Starry, Starry, Darkness: sermon for Pentecost 9C

van-gogh-vincent-starry-night-79005662Readings:  Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-16, Luke 12:32-40

Listen to a version of this sermon

‘Have no fear little flock. Have no fear little flock. It is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.” Have no fear. Do not be afraid. But what is it that we are all afraid of? What fear is Jesus trying to sooth? What fear drives us? In the deepest darkest hours of the night, what are we afraid of? Does it all come down to the darkness in the end? Darkness in the end?
Darkness in the end? Have no fear. Do not be afraid. But how can I not be afraid? What if in the end it all comes down to darkness?
Have faith! Have faith. ”Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Have no fear little flock. Do not be afraid. Have faith. But what is faith? The reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. I’d love to get me some of that. I’d love to have faith; faith that in the end all is not darkness. If I only had faith, I could believe that in the end I will not be left in the darkness of the abyss. If I only I had faith.
After this morning’s worship, I will begin five weeks of vacation. Five glorious weeks to do whatever I want, whenever I want to.I am richly blessed!!! Not only do I have five weeks stretching before me. My vacation begins at the peak of the Perseids. In fact the absolute best time to view the most spectacular meteor shower of the year will be tonight and tomorrow night. From about 10:30 to 4:30 am the universe will be putting on a show. It will start off slowly and then peek just before dawn and if you lie out under the sky, there’ll be more falling stars to wish upon than you’ll be able to count. I’ve spoken to you many times about my experiences out under the stars. I’ve been a fan of the Perseids ever since I was a teenager and felt the nearness of something so much bigger than myself under a starlight night. Stars have always given me the courage to peer into the darkness and trust that we are not alone. Stars in the night-sky and not doctrines or theologies or creeds or a list of things I ought to believe, but stars in the darkness of the night sky. Stars in the night sky take me back to all hope filled nights I’ve spent peering into the darkness for a trace of the ONE for whom my heart yearns. Stars in the night sky help me to see beyond the darkness. Stars in the night sky are best viewed far away from the lights of the city. In the city there is too much artificial light interfering with our view. In the city there is just too much of everything and there is good reason to be afraid.
I still remember my first trip to New York City. I was a young woman, and the hustle, and bustle, and reputation of New York City gave me so much to be afraid of. New York City is dirty and gritty. In an effort to escape the stickiness of the busy streets, I ducked into the Museum of Modern Art. Back then I didn’t have much of an appreciation for great art, but even so, I was left breathless when I turned a corner and was confronted by Van Gogh’s masterpiece, Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh’s image of the night sky swirls across the canvas full of vitality and power that speaks of DIVINITY’s presence. The stars don’t just sparkle; they explode in radiance. Looking closer, I could see that the earth itself seems to respond to the movement in the heavens, forming its own living waves in the mountains and the rolling trees beneath them. In the sleepy village, the windows of the houses glow with the same light that illuminates the universe. The church steeple in the center seems to struggle to point to God, who is so alive in this scene. But the little church is dwarfed by the cypress trees at the left, which seem to capture the joy of the inhabited creation around them by erupting in a living flame of praise.
I spent a couple of hours standing and sitting in front of that masterpiece and that afternoon was just the beginning of my love affair with Vincent Van Gogh’s work. Over the years I have travelled to Amsterdam many times and spent hours in the Van Gogh museum gazing in wonder at the work of this master. If you have only ever seen a print of a Van Gogh then you have missed the wonder of the thousands and thousands of brush strokes that make up one of his masterpieces and you have missed the opportunity to be mesmerized by the wonders of the details imbedded in each painting. I have traipsed around Europe exploring the various museums that contain Van Goghs and I have often gone out of my way to catch a glimpse of a Van Gogh. I’ve seen hundreds of his masterpieces, but none can compare to the splendour of Starry Night.

Continue reading

I’m a Doubter Not a Believer – Preaching on FAITH – Hebrews 11:1-16, Pentecost 9C

Preaching on Luke 12:32-40 and Hebrews 11:1-16

doubters welcome“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom” So begins the gospel reading for this coming Sunday. But I am afraid and my fear is not about the the thief who this text insists may break into my house or that the HUMAN ONE is coming at some unexpected hour. No, my fear is wrapped up in my desire to pay little or no attention to the second reading prescribed for this Sunday from the letter to the Hebrews: Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. Because of faith, our ancestors were approved b God. By faith, we understand the world was created by the word from God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible…..”

Do I have faith? Do any of us have faith? For that matter: What is faith? According to Hebrews faith “is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to hear Jesus words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.”  Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to believe. So I wonder: Do I have faith? Do I have the faith that makes it possible for me to believe? Do you? Do any of us?

I write this as one who finds it difficult and sometimes even impossible to believe much of anything. I am a doubter by nature. Doubting is part of who I am. I know that there are those who are more inclined to believe and I am envious of believers. I envy those who are sure and are able to find comfort in the Scriptures. For a very long time I was ashamed of my inability to believe. I often sat in church and wondered if I might just be a hypocrite. I wondered if someone who had as many doubts as I have belongs in the church.  So, I tried to conquer my doubts by studying the Scriptures. Continue reading

Doubt: Preaching on Hebrews 11:1-16

The Place Where We Are RightLooking over the readings for this coming Sunday and the subject of faith jumps out from the Hebrews reading (Hebrews 11:1-16) which begs questions about doubt.  I have read and blogged about Richard Holloway’s “Faith and Doubt” and Lesley Hazleton’s insistence that “Doubt is Essential to Faith” and both posts provide an interesting jumping off point. This little video of Richard Holloway on “Why doubt is a good thing” provides insights for preaching on doubt as the foundation of faith!!!

Prayer: To Whom Shall We Go? Luke 11:1-13

PanentheismJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of the MYSTERY we call God to those of a cosmic superhero, who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what the MYSTERY is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the ONE who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.

Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about the MYSTERY that we call God. Continue reading

Prayer: 21st Century Questions – There’s an App for that! Luke 11-1-13

prayer appJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel reading Luke 11:1-13 leaves me wondering what an enlightened 21st humanoid is supposed to do with Jesus 1st century ideas???

Cast you minds back to another time and place and tell what the numbers 33, 45, and 78 have in common??? Vinyl Records anyone? When I was a kid music came from a portable RCA record player. The sound quality wasn’t all that great, but somehow we didn’t seem to care. Later when I was a teenager, my parents got a fancy state of the art Phillips stereo cabinet and suddenly sound seemed to be coming from booth ends of the room. I never did understand how those old record players managed to pick up sound from the grooves in the vinyl to45 produce music. I still remember my father’s first reel-to-reel tape recorder, and then there were the eight-tracks, followed by cassettes, followed by CD’s.  I can remember these things, but I have no idea how they made music. It doesn’t matter how many times people try to explain it to me, I still think it’s a miracle that such beautiful sounds can come out of machines.

These days I don’t use records, tapes or CDs to listen to music. My music is stored in “the cloud” and when I want to hear I song I make sweeping motions on my iphone screen and presto, I can make music fill the room. I don’t know what the cloud is. I asked the personal assistant on my iPhone, her name is Siri and she told me she was sorry but she couldn’t tell me because Steve told her not to tell anyone. Some people think the cloud is located in a 225-acre facility that Apple built in North Carolina. Continue reading

Preaching on Prayer: Shush!

BATH QOLIn this coming Sunday’s gospel reading Luke 11:1-13, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. As a pastor I have been asked to teach people to pray. Each time I have been asked to teach someone to pray I have cringed inside because I do not feel up to the task. For some reason the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” keeps playing in my mind. I keep telling it to, “Shush!” so that I might hear the “bath qol” but the daughter of a sound eludes me. Below is a portion of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject of prayer. If nothing else, it reminds me to shush!

I began this sermon by asking the congregation to sing from memory the old hymn: I Come to the Garden Along. Feel free to sing it to yourself!

I think my earliest memory of prayer is a distant memory I have of skipping along the sidewalk chanting a familiar refrain: “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Most of us can remember a moment from our childhood when a superstition was instilled in us that caused us to perform some ritual in order to placate the unseen power that could determine our fate. Whether it was avoiding cracks, or walking under ladders or black cats, we were trained from an early age to believe that there were powers out there that could determine our future.   Continue reading

“Martha, Martha, Martha!” – Preaching on an all too familiar text! Luke 10:38-42

From an Academic Paper to a Sermon

You can read the academic paper here and the sermon here

martha 2I am usually on vacation at this time of the year. So, I have only had a couple of  opportunities to preach on this coming Sunday’s gospel text (Luke 10:38-42). The story of Jesus’ sojourn at the home of Mary and Martha is such a familiar text, which over the years has been used and abused by preachers to inflict such harm on their listeners. During my seminary years, this text awakened the feminist in me in ways that I am still unpacking. So, I went back to my seminary years to uncover an academic treatment of this text that I included in my Masters Comprehensive paper in 1998. Reading the paper took me back to a time when I seriously doubted my call to ordained ministry. Back then I was unsure about my ability to tolerate the institutional church or indeed whether or not the institutional church would be able to tolerate me. I am happy to report that there are pockets of the institutional church were feminists can thrive and I have been blessed to be called to serve in one of those pockets. 

I preached on this text was in 2004 and I post both the academic paper and the sermon based on the paper as resources for those of you who will take up the text this week. I have not edited the sermon, despite my inclination to do so. Old sermons provide a snapshot of old preachers. Like most snapshots, I’m not altogether happy with the picture of myself. 

You can read the academic paper here   and   the sermon here

Imagining Donald J. Trump as the Good Samaritan – reflecting on the bruised and battered church…Luke 10:25-37

trump busJesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories of all time. The trouble with such a familiar story is that we all know it so well that  we hear it on autopilot. We know the characters almost as well as we know how we are expected to respond to this story. We can point to the priest and the Levite and explain why they acted the way they did. We can even explain how shocking it would have been to a first century Jewish audience to hear a Samaritan described as “good.” Most of us have heard this parable interpreted so many times that we already know exactly how we are expected to feel when we hear it and what we are expected to learn from it. “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself” and who is your neighbour, why even the lowly Samaritan, the one you would least expect is your neighbour. We know this story backwards and forwards and yet like any good story, there is always something that we can learn from it or it wouldn’t have been told as often as we have all heard it. But just in case familiarity with the story is getting in our way of hearing the radically outrageous truth to which this story points, let me tell it one more time with a slightly different twist.

Like all parables this didn’t actually happen but then again it is always happening. Last week on my way back from Chautauqua, let’s say somewhere near Buffalo, I was attacked by a band of thieves. They stole my car and left me lying by the side of the road. A bishop happened to be passing on her way to Toronto, she saw me lying there bruised and battered, but she had people waiting for her, meetings to attend, and she could not be late, after all she is a bishop and people are counting on her. So, she put her foot down on the accelerator and hurried past me. Later, a bunch of pastors who were car-pooling home from a spirituality retreat came tooling down the highway. They saw me lying by the side of the road and they considered stopping to lend a hand but they had congregations to return to, members to visit, and sermons to consider. So after much consideration the pastors decided to hurry past lest they be waylaid by my problems. Suddenly, travelling from the opposite direction came a sleek, decked out bus with the words “TRUMP Make America Great Again!”  in bold letters along the side. Lo and behold it was the orange fellow himself, Donald J. Trump heading up to Buffalo to appear before a “huuuge crowd” of adoring fans. Without hesitating for a moment, the Donald appears with a first-aid kit and begins to dress my wounds. I recognized him right away, and wanted to crawl away and die, but the Donald just loads me into the back of his bus and off we go to the nearest casino, which he just happens to own. At the casino the Donald puts me up in a room fit for a queen and instructs the staff to take very good care of me. It sure wasn’t easy being helped like that, by such a loathsome, despicable man. You know that I’d have to be in a very vulnerable state to accept help from the likes of Trump and his merry band of nut-bars. Thank goodness that this didn’t actually happen. But I can’t help wondering what I might learn about my own prejudices from such an encounter, or what I might learn about his woundedness, or indeed what we both might learn about our shared humanity. (stop it now!!! I know what you’re thinking…just try to remember the Donald is human)

Over the years, I believe that I have played most of the characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  I suspect that most of you have as well. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the lawyer, trying to get Jesus to explain the secrets of life to us. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the priest when we see a broken down car on the side of the road, with its occupants standing around looking desperate for help, but we pass by, not because we are bad people, but because the rules of our society tell us that only fools would consider stopping on the side of the road to help strangers. After all it might be a trap, and surely they have a cell phone so they can call the police who will surely come soon to help them and all of you have surely played the role of the Levite. Oh, you may want to be a good Samaritan, but there are just too many street people, too many requests for money, too many people sleeping out in the cold, and to many vacant faces staring up at us. It’s so difficult to know how or who to help. So, we strike up uneasy compromises with to salve our consciences. We give away whatever coins we happen to have as if a few coins can really help. We go about our business failing to even bother asking how we might help, for fear that from the vacant face, we might hear a voice that demands more of us.  Continue reading

lambs among wolves – Luke 10:1-16

…the prescribed reading for today (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)  is a little strange because it is chopped up into pieces…and leaves out several verses that to most ears sound more than a little judgmental. Without the omitted verses is a difficult reading that is seeming bereft of “Good News”. So, as is often the case when we deliver bad news, I’m going to ask you to sit down and take a few deep breathes. ….ready?

…the text continues with Jesus saying to the 72:  “If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say,  “We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near. I tell you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than the fate of such a town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! And woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes! It will go easier on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. As for you, Capernam, will you exalt yourself to the skies? No, you’ll be hurled down to Hades! Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the ONE who sent me.”

Jesus has sent out seventy-two of his followers to proclaim that the reign of God is near. Two by two those who have learned at Jesus’ feet are sent to proclaim a new way of being in the world. Furthermore, Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the world with nothing, no knapsack, no sandals, and perhaps more importantly, with no purse; no money with which to provide the essentials. Like lambs Jesus sends his followers into the midst of wolves.

Lambs in the midst of wolves is a strange metaphor. I know a thing or two about lambs. I helped to tend a flock of sheep for about 8 years. While there were no wolves in the area, there were coyotes, and I can tell you that no self-respecting shepherd would expose vulnerable lambs to wolves. Jesus would make a crappy shepherd. Leaders are supposed to protect the ones they lead. Yet here, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Luke, has crafted a story that casts Jesus in the role of a reckless leader who demands an equally reckless vulnerability from his followers.

What we know about the gospel-storyteller that we call Luke is that he wrote close to the end of the first century. Some 50 to 60 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth; a time when the full force of the mighty Roman Empire was being brought to bear upon the Jewish people and upon the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. During this time both Jews and followers of the Way lived in fear for their lives. The very idea of venturing out into the world would have struck fear into the hearts of all those who knew the ferocious power of the Roman Empire. Wolves would have seemed timid when compared to Rome’s cruelty. Yet, in our story Jesus sends his followers like lambs into the midst of wolves? Totally unprepared. Totally vulnerable. Totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who this story characterizes as wolves.

Now, I will confess that all this week, as I was studying this text, I saw myself as a lamb. But I have to say that this story didn’t make much sense to me until I began to see myself as one of the wolves.  It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a lamb. Images of myself as a small child, a wee little lamb, helpless and vulnerable were easy to conjure up. Memories of my own childhood migration from Belfast to Canada reminded me of the ways in which my own family depended upon the kindness of strangers when we arrived in a strange land. I don’t really think my Mum and Dad were very well prepared for the journey that we undertook as a family. But thanks to all the help we received from the people who had gone before us and the strangers we met here in Canada, we did all right. Continue reading

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

Eckhart rid me of GodMeister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar.  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…

click on the sermon title

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

I’m not that good a preacher!

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity,

Our Congregations Shrink???

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

The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity

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

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

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

Not Yet Christians: Pentecost/Confirmation Sunday

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

Is the Church dead? or Can these Bones Live? – Pentecost sermon – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:22-27; Acts 2:1-21

Listen to the audio only here

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

One In God – a sermon for Easter 7C

made of God Julian pastorDawn copy 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.

Listen to the sermon here

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”.

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Progressive In Approach: Christlike In Action

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?”

Don’t Piss God Off! – a sermon for Easter 6C – Acts 16:9-15

lydia of philippi“Warning!” written by Jenny Joseph

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

Judas Is Still Hanging Around! – John 13:21-35

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

Embracing Our FULL HUMANITY – The Gospel of Mary

Readings from the Gospel of Mary here

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

Jesus, How Long are You Going to Keep Us in Suspense? – Easter 4C, Good Shepherd Sunday

Beyond the Beyond - Dawn Hutchings

Readings Psalm 23 and John 10:22-30

Listen to the sermon here

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

The Raising of LOVE: the “more-than-literal” meaning of the Raising of Tabitha – a sermon on Acts 9:36-41

dorcas“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