About Rev. Dawn Hutchings

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

Pandemic Playlist – visual liturgy

A few days ago, I was asked how I am coping with the isolation of physical-distancing. The question made me realize that in the absence of in-person worship, I find myself upheld by visual liturgies. Fortunately, we are blessed with technologies which bring such beauty to our screens.  These moments nourish, ground, and sustain me. May you too find sustenance in the music of The Brilliance whose work anchors my pandemic playlist. Coupled with the images of an evocative dance, it is for me a, visual liturgy.

If we are to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we must look beneath the surface!

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.

The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading

Feeding Our Hunger for DIVINE PRESENCE Amid a Pandemic – Matthew 14:13-21

When I was a teenager, I was always in a hurry. I wanted to see and do everything there was to see and do. When I was nineteen, I knew that I just had to get out there and see what the world had to offer. So with nothing more than a backpack, a three-month Euro-rail pass, and eight-hundred dollars in travellers cheques, I boarded an airplane bound for Amsterdam. I was searching for adventure and I was convinced that Europe held the excitement I was looking for. 

Inside my backpack was the book that would make it all possible,  a little book entitled,  “Europe on Ten Dollars a Day.” I was determined to make my eight-hundred dollars stretch the length and breadth of Europe. I was going to see and do it all!  It wasn’t easy. In fact, when I look back on it now, it seems like such a lot of hard work. Up early in the morning sightseeing all day long. Meeting new people. Fighting my way through the crowds of tourists. Searching for cheap places to eat and sleep. 

After two months of traveling from one European city to the next, I just couldn’t face one more castle or museum. I figured that it was time to get away from the cities so I headed for the Alps. After a long train ride from Munich, I arrived in the Swiss town of Interlaken. There I boarded a coggle train that would take me to the Alpine village of Grindelwald. The train was filled with tourists anxious to fill their rolls of film with pictures of the mountains. When I arrived in Grindelwald, I was told that the youth hostel was only about three kilometres from the station, so I and several other young backpackers which I had met on the train decided to walk to the hostel. What we didn’t know was that the hostel was three kilometres straight up the side of a mountain.  As we trudged up the mountain, we were embarrassed by the speed with which villagers three times our age just passed us by. Despite our youth, the senior Swiss locals were much more adept at climbing than we were.   Continue reading

I am not a Christian! I aspire to be a Christian – Psalm 139

There’s a famous story about Mahatma Gandhi in which, Gandhi has just finished expressing his admiration for the teachings of Jesus and is asked, “Mahatma, if you love Jesus so much, why don’t you become a Christian?” Gandhi is reported to have replied, “My friend, when I meet a Christian, I shall become a Christian.” This story has always caused me to insist that,“I am not a Christian!” When the shock of hearing a Christian pastor say, “I am not a Christian!” begins to settle, I declare that,  “I aspire to be a Christian.”

Part of my refusal to claim that I am already a “Christian” comes from the enormous task of being a Christian, which I believe comes down to following Jesus’ mandate to LOVE; to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. I believe that following Jesus’ takes us on a pathway which can open us to the reality life itself is all about learning how to be LOVE in the world.

Over the years, I have encountered may followers of Jesus, as well as followers of other faiths, and indeed followers of no faith at all,  who have embodied this LOVE which many of us call, “God.” I pray that from time to time, I too have been able to be LOVE in the world. But neither I, nor any of those holy ones, for it is by embodying LOVE that we are “holy,” none of us have arrived as the LOVERs we are created to be, for life is a journey of endless becomings. Continue reading

LOVE, which we call God, IS a STRANGE ATTRACTOR!

Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of the Roman Empire, whose death continues to impact the world. His death upon the Empire’s instrument of execution, was relatively unremarkable. Thousands upon thousands of unruly inhabitants of the Empire were executed during Jesus’ lifetime by those charged with the task of establishing and maintaining order by force. To the powers that be, Jesus’ execution was little more than the routine death of a homeless, outcast who spent far too much time creating social unrest. Nothing more than the insignificant death of a troublemaker without influence in the halls of power, who would not or could not moderate his own behavior. An insignificant troublemaker dies, under the rule of law, and yet, the impact continues to reverberate all around the world, nearly 2000 years after it should have been long forgotten.

Late last fall, nobody’s really sure exactly when or to whom it happened, but sometime last fall, a person so obscure that history will fail to name them, someone living in an Empire where order is maintained by force, got sick and died. The impact of that death has kept millions of us all around the world, locked up inside our homes avoiding tiny droplets whose impact upon any one of us could be catastrophic. For months now, I have heard various people, including myself, refer to these strange times which we are living in as “chaotic”.  The very word chaos summons in me visions of Genesis, when the Ruach, the breath of the CREATOR hovered over what in Hebrew is called the tohu va-bohu, the formless void, or the chaos, the RUACH hovers over the tohu va-bohu and calls forth light out of the chaos of darkness. Continue reading

Erotic Playfulness: SOPHIA/WISDOM, a sermon Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In Jesus’ words, we can hear the dim echoes of a time gone by. Long before Jesus came there was a character who called out in the marketplaces. You can read about her in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. What students of the Bible call the “Wisdom literature” is full of stories about a character who so many people have never heard of.

In the book of Proverbs, she claims to have been there when CREATOR was busy creating and she declares:  “When God set the heavens in place, I was present, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God fixed the clouds above, when God fixed fast the wells of the deep, when God assigned the sea its limits…when God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman. Delighting God day after day, ever at play by God’s side, at play everywhere in God’s domain, delighting to be with the children of humanity.”   

So, just who is this master craftswoman? Job insists that, “we have heard reports of her”. But, “God alone has traced her path and found out where she lives.” The writer of Ecclesiasticus admonishes the reader to: “court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go.  For in the end, you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”

In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is described as, “quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of God’s goodness. Although alone, she can do all things; herself unchanging she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.”

You may not know who she is, but Jesus certainly did. Tales of her deeds were popular in Jesus’ day. Jesus, a student of the scriptures who was referred to as a rabbi, would certainly have known who this heroine of the scriptures is. In the ancient Hebrew texts of the Wisdom Literature she is called “CHOKMAH.”  In the ancient Greek translations of these texts she is called “SOPHIA.” In our English translations of these texts she is simply known as “wisdom.” The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages were written without punctuation. Often in Greek, there were no spaces between the words. Until long after Jesus’ day there were only capital letters. Upper- and lower-case letters were not used. Unlike our system where personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Often ancient Greek, the words did not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us.  Continue reading

Celebrate 50 Years of Pride: sermon

June is Pride month; a month set aside to both celebrate how far we have come and advocate for all those who have not and do not enjoy the freedom to express fully who they are regardless of who they love. But this is a June like no other. We are living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and whether we are out and proud or still in the closet, all of us queer or straight, we have all been locked down for the better part of the last three months. Closeted away in our respective homes, our fear of COVID-19 has been matched by the horror of the even more insidious infection of racism, a disease which has for centuries infected the hearts and minds of white privileged people and robbed Black, Indigenous and People of Colour of their liberty, dignity, and all too often their very lives. So, as June 28th, the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride Parade drew closer and closer, I wondered how we can celebrate Pride in the midst of so much suffering. Forget the fact that we can’t celebrate with a party, let alone a parade. How do we say, “Happy Pride!” on a day like today.

I must confess that I was sorely tempted to skip any mention of Pride celebrations this year. That is until, I was struck by an ear-worm.  You know those annoying ear-worms, pieces of songs that pop into your heard, over and over again. This particular ear-worm is a song from my misbegotten youth; a popular song which is actually based upon a piece of scripture. Rather than sing my earworm to you, let me share it with you: …..

there you have Psalm 137,  adapted and interpreted, but Psalm 137 indeed. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion. When the wicked carried us away in captivity Required of us a song Now how shall we sing the LORD’s son in a strange land.”

I know that this is not Babylon, and we haven’t been carried away into captivity by our enemies. But who among us can doubt that so much of what we have taken for granted has changed and right now we are living in a very strange place indeed? So how can we celebrate today of all days, when so many people are suffering? Continue reading

National Indigenous Peoples Day: In this storm, Jesus is not asleep in the back of the boat! We are!

The raging storms are all around us! The tumultuous winds are churning up the waters and tossing us about in treacherous seas. Our small boats are tossed to and fro as massive waves heave us left and right. The roaring winds create upheavals, which leave us cowering in fear, trembling as we struggle to meet each wave which carries with it the potential to destroy the few planks of wood that we have hewn together to carry us upon the ever changing sea, which holds both the promise of sustenance and the threat of oblivion within the darkness of its depths. With each crash upon the hull our fear rises, and the ferocity of the storms intensifies. Frightened, clinging to life as we are tossed from one danger to the next, we cry out into the storm, convinced that only some power more intense, bigger, stronger, beyond our abilities to even imagine, only a power such as this can save us from being swamped in our small boats. We fear that left to our own devices, without the meager security offered by our small boats, we will be overcome by the waves and drown in the very sea that we must rely upon to sustain us.

Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fear. As the storms rage all around us, we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters which lie before us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that drive us ever closer to wrecking our small boats. Boats hastily designed without thought to the perils which threaten to consume us, as monsters from below depths below, surface all around us. Continue reading

“The Great Commission” Birthed White Supremacy! – Trinity Sunday sermon

How did we get here? All over the world people are marching in the streets proclaiming, “Black lives matter.” Millions have defied the fear of the corona virus, and taken their lives into their hands to venture out into the streets to protest the systemic racism that permeates institutions all over this planet. Even in Canada, where it takes a colossal effort to turn people out into the streets, even in Canada hundreds of thousands of people have defied public health orders to march against racism.

By now we are all familiar with the recent murders which ignited the powder keg of outrage which continues to propel people into the streets. As horrific as these current murders are, it is not enough for those of us who benefit daily from our white privilege to simply look to the most horrific consequences of racism in order to understand the inherent depths of systemic racism which infect our world. If we are to begin to untangle ourselves from our own participation in the proliferation of racism, we must begin to understand the role of Christianity in the creation and maintenance of white supremacy.  For the same Christianity which gave us these words from Galatians which I just read as today’s Gospel, also gave us the words which are actually prescribed as the Gospel reading for this Trinity Sunday. Continue reading

May Someday Come Soon!

I work on Sundays, so I tend to worship on Monday mornings. Modern technology affords me the opportunity to visit various churches in order to hear the gospel proclaimed by some incredibly talented preachers. For about five years now, one of my first stops on a Monday morning is at Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago, so that I can listen to one of the finest preachers I have ever had the privilege of being challenged by. To say that the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is simply a great preacher, is to do him a disservice. Dr. Moss is a disturbingly gifted challenger of the status quo, whose words have the potential to move mountains. 

Two Mondays ago, as I listened to Dr. Moss’ disturbing sermon entitled, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Amaud Arbery,” I found it difficult to breathe. Trained in the style of the American Black Church, Dr. Moss moves from swift insight, to provocative challenge without missing a beat.  So, it was not unusual for me to return to his sermon again on Tuesday in order to capture more pearls of wisdom. On Wednesday, the  news of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of those sworn to protect, sent me back to Dr. Moss’ all to prescient proclamation of the Gospel. I did not want to be placated by nice, comforting words. I wanted to hear an expression of outrage. I wanted to be inspired to tap into my own outrage to find the courage to do something. So, over and over again I returned to Dr. Moss and found the courage to dig deep into my own being to discover the roots of my own complicit role in the systemic racism which permeates our world. 

By Sunday I was exhausted by the horrors playing themselves out on various screens and devices   So, rather than wait until Monday to worship, I went back to Dr. Moss’ pulpit to discover how he was responding to yet another murder of a young black person. I am forever grateful for the fortitude of Dr. Moss who did not, despite my fondest wishes, offer me comfort, but continued to challenge me.

I know that there are many Canadians and indeed Americans who are unfamiliar with Dr. Moss. So, allow me to introduce you to a preachers’ preacher, who has the ability to articulate the horrendous realities of the violence which continues to be perpetrated by systems founded and upheld by white privilege.  His articulations may cause you to squirm as you reach for words to deny your own complicity. But he may also inspire you to move beyond your comfort zones in order to take the risk of learning from and working with those who are struggling to achieve justice.

Below are the two sermons which demonstrate my own need to repent of my white privilege, so that I may quietly sit at the feet of those who are struggling in the thick of this battle to usher in the DIVINE KIN-DOM of peace through justice. May someday come soon!

“I Pray God, Rid Me of God” – sermons for Trinity Sunday

Eckhart rid me of GodMeister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar.  I offer some previous Trinity sermons to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…

click on the sermon title

If I Could Explain the Trinity to you, I would, but I cannot.

I’m not that good a preacher!

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity,

Our Congregations Shrink???

“Trinity: Image of the Community that is God” Desmond Tutu

The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity

Wolf Blitzer Learned that there are Indeed Atheists in Fox-holes

Poor Old Nicodemus – Doomed to Play the Fool – John 3:1-17

Like Nicodemus we have blinders on! Our focus upon preserving the church gets in the way of our rebirth!

“I Can’t Breathe!” – Pentecost sermon

The SPIRIT of Pentecost inflames our worship with images of tongues of fire and shouting excited crowds creating a cacophony of sound. Preachers pontificate about the birth of a movement which became the Church, with talk of rushing wind, and breath, breath of the SPIRIT breathing life into our churches. Breath, wind, and flame. And yet, there are those who cannot breathe, and the only wind that seems to blow are the ill winds that bring angry, desperate, frustrated, and oh so intemperate tongues of fire,  which dance upon our screens as a visual expression of the virus which threatens to suck the life out of all that we hold dear. It is oh so very tempting, to discard the masks designed to protect us from disease so that we can breathe the fresh air which blows just beyond our gasp.

We cannot breathe freely and so we look away. As we cling to our all but useless masks of denial, the tut tutting begins. “It is not happening here.” “The United States is not Canada.” “We are different.” “They had slavery.” “We freed slaves.” “They are a melting pot.” “We are multi-cultural.” “Those poor Americans.” “I’m so glad we live in Canada.” “Let’s put on our masks of denial and look away.  We are not infected by their virus.”

But we cannot breathe freely or deeply behind our masks. Looking away will not cure the virus which infects even us. Even us with our polite Canadian sensibilities, we are infected with a strain of the virus, albeit a strain born out of a different history, still powerful enough to crush the life out of even its healthiest victims. So, God knows what the weak or wounded among us will do to find relief.  He can’t breathe.  She can’t breathe. Come Holy SPIRIT, come.

Like many of you I have watched a wept as over and over again, young black men and women have their breath taken from them as they are murdered in the streets, in their yards, on their porches, and in their beds by the very ones who are sworn to protect and serve them. I too have shaken my head and tut tutted as I caught my own precious breath and turned away convinced that my own liberal, progressive, christian, Lutheran, Canadian attitudes have saved me from the virus. I am not a racist.  You are not racists. We are “nice” polite Canadians. Just look at the numbers. Our death tolls versus their death tolls, surely this proves that our rates of infection are less.

Shall we look at the numbers?  One-in-five Canadians do not think it’s safe to sit next to an Asian or Chinese person on a bus, while a quarter of Canadians “don’t know” if it’s safe. Anti-Asian attacks are on the rise in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. This week anti-semitism was visited upon a synagogue in Montreal. This week, during an encounter with Toronto police, a young black woman fell to her death. The cause of Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death has not been fully explained. Whatever happened, it is telling that her family, friends and neighbours, quickly suspected malpractice by the officers involved. I hope this is not the case. I pray that this was a tragic accident.  But the fact that trust between the black population of Toronto and the police force is so tenuous speaks volumes about the symptoms of the virus which lurks in the hearts and minds of those who fear the systemic nature of the illness and those who are privileged by the systemic nature of the very racism which we deny.

Decades ago, activist and educator Jane Elliot, asked a class of privileged white students to raise their hands if they would be happy to receive the same treatment as black citizens receive. Not surprisingly none of the privileged white students raised their hands. They knew full well the benefits of their own privilege. I remember studying Jane Elliot’s work when I was in university. I also remember feeling rather smug about my own enlightened attitudes, right up until the moment our professor asked us to raise our hands if we would be happy to receive the same education and housing as citizens of First Nations enjoy under the auspices of the administrators of Canada’s Indian Act. Not a single one of us privileged white students and yes, all my classmates except for one was white, and not one of us raised our hands.

The one student of colour in the classroom was a foreign student from the Southside of Chicago, who squirmed nervously in her seat. A fellow student, safely ensconced in his white privilege, asked the black woman who sat amongst a sea of white faces, “Do you think Canadians are racists?” We all presumed we knew what her answer would be. “Of course NOT!  Canadians aren’t like Americans.” To this day, I can still her response continues to ring in my ears. This wise, proud African American Woman bravely took the opportunity to respond with the words of her compatriot Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

Sisters and brothers, from the confines of my own white privilege, I am still only beginning to learn about the powerful virus which infects our Canadian society. I suspect that many of you might think that I’m talking about the virus of racism. Well I’m not. You see, I believe that racism although it may be the most dangerous symptom of the virus, it is not the disease itself. The virus which I am talking about is white privilege. Our Canadian strain of this insidious virus did not thrive in the Petri dish of slavery, like the strain our American cousins have cultivated. But our Canadian white privilege was born of the same sin of colonialism which saw British and European “conquerors” wash up on North American shores to rob the indigenous peoples of North America of their land, their wealth, their freedom, their cultures, and indeed in oh so many cases their very lives.

Our wealth, yours and mine was birthed out of the theft of land and it is maintained by oppression. There will be many who will point to the past and say, “that was then and this is now, we cannot take responsibility for the sins of our ancestors.” Fare enough.  But you and I we continue to drink fresh clean water while so many of our Indigenous sisters and brothers do not have access to fresh, clean, drinking water. I know, we’re working on it. We all want to do better.  We must do better. But we are not racists. We are kind, well-meaning, descent, kind-hearted Canadians.

Yes, we are. But our ability to be kind, well-meaning, descent, kind-hearted Canadians is made possible by our privilege. The very wealth we hungered for, worked for, educated ourselves for, and carefully accumulated is for the most part born out of white privilege. In Canada whiteness, privilege and wealth are all intimately connected.

Lest we fall into the trap of believing that because some white people are not privileged and some people of colour are  privileged, we need to remember that all of us privileged folk, we are playing by culturally white rules. Whiteness is not just a colour, it is also a social construct. Like all social constructs it builds walls to protect the privileges folks inside the walls and creates all sorts of barriers to keep people without privilege from breeching those walls unless and until they conform, change their ways and become just like the people inside the walls.

So, if white privilege is our disease, what is the cure?

I’ve already listened to all sorts of privileged people like myself point to the chaos and the violence in the United States and argue that we need bigger walls and stronger barriers. Order must be maintained because they, them, those, people well they are just getting out of hand. Rioting must not be tolerated. Everybody needs to calm down. Anger won’t get us anywhere. I’m reminded of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who insisted that, “riots are the language of the unheard.”

Yesterday, I listened as Bakari Sellers reminded a white American newsman that “the Boston tea party was no tea party.” It was a riot which gave birth to a rebellion. Anger is not in and of itself a bad thing. Back in the day, when we were struggling for equality for women.  I can’t tell you how many times people tried to put us back in our place by warning us not to be angry feminists. Well that is until we learned of the power of anger in the work of love.

When it comes to the disease of white privilege and the deadly symptoms of racism which are crushing the life out of so many, black and brown sisters and brothers, and the racism which emboldens fellow Canadians to spit on our Asian sisters and brothers, which continues to confine our Indigenous brothers and sisters to living conditions which are deadly, or the symptoms of privilege which confine the poorest among us to lives robbed of dignity, well its long past time to shed our veneer of calm and rise up in anger.

It is time for us to turn over some tables in the temple, in all of the temples where we worship. The rush of the SPIRIT of Pentecost is by its very nature wild and chaotic. The SPIRIT is prone to turn our systems upside down as it blows out the cobwebs from our carefully controlled lives.  It’s time to do more with our anger than simply suppress or deny it. I am NOT talking about violence; violence begets violence. I’m talking about expressing our anger in ways which compel change.It is time to put the power of our anger into the work of LOVE. Which for those of us who are white privileged Canadians means taking risk of being offensive. We might just have to risk saying the wrong thing in order to engage our neighbours in deep conversations about the nature of our dis-ease. We might just have to risk saying nothing at all.  That’s right shut up and listen. It isn’t always about us. We don’t always know what is best. 

We might just have to do more than just complain about injustice. We might actually have to make sacrifices. Instead of complaining about the corporate systemic injustices which ensure our privileges while squeezing the life out of multitudes of people, we might have to begin demanding less profits to feather our retirement nests.  Ushering in the kin-dom of God, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, being swept up by the SPIRIT means not just complaining about corporate greed but working and sacrificing to build a more equitable economic system. Like many cures, it may seem like the cure is worse than the dis-ease.

Angela Davis’ words continue to ring in my ears, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” In the face of such dis-ease, even as the flames still burn and the breath continues to be squeezed out of so many, perhaps it’s time for those of us who have enjoyed our privilege for so long to begin to realize that it is not enough for us to not be showing the symptom of racism, it is time for us to stand up against all the symptoms of white privilege by sacrificing, by taking risks, and maybe even suffering some strong medicine in order to quell the symptoms of racism, violence, poverty, hatred, and  let the SPIRIT blow where SHE wills. Maybe then, the peace, we all long for, will break out all over this land and all people, black, brown, red, yellow, white, Indigenous, settlers, Asian, Arab, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sheik, believers and non-believers can catch our collective breaths and breathe deeply of the SPIRIT in which we live and move and have our being, the ONE who is the MYSTERY which some of us call God. Come Holy SPIRIT. Come. Amen.

View the full worship service:

Download the Order of service click here 

Pentecost Sunday Sermons

Is the Church dead? or Can these Bones Live?

Not Yet Christians: Pentecost/Confirmation

Dream Dreams

God In Between

The Spirit in Our Midst

Pentecost: a Human Phenomenon

Beyond Tribalism – Preaching a 21st Century Pentecost

Celebrating Pentecost in the 21st Century

Pentecost Tongues Aflame with the Prayer attributed to Jesus

Global Engagement, Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect and a New Pentecost

Making Love to the ONE Who IS LOVE – John 17:1-11

SERMON ONLY:

You can view the full Worship Video below

According to experts, an interesting side effect of the current public health crisis, is the increasing number of people who report that they are experiencing exceptionally vivid dreams. Apparently, all the extra decisions we are making each and every day, should we do this, or that how can we do this or that, do we really need to do this or that, what shall we do instead of this or that; well these extra decisions pile up and our brains are maxing out. Dreaming is our brain’s way of coping or sorting through the events of our days. Now I’m not exactly sure, how taxed my brain is. If I’m honest my brain feels a bit numb these days. So, it could just be that reading the article about vivid dreams caused me to have a particularly vivid dream, the other night. Not surprisingly, I was dreaming about returning to the way things used to be. You know way back when. It’s hard to believe it was just about three months ago when we were all busy making all those plans, which we are so very fond of making. Back then, I had most of my year all planned out; church priorities, speaking engagements, vacation plans, things I wanted to do, people and places I wanted to see. And then one day, I was in my house, cancelling all my plans, wondering when I could get back to making plans again. 

Well in this vivid dream of mine, I was sitting in front of a giant calendar, days, weeks, and months, all blacked out and I was weeping. It was all so black. I picked up a pen and I tried to put something on the calendar, and nothing happened. I grabbed a blank piece of paper and I checked to make sure the pen was working. The pen was working just fine. So, once again, I tried to put something on the calendar, and again, and again and again, but there was nothing, just days, and weeks, and months all blacked out. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big new eraser. I haven’t seen an actual eraser for years. But there it was a big pink eraser with sharp new edges. I picked it up and set about rubbing as hard as I could, trying desperately to erase the blackness from the calendar. But as hard and as fast as I rubbed, the blackness simply wouldn’t budge.

My arm became weary, and my grip on the eraser began to weaken, I was barely rubbing at all, when suddenly, the blackness began to fade to grey. So, I rubbed a little more gently, and as I rubbed flowers began to emerge, then birds, butterflies, green grass, daffodils, until one by one each square upon the calendar, gave way to a vision of Creation in which vivid colours emerged into visions of such beauty which leapt off the calendar and danced around the room. When I awoke, I felt a lightness in my being, before I began to remember the details of my dream. Lingering over a strong cup of coffee, I pondered the contours of this dream as I moved beyond the dream into a vision.  

“Abba, the hour has come! Glorify your Only Begotten that I may glorify you, through the authority you’ve given me over all humankind, by bestowing eternal life on all those you gave me. And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus, the Messiah.”….“and this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God.”

For years, I thought of eternal life as a quantity of time and I confused eternal with everlasting. It is only in the past decade or so that I have understood the real meaning of eternal, is limitless. Limitless, by definition, cannot be time-bound. Limitless has no beginning and no end. Limitless is larger than we can imagine and smaller than we can imagine. Limitless is farther than we can see and smaller than we can see. Limitless is not a quantitative it is qualitative. So, if eternal life is not about life everlasting, then what exactly might the gift of eternal life be? One of the qualities of the eternal which I have come to understand is the limitlessness of grace, which comes to us as an integral part of life. The gift of breath itself is pure grace. Fourteen billion years of evolution have resulted in the cosmos producing human life. Our very being is a miracle of grace and each and every breath we breathe is pure gift. We are living breathing, walking, talking, loving, miracles. The breath which flows through us, enlivens us, and empowers us, this breath is the SPIRIT of ALL LIFE, that emanates from the ONE who is the source of our being.

The eternal quality of our life, of all our lives is knowing; knowing. To know, is to experience deeply. The ancients understood this as the essence of what it means to be human; to know. The anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John, puts into the mouth of Jesus words that I am only beginning to know, to experience deeply. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God.” The words translated from the Greek as “to know” are the same words used in the scriptures to describe the intimacy of lovemaking. This is eternal life, to know, to make love to God, the DIVINE MYSTERY who is LOVE ITSELF.

Eternal life is a quality of living that shares a deep intimacy with the ONE who is the SOURCE of our being. Knowing the presence of the I AM the ONE who IS wakes us from our distractions. Knowing the I AM, is a daunting way to BE. The renowned interpreter of myths and dreams, Joseph Campbell warns that, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I realize, that despite the reality that the life I’d planned for myself, back then, before this lockdown began, that life is gone, not postponed, it is gone. There is a new life waiting for us here, now, in this place where we find ourselves. All around us, the sheer magnitude of Creation’s beauty has the power to awaken us to the intimacy and wonder of the lovemaking in which the SOURCE-of-ALL that IS, continues to engage with Creation. If we let go of the life we planned, the life which is bursting forth all around us, has the power to draw us into life eternal, now.

The eternal quality of living draws us into this intimacy, in ways that can inspire such joy. But this eternal quality of living can also draw us into a LOVE which pierces our hearts. As the news of ever-increasing death tolls pierce our consciousness, we begin to envision new ways of being in the world. When I recall all the various plans which once drove me from day to day, I realize that this isolation has provided a much needed sabbath. It may not be a sabbath of rest, but it is a sabbath of return; a kind of retreat from what was into a place of what is, from which we can begin to dream of what might be. There are things we need to pay attention to in this sabbath of retreat. What are we being called to notice, to learn, to imagine, to prepare, to dream as what was gives way to what might be? 

Lingering over my morning coffee, I looked out as rain fell gently upon the grass. Never before has the grass been so green. Beyond the colours, I see an image of the ONE who IS the Source and Ground of Being weeping like a prodigal parent tormented by wayward children who have lost their way. Eternal life is not all sweetness and light. Limitless LOVE demands a kind of attention which opens us to the pain of all those with whom we share this precious gift of life. LOVEmaking is a kind of knowing which can break our hearts just as surely as it can cause our hearts to race with a passion for intimacy. To know the Sacred, the Divine ONE is to see our CREATOR weep, to feel the pain of illness, violence, oppression, greed, destruction, and death. The temptation is to look away, to protect our fragile hearts, and fill our days with distractions, to flee from eternal life, from this knowing which brings such intensity.  Tears, like rainfall of torrential proportions, are falling all around us. This gift of eternal life, this knowing, this lovemaking, is intense. Such deep intimacy with the ONE who is the SOURCE-of-ALL-BEING is not for the faint of heart. But this intimacy, this Eternal life, makes the flowers smell so very sweet, and the birdsong sound so sublime.

YAHWEH. Our CREATOR, the GREAT I AM WHO AM. I AM here, now in this sabbath of retreat: rejoicing, weeping, longing, singing, dancing, grieving, shouting, playing, living, breathing, waiting, touching, dying, rising, laughing, crying, feeding, loving, in, with, through, and beyond you. I AM here!

To approach intimacy with the ONE WHO IS, WAS, and Ever More Shall BE, LOVE, is life eternal. To make LOVE with the SACRED, the DIVINE, the HOLY ONE, is life eternal. Life without limits. Light beyond Light. Light which penetrates our distractions. A light which shines on the beauty and the pain of life, all life, with an intimacy which opens us to a way of being which is eternal. 

I AM here. YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM. May you know, may you experience deeply, the power and the intimacy of eternal life, here and now, now and always, as you awaken to the ONE, who IS LOVE, awaken to what is, so that you may dream of what might be, in this ONE beautiful life in which we live and move and have our being, in, with, through, and beyond, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.  Amen.

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The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening

Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus

The celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is a church festival that I have always chosen to ignore. The ancient tradition that has Jesus floating up into the clouds stretches the credibility of the church to such an extent that I’ve always assumed that the less said about the Ascension the better. But I was challenged by a parishioner to try to make some sense out of the Ascension story so that 21st century Christians would not have to check their brains at the door should they happen upon a congregation that still celebrated the day. What follows is a transcript of my attempt to leave behind the miraculous Jesus in order to be better able to welcome the human Jesus down from the clouds. I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong together with Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-city for their liberating insights.  

Traditionally, on the 40th day after Easter, the church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. But because so few people in the 21st century are willing to come to church during the week, the Ascension is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Ascension. Since I have been your pastor we have not celebrated Ascension Sunday. But as this particular Ascension Sunday follows so closely after Jack Spong’s visit with us, I thought that it was about time that rather than avoid the Ascension, I’d like to try to confront it.

Jack has been telling his anti-Ascension story for quite a few years now. Just in case you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, let me remind you. It seems that Jack was speaking with Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. Jack says that Carl Sagan once told him  “if Jesus literally ascended into the sky and traveled at the speed of light, then he hasn’t yet escaped our galaxy.”

With that said, let me just say, that the Ascension never actually happened. It is not an historical event. If a tourist with a video camera had been there in Bethany they would have recorded absolutely nothing. 

I know what the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” But like the members of the early church, I do not have a literal understanding of the scriptures. And so, as I do not understand the Bible literally, neither do I understand the Nicene Creed to be a literal interpretation of the faith. Like all creeds the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian creeds are snapshots of theology as it was at a particular time in history.

We would do well to remember that the Creeds were developed to answer questions about the faith in a time when people understood the cosmos to be comprised of a flat earth, where God resides above in the heavens and located beneath the earth were the pits of hell. I know that the universe is infinite.  I also know about gravity. I also know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus had helium flowing through his veins.  I’ve flown around the world, and I can tell you that there is no heaven above the clouds. So, I can say with confidence that:  The very present Jesus of resurrection faith did not literally elevate into heaven while his disciples looked on. Continue reading

To An UNKNOWN GOD: How Great Thou Art!

SERMON ONLY:  View the full Worship Video below

There is a time for everything, a season for every purpose under heaven: “a season for holding close and a season for holding back,” some translations say, “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” I’ve never fully understood, never deeply felt this season until right now, when we are smack dab in the middle of this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing. And I’ve gotta tell ya, “this sucks!” Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are in lockdown together and we are certainly not refraining from embracing. In fact, were it not for the tender embraces of my darling Carol, I dare say, that I could not cope with this lock-down. I give thanks every day for Carol’s presence with me. Her embraces feed my soul. My heart goes out to those of you who are at home alone. I’d dash over, right now and give you a big hug if I could. But I cannot.

There are so many embraces which are being held back right now. Embraces which I long for. What I wouldn’t give for one of those joy-filled tight, tight, squeezes from my grandchildren. There’s nothing quite like the joy of a child, when they race across a room, and launch themselves into your arms and squeeze for dear life. No wonder, desperate parents are devising those plastic barriers to serve as hug devices so their kids can hug their grandparents! I also miss those friendly, gentle hugs like the ones many of us exchange when you arrive at church and those reverent embraces we exchange during worship when we pass the peace. But the held back embraces, which I desperately long for more than anything else, are the gentle embraces we extend to comfort one another when our hearts are broken. There is no technology, no plastic barrier, no scribbled note, no well-wishing card which can comfort quite the way a gentle, tender, embrace which passes between friends and family who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Grieving our loved ones during these surreal days of physical distancing, accentuates our sadness. In our gospel reading, Jesus is heard to say, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Touching, embracing, and comforting are such an integral part of parenting. Is it any wonder then, that so many of us can resonate with that old spiritual right now, “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.”?  I must confess that, on more than one occasion this week, I’ve actually missed the “old-faraway-father-sky-god” who I used to pray to. You know that old bearded grandfather in the sky who was in charge of everything, ready, willing and able to hear my prayers and respond in an authoritative way. That far-away-father-sky-god who I used to believe in would know just what to do in a pandemic. If I prayed all the right prayers to him, and I do mean him, if enough of us had just enough faith, in him, he would sort us all out.  You know the way our parents used to sort things out for us when we were kids. This covid thing has got me feeling like an orphan; an orphan in search of a saviour, to say, “there, there dear, I’ve got this.”I’m feeling very much like “a motherless/fatherless child,” and so to hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned,” these words are like balm to sooth my soul. Yes please, Jesus. Help me Jesus. Help us Jesus. We want to feel your embrace!

“If you love me and obey the command I give you, I will ask the ONE who sent me to give you another Paraclete, an Advocate, another Helper to be with you always—the SPIRIT of truth, whom the world cannot accept since the world neither sees her nor recognizes her; but you can recognize the SPIRIT because she remains with you and will be within you. I will not leave you orphaned.” The SPIRIT is with you, and will be within you. We are not alone. Jesus insists, “On that day you will know that I AM in God and you are in me, and I AM in you.”

The I AM is in us and we are in the I AM. YAHWEH, the I AM, the SOURCE of all BEING, is in us and we are in YAHWEH. Or as the Apostle Paul says in the Book of Acts:  “the ONE who is not really far from any of us – the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, “We too are God’s children.”

ONE in whom we live, ONE in whom we move, ONE in whom we have our being, ONE the LIFE in ALL. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died proclaiming that we have no need to seek salvation from anything other than the very SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through and beyond us.

In what has been called Jesus’ “Farewell Address” Jesus implores us, “if you love me and obey the command I give you.” In the Gospel according to the storyteller we call John, Jesus gives only one commandment: we are “to love one another as Jesus has loved us.”

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection embody the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who is LOVE. Jesus’ embodiment of the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY we call God, points us not to some lofty throne, but rather to the very breath we breathe; to the SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.

We are ONE in the SPIRIT. If this virus has taught us anything, surely it has taught us that we are ONE, for when one of us is ill or at risk, all of us are all ill and at risk. So, how then shall we comfort one another during this season of holding back, when we are to refrain from embracing. Well ironically, the very breath which carries the droplets we are all avoiding right now, is also the very breath which has the power to comfort us.  I am not an epidemiologist; I am but a lowly pastor. I am not trained in science; I am but a humble theologian. As a pastor and a theologian, I am trained in the art of metaphor – metaphor – the very word actually means “to carry beyond words”.  So, please allow this lowly, humble pastor and theologian to use the virus which is currently plaguing us as a metaphor. We are all perfectly capable of breathing in each and every pathogen which infects Creation today. We only need a few shallow breathes to separate us one from another and we have seen the diss-ease which results from this kind of infection; our planet is groaning, people are dying, refugees are fleeing, the poor are suffering, violence, greed and self-centeredness are rampant.

But if we have the Wisdom, to breathe more deeply, the healing power of the SPIRIT rises in us resurrecting the LOVE in whom we live, and move and have our being and gratitude, generosity, compassion, and peace flow in, with, through, and beyond us. I know metaphors aren’t perfect ways of communicating and there will be those who will see only the holes and the gaps in my metaphor. But metaphors by their very nature are not designed to be words which communicate perfect solutions, metaphors and by design crafted to carry us beyond words, toward a vison of what might be.

So, in this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing, I invite you to step away from the swirling fear which comes with the virus which plagues us, move deeply into your splendid isolation, and take a long deep breath. Breathe deeply of the SPIRIT of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. Feel the SPIRIT as the SPIRIT enters you, and feel the SPIRIT as you exhale the SPIRIT who IS LOVE. Let the SPIRIT whirl and twirl and dance in and around you and feel the gentle, tender, embrace of the ONE who IS, WAS, and evermore SHALL BE, LOVE.

We have not been left orphaned. We are held, embraced, comforted, empowered, by the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Breathe deeply of this embracing SPIRIT and know the power of resurrected LOVE to embrace, to heal, and to comfort us as we are carried beyond words, to the ONE who IS, BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.

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New Life and the New Story- Easter 6A

In God We Live pastorDawnSix years ago, when Acts 17:22-31 last came round in the lectionary, I had the distinct pleasure of baptizing our grand-daughter. This sermon welcomes her to this grand journey of life that we travel as companions. The sermon begins with an adaptation of a  creation story by by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith. the readings were included Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:14-21          

As nearly as we can figure out, little Audrey’s journey to the baptismal font began some 13.7 billion years ago. Audrey’s journey, like all our journeys began with a bang!

“In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness. The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across eons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend. Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball. It was the greatest explosion of all time! An eruption of infinite energy danced into being.  It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity. The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being.  The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies. Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars! Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars. Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements.  Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars.  These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life. With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration. Molecules clustered together to form living cells! Later came the algae, and then fish began to inhabit the waters! Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky.  Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too. This is our story. The story of our beginning, our cosmology.” (Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith)

This great cosmic journey is bigger that we can even begin to imagine. The vastness of millions, some say billions of galaxies of which we are a part, challenges the abilities of our minds to comprehend. We gather here in this infinitesimal part of the cosmos because we are convinced that at the very heart of the cosmos lies the REALITY which we call God. A REALITY beyond our abilities to express. This REALITY is a MYSTERY which down through the ages, all those who have looked up into the night sky or held a newborn in their arms, has been fascinated and perplexed by. The attempts of all those who have gone before us to comprehend, express, or explain have fallen so far short of capturing the essence of the BEING who called all being into existence. How do you express the inexpressible? How do we begin to speak of that which is beyond, the beyond and beyond that also? From the earliest cave drawings, itched in in wonder at the MYSTERY, our ancestors have tried to capture in art, poetry, literature, drama, song, and dance the hints of the MYSTERY which sustains all life. But all our attempts, be they simple sculptors or grand theologies, pale in comparison to the REALITY we so long to know and understand. As incapable of description as we are, each season of creation sends us back to the drawing board as we attempt to capture the beauty which surrounds us. Each new life which comes into our midst and each parting death causes to wonder and marvel at the complexity of our existence. No one can hold a baby in their arms and not be amazed at the miracle of life. No one can hold a hand as a body breathes it’s last and not wonder how or why and even where or who we might be. At the very heart of all life there is MYSTERY.

For those of us gathered here in this place, the overwhelming evidence of the ages convinces us that the REALITY at the heart of the cosmos, the ONE we call God is LOVE.  In response to this LOVE we gather together to in LOVE so that we might also be LOVE; LOVE for each other and LOVE for the world. In the evolving complexity of our cosmos, we see over and over again the miracles and wonders of life spring forth and we can’t help ourselves but respond to the LOVE which sustains all life. From time to time, individuals have appeared who have opened windows into the REALITY of the ONE we call God. These individuals live their lives in ways that enlighten us on our journey.

We gather here in this place to remember Jesus of Nazareth, a person of wisdom and integrity who lived and loved in ways which opened us to the LOVE of God inspiring us to live fully and love extravagantly so that all may know LOVE.  Jesus was confronted by the harsh realities of failed attempts to live beyond LOVE. Born into poverty and oppression, Jesus refused to respond to the cruelty of a world where hatred and greed had taken hold and insisted upon living in ways that might usher in a new Reign of Justice and Peace in a world where military might and violence prevailed. Jesus refused to take up arms against the powers that be, and insisted that peace could only be achieved through justice; for when everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough justice, enough love, then and only then can there be peace.

Evolution is a difficult and messy business. Humanity does not evolve without error or pain. When we lose sight of the REALITY which lies at the heart of our existence, when we fail to love as we have been loved, our journeys and the journeys of those around us become infinitely more difficult. Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest. Our best scientists have warned us not to misinterpret evolution’s natural selection as being all about “the strong shall survive.” More and more we are beginning to understand the role of co-operation on a cellular level as the building blocks upon which a species changes and survives. Modern evolutionary science points to social co-operation as key to survival. Social co-operation is if you’ll allow me, akin to a primitive form of love; a building block if you will to LOVE.

It should come as no surprise to any of us who are on this grand journey of life that every major religion in the world has at its core the wisdom which has commonly become known as the Golden Rule: “do on to others as you would have them do onto you.” Jesus, who was after all a Jewish rabbi, expressed the Golden Rule in terms his Jewish audiences would have understood from their own sacred scriptures: Love God with all your heart, with all strength, with all your mind and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Jesus lived and died for LOVE. The powers that be believed that execution would stifle this LOVE, but Jesus lived so fully and loved so passionately that the LOVE he lived for did not die. And so, we gather here, trusting that the LOVE we have experienced on our journey is akin to the LOVE that lies at the very heart of the cosmos; trusting that in that LOVE we live and move and have our being. We look at the world around us and see that only justice can bring the kind of peace in which our love can thrive. So, we seek to achieve that peace by ensuring that everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough work, enough joy, enough love. Like Jesus we seek peace through justice for all. Continue reading

Five Bags of Sugar – Mothers’ Day Sermon

When I was a child in Northern Ireland, my Mom would often as me a question which would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts which I suspect she learned   when she was a child from her Mother. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me, “How much do you love me?” and I would answer, as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you to bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I love my Mom, “Five bags of sugar!” Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who grew up measuring love in bags of sugar.

As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with rationing during World War II. Sugar’s ability to make all things sweet tied it to people’s perception of a happy life. A “big bag of sugar” was more sugar than most people would ever see. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how people could begin to measure love in bags of sugar. To this day my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders, to measure love in bags of sugar; even though we have all since learned that consuming large quantities of sugar makes us sick. I suspect the wartime custom of  expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosy…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague which saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posy, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few.

This week the world remembered VE Day; the end of war in Europe was commemorated from the confines of our physically isolated planet as we all seek refuge from the pandemic which has brought an end to many of our treasured cultural norms. The combination of Mothers’ Day, the 75 Anniversary of VE Day, a global pandemic was topped off with news of the arrival in North America of some beast called a “murder hornet.” These are strange times in which to live. According to the experts, many of us are experiencing culture shock. Think back to just two months ago. Way back then, we would not be confined to worshipping together over the medium of the internet. Less than two short months ago, we enjoyed the freedom of movement which all of us took for granted and many of us would have been gathered together in our sanctuary, singing, praying, exchanging the peace, sharing communion, and then feasting together over coffee, tea, and conversation. In less than two months, so very many things which we took for granted, are no longer possible and we do not know when or if they shall be returned to us.

Last week I listened as Bill Gates, the kazillionaire behind so much of the technology which characterized the past thirty years, insisted that many of us have had to learn new skills at a rate which has seen us absorb fifteen years’ worth of change in just six weeks. Gates called this phenomenon “cultural compression.” So, if you are struggling to come to terms with your new life, rest assured, you are not alone. Go easy on yourself. Humans were never designed to cope with the rate of change we are experiencing today.

Yes, we are privileged. We came into this crisis as the privileged few. We are certainly wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and grandparents. In addition to our wealth and privilege we also have all sorts of mechanisms in place to cushion the effects of whatever we may still have to endure. We know that there are others who are much worse off than we are, and yet, we can’t quite shake the angst which comes in the middle of the night. No amount of sugar or packets full of posy can obscure the shock waves which are impacting our way of being in the world.

So, reeling from the so many changes, I must confess that today’s Gospel text, makes me feel the way I used to feel when I would turn the tables on my Mom and ask her, “How much do you love me Mom?” As some of you know, my Mom lives on the West Coast, I miss her terribly and there I nothing more I’d rather hear than, “Five big bags of sugar!” There is something about your mother’s voice that has the power to sooth even our deepest upsets. Even if your Mom has long since gone on to “prepare a place for you,” I’m sure that you can still hear her soothing you in times of trouble.

Now, I know full well all the scholarly reasons for insisting that the words of the anonymous gospel-story-teller which we call John has put on the lips of Jesus, very probably come from the community of people who followed the ways of Jesus, rather than Jesus himself. I don’t care much whether or not Jesus actually said these words. However, I do care very much about the truth which these words convey about the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL. I know that love measured in “bags of sugar” and safeguards like  “packets of posy”  are expressions whose meanings have been lost over time. I also know that the words used to express the characteristics of the DIVINE MYSTERY have also lost their power over time. 

We have forgotten so very much about those things we once took for granted. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so! Little ones to him belong! Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.” We are all grown up and in the face of so much suffering, it may indeed be time for us to put away childish things. When our physical isolation is over and we are released to return to our lives, our lives will not be as they once were. Nothing stays the same under normal circumstances.  Life changes over time and the experts may just be correct when they tell us that the effects of cultural compression will have a colossal impact on the ways in which we return to life out there. But whether it’s bags of sugar, pockets of posy, or the sure and certain knowledge that “Jesus loves me!”, this I do know, LOVE remains constant. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me as well.” Our way of speaking about the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the source of ALL REALITY may have changed and will continue to change over time.  But the truth that the DIVINE MYSTERY IS LOVE, this LOVE never changes. God IS, was and evermore shall be LOVE. In Jesus of Nazareth, his followers like the anonymous gospel-storyteller who we call John, in Jesus people for generations have seen the embodiment of the LOVE which IS God. Jesus’ Way of being in the world is LOVE alive in the world.

Jesus insistence that, “I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life.” is not some arbitrary barrier to be crossed or hoop one must jump through in order to know the DIVINE. But rather the followers of Jesus’ attempting to express the reality that for Jesus the Way of LOVE is the only Way of being. The Way of LOVE empowered Jesus to claim unity with LOVE. “I AM in LOVE and LOVE is in me!” “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is LOVE, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of LOVE.” Jesus loves me this I know; just as surely as I know that my Mom loves me. Just as surely that I know that there is nothing in heaven or on earth which can ever separate me from the LOVE that IS God.

It may indeed be scary out there. I suppose it has always been scary out there. But my Mom always pushed me out the door to meet the world, in the sure and certain knowledge that she loved me more than five big bags of sugar. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Trust in the DIVINE ONE who is LOVE. LOVE beyond the ability of mere words to describe. LOVE beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond you. LOVE is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Know that LOVE is in you and you are in LOVE and there is nothing which can separate you from the LOVE which is God. LOVE’s got this! Be LOVE and you will be well. Be LOVE and all manner of things shall be well.

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Letting Go of the Words Attributed to Jesus So that We Can Embrace the WORD – John 14:1-14

Thomas 70 pastordawnEaster 5A sermon:

Readings:

The Gospel of Thomas 70

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

He was screaming at me like some kind of lunatic. Clearly, he was furious with me. His face was beet red. He kept jabbing the air in front of my face with his index finger. The veins in his neck were raised and throbbing. He kept going on and on and on and on about how wrong I was. I tried to calm him down, but he could no longer hear anything I was saying. He was so inflamed by my original statement that nothing I could say or do short of falling to my knees and begging his forgiveness for having been so wicked would suffice. So, I just stood there, hoping that eventually he would wear himself out and quiet down long enough for us to agree to disagree. But his enthusiasm for his cause was stronger than I’d anticipated. He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life and that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO matter who they are, or how good they may be, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THORUGH JESUS CHIRST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AN DTHE LIFE! The sooner I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and quit trying to figure out ways to get people into heaven through the back door the better off I would be. Furthermore, unless I was willing to confess the error of my ways, then I had no business calling myself a Christian, because I was clearly damned to hell.

I can still see the anger and hatred in my old friend’s face. Anger that seemed so out of place. We were on retreat in the mountains of British Columbia. We had just listened to a sermon about the Many Mansions that God has prepared for the people of the world. Not surprisingly my friend took exception to the preacher’s emphasis on God’s different ways of including the different people of the world into God’s Reign. Over lunch we argued about just what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  NO one comes to the Father except through me.” My friend it seems had all the answers. Those who did not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will never be acceptable in the sight of God, they will never be included in the Kingdom of God, for indeed they are damned to hell!

I could not accept that a loving and gracious God could be so cruel. So, I walked away from my friend and his theology. I ignored Jesus’ words about how to get to the Father and focused on God’s many mansions. After all, the Bible is full of contradictions and to some problems you just must admit that there are no answers.

That method worked for me for quite awhile. Then one day, while I was studying for an under-graduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I was confronted once again by Jesus’ words. Words I believed to be incompatible with the gospel of grace and mercy. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I was studying the history of inter-faith dialogue. Our class was made up of Hindu’s, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Sikhs, and one lonely Buddhist. Together, we discussed the problems that have happened down through the centuries when people of different faiths encounter one another. One day we were given a particular assignment. We were teamed up with a member of another faith tradition and asked to bring to the table a piece of sacred scripture from our partner’s faith tradition that we found intriguing. Of course, that meant that we had to read the sacred scriptures of another tradition. Continue reading

Multi-coloured Meanings of those Red-letter Words in John 14:1-14 – I AM the Way

coloured pencilsWay back when I first began going to church, I had one of those bibles…and I dare say many of you have probably had one too…I had a red-letter bible. For those of you who’ve never had one, a red-letter bible is a bible where all the words of Jesus are printed in red and for a long time I actually believed that if it was printed in red, then Jesus actually must have said it and there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Christians who still believe that if they are printed in red they are the actually words of Jesus.

When I first began reading the New Testament, many of those red-letter words were difficult to read. The 14th chapter of the Gospel according to John was just one of the many texts that I read with great trepidation. “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.” These particular words in red led me to believe that my family and most of the people I loved, were doomed, because they didn’t believe in Jesus. So, you can imagine my delight when I went to a young adults’ retreat and one of the pastors told us that just because words are printed in red, it doesn’t mean that Jesus actually said those words. I remember going back to my home parish and asking my pastor why he never told us about the things he was taught at the seminary about the words of Jesus and I can still hear him answering, “Most laypeople aren’t ready to hear that. It would destroy their faith.”

It’s an old argument amongst the clergy. It’s as if some of, “them” whoever “they” are, believe that the world as they know it will come to an end as they know it if they were to let lay-people in on the secrets of the trade. Should we or should we not teach laypeople about the historical critical methods that we all learned in seminary. When I say we all learned, I’m talking about the vast majority of clergy from the mainline denominations, like the Lutheran church, the Anglicans, the United Church, Mennonites, even Roman Catholics, and I dare say more than a few Baptists. We all learn the historical critical methods that academic scholars have been perfecting over the years. But the sad truth is that very few of us actually teach the historical critical methods that we have learned when we get into the parish. Many of my colleagues still argue that either laypeople aren’t ready to hear it, or that they don’t want to hear it. Either way, they’re not about to start preaching it from the pulpit and run the risk of destroying people’s faith. Besides, the folks who clearly don’t want to hear any of it just might run them out of town.

I’ve never really understood this attitude. I think perhaps the fact that as a layperson I was relieved to hear that Jesus didn’t actually say all the stuff that’s printed in red. So, from the beginning, I’ve always tried to teach the historical critical methods that I have learned to apply to my own study of the bible. Continue reading