Emmaus is Nowhere because Emmaus is Everywhere: a sermon on Luke 24 – Easter 3A

Road to EmmausThis sermon was inspired on my own journey to Emmaus where in the space of the same afternoon I heard a stranger declare: “Christianity is dead!” and Karen Armstrong’s now famous TED talk about her call for a world Charter for Compassion.

Has anybody here ever been to Emmaus? Which one? According to the latest issue of Biblical Archeology there are at least nine possible locations that are candidates for the Biblical town of Emmaus. Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source. We simply don’t know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition, tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.

I know that I have been on the road to Emmaus most of my life. I’ve had lots of company on the Road to Emmaus. I’ve had many conversations along the way discussing, with anyone who’d care to accompany me, the ifs, ands, and buts of Christianity, of religion, and indeed of life. If you haven’t traveled down the road to Emmaus you must be very skilled in the fine art of turning off your brain and if you check you just might discover that your heart isn’t actually beating.

It’s so easy to imagine, those two characters striding down the Road to Emmaus that we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing about what happened. What on earth were they to make of all this! Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. Jesus was the One who had come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. Jesus was the One who was supposed to draw the people back to God, restore the relationship between God and God’s people. Now Jesus was gone, and what had changed? Now, Jesus was gone, and the Roman Empire was still oppressing them, still inflicting such pain and hardship, still killing them. Was it all a mistake? Was it all a lie? Had they been fooled by some kind of cruel hoax—were they wrong to put their hopes in this man from Nazareth? They had trusted Jesus believed in Jesus, followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed. They had seen the lives of others changed and they had expected even greater changes to come. Jesus had confronted corrupt powers. Jesus had charmed great crowds. Jews and Gentiles alike responded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Rich and poor had come to Jesus, believing in Jesus’ healing power. But Jesus had been shamed, and ridiculed, and humiliated, and crucified and now Jesus was dead. Well, was Jesus dead? Some said they’d seen Jesus, alive! Not that Jesus had survived the crucifixion by some miracle of strength, but that Jesus had risen from the dead. They seemed so totally convinced by their own experience…were they confused by their own grief? Were they delirious? Had they loved this Jesus so much—invested so much hope in Jesus life and leadership—that they simply could not let him go? And what did ‘resurrection” mean? Apparently it was not the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus wasn’t revived to resume his former life; to take up his broken body until the day he might die again. No, somehow this was some new mode of being that seemed to be spiritual to some and yet real to others. And, if Jesus were risen from the dead, what would be the point of all that? What was the point to a Messiah—to a presumed political and religious leader—if Jesus wasn’t able to lead people here on earth? How could Jesus restore Israel when he had so easily been defeated by a handful of Roman guards? How could he bring release to the captives, how could he bring justice for the poor, how could Jesus advocate for the widows and the homeless? How could Jesus call people to account for all the ways they had strayed from God’s intent, now? What good could come from some kind of spiritual ghost? We can hear these two friends wrestling with each other and with their own hearts on the road that day! Continue reading

Christ Appeared on the Road to Emmaus and I Almost Didn’t Recognize Her – a sermon for Easter 3A – Luke 24:36b-48

emergencyMy most memorable journey on the road to Emmaus was taken behind the wheel of a 1981 Oldsmobile, Cutlass, Brougham. I loved that car. It was a thing of beauty. It was a gift from my home congregation so that I could travel back and forth across the country to and from seminary. Despite its propensity to guzzle gas it was the perfect combination of power and elegance. It had the most amazingly plush interior with every imaginable power amenity of its day. It handled like a dream and even though I loved driving that car, neither it nor I faired well on our journey on the road to Emmaus. Five weeks into my Clinical training at the Grand River Hospital and I’d just completed one of the toughest weeks of my life when I set off for Emmaus. Clinical Pastoral Education is what the Church calls it but seminary students have other names for it, like boot camp, torture or hell. Twelve weeks of on the job training in a busy hospital combined with daily psychotherapy, group sessions, and sleep deprivation. It’s all designed to help seminarians put two years of academic study into practice before sending them off on a yearlong internship. Ask most pastors about their Clinical Pastoral Education and they’re likely to sit you down and tell you story after story about how intense an experience it was. Many of my colleagues will tell you that it almost broke them into little pieces, or that it almost destroyed their faith, or that they didn’t think they’d survive, or how they never thought that it was possible to be that scared or insecure for that many hours every day. Boot camp, torture, or hell, it all depended on whether or not you were able to get any sleep or if the demons you faced on the wards managed to destroy whatever self-confidence you might be able to muster.

The week before I set off on the road to Emmaus, wasn’t as bad as all that. I felt like I was just beginning to get the hang of things. I thought that the worst might be over. I’d managed to conquer my fear of being called Chaplain and being expected to help people who were sick, in pain, in distress, or dying. Why that week I’d even managed to help one or two of my patients. Those nagging doubts that haunted me during the first month of Clinical training were beginning to fade. It was becoming easier to believe that God was there in the midst of all the turmoil. I thought that maybe just maybe I could do the job and the terror wasn’t quite so intense when my pager went off. I remember saying to a colleague that maybe we’d be able to get through our Clinical training without coming up against the inevitable crisis of the faith that so many of our fellow students had warned us about. I wasn’t even nervous about having pulled the short straw for the long-weekend shift. 72 hours as the on-call emergency chaplain for the entire hospital. I felt like I was ready; that with God’s help, I could face anything that came my way.

I wasn’t particularly nervous when my pager went off and I calmly dialed the operator who announced that there’d been an MVA and six patients were on route; two of them were vital signs absent. MVA – Multiple vehicle accident. Vital signs absent = that usually means dead, but only a doctor can actually pronounce death so patients without vital signs are transported to the hospital before being pronounced dead. Continue reading

Every Bush Is Burning: Earth Sunday Sermon

earth-day-2013Four years ago, 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

Listen to the Earth Day sermon here

Worship Bulletin here

The readings are 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.  We here at Holy Cross have been celebrating Earth Sunday since 2007. This week I went back over my sermons for the past six Earth Sundays and discovered that 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 want to talk to you about today because let’s face it, I’d only be preaching to the choir. All of you 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

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?

resurrectionA sermon for the
Second Sunday of Easter

Our first reading was the traditional gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter in which we heard the story of Doubting Thomas for John 20:19-31. This was followed by a video in which Richard Holloway retells the story of Peter’s denial and the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. You can view the video here . This was followed by the gospel reading from John 21:15-20 You can listen to the sermon here

A long time ago my father was in a car accident. His hand was crushed in the accident and despite the doctors’ best efforts it wouldn’t heal properly. So, several months after the accident the doctors amputated one of my father’s fingers. When my father was still recovering from the surgery, my niece Sarah was just a baby. To this day, I believe it was the joy that only a first grandchild can bring that got my father through those painful weeks after the surgery. Now it just so happens that a few years before my Dad lost his finger, my sister-in-law’s father also lost one of his fingers in an accident at work. So, both of Sarah’s grandfathers were missing the forefinger of their right hands.

Now, I never really thought much about this bizarre coincidence until one day, when Sarah was about three years old, and I introduced her to a friend of mine called Ernie. Now Ernie loved children and so he tried his best to make friends with Sarah, but she was going through one of those shy stages and so Ernie couldn’t make any headway at all. In desperation, he explained to Sarah that he had a granddaughter just the same age as she was and that one of his favorite things in the whole world was being a grandfather.  But Ernie’s announcement didn’t impress Sarah one single bit. In fact, little Sarah put her hands on her hips and declared that Ernie couldn’t be anybody’s granddad at all. At this point I decided to give Ernie a hand and so I assured Sarah that Ernie was indeed a granddad, in fact, not only did Ernie have a granddaughter that was the same age as Sarah he also had a little grandson who had just been born. Well this was the final straw for Sarah, she told me in no uncertain terms that Ernie couldn’t be anybody’s granddad because Ernie had too many fingers. For Sarah, at the tender age of three, because both of her grandfathers only three fingers on their right hand, then surely all grandfathers must have only three fingers on their right hand.

Based upon the available physical evidence Sarah came to the only possible conclusion. The idea that a grandfather could be somebody who had ten fingers was unimaginable. All too often, we restrict our vision of the person in front of us based upon our past experiences of that person or indeed, our past experiences of people like that person. Our inability to envision what someone might be, or become, can have tragic consequences.  It’s bad enough when we limit our vision of someone based on their physical appearance, or physical challenges, but when we insist upon limiting our vision of someone based on that person’s past behavior, we run the risk of limiting what just might be possible. Continue reading

Good Friday Sermons

Good Friday 2016Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. In comments, messages, and emails I hear from fellow preachers who, like me, are daunted by the task of preparing the Good Friday sermon. That task is even more daunting for those of us who serve progressive communities. My fellow progressive-christian-preachers tell me of the dearth of progressive-christian Good Friday sermons to be found on the internet and encourage me to re-post my own attempts to rise to the occasion. So, here are the links to some of the Good Friday sermons I have preached over the years of my journey with the progressive community that I serve. The people Holy Cross Lutheran Church have over the years provided an invigorating space for me to pursue my questions. They have also provided the resources which make this blog possible. So, if you find the work posted here  of value to you and your community, please consider supporting this ministry of Holy Cross. I rarely solicit donations. But Holy Cross is a small community that continues to give to others in so many ways and your encouragement is greatly appreciated!!! (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3)

Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost

2016 I’m still working on getting my body out of the tomb in which it was laid all those years ago. – reflecting on everyday crucifixions click here

2015 Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation click here

2014 God Is Dead? click here

2013 Giving Up the Theories of Atonement in Order to Move Toward an Evolutionary Understanding of Jesus. click here

2012 Good Friday Rituals or Crimes Against Divinity? click here

Preparing to Preach on Good Friday click here

Preparing to Preach on RESURRECTION: Giving up the notion of a physical resuscitation.

resurrectionThis Sunday worship services will begin with the proclamation that: Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia! Let me follow that proclamation up with a good Lutheran question:“What does this mean?”  What does it mean that Christ is risen? What does resurrection mean? The truth is that there are about as many different explanations of Christ’s resurrection as there are Christians.  And that’s a good thing, because the question of the resurrection is a question that lies at the very heart of Christianity. So, is it any wonder that Christians have been struggling to come to terms with resurrection since the very first rumours that Christ had risen began to circulate. Over the centuries the various responses to the question of resurrection have divided Christians as various camps work out various responses.

For many Christians and non-Christians alike Resurrection is the dividing line. But this is nothing new.  Indeed the drawing of that line can be seen in the earliest Christian writings that we have. The Apostle Paul himself, wrote to the community of followers at Corinth: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless—and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless.”

There are many believers and non-believers alike who point to these line’s in scripture and say, “Ah ha, there it is, either you believe in the resurrection or you don’t!”
Continue reading

Trading Our Palm Branches for Tomahawk Missiles or White Helmets? – a Palm Sunday sermon

In the wake of a week that saw sarin gas released once again on the people of Sryria, followed by the firing of U.S. tomahawk missiles, parading around waving Palm Branches seems as foolish as it did when Jesus lead a parade into Jerusalem to face the Roman Empire on an ass. Today’s gospel picks up where the Gospel According to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem ends, when Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple – Matthew 21:12-16. Listen to the sermon here:

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! This morning, as we shout our Hosannas to the world, the world remains entangled in a vain attempt to achieve peace through violence. The two most powerful nations on earth are leading the charge: as I speak the United States has dispatched an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the waters off the coast of North Korea, while the Russian Navy has dispatched a frigate to the Mediterranean Sea so that its cruise missiles will be in striking distance of Syria. We’ve been here so many times before; seeking peace through violence.

On Friday, according to CNN, “Raytheon, the company that makes the Tomahawk missiles used in the air strikes on Syria by the United States, saw its stocks rise. Investors seem to be betting that President Trump’s decision to retaliate against Syria after the chemical attack on Syrian citizens earlier this week may mean the Pentagon will need more Tomahawks. The US Department of Defense asked for $2 billion dollars over five years to buy 4,000 Tomahawks for the US Navy in its fiscal 2017 budget last February.

Nearly five dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched at military bases in Syria from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea late on Thursday. Raytheon wasn’t the only defense stock that rose sharply on Friday. Lockheed Martin which partners with Raytheon on the Javelin missile launcher system and also makes Hellfire missiles, gained nearly 1%. Defense stocks General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman also rallied Friday, a day when the broader market was flat due to a mixed US jobs report. It’s unclear whether President Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis will ask for a lot more money for Tomahawks once they officially submit a fiscal 2018 budget request. But Trump said in his preliminary budget blueprint last month that a brad increase in defense spending was needed.  A sizable chunk of that was earmarked for upgrading warships, fighter planes and missiles. So it should come as no surprise that defense stocks are among the top performers on Wall Street not just on Friday, but for all of this year.”

What this CNN report doesn’t say, is that according to his own disclosure forms filed during the election, Trump hold a substantial amount of stock in Raytheon.   Now, the cynic in me can’t help but marvel at the Commander-in-chief’s selection of Tomahawk missiles as the pathway to peace. If I only I could figure out which tables to over-turn I would lead the parade. Continue reading

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Yada, Yada, Yada, we’ve heard it all before…a sermon from Palm Sunday 2016

on a donkeyLast year our Palm Sunday worship began outside in the bright sunshine of the first morning of springtime, where we spoke of the reenactment of one of the two parades that took place in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. Embracing Jesus’ political act of performance art we processed into the sanctuary waving our palm branches and shouting our hosannas. Rather than the familiar Palm Sunday readings our worship included the story from Genesis chapter 32 which tells of Jacob wrestling with God, Psalm 118, and John 12:12-15. you can read them here and listen to the sermon here

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! Once again, we travel back to Jerusalem to welcome Jesus into the city where we all know that the powers of empire will execute him. Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna: save us from this story that has the power to turn us into cheerleaders for an abysmal, obscene, cruel, madness that portrays the creator of everything that is, was, and ever shall be as a maniacal child killer who cannot bring himself to forgive the very ones he has created unless the most beloved of his children sacrifices himself upon a cross on a hill far away.

It happens every Palm Sunday. Over and over again, we hear atrocious interpretations of the meaning of Jesus execution that continue to distract us from the power that embodied love might have to resurrect the world in ways that will see the violence end as justice climbs out of the empty tombs into which we have tossed our dying dreams of peace. In our darkness, we have wrestled with the One who gave us light. Like Jacob of old, we too have fought, demanding a blessing from the divinity of our creation. We have wrestled in the night to find the God who will save us from ourselves. Praying for peace, longing for justice, shouting to the heavens for a blessing that will save us, save us from our hunger and greed, restore justice, and lead us forth to peace. Like Jacob, we long to know the name of our Creator, so that we will recognize our saviour when the saviour comes. Like Jacob we too have been wounded by the very sight of the face of God. For in the darkness of the night, we have wrestled our God to the ground only to discover that the blessing this God delivers, leaves us limping into the future wounded, stumbling forth with as many more questions than simply to know the name of the One whose blessing we seek. As the first light of sunrise shines on a new day, we too can but limp along injured, still seeking the One whose reluctant blessing we carry forth into an uncertain future. Hosanna, save us! Save us from our woundedness. Save us from the desires that haunt us, over power us and fracture our humanity. Continue reading

Can These Bones Live? – a sermon for Lent 5A: John 11:1-45

can these bones liveI am indebted to John Dominic Crossan and Gretta Vosper for the content and the challenges of this sermon.

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

In churches all over the world, preachers are hauling Lazarus out of his well-worn tomb. Some preachers will go over the details of this story in an effort to persuade their congregations that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Some preachers will deconstruct the details of this story in an effort to relieve their listeners of the responsibility of believing that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Other preachers will dazzle their congregations with their knowledge of the biblical details, the history of the community that produced the text, the traditional doctrines and dogmas that the church has used to interpret this text and once dazzled by the preacher’s intellect congregations will be set up to prepare themselves for the forth-coming Holy Week. Other preachers will zero in on a particular detail in the text and relate it to something that is going on in the world. I must confess that over the years I have used all of these approaches. Earlier this week, I traveled back to Lazarus’ tomb to sniff around for a sermon that would make some sense of this text in light of what many of us have been studying in the Sunday Morning Adult Education Class and the Wednesday Morning Lenten Study. I had hoped that somewhere between “Painting the Stars’” evolutionary approach and “Atheism for Lent’s” intellectual critique, I would discover a way to dazzle you with a new way of understanding Lazarus, but all I really came up with was, “He stinketh!” So, I pulled out my best sermon on the raising of Lazarus and began to rework it using some of the details I have learned since I last preached on this text. I produced quite an entertaining scholarly sermon with just the right amount of humour to keep you smiling, as I dazzled you with fascinating details about the story and deconstructed what some believe is a miracle so that the story could be of some use to us as we journey through Lent in the 21st century. It’s a pretty good sermon, but I left it on my hard-drive and maybe I’ll preach it some day. But not today. You see, a few of us spent the last few days listening to John Dominic Crossan as he dazzled us with his brilliance which shed such a bright light on the history of the life and times of Jesus that left us all sighing so appreciatively as we realized that what we thought we knew is just peering through a class darkly and there is a totally clear way of approaching this story; a way that will not offend our 21st century intelligence. Continue reading

John Dear: LAZARUS Come Forth – A splendid resource for Lent 5A – John 11:1-45

john dear

John Dear is a Jesuit priest who is living into Jesus’ call to be a non-violent activist peace-makers. In this video he presents a radical retelling of the Gospel that will change the way you hear all too familiar stories about Jesus. This is perhaps the most exciting interpretation of the life of JesusLazarus come forth that I have ever heard! It will challenge everything you thought you knew about who Jesus was and is. Father John’s gentle style may deceive you into thinking he is just an idealist. But hear him out and I’m convinced you too will be challenged to re-think so many of the stories told about Jesus in the New Testament. I know I will never again hear or preach about the raising of Lazarus without referencing Father John’s insights. A word of caution: you cannot un-hear this passionate call to peacemaking and it will in all likelihood lead you into some dangerous place where you are compelled to deny our culture of death and take up the mantle of peacemaking.

My “WHY?” Shattered my idol and my eyes were opened to a new reality. I’m talking about THE great big existential WHY? – a sermon for Lent 4A – John 9:1-41

Listen to the sermon here

Their baby was stillborn. Their pain was unbearable and so they asked, “Why?”

Her husband went out for his regular run; something he did every morning as part of his effort to stay healthy so that he would live long and prosper. Her husband was run over by a car and was dead by the time she arrived at the hospital.  To this day she asks, “Why?”

She was raped. The pain of violation refuses to leave her even after nine long years, during which her marriage fell apart. She could not and she cannot stop asking, “Why?”

On Friday, I watched a news briefing about the massive famine that encompasses much of Africa. Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are suffering from the ravages of starvation. More than 20 million people, many of them children are about to starve to death; 20 million people. It is the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of the United Nations. As I watched the horrific footage from the comfort of my living-room, all my being asked the question, “Why?”

This “Why?” was and is so much more than all the other Whys. This aching “Why?” is not the same as the other Whys. The Why that groans in me, that cries out for an answer is not: Why are babies still-born? Why do accidents happen?  Why is there so much violence? Why are millions of people, so many of them children, starving to death? These whys we can seek and find answers to. The Why that groans in me, is the Why that has haunted our ancestors for generations. I’m talking about THE great big existential WHY?

Why does God allow some people to suffer while others escape suffering? There must be a reason that you and I were born. There’s got to be a reason that we were born here and not in Africa. There simply must be a reason that some of us escape suffering while others of us can’t seem to catch a break. Why? Why God? Why? Nearly two-thousand years have passed and still this great big Why screams out from the deepest darkest places of our being. Why?

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I even prayed like a child. I prayed to God to save me and mine from all sorts of suffering. I believed that God heard my prayers and that God saved me and mine. But when I grew up, I put away my childish notions as I began to see some of my dear ones suffer. I saw the suffering but I refused to see what the suffering did to my carefully held beliefs about the god I chose to worship. My faith blinded me to the idol that I had created. Out of the stories handed down to us from our ancestors I, like so many of the members of my tribe, I had carefully constructed an idol which I believed was worthy of my worship; an all-powerful, all knowing god, whose wisdom was more powerful than my reasoning; who loved me beyond measure and just as surely loved all those dying babies and suffering victims.  Mine was not to reason why. Mine was but to trust and obey. The “big guy in the sky” would work it all out in the end. In the sweet by and by all would be revealed; no more blindness, no more doubt. In the meantime, all we could wonder, “Why?”  as long as we didn’t let our questions draw our attention from the idol we chose to worship. Blind faith was the only answer that could keep our attention firmly at the feet of the god of our creation.

Then one day a child died; a child I knew and loved, a child who had suffered most of her short little life and I was overwhelmed by the “Why?” that screamed out from the depths of my being. I, we had put all our faith in the omni god, this omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient god, the all-powerful, everywhere, and all knowing god that we willed into being, confident that by worshiping our idol, our precious little one would not be subjected to such suffering. When she died, the idol of my worship died with her. I was blind but now I see the folly of worshipping a god of my own making. My omni idol, had all the answers. No mystery, just reassurances.  Nothing beyond my ability to imagine or conceive. Like the Pharisees before me, I could not see beyond the parameters of the Law and the traditions handed down to me. But once my eyes had been opened, my vision changed and I could no longer see the way I once saw. My WHY? Shattered my idol and my eyes were opened to a new reality. Where once I could only see death as an enemy to be conquered, the death of one so sweet, so dearly loved, revealed to me the precious beauty of life. My eyes were opened to the reality of death as a part of life, the part that makes life so very precious. It took a long time, and more questions than I can begin to recall, but slowly, I began to see the contours of a MYSTERY beyond my wildest imaginings.

There is no sin in blindness. Blindness can be a safe haven from the tremendous MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS. But there is beauty beyond the darkness. Beyond the shattered pieces of our idolatry Beyond the horizon of our limited views, there is an EMBRACE the likes of which the mystics longed for; an EMBRACE that comes from the Source of all that IS, the great I AM of which our ancestors insisted permeated all that IS. An EMBRACE that is so much more that we can ever begin to express, and yet an EMBRACE whose contours stretch beyond the heavens to permeate all of life.

This MYSTERY that some of us call God, is the LOVE that is the ground and source of all being; the RELATIONSHIP that touches every life and lures us into being more than we dreamed possible. This MYSTERY may shatter our idols, but it also compels us toward a faith that opens the eyes of the blind to possibilities that deepen life by deepening relationship in ways that broaden our vision so that we too can become all that we are created to be. This MYSTERY invites all our WHYs. This MYSTERY is powerful enough to walk with us and all our questions into the dark clouds of unknowing that make life so very precious.  This MYSTERY does not demand blind faith. This MYSTERY opens our eyes to the beauty of becoming, over and over again, ONE with the MYSTERIES of LIFE.

These days, the great big WHY continues to overwhelm me and I confess that I am so very grateful to be overwhelmed because every time I am blinded by the idols of my own creation, Jesus comes along, heals my blindness, and disturbs me with visions that lead me Beyond my wildest imaginings. WHY? I do not know the answer. But I can see a way Beyond the WHYs a way that does not deny the pain or the beauty of the quest, a way that deepens and expands the beauty of the journey, a way that compels me toward the MYSTERY that is the LOVE some of us call God.

That LOVE empowers us to reach out in love to those whose whys overwhelm them; those who are grieving, those who desperately trying to recover from violence, and to do what is necessary to feed those who are starving. May your WHYs open your eyes so that you too can see BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, to the MYSTERY that is LOVE.  Amen.

St. Patrick’s Day Blessings: The Inner Landscape: John O’Donohue

Blessing for Love pastordawnOn this St. Patrick’s Day it is fitting to receive a blessing from a grand Irishman whose writing reaches into my soul. Followers of this blog know that John O’Donohue is one of my favourite sages. I am indebted to a follower of the blog for sending me this podcast of Krista Tripett’s interview of John O’Donohue recorded shortly before his death in 2008. O’Donohue’s words continue to open my soul.

Treat yourself to a listen:

Tickled By the Racy Svetlana; Otherwise Known as the Woman Evangelist Who Rocked Jesus’ World! – a sermon on John 4:1-42 – Lent 3A

TickledThere’s a commercial currently running on the TV and each time it comes on, I can’t help myself, it makes me smile and if I let myself, it makes me laugh. It’s a collection of scenes in which lovely little babies laugh. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh and before you know it you’re hooked and you just can’t help yourself you are laughing too. Laughter is a great tonic! Laughter is good for the soul! And yet, for some unknown reason we tend to exclude laughter from our religious life. Religion is serious business and so we don’t laugh much in worship. There’s a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that served as a warning sign for me as I was preparing this sermon. “NOT YET TICKLED” writes St. Teresa, “How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved—hurry.” The thought of being tickled by God is delightfully refreshing.

I must confess that I don’t spend much time laughing with God. Listen to this quote from the writings of St. Teresa: “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” “What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did Christ. “Love” which is Teresa’s name for God. “Love once said to me, ‘I know a song would you like to hear it?’ And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy Me.” Enjoy Me. What a different place the world would be if we could only hear God beseeching us, “Enjoy Me.”

We are a serious lot we Christians. Duty, responsibility, guilt, and consternation have left us precious little time to “Enjoy!” We’ve got things to do, stuff to learn, values to instill and standards to uphold, so we’ve put enjoyment on the back-burner. After all, God is far too high and mighty to be trifling with, we daren’t laugh in the presence of our God. And yet, God continues to tickle us. Over and over again, with the most absurd wonders, and we can’t help ourselves, but smile. Creation is so full of laughs. Life is so funny! And church, I mean, whenever I think of the ridiculous things we get up to in church, well its enough to make you laugh until you cry. So to those of you who insist upon personifying our Creator,  don’t you try to tell me that the Creator of all that is or ever shall be, the one who is responsible for creating humour itself, doesn’t just roar with laughter at the stuff that we get up to. So, isn’t it just possible that when it comes to laughing babies, God has plenty of scope for delighting in us? Surely, laughter is one of the most sublime forms of prayer? We ought to lighten up and enjoy our time with God. Cause lord knows, serious people are all well and good but who wants to spend time with a bunch of folks who can’t enjoy a joke.

So with that said, let’s turn to this mornings Gospel reading. This story is a real tickler! But in order to get the jokes, you’ve got to know some of the stuff the insiders knew. It’s a bit like trying to understand British humour, sometimes you don’t quite get the joke, if you don’t know something about life in Britain. The Gospel of John is full of stories that play on the local humour of Palestine in the first century. This story, about the Woman at the Well is full of double en-ton-dras. Indeed, this story is so outrageous that when the powers that be were sitting around deciding which books would make it into the New Testament, The Gospel of John almost didn’t make the cut. This story was far too racy and I mean racy in both senses of the word, this story was about race and it was far too risqué for the likeings of the religious authorities who were functioning as the thought police for the early church. So, sit back and allow yourselves to be tickled as I let you in on the jokes. Continue reading

What term of endearment do you use when you whisper sweet nothings in the ear of this God that you love? a sermon on John 3:1-17 – Lent 2A

Listen to the sermon here

Way back when I first began the formal process of becoming a pastor, the church committee responsible for helping people become pastors, recommended that I get a “spiritual director.” Among the many pieces of paper that the candidacy committee gave me, included both a definition of what a “spiritual director” is and who I might approach to be my “spiritual director”.

I remember three things about the church’s recommendation:

  1. A spiritual director walks with, guides, encourages and challenges people to deepen their relationship with the divine.
  2. A spiritual director is someone whose wisdom is derived from their own deep relationship with the divine together coupled with formal theological education.
  3. The spiritual director is someone in whom the candidate for the ministry of Word and Sacrament can place their trust.

Although, I was blessed to know several people that that I trusted who might be able to walk with me, guide, me encourage me, there was only one person who I could trust to challenge me; I mean really challenge me. The problem was, I wasn’t actually sure if Henry’s theological education was quite what the church had in mind. Nevertheless, I decided to ignore that particular detail as I proceeded to invite Henry to serve as my “spiritual director”.

I had met Henry years earlier when we both were working for a package tour operator. Henry was responsible for graphic design and we worked together to produce some pretty snazzy travel brochures. At the time, I thought Henry was a little odd. He was older than everyone in the office. Henry came from Brooklyn and looked very much like the stereo-typical  Jewish rabbi. I’m talking full black beard, black clothes, and a yarmulke. Turned out, Henry looked like a typical Jewish rabbi because he was a Jewish rabbi. Henry was working as a graphic designer to put food on the table for his family while he took a long-deserved break from serving as the director of a Jewish Yeshiva. Henry and I became fast friends.

Ours was a strange sort of friendship. Most of our conversations comprised of a series of questions without answers. I’d ask Henry a question, to which Henry would respond with an even deeper question, which would inspire and even deeper question with which I would be compelled to respond; it was kinda like dancing with ideas. Years later Henry would teach me that our dancing was actually an ancient form of the Jewish art of pilpul used by Talmudic scholars to get to the very heart of the sacred mysteries.  It took me years to realize that Henry had become my spiritual director long before I ever asked him to formerly take on the role.

It turned out that Henry had studied at one of the best rabbinical schools in New York and was an accredited to be a “spiritual director”. Somehow, despite the urging of the church to select from their list of suggestions, I managed to get my candidacy committee to approve Henry as my spiritual director. To this day, I think the committee members over-looked the fact that Henry is Jewish, only because Henry offered to serve as my spiritual director without me having to pay him the going rate, which back then would have cost me way more than I could afford. As it turned out, Henry’s direction was priceless. So, many of the treasures that Henry shared with me continue to shape and direct me to this very day. Continue reading

Poor Old Nicodemus – Doomed to Play the Fool: a sermon on John 3:1-17, Lent 2A

fool

As preacher, I attempted to join Nicodemus in playing the fool. The sermon is a playful attempt to poke at our dogmas, much the way a jester plays the fool poking fun to reveal what is hidden.

You can listen to a version of this sermon  here

Poor old Nicodemus, like so many literary devices this character is at the mercy of his author, doomed to play the fool; in Nicodemus’ case, a fool whose image of reality needs to be reborn. The unknown author of the gospel we call John imbues his priestly character with all the foibles of the powerful: “A certain Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night.”

Under cover of darkness the truth of the matter will be revealed as Jesus’ embodiment of the Divine reduces this powerful fool to the role of a gestating infant lying helpless in a mother’s womb, longing for life, unable to see beyond the darkness of his sheltered state.

Only the perilous journey into the light will restore Nicodemus’ sight; a journey the reluctant Nicodemus is loath to undertake.

Has he not already survived this perilous journey toward the light?

Is he not already privy to the wisdom afforded the powerful from their lofty positions of authority? He cannot go back there and do it all over again.

What could be worth all that misery, all that gasping for air, the danger of the passage, the crushing weight of innocence struggling for the wisdom of life, daring to breath deeply of the unknown, learning to trust, opening oneself to adventure, flailing and failing, weep and wetting oneself, fearing and trusting, weeping, crying, relying on the tenderness of others to supply your needs, making all those mistakes, not knowing who are what to trust, wondering where and how to be.

Rabbi, teacher, we know who you are and from whence you come?

We’ve seen the signs.

No one can do what you do unless, unless you have access to the power of the very One we seek to know; unless the power of the God we claim as HOLY, Holy, Holy, unless the power of all powers flows through you.

Flattery is the currency of the powerful and so the author of the gospel we call John imbues his literary device with the power to fawn and pose the questions, which lie in our very own hearts.

For we too want to know just who this Jesus character is?

Does the power of the One we seek flow through Jesus.

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Continue reading

What a Joke: These Stories Never Actually Happened! – a sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11

Eve & AdamI am indebted to the exegetical work of John Holbert for the insights into Hebrew humour!

Each year as Lent approaches, I find myself flirting with the idea of giving up Lent for Lent. Lent is just too much work. For centuries, during Lent the church has emphasized so many concepts that seem alien to the 21st century mind. Each year during Lent preachers are required to undertake the unenviable task of unpacking unpopular, seemingly antiquated concepts in an effort to encourage the contemporary churchgoer to entertain the equally antiquated rituals of Lent. I mean Christmas and Easter might attract a few more people to our sanctuary, but how do you attract people with talk about repentance or fasting? Just look at our readings for this morning. Temptation is the order for toady. Eve and Adam succumbing to temptation, the Apostle Paul prattling on, heaping condemnation upon the first parents for having given in to temptation, and then Jesus himself resisting temptation from non-other than the Devil. Not exactly cheery stuff designed to bring comfort on a cold damp winter morning, where apart from the time change, there are very few signs of a longed for spring.

But Lent has arrived and so we must tuck into this dish of temptation hoping that it will reveal some hint of the promise of what lays beyond our long Lenten journey as we travel toward Easter’s resurrection joy. But these are not easy readings to unpack.

I could begin by warning against taking these texts literally. But you have heard warnings against taking the text literally and I know that you understand that the story about Eve and Adam is just a story. It never really happened. Most of you, even though you might be tempted to think that Jesus literally went out into the wilderness and was tempted by the Devil, most of you have long since realized that the Devil doesn’t actually exist. If you’re still tempted to believe that this story actually happened, well, the fact that in the story itself, Jesus goes out into the desert all by himself ought to at least make you pause to ask, who wrote this story down, if there was nobody there but Jesus and the Devil?

These stories are just that, they are stories. In the words of Marcus Borg, “The events in these stories never actually happened. But the events in these stories are always happening.” Let me say that again, lest there be any doubt: They never actually happened, but they are always happening. That’s what makes these stories such great stories. The stuff in these stories is always happening over and over again. Temptation is the stuff of our lives. Each and every one of us, each and every day struggles with temptation, each and every one of us and all of us together as humanity. This grand human experiment that we are caught up in requires that we all struggle with temptation. Continue reading

Shrove Tuesday – Such Frivolity!

ShroveTuesdaylrShrove-Tuesday, at whose entrance in the morning all the whole kingdom is inquiet, but by that time the clocke strikes eleven, which (by the help of a knavish sexton) is commonly before nine, then there is a bell rung, cal’d the Pancake-bell, the sound whereof makes thousands of people distracted, and forgetful either of manners or humanitie; then there is a thing called wheaten floure, which the cookes do mingle with water, eggs, spice, and other tragical, magical inchantments, and then they put it by little and little into a frying pan of boiling suet, where it makes a confused dismal hissing, (like the Lernean Snakes in the reeds of Acheron, Stix, or Phlegeton) until at last, by the skill of the Cooke, it is transformed into the forme of a Flip-Jack, cal’d a Pancake, which ominous incantation the ignorant people doe devoure very greedily.  John Taylor, English poet (August 24, 1580 – 1654)

Shrove comes from the old English word shrive = to shrive is to be absolvedshrove following confession.  Those who have received absolution are the shriven.  The priest who dose the shriving is the shriver. The shriven would feast using up all the foods that were avoided during Lent.

The practice of feasting is not complete without revelry and merrymaking. Many of the rules of acceptable behaviour are  set aside so as to ensure that a “wild time” is had by all:

  • Men dressed as women and women dressed as men (Prussia 15th century)
  • Football was played with wild abandon in the streets to ensure that windows were broken and gardens disturbed
  • Dancing in long meandering lines through the streets was encouraged
  • Church clipping:  clasping hands and surrounding the church
  • Jokes were told
  • Magic usually forbidden was preformed
  • Skipping (usually forbidden) was encouraged with up to ten people skipping together using the same rope (considered scandalous at other times of the year)
  • Fortune telling was allowed
  • Dancing was encouraged on church property!
  • Children were encouraged to mock their elders!
  • Tricks were played on members of the clergy.
  • Clergy decked in all their finery engaged in races.
  • Little boys and girls went from house to house knocking on doors and then running away.
  • Water was poured over the heads of officials.
  • Unspeakable things were done to chickens.
  • Eggs were tossed.

Pagan Roots:  the grand battle between Winter and Spring

  • Masks were worn to scare Winter away
  • the pancake is the symbol of the sun
  • music and revelry frightens Winter and Welcomes Spring
  • Church bells were rung at odd times to confuse Winter
  • Skipping made the earth more fertile
  • Boys and girls were encouraged to sneak away together so that matches might become inevitable.
  • Sledding down snowy slopes on Shrove Tuesday encourages the land to be fertile.

Did you know?

  • The faithful once believed that it was advantageous to hang one’s laundry out on Shrove Tuesday because chances were that the laundress having just received absolution, hanging laundry in a town full of folks who had just received absolution was sure to mean that the whites would dry whiter than white!
  • Certain works were forbidden on Shrove Tuesday: mending, sewing, hair combing, rope twisting and grindstone milling. Disobeying these bans will bring about summer storms, winds will rip off roofs, chicken will scratch in gardens, meat will have worms and fingers will swell.
  • Carnival = fare well to carni = meat

Transfiguration Sermons

transfigurationSermons for Transfiguration Sunday:

Beyond the Veil: a story of Transfiguration here

LOVE Transforms here

Looking Back at the Way Forward here

You Have the Power to Transfigure the Face of God here

Transfiguration Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song here

 

Preparing to Preach on Jesus’ Teaching on Non-Violence: Matthew 5:38-48

In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount provides a distillation of the teachings of Jesus; teachings Jesus lived for, teachings that eventually made Jesus so dangerous to the oppressive Roman Empire that they executed him as an enemy of the state. The very heart of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on non-violence.  I can think of no better way to begin my own preparations to preach on this crucial text than to look to the work of the great Walter Wink.  I will always be indebted to this amazing teacher for all that I have learned and continue to learn from him. The videos below comprise the various parts of a lecture that Wink offered on the subject of Jesus’ teaching on Non-Violence. For anyone who aspires to follow Jesus this lecture is a must see. Wink’s books are well worn friends that I have often thumbed through to find more than a nugget or two to enable me to teach anew something that I have long since come to know as a result of Wink’s excellent work! His enlightening trilogy: Naming the Powers, Engaging the Powers, and The Powers that Be along with Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way should be at every preacher’s fingertips as we proclaim Jesus’ radical way of being in the world.  Follow this link to a sermon based on these resources.

We do not grieve like those with no hope. – a sermon for Epiphany 5A

hope-we-do-not-greive-pastordawn-com-pages-copy

Readings included: Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
1 Thessalonians 4:13 & Matthew 5:13-20
Listen to the sermon here

Like the poet Mary Oliver, “Sometimes I grow weary of the days, with all their fits and starts. I want to climb some old gray mountains, slowly, taking the rest of my lifetime to do it, resting often, sleeping under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks. I want to see how many stars are still in the sky that we have smothered for years now, a century at least. I want to look back at everything, forgiving it all, and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know. All that urgency! Not what the earth is about! How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only. I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts. In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.”

It has been a crazy few weeks; weeks in which the unthinkable has become the norm. We had a few months to prepare ourselves for the inauguration of a leader that most of us had allowed our minds to relegate to the level of a cartoon character. We allowed the swooping waves of hair above the orange hue to help us laugh our way into believing that this fool would be controlled by wiser heads. Then in swooped a darker, more menacing character to firmly place white-supremacy clearly within ear-shot of a man all too willing to abandon common decency in favor of wild conspiracy theories. As tragic as the travel ban is/was/maybe who knows, just thank your lucky stars you’re not the one trying to decide if your skin is the right colour to grant you safe passage while the question of your eligibility is decided in the courts. As distressing as it is to contemplate the individual hardships of refugees, there was some consolation in the reality that we here in Canada are not like them.

We are not Americans. Their troubles may impact our lives in various ways, but we are not like them. We are a welcoming people. We are a multicultural culture. We are a peaceful nation. We are a sane people; sane enough to recognize the need for sensible gun laws. We are not a violent people. We welcome refugees. We “tolerate” people of all faiths and of no faith.   The noise coming from the south, was just that, chatter, that we can turn off, tune out, or shut down any time we “grow weary of all their fits and starts.” “We can wander outside, to see how many stars are still in the sky.” We know in our heart of hearts, “All that urgency!” it is “not what the earth is about.

From sea, to sea, to sea, we feel safe, some might say, smug, in our assurance that the “universe is unfolding as it should.” So, we did our best to put the travel ban into perspective. We trusted that wiser courts would prevail. We resolved to grin and bear it. “Have a nice day.” we said.

“Have a nice day.” And then, it all went horribly wrong. Our nice day turned into tragedy and the unthinkable act of a deluded young man wrenched us from our delusions of immunity from the madness that threatens to encroach on our notions of our treasured reality. It can happen here. It can happen here. It can happen here. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. Not in Canada. Not here. It’s too much. I can’t even… Continue reading