Greetings favoured ones! I begin this series with a little annunciation in the style of the Angel Gabriel, “Greetings favoured ones! As Advent begins, we begin our explorations of what I am calling “Parables of DIVINITY.” Parables are stories designed to turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions. Advent is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the parables told by our ancestors about the MYSTERY of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Now, I am often asked if the parables we tell during Advent are true. By which my questioners usually mean, “Did these parables actually happen the way the bible says they happened?” To which I always respond, “ABSOLUTLY! They are most certainly true!” I then add the words of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, who would insist, “I don’t know if these things happened the way they are written in the bible. But I do know that they are true.” Our Parables of DIVINITY series begins with a splendid parable in which truth is revealed. It is the kind of truth which has the power to turn our carefully held assumptions inside-out and upside-down. Unfortunately, the radical nature of our first Parable of DIVINITY has been domesticated and simplified, dumbed down, and rendered mundane and inoffensive. Inoffensive that is except for the matter of that tiny little word which is the victim of so many inaccurate translations. If only the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Matthew hadn’t made such a rookie error when he translated the Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah into Greek, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do. You see whoever this Matthew was, he certainty didn’t pay enough attention when he attempted to use the words of Isaiah to describe Mary of Nazareth. Instead of doing his homework, Matthew relied on the work of previous male translators who mansplained a simple Hebrew noun into Greek which resulted in a young woman named Mary ending up as a perpetual virgin. I kid you not. These gentlemen translators managed to take the Hebrew word for a “young woman” mistranslate it into Greek as “virgin”, and the anonymous guy we call Matthew either never bothered to check his Greek Septuagint, or for reasons of his own, he decided that Mary was a not just a young woman but also a virgin and years later the Church, and I’m talking about the Imperial Church of Rome here, they added the perpetual part and before long, women everywhere have had to deal with the glorification, or the vernation, and objectification of virginity. But I digress. Insane notions tying virginity and motherhood up in a neat bow while tying women up in knots is a subject for another sermon.
What I want to talk about today are two Parables of DIVINITY, which I’m calling “Annunciations from the Margins. “Annunciation” from the Latin verb “annuntiare” which can be translated as “to announce” or “to proclaim” or my favourite translation, “to bring tidings.” Usually during Advent, these tidings are thought of as “tidings of great joy.” But not all tidings are joyous. Especially when those tidings are delivered to people who live in the margins of society. Before we deal with the familiar parable of the Annunciation of the YOUNG WOMAN Mary, I’d like to remind you of the first Annunciation parable in the Bible. Now some of you may think I’m talking about the parable of Hannah which is found in 1st Samuel. Probably because Hannah’s Song finds expression in Mary’s Magnificat. These are parables we’ll get to later in Advent. For now, you’ll have to cast your minds all the way back to the book of Genesis to discover the first Annunciation parable. Genesis 16 to be exact. Listen to this marvelous translation of the parable of the Annunciation of Hagar. You remember Hagar from the story of Sarah and Abraham. Our parable takes place back when Sarah went by the name Sarai. By the way, Sarai is a Hebrew name which translates as “my princess” or as I like to think of Sarah it can also be translated as DININITY’s Princess. As you no doubt remember, Hagar was the woman Abraham turned to when DIVINITY’s Princess could not conceive a child. Like Sarah, Hagar would become the mother of nations. But as our parable begins the women are estranged and Hagar has run away, she’s taken flight. Listen to the Annunciation of Hagar:
Recorded on the First Sunday of Advent 2018
Let me begin, good friends, by addressing you in the same way that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we know as Luke addressed his congregation, for I trust that each one of you are indeed “Theophilus”. LOVER of GOD from the Greek words: “theo” which means “God” and “philus” which means “lover”.
Dearest lovers of God, welcome to the Gospel according to Luke. ‘Tis the season for the first two chapters of Luke which read much like a Broadway musical. While others may have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events exactly as they were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses, the anonymous, gospel-storyteller that, for the want of knowing his or her actual name, we call Luke, has put together an opening to his portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in the grand style of Jewish midrash, with a cast of characters aptly named to put his audiences in mind of some of the Jewish people’s greatest heroes; a real blast from the past with a view toward a new kind of future. Over the years, those who have heard Luke’s account have added the musical score which includes Zachariah’s “Bennedictus,” Elizabeth’s “Hail Mary” as well as Mary’s “Magnificat”. And that’s just in the first chapter!
The Gospel we call Luke came into the life of the Christian community in the late 9thor early 10thdecade of the Common Era, or some sixty years after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. It opens with a magical birth story never intended to be viewed as history. Let me say that again. It opens with a magical birth story that was never intended to be viewed as history. The story is filled with supernatural signs: angels that sing, fetuses that communicate, a virgin that conceives and even a post-menopausal pregnancy. It is the author of Luke’s attempt to capture in parabolic language the essence of who he thinks Jesus is – namely the one through whom God can be experienced.
Like I said before, the author is unknown to us. The name Luke was given decades, perhaps centuries after the book was actually written. All we really know about the author is that he, by his own admission, was not an eye-witness to the events of Jesus’ life. We know from his own writing that he wrote excellent Greek; a feat only accomplished by the most highly educated people of his day. Based on the way he wrote, and the phrases he used, experts have concluded that he was in all likelihood a gentile convert to Judaism who then became a Christian. By his own account, he is writing not an accurate detailed account, but rather, an account that will make theophilus, the lovers of God, believe. His account takes the form of a series of short stories; short stories that are easily dramatized. Some, New Testament scholars believe that these stories were told over and over again in dramatic ways; ways designed to hold the interest of their audiences. Continue reading
As we near the end of the Church Year, our lectionary turns to texts about the end of the world. Three years ago, when this text came up, we had only just begun posting video recordings of sermons…the world has ended many times since then. It happens every day…but back then we had no idea what lay before us..and yet…here we go again…
It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate. It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.
Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died. Continue reading
As some prepare to celebrate All Saints Sunday and are struggling with the gospel reading, I have been asked several times to repost this sermon from 2018. I will be dipping into the parable of Lazarus again on Sunday, may the communion of saints continue to call us out from our tombs!
WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.” and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.
Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.
For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress. I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.
Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”. I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!
How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear! Continue reading
On this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, I too must revisit the truth of my own prejudice and privilege. Forgive me, but I cannot remember her name. Staring back through the mists of time, I can however remember the pain in her eyes. More than four decades have passed since I lived and worked in Vancouver’s East End. I was young, young and foolish, young and carefree, young and adventurous, and young and callous. In my early twenties, I was still trying to figure out who I was. So, I was in no condition to understand who she was. How could I know? None of us knew…right? We didn’t know. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
I did know Jesus back then. Some might even say that I was obsessed with knowing Jesus. I went to church every Sunday and I hung out with church people. Not common behaviour for kids in their twenties. The God I knew and worshipped back then was the “Father.” The Father Almighty. I was young, the world was my oyster. My future stretched out before me. I knew that my work in the travel industry was only temporary; just a means to an end, a way to make money so that I could spend that money enjoying life. At the time, I was working in an unglamorous part of the wholesale travel industry packaging holidays, to Mexico and Hawaii. We used to joke that it wasn’t exactly brain surgery, just bums on seats, just filling every plane our company chartered with warm bodies so that they could get away from Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-soaked winters. Bums on seats, anybody could do the job; day in and day out filling airplanes, it was positively mind-numbing work.
The company I worked for occupied an entire three-story office building on the northern edge of Vancouver’s East Side, which at the time was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Back then, the gentrification of the East-End which Expo 86 and then the 2010 Olympics brought, couldn’t even be imagined. Good upstanding middle-class people avoided the poverty of the East-end, unless of course they were young like me, and then the depravity of the neighbourhood was kind of a badge of honour. So, we braved the streets on our way to dance the night away in the clubs which sprang up on the edge of the East-End, where rents were cheap, and the cops had so much more to worry about than the kind of mischief which we got into. I lived and worked in the East-End and saved my money for the life which stretched out before me.
I wish I could remember her name. But the pain in her eyes, those dark mournful eyes, that I will never forget. I’d warned her more than once. It was against the rules. She was hired to clean our offices. She was to go about her work and make sure that she had the place spick-and span, ready in time for us when we arrived in the morning, and then she would be on her way. But time and time again, I’d find her lingering, long past the time she should have been gone, she’d still be there lingering and talking on our telephone. She was our cleaner, she had no business using our phones. Remember, back then mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction movies. I was the newly minted supervisor of the reservations department. It was to me that the staff came to complain about the untidy conditions in the staff room. If she spent as much time doing her job as she did sneaking around making phone calls, we wouldn’t have to put up with the unwashed mugs in the sink. I warned her repeatedly, but she just wouldn’t listen.
My boss told me to fire her; but I was young, and I’d never fired anyone before. Besides, I thought I knew better. I thought, wouldn’t Jesus want me to give her just one more chance. Forgive me, I thought I could save her. I wasn’t planning to save her for Jesus or anything as crass as that, oh no, I was going to save her from herself. I was going to redeem her from her lazy self and see to it that she kept her job. Forgive me, I did not see my racism for what it was. The phrase, “I didn’t know” rises in me even though truth demands that I confess, I must have known.
Back then, in my world of privilege there were no aboriginals, no indigenous people, just plain old Indians. She couldn’t have been much older than I was at the time, but her face was haggard by a life I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But I was young, and I thought, I knew it all, and I knew if she didn’t shape up, I’d have to ship her out. Out onto the streets of the East-End where she could join her sisters; she’d probably end up turning tricks like the rest of them, if I didn’t save her from herself. Forgive me, I really had no idea what I was thinking or what I was doing, or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I like to excuse what I remember by claiming that my youth was the problem. I don’t like to see my thoughts or my actions for what they were.
I took her into my office, this woman whose name I have forgotten, and I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to use the company phones for personal calls. She was there to clean and nothing more. She was very apologetic. She begged me not to fire her. She tried to explain that the phones in the rooming house where she lived were always out of order and she couldn’t afford the payphone and she only made calls that were local. I held my ground. Her excuses did not sway me. She’d just have to stop using the office phones. She had to understand that she’d lose her job if she couldn’t follow the rules. I was only trying to help her or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I never asked her who she was calling. It never occurred to me that her need might be more important than the rules. I had to be firm. I had to show my boss that his faith in me was not miss-placed. I might have been young, but I wasn’t going to let this “Indian” pull the wool over my eyes. This Indian’s eyes filled up and I sunk back into my chair, somehow undone by the thought that tears might be about to make an appearance. Remembering who I was back then, I suspect that I may have shot up a prayer to the “Father” silently asking for the strength to do my job.
Looking back now at the young woman that I was, I can’t help wondering what the woman I am now could possibly say to that earnest young thing, to break her out of the shell she was so carefully encased in. I try to tell myself that I was a product of my culture, trapped by the prejudices of generations of imperialism. I had absolutely no idea who that woman was who toiled away as the office cleaner. Sure, I recognized her as an Indian. But back then, I didn’t know then that, native women who left the reserves lost their status as Indians and thereby forfeited their rights. I recognized that she was a woman, but I didn’t know that based on her age, she may in all likelihood have suffered the indignities of the residential school system which basically kidnapped children from their families and held them captive. The very system which afforded me such privilege, was designed to wipe any trace of their culture from the minds of indigenous children or to put it in the words of our own government, “to kill the Indian in the child.”
I recognized that she was our cleaner, who probably made less than minimum wage, but I had no idea that she was trapped in an endless cycle of poverty from which there wasn’t much possibility of escape. I did recognize that she was a human being, but in my arrogance, I believed that if only she’d pull herself up by her own bootstraps, she’d be able to keep her job and maybe one day be able to make something of herself. I was as determined to be firm but kind. It was for her own good that I warned her that unless she applied herself to the work at hand, I’d have no choice but to let her go. Forgive me but I didn’t know or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I wish I could go back and do it all differently; but that’s not how life works.
The crimes of our past haunt us, and we must learn to live with the consequences. Those deep, dark, tear-filled, eyes peer out, they peer out at me from my distant past. Today, I, we, know so very much more than we once did and still we have so very much more to learn. The horrors which continue to be revealed have exposed the deep wounds in our nation and in the nations of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We may like to remember it with rose coloured glasses, excusing ourselves by claiming ignorance, or youthful inexperience. But reconciliation requires the truth.
We settlers must confess that the foundations of our privilege include the horrors of genocide, stolen lands, residential schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and the lack of safe drinking water, together with our compliance, denials, and arrogance. We settlers must learn to listen to the stories of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We settlers must learn to see all those tear-filled eyes which peer out from our past, present and futures. We must listen to and learn the truth behind those tears. We must also be prepared to confess our truth; all of it, known and as yet unknown, all of it. For without truth there can be no reconciliation.
Today, I look back on the young woman that I was, and I can forgive her for being arrogant, stupid and unknowing. I can even forgive her for her faith in the great big Father in the Sky to whom she prayed for forgiveness, trusting that He had everything under control and there was no work for her to do. We’ve all come a long way from the days when we called our sisters and brothers Indians and passed by not caring about the horrors of our history or the travesties of the present. We know that the LOVE which we call, “GOD,” lives, and breathes, and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. We know that the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality finds expression in us. We know that the deaths of our sisters are an abomination. The plight of our Indigenous sisters and brothers is Canada’s great shame. It is also the shame of each and every settler who continues to prosper as a result of the privilege we so blithely take for granted. We can turn away, or we can simply offer up a prayer to the Great Sky God, and hope that somebody somewhere does something. Or we can allow the plight of our sisters and brothers to move the SPIRIT which lives in us to find expression in our actions.
I wish I could remember her name. But I cannot remember her name. I can see her deep, dark, tear-filled eyes. Her eyes cry out to me from my past. Her eyes continue to cry out to me as I recall her truth. A few days after I told her to stay off the office telephones, I over-heard her tell one of the other women who we worked with, that she had moved to the East-End to search for her daughters. Two of her daughters were missing; vanished without a trace. She worked as our cleaner, she lived in a rooming house, she embraced the poverty of the East End in a desperate search for her daughters. Two daughters who had left their home searching for a better life in the city.
4,000 murdered and missing women and girls, and over 2,000 of those cases remain unsolved to this day. 4,000 murdered and missing women and girls. That’s a very big number. Numbers mean something; two, two, missing daughters. One is far too big a number for us to comprehend when it comes to imagining the loss of a daughter; two is a number that would destroy must of us. 4,000 Stolen Sisters is a number that is more than we can bear; more than we can tolerate, more than we can ignore, and yet we know that that number continues to grow. More than 1,300 unmarked graves at residential school sites and we know that that number is going to grow. More than 60 Indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water. The suicide rate among Indigenous peoples is 3 times that of settlers! The truth is disturbing. And so many of us are tempted to look away. Reconciliation requires truth.
Our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers have so much to teach us. But it is not enough to leave the truth-telling to others. We must search our own hearts, our own minds, our own stories to discover our truth, to learn from our past mistakes, to discover our own complicity in the pain of our neighbours.
Today, on this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, churches all over the world are also celebrating the Season of Creation’s theme, A Home for All. A Home for All in this “O Canada our home and stolen land.” Much needs to happen before this home we love is a safe, equitable place in which all people may thrive. We must begin with the truth about our home. We must confess the truth of our past and present so that the future ushers in justice and peace for ALL in this home we share.
May the ONE who is LOVE, find expression in with through and beyond us, so that we can become LOVE in the world, LOVE in our communities, LOVE in our lands, LOVE in right relationship with ALL our sisters and brothers. Let it be so. Let it be so among us and beyond us. Let it be so now and always. Amen.
Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting which portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings.
One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, which perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace, and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner. However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains as well. But they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is also a state of mind, a way of being, a way of doing which breaks out amid turmoil.
A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace. Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the dangers, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places. Peace is a way of being, a way of doing in a world which all too often, appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace.
SHALOM, a Hebrew word and EIRENE a Greek word, both of which we generally translate as peace. Well, our modern understanding of peace often begins and ends with seeing the word PEACE simply as a noun. But both our Hebrew and our Greek ancestors understood SHALOM and EIRENE as both a noun and perhaps more importantly as a verb. Sadly, we all too often read the word “peace” only as a noun describing the absence of conflict, war, violence, trouble, or unease.
While the word SHALOM as a noun does indeed refer to the absence of these things, it also refers to the presence of completeness, or wholeness. SHALOM and EIRENE are not just nouns, they are also verbs. In Hebrew, SHALOM is understood as the verb “to make complete,” “to repair” or “to restore,” or “to make whole.”
Our ancestors understood that life is complex. Life is a multitude of complexities, relationships, and situations. When something is out of alinement or missing, our SHALOM breaks down. When warring parties or nations are out of alinement, and war breaks out, peace is made not just by refraining from violence but by attending to what is missing in the relationships, attending to the well-being of one another, and working together for one another’s benefit. That means for the benefit of people who were once our enemies.
When the anonymous gospel-storytellers who heralded the birth of Jesus as EIRENE, they did so because Jesus’ followers saw Jesus as the restorer of wholeness, because he brought PEACE not only among the nations, tribes, and families, Jesus brought PEACE with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us all. Jesus said,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.”
If you listen to the news or tune into the media of any kind, you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. We all know that there is no peace in Afghanistan, which although it dominates the news, it is just one of many nations which has no peace. We also know that our profit driven greed and self-centeredness is at war with the Earth. The only planet we have. The ravages of climate change versus the almighty dollar and our reluctance to repair and restore, to make whole our relationship to the Earth, are writ large across our news screens.
As followers of Jesus, we are called “to peace,” which is to repair, to restore, to complete, to make whole. To peace, it is a daunting task. But the restoration, the completeness, the PEACE we long for requires us to understand PEACE as more than just a noun describing a state of being. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, needs us to embody these words as verbs, by restoring, bringing, making SHALOM, making EIRENE, making PEACE. But in our own state of incompleteness, in the absence of SHALOM in our being, we are afraid. Afraid of putting ourselves on the line. Afraid to follow Jesus into our Jerusalems. Afraid to trust our own power to resist. Afraid to say no to our overlords. Afraid to abandon the powers empire. Afraid to risk what’s ours. Afraid of the storms which rage all around us. Afraid of trusting the PEACE which is within each of us. Afraid to put our faith in a God who IS LOVE. We are afraid of the unfamiliar. We know the contours of commerce, with its violence and unfettered greed. We’ve grown accustomed to the suffering. We trust the untrustworthiness of the powerful. We learned to live with the evils of our systems. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know. And yet, the image of that mother bird tending her nest among the rocks and ravages of the storm continues to compel us. The promise of peace breaking out in our chaos, the desire for wholeness continues to allure us. Jesus’ commandment to: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” continues to inspire us.
The PEACE you have left us with dear Jesus, may not be the kind of peace the world gives, but surely it is the kind of peace which calms all fear? “Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” SHALOM the kind of PEACE which surpasses our understanding breaks out when together we find the courage to set aside all fear. Jesus said, “Those who love me will be true to my word, and Abba God will love them; and we will come to them and make our dwelling place with them.” Come oh GOD who IS LOVE. Dwell with us, in us, through us, and beyond us. Let the hopes and dreams of our ancestors move in, with, and through us. Do not let our hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. Let peace break out in the most unlikely of places. Let us begin by recognizing the PEACE which lies within. Paying attention to this gift of PEACE within us empowers us to love our enemies by tending to their well-being, so that friend and foe alike can be restored, made complete, and made whole. Let the PEACE which lives within us empower us to be peacemakers, doers of peace, bringers of peace, lovers of peace, restorers of wholeness. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, in the name and for the sake of the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Amen.
View the full Worship Video below.
Six years ago, I returned to Belfast after a long absence. In addition to the joys of visiting family, I attended a festival celebrating radical theology. The festival ended with a pub crawl on Saturday night. When Sunday morning arrived, I decided to worship at the church next door. There were more progressive options which would have been more in keeping with radical theology. St. Anne’s Cathedral drew me to her pews partly because my grandparents had been married there and my mother was baptized there. But more importantly, it has been a long time since I had been on a pub crawl, so I was a little worse for wear and St. Anne’s was just next door.
St. Anne’s is also known as the Belfast Cathedral and is part of the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. So, I knew that the liturgy would be very familiar. Being just two minutes away from the sanctuary, I was able to time my arrival just before the service began. I mean, just before the service began. I wandered up the aisle, intending to sit in the back row. However, the back row was miles away from the last row of occupied rows. So, I had to travel three quarters of the way down the aisle in order to sit in the back row of the gathered congregation. In a church which boasts a seating capacity of 4,000 people, I walked past row after row after empty row in order to join a congregation of about thirty people. As I sat in a sparsely populated row, I quickly checked my watch to make sure I in my hung-over state, I hadn’t mistaken the time, and this was not the main Sunday worship service. Perhaps it was already evening, and this was the evensong crowd? But no, it was clearly 11am and an elaborate procession of liturgical leaders were beginning their walk up the long empty aisle. I scrambled to my feet, and perused the service bulletin, ready to lend my inadequate voice to the singing of God’s praise.
Alas, our assembled voices made hardly a din in the cavernous empty cathedral. The service droned on, and on. Lots and lots of words; mostly familiar. A few hymns, mostly familiar. An inoffensive sermon, by a gentle priest. Looking forward to the Eucharist, I longed for the hymn of the day to end. Flipping the page of the service bulletin, I came across an old nemesis. The liturgical option to use the Creeds, either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed, is not something we at Holy Cross have done for many years. Sadly, the majority of Anglican and Lutheran congregations do. There it was, right there on the page, a rubric instructing the assemble to turn to the Apostles’ Creed. I dutifully obliged, turning to the appropriate page as the congregation completed the hymn. There on the page, I began to inwardly read and digest the words of the Apostles’ Creed.
It had been a long time since the familiar words took up space in my mind. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead…” Wait a minute. The words are so familiar, they are in my bones, they are part of who I am. But suddenly it was not the words which drew my focus. I’d long since given up on the patriarchal language, or Mary’s virginity, or the judgmental threats to the living which I knew were coming. Not even the inherent sacrificial atonement theology could hold my attention in that nearly empty cathedral. My eye, my mind, my whole being was firmly fixed on a punction mark. I’ve always known it was there, but on that morning, I actually felt that tiny, monumental, comma’s impact. The entire life of Jesus is reduced to a comma which sits between his birth to a mythical virgin, and his death at the hands of the forces of empire. Jesus’ life, his teachings, his loves, his passions, his story, and most of all Jesus’ humanity is reduced to a comma.
I quickly turned to the Nicene Creed to confirm what I already knew. “We believe in one God, the father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in on Lord, Jesus Christ the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” No mere comma this time, but a period. No sooner is the DIVINE Jesus born of a mythical virgin to become human, than with a definitive period does Jesus’ life pale in comparison to his death. I stood frozen, paralyzed by the reality of a comma’s momentous power, and a period’s precise ability to move the attention of generations of believers from the magnitude of Jesus life to visions of an other-worldly kingdom from which judgement of the living and the dead would be doled out between this world and the next.
Sweet Jesus, where are you? Where is your life in these iron clad, deliberately laid out, statements of faith, to which we are expected to say: “I believe, We believe?” Our creeds reduce Jesus’ life to a comma, or a period. The tiny little punctuation marks designed to shift our focus elsewhere. These tiny punctuation marks, they move us along without another thought to Jesus’ life, his teachings, his way of being in the world, his humanity. I closed the hymnal, and I took my leave. Outside the sun in all its glory beckoned me on to the streets of Belfast were actual humans greeted me with nods and smiles. I found my way back to my hotel, where the concierge greeted me, with a friendly smile and questions: “Is church over already? How was it?” To which I happily answered, “Yes. I believe it is. For me anyway.” The happy concierge replied, “Sure, that says more than you meant, I’m sure.” …I believe it does.
Credo, from the Latin verb credere which is the first word in both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. Credo a Latin verb which our English hymnals translate as: I believe in the Apostles’ Creed and We believe in the Nicene Creed. Is it any wonder that Christianity, is all too obsessed with believing? Continue reading
He was screaming at me. Clearly, he was furious with me. His face was beet red. He kept jabbing the air in front of my face with his finger. The veins in his neck were raised and throbbing. He kept going on and on and on about how wrong I was. I tried to calm him down, but he could no longer hear anything I was saying. He was so inflamed by my original statement that nothing I could say or do short of falling to my knees and begging his forgiveness for having been so wicked would suffice.
So, I just stood there, hoping that eventually he would wear himself out and quiet down long enough for us to agree to disagree. But his enthusiasm for his cause was stronger than I’d anticipated. He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth, and that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO matter who they are, or how good they may be, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THORUGH JESUS CHIRST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE! The sooner I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and quit trying to figure out ways to get people into heaven through the back door the better off I would be. Furthermore, unless I was willing to confess the error of my ways, then I had no business calling myself a Christian, because I was clearly damned to hell.
I can still see the anger and the hatred in my old friend’s face. Anger which seemed so out of place. We were on retreat in the mountains of British Columbia. We had just listened to a beautiful sermon about the Many Mansions which God has prepared for all of us. Not surprisingly my friend took exception to the preacher’s emphasis on God’s different ways of including the different people of the world into God’s LOVE. Over lunch we argued about just what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. NO one comes to the Father except through me.” My friend, it seems, had all the answers. Those who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will never be acceptable in the sight of God. They will never be included in the Kingdom of God, for indeed they are all damned to hell! I could not accept that a loving and gracious God could be so cruel. So, I walked away from my friend and his theology.
I did my best to find another way to explain Jesus’ words. Maybe it was the hatred in my old friend’s eyes, but there was something about Jesus’ words which were getting in the way of the WORD. I ignored Jesus’ exclusive words and I focused on Jesus’ words about ABBA’s many mansions. This method worked for me for quite a while. Then one day, while I was studying for an under-graduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I was confronted once again by Jesus’ words which continued to get in the way of the WORD. Words I believed to be incompatible with the Jesus’ WAY of being LOVE in the world. We were studying the history of inter-faith dialogue. Our class was made up of Hindu’s, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Sikhs, and one lonely Buddhist. Together, we discussed the problems which have happened down through the centuries when people of different faiths encounter one another.
One day, we were given a very engaging assignment. We were teamed up with a member of another faith tradition and asked to bring to the table a piece of sacred scripture from our partner’s faith tradition that we found intriguing. Of course, this meant that we had to read the sacred scriptures of another tradition.
My partner was a young Hindu named of all things Nigel. Nigel had been born in India to parents who dreamed of having their son educated in England. So, they gave him an English name and they were so delighted when their son decided to seek an education in Canada. Nigel was a devout Hindu. He was familiar with the New Testament, and he was intrigued with, as Nigel would say, “this fellow Jesus.” During my studies, I had read the Bhagavad Gita, and was familiar with its representations of the spiritual struggle of the human soul. I hadn’t yet read the Upanishads, so under Nigel’s tutoring I worked my way through, what he lovingly called, the Himalayas of the Soul, while Nigel renewed his acquaintance with the Gospel of John.
After several weeks of study Nigel and I selected the texts that we would study together. I chose a text from the Bhagavad Gita which roughly translates as “All paths lead to the same goal.” (4:11) I chose this text because the notes in the commentary indicated that many Hindu’s believe that because God is all-pervading, where else can any path lead. With this text, Nigel and I explored the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale representations of the One True God and that all pathways will eventually lead to this God. Continue reading
When I was a kid, my family moved around quite a bit. All that moving about, and always being the new kid at school, it really messed me up. It’s not surprising that I started hanging out with a gang. If I’d known what this gang was all about, I would never have gotten involved with them. What I didn’t know when I started hanging out with this gang was that the members of this gang all had one thing in common, they were all part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’d never heard of before; a retreat, a weekend at a place called Camp Luther. So, at the tender age of fifteen, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. As I figured out who and what this gang was, I worried that they might be a cult. But it was kind of exciting to flirt with the idea of a cult.
The very first exercise that we were assigned was to team up with someone we didn’t know and share our favorite bible passage. Well, this gang was about to discover that I didn’t belong there. You see, I didn’t have a favorite bible passage. I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, and I hadn’t read very much of the bible. Well, I hadn’t read the bible at all. So, I decided to break the rules of the exercise and I teamed up with someone I knew slightly and suggested that she go first. Danna recited her favorite Bible passage from memory. I was astounded at her ability to quote such a long passage from memory. Later I would find out that she was a “PK”; that’s code for pastor’s kid. I can still remember the passion with which Danna described her love for this particular passage. Danna’s favorite bible passage quickly became my favorite passage as well. I told Danna so, right then and there; conveniently getting myself off the hook of trying to come up with a favorite passage of my own.
1st Corinthians chapter 13. Danna recited it from a brand-spanking new translation of the Bible; you may remember, if you are of a certain age, it was called “Good News for Modern Man:”
“I may be able to speak the languages of man and even of angels but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching, I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt—but if I have no love this does me no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable, love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I have grown up, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain; faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” As Danna spoke of her love for this passage, I began to glimpse my own deepest longings. With all of who I was at the age of 15, I knew that I wanted to know this kind of love. I was so overcome with longing, that right there in front of everyone, I began to weep. I was so overwhelmed. The Pastor leading the retreat, noticed my pain and gently encouraged me to simply weep. No one said a word. But I was keenly aware of their presence.
Later that evening, in the glow of the firelight, I mustered up the courage to ask the Pastor what his favorite passage from scripture was. The words he spoke continue to resonate deeply in me: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence? As scripture says, “For your sake, we’re being killed all day long; we we’re looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because God has loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither angels nor demons, neither anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Saviour.”
Again, I wept. The realization that the LOVE which longed for was already mine and that nothing could separate me from that LOVE, overwhelmed me. The community which I encountered back then, was not perfect. But I was a child, and I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Over time, I began to see that gang of young people. I began to see them for the imperfect tribe that we were. As I grew in knowledge and experience, I also saw the church which introduced me to the MYSTERY which is LOVE is far from perfect. I’m guessing that most of us have had our illusions about communities, especially church communities shattered at one time or another. Continue reading
Awe came upon me one hot August night when I was only 17 years old. That night there was supposed to be a particularly amazing meteor shower. So, about a dozen of us, we headed down to the beach, where there was boardwalk, to sleep out under the stars. It was a fabulous night. No adults were there to tell us what to do. So, we were trying on what it would feel like to be an adult ourselves and to do what we wanted, when we wanted. We had good friends to talk to. There was swimming after dark. We had an illegal campfire to make us feel just a little bit afraid that someone might catch us doing something a little beyond our abilities. It was a brilliant night. We laughed and we played, and we solved all the problems of the world, but we never saw a single meteor.
Around 3 o’clock in the morning we finally settled down to sleep. I’m not sure what woke me up. But I do remember looking up and seeing nothing but stars, and when the first meteor streaked across the sky, rather than waking up my friends so that they could see what I was seeing, I just lay there watching as streak after streak stretched across the darkness. I knew in my head that these were meteors, but it was as if the stars were putting on a show just for me. I’d never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Suddenly the Cosmos, was more than just a backdrop of my imagination. The Cosmos was there, right there in all its glory. It was the most beautiful display of cosmic grandeur. I was totally overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Far from feeling small, I felt like I was big enough to reach out and touch the stars. It was wonderful. There were moments when I felt that I wasn’t the only one doing the watching. There I was lying below the sky, looking up, feeling strangely at peace. For the first time, it felt as though I was actually being watched and seen. I was being seen and I was being known by something bigger than the sky.
In a sea of a billion galaxies, I felt the CREATOR of all that IS, surrounding me. The gentle sea breeze seemed to caress me, and for the first time in my life, I became conscious that I am part of something far larger than myself and I felt my heartbeat begin to quicken. Serenaded by the heavy breathing of my companions, I began to wonder about stardust, about breath, and wind, and about this thing called the SPIRIT, and I knew that somehow the heart of what I was staring into was miraculously related to the heart that which was beating so quickly in me. And the tears flowed, and I knew such joy. It was as if the Cosmos itself had opened up inside of me, and for the first time I knew who and what I am. I also knew somehow, deeply knew, that the breath in me and the SPIRIT at the heart of the universe that was exploding before my eyes, is intimately ONE.
I remember my joy was tinged with a kind of fear, because I knew that this was bigger than anything I’d ever been able to imagine, and I wondered if my head was about to explode. I remember laughter rising within me, which I suppressed because I didn’t want my friends to wake up and find me deliriously happy, like some kind of crazy person. I knew I’d never be able to explain the joy I was feeling. Nothing had ever filled me so full. I had no words with which to explain my experience. I still don’t have the words to describe this mystical experience. I felt as though my whole being was going to burst open because the joy, and love which I felt simply could not be contained. Over the years, I have returned to this experience to try to put into words an experience which is BEYOND words.
For a long time, I used the word “God” to describe what I was experiencing. At the time I remember thinking that GOD had better ease off just a little or I was going to entirely loose the plot. GOD was too much to take in. I wasn’t sure I could take much more, when suddenly; the sky began to change its hue. I was conscious of colour behind me. Don’t ask me how you can be conscious of colour, I just was. I was afraid to look toward the colour, because I knew that behind me the Sun would be rising, and if tiny meteors streaking across the sky could do what they did to me, I wasn’t sure I could handle the magnificence of the Sun rising. I closed my eyes, and in the darkness of my own mind, I felt the power of GOD overwhelming me.
In the Book of Genesis, there is a powerful story about one of our ancestors named Jacob. The story takes place after Jacob has tricked his father into giving him the blessing which according to their custom, should have gone to his older twin brother Esau. Jacob has just left home and is travelling through the desert when he sets up camp for the night. Jacob takes a rock and uses it as a pillow. During the night, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a ladder, which stretches from the ground all the way up into the realm of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God. The Hebrew text uses the unspeakable name for God – YAHWEH – a word so sacred that the Hebrews did not speak it, a word which translates into English as “I AM WHO I AM!” Messengers of the DIVINE MYSTERY were travelling up and down Jacob’s dream ladder. Jacob could see the MYSTERY standing over him and from the HOLY ONE Jacob received the knowledge that his descendants would be as numerous as the specks of dust on the ground; spreading out all over the Earth and those descendants, that’s us, we, Jacob’s descendants would see ourselves as blessed by our ancestor Jacob. From the DIVINE MYSTERY, Jacob knew that the HOLY ONE would never leave him. Then Jacob woke and said, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” He was filled with trembling and said, “How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than the dwelling place of God; this is the gate to heaven! Jacob rose early the next morning and took the stone which he had used as a pillow and set it up as a monument and he anointed it with oil. Jacob named the place BETHEL “House of God” saying, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” Continue reading
Years ago, when I was in the business of developing package holiday tours, I traveled on a junket to the city of Lima which was sponsored by the government of Peru. The Peruvian government tourist office was trying to convince the travel industry that Lima was about to become the hottest destinations for North Americans. I had never been to Peru before, but based on what I knew of the conditions in Peru, I strongly doubted that Canadians would be flocking there in great numbers. The now defunct Canadian Pacific Airways, had just opened up a new air route to Lima and it was my job to put together holiday packages for the airline. These government sponsored tours are designed to showcase a destination in its best light. So, I was not surprised when we were quickly hustled out of the airport in luxurious limos and taken to the best hotel in the city. That night after a magnificent meal we were briefed by the government tourism officials on what we could expect to find in the streets of Lima. During the course of our briefing, we were warned that from time to time during our stay we would undoubtedly run into “the odd beggar or two.”
The odd beggar or two? That phrase struck me as odd at the time. But now it fills me with shame as I remember passively listening without comment. We were instructed not to let these beggars bother us. We were assured that many of them weren’t nearly as bad off as they looked and that we shouldn’t allow them to play on our sympathies and spoil our stay in Lima. According to our guide, begging was a way of life for most of the people who lived on the streets and if we showed them any courtesy, they would only try to take advantage of us. We were also warned to leave any valuables in the hotel safe. Wearing jewelry of any kind was strongly discouraged by our government guides.
The next morning as we prepared for our sightseeing tour, my assistant John and I, we dutifully deposited our valuables into the hotel safe. Before we left the hotel, John, who’d been on a few of these junkets with me in the past, asked me if I had enough change. John knew that our guide’s instructions about giving money to beggars would have, as usual, fallen on deaf ears. John didn’t like the idea that no matter where we were, if someone asked me for a handout, I always tried to oblige. John insisted that giving money to beggars sends out the wrong signal. He insisted that if you give money to one, then you’ll have to give money to all of them, and there’s no way that you can solve a beggar’s problems with a few coins, let alone deal with the problems of all the beggars who’ll jump on the gravy train. John and I had long since stopped arguing about the matter. We’d worked together for a long time, and we’d agreed to disagree, besides I was his boss, so rather than try to argue with me John just sort of looked out for me and tried to make sure I didn’t get myself into too much trouble. I had assured John that I had enough small change to see us through the morning, but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught from the homeless children of Peru.
It only took about ten minutes before my pockets were empty. When I ran out of coins, I was stunned when John took over where I left off. In the past, John had always managed to stick to his guns, but these kids somehow managed to get to him. It’s difficult for North Americans to understand how small children can be allowed to roam the streets. The poverty is beyond comprehension. I don’t remember much about the city of Lima. I couldn’t tell you anything about the tourist attractions which we visited. But I can still remember the pain and desperation in the eyes of the children we encountered. At lunch, John and I filled our pockets with left over bread and bits of cheese, which we gave to the children who accosted us outside the restaurant. John kept blaming me for starting something that we had no hope of finishing. But despite his insistence that we adopt a tougher stance, it was John who hustled over to the shop across the street and bought several loaves of bread, which he distributed, to a small band of kids who followed us the rest of the afternoon.
As we headed back to our hotel, I think both John and I took some consolation in the knowledge that for at least a few hours, the little band of kids who were following us, had food in their bellies. We were discussing the relative merits of buying these kids dinner, when a boy, who couldn’t have been more than about ten years old, came around the corner and blocked our way. Before John could do anything, the boy grabbed me by the arm. John was about to reach for the boy’s shoulder, but something in the boy’s appearance stunned John into stillness. The oozing sores which covered most of the boy’s face were revolting. It was as though this child was actually rotting before our very eyes. Before John or I could recover from the horror of being in such close proximity to septic human flesh, the boy reached for the silver necklace which hung around my neck. I had tucked the silver cross which hung around my neck inside my shirt so as not to attract attention to it. But as the boy took hold of the chain, the cross was revealed. The boy hesitated for just a moment, and the two of us exchanged a glace which contained such sorrow. And then in a flash, the boy, the chain, and the silver cross were gone. Continue reading
Metanoia is one of my favorite words in all of Scripture. Metanoia is also one of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. In the very first chapter of the first gospel written sometime after the year 70, by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark, the story of Jesus begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordon, followed by a brief allusion to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness.
In all of this, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller’s Jesus remains silent, speaking not a word until the verse 15thverse of the first chapter, where we are told that John has been arrested and Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Listen to the first account of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth, when Jesus’ proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Jesus’ first words, according to the first of the four anonymous gospel accounts. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth, “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!”
After giving us this first proclamation of Jesus, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller immediately moves the story on by taking Jesus for a walk down by the Sea of Galilee in search of some fishers to whom Jesus speaks his next words, “Follow me!” and you know how the rest of the story goes.
Sadly, very few of us seem to pay much attention to the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia. Such a beautiful word. Such a monumental beginning. Metanoia if only we could hear the blessing Jesus offered humanity, with this wondrous commandment, metanoia. Sadly, this magnificent commandment metanoia has been abused over the centuries. Tragically, translators have for far too long, offered us a severely limited translation of metanoia; a translation which fails to capture the richness or the beauty of metanoia.
For far too long, far too many of us have been stuck in our ways, the very ways from which Jesus was trying to set people free. We have been stuck in our ways but the little, limiting, restrictive, incomplete, dare I say, ugly translation of the word metanoia. Repent. Repent, I say. Repent! Repent, look it up. Worse yet, Google it. Repent, let me quote Google for you, Repent means, “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” Google even uses it in a sentence: “the priest urged his listeners to repent.” Can it be that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were: “feel or express sincere regret or remorse”? Well, I’m sure that there are all sorts of people who believe that we must repent if we want to follow Jesus. But as for me, I’m not buying it.
Did you ever notice how very often the little English word “repent” is followed by a dire warning designed to inspire fear? Repent or else something terrible is going to happen to you! The number of times the little word “repent” is used to inspire fear and trembling in the name of Jesus, makes me wonder why so many of Jesus’ would-be followers have forgotten Jesus’ instructions about fear itself. Why is it that so many Christians are so well versed in the Ten Commandments, or the Greatest Commandment but so very few of us are as well versed in the top commandment? By top commandment, I mean the commandment most often cited in our sacred Scriptures. The commandment, “Do not be afraid,” appears 366 times in the Bible. As they say in Ireland, “366 times that’s once for every day of the year and once for no reason at all.” “Do not be afraid.” In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, we hear first the voice of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” say it again and again, and then Jesus says over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” Continue reading
Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.
I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.
Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?
That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses.
It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land. Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.
I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.
I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years. I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.
Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.
“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS. It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS. Continue reading
Happy Pride everyone! For those of us who are queer survivors of the church’s long history of persecution, these are indeed glorious days! For centuries, the church has had a problem with sexuality, sexualities of all descriptions, whether gay, or straight, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, or gender fluid, sexualities of all types were a problem for the church! Somehow over the years, the church lost its way when it comes to the miracles which are our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Sex is a blessing, a wonderous gift from our CREATOR! And yet somehow the church failed for so very long to be grateful for the blessings of sex, sexuality, gender-diversity, and celebrating the joys of being queer, they became taboo in the church. No sex please we’re christian! Sex was distorted by the church into something perverse. The church became incapable of even discussing sexual diversity, let along celebrating with pride, those who are queer.
Our very existence in the church was taboo. There’s an interesting thing about that word taboo – you see the word didn’t come into the English language until the 18th century when Captain Cook brought it back with him from New Zealand. Our word “taboo” comes from the Maori, “tapu” which actually means sacred, holy, to be revered, handed down with reverence, and somehow over the decades this beautiful Maori word for sacred and holy was changed, as language is often changed. This word was changed into a perverse word which means unspeakable or worse yet untouchable. A taboo is something to be hidden away, ignored, denied, or destroyed. In my lifetime, I have been taught by the church to condemn homosexuality, which for me meant learning to despise who I am, so much so, that I chose to hide who I am. Today, I am proud of who I am.
I am also grateful for the blessing of being a proud same-gender-loving, queer pastor. We’ve come a long way in a few decades. Pride celebrations give us an opportunity to remember where we have been, look at where we are and to discover hope for the future, for journey that we are on; this journey of equality and inclusion. Which we hope will become a reality for more and more of our LGBTQI2s+ sisters and brothers all over creation.
One of the things that we wanted to do this morning was to reflect a little bit on where we’ve been and then explore some of the places we might like to go. So, I was wondering if the members of the Worship Team would be willing to share with me some of their experiences with queer folk and so I invited them to join me this morning. We’re just going to have a conversation and invite you to eavesdrop on our conversation about where we have been. So, if someone is willing to start by giving us a little clue into some of your experiences with LGBTQ folk.
OK to start. I was nursing at Toronto General in the late 70s early 80s. I’d grown up in England and really not come across any openly gay people. So, coming to Toronto was was quite an experience for me. But one day we were going into a patient who was HIV positive and the doctor dressed up in gowns and gloves and so did I. I think we had to take blood. And so, we went in very carefully, very aware of what we touched and what we didn’t charge, very aware of the needle and recapping it. And then the patient’s partner came in. No gown. No gloves. He came in and he massaged the patient’s feet. I was so struck by y the love, the pure selfless love with which he demonstrated he cared about his partner. And I thought, boy some marriages could do with a little bit more of this. Plus, the fact that I am not very keen on peoples’ feet. So to massage someone else’s feet is way up there for me. I’ve never forgotten the love and to me that’s really all that matters between people.
Well, Jane I have to agree with you on the love. Certainly 50 years ago, I had barely heard the words gay or lesbian and I had never given the concept much thought. And then one night I was at my brother’s house, with my sister, and we had supper together , and he came out to us. Now you have to understand I had the greatest brother in the world. I was ten years older than him, so we actually became friends and got to know each other as adults. But the kindness and the compassion and the love that he had for everyone. He was so inclusive. When he came out I said to him, “OK I can support your choice.” Oy vey! Little did I know choice does not part of the equation. So I had a lot of learning to do. And he took me and taught me and I just learned so very, very much form him. He was fortunate enough to marry when the government finally allowed that. And the other really wonderful part of that, was that is partner had a son. And he, that the family time with his partner and his son where just wonderful to him. During the 80s and 90s he accompanied and lost a number of friends to HIV aids. But he was always there for them. I learned a lot from him. He was the greatest.
I also have a story from the early days. My husband was in the floral industry for over 20 years and beginning before we were even married. And so, that really automatically meant that we had many friends and acquaintances and co-workers in the industry, who were gay. And it certainly was a place of acceptance there and I have to say we learned more about unconditional love and acceptance than from many other traditional couples, heterosexual couples who we knew particularly in the church family elsewhere. As things developed, we attended a convention in the States connected with the floral events, and we took our kids with us and we stayed with a gay couple on the way down and had interactions and get togethers with many other gay people and couples, while we were down there. And upon returning, another couple not close friends but again someone in the church family, questioned us when we told them about our trip, questioned us about whether we were concerned about the influence on our children. And we said absolutely not. But we didn’t pursue it any further. We did not want to ruffle the feathers. Instead we chose then and in future days just to keep talking about our other friends and how wonderful they were and the experiences that we had with them. And by that method hoping that they would begin to think and possibly change their own minds.
Marney I like the way that you used the term traditional family. I think my growing up was fairly conservative community Church, traditional family. The community was pretty white. almost exclusively white, so to see someone else that was a different colour, let alone question whether they had a different type of family system was very unfamiliar for me. I’ve been working in healthcare for quite a number of years and certainly met people of all stripes, colours, sexual orientations within that. And I struggled to try and find a story out of that without risking sharing any personal information about patients that I’ve seen. So, I’m going to take a slightly different look at it. I’m going to look at it from my experience within the church itself. I think I told the story before, that I was the typical young man following God’s call, right. But I was the only young man in my class. So we looked at the diversity in that women and men, and young and old, a good indication that the church was moving forward with better inclusion. But boy did we have a long way to go. So, I’m grateful, really grateful to have been in the church in the last 25 years that has struggled with this inclusion. I remember some very heated assemblies, were we were engaged in some pretty nasty family fights over some of these assemblies, as we discerned who we were, and who was in, and who was out, and we’ve made some pretty substantial gains toward a fuller understanding of God’s grace that does not exclude. But certainly as a church, when I say church I mean national, regional, organization, but congregations as well, we still have quite a distance to go. It was not only the church that was growing. I was doing an incredible amount of growing and continue to grow in understanding God’s grace that does not exclude.
I went through my music degree and in the music world or have long been people of different sexual orientations. So I was introduced early on to beautiful people that I have no problem seeing God in them. I had no problem seeing full spectrum of human experience, irrespective of their sexuality. And also encountered less commonly people would identify as bisexual. And that’s the interesting part for me now, is that more and more people I meet are indicating that they’re not 100% one or the other, that there is a fluidity that is gaining legitimacy. I used to be that the gays were mad at the people who weren’t fully gay because they were betraying their true nature. But I don’t think that’s the story. I think there’s more variety than we’ve been led to believe, and society seems to be finally open letting people be. And people loving is such a powerful thing. And that’s what determines my take on everything. If it allows them to express more that needs to be encouraged and enabled and not hampered in any ways or form.
We’ve certainly come a long way from seeing any conversation in the church about our sexuality as taboo to beginning to take those first steps of being inclusive of the diversity of sexuality’s. And even celebrating sexuality and our bodies in the church. So, we’ve certainly come along way. We do have a long way to go as we as we learn from one another what it means to be fully human.
What does it mean to be fully human? Those of us who aspire to follow Jesus, we have this sacred story which will be read in churches all over the world this week. It is the story of a woman whose humanity, particularly the female attributes of her humanity cast her beyond inclusion in society. As the story goes this unnamed woman, fell prey to her society’s fears. Fears and taboos go hand in hand, and the only way I know of overcoming fears and taboos is LOVE. The healing power of LOVE is the way in which LOVE draws us into intimacy. Taboos cannot survive intimacy. The unnamed woman in our story walked up to Jesus and she touched the hem of his garment. This woman would have been oppressed by the social norms of her day; so much so that we could say that she herself was a living, walking, touching, taboo. Our Jewish ancestors believed that blood contains the sacred power of new life. We are only now beginning to discover that our Jewish foremothers were accustomed to setting themselves apart during their periods. This was a sacred time for women, a time to forgo their regular chores and hardships, a time to contemplate the sacredness of life. It was as our Maori friends would say a tapu – a sacred time. Sadly, like the word tapu itself, it didn’t take long four our ancestors to take something sacred and turn it into a taboo. What was once liberating became oppressive as our ancestors began to fear the power of blood. This unnamed woman would have been required to stay away and if she did encounter people, the law required her to shout out a warning: Unclean! Unclean! Unclean.”
In the desert heat, I expect that the smell alone would have alerted Jesus to the reality that the person who touched him was indeed a bleeding woman. When the woman fell at Jesus’ feet she was trembling with fear, she told Jesus everything and Jesus responded not by calling her out as a “bleeding woman” but by calling her “Daughter”.
Daughter. No longer an outcast but a Daughter. A member of the family. Kin. A Child. Beloved. In my sacred imagination, I like to imagine that the anonymous-gospel-storytellers told this story in a kind of male-muddled order. To hear them tell it the woman was healed before she told her story. I believe that the woman was made whole after Jesus listened to the woman and heard her tell her own story. Frightened and trembling the unnamed woman fell at Jesus’ feet and told him the whole truth of who she was.
“My Daughter,” Jesus said, “My Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace”. No longer taboo, this beloved Daughter is seen in the full glory of her humanity, a tapu, sacred, holy, divine, a beloved child of the ONE who is LOVE, the transformative power of Creation to heal and make whole.
So today, let us celebrate this LOVE which has which has brought those of us who are queer all the way from being taboo in the church to being celebrated, with PRIDE as tapu, sacred, holy, beloved, daughters, sons, genderfluid, queer, loving beings. May the LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY breathe in, with, through, and beyond each and every one of us, beLOVed children of the HOLY ONE. Happy Pride everyone! Happy Pride.
I can hear them, even now, their voices wash over me like a gentle breeze. My Grandad’s stern, crisp, Belfast accent. My Nannie’s sweet playful, almost wistful Northern Irish lilt. My Gran’s sing-songie Welsh tones. The three Grandparents I knew, and I adored, whose voices echo even now across the years, over the miles, across many waters, along this shore, prompting me with the values which were instilled in them by their grandparents. Not the least of which was the insistence that I, we, you, all of us must respect our elders. Back then, in the exuberance of my youth, I didn’t think much of the values my own elders tried to impart to me. I do remember thinking that their warnings about respecting my elders, was just their way, as my elders, of making themselves heard. Now, with my own youth and exuberance spent, the reality that I am now older than they were when my Grandparents claimed for themselves their right to be respected, I wonder if I’ve done enough to instill the values my Grandparents instilled in me, in my own grandchildren. When they stand on the shores of this majestic lake, will my voice float across the waters and if it does will the values of my elders, still be heard, so that they too will one day be able to claim for themselves the right to be respected?
This beautiful water which carries the echoes of my elder’s wisdom to me, was named by the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, Ouentironk. Ouentironk is the Anishinaabe language, and it means Beautiful Water. From the Anishinaabe elders, generation after generation have heard the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers waft across the waters of Ouentironk; teachings imparted to ensure that each generation could discover for themselves the ways to live in peace; peace with the land, peace with the waters, peace with their neighbours, peace in themselves. The teaching of the elders which insists that, “To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. To know Love is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have Respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. Truth is to know all of these things.” Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, seven sacred teachings imparted from one generation to the next, values carefully chosen to remind each generation to judge their own actions by considering how their actions will impact the harmony of generations to come.
Standing here on the shore of Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water, I cannot help wondering if generations to come will know the beauty of this water or will the ways of those of us who are settlers in this land, and the ways of our elders, will they continue to destroy the harmony of generations to come. I know that my elders held little respect for the elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. I know that the values of my own elders failed to instill in me much, if any concern for the harmony of generations to come. It is oh so telling that our own congregation’s celebration of National Indigenous Sunday does not include a single Indigenous person. While I’d like to blame the corona-virus lockdown for this, I cannot. A very big part of settler privilege is the shameful reality that most settlers, we live our lives isolated from Indigenous Peoples. The harmony of our own generation remains unrealized as a discordant cacophony rages in storm after storm. We settlers have grown weary of the discord as each storm rages: pandemic fears, accentuated by the news of systemic racism, followed by waves of nauseating grief revealed by the discovery of 215 tiny bodies, callously tossed into an unmarked grave, and the haunting reality of untold numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women. There was no time to hunker down in our small socially distant boats, before the storm of Islamophobia raged once again, sweeping away members of three generations of a family.
What will the generations to come hear from us, their elders, when they stand on this shore? What harmonies will echo down from our generation to the next, and the next, and the next? Can we settlers sift through the sins, the crimes, the abuses perpetrated by our elders and underscored by our indifference. Can we sift through these to discover some wisdom in the teachings of our past? Can we settlers listen and learn from the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers? Can we move from the discord of our white, settler privilege to harmonies which will ring true to those who suffer the pain we have wrought?
From our ancestors, we proclaim a gospel which tells the tale of a teacher and his students caught in the waves raging storm. The confident teacher, lies sleeping upon a cushion in their small boat, his students terrified that they are about to drown, wake their teacher, demanding of him, “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re going to drown?” Their teacher awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the raging waters, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind dropped, and everything was perfectly calm.
This sacred story, told down through the generations of our ancestors, now rings in our ears. Sadly, in our socially distant boats, with storms of the pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, raging all around us, we see ourselves as the demanding followers of the Teacher, left with no other choice but to wait for some sleeping teacher to wake up and save us, by magically commanding the raging waters to “Be still.” It is as if we have failed to learn anything at all from the very Teacher, we expect to save us. We settlers who profess to follow our Teacher, refuse to learn from our most revered elder, who insisted that he and the CREATOR of storms are ONE. We have forgotten the language of story itself and failed to embrace the power of metaphor to carry us beyond the storm. Jesus lived and died proclaiming the Wisdom of his own elders, which insisted that we are created in the image of our MAKER, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, empowered with such wonderous creativity and capable of unfathomable destruction. Jesus, our Teacher, insisted the only way to achieve peace was through the harmony which comes when we LOVE one another, for we are created in the image of the ONE who is LOVE and that same LOVE lives, and moves and has being in the world in, with, through, and beyond us. Yes, Jesus calmed the storm, and everything was perfectly calm. But Jesus didn’t let his students rest. Disturbed by their failure to do anything to save themselves, Jesus demanded to know, why they were so frightened? “Have you no faith?”
Have we no faith? Tossed about by the raging storms of pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, have we no faith in the creative powers which live in, with, through and beyond us? Are we content to confine the powers of LOVE to a long-ago Teacher, even if that Teacher tried with his very life to teach us that the LOVE which created us, lives in us? Our Teacher, Jesus lived to show us how to use the power of LOVE to save ourselves? Our saviour is not out there, or up there, or back there in the past. Our saviour is the ONE who IS LOVE, and that ONE, that LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Calming the raging storms, creating the harmonies of justice which in turn creates the very peace we long for. This is our work. We are called to embody the very LOVE which created us to be LOVE in the world.
But in the turmoil of so many raging storms, where do we begin? I hear my own Grandparents’ voices encouraging me to respect my elders and I wonder if perhaps, respecting my own elders means seeing them in the fullness of their humanity and recognizing that all too often the choices which they made leaned heavily into humanity’s destructive powers and not into humanity’s creative powers. As each generation evolves, we need to learn from our elders, even as we learn from our own experiences. So that, we can develop wisdom which we might impart to the generations which follow us.
Jesus, our beloved Teacher, insisted that the most important rules he learned from his elders were to LOVE our CREATOR and to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves, Jesus then went on to insist that even our enemies are in fact our neighbours, and went so far as to insist that we learn to love our enemies. So, let us respect our elders by seeking ways to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves. Surely, our LOVE for our neighbour must include learning to LOVE our neighbours’ elders as well.
So, let us look, on this Fathers’ Day to the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, who as the sacred story goes, gifted the generations which followed them with seven Teachings which even now echo across this Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water. Listen to the sacred teachings of the elders of our sisters and brothers: “To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom. To know LOVE is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. Truth is to know all of these things.”
Seven teachings may seem like a tall order for those of us who are only beginning to embrace our calling to be LOVE in the world, especially when so many storms are raging all around us.
Where do we begin? Like the students in Jesus’ boat, I want to know which teaching of the elders is the most important. Alas, to our shame, in our congregation there is no Indigenous teacher of any generation among us to instruct us on how to begin. So, let us begin with something we hold in common with our Indigenous neighbours, respect for our elders. Let us begin with Respect: as the Indigenous Elders insist: “One of the teachings around resect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. When we meet someone for the first time, we form an impression of them. That first impression is not based on respect. Respect develops when one takes the time to establish a deeper relationship with the other. This concept of respect extends to all of Creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal –in order to receive respect, one must give respect.”
We must get to know our Indigenous sisters and brothers so that together we can develop respect for one another. Sadly, far too many of us settlers have entered into relationships with Indigenous neighbours only to use them to try to assuage our guilt, or to teach us how to do better, or to solve our problems for us. This is not respect. We settlers, we have homework to do. Knowing requires learning, learning requires careful study, humble listening, discipline, taking risks, the courage to make mistakes, looking foolish, owning our guilt, and acknowledging the pain we encounter in the people we are longing to know. Only when we learn the respect which comes from really knowing the other will we be ready for the difficult work of reconciliation. As the Indigenous Elders insist, the truth is, Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth these are teachings which go hand in hand. To have wisdom” they insist, “to have wisdom one must demonstrate love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.”
The Grandfathers’ warning to each successive generation insists that, “You are not being honest with yourself if you use only one or two of these teachings. Leaving out even one of these teachings means that one is not embracing the teachings. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive ourselves or others.”
My hope, my prayer for my own generation is that each of us might wake up in our socially distant boats to embody the power of LOVE which lives and moves and has being in, with, through, and beyond us, and rise up to command the storms raging around us, by the power of our LOVE to “Be Still. Peace.” Then we can set out onto the shores of this new emerging future which stretches before us, resolved to respect our elders, all of our elders by getting to know our neighbours in ways which foster respect for the gifts of our CREATOR. So that together, we might learn from one another to LOVE our CREATOR with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. For, in loving our Indigenous neighbours we will come to know the wisdom passed down to them from their elders, who knew the wisdom of judging their own actions by trying to imagine the impact their actions might have on the generations which follow them. Surely, in our shared, common humanity, our concern for those who follow us will give us the courage to work with one another to foster the harmonies of justice, so that peace may break out among us and for generations to come the beautiful water of this Ouentironk might carry the echoes of our cries, “Peace, Be Still!” to the generations who follow us. Let it be so. Let it be so now and always. Let it be so. Amen.
Since the news of the discovery of the unmarked mass grave in which the remains of 215 children were buried, I’ve listened as various politicians, commentators and even friends have used words like: unbelievable and shocking. Unbelievable and shocking? I wonder? I wonder how there can be anyone who has lived in Canada for more than a decade or so, who can honestly claim to be surprised, let alone shocked at this news. Royal commissions, government inquiries and survivors have been testifying for decades about the horrors of the residential school system, the sixties scoop, sexual abuse, neglect, torture, murderers, disappearances, deaths, and generational trauma. If we are surprised, shocked or can’t believe it, I suspect we have only ourselves to blame. I am a settler in this land, and I expect that many of you are settlers as well. Our histories as settlers are intertwined with the histories of the families of all those many children who suffered for generations; children who paid the price for our privilege, children who even now continue to suffer the effects of intergenerational trauma. We have known for a long time now. This news should not shock us, precisely because it is so very believable. We’ve known it for far too long to be excused from our own ignorance.
Echoes of this tragedy first began to reach me some fifty years ago. I went to school, high school, on the West Coast in a small town called Ladner. Today, Ladner is pretty much a suburban bedroom community from which people commute to their jobs in the city of Vancouver. But back in the early 1970’s, Ladner was just a small fishing village. It was a terrific place to go to high school; that’s if you were white and middle-class. I don’t really know how it was for the handful of folks who weren’t part of the white-privileged majority. Looking back on it now, I can see that minorities were marginalized.
I remember when I was in grade ten; a new girl showed up in our classes. Shirley, we were told, came from somewhere way up north, in British Columbia. I remember our homeroom teacher introduced Shirley as, an Indian who had travelled south for her education. We were told that there weren’t any high schools where Shirley came from, so she had to leave her family behind and come down to Ladner all by herself. Shirley was boarding with a family in Ladner.
About all I can remember about Shirley’s first days with us is the unusual way that Shirley dressed. Back then there was a sort of dress code; we all wore the same stuff; blue jeans, which dragged on the ground, and both boys and girls wore the same kind of white tee-shirts and you just had to have the latest thing in footwear: a name-brand pair of leather sneakers. We thought we were so cool, with our anti-style look, which in our rebellious naiveté we didn’t realize was actually a style in and of itself. But Shirley didn’t fit in. Shirley wore clothes which we openly mocked as “stylish.” I remember that all her cloths looked new and expensive, as if someone had taken her out and bought her an entire wardrobe of old people’s cloths; and by old people I mean 30 somethings. Shirley just didn’t look like one of us. But that didn’t really matter because Shirley wasn’t one of us and so we never included her in anything that we did.
I remember a social studies class in which the teacher asked Shirley to tell us about her life in Northern British Columbia. The tale that Shirley told us about the reservation on which she lived was unbelievable to our young, ignorant, ears. Shirley claimed that she had been forced against her will to leave her family behind and travel all by herself to live with a family that was only interested in the money that the Indian Affairs department paid them for her room and board. She said that her parents would be thrown into jail if they didn’t allow her to be taken away. She said she’d run away several times, but that she’d always been caught and then they would punish her family because she’d missed so much school. So, she claimed that her family hated living on the reservation. Shirley told us that it wasn’t safe on the reservation because most of the men drank. My classmates asked all sorts of questions, but there was something in the way they asked the questions which made it clear that none of us believed a word Shirley was saying. How could any of this be true? Nobody would ever take kids away from their families by force. We refused to believe that parents could be thrown into jail if their kids don’t go away to school. Besides, why would our government send you to a school so far away; why not just send you to a school nearer the reservation so that you could go see your folks on weekends? Shirley and an answer for that: according to her the government picked schools that were far away so that the Indian kids wouldn’t just run away from school and head back home. The only way home for Shirley was on an airplane and the government only gave her two tickets a year. Besides there was nothing to do on the reservation. So, she might as well stay south. Even if she hated it. When the teacher asked Shirley about conditions on the reservation, Shirley spoke really softly about there not being enough water and food to go around. One of us said, “that was because they spent all their money on booze and cigarettes.” Shirley began to cry, and the teacher abruptly ended the conversation. Later in the cafeteria, there was a lot of conversation about the lies we were convinced Shirley had told us. We simply did no believe a word Shirly said. I refused to believe her at all. I mean really, in my young mind, I thought, this is Canada after all. Canada is a great country, a good place. My parents brought us to Canada because it’s the land of opportunity. To my shame, I remember thinking, if Shirley’s people were having a tough time, it was not our government’s fault. I believed they had only themselves to blame. I believed this because I was taught that all we had to do was to work hard and we would get ahead. My culture insisted that they, those Indians must not care enough about the way they live to bother to improve their life. I was raised to believe that Canadians are good people; we’re not racist. My ignorance was matched only by my arrogance.
I had a naïve understanding of this country. I was taught to look at Canadian history through rose-coloured glasses. I was taught about the honour and gallantry of the early settlers of this land, hard workers one and all; good honest people who’d left the hardships imposed on them behind, in their homelands so that they could build lives for themselves here in Canada. I was not taught, and I knew nothing of the world which Shirley described. We weren’t taught anything about broken treaties, or the abuses perpetrated by the Indian Affairs Department, and we’d certainly never heard about the travesty of residential schools. The conditions Shirley tried to tell us about and the circumstances in which she found herself sounded unbelievable to us. So, we assumed she had to be lying. Ignorance and denial were not just our collective responses to Shirley’s story, in my heart of hearts, I chose to believe my own culture, never once considering that Shirley even a culture of her own. None of us stopped to consider the dignity of the First Peoples of this land. None of us even imagined the wisdom of Shirley’s elders, or the beauty of her sacred stories.
So, the good people of Ladner, myself included, we continued to marginalize Shirley. Her story was too unbelievable, and we were too incapable of seeing beyond our carefully constructed version of reality. But Shirley’s story as unbelievable as we found it; her story pales in comparison to the countless stories of those children who were scooped up and forced into the residential school system.
Nearly fifty years have passed, since we refused to believe Shirley. In 1996, the last of the residential schools was finally closed. Since then, we’ve all been told countless stories of sexual abuse, torture, neglect, violence and death. When I consider the courage, it took for Shirley to tell her story, only to be met with our refusal to believe, I can’t help but marvel at the steadfast courage of the countless survivors who have testified over and over, again and again only to be met by justice delayed.
So, this week as we all gaze at all the memorials which have cropped up all over this land, all those tiny little shoes neatly lined up in rows, 215 little lives, tossed aside to make a way for settlers to walk, I wonder: do we finally believe it? In our grief, will we let the truth of their little lives transform us? As we weep, will we finally listen and actually hear the stories of survivors? Will the generational trauma of our indigenous sisters and brothers penetrate our ignorance, denial, arrogance, self-righteousness, or worse yet, our indifference? What form will our confessions take? What shape will our penance turn into? What sacrifices will we offer for the sake of justice? What tangible fruits will emerge from our promises to do better? I don’t know, how we will learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. But I do know, that if those little lives mean anything to us, at all, then, in the name of ALL that IS HOLY, we must, urgently learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
May the GREAT SPIRIT in whom we are ONE, move us beyond our tears, beyond our grief, beyond our pain, beyond memorials, so that the wounded may heal, even as we, the wounders learn to embody the LOVE which unites us all in the work of justice. Amen.
This week, as the Church prepares to celebrate Trinity Sunday, the question “Where is the church’s attention focused” becomes even more pertinent as we look ahead to resuming in-person worship. What parts of the church will be buried with lockdown and what will be born out of lockdown. This sermon was preached on Trinity Sunday 3 years ago. I offer it here to my colleagues who are preparing for this Sunday…??? What are we prepared to midwife into being???
Fourteen long months and only now, the end is in sight. With jabs in our arms, we approach the second summer of this pandemic with hope in our hearts, because the end is in sight. Here in Canada, our government is promising that all of us will have received our second shot before the end of September. See you in September. See you when the summer’s through. It’s gonna be a long lonely summer…Sorry, no more song lyrics. Instead let me offer you a refrain which we’ve been hearing, in all sorts of forms, whether it’s over Zoom or facetime or even in news reports, over and over again we hear people expressing our longing to return to “normal.” Young people are seeing visions, old people are dreaming dreams, of what our lives will be like, soon and very soon…sorry, sorry, I can’t seem help myself. It is as if a SPIRIT of freedom was injected into my arm with that first vaccine and I can’t help myself, I feel like singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. You have no idea how lucky you are that the songs which keeping popping into my head are covered by copyright.
As we begin to peer into our future, it is impossible not to look longingly back over our shoulder to life BC, Before COVID and hope against hope that soon, soon, we will be able to get back to “normal.” Now, I am well aware of the current trend of correcting those of us who are longing for normal life to return, by declaring, “Normal wasn’t working before, we can’t simply go back to normal.” I’ve said this myself on more than one occasion, but bear with me as I attempt to make an argument for our return to normal life!
To explore what a return to normal might look like, we will have to go back beyond Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, beyond the BCs, Before COVID and Before CHIRST, some 13 point 8 billion years ago to about 3 minutes after the big bang, when the Cosmos itself was but a newborn. In those early minutes of Cosmic existence, science tells us that the only things which existed were particles. When suddenly, like only 380,000 years, a mere blink Cosmic in history, suddenly, like the rushing winds, particles began to bond with other particles to form atoms. Now, one of the astonishing things about atoms is that the atoms possessed qualities which the individual particles which bonded to form the atoms did not possess. Particles bonded to make something completely new. Particles bonding to other particles doesn’t simply create a pile of particles but something new. Imagine the vast Cosmos made up of particles coming together to create atoms, which eventually begin to coalesce to become molecules.
Fast forward, incredibly fast, to 3.8 billion years ago approximately 750 million years after the Earth was formed, when molecules come together to make something new, as the first cells appear on this beautiful verdant planet, we call home. Particles beget atoms, atoms beget molecules, molecules beget cells, and cells beget, well you name it! Like comes together with like to create something altogether unlikely, something altogether new. 13.783 billion years of making all things new and humans finally begin to evolve. We are a new thing. After 13.783 billion years of newness, a mere 5 – 7 million years ago, some apelike creatures began to evolve and just 200,000 years ago, something completely new emerges, something which possesses qualities not present in earlier models, for we homo sapiens are so very new; brand spanking new things.
Now fast forward, very fast to about to just about 5,000 years ago when recorded history begins and we can hear tell of one new thing after another new thing being, imagined, envisioned, and created, for newness is baked into our DNA. The Cosmos itself is all about creating the new! There is a FORCE in the Cosmos which continuously allures in order to create something new. Some of our ancestors named this FORCE, RUACH, WIND, BREATH, SPIRIT. This SPIRIT continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, creatures of the Cosmos together to create something new. In all these 13.8 billion years the Cosmos has not gone back to the way things were in the past. History may repeat itself, but the Cosmos moves on into the newness of reality. Over and over again, in face after face, creature after diverse creature is born, unlike any creature born before it, no two creatures possessing exactly the same qualities. We cannot go back because everything old becomes new, again, and again, and again. Newness is an eternal quality of REALITY. Newness is, if you will “normal.”
There is no going back. Yes, sometimes newness involves reaching back and reintegrating, something which was good that was left behind, which newness needs in order to keep becoming. Please notice I said reaching back and reintegrating. I did not say replicating. Reintegrating something good which was lost, creates something new. At other times, new involves letting go of things which aren’t helpful or are destructive so as not to recreate something which cannot evolve into goodness. Newness both includes and transcends what was. But newness is always part of our REALITY, I’ll say it again, newness is normal. Even these past fourteen months, which have felt for many of us like suspended animation, a time when everything we had come to accept as normal life was set aside to avoid the pandemic, even these past fourteen months have seen the creation of something new, as this enforced time out has caused us to rethink how to move into the future.
Ways of life have been challenged as new ways of living have emerged. Just as surely as the FORCE, the RUACH, the BREATH, the SPIRIT continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and creatures of the Cosmos together to create something new, we who are longing for freedom, cannot resist the motion of the Cosmos, a new thing is born. Lifestyles, systems and organizations which insist upon returning to the way things were are not in the Cosmic sense of things “normal.” For new is normal.
So, where does that leave us, here as we begin to envision emerging from these six hundred twelve thousand minutes of lockdown? On this Pentecost Sunday when the church celebrates the birth of a new Way of being in the world, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul which on this very day will be read in churches all over the world: Listen to how Paul described the nature of REALITY to the church in Rome: “We know that from the beginning until now, all of Creation has been growing, groaning in one great act of giving birth. And not only Creation, but all of us who possess the first fruits of the SPIRIT we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.” (Rom.8:22-23)
That inward groaning as we await the birth of the new is an expression of our own future’s birth pangs as our fears and hopes to coalesce into dreams and visions of new ways of being in the world. Something new is about to be born. Let us dream dreams of life, not like life was, this wouldn’t be normal, for it goes against everything that the Cosmos is was or ever more shall be. Let us dream dreams of life as it is emerging, new life, life beyond our fears, beyond the limitations of our histories, life measured not in minutes, or years, life as the song says, measured in LOVE. How about LOVE? Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a life of a woman or a man? Remember the LOVE…Sing out, give out, measure your life
In LOVE…Seasons of LOVE…Seasons of LOVE…ah I wish I could sing it! LOVE which continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and creatures, that’s you and me dear friends, LOVE is calling us to create something new. LOVE which even now is swirling in and around us, inflaming us, exciting us, always inviting us into something new. THANKS be to ALL that IS HOLY! Amen.
 I am indebted to Rob Bell for his insight about “new” being normal which I either heard or read during this long lock down. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate exactly where, I only remember that it was Rob Bell. So credit where credit is due. Rob Bell’s insights begat this sermon!
While he was dying of cancer, American poet and short story writer Raymond Carver, penned a poem which, although it is but a fragment of a poem, it has the power to move me into the deepest part of my very self. This poem would eventually be titled, “Late Fragment”
Carver’s fragment, offered as he lay dying, is a tantalizing broken piece which is almost completely whole. Some may doubt the power of fragments to heal us. I don’t. I’m convinced that my life, and I suspect your lives are often made whole by fragments; broken pieces barely recognizable, but when we see them, really see them, they have the power to make us whole.
Today, the last Sunday of the Easter season, I want to give you some powerful fragments. For weeks now we have been celebrating resurrection. Not the physical resuscitation of a corpse kind of resurrection for we know only full well the power of medicine to bring corpses back to life. Alas, resuscitation of a corpse doesn’t necessary lead to resurrection. Even though the resuscitated live again, their life is not always one of resurrection and they too must die. Our celebration of resurrection is about awakening to life, new life, fuller life, abundant life, life with an eternal quality.
As I look back to the fragments left to us by our ancestors, I long to see the promise of the Risen CHRIST. Among the broken bits of history, I catch a fleeting glimpse of Mary, the one who in the early morning light, through her tears of grief, was able to see the face of CHRIST in a gardener. Mary, this migdal, this first Apostle whose ability to see CHRIST, resurrected her from the grief and torment of death to life as the Apostle to the Apostle, where she stood as a tower, a migdal in Hebrew, a tower, head and shoulders above the rest of the first fledgling followers of Jesus’ way of being in the world. Dubbed Mary Magdalene by the men who would reduce her legacy to that of prostitute and relegate the fragments of her story to the margins, despite the absence of evidence for their convictions. Sifting through the dispersed fragments of her story, a new story rises up. A story slowly and painstakingly being resurrected by those whose hope is found not in CHRIST ascending to the clouds, but in CHRIST rising up from the Earth itself to live and love here and now. In the fragments, of the Gospel which bears her name new life arises as herstory is pieced together.
From the tattered remains of Mary’s reputation, her accusers can be easily dismissed once and for all. Mary a woman described in the canon of the gospels as “a sinner from the city,” who discovers healing in Jesus company, is set free by the fragments of her own gospel, which for too long now has been set aside by those who would rather bury her witness. Although the author of the gospel attributed to Mary is unknown, this gospel story resurrects the Migdal restoring her relationship as the Tower who stood at Jesus’ right hand, remained faithful to her beloved Jesus while others abandoned him, followed Jesus beyond the cross to the tomb and was able to see that not even the forces of Empire could destroy the CHRIST which she saw, which she experienced in Jesus.
Mary the Migdal, who from the moment she was able to see the face of CHRIST in a gardener, went forth to proclaim the power of resurrection. Mary proclaimed, “I have seen the CHRIST” and sifting through the fragments of herstory, we too can see the CHRIST, in words her followers attributed to Mary, words which continue to offer hope, “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be troubled. For CHRIST’s grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise CHRIST’s greatness, for CHRIST has joined us together and made us fully human.”
Mary saw the risen CHRIST in the face of a gardener. Mary understood Jesus’ practice of referring to himself as the “Fully Human ONE”. The title “Fully Human ONE” comes from the Greek – gios tou anthrópou – which translators have been rendering as the “Son of Man”. Son of Man is not, I repeat, not an adequate translation of this important phrase which according to the gospels that did make the biblical canon, Jesus used to describe himself 81 times: gios tou anthropou Anthroupou or Anthropos – we get our English word anthropology from the same root. It does not mean man! It means human. There is a perfectly good Greek word that is used in the New Testament for man – that word is “aner”. The anonymous writers of the gospels deliberately did not translate Jesus’ Aramaic sayings into Greek using the word for “man”. Instead, some 81 times they chose instead, the Greek word for human which includes both males and females. We can only guess why the English translators failed to be so inclusive. Some of us have paid the price for their failure. All of us have missed the incredible, radical meaning of Jesus’ declaration that he is the HUMAN ONE. The Gospel of Mary spells out this tragedy in detail. The Gospel of Mary points us toward Jesus’ vision for a new way of being human. The contemplative scholar Cynthia Bourgeault translates gios tou anthropou so beautifully into English as, “Fully Human”. In the Gospel of Mary, we encounter Jesus as the FULLY HUMAN ONE whose embodiment of the CHRIST provides a vision of the transformation or the evolution of women and men into a new way of being human which transcends gender, a way of being in which we become FULLY HUMAN. As FULLY HUMAN as we can begin to recognize as Jesus did, our ONENESS with the DIVINE; as when Jesus says, “I and ABBA are ONE.”
This ONENESS with the DIVINE ought to open us to the reality that because we live and move and have our being in the DIVINE, the DIVINE is everywhere, for every THING is in the DIVINE. Embracing our FULL HUMANIY, we embrace the CHRIST which lives in, with, through, and beyond us. In the Gospel of Mary, we can begin to see a vision of what it means to follow Jesus into a new Way of Being in which we recognize Jesus as the CHRIST, but more importantly we begin to recognize CHRIST in one another. Perhaps when we begin to share Mary’s faith that the risen CHRIST can be seen, we will begin to see the face of CHRIST in those around us; in faces of the strangers we meet on the road, in the face of the homeless man as we sit and share a meal with him, in the face of a child we reach out to lift up out of poverty, in faces the women upon whose shoulders we stand, in the faces of our opponents as together we struggle for understanding, in the faces of our enemies as we begin to work for peace, in the faces of our tormentors as we strive for justice, in the faces of the sick as we seek healing, and in the faces of the poor as we offer aid, compassion, and justice. When we can look into the faces of those we meet and see the face of Christ, then perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of Mary the Migdal, the TOWER, and all the world will know by our LOVE, that we too follow CHRIST. St. Mary the Migdal, the Tower, the first Apostle, the Apostle to the Apostles, the ONE to whom the RISEN CHRIST entrusts the good news. May the power of Mary’s witness inspire us to live into our FULL HUMANITY so that we can begin to see the CHRIST in every thing and every ONE. From the fragments arise a way of being in the world, which seeks not an escape from life in the world, nor a passport into the next life, but an embrace of our FULL HUMANITY.