Meister 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. Happily, I so not have to worry about the Trinity this coming Sunday as we shall celebrate Pride Sunday at Holy Cross. I do not have to wade through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer some previous Trinity sermons to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…
So here we are. Josh, Greg, Steph, the three of you are about to affirm the promises that were made on your behalf at your baptisms. After you make those promises for yourself, in the eyes of this congregation you will no longer children. You are about to become adult members of this congregation. In just a few moments, I am going to ask you these really big questions, questions that concern your future and how you intend to live your life
“Do you intend to continue in the covenant GOD made with you in Holy Baptism:
to live among GOD’s faithful people,
to hear GOD’s WORD and share in GOD’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of GOD in CHRIST through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of JESUS the CHRIST, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”
Now, I know that we have gone over this a few times, but the magnitude of what is being asked of you is intense, especially the part that says,
“to serve all people, following the example of JESUS the CHRIST, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”
To serve “all people”
To follow the example of Jesus. To strive for justice and peace in all the earth? WOW, this being a Christian is really intense. Now just in case those of you who aren’t being confirmed today, are wondering if you yourselves are up to the task, let me remind you of something I hope you’ve heard me say often. You see, when someone asks me if I’m a Christian, I always answer, “No. I am not a Christian, not yet. I aspire to be a Christian. I aspire to follow the teachings of Jesus, but I have a lot to learn.”
One thing I have learned along the way, is that those people who are confident that they are Christian, who believe that they have somehow arrived as fully formed followers of the Way, well those folks make me very, very nervous and I usually back away whenever I sense the super-christians are on the prowl.
I think most of us have more in common with the very first followers of Jesus than we do with the folks who think they are already Christian. “When the day of Pentecost arrived” that’s bible-talk for “not long after the resurrection” Or not long after people began to realize that Rome couldn’t actually kill Jesus way of being in the world, that death could not destroy Jesus dream of the kin-dom, the dream of justice for all, the dream of the kind of peace where everyone has enough. Not long after the Romans thought they’d killed Jesus Way of being, those who followed the Way met in one room. Continue reading →
Well here we are in church on celebrating Pentecost! For generations Pentecost was one of the great high feast days of the church; right up there with Easter and Epiphany. That’s right, for generations, the three great high feast days of the church year were Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost; not Christmas. Pentecost the day when the church celebrates the birth of the church. But in our life-times the festival of Pentecost has pretty much slipped off the radar of our culture. This year, well here in Canada at least, Pentecost is eclipsed by the first long-weekend of the summer season and most of our sisters and brothers are out there enjoying this rainy Victoria Day weekend. As for the rest of the world, this weekend’s Royal Wedding has garnered far more attention than the church’s birthday.
I remember, back in the olden days, when I first joined the church as a mere teenager, even then, Pentecost’s attraction was waning. I remember being taught all about the meaning of Pentecost. I can still hear our pastor, doing his best to get us excited about those tongues of fire resting upon the first followers of the Way. I remember the worship and music committee encouraging us to wear red to church. I remember the Sunday school coordinator releasing 7 red balloons into the congregation.
I was a bit of a dork back then. Unlike my fellow teenagers, who were mostly leaving the church, I joined the church when I was fifteen. I became enthralled with my guy Jesus. I immersed myself in the church. On Pentecost Sunday, 1972, just a few weeks before my 15thbirthday, I affirmed my baptism and joined Benediction Lutheran Church. So, even though the flames of Pentecost are continue to wain in our culture, Pentecost will always hold a special place in my heart. Back in 1972, I began a long journey of discovery; a journey that would see me study not only the birth of the church but the long history of the church; a journey that took be into the story of Jesus in ways that I could never have understood back then.
I can still remember how earnest I was back then; how diligently I studied, how deeply I believed! I took it all in. I breathed deeply of the Spirit. I was a true believer. Yes, I always had my doubts.But my doubts only drove me deeper into the MYSTERY.
I can still remember devouring every one of those red-letter words in the bible. You know the way those old bibles used to have the words of Jesus printed in red. I can still remember the trauma of discovering that Jesus didn’t actually say all those red-letter words! I was so very certain in the beginning that if I just studied harder, I would discover the answers. Over the years, I have studied harder, but my studies have not given me the answers; my studies have driven me to deeper and deeper questions. So many certainties, have evolved into deeper questions. So, today on this, the festival of Pentecost, when most of the world is out there, and there are but a few of us in here, I wonder, “Can these bones live?”
As handfuls of us, all over the world, celebrate the birthday of the Church, it is tempting to ask: Are our bones too dry? Is our hope gone? Is the Church doomed? Or, can these bones live? I’d love to be able to answer each of these questions with more than a hint of my youthful certainty. Maybe, just maybe we are in the valley of dry bones. Over the years, I’ve often grieved the loss of my youthful certainty. Over the years, I’ve shed many a tear as tightly held beliefs have been challenged. Over the years, I’ve often missed that young woman that I once was, who was so sure of herself, so confident, so steadfast in her faith, so secure in the knowledge that God was in his heaven and all would be right with the world if we would only learn to do things properly. Over the years, I have often been laid low by the pain of discovery and locked myself away to mourn the loss of that which I held so dear.
I suspect that the followers of Jesus tasted the pain of loss. They had loved Jesus and placed all their hopes and dreams for the future in him, only to have those hopes and dreams die a horrible death. Their grief is incalculable. Still pungent some 50 or 60 years later when the anonymous gospel writer that we call Luke wrote the in the Book of Acts and created the story of Pentecost.
“Upon entering the city of Jerusalem for during the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Mathew: James ben-Alpheaus: Simon, a member of the Zealot sect: and Judah ben-Jacob. Also, with them were some of the women who followed Jesus, his mother Mary and some of Jesus’ sisters and brothers. With one mind they devoted themselves to constant prayer.”
I can see them in my mind’s eye all huddled together in an upper room united in their grief. All their hopes and dreams shattered, their lives in disarray as what they had believed so strongly so passionately was gone. What were they to do? How could they go on? What was the point of it all? If Jesus was gone, why bother? Maybe he wasn’t all that they had hoped for?
I can hear them, up there in that room arguing, weeping, searching for answers, longing for the security of the way it had been when Jesus was there with them; when they were certain about what needed to be done. I can hear them talking about Jesus, remembering the stories listening to the tales of his courage, marveling at his audacious courage, second guessing his teaching, longing for his touch, feeling the hope stir in their bellies, hope for justice, anger at the oppression they were left to deal with, confused about what to do next, not knowing what to think or believe now.Continue reading →
I am indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic and John Philip Newell’s “Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings” for insights beyond my own imaginings.
When I was just a kid, my mother would ask me a question that would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts that comes out of my Mom’s own childhood in Northern Ireland. 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 my Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you two bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I loved my Mom, “Five big bags of sugar!”
Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who measure love in bags of sugar. As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with sugar’s ability to make all things sweet and the fact that over the generations sugar was in short supply because most people simply couldn’t afford to buy sugar. I’ve also been told that during and after the two World Wars sugar was rationed, so a big bag of sugar was more sugar than most people ever saw. Sugar was a much sought after satisfying treat, that was essential to a happy life, so measuring love in bags of sugar is something that to this day, my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders. But these days even children know that sugar isn’t what it used to be. We all know too well the dangers of a big bag of sugar. Sugar in large quantities is bad for us! Loving someone today, often means limiting their sugar intake. I suspect that expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosie…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague that saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posey, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few. Given a few generations and our ways of expressing things, like language changes over time. Take for example our way of expressing the DIVINE the SOURCE of ALL that IS and all that Ever Shall BE, the names we give to the ONE who is responsible for our Creation, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE we call “God,” has been known by many names over the centuries. The earliest name for the ONE credited with our Creation is quite simply “El”…”El” is if you will, the generic name for “God” El a word found in both the Ancient Sumerian and Canaanite languages translates as, god. In the ancient manuscripts of what we know call the Hebrew Scriptures, but our parents called the Old Testament, the earliest expression used for the God we were raised to worship is, El Shaddai, which is all too often incorrectly translated into English as “God Almighty,” but which quite literally translates into english as “breasted one” or the more accurate translation, “She Who Has Breasts”.
Politically Speaking host Dave Szollosy interviewed me and our conversation revolved around the issues relating to how our religion informs our politics. How does a small congregation like Holy Cross do the things it does? “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6) has become a favourite verse of Progressive Christians. Living into this quote education, advocacy, and action provide opportunities for people engage in the work of seeking justice. What do we mean when we call ourselves progressive? What did John Shelby Spong mean when he called Holy Cross, “a jewel in the frozen north?”
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Lydia is one of the many mothers of Christianity. Lydia was the first European convert to Christianity. Lydia was the founder of the church at Philippi. The Scriptures tell us that before Paul and Silias proclaimed the Gospel to Lydia, she was a “God Fearer”. God Fearers, was the name given to people who were not Jewish but who were so intrigued with the God that the Jews worshipped that they lived their lives as if they were Jews. Indeed, most God Fearers followed all the Jewish laws except for circumcision. Circumcision, for adult males, living in the first century, when sanitary conditions were primitive and no antibiotics were available could lead to death. So, most male converts to Judaism, were not called Jews but God Fearers. Generally women were given the same designation as their husbands or fathers.
So right from the beginning of the story, Lydia is described in an unconventional way. We are told that Lydia was “a God fearer; a worshipper of God and a dealer in purple.” Now an introduction like that may not seem very unconventional to us but we have to remember that for the writer of the Book of Acts to have described a situation where, Paul and Silias, two strange men in town meet a woman, any woman was in and of itself unconventional.Continue reading →
I’d like you to think very carefully about a couple of questions. The questions are simple ones. They are designed to help us form images in our minds; images that might help to shed light on a particular kind of wound. But before I ask the questions, let me give you a definition of the verb that drives both of the questions that I’m going to ask. The verb comes from the Latin verb “tradere” which means to hand over. In English we say betray. The word betray literally means to hand over to an enemy by treachery or fraud. The word betray can also mean to be unfaithful; to violate trust, or to deceive.
So, here’s my first question: Have you ever been betrayed? Think about it very carefully. Has someone ever turned you over to the enemy by treachery or fraud? Has someone ever disappointed you; or been unfaithful to you, or violated your trust, or deceived you? Have you ever been betrayed?
The second question is this: Have you ever betrayed someone? Think about it carefully. Have you ever handed someone over to the enemy? Have you ever let someone down, or been unfaithful, or violated a trust, or deceived someone? Have you ever betrayed someone? Now take those two questions further: Have you ever been betrayed by someone you love? Have you ever betrayed someone you love?
The gospel reading for the fifth Sunday after Easter takes place on the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The night of Jesus’ last supper, a supper that took place after Jesus had humbled himself to kneel at the feet of his followers and bath them. A night on which the enemies of Jesus are plotting outside the dinner party; plotting to do away with Jesus. After washing his disciples’ feet,
Jesus informs them that one of them will betray him. Peter, who is worried that Jesus might be talking about him, leans over and asks Jesus who the betrayer is? Jesus answers: “it is the one whom I give this piece of bread which I have dipped it in the dish.” Jesus dips the bread in the dish and gives it to Judas Iscariot and says, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” No one at the table knew what Jesus was talking about. After receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. It was night, darkness. When Judas had gone out, Jesus proceeds to give his followers a new commandment. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Why after five weeks of celebrating Christ’s glorious resurrection does the church lectionary take us right back to Maundy Thursday; to the night of Jesus’ betrayal? Why bring up Judas at a time like this? Judas left the table a long time ago. Christ is risen. We are five weeks into the celebration of Easter. Why bring up Judas and his dastardly deed? Now that Judas has done what he has done, surely, he no longer needs to be invited to our celebrations. Once Judas left that table and did what he did everything was different. But the church just won’t let it go. So back to that horrible night we go to the time when Jesus was betrayed. Jesus is about to go to the cross. Jesus is about to reveal to us a LOVE that takes him all the way to the cross. So, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Does this LOVE extend even to Judas, and to all the Judases of this world? Upon hearing Jesus’ new commandment, did any one of the other disciples go out into the night looking for Judas in order to extend that love to him? Did anyone fear for Judas, miss him, or try — even after he brought soldiers to Gethsemane — to bring Judas back, to talk him out of his shame, his anger, his rapidly deepening hell?”[i]
We don’t have the answers those questions. My guess is no one found him, even if someone tried. To this day people are searching for the “real story” about Judas. Judas is still out there, it seems, wandering somewhere in the night, forsaken by every generation of disciples since that ancient Thursday, the night of the new commandment. Every time we gather for Communion, we commemorate Judas and his unforgivable behavior when we speak of the night when Jesus was betrayed. We speak of Judas’ betrayal, but we do not name him. We have not searched for him, and we have not found him. Judas’ place at Christ’s table remains empty. Continue reading →
The year was 1998. I was in my final year of seminary. I took a course from a visiting New Testament Scholar, who shall remain nameless, to protect not his innocence, but because it is bad form to speak ill of our elders. Suffice it to say that this professor had achieved some renown as a New Testament Scholar, so I was eager to learn from his wisdom. This professor lived up to his reputation. He was brilliant and he was demanding. I learned a great deal from him. During a class on the women of the New Testament, I recorded a conversation between the professor and myself. The conversation impressed me so much that I included it in my Master’s Thesis. It went like this…
He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!”
He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says,
“she is a “prostitute!”
My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where? Where? Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”
As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”, I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice, and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”
He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”
“A sinner not a prostitute.” I respond.
He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”
“Where?” I ask.
Again, he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”
I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”
He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”
I lose control, “How do you know? What words does the author use to say that this woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”
He still doesn’t get it,“What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”
Once again, I push, “Show me. Show me where?”
He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”
I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”
He replies, “amartolos”.
I push, “Does that mean prostitute?”
We both know that it does not.
He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”
Still pushing I ask him to “Show me. Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual. Show me where it says so in the narrative.”
He says, “It’s clear.”
Clearly, we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you. Show me. Show me!”
As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay. Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute. For Christ’s sake! Show me!”
He couldn’t show me. It’s simply not there.
Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek, or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute. But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute. In the years that have transpired since that day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I have delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of that I like to call, the resurrection of Mary the Migdal as the first Apostle. Migdal is a Hebrew word for tower and some scholars suggest that this was actually Mary’s title. Mary the Tower – perhaps because she was tall, but more likely because her authority as an Apostle “towered” above the authority of the apostles who abandoned Jesus.Continue reading →
I was about 10 years old, when I first encountered the 23rd psalm. I never went to church when I was a kid. Church simply was not part of my family’s life. But one summer, my brother and I were left in the care of my Mother’s aunt who lived down in the Adirondacks, and as a way of filling our days, Aunt Madge sent us to a local Vacation Bible School. I don’t remember much about the five days we spent attending Vacation Bible School. But, I do remember very well the glimpse of God that I encountered that week. To this day, I can still recite word for word just what I learned that week:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I can still hear the minister carefully translating each phrase into language that children could understand. I remember thinking that I had learned some secret knowledge that had been hidden from me all my life. For the first time in my short little life, I caught a glimpse of God and he wasn’t some angry old man who was sitting up on a cloud thinking up ways to punish me.He wasn’t some mean Father who sent his only son to die on a cross.
For the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of God the shepherd, who wanted nothing more than to take care of me, who provided beautiful green meadows with lovely rivers flowing through them, were I could feel the warmth of the sun and know that even if hard times were just around the corner, God would go with me, and take care of me. Best of all, this God would fill me with so many blessings that my life would be just like a chocolate mike-shake that was so full that it would never end. I had absolutely no idea what a shepherd was, or what a shepherd did. I simply knew that God is my shepherd and following God was the greatest, safest, most rewarding thing I would ever do.
The metaphor of God as my shepherd carried me to a place beyond the words of the 23rd psalm, to a paradise more sublime than my ten year old self had ever imagined before. A place of beauty, safety and security, that at the tender age of ten, I was already longing for.
Metaphors are quite literally words strung together to carry us beyond the words themselves, and for me and for millions of people, generation after generation, the words strung together in the 23rd psalm have carried our longing souls far beyond the words themselves to into the midst of our hopes and dreams. As a ten year old, who was always the new kid in town, the nomad, wandering from new school to new school, the mere mention of a being led to a place of safety, where I would find comfort and rest from the shadows that haunted me, was all the goodness and mercy that I needed to know about in order to want to know more about this Shepherd. Those first glimpses of God, still comfort me.
My life has not been particularly difficult. I am blessed, I am loved, I am privileged, I am wealthy, my cup does indeed overflow with goodness. But, like all people, I have my dark valleys were the shadows of death frighten me. There are moments of longing in which I long to be swept up into the arms of a Good Shepherd, who will hold me close in an embrace of LOVE so that I will be able to rest, knowing that I am at home. But I’m not ten years old. The metaphor of a shepherd no matter how good or great that shepherd might be, cannot satisfy my longing to know the One who is at the very core of our existence.Continue reading →
“Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for?” I preached this sermon on the raising of Tabitha years ago, as an attempt to convey the academic essay of New Testament scholar Rick Strelan into the form of a sermon. I believe that it is vital for preachers to convey the wealth of insights that are bandied about in the halls of academia, so that congregations can let go of so many interpretations of scripture that insult their intelligence, so that we can begin to explore the “more-than-literal meaning” (Marcus Borg) of biblical texts. Rick Strelan’s essay appeared in “Biblical Theology Bulletin, May 1, 2009, under the title “Tabitha: the gazelle of Joppa”.
Yesterday, I went for a walk. As I was walking along, minding my own business, a bright light appeared in the sky. The light nearly blinded me and so it took a while for me to figure out what was happening. Suddenly, it was so clear that the light was actually coming from a very large spaceship. I could scarcely believe by eyes. I stood frozen to the spot as the space ship landed in the middle of the road. You’ll never believe what happened after it landed. A couple of little green creatures with giant eyes gout out, took my picture, and then got back in the spaceship and flew off into the farthest reaches of space.
You don’t believe me, do you? You think that I’m making a joke of some sort, or maybe I’ve been working too hard and I’ve finally lost the plot. I know there’s probably nothing that I can say that would convince you that little green men have photographed me. Quite frankly that’s a relief because if you’ll believe that, you’d probably believe anything.
I do find it interesting that you won’t allow yourself to believe that I encountered aliens from another planet, and yet, you’ll suspend your disbelief when I tell you a story from the Bible. Or will you? Take our first lesson from the book of Acts. The miraculous story of how the Apostle Peter raised a disciple named Tabitha from the dead. You all know that when someone is dead, that’s it they are dead. You can pray over them all you want, but they’re never going to sit up, let alone stand up like Tabitha. There’s about as much chance of a person standing up after they’ve actually been dead as there is little green men from outer space landing on the street outside this church.The story of the raising of Tabitha is one of those stories that we wouldn’t believe for a second if it weren’t in the Bible. I suspect that when it comes to stories from the Bible, most of us don’t really believe that they happened exactly the way the Bible says they happened. Or do we?Now maybe you’re the generous type and so you say, “Don’t be too hasty, it could happen if the person wasn’t really dead.” I mean, maybe Tabitha’s friends got it wrong and she just appeared to be dead. The story says that Tabitha died, then her friends washed her body and laid her out in an upper room. Then, since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter, who was in Lydda and they asked Peter to head back to Lydda, which was about 10 miles away. That’s a 20 mile round trip on foot with a walking speed of about 3 miles per hour it would take at least 7 hours. She was definitely dead. According to the story Peter sends everyone out of the room, knelt down and prayed and then said, “Tabitha, stand up!” and she did just that.
The story of the raising of Tabitha is one of those stories that we wouldn’t believe for a second if it weren’t in the Bible. I suspect that when it comes to stories from the Bible, most of us don’t really believe that they happened exactly the way the Bible says they happened. Or do we?Continue reading →
Mothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women. Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:
A long time ago, I owned a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova that I paid less than $700 for in the hope that that old car would last long enough to get me through my undergraduate years at the University of British Columbia. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t get around to doing my undergraduate degree until I was 32 years old, when I enrolled in the Religious Studies program at UBC. I was living in a shabby basement apartment, where the rent was cheap, but the parking was non-existent. If I was lucky, I’d find a parking spot in the alley behind my apartment. Walking in that dark alley at night was more than a little scary. Often, as I was hurrying through that dark alley, I would see this old woman who was living rough in a makeshift tent. It wasn’t much of a shelter, just some cardboard held together by old clothes and torn grocery bags.
The old woman and I never spoke to one another. After several weeks of seeing one another in that back-alley, we would quietly nod in recognition of one another. I knew that she belonged in the neighbourhood and she knew that I belonged in the neighbourhood. Neither of us was comfortable in the back alley at night and it seemed almost comforting to see a familiar face, rather than running into some totally unknown stranger.
One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I am ashamed to say that her moans frightened me, and I dashed to my car, unlocked it as quickly as I could, and drove off to the university so that I could continue my study of the religions of the world. The irony was not lost on my and I was ashamed.
I had some brilliant professors at UBC who taught me all sorts of things, but none of those wise professors ever taught me as much as one of my fellow students taught me. My classmate Sannidhi taught me more about religion than any professor. Sannidhi is a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. To this day, some of what I learned from Sannidhi, I continue to try to teach others. It was Sannidhi who taught me the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale imitations of the ONE God who lies at the very heart of all that IS. It was from Sannidhi that I first learned the Hindu description of the MYSTERY that we call God, that I have come to love above all other descriptions of the DIVINE ONE. I’ve shared this description with you many times: “God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”
Despite the difference in our ages and backgrounds or maybe because of them, Sannidhi and I became study partners. Together, we navigated the murky waters of Religious Methodology as we tried our best to move beyond our own religious practices so that we could learn from the religious practices of others. Sannidhi often spoke about his home in India and how he couldn’t wait to show me what India was really like.
One evening I offered Sannidhi a ride home in my car. To this day, I’m not sure whether or not he was teasing me or if he actually was seriously impressed with my old Chevy. I remember him running his hand over its white vinyl roofand making a sort of tutting sound as his head bobbed from side to side and he expressed his admiration for such a fine mode of transport. Driving along, our conversation about the nature and reality of God was so engrossing that I invited Sannidhi to stop off at my place for a cup of tea so that we could continue our conversation. That’s how we ended up talking to the old woman who live lived in the back-alley behind my basement apartment. turns out her name was Joanna. In just a few moments, Sannidhi had learned that she liked milk and just a touch of sugar in her tea. I myself had never dreamed of offering the old woman a cup of tea. Sannidhi never dreamed of not offering her a cup of my tea.Continue reading →
Christ is Risen!Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! During the Easter season we punctuate our celebration of resurrection by declaring that, “Christ is risen!” and sometimes I wonder if our liturgical utterances of resurrection are in danger of becoming the last gasps of a Church that is all but dead. Are we who gather in churches on a Sunday morning members of a church that is the living body of the risen Christ or are we mourners at the funeral of a religion that died in the last century because it did not have the stamina for 21st century?
As congregations shrink, churches close, and the few mourners who are left insist upon preserving what’s left of the corpse, the season of Easter, designed to celebrate resurrection, is in danger of becoming the church’s final attempt at denying the corpse of Christianity. Generations to come may look back upon this critical time in the church’s life and pronounce that resurrection itself was the cause of the church’s death. While worshipers remained fixated upon the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse determined to defend the doctrines of the church, the life-blood of the body of Christ slipped away, no longer able to congeal around the idea of a deity so small that “HE” could only be worshipped by those who could narrow their thinking so that it could fit into the boxes created by the need to suspend everything they have learned about the nature of reality.
Gathering around the ancient stories of resurrection, those who sought to save the church could not agree on the treatment necessary to save the church. While some insisted that a good dose of biblical literalism was the only way to save Christianity, others advocated for a more radical treatment, one that took on board all that we have learned about the cosmos and what it means to be human. Still others looked to more nuanced forms of treatment and reached into the long traditions of the church which have always worked wonders in the past; traditions that honoured the human need for reason while they still managed to encompass the unfolding mysteries of the cosmos. While the theologians, priests, laypeople, hierarchy’s, would be evangelists, charlatans, worshippers, seekers, and philosophers, tended to the perceived needs of the church, the members of the Body slipped away to seek nourishment and healing elsewhere; leaving the patient to die a slow and laborious death. Oh there are a faithful few, huddling around the corpse doing their damnedest to resuscitate the corpse of Christianity. But life has long since left the patient. All that is left are the mourners who simply cannot believe that their beloved is dead. But like all deaths, life goes on, and the world scarcely notices all that has been lost. Some of us, hang around, finding solace in one another, remembering the good old days, longing for the future we had hoped to see.
When some folk return from the empty tomb that the church became, to tell us that Christ is not there, that Christ is risen. Dare we even begin to imagine that the one place we expected to find Christ is empty? Can it be true? Can Christ have escaped the empty tomb we call the church? Or, is this just one more idle tale?Continue reading →
Just some disconnected stories, scant stories, light on details and yet powerful in their truth. It has been said that, “The shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.” It has also been said that the greatest story ever told is the story of resurrection. Like all really good stories, the story of resurrection has been told over and over again as storytellers attempt to convey its truth. We have heard Easter’s story of resurrection so many times that you would think the truth of resurrection would be obvious to us all.
Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar stories. Some of us have been shaped by these particular stories. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about these stories. Some of us have rejected these stories and filed them away with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from these stories convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear these stories because they take us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with Easter’s stories until they release all the truth that we can find in, with, and between the lines; truths that call us toward a new way of being, a way of being that we long to embrace.
I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with Easter’ familiar stories determined to get from these ancient tales not just truth, but an inkling of the DIVINE ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories. Every year, after the excitement of Easter Sunday, the stories of a community locked away in fear come to us. Every year some element of these stories, touches me in ways that open old wounds and awaken familiar fears.
I remember long ago, when I was an intern trying to learn what it is to be a pastor. I’d never been to a visitation at a funeral home before. I remember putting on the uniform of a pastor. Back then, I wore the collar and the black-shirt not so much as someone wears a uniform, but rather as someone who puts on a suit of armor – hoping against hope that the uniform would give me an air of competence and perhaps even hide the fear that so often wells up in me.
I don’t really remember much about that particular funeral home visitation. I couldn’t tell you who it was who had died. I remember being relieved to see a familiar face in the long line up to greet the widow. I remember sticking close to that familiar face trusting that she would show me what was expected of me.
As we waited for our turn to greet the widow of the dead man, I wondered what on earth I could possibly say to ease her pain. Back then, I believed that this was the job of a pastor, to ease the pain. I hadn’t yet learned to be in the pain, to be with, to share in the wounding. Standing and waiting I kept asking myself, “What can be said when a lover dies?” The magnitude of such loss is immense. I don’t think I was the only one in that crowd of mourners who felt ill at ease.
Then suddenly it happened. I was confused as to why it was happening. It was like we were a sea parting as we made way for a woman who strode into our midst with such purpose. People stepped aside, got out of her way and then we all watched as this woman, this widow opened up her arms to embrace the newly widowed woman. Their wounds were not the same except perhaps in their depth. No words were spoken between these widows and yet the magnitude of their touch was a kind of miraculous healing.Continue reading →
Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see
Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here
Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here
Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here
Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here
This coming Sunday, in churches all over Christendom, worshippers will hear the gospel story of Doubting Thomas. The story of Doubting Thomas is prescribed gospel reading every year for the Sunday after Easter. I’ve never understood why Thomas should hold such a prominent place in our lectionary: I mean, as the stories have been handed down to us, when the chips were down, and Jesus could have used their support, Thomas and the guys deserted Jesus; they left him alone and spread out across the city to hide from the Romans and the religious authorities. According to the anonymous-gospel-story-tellers, it was the two Marys, together with the other women who had financially supported Jesus’ ministry, and who stuck by him to the bitter end. Also according to the anonymous-gospel-story-teller, we know as John, it was Mary, the one they call Magdala who brought back the news that Jesus was not dead, but had risen. Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene was the one chosen to be the Apostle to the Apostles, (the word apostle comes from the Greek for “the one sent”) our lectionary quickly moves on from the empty tomb to the upper room so that we can all once again explore the story of good old, doubting Thomas.
So here, let me honour Mary the Apostle to the Apostles with this my imaginary account of Mary’s story. Remember the power of our imaginations to breathe life into what appears to all the world to be dead.
Shalom. I greet you in the name of our risen Christ. My name is Mary. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. I am not from around here. I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing. But I was not happy. I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair.
Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation. From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus. He was teaching outside of the synagogue. At first, I just stood back in the crowd and listened as he spoke about a new world which God intended to create. It would be a world where the sick are healed and prisoners are set free. I wanted to taste this freedom which Jesus spoke about. I wanted to ask him so many questions. But the crowd pressed in upon him demanding that he tell them more and I was pushed farther away from him. In despair, I turned to leave. Continue reading →
On the heels of Peter Rollins visit to our congregation, I preached this Earth Sunday sermon which flows out of Peter’s work. You can listen to Peter’s sermon which is the jumping off point for this Earth Day sermon here
The video of the excerpt from Chief Seattle’s Response is below
Today, this planet celebrates Earth Day; a time to pause and celebrate the wonders of this planet and to consider the fate of this planet. The church has no day on its calendar to either celebrate the Earth or to pray for the survival of the Earth. Indeed, there are churches in Christendom that actively pray for the demise of the planet, so as to hasten the arrival of Christ. When I preach about the plight of the Earth, I usually point out some ecological disaster and encourage us all to take better care of the planet. While there are plenty of ecological disasters that I could point to that’s not what I’m interested in today, because let’s face it, if you’ve read this far, I’d only be preaching to the choir. We all know that the planet is in grave danger and that we all have a role to play in saving the planet. Today, I want to talk to you about something that lies at the very heart of our abuse not only of the planet but of one another. You see all week; I’ve been haunted by a line from Pete Rollins sermon last week.
Peter was talking about the gift that Christianity has to offer the world a gift that has the potential to move us beyond religion toward a more connected holistic way of being in the world. The line that has been haunting me all week came near the end of Peter’s sermon. It was almost a throwaway line and with Belfast Peter’s accent and the speed with which he speaks, I almost missed it. Peter said that all too often what we see in religion is our desire to have some sort of holy experience; a burning bush experience like Moses. We want to find this place where the Holy is and there always seems to be things getting in the way of our having this holy experience.
There are people getting in the way and structures getting in the way of this burning bush experience. Pete insisted that in the what he described as the Apostle Paul’s conversion of bedazzlement, in this incomprehensible blinding revelation that seems so incomprehensible, so transformative has the power to transform us so that we can see inside of ourselves and we can begin to see that every bush is burning. We can begin to see that the sacred are everywhere; that the persecuted ones are the place of our transformation and our conversion.Continue reading →
This time last year I was in Belfast. Many of you know that I lived in Belfast when I was a child. When I visit Belfast, I always stay in the part of the city that is known as the Cathedral District. From there you easily get around to most of the attractions that Belfast has to offer. Sure, there are plenty of tourist attractions in the Cathedral District but the real attractions are the pubs in this splendid part of Belfast. Trust me I’ve walked, some would say crawled, to some of the best pubs in Belfast. Which is not surprising because you see, I do come from a long line of pub-crawlers. My Grandad was a legendary pub-crawler. Grandda loved a wee dander about, as long as that dander took him to either a pub to the dogs. Fortunately, for Grandda there was always a pub at or near the dog racing tracks. So, when I wander the streets of Belfast city, I do so haunted by images of my Grandda all done up in his best, walking with such purpose and determination at first and then with a little less of a sense of direction as he crawled the pubs. Grandda has been dead for almost 40 years but in Belfast I can still see him in all his old haunts. So, when I’m in Belfast, every pub I go into, I enter with expectation and I wonder what it must have been like when me Grandda came in here. Sometimes I actually see my me Grandda. I know he is long dead and gone. I know that he can’t possibly be there. But I can’t help myself, the feelings are so overwhelming.
We don’t really have a word in the English language that captures the emotion that I feel when I walk the streets of Belfast. There is a word that I learned a long time ago, it is a Portuguese word: “saudade.” Saudade doesn’t actually translate into English. The best translation of saudade that I have ever come across is, the presence of an absence….the presence through absence. It doesn’t appear to make any sense. How can you experience presence through absence? Something is either present or it is absent. And yet, if you speak to anyone who has ever lost someone they love and they will tell you that that person’s absence is so intense that they can actually feel them, right here, deep inside.
When a mother loses a child, the pain of that absence is so intense that she can feel the child she carried in her belly right here, inside. When a lover loses their beloved, the pain of that loss is so intense that the lost love is felt here, right her deep inside. When someone we love is gone, they are still here. We see them here there and everywhere. We catch glimpses of them on the streets. Sometimes we shake our heads knowing that what we see can’t be real, and yet we know it’s real. A loved one’s absence can be very present. Saudade, through the absence we feel a presence. Saudade.
Now I suspect that some of you are thinking and why wouldn’t you, it is Easter after all, so some of you are thinking, “Aha, I get it…this is this progressive preacher’s way of explaining the resurrection.” Pretty good ha??? Well know, there might have been a time when I would have tried to explain the anonymous gospel-story-tellers’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. I am after all a progressive Christian pastor, and you are all enlightened 21 century people, with a pretty clear understanding of reality. There may be one or two of you who believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But I’m guessing that most of us don’t hang our Christianity on the concept of the physical resuscitation of a corpse.
As for this preacher, I’m with the Apostle Paul when it comes to the resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection were annoying to Paul. So much so that the Apostle Paul used pretty strong language in his letter to the church at Corinth, “Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have? What a stupid question!” Like the Apostle Paul, my faith in the reality of resurrection does not hinge on the physical resuscitation of a corpse. “The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.” So says the earliest explanation we have of Jesus’ resurrection.
Saudade is not my way of trying to explain the stories of Jesus resurrection. Saudade is my way of describing what it feels like to be a progressive Christian during Holy Week. After abandoning the notion that the DIVINE source of all that IS is actually some sort of far-away person in the heavens, who orchestrated the life and the execution of a person purported to be “His only begotten Son, begotten not made,” via an execution so vile that we shouldn’t even begin to contemplate it lest we tremble, tremble, tremble; well once you come out of the closet as a 21stcentury progressive Christian, Holy Week is like a saudade festival!Continue reading →
Let me begin where I believe we must begin on every Good Friday. Jesus did not die upon the cross to save us from sin. Jesus is not some sort of cosmic bargaining chip offered up in our place to a wrathful, judgmental quid pro quo god, who demands a blood-sacrifice in order to forgive us so that he and I do mean he can usher us into heaven. Jesus did not die alone on that first Good Friday and we have not gathered here simply to grieve something that happened nearly 2000 years ago. On this Good Friday, we stand in the shadow of the cross to grieve the death of LOVE; and there is one thing we all know about LOVE and that is that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day. Each and every day people all over the world grieve the death of LOVE. Indeed, the death of LOVE is omnipresent. The death of LOVE causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. So much so, that as LOVE dies all around us, something in us knows that we must insulate ourselves from the reality of death’s omnipresence or the sheer intensity of trembling will surely cause LOVE to die in us. Good Friday is the day that we set aside to lament the death of LOVE; an attempt, if you will, to confine the trembling to a more manageable time and place. On Good Friday, we gather together to tremble, tremble, tremble.
I was barely five years old the first time that I can remember this kind of trembling. These early memories of the trembling are lodged deep in my psyche and I confess to not knowing what actually happened. All I can tell you is how visceral these memories are and how formative they have been when it comes to shaping who and what I have become. It was 1963, I was just five, and my personal memories are but flashes that over the intervening decades have lodged themselves in and amongst the black and white footage that has become our collective remembering of this particular death of LOVE. There’s a surreal image, not exactly an image, more of a feeling prompted by my own mother’s sobbing and the impression of my Dad’s tear-filled eyes as together, with millions and millions of others, we attended the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Reflecting on my first experience of the death of LOVE, I can see now that the hopes and the dreams of my parents’ generation died again, just like LOVE had died for my Mom when the bombs fell all around her childhood home and again and again each night my Dad sought shelter from the bombs. As children of World War II, my parents’ generation witnessed LOVE’s death over and over again. They were all too familiar with the trembling that accompanies LOVE’s death.
As I was growing up, as each of you grew up, LOVE was assassinated, executed, snuffed out, bombed, napalmed, starved, murdered, and left to die over and over again. There were far too many funerals, too many opportunities to lament as LOVE fell victim to death. We all share countless collective memories of LOVE dying over and over again. We can add to that our own personal memories and it is clear that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day.Continue reading →