as some super-human, super-man, super-being, out there somewhere. The God of my childhood, my longing years, the LORD I once longed to serve, is no longer the object of my desire.

As humanity’s wisdom has expanded, we have learned so very much about the nature of reality and so, my longings for the ONE which IS the LOVE, which IS the SOURCE and GROUND of ALL BEING, these longings, they have grown exponentially. As I preach into this camera, I am reminded just how much our worlds have expanded.

My pastoral greetings are no longer limited to those who can assemble here in this place. Today, I greet those of you who worship with us from Texas, Australia, Glasgow, New Zealand, California, British Columbia, Hamilton, Edmonton, Sussex, Newmarket, Aurora, and places I’ve yet to learn about. The technology in that little gadget may confound us from time to time, but it also opens us all to a way of BEING in the world, which requires new ways of seeing. The trouble is that if you are anything like me, the old ways of seeing are so much more familiar to us, that we may be just like the blind beggar crying out not on the roadside, but from within the confines of our familiar ways of BEING. As much as I know up here in my head, that the “LORD” is too small a word to capture the MYSTERY which is BEYOND words, BEYOND capture, in here, in my heart, my old ways of BEING, of knowing, of seeing, prompt me to beg that old guy, up there, in the sky, the personification of my familiar desires, my sweet LORD, to show himself. “Give me that old time religion. Give me that old time religion. It’s good enough for me.” But it’s not. No matter how soothing the appeal to what once was good enough, I still want to see. I want to see ALL that IS HOLY, the MYSTERY, which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

I want to see.  And all Jesus has to say for himself, according to our story, is, “’Go, your faith has saved you.” And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.” That’s it, “Go” in faith and follow Jesus. Now if only I were an old-time preacher, I could just leave it right here. Just have faith and you will see. Done and dusted, so on your way! Your faith has saved you! But I still can’t see ALL that IS HOLY! I want to see.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself walking along a old familiar path, which I haven’t been able to travel for several years. It may come as no surprise to some of you, but I was on vacation in my beloved British Columbia, in the place which has shaped much of who I am. Walking in an ancient rainforest along familiar trails, it didn’t take long for scales to begin to fall from my eyes. It was cold and it was damp. But the sun’s rays managed to pierce the sodden majesty of the forest and I could see. I could see ALL THAT IS HOLY in everything. Every thing, every beautiful thing on that pathway IS, IS, IS, SACRED. Every thing, is HOLY. Every thing, is SACRED. The rotting forest floor IS SACRED. The ancient towering trees are SACRED. The sprouting fungi IS SACRED. The footsteps of my lover, who hiked on ahead of me are SACRED. The smiles and frowns of the people I encountered are SACRED. The light streaming down upon me IS SACRED. The gentle blue waters of the coastal inlet in which the mountains dipped their toes IS SACRED. I could see ALL that IS HOLY in everything on that BLESSED HOLY DAY. I trust that you too have experienced the SACRED in the beauty of the Earth. I trust that we don’t have to be on vacation to experience the SACRED in the beauty and wonders of Creation. So, it’s all too easy to replace our Dear LORD with the CREATOR of ALL that IS and worship the DIVINE ONE in the beauty of nature.

But here I stand, with just a couple of ferns to represent the beauty of Creation, staring into a camera, begging to see the HOLY ONE here where the realities of our life in the world, continue to keep us in the world. I want to see. And even now, even after catching a glimpse of all that IS HOLY, just a couple of weeks ago, even while the trees outside are putting on a spectacular autumn displace of the GLORY of Creation, even though I know up here, in my heard that the SACRED IS in EVERY THING, I still want to see the ONE in whom I live, and move, and have my being. So, wanting to see, I took another walk. Right down Main Street. Convinced that my old ways of being are blinding me to the reality that EVERY THING and EVERY ONE is SACRED, I hit the road attempting to follow Jesus, to see what Jesus saw, so that my faith might save me from blindness to the reality that EVERY ONE IS SACRED. I wanted to see the HOLY in EVERY ONE. Now, it’s relatively easy to see the SACRED in the wonders of Creation.

But our old ways of being, may not enable us to see the SACRED in EVERY ONE. I wonder what our lives would be like if we encountered the people in our lives with the bind beggar’s words living in us as a question to inspire our actions? I want to see. I want to see the SACRED in you. I want to see in you the ONE in WHOM we all live and move and have our being. In you and you and you, in him and here, in every one I want to see.

Take a walk in the world, down your own Main Street, wanting to see, ALL that IS HOLY. Let your faith open your eyes so that you can reverence the ONE who IS in the faces of EVERY ONE. The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “GOD” IS with you all! Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY.  What form with your greeting become? What SACRED revelations will you open yourself too? How will you reverence the SACRED in EVERY ONE you meet? What form with your thanks become? Go, now, your faith has saved you.  The gift of sight is yours to explore. Follow Jesus along the road.

The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, GOD is with you all! Thanks be to all that IS HOLY, that’s you, each and every one of you. And so, the GOD in me, the HOLY in me, the SACRED in me, greets the GOD in you, the HOLY in you, the SACRED in you.  For we are in GOD and GOD IS in US. THANKS BE to the ONE WHO IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself. Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

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Captain Kirk and His Merry Band of Billionaires! Mark 10:35-45

This week, two events stand in stark contrast to one another. As different as night and day these 21st century events are brought into focus by the first century story which just happens to be the assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday. While the first century story told by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark, sees the sons of Zebedee, jockeying for coveted seats at the right and left hand of Jesus, our 21st century story portray the contrasting circumstances of wannabe-astronauts blasting far above our planet with scarcely a thought for the 150 million or so who will slip into the depths of poverty before this year ends. Somehow, the flight of the billionaire Bezos phallic Blue Horizon thrusting its five privileged passengers across our screens will capture more attention from those of us who are wealthy enough to own screens, than the roughly one and a half billion men, women, and children who are consigned to live in poverty.

Today, is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Today is the 35th annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. But I suspect that like the sons of Zebedee, who earned renown by jockeying for privileged positions, the powerful images of an aging Captain James Kirk and his merry band of billionaires will earn far more renown than the 150 million poor souls who are about to slip into poverty as a result of the COVID pandemic.

The unknown gospel-storyteller which we call Mark, captured something of the pathetic human condition of hubris when he wrote: “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus and said, “Teacher we want you to grant our request.” ‘What is it?” Jesus asked. Said the sons of Zebedee, ‘See to it that we sit next to you, one at your right and one at your left, when you come into your glory!’ Jesus warned them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the dup I will drink or be baptized in the same baptism as I?’ ‘We can,” James and John replied. To which Jesus responded, ‘From the cup I drink of, you will drink; the baptism I am immersed in, you will share. But as for sitting at my right or my left, that is not mine to give; it is for those to whom it has been reserved.’ When Jesus’ other ten disciples heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority are domineering and arrogant; those ‘great ones’ know how to make their own importance felt. But it cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you, those who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The PROMISED ONE has come not to be served, but to serve—to give one life in ransom for the many.”

I don’t know about you but when that giant phallic ship was trusting into the wild blue yonder, I became somewhat indignant. I mean who in the hell believes that billionaires ought to be allowed to engage in a giant pissing contest disguised as a space race? Think about it, Jeff Bezos net worth is estimated at just shy of 200 billion dollars. His Blue Origin may not be able to penetrate as deeply into space as Elon Musk’s Space Ex, but his thrusters are straining just enough to catch up with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Boys and their toys the put downs come, pardon the pun, a little too easily. The number crunchers tell us that Bezos hubristic space jaunt cost him 5.5 billion dollars for 4 minutes in space, which kinda makes a ticket on Branson’s Virgin Galactic sound like a bargain. For a mere $450,000 dollars you could join these daring old men in their flying machines.

Excuse me if I sound a little too indignant but jockeying for a seat during a global pandemic is more than a little tone deaf, when according to the United Nations, yet another 150 million or so people will be plunged into poverty this year, swelling the ranks of the global poor to over one and a half-billion people, over half of which are children. I can certainly identify with the disciples in the story who became angry with the sons of Zebedee for jockeying for seats alongside Jesus in the next world, when the forces of Empire in this world continue to suck the life out of the poor.

I’m not so sure however, that Jesus’ response to his disciples’ indignation is all comforting. Perhaps Jesus sensed that even their anger was a type of jockeying for position, when he insisted that, “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The PROMISED ONE has come not to be served, but to serve—to give a ransom for the many.” Sure, it is easy to scoff at billionaires squandering their ill-gotten gains on momentary flights of fancy. But like the indignant disciples of old, do we actually see the role we are playing in this race to escape the limitations of our one and only planet? The colossal profits we offer up to billionaire’s are not simply the result of corporate greed. Our very own lifestyles, demand what they are selling. If you are watching this on a screen, chances are that your own wealth far exceeds the expectations of billions of people struggling to survive on this planet. You and I are the wealthiest followers of Jesus who have ever walked the Earth.

Today, on this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, how many of us will satisfy ourselves with righteous indignation rather than sacrifice? Forget for a moment the layers of interpretations offered by generations of Jesus’ followers who have interpreted that little word “ransom” as some sort of cosmic escape clause offered by Jesus as a way out of the trials and tribulations of life on this planet. Think for a moment.  Try to hear the word “ransom” not with ears blocked by centuries of perverse theological atonement theories. Think of ransom as a way out of captivity to Empire. What might we wealthy followers of Jesus be prepared to pay to serve the needs of those held captive to the financial empire of our time? Do we have the courage to serve? To climb down from our lofty positions of wealth and privilege in order to serve the poor? To free the captives? To feed the hungry? Do we have the courage to hear the word ransom as sacrifice? A sacred offering of for the sake of life here on this our one and only planet, a planet capable of nourishing life for all of Earth’s inhabitants?

I know it is much easier to poke fun at billionaires and lay the blame for suffering at the feet of self-serving fools. But those fools made their billions serving us, satisfying our desires, fortifying our comforts, delivering our lifestyles to our doorsteps. As we recall the trusting of impotent rocket ships escaping for mere moments the confines of the empires we thrive in, do we have the courage to see our own hypocrisy? Do we have the courage to drink from the cup which Jesus offers to all who profess to follow him? Are we prepared to make sacrifices in order to ransom those who suffer the indignities of the hell we have created here on Earth for the one and a half billion people held in the captivity of poverty? Or are we afraid that stripped of the security which our wealth affords us, our privileged positions will disappear, and we too shall find ourselves dependent upon the goodness of others?

I don’t mind confessing my own fear. The numbers, they are staggering. Faced with the needs of so very many, what can I do? I am after all just one person after all is said and done. I’m afraid that sacrificing more than just a pittance of my own wealth and privilege won’t accomplish much more than landing me among poverty’s captives. So, let me just cling to what I have accumulated and pay lip-service to the need for sacrifice. Or better still, let me cling to the promise of a Saviour who will carry us out of this world and into the next, at no cost, free of charge because Jesus paid the ransom for my soul.

I’m pretty sure that the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark had no idea that Jesus’ life and death would be portrayed by the powers of empire as a ransom to be paid to the very MYSTERY which Jesus insisted is LOVE. Christianity’s utterly loveless atonement theories about substitution and payment, arguing down through the centuries about whether this ransom is paid to God or to the devil insult the very memory of the rabbi himself, whose death saves us not from the wrath of God, but rather from ourselves. Jesus lived and died giving his life to ransom us from ourselves, from our fears, so that free from the captivity in which our fear has confined us, we might walk freely away from our own self-centredness. Jesus poured out his life in the service of LOVE. As the embodiment of LOVE, LOVE ensures that Jesus never dies. For the LOVE expressed in the life and death of Jesus lives in you and in me.

Not even our fear, even fear expressed in domination, greed, hatred and violence, not even fear of death, can kill the LOVE which lies at the very heart of all that is, and rises again and again, whenever and wherever, arrogance is ransomed by humility, fear is ransomed by courage, hatred is ransomed by kindness, violence is ransomed by justice, war is ransomed by peace, greed is ransomed by generosity, and self-centredness is ransomed by service to others. This dear friends is what it means for you and me to sit at Jesus’ side. To be ransomed from our very selves, ransomed from the fear which holds us captive to empires built on the backs of the poor. In LOVE, we are ransomed from our fear, ransomed from our arrogance and ransomed from our self-centredness, set free to trust the MYSTERY which is LOVE so that we to might live the way of LOVE, so that we might be LOVE in the world, here on this planet.

The eradication of poverty lies not in our efforts to escape the challenges of life in this world, here on this planet. The eradication of poverty is the work of LOVE in the world, this world, here and now, on this wonderful bountiful planet, upon which there is already more than enough to nourish abundant life for all. Justice is what LOVE looks like when LOVE is unleashed here on Earth. Let us offer a sacrifice in the form of embodied LOVE. Let us be LOVE in the world, by fearlessly serving the poor. Let us be reckless in our LOVing, Grounded in our service, outrageously generous in our ransoming life on this planet. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

View the full Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

The Blessing of Infectious Joy! – Thanksgiving

The rain outside has stopped. The air outside is cool and damp. The overcast grey sky promises that there is more rain to come. It is what some would describe as a dreary day. But I love even these grey days of autumn, for the cool air, for the damp grass, the vivid greens and the changing colours of the leaves remind me of long wet walks, warm fireplaces, and hot soup. As one season changes into another, I am at this moment preparing to fly away to Vancouver to visit my family for Thanksgiving. But before I leave, I have this sermon to offer you as the miracles of technology allow me to celebrate Thanksgiving in two places at once. As always, I begin with the scriptures assigned for Thanksgiving Sunday. But I don’t get very far, just a few verses into the reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel who encourages his people with these words: “Rejoice, Children of Zion! Rejoice! Be glad in YAHWEH your God, who sends you rain—the autumn and spring rains as of old—and a new spring crop. The threshing floors will be heaped with grain, the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that were eaten away.   The prophet then goes on to list the various plagues of locusts which infest the land. But I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blanks about the plague which has infested our lands. Just as the people are left reeling from plagues of locusts, the prophet exclaims, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Be glad, in YAHWEH who sends you rain.

On this Thanksgiving, let me echo the prophet of old, by saying, “Rejoice dear ones!  Rejoice in the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.” Rejoice in the splendid autumn rains which come to us as gifts from Creation which bestows such bountiful harvests upon us that our cups overflow with wine and our tables are teaming with food. Rejoice because the scientists have gifted us with vaccines and once again all over this land families may gather to feast together. Rejoice for life is good and sweet.

Rejoice for even though we have many challenges to meet, today is a day for feasting and rejoicing. This overcast grey day and my imminent departure to Vancouver reminds me of the beauty of West Coast rainy days. Sometimes the monotony of rainy Coastal days can make the inhabitants of Vancouver as dreary as the dark clouds laden with the heaviness of the endless damp, cool, dark days. There is one damp and dreary day in Vancouver which stands out from all the other damp and dreary days for me. The rains had been falling for weeks on end. There was a sogginess to life which robbed people of their smiles. We just dashed about in the rain, hoods on, umbrellas up, heads down. That’s how I raced to catch the bus to work every morning. And once onboard, the moist air fogged up the windows and together with most of my fellow passengers I would doze in and out of consciousness as our bus carried us from the suburbs into the city to our jobs. I had been riding that very same bus for about two years.

Week in, and week out the very same passengers would board at the very same stops and settle into their seats and doze off or bury their heads in books. No talking.  It was way too early for talking.

We all got off at the same stops each morning to spend our days in offices. Then at six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus to doze off once again, until the bus let me off at my stop, so that I could make the mad dash through the endless rain to my car so that I could head for the warmth of home. 45 minutes to work and 45 minutes home from  work that is if you were luck and the traffic didn’t make it longer. We travelled in relative silence, and gloom. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of our daily travelling companions. But words were reserved for sunny days, when people found the energy to exchange pleasantries. It was as if there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day and yet, we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it. But on this one particular dull, depressing morning, in addition to being tired, I was also wet; soaked right through. The wind was really blowing so I carried my umbrella in vain. Unable to open it, I had to rely on my hood to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water seeped through my jacket. When I finally climbed onboard, the windows were totally steamed, obscuring the view of the darkened wet world through which we travelled. I was determined to ignore the damp and so I settled in for what I hoped would be a short nap before we reached the city.

I was just managing to doze off when the bus screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of the passengers were recognizable. I’d seen them hundreds of times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a cheery, “Hello!” him I had never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me and proceeded to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.

The young man, continued to fuss with his umbrella. He explained in a loud voice that the umbrella was a gift from his sister, and he hoped that it wasn’t ruined. He asked the gentleman seated beside him if he could help him fold his umbrella. The somewhat flustered gentleman proceeded to fold the umbrella without a word. When the task was completed, the young man thanked the gentleman and asked him what his name was. He said he wanted to be able to tell his sister, who the nice man was, that had helped him with his umbrella. Without revealing his name, the gentleman assured the young man that it wasn’t necessary to thank him.

The young man, proceeded to break all the unwritten rules, and said that his name was Michael and then he told us all that he had never ridden on this bus before.  He usually had to get a bus that went to the city in the afternoon and then he would get a ride home after dinner with his sister. But on this day, he would begin to work full days at his job. So, he had to catch this bus in the morning darkness. Michael went on to tell us that the bus we were riding in was much nicer than the one he usually caught. He decided that this bus must be a new bus and weren’t we lucky to get to ride on a new bus. Then Michael took off his hat, held it out in front of him so that we could all see it, and declared that he was the luckiest person in the world because his mother had bought him this wonderful hat which kept his head dry. Now Michael went on to tell us all sorts of details about his life. At first people managed to listen without responding. But as Michael went on describing his wonderful life, people found that in spite of themselves they were drawn into the conversation.

As we approached the tunnel which normally causes traffic to back up in rush hour, it was clear that there must have been some sort of accident in the tunnel. It was going to be a long commute. There would be no escaping Michael’s enthusiasm. Before long we all knew that Michael worked in the mail room of a securities company. He assured us that this security company was a safe place to work because they didn’t take care of the safety of people. They just took care of pieces of paper which were called stocks and bonds and they were very important. Michael told us just how much he loved his job. Having a job was the best thing in the world. Before he had the job, he didn’t have any money to help his parents. But now he had enough money to help his parents and lots and lots of money left over besides. Michael told us that he was really lucky because he worked with really nice people who took good care of him and let him do all kinds of fun jobs. Michael began asking his fellow passengers if they too had jobs and one by one the people around him began to tell him and indeed all of us where they worked and what they did.

Michael was full of enthusiasm for the various jobs we did. He even managed to be excited when I told him that I worked in an accounting department and my job was to count things. Michael said he was very good at counting.  He had learned how when he was just a little boy. He liked counting

And he thought that it would be great fun to be able to count things all day long. He sometimes was allowed to count supplies in the supply cupboard, and he really liked doing that. At some point on our journey, Michael began to speak about the weather. Michael loved the rain. He told us how important the rain was and how wonderful it was that it rained so much in Vancouver. Our trees could grow taller and bigger than trees anywhere else and our flowers they just loved all the rain and there was so much food in the stores because the rain helped the vegetables to grow. Michael’s joy began to infect us all.

People smiled at one another. People began to speak and to respond to Michael’s joy. Some of us even waved at him when he got off at his stop, telling us all to have a good day and that he would see us all tomorrow. On that day and on every other day that I rode the bus with Michael, I was reminded, whether I liked it or not, of the beauty and the wonder of life. Somehow, Michael managed to pierce our dullness. Michael was able to make us forget that his behaviour was inappropriate; that he was intruding on us, or that the timing was all wrong, that he was breaking all of our unwritten rules. Michael burst into our lives and interrupted our routines, and in the middle of a dull, damp, and dreary funk, he reminded us of how truly blessed we really are. Michael’s daily reminders challenged us all to remember our many blessings.

So, on this grey day, as I anticipate some wet Vancouver days in my immediate future, I remember Michael’s joy and I just couldn’t help myself, joy filled my heart, and my own widening smile caused me to rejoice and be glad! And so I shared Michael’s story with you so that you, dear one might rejoice with me. Rejoice and be glad in the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Yes, we have challenges aplenty. COVID has not left us. And yes, there will be sadness on this Thanksgiving day for some. The world is full of people in need. But rejoice I say, for we are richly blessed.  Blessed to be a blessing. Rejoice and be glad. Rejoice and feast on the bounty of our tables and in the joy of our families and friends. Rejoice and give thanks for this good day. And when the feasting is done, loosen your belts and settle in for some rest and relaxation however you take your rest. whether its football, a book at a fireside chat. Relax and be of great joy because each and every one of us has a job waiting for us when the holiday is over. There are people out there who need us to be LOVE in the world. There are injustices to be tackled, needs to be met, lonely people to be comforted, and peace to be made. Rejoice and be glad, for as my friend Michael would say, we are the luckiest people in the world. We have a job.

Rejoice and be glad! Give thanks for life is full to overflowing. Rest and relax. Then give thanks again. For we have great jobs to do. May we always remember just how blessed. I hope that each of you may know the kind of joy which my friend Michael exuded each and every day.  May we always notice each and every blessing as it comes. May we always take the time to cultivate gratitude. May our gratitude always infect others with joy. Rejoice and be glad, for this day, and every day is a gift we can share with one another. So, let us share our gratitude and bring joy to the world, by loving lavishly, living fully, and being LOVE in the world. Thanks be to all that IS HOLY!

View the full Thanksgiving Worship Video below

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Are We Being LOVing Enough With All That We Have? Matthew 6:25-29

A sermon for the Celebration of St. Francis

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. To celebrate the Feast of St. Francis I just had to come out here into the beauty of Creation. Just look around!  Isn’t this spectacular? Let’s take a moment to focus our attention on these beautiful flowers! Yes, I am well aware that these flowers are blooming weeds. But aren’t they simply beautiful? Take a good look. In this spectacular season of autumn weeds are everywhere. You can’t go for a walk, or a drive in the country without being confronted by the existence of fecund weeds; weeds flowering and seeding, so that next year more and more the existence of weeds. Weeds flowering and seeding so that next year more and more weeds will sprout up. Creation is alive with the miracle of weeds. Out here in the magnificence of it all, I am reminded of the words of St. Francis who wrote:

“I think God might be a little prejudiced. For once God asked me to join God on a walk through this world, and we gazed into every heart on this earth, and I noticed God lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping, and before any eyes that were laughing. And sometimes when we passed a soul in worship God too would kneel down. I have Come to learn:  God adores God’s Creation.”  

I hope that we all learn as Francis did that the CREATOR of all that is, simply adores Creation. As a splendid miracle yourself, I hope that when you looked into the mirror this morning, you recognized yourself as the beautiful miracle of Creation which you are! Perhaps you may have looked into your mirror and saw yourself not as a beautiful flower. Maybe when you look in a mirror you are tempted to dismiss yourself as just an ordinary weed. Well, we can’t all be lilies of the field. What a dull place the world would be if we were all just lilies, flapping around in the breeze. Each of us, like these amazing, beautiful flowering weeds, each one of us has our own particular beauty to bring to the miracle which we call Creation. Weeds, lilies, chrysanthemums, golden rod, roses, delphiniums, or these wildflowers each and everyone have their own particular beauty. Their individual existence is a miracle in and of itself, collectivity they sway back and forth in the fields as testament to the miracle that Creation exists at all. Billions and billions of years of ever-evolving particles to create just one variety and so far, cataloguers of plants tell us that there are more than half a million varieties of flowering beauties. Look at the birds of the sky, from the lowly crow and the much-maligned Canada Goose to the magnificent eagle and the beautiful blue-jay, they are each and every one miracles.

Now close your eyes, if you will, now remember your own face in the mirror this morning; a little tired perhaps, slightly haggard, or ravishingly, excitingly, beautiful, that face of yours is a miracle. There’s not another one like you in all the world. Similar perhaps, in the way flowers and birds resemble one another. But there is no one out there like you. You are a unique miracle. Take a long deep breath and soak in the truth of your splendour. For as beautiful as these flowers are, and these woods are, as exquisite as a bird is in flight, as lavish as our Creator has been in adorning Creation, we humans are unique miracles. We humans are endowed by our Creator with adornments which don’t just bloom today and are gone tomorrow for we are capable of such great goodness, such wonderful creativity, even as we are capable of doing immense harm.

Just think for a moment about the multitudinous miracles of life upon this miraculous planet upon which we are blessed to live.  This sacred Earth, teaming with life and beauty, is a miracle beyond comprehension. The vastness of blessings with which we are surrounded, overwhelms the challenges life brings our way. We are blessed with riches beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. The Earth lavishes her inhabitants with more than enough to satisfy our needs. Our cups are over-flowering with blessings. The extravagance of our CREATOR cannot be captured in words or by our greed. As much as we concern ourselves with storing up the bounty of the Earth, Creation continues to confound us with miracles. Beauty, the kind of beauty which calls forth the LOVE out of which each and every one of us was created. For GOD is LOVE and in the words of Julian of Norwich, “We are not just made by GOD, we are made of GOD.” The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives in, with, through, and beyond us. That miraculous, unique face you see in the mirror every morning is made of LOVE, to be LOVE. That same LOVE which is DIVINITY constantly allures us to be the LOVE we are created to be, so that each of us can blossom into LOVE in the world.

We are called to be like weeds, growing LOVE here, there and everywhere. St. Francis is famous for many things, but of all the words ever written by or about Francis which rings true to me here in the midst of so many blessed miracles, is the question Francis asked himself over and over again, “Am I being loving enough with all that I have?” “Am I, are you being loving enough with what you I have? .. with all of what you have?” Our MAKER has sown the seeds of LOVE all over this planet; so much so that the plethora of our blessings goes way beyond our ability to number. Are we being LOVing enough with all we have? Are we sowing the seeds of love like the extravagance of the SOWER that IS the SOURCE OF EVERYTHING?

St. Francis insisted that “It was easy to love GOD in all that was beautiful. He wrote that the lessons of deeper knowledge tough instruct us to embrace all things in God.” The Apostle Paul described our MAKER as the “ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.” This means that we are all in DIVINITY and DIVINITY is in all things. Embracing GOD, LOVING GOD, requires us to see DIVINITY in all things, which means LOVING Creation, all of Creation, each and every blessed thing upon the Earth, the weeds, the flowers, the insects, the birds, the trees, the sisters and brothers of every tribe and nation, the good, the bad and yes even the ugly, friend and foe alike. This is our calling. This is the promise of the peace we long for. In the spirit of St. Francis let us bid one another peace. Let us be LOVE in the World. Thanks be to all that is HOLY.

View the full Worship Video below:

Click here to download the Order of Service for the Celebration of St. Francis

Without Truth There Can Be No Reconciliation!

On this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, I too must revisit the truth of my own prejudice and privilege. Forgive me, but I cannot remember her name. Staring back through the mists of time, I can however remember the pain in her eyes. More than four decades have passed since I lived and worked in Vancouver’s East End. I was young, young and foolish, young and carefree, young and adventurous, and young and callous. In my early twenties, I was still trying to figure out who I was. So, I was in no condition to understand who she was. How could I know? None of us knew…right? We didn’t know. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

I did know Jesus back then. Some might even say that I was obsessed with knowing Jesus. I went to church every Sunday and I hung out with church people. Not common behaviour for kids in their twenties. The God I knew and worshipped back then was the “Father.” The Father Almighty. I was young, the world was my oyster. My future stretched out before me. I knew that my work in the travel industry was only temporary; just a means to an end, a way to make money so that I could spend that money enjoying life. At the time, I was working in an unglamorous part of the wholesale travel industry packaging holidays, to Mexico and Hawaii. We used to joke that it wasn’t exactly brain surgery, just bums on seats, just filling every plane our company chartered with warm bodies so that they could get away from Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-soaked winters. Bums on seats, anybody could do the job; day in and day out filling airplanes, it was positively mind-numbing work.

The company I worked for occupied an entire three-story office building on the northern edge of Vancouver’s East Side, which at the time was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Back then, the gentrification of the East-End which Expo 86 and then the 2010 Olympics brought, couldn’t even be imagined. Good upstanding middle-class people avoided the poverty of the East-end, unless of course they were young like me, and then the depravity of the neighbourhood was kind of a badge of honour. So, we braved the streets on our way to dance the night away in the clubs which sprang up on the edge of the East-End, where rents were cheap, and the cops had so much more to worry about than the kind of mischief which we got into. I lived and worked in the East-End and saved my money for the life which stretched out before me.

I wish I could remember her name. But the pain in her eyes, those dark mournful eyes, that I will never forget. I’d warned her more than once. It was against the rules. She was hired to clean our offices. She was to go about her work and make sure that she had the place spick-and span, ready in time for us when we arrived in the morning, and then she would be on her way. But time and time again, I’d find her lingering, long past the time she should have been gone, she’d still be there lingering and talking on our telephone. She was our cleaner, she had no business using our phones. Remember, back then mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction movies. I was the newly minted supervisor of the reservations department. It was to me that the staff came to complain about the untidy conditions in the staff room. If she spent as much time doing her job as she did sneaking around making phone calls, we wouldn’t have to put up with the unwashed mugs in the sink. I warned her repeatedly, but she just wouldn’t listen.

My boss told me to fire her; but I was young, and I’d never fired anyone before. Besides, I thought I knew better. I thought, wouldn’t Jesus want me to give her just one more chance. Forgive me, I thought I could save her. I wasn’t planning to save her for Jesus or anything as crass as that, oh no, I was going to save her from herself. I was going to redeem her from her lazy self and see to it that she kept her job. Forgive me, I did not see my racism for what it was. The phrase, “I didn’t know” rises in me even though truth demands that I confess, I must have known.

Back then, in my world of privilege there were no aboriginals, no indigenous people, just plain old Indians. She couldn’t have been much older than I was at the time, but her face was haggard by a life I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But I was young, and I thought, I knew it all, and I knew if she didn’t shape up, I’d have to ship her out. Out onto the streets of the East-End where she could join her sisters; she’d probably end up turning tricks like the rest of them, if I didn’t save her from herself. Forgive me, I really had no idea what I was thinking or what I was doing, or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I like to excuse what I remember by claiming that my youth was the problem. I don’t like to see my thoughts or my actions for what they were.

I took her into my office, this woman whose name I have forgotten, and I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to use the company phones for personal calls. She was there to clean and nothing more. She was very apologetic. She begged me not to fire her. She tried to explain that the phones in the rooming house where she lived were always out of order and she couldn’t afford the payphone and she only made calls that were local. I held my ground. Her excuses did not sway me. She’d just have to stop using the office phones. She had to understand that she’d lose her job if she couldn’t follow the rules. I was only trying to help her or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I never asked her who she was calling. It never occurred to me that her need might be more important than the rules. I had to be firm. I had to show my boss that his faith in me was not miss-placed. I might have been young, but I wasn’t going to let this “Indian” pull the wool over my eyes. This Indian’s eyes filled up and I sunk back into my chair, somehow undone by the thought that tears might be about to make an appearance. Remembering who I was back then, I suspect that I may have shot up a prayer to the “Father” silently asking for the strength to do my job.

Looking back now at the young woman that I was, I can’t help wondering what the woman I am now could possibly say to that earnest young thing, to break her out of the shell she was so carefully encased in. I try to tell myself that I was a product of my culture, trapped by the prejudices of generations of imperialism. I had absolutely no idea who that woman was who toiled away as the office cleaner. Sure, I recognized her as an Indian. But back then, I didn’t know then that, native women who left the reserves lost their status as Indians and thereby forfeited their rights. I recognized that she was a woman, but I didn’t know that based on her age, she may in all likelihood have suffered the indignities of the residential school system which basically kidnapped children from their families and held them captive. The very system which afforded me such privilege, was designed to wipe any trace of their culture from the minds of indigenous children or to put it in the words of our own government, “to kill the Indian in the child.”  

I recognized that she was our cleaner, who probably made less than minimum wage, but I had no idea that she was trapped in an endless cycle of poverty from which there wasn’t much possibility of escape. I did recognize that she was a human being, but in my arrogance, I believed that if only she’d pull herself up by her own bootstraps, she’d be able to keep her job and maybe one day be able to make something of herself. I was as determined to be firm but kind. It was for her own good that I warned her that unless she applied herself to the work at hand, I’d have no choice but to let her go. Forgive me but I didn’t know or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I wish I could go back and do it all differently; but that’s not how life works.

The crimes of our past haunt us, and we must learn to live with the consequences. Those deep, dark, tear-filled, eyes peer out, they peer out at me from my distant past. Today, I, we, know so very much more than we once did and still we have so very much more to learn. The horrors which continue to be revealed have exposed the deep wounds in our nation and in the nations of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We may like to remember it with rose coloured glasses, excusing ourselves by claiming ignorance, or youthful inexperience. But reconciliation requires the truth.

We settlers must confess that the foundations of our privilege include the horrors of genocide, stolen lands, residential schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and the lack of safe drinking water, together with our compliance, denials, and arrogance. We settlers must learn to listen to the stories of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We settlers must learn to see all those tear-filled eyes which peer out from our past, present and futures. We must listen to and learn the truth behind those tears. We must also be prepared to confess our truth; all of it, known and as yet unknown, all of it. For without truth there can be no reconciliation.

Today, I look back on the young woman that I was, and I can forgive her for being arrogant, stupid and unknowing. I can even forgive her for her faith in the great big Father in the Sky to whom she prayed for forgiveness, trusting that He had everything under control and there was no work for her to do. We’ve all come a long way from the days when we called our sisters and brothers Indians and passed by not caring about the horrors of our history or the travesties of the present. We know that the LOVE which we call, “GOD,” lives, and breathes, and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. We know that the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality finds expression in us. We know that the deaths of our sisters are an abomination. The plight of our Indigenous sisters and brothers is Canada’s great shame. It is also the shame of each and every settler who continues to prosper as a result of the privilege we so blithely take for granted. We can turn away, or we can simply offer up a prayer to the Great Sky God, and hope that somebody somewhere does something. Or we can allow the plight of our sisters and brothers to move the SPIRIT which lives in us to find expression in our actions.

I wish I could remember her name. But I cannot remember her name. I can see her deep, dark, tear-filled eyes. Her eyes cry out to me from my past. Her eyes continue to cry out to me as I recall her truth. A few days after I told her to stay off the office telephones, I over-heard her tell one of the other women who we worked with, that she had moved to the East-End to search for her daughters. Two of her daughters were missing; vanished without a trace. She worked as our cleaner, she lived in a rooming house, she embraced the poverty of the East End in a desperate search for her daughters. Two daughters who had left their home searching for a better life in the city.

4,000 murdered and missing women and girls, and over 2,000 of those cases remain unsolved to this day. 4,000 murdered and missing women and girls. That’s a very big number. Numbers mean something; two, two, missing daughters. One is far too big a number for us to comprehend when it comes to imagining the loss of a daughter; two is a number that would destroy must of us. 4,000 Stolen Sisters is a number that is more than we can bear; more than we can tolerate, more than we can ignore, and yet we know that that number continues to grow. More than 1,300 unmarked graves at residential school sites and we know that that number is going to grow. More than 60 Indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water. The suicide rate among Indigenous peoples is 3 times that of settlers! The truth is disturbing. And so many of us are tempted to look away. Reconciliation requires truth.

Our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers have so much to teach us. But it is not enough to leave the truth-telling to others. We must search our own hearts, our own minds, our own stories to discover our truth, to learn from our past mistakes, to discover our own complicity in the pain of our neighbours.

Today, on this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, churches all over the world are also celebrating the Season of Creation’s theme, A Home for All. A Home for All in this “O Canada our home and stolen land.” Much needs to happen before this home we love is a safe, equitable place in which all people may thrive. We must begin with the truth about our home. We must confess the truth of our past and present so that the future ushers in justice and peace for ALL in this home we share.

May the ONE who is LOVE, find expression in with through and beyond us, so that we can become LOVE in the world, LOVE in our communities, LOVE in our lands, LOVE in right relationship with ALL our sisters and brothers. Let it be so. Let it be so among us and beyond us. Let it be so now and always. Amen.

View the full Truth & Reconciliation Worship Video below

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Who Could Blame Us for Longing to Go Home to Life Before COVID? Rev.21:1-5a

This is not the Homecoming Sunday we were hoping for. This is not the home we had hoped to be worshipping in this morning. We had high hopes that once we were all able to be vaccinated, that we could return to worshipping together, in person, in our sanctuary. But once again the numbers are going in the wrong direction and many of us are dreading what might happen now that schools have opened once again. So, out of an abundance of caution we are not returning to the home that our sanctuary was for us. The home of our longing continues to allude us, so how can we call this Homecoming Sunday?

Longing for a home that I cannot return to is a familiar feeling for me. For I have spent a great deal of my life longing for a home I could never return to. To say that my family moved around a lot when I was a kid would be a massive understatement. Sometimes it felt that every time I became comfortable enough to think of a place as home, we were on the move again. Moving from house to house, country to country, school to school, classroom to classroom, left me longing for what was once home. I was always the new kid in school. Being the new kid in unfamiliar surroundings is not a pleasant experience. The stress of new surroundings and unfamiliar ways, not to mention strangers to get to know, could be unbearable at times.

The stress played itself out in the form of a recurring nightmare which continues to show up as we navigate the ups and downs of these strange pandemic challenges. The nightmare is always the same. I’m breathless from running away from some frightening experience. I arrive at what I believe to be the front door of my home. The door is the only thing which ever changes in my nightmare. Sometimes its blue, sometimes its red, sometimes its green. Recently it was a mostly glass door, similar to the one in the front of our church. Somehow, in my dream I always know that beyond the door I will find relief from the pressures of the newness in which I find myself. Beyond the door, no matter what the colour, beyond the door I will be safe.

Now rowing up we were latch-key kids. For those of you too young or too privileged to remember, latch-key kids, we were the children of families where both parents worked. So, we fended for ourselves when we got home from school. So, that we wouldn’t lose them, we carried the keys to our home on chains around our necks. In my stress induced nightmares, I arrive breathless at my new front door, take the key from around my neck, so that I can let myself into the safety of my home, only to discover that the key never fits into the lock because the key which I carry is always the key to the last house that I lived in. Unable to enter my new home, I awake filled with anxiety. The best word to describe this anxiety is homesickness; a longing for home, for familiarity, a longing for what was.

This nightmare has become all too real as so many of the places and events in which we once felt at home have changed so very much. The unfamiliar contours of our new reality seem to be relentless. Who could possibly blame us for longing to go home to life before COVID? During these past eighteen months it has been one change after another. So much has been lost. So many connections have been severed. Too many people have died. Institutions have fallen. Business have closed. Relationships have suffered. Some churches have not survived. And maybe worst of all, grief has been suspended until someday when we can all grieve together in-person. Here we stand outside the door of a whole new world, longing to return to what was.

We are not the first to stand in the precipice between the kind of world where we felt at home and a new world of unfamiliar challenges. I am reminded of a writer who also worked out their anxiety about the future. We don’t know his or her name, but tradition has named this writer John the Elder, or John the Divine, or John the Theologian. I like to call him, “Johnny” to differentiate him from Jesus’ beloved friend John. Johnny was a follower of Jesus’ Way of being, who wrote the Book of Revelation at the very end of the first century. Some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and about 30 years after the Romans had destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem and reduced the city of Jerusalem to ruble. We don’t know how Johnny ended up on the Island of Patmos, which is between Greece and Turkey. We do know that life for the Followers of the Way was fraught with dangers the likes of which makes COVID seem like a picnic. Surrounded by enemies, Johnny tended to write in code, to protect his meaning from all but fellow Followers of the Way. Sadly, Johnny’s cryptic code style has led to all sorts of abuses of the text of Revelation over the centuries. Not the least of which is the misunderstanding perpetuated by fundamentalists who insist on reading the Book of Revelation as a prediction of the end of the world. Martin Luther was not fond of the Book of Revelation and seriously considered leaving it out of his translation of the Bible. In the end, Luther opted to put the Book at the end of his version of the Bible, where it remains to this day.

Revelation can be best understood not as a prediction of the future, but as a description of the end of one world and the beginning of another. Johnny was writing to an endangered, marginalized people in hiding, whose world had been turned upside down by their oppressors. Revelation invites people out of the world they know and into a new world. Listen to the way Johnny invites his fellow followers of the Way move into the new world by describing his dream.  

John the Elder writes: “Then I saw new heavens and a new Earth. The former heavens and the former Earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, Beautiful as two lovers on their wedding day. And I heard a loud voice calling from the throne, “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind!” God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be now more, for the old order had fallen.” The ONE who sat on the throne said, “Look! I AM making everything new!” (Rev.21:1-5a)

On this Homecoming Sunday, I suspect that many of us, myself included, are not quite ready for the new world that awaits us. We are longing for the familiar of what was. Some of us are prepared to burst into the new world which awaits us determined to reestablish what once was; to set things up the way they were, to get back to what we fondly refer to as “normal”. Others of us are tempted to hunker down, and wait until it is safe, so that we can go back to our old ways of doing and being, once the all-clear is sounded. If you are anything like me, you’re teetering on the edge, not knowing exactly what to expect, and anxious about what lies beyond our longings for the familiarity of home. I feel like the latch-key kid I once was, I’m homesick for what was and anxious about what is to come. I just want to go home. I want to go home and I’m not sure that any of the old keys hanging around our necks can get us there.

A long time ago, I told a very wise friend of mine about my recurring nightmare. My friend Henry is a very wise Jewish Rabbi, who is also a licensed psychotherapist. So, he knows more than a thing or two about dreams and anxiety. After asking me a few questions about my recurring nightmare, Henry suggested that I try summoning up my nightmare as a daymare. Now, I’d never heard of a daymare, so it took a while for Henry to convince me that I should try to walk around inside my nightmare in the middle of the day to see what I might discover. I agreed on the condition that Henry would come with me into my daymare.

We began by talking a little about the various anxieties which were creating my stress. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at a very large formidable, black door. I reached for the key which hung around my neck and just like always the key didn’t fit. Henry invited me to toss the key away. He insisted that the key I was clinging to belonged to my old home and it was not the key which I needed. I protested that I was so homesick that maybe I should just try to find the door which my old key fit into. Maybe if I found the right door, I’d finally be able to go home. Henry asked me, “Where are you when you have your nightmare?” At first, I didn’t understand, “I’m running away.” “No,” Henry insisted, “not what is happening in your nightmare. But where are you actually dreaming your nightmare? Where are you?” I still didn’t understand. So, Henry gave me the answer, “You are at home in your own bed. You are already home. You are already safe.” Then Henry told me to go to the window and look outside and he asked, “What can you see?” I saw people, some unfamiliar, some familiar, some old friends, some new friends, some strangers, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw familiar places, unfamiliar places, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw all sorts of things, places, and people I’d never seen before. Henry told me to come away from the window, in my dream. “Look at the door. You don’t need that old key to get into your home.  You are already inside. Inside your new home. Open the door, open the door and go outside.”

That other dreamer, Johnny, he understood, the voice he heard in his dream, said it loud and clear: “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind! God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The old keys we’re clinging too, we don’t need them anymore. We’re safe, in our HOME, which is the ONE in, whom, we, live and move and have our being. There’s a whole world out there, full of people who have been forever changed, full of new and unfamiliar ways of being. One thing remains the same, whether we are worshipping online, or gathering in parking lots, vaccinated, wearing masks, in-person or mediated over technology, we are already home because we’ve always been home.

Our old keys may not fit the locks. But the ONE who is our HOME, is making all things new. Look around, look out the window, open the door. Welcome HOME! HOME to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being! Our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself – HOME!  Amen.

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A Life Well Lived: Bishop John Shelby Spong

After 90 years of living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that he could be Bishop John Shelby Spong died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday September 12, 2021. A giant of a man in more ways that one, Jack’s towering presence will continue to live in the lives of the millions of people he blessed with his presence.

The Holy Cross community is indebted to Jack for his wisdom, generosity, and kindness. We were blessed to welcome Jack to our small congregation three times. During his visits with us Jack and his beloved Christine became fast friends.

Jack heralded Holy Cross as “the jewel of the North!” We at Holy Cross will continue to herald Jack as a beloved friend and teacher. Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY for a life well lived!  

Personally, Jack’s influence on my life began long before I ever entertained the possibility of attending seminary. His book “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” helped me to stay in the church.  Over the decades, Jack’s work nourished, grounded and sustained me in my work.  His friendship is a blessing I shall always treasure!  

The video below was recorded on a beautiful Sunday morning in May of 2011. The sermon was the icing on the cake of a weekend filled with Jack’s characteristic whit and wisdom.