In the midst of all this . . . I miss the Almighty-sky-god! Psalm 139

In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only LOVE can do that” Our current darkness is deep, thick, and heavy. If the media pundits are to be believed, this darkness is only going to get darker, thicker, and deeper. Whether it is the dire darkness of the climate crisis, the bleak darkness of the tribal uprisings in the United States, the catastrophic darkness of this pandemic, or our very own lockdown grieving darkness, it is going to take a whole lot of LOVE to drive out this historic, epic darkness which the whole world is experiencing. As we peer into this dark abyss, we cannot help but long for a glimpse of the LIGHT. I confess that in the midst of all that, in the midst of all this darkness, I miss the almighty-sky-god. I miss the god I used to pray to.

The god which I trusted to solve all my problems for me, to comfort me in my distress, and calm my fear. I miss the god of my own making, the idol I have long since put away. It was simpler to put my faith in the almighty-sky-god, to whom I once prayed to for deliverance. Even though I know the idol of my creation is far too small a god to deliver enough LIGHT to drive this darkness away, it is so tempting to seek the old familiar methods of praying to a personification of the ONE who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also. I must confess that in the midst this darkness, even this progressive pastor finds it difficult to relate to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “God.” I too, long too long to return to a simpler time.

I remember a long time ago, when I was just a teenager; during those tumultuous years, I was going through a particular dark period. And at that time, I discovered the Psalms. I was new to the church and only just learning my way around the liturgy. Each week a Psalm would be chanted responsively by a leader and the congregation. In my tone-deaf way, I was learning the words of the Psalms, discovering the intimate ways in which the psalmist conversed with the ALMIGHTY. One Psalm touched me deeply. It is the Psalm which is prescribed for this the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Psalm 139. I loved the intimate way in which this Psalm spoke to “the LORD” and I too longed for a similar kind of intimacy with my God. Over and over again, each time Psalm 139 would come up in the lectionary, I delighted in the intimacy of being searched and known by the God which I worshiped. For decades the intimacy proclaimed in Psalm 139 served as a goal to which I aspired.

But during those decades, my primary experience with Psalm 139 was molded by the verses prescribed for use during the liturgy, specifically verses 1-6, 3-18. Psalm 139 is a long psalm, containing 24 verses. Back then, it didn’t seem unusual to me that the powers that be would only use 13 of those verses. After all people have places to go and we can’t keep them in worship for more than an hour. So, I was content with the sublime images of the intimacy which these 13 verses inspired and indeed Psalm 139 became my favorite psalm. Sometimes, because they are so beautifully evocative, some of the missing verses are included by the church, in worship. But there are some verses which we never seem to use. Nevertheless, Psalm 139 remains my favorite psalm. So, I would like to read it for you as our Gospel for this morning. I’ll let you know when I get to the verses which I’m leaving out.  I’ll indicate the spot the way this psalm often appears with an ellipsis: . . . a dot dot dot in place of those verses. I’m reading from the Inclusive Bible. The Holy Gospel as it is recorded in the Book of Psalms:

YHWH, you’ve searched me,

and you know me.

You know if I am standing or sitting,

you read my thoughts from far away.

Whether I walk or lie down, you are watching;

you are intimate with all of my ways.

A word is not even on my tongue, YHWH,

before you know what it is:

you hem me in, before and behind,

shielding me with your hand.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, 

a height my mind cannot reach!  

 

Where Could I run from your Spirit?

Where could I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you’re there;

if I make my bed in Death, you’re already there.

I could fly away with wings made of dawn,

or make my home on the far side of the sea,

but even there your hand will guide me,

your mighty hand holding me fast.

If I say, “The darkness will hide me,

and night will be my only light,”

even the darkness won’t be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day—

darkness and light are the same to you.

 

You created my inmost being

and stitched me together in my mother’s womb.

For all these mysteries I thank you—

for the wonder of myself,

for the wonder of your works—

my soul knows it well.

 

My frame was not hidden from you

while I was being made in that secret place, 

knitted together in the depths of the earth;

your eyes saw my body even there.

All of my days

were written in your book,

all of them planned

before even the first of them came to be.

How precious your thoughts are to me, O God!

How impossible to number them!

I could no more count them 

Than I could count the sand.

But suppose I could?

You would still be with me!

… (dot dot dot)

Examine me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts—

see if there is misdeed within me,

and guide me in the way that is eternal.

This is the Gospel of our God.

dot dot dot is what is known as an ellipsis, a symbol which is defined as “something deliberately hidden.”  I can still remember the first time I read the verses which have so often been hidden from us deliberately. Listen to what follows the ellipsis. dot dot dot

O God, if only you would destroy those degenerates!

If only these reprobates would leave me alone!

They talk blasphemously about you;

Your enemies treat you as if you were nothing.

Don’t I hate those who hate you, YHWH?

Don’t I loathe those who defy you?

I hate them with a total hatred,

And regard them as my own enemies!

Once I read these verses, I could not forget them. I remember reading them and wondering why I should worship such a god as this. Hatred was not what Jesus taught us. So, like many Christians before me, I began to adopt a kind of superior attitude toward, what I used to call “the Old Testament,” for surely the Jewish people had an incomplete understanding of the nature of God and we Christians, we knew better. This kind of tribalism allowed me to set these troublesome verses aside and maintain my illusions about the superior nature of the god which I worshipped. Fortunately, over the years I have been blessed by many wise Jewish, teachers, professors, and friends who have helped me to plumb the depths of Jewish teachings about the nature of the MYSTERY which we, both Jews and Christians alike call, “God.” In addition to these Jewish sisters and brothers, I have also been blessed by Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and indeed agnostic and atheist teachers, professors, and friends who have taught me the expansive nature of the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL that IS.

It was a Hindu classmate and friend who gifted me with the image of this MYSTERY which continues to help me aspire to become a Christian. Notice I didn’t say, “aspire to become a better Christian,” because you see, in conversation with my Hindu friend, I learned the story which is told of Mahatma Gandhi who was asked, “Mahatma if you like this Jesus fellow so very much, why don’t you become a Christian?” To which Gandhi is reported to have said, “When I meet a Christian, I shall become a Christian.”

Jesus is not easy to follow. I try, but I am not yet a christian. I do, however, aspire to be a christian. And it is the image of the MYSTERY which we call, “God,” which I learned from my Hindu friend which continues to help me aspire to become a Christian. I remarked to my friend, on how difficult it was for me to understand how Hindus are able to worship so very many gods. My friend explained that all gods, even the christian god, all gods are just educational toys which we play with as we learn about the ONE god, who IS, and this is the image of the MYSTERY which sustains me to this day: the ONE who IS, is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also.

Both the psalmist and I were playing with toys and we had and do have so very much to learn about the MYSTERY who IS BEYOND, our images, BEYOND our words, BEYOND our definitions, BEYOND our theologies, BEYOND our carefully held beliefs, I could go on and on, with these BEYOND’s. Both the psalmist and I, and you too, our notions about the MYSTERY which we call, “God” are far too small, too much like ourselves. For as the Ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes insisted, if horses could draw gods they would draw horses. How else could the psalmist have come up with a god who inspired him to hate? How else could Christians come up with a god who would demand a blood sacrifice?

Our imagines of the DIVINE begin with ourselves, as we carve, draw, sculpt, write, and pray to images of the MYSTERY which are not in and of themselves the MYSTERY. They are but educational toys with which we are playing with, to learn about the nature of life, about reality, about DIVINITY. The trouble comes when we begin worshipping those toys, those pale, imperfect, images of the MYSTERY which is BEYOND our ability to imagine. Those educational toys have become the idols which we worship. Perhaps, it is because those idols affirm who we are and not who God IS, that we become so very lost when those idols come crashing down. There is a reason our ancestors warned us against worshipping idols. Unlike icons, or symbols, which point BEYOND themselves, idols hold our gaze, limit our vision, and they prevent us from seeing BEYOND. So, today I find Gospel in the verses of Psalm 139 which shatter the idol of the far-away-sky-god, which I once worshipped, by allowing me to see how quick I am to hide the things about my nature and the nature of reality which I do not understand.

Jesus was a Jew who is revered in the Islamic Qur’an, and ranks as a great teacher among the peoples of many faiths and of no faith at all. Jesus is admired by all those who aspire to LOVE. As a teacher, Jesus dug deeply into his own Jewish faith to proclaim the core of Jewish teachings as the commandment to LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself. Jesus images of the MYSTERY which we call, “God” were all informed by Jesus’ conviction that “God is LOVE.” LOVE draws us BEYOND ourselves, BEYOND our fear, BEYOND our tribe, BEYOND the DARKNESS.

From within the darkness of this abyss in which we find ourselves, I am both comforted and challenged by the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only LOVE can do that!” Nostalgia for what has been shattered may leave me longing for the faraway-sky-god I once prayed would drive the darkness away. But it is time, in the words of the Apostle Paul, for us “to put away childish things.” Yes, it is difficult to pray to a MYSTERY, knowing that that MYSTERY is ONE in which we live and move and have our being, the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond us. For this means that this MYSTERY, as the mystic Treresa of Avila insists, “has no hands but yours, no body but yours.” Ours are the hands, ours the minds, bodies, and actions which LOVE will use to drive out the darkness. We must be LOVE in the world. And so, I continue to pray to the ONE who IS LOVE, trusting that LOVE to work in, with, through, and beyond you and I, to drive the darkness away. There is a Jewish mystic, Levi Yitzchak who has paraphrased Psalm 139 in a way which comforts me as I pray. Rabbi Yitzchak uses the word “YOU” for the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call, God, when I pray the Rabbi’s prayer, I substitute the word LOVE.

Let us pray:

Where I wander—LOVE!
Where I ponder— LOVE!
Only LOVE everywhere, LOVE, always, LOVE.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.
When I am gladdened—LOVE!
And when I am saddened—LOVE!
Only LOVE, everywhere LOVE!
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.
Sky is LOVE!
Earth is LOVE!
LOVE above! LOVE below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only LOVE, everywhere LOVE! Amen.

Dear ONEs, what a comfort to know that YOU are there. In this darkness we will be LOVE to one another and the darkness shall not overcome us. Every act of LOVE, every gift of LOVE, every risk taken for LOVE’s sake, all of LOVE’s tenderness, compassion, help, aid, comfort, and grace is ours to give. So, let us be LOVE in the world, in our neighbourhoods, in our workplaces, and in our homes, let us be LOVE. It is time to put away childish things, so that we can embody LOVE. LOVE will drive out darkness. Let it be so, Dear ONEs. Let it be so.  Amen.

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Resisting Tribalism: A Kin-dom of LOVE

This past Wednesday was the Feast of Epiphany, the day when Christians celebrate the long journey of the Wise Ones who, according to our foundational myth, arrived at the birthplace of Jesus, who is described in the Scriptures as the embodiment of DIVINE WISDOM. There was a time when Epiphany and Easter were the two most important festivals of the Christian year. But over the years, Epiphany’s celebration of WISDOM has been eclipsed by the celebration of Christmas. Oh, how we need some of that WISDOM to infuse our celebrations today. On Wednesday, I moved the Wise Guys closer to the baby Jesus in our nativity display and began what I thought would a quiet Epiphany. My peace, along with the peace of millions was disturbed by the sound of my phone exploding with dozens of alerts heralding the violence which was taking place at the Capitol in Washington. Like many of you, I’m sure, I spent most of the day and well into the night, glued to the unbelievable images being broadcast around the world, of enraged servants of a petty, little, would be king who had encouraged and excited these folks to perpetrate violence in the vain hope of claiming power. Today, we do what Christians do on the Sunday after Epiphany, we gather to remember our baptism through the stories told by our ancestors about the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. Now what possible wisdom, can this story of a baptism which happened in the Jordan River nearly 2000 years ago offer to after the kind of week that we have all endured? Not much.  Not much that is, if we choose to remember this story the way the church all too often remembers this story. For I am convinced that there is great WISDOM in the story of Jesus’ baptism and that this WISDOM has the power to heal the viscous divisions which threaten to keep us repeating tribal violence over and over again. Tragically, for centuries the church has adopted a kind of collective amnesia when it comes to baptism. We have chosen to forget the power of this story to inspire resistance to the very systems which continue to prevent us from living together in peace. We have forgotten so very many of the contours and nuances of this story which, if remembered drag us out of our preoccupation with our own selfish needs toward a lifestyle of resistance to dangerous tribal inclinations. Where once the story of Jesus’ Baptism inspired his followers to deny allegiances to the powers that be, in order to take upon themselves a new way of being in the world, generations of amnesia have left us marching in lockstep to the drumbeat of violence even as we claim allegiance to the One who wanted nothing more than to bring peace on Earth.

So, what have we 21st century would-be followers of Jesus, forgotten about this story of Jesus’ baptism in the first century? Well, for starters we have forgotten that our first century ancestors risked everything when they chose to be baptized. Jesus’ contemporaries lived under the oppression of not one but two domination systems. Under the domination of what was the mightiest Empire the world had ever seen, first century people living in Palestine whether they be Jew or Gentile were required on pain of death to swear allegiance to Rome. The act of swearing allegiance was called in Latin a “sacramentum” – that’s right our word sacrament comes from the word “sacramentum” which means “to vow” or to “swear an oath” or “to pledge allegiance.”

Things have changed quite a bit. Today, in the church a sacrament is a rite which is celebrated as a sort of thin place where the holy, the sacred, meets the ordinary. In the Lutheran church, a sacrament is defined as a rite which includes both the holy and the ordinary. Two things are necessary, the ordinary stuff of the earth, the visible means if you will and second, the is injunction from Jesus to “do this”. In our tradition, we have only two rites which meet these criteria, one is baptism and the other is communion. Baptism we have the ordinary stuff, the water and the injunction of Jesus, who is reported to have said, “Go therefore and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And we have Communion. The bread and wine are the ordinary stuff; the visible means and Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” are the injunction. Our tradition’s celebration of both these rites has radically changed over the centuries. Both rites have tended to focus upon the experience of individuals rather than the impact upon the community or communities in which it is celebrated. These days Baptism has become little more than a nice little rite of passage, with precious little power to transform the life of its participants. But in the first century this “sacramentum” of baptism was enough to bring a death sentence down upon the heads of all those who partook of the waters of baptism. The act of baptism was an act of resistance. Resistance to the Empire of Rome and resistance to the powers of the Temple who collaborated with their Roman over-lords. Every person living under the Pax Romana was under no illusion that pledging allegiance to anyone other than Caesar was an act of sedition punishable by death. For as far as the powers that be were concerned “Caesar is Lord.” Caesar was not a name but a title. We would say King, but not a king like we think of kings, but rather a king who is the ultimate authority on Earth and Rome’s Ultimate Authority, Rome’s “Caesar is LORD.”

Everyone living under Roman domination was required to “sacramentum” – to pledge allegiance, to take an oath proclaiming that “Caesar is LORD.” Caesar is the Ultimate Authority. Jewish inhabitants of the Roman Empire were given a very clear choice: to pledge allegiance or to die. Thousands chose death and the Romans crucified them; actually, crucified them. The rotting corpses of the thousands of Jews and Gentiles who refused to proclaim Caesar as LORD created the kind of stink intended to terrorize the oppressed into submission. And submit, most of them did. Even the purveyors of power who walked the hallways to the sacred Temple were dominated in ways which co-opted them into a system which held the whole Pax Romana together.

But every domination system has its resisters. Take John the Baptist for example. John was the son of the temple priest Zachariah. As a temple priest Zachariah would have collaborated with the Romans. He was a respectable member of the established order. His son John abandoned the Temple, rejected the establishment and went down by the River Jordan, the very river his ancestors had crossed over from slavery into the promise of freedom. Down by the riverside, John conducted very public sacrementums. John’s fame as a notorious resistor spread far and wide. John become the Baptist.

Jesus joined the resistance. Down into the water Jesus went in an act of resistance which in and of itself denied the authority of Caesar and the Empire of Rome and proclaimed allegiance to a new kind of Empire – the “basileia ton theon” – which we all too often translate as the “Kingdom of God” but which is more accurately translated as “authority of DIVINITY”

or better yet, the “kin-dom of LOVE”. For if Jesus taught us anything, Jesus taught us that God is LOVE and the authority which Jesus pledged his allegiance to, was the Authority of that LOVE, an authority which is all about relationships. That’s why we say the “kin-dom”. The word “kin” means related. The kin-dom of the Ultimate Authority is the Kin-dom of LOVE. A place where it is all about the quality of relationship of one to another together with  relationship to the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also. That’s why for three centuries the followers of Jesus of Nazareth’s Way of being in the world, would risk everything to go down to the river and wash themselves clean of their bondage to Empire which felt like death to them, and rise up out of the waters of life as newborn citizens of the Kin-dom of LOVE.

No longer bound to the ways of empire, the ways of violence and death, but free to pursue the LOVE which is the ULTIMATE AUTHORITY the LOVE which IS GOD.

Baptism was for three centuries the ultimate act of resistance to the powers that be. And then, it was not. Somewhere around the year 313 there was a different Caesar sitting upon the throne of Rome, a Caesar who went by the name of Constantine. The powers of Rome, they were on the wane and Caesar Constantine was looking for a way to unite his Empire and somehow, I wish I had time to go into it all, but suffice it to say, somehow the fledgling movement known as the Followers of the Way, or the Followers of the Christ, they fit Constantine’s needs. Over the course of a few decades Christianity went from an outlawed religion to the new religion of the Roman Empire. They say that power corrupts and indeed power did corrupt Christianity. Under Constantine, Christians went from pledging allegiance to Jesus’ Way of Being, and living as non-violent pacifists, to becoming members of the official religion of Rome and Christians were now free to join the Empire’s military and the rest as they say is history.

So, what can the story of Jesus’ baptism offer to us; we who stand in the ruins of the fragile peace of empire, we who daily pledge our allegiance to systems of domination which ensure the authority of the almighty dollar, we who struggle to be kin to one another, we who seek to know the ONE who is the ULTIMATE AUTHORITY?  On this day when we remember the baptism of Jesus, perhaps we can also remember our own baptism and for those who have yet to be baptized perhaps together we can anticipate a new way of understanding baptism, which isn’t really new at all. Perhaps, we can celebrate baptism as an act of resistance.

Martin Luther is reported to have taught that when we wash our face, we should remember our baptism. The story is told of Luther pouring water into a basin, then he would cup his hands together and splash the refreshing water to his face three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t share Luther’s belief that the water cleanses us of our sin. I’ve long since parted company with Luther’s theories about atonement. I don’t believe in a super-natural being who sent Jesus to die as a sacrifice for sin. I no longer believe that baptism is a ritual drowning in which we die to our old life of sin and are reborn to a new life in CHRIST. I do believe in the power of Baptism to remind of us of who we are and whose we are. Every child I have ever baptized came to the font as a beloved child of our CREATOR. Whether they were infants or adults they were in and of themselves ONE with the MYSTERY we call, “God.” The waters of baptism serve as affirmation of the reality that there is nothing in heaven our on earth which can separate us from the LOVE which is DIVINITY. So, like Luther, I too choose to remember my baptism when I wash my face. I don’t use Luther’s words. I go back long before Luther to St. Augustine who described the Trinity as LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.

They say that blessings often come to us in disguises. Perhaps this long COVID lockdown which has kept us from gathering together to celebrate the sacraments, is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the fact that we cannot gather together to celebrate the sacrament of baptism will allow us to see beyond what has become sedated or domesticated, to the power of the sacramentum of baptism of our ancestors.

The next time you wash your face, remember your baptism. When you feel the water, remember that baptism is an act of resistance. Think about the many ways in which your lives have been co-opted by the powers that be. Think about who or what is your ULTIMATE ATHORITY is. Do you belong to empire? Do you pledge allegiance to wealth and power? Do you march in lockstep with systems that dominate through violence? Do you limit your kin to those who serve your selfish needs? Or can you take the dangerous step of actually feeling the waters as the touch of life touch you? Dare you resist? Dare you pledge your allegiance to the UNTIMATE AUTHORITY who is LOVE. Dare you resist by proclaiming that LOVE IS the ULTIMATE AUTHORITY? Do you have the courage to remember or to anticipate your baptism as an act of resistance?  An act, once taken, will require the kind of kinship which empowers LOVE to be the ULTIMATE AUTHORITY? Do you have the courage to follow Jesus’ Way of Being in the world?

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The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening.

Epiphany-Wise+WomenAn Epiphany Sermon, preached in 2008. I had just read “The First Christmas” by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Our congregation played host to Dom Crossan a month before I wrote this sermon. So, Dom’s insights run through this effort. But the heart of this sermon beats as the result of a sermon preached by Bruce Sanguin a self-proclaimed evolutionary christian who is a United Church Minister (Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver). I had the privilege of meeting this modern mystic while on sabbatical this summer and his compelling way of unlocking the scriptures using the wealth of the christian tradition together with the insights of modern science and psychology borders upon the poetic. This sermon was anchored by Sanguin’s words (Epiphany 2007). Sermons are a “live” event. So, this manuscript is an approximation of what was actually preached.   

Just five days before Christmas (2008), The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Doctor Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion started a firestorm.  During a BBC interview, His Grace was quoted to say that the story of the “three wise men is a legend”. The Archbishop was also heard to say that he remained unconvinced that there was indeed a star that led the legendary trio to the birth place of the Christ Child.

If that wasn’t enough to send folks off the deep-end, it has been revealed that the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church The Most Reverend Doctor Katherine Jefferts Schori, who just happens to be the first woman elected primate in Anglican history, has fanned the flames of the fire-storm by sending out what has been judged by some to be an incendiary Christmas card.

I downloaded a copy of the offensive card, so that you could see for yourself. HerEpiphany-Wise+Women Grace’s choice of card has offended the good deacons of Ft Worth Texas who claim that their Primate’s actions defy explanation. As you can see the wise folks depicted on this image look a lot like women. Can you imagine the nerve of the first woman primate! How could she be so bold as to select such an offensive image? Leave it to straight talking Texans to set things straight: for despite the audacity of the Primate, the Texans have pledged to “stand for the traditional expression of the Faith.” Continue reading

Herods Aplenty, But the Days Grow Longer and WISDOM Abounds – John 1:1-9

They say, whoever they are; they say that “hindsight is 2020.” 20/20 vision is a term used to describe “normal vision.”  In other words, you can see with clarity those things which are 20 feet away. Well, looking behind me at 2020, I would not describe what I see as “normal” and I am barely even beginning to gain some clarity of vision on all that we have been through. For weeks now, people have been expressing their desire to see the back of 2020. There was a kind of collective eagerness to have 2020 behind us. Surely, 2021 has got to be better than the year we’ve just experienced. The coronavirus pandemic with its endless lockdowns and quarantines overshadowed and even intensified the economic and environmental crisis with which 2020 began. Good-bye and good riddance to the old year and let’s just ring in this new year hoping that 2021 will be better.

But there wasn’t enough champagne in any of our celebrations to fool us into believing that a new calendar year was going to solve anything at all. Here we are 2020 behind us and 2021 stretching out before us and still we are being warned, over and over again that the darkest months of this pandemic are still to come. Yes, there are vaccines on the horizon. But we still, don’t really know when or how this pandemic is going to end. We do know that it is going to take a long time before we can gather together, take off our masks, and embrace one another again.

Today is the tenth day of Christmas, so there are only two days left to celebrate the arrival of what the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John heralds as “the LIGHT which shines in the darkness, a LIGHT that the darkness has never overtaken.” On Wednesday the celebration of Epiphany will take over where Christmas leaves off and I can’t help but wonder about the nature of the LIGHT which will illumine our darkness. As we embark on what promises to be a very dark winter, my spirit resonates with myth which has brought comfort and challenges to generations. I feel a bit like those WISDOM-seekers of old, trudging through the darkness with nothing but the promise of LIGHT to guide me, as a look over my shoulder convinced that Herod is still chasing me. Only unlike the three wise guys, I know where this story is going. I know that the LIGHT is guiding them to the most unlikely of saviours. No mighty king, no avenging warrior, no powerful potentate, not even a magic genie who could grant their wishes, just a helpless newborn which has barely begun to draw breath. And yet, it is this very breath from which our ancestors drew hope. Over and over again, from one generation to the next, a helpless tiny child has been heralded as the LIGHT of the world.

Looking back beyond 2020, to a hindsight which surveys generations, I can almost see clearly into that stable of old, to see the breath of that child, rising like up and up and up into the cold winter, offering the hope that we are not alone in the darkness. Emmanuel is the name our ancestors gave to express this hope; the DIVINE MYSTERY, the CREATOR of all that IS, Emmanuel – God with us.

It’s cold out here. But winter has only begun and it’s gonna get a lot colder. The lake, it will freeze. Soon, l be able to walk out onto the ice, if I dare to brave the elements.  Now, there’s a story which I’ve often thought about when I’m trying to find the courage to venture out into the cold darkness of winter. It is a story that ought to be told out here under the overcast skies which are pregnant with snow. It’s about Admiral Richard Byrd, who was an explorer, who travelled into the frozen north seeking wisdom. Listen to what Byrd wrote, near the north pole: Byrde writes: “I paused to listen to the silence. My breath crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. My frozen breath hung like a cloud overhead. The day was dying, the night was being born-but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless.  Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of the silence-a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord.  It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instant I could feel no doubt of (humanity’s) oneness with the universe. The conviction came that that rhythm was too orderly, too harmonious, too perfect to be a product of blind chance-that, therefore, there must be purpose in the whole and that (humanity) was part of that whole and not an accidental offshoot. It was a feeling that transcended reason. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; (humanity) was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night.”

Admiral Byrd paused to listen to the rhythm of the silence and his own breath opened him to the revelation of the DIVINE ONE who lies at the very heart of our BEING. We do not need to travel to the north pole. We do not need to follow a star. We don’t even have to venture out on to some thin ice. We need only to pause for a moment so that we can see, feel, touch and know the DIVINE ONE we call God, who comes to us in the rhythm of our breath and in the guise of a helpless baby. The ONE we seek, the ONE who has the power to save us, the ONE who lies at the very heart of our BEING, the ONE we call, “God,” is EMANUEL, with us, living and breathing in, with, through, and beyond us.

Yes, it is cold. There is darkness all around us and herods a plenty. But the days have already begun to grow longer. The good news dear friends, is that between us we have all the WISDOM necessary to outwit any Herod, whether that Herod be a pandemic or the grief which this pandemic has wrought.

Follow the LIGHT where-ever the LIGHT may lead us, for there is WISDOM in the Stars just as surely as there is WISDOM in you.  Deep beneath the snow are the beginnings of new growth. Spring will come. Deep within you lives the SPIRIT of WISDOM. So, breathe deeply of the LOVE which IS the MYSTERY that we call God. Breathe deeply of the ONE who IS LIGHT and LOVE, and EMANUEL, with us. Breathe deeply of the WISDOM within and we shall be the LIGHT of the world.

View the full Worship Service Below

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The COVID-Grinch Cannot Steal Christmas!

There’s no Christmas tree in our sanctuary this year. We knew that come Christmas, we would not be able to gather in person to celebrate, so we didn’t put up a tree. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss the tree until I recorded last Sunday’s worship video. I was standing in this empty sanctuary, just me and the camera and I couldn’t see the beautiful Advent decorations. All I could see was the empty corner where our tree usually stands. It reminded me of a scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I’m old, so I’m talking about the 1966 cartoon, where the Grinch steals Cindy Lou Who’s Christmas tree. Staring over at that empty corner, it was as if the COVID-Grinch has stolen so much of what we hold dear about Christmas. The COVID-Grinch has stolen our family gatherings, and our crowded Christmas Candlelight Communions and no tree for us this year. So, I’m left standing here like a Who from down in Whoville whose crying “boo hoo.”

Back in the 60’s when the Grinch stepped up his antics, artificial trees were all the rage. Those early artificial trees were about as life-like as the flat animations in that old cartoon. But still people couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I remember our family’s first artificial tree. It may have been our first, but unfortunately, we had it for most of my childhood. That hideous artificial tree is what turned me into a real tree enthusiast. That poor excuse for a tree consisted of a center pole which looked like a broomstick. The pole was painted green and holes had been drilled into it where these metal branches adorned with what I can only describe as short pieces of green tinsel were poked in.

Every year, my parents would haul out this artificial monstrosity and erect it in our living room so that we could decorate it with our treasured bobbles. Needless to say, the trauma of this hideous artificial monstrosity caused me, once I was old enough to pay for them, to insist on always having a real tree. No artificial trees for me! Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a real tree. Except for that one year, when I was broke. I was sharing an apartment with four roommates who were also broke. We simply couldn’t afford a real tree. One of my roommates had the bright idea that we should check out the local charity shop to see if they had any cheap artificial trees which we could afford. Now it was just a few days before Christmas, so the pickings were slim in the charity shop. An exasperated salesclerk explained to us that all they had left were some odds and ends, as she directed us to a bin full of mismatched artificial tree-limbs and told us we could help ourselves to whatever we wanted. Inside that bin were all sorts of fake tree branches representing the various artificial tree fashions of the previous decades. There were fake pine branches made of wires and some made of plastic. There were even branches reminiscent of my family’s hideous green tinsel tree, and a few silver tinsel branches of that same genre. Perhaps the most offensive branches were the ones which were coated with some sort of white crusty stuff, no doubt designed to simulate snow. Very few of the fake branches looked related to one another, let alone looking anything remotely like a Christmas tree. But one of my roommates found a fake tree trunk, which looked suspiciously like a broomstick. He insisted that we could easily attach some branches to it, add a few bobbles, toss some tinsel on it and Bob’s your Uncle, a Christmas tree would be born out of this bin. Thinking that he was joking, we decided to join in the fun and proceed to gather together the most offensive of the branches. We were going for the ridiculous look.

I don’t really think that we actually intended to bring our insane selections home. We just sort of got caught up in the madness. Madness is the only way I can explain the monstrosity of a tree that was erected in our living room. There was nothing beautiful about our creation, except of course the laughter with which we created it and the LOVE which that monstrosity bore witness to as we danced in jubilation around it. At one point, I’m not sure if it was the insanity of our excuse for a tree, or maybe it was the wine we consumed creating it, but we actually attempted to reenact a scene from the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” for in fact the Grinch cannot steal Christmas. I will never in all my days, forget the joy which we had standing around pretended to be a bunch of Whos from down in Whoville chanting: “Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores, Welcome Christmas.”

A couple of days ago, Carol and I came into this sanctuary to change the paraments from Advent to Christmas. For a while all I could see was the empty corner where our tree ought to be. All I could see was what was missing. I know that this Christmas many of us will have difficult seeing beyond what is missing. Who can blame us? This is a Christmas like no other we have ever experienced. So, much of what we love about Christmas, simply will not be here. There will be empty corners, empty places where you usually sit, and worst of all empty chairs at Christmas tables. It isn’t easy to see beyond what’s missing. It is as if there is a wall separating us from the Christmas of our longings. That wall is reinforced by so much of we are hearing and seeing in the media. Our screens are bombarding us with dire news. It is so very tempting for us to stare blankly at our screens. And as the wall gets higher and higher, we sink deeper and deeper into despair.

As Carol and I continued to decorate this sanctuary, my attention was shifted from the empty corner to the creche. It isn’t in its usual place this year. We wanted to make it easier for the camera to capture it as we were recording this service. As I look upon the scene which symbolizes the myths which have sustained generations, a gap appears in the wall and I can begin to see beyond the darkness to the LIGHT which continues to glimmer with hope.

So much of the world’s attention is captured each and every day by stories of scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness. Our focus is captured by images on screens which dominate our conversations, our thoughts, our beliefs and even our way of life. Each story which portrays scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness as the way life is, was, and ever more shall be, generates fear. Our fears re-enforce the wall, which leads to more and more actions based upon the principals of scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness, and the wall just becomes more and more impenetrable as our fears feed upon one another.

As I look upon this nativity scene, it is so very tempting to linger over sentimental trivialities only to forget the subversive nature of the parable which is symbolized by this idyllic scene. For this parable which has sustained generations is the very anthesis of our fear. The parable which sustains us right here and right now denies the very foundational blocks upon which the wall of fear is built. Whereas our wall of fear is founded on the principles that life is all about scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness, the symbols of our foundational parable, point us beyond our fear to the reality that our lives are a gift and LOVE is the point.

Life is a gift born not out scarcity, but out of the abundance of Creation. A simple walk in the woods on a snowy evening is more than enough to shift our focus from notions of scarcity to glimpses of the magnificent abundance with which we are blessed. I’m also pretty sure that the mere fact that there is a vaccine on the horizon, is not the result of competition, but of co-operation. I also know that greed won’t get that vaccine into the arms of enough people to move us beyond this pandemic. In order to vaccinate enough of the world’s population, rich countries like ours are going to need to be extremely generous, outrageously generous.

Tonight, this nativity heralds the birth of LOVE, and points us toward the reality of the passion of a person who understood that scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness create fear. Jesus lived and died to proclaim that beauty, truth, and goodness is in abundance all around us. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and live it abundantly.” Abundant life is characterized by our generosity, our cooperation, and our passion; our passion which gives birth to LOVE.

Abundant life does not mean life without fear, nor does it mean that scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness do not exist. Living life abundantly means not allowing these things to be foundational to our lives. When we live life abundantly, what is beautiful, true and good, nourishes us so that we can be generous, cooperative, and passionate in the way we encounter our fear. Living life abundantly means seeing beyond the wall built by our fear. In practical terms it means noticing that there is no tree in our sanctuary this year and being able to see the blessing of our technology which empowers us to find new ways to be LOVE in the world. It means missing our families and being grateful that we have families to miss. It means being stuck at home and being grateful that we have a home to be stuck in. It does not mean ignoring the realities of evil, or the tragedies which surround us, or even the empty chairs at our dinner table. It does mean grieving, for to grieve is to have LOV-ed. It is that LOVE which will nourish us, so that we can see beyond our pain to the LIGHT which continues to grow; the light which is fueled by beauty, truth, and goodness, guiding us to respond to scarcity not with fear but with the realization of the abundance of blessings which continue to flow all around us, to respond to competition not with a fear of losing, but with cooperative alternatives, and to respond to greed and self-centeredness, not with fear but with generosity and compassion for our neighbours.

Tonight, this nativity points us to the birth of the ONE who lived passionately proclaiming that abundance, generosity, co-operation, flow out of beauty, truth, and goodness, to create LOVE, the LOVE which will comfort and restore us; a LOVE which resurrects our passion for life.

Christmas is a holiday, a HOLY day in which we celebrate what is good about the world. Our celebrations will not deny the suffering which is going on all around us. Our celebrations, if we let them, will empower us to see our suffering in the context of the abundance of blessings which come to us each and every day.

Yes, I do miss our tree. I miss all of you filing this sanctuary with song. I also know that a long dark, difficult winter stretches out before us all. But I trust the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being to give us the strength to meet this winter not motivated by our fears but empowered by the passion inspired in us by the abundance of goodness, truth, and beauty which surrounds us. So that we can see beyond our fears. So that we can discover new ways of being LOVE in the world.

As I look upon that nativity, I can see beyond the sadness, longing, and fear, to the beauty of the candlelight. And even in the silence of this empty sanctuary which is bigger than this building; this sanctuary in which we live and move and have our being, is a LOVE beyond my fear, a LOVE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also.

So, wherever you are watching this, whatever your circumstances may be, do not let the COVID-Grinch steal your Christmas. For not even the COVID-Grinch as despicable as it may be, not even this can steal Christmas, because LOVE is about to be born in us.

May you each of you see beyond the walls built of fear to the LIGHT which continues to glow. May that LIGHT help you to see the abundance of blessing which are all around us. May you rejoice in the gift of your life, so that LOVE may continue to grow in, with, through, and beyond you. “Welcome Christmas, fah who rah-moose. Welcome Christmas, dah who rah-moose.” Let us live this LOVE-given gift of life abundantly. Merry Christmas.

View the full Christmas Eve Worship Video below

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Jesus’ Birth Story: A Radical, Subversive Parable

Well, here we are facing the darkest of winters. Rising death tolls together with the reality that we must wait many more months before the vaccines will make it possible for us to gather together in person. So, on this the final Sunday of Advent, with most of us needing to forgo our regular Christmas celebrations with loved ones, here I am on your screen with nothing but a story to give you hope, love, peace and joy. I have only a story to comfort us all in the darkness in which we have ben gestating for months, for practically all of this year. But I do not appear here to proclaim just any story. For generations, people have insisted that the story of the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus’ birth narrative heralds the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth, God incarnate, fully divine and yet fully human.

However, not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus’ birth can’t even claim to be unique. Historically, Jesus’ birth story is just one in a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it is our story. A story that we tell over and over again at the expense of other birth stories which are just as great. It is not all that difficult for the cynics to buttress their denials about who and what Jesus was, simply by Googling the “greatest birth story ever told”, selecting one or two of these greatest stories and putting them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as simply one story in a long line of ancient birth stories.

Allow me to demonstrate by using just one of these ancient birth stories. There are so many to choose from, so let’s use the one which predates the birth of Jesus by only 60 years, when Julius Caesar had established an Empire the likes of which the world had never seen before. Gaius Julius’ prowess on the battlefield was matched only by his cunning in the senate and together these powers had won him the title of “Caesar.” But as great and marvelous a leader as Julius Caesar may have been, history tells us that he and his wife were not blessed with children so eventually Julius appointed his niece’s son Octavian to be his heir. It is Octavian’s birth story that the Ancient Romans claimed was the most amazing birth story ever told. This birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth.

Octavian went down in history by his nickname. I should really say by his imperial name, for as the Emperor of Rome, Octavian became known as Augustus Caesar and it is his birth narrative that was the greatest birth story ever told, according to the Romans. Augustus is Latin, for “one who should be praised or worshiped.” Caesar means Emperor. The legends surrounding this praiseworthy emperor of Rome are truly astounding. Born just 60 odd years before the birth of Jesus, it is said that Augustus was a son of god twice over. For not only was he the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who when he died, was by virtue of being the ruler of Rome declared by his people to be a god, legend has it that Octavian’s mother had a dalliance with some god or other. It seems that on the day Octavian was born his mother had a dream that she was raised up to the sky and her intestines were spread all over the earth.  His father also had a dream that the sun rose and set on his dear wife’s womb. Well, when the priests were consulted about these dreams, it was decreed that little Octavian must be the progeny of a god.  But which god you may ask, well ancient sources are blurry on the subject, some say it was Jupiter himself, others suggest his father was the god Mars.  

The poet Virgil gives us a pretty clear indication of just who Octavian, known as Augustus, was in the eyes of his people.  For it seems that on the very night that Augustus Caesar was made Emperor a strange star appeared in the sky. When Romans described the appearance of the star in the sky they said, “We saw the son of God, aka Julius Caesar, ascending to the right hand of God the father, Zeus.” The people believed that this was a sign that Julius Caesar’s spirit was finally able to leave Rome and head off into the heavens, blessing the reign of his great-nephew Octavian, aka Augustus, as he went by displaying a magnificent star in the sky. Writing of Augustus’ actual birth, Virgil’s poem insists that, “Augustus would be a divine king, the one the world had been waiting for, the one who would bring salvation to all the earth, freeing the people from fear and establishing a universal empire of peace.”  

If the truth be told, Augustus Caesar did live up to his birth legend. After all, as Emperor he did establish the Pax Romana and peace was upheld in his empire. He did it by conquering and terrorizing the conquered. Pax Romana was known as “peace through victory.” Once you were conquered by the Romans, you had better behave yourself peacefully or they’d publicly execute you so as to set an example to your kinfolk. It was just as Virgil said, and I quote: “Caesar is the Son of God.  Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus. Augustus is reigning in the fullness of his glory; the entire empire resounds with the sound of the advent proclamation.”  Does any of this sound familiar? Such an august man/god as this requires a birth narrative which heralds the arrival of the Saviour of the world.

Imagine what it must have been like for the early followers of the man Jesus of Nazareth; a peasant, rabbi, radical, and disturber of the peace, executed as a political threat to the Pax Romana. The followers of the Way knew that their beloved leader was the embodiment of the antithesis of Caesar; for everything which Caesar was, Jesus was not! Jesus of Nazareth went to his death insisting that peace through victory was no peace at all. Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the radical notion that peace, true peace can only be established and maintained through justice. Peace, true peace, is the result of everyone having enough. Jesus called for the kind of distributive justice, which ensures that the poor and the powerless, the marginalized and the despised have all they need in order to live in peace. It was such a radically dangerous notion that the powers that be could not let it live. So, the Romans did what the Romans always did when the Pax Romana came under threat, they nailed the radical, peace disturbing, rabbi to a tree and let him hang there until he was dead.

The only problem with their plan was Jesus’ dream just wouldn’t die. The dream of this new kind of peace, this peace through justice, which Jesus had called the Reign of God, simply would not die in the hearts and minds of this itinerate preacher’s followers. Jesus’ dream of the Reign of God lived on. Years later; decades later, in fact a whole generation later, when one of this Jesus fella’s followers sat down to write the account of Jesus’ life, he did his best to find a way to ensure that the dream would never die. And so, to this day, the dream lives on thanks in part to the writing of an unknown scribe who wrote down what the people were saying and teaching about the dream, long after this Jesus of Nazareth was gone. We don’t know who wrote it, tradition has called him Luke, but no one really knows who it was. We do know that this persuasive writer employed a style of storytelling which Jesus was particularly fond of himself. Jesus of Nazareth persuaded people to change their way of being using a type of story called a parable. A parable is a story which uses elements which are very familiar to the listeners. A parable takes familiar elements and uses them in ways which turn the listener’s perceptions upside down. One minute the listener is on familiar territory and in the next minute everything the listener thought they knew is turned upside down and a new way of imagining the world is revealed. The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we call Luke was clever; clever enough to know that any great person worthy of belief or praise must have a great birth story.

So, if a birth story is what it takes for listeners to know the truth and to believe, then let me give you the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s birth parable which is worthy of the one who proclaimed a different kind of peace.  You may have your peace through victory, but the Prince of Peace of whom I speak; now there is a Saviour worthy of praise.  Son of God, you bet, but were as Octavian might have been born of noble birth, the kind of Saviour I’m talking about was of the people, born as the apostle Paul declared, “born of a woman”. Not anyone special, her name was Miriam, and lord knows there are Miriams everywhere just like her. This Miriam was just a slip of a girl, not more than about 12 or 13 years old. We don’t know exactly how she became pregnant; people talked about her and about Jesus as if there was something a little dubious about the way in which it happened. But then in the Pax Romana, young girls fell pregnant all the time and Miriam wasn’t from a noble family. But they were righteous enough to find a good man to take her on, even though he knew that she was pregnant. It was as if he’d seen it in a dream and so this man, this man let’s call him after that dreamer of old, let’s call him Joseph, it was like he had a dream or something of how things should be. Anyway, no matter what the powers that be threw at them, they coped, even if it meant travelling down to Bethlehem the city of the great King David to be registered. So far from the halls of power, so far that it might have been an outbuilding on the edge of a city, amongst the poorest of the poor, a child was born.

A star, you bet your life there was a star. Right up there in the sky above the place where he was born, and the star was so big and so bright that the powerful came and bowed down before the baby who would become the hope of the poor. Finally, good news for the poor and the oppressed, the marginalized and the despised, good news for unto you is born in the City of David a Saviour who will be the Prince of Peace, who will bring peace on earth and good will to all.

Yeah, here’s a birth story like no other. Here’s a birth story about humble origins, about margins, about poverty, about struggle and oppression, about simple people living their lives as best they can and accomplishing great things. The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we call Luke has created a subversive birth parable. A parable in which Jesus, not Caesar is born of a virgin and is the Son of God. The trouble is after 20 centuries, you and I hear “born of a virgin” and “Son of God” as unbelievable church doctrines. But in this parable, these are not doctrines but subversive political statements. They are declarations that Jesus embodied a different kind of god. In Jesus an oppressed and marginalized people experienced a radically different vision of the DIVINE, a vision which turned the whole idea of the DIVINE upside down. Caesar offered a vision of a god who is born in a mansion. But this new vision of the DIVINE was born in a manger. Caesar is a god who enslaves. CHRIST is a god who sets free. Caesar is a god who lives with the oppressors. CHRIST is a god who lives among the oppressed. The stories of Jesus’ birth are subversive parables designed to say a big NO to the powers of Empire; to turn the world we thought we knew upside down and point to a new way of being in the world.

The stories of Jesus’ birth represent a politically subversive call for us to enlist in a cause where we care for our neighbour, look out for the stranger and embrace the flesh and blood of those who are suffering, oppressed, persecuted, starving, homeless, those who have no voice. Christmas itself is a call to embrace the parables of Jesus’ birth as our call to turn the world as we know it upside down and usher in a new way of being in the world; a way of being that rejects the horrors of Empire and embraces the kind of justice that gives birth to peace.

Forget your grand and glorious birth stories. You won’t find the DIVINITY you seek in the halls of power. The DIVINITY you seek, is out there in the muck and mire of the world, in the stuff of life. The peace you hunger for won’t come from the rich or the powerful. They are too busy defending their power and holding on to their wealth. The peace you hunger for will only come at the expense of the powerful. And for those of us who are rich and powerful; that’s rich enough to have screens on which to watch this, for us peace we long for requires that we sacrifice our wealth and power. The peace we long for will only come when our love inspires us to share. The peace we hunger for will only come when everyone has enough. Peace through justice is the only kind of peace that has any power to satisfy, to last. If you are looking for a god worthy of your worship, look not to the powerful. Look to the power of god that lives and breathes in you; the divine power that drives your hunger for justice and peace. It was born in you and it lives in you and it lives in you.

Who is this one heralded as the Prince of Peace? Jesus of Nazareth, who had a dream of peace which he proclaimed as the Reign of God; a reign which would see to it that the rich are sent away empty because they already have enough, a reign in which and the hungry are filled with good things, a reign where justice and not victory is the way to peace. A reign dreamed of and embodied by a poor peasant, a radical rabbi, who the powers that be could not abide, so they killed him hoping to put an end to his dream. But the dream will not die. Resurrection is the rebirth of this dream, over and over again, in the hearts, minds, and lives of the followers of the ONE whose birth we celebrate in the midst of darkness. This dream will be born again, and again, even in the midst of this pandemic as the poor and the oppressed, the forgotten and the neglected, the sick and the dying continue to long for LOVE, right here, right now.

Let the dream of Jesus be born right here and right now, in you. Let it be said of you that you lived this dream; that the dream of the Reign of God, a dream where justice leads to peace, a dream where LOVE conquers all; a dream where joy is found in the LOVE, we share to warm the darkness.

May the LOVE which is DIVINE be born in, with, through and beyond you. Let it be said of you that you, that you too are a Child of God, a Princess, or a Prince of Peace, a Mighty Councillor, Emmanuel, God with us. BE Joy to the world!

Watch the full Worship Service here

Download the Order of Service click here

Make Room for LOVE To BE Born Right Here and NOW!

What a strange Advent this has been. In the midst of this pandemic, so many of our rituals and customs have been set aside as we struggle to do our part to slow the numbers down and bend that curve. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of an appetite for John the Baptist’s ranting and raving this Advent Season. Public health leaders, politicians, and pundits of every kind, who are endlessly pleading with us to wear our masks, wash our hands, stay home unless it is essential to go out and worst of all don’t gather with friends and family for Christmas period. I don’t need some ancient prophet’s words echoing down through the generations crying to us from the wilderness, pleading with us to, “Prepare the way for our God!” 

This is a strange Advent Season in my home. We put up our Christmas tree this year. Normally, we wait, choosing to stay in the dark blue hues of Advent. But this year, knowing that it will just be the two of us, we have made an extra effort to decorate our home with all the trappings of Christmas. We’ve even violated our custom of trying not to play Christmas carols until Christmas. So, I’ve been hearing “O Holy Night” over and over again. It seems a little premature, but that line is stuck in my head, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” Lord knows our world is weary. So how shall we rejoice this year?

I wonder as I wander around the empty sanctuary here, what will it be like not to see many of you on Christmas Eve. I’ve been wondering what it will be like not to hear the familiar sounds of your voices singing with such reverence. I’ve been anticipating my own sadness at not seeing many of you raise your candles in the darkness, as we sing Silent Night with such hope and gladness. Considering all that we have been through this year, and all the challenges which lie ahead in the coming months, is it any wonder that the sentimental aspects of our beloved Christmas traditions are haunting our Christmas preparations in the midst of the countless restrictions we are trying to cope with? Oh, how we long, not for the darkness of reality, but for the darkness of our visions of some “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” Our imaginings of the way things were, just might get in the way of our ability to experience any peace, or any joy, at all this Christmas.

Within the contours of our imagined sentimental Christmas scenes, the mess of life is all too often swept under the carpet of straw in that stable, upon which a gorgeous holy family stare placidly at adoring shepherds and angels, under the perfect glow of a celestial star. Even when we shift our gaze from the delightful stable, to our own remembered Christmas gatherings, the mess of life is all too often swept under imaginary rugs, so as to ensure that the reality of life in community can’t threaten to undo our visions of perfection. COVID may be an unwelcome visitor this Christmas, but every Christmas has its unwelcome visitors. I think that’s why the anonymous-gospel-storytellers allow John the Baptist to strut his stuff way out by the Jordan river somewhere, in the wilderness, so as not to have him intrude on our treasured tales of Jesus’ arrival. There’s nothing silent nightish about John the Baptist as he rants and raves about the need for people to, “Repent!” and warns anyone within shouting distance that it is time to prepare a way for the arrival of someone who will turn everything they have ever known around. For to “repent” literally means, “to turn around.” Repent! Stop going in the direction you’ve been going all your lives and turn around, prepare a new way of being.  Prepare the Way for our God!

Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas isn’t much like Silent Night. The “way” which John the Baptist is screaming at us to prepare, is not a way which will accommodate sweeping the messiness of life under the straw, or indeed, even under the rugs of our imaginations. Christmas is so much more than the Silent Night of our longings. Christmas, if it is any kind of Christmas at all, includes all the messiness we bring to it. Think about it. The story of new birth isn’t pretty. It is not tidy. Nor is it silent. Life is chaotic. Life is messy. Life is far too full of contradictions to ever be adequately captured by our sentimentality.

If your visions of Jesus’ arrival resemble the scene depicted in Silent Night, you really haven’t understood the chaos which new birth brings. Christmas is not about heavenly peace. About as close to Silent Night that Christmas ever gets is “shepherds quaking at the sight!” We ought to be quake to at the very idea of LOVE being born in us. Christmas is a radical subversive parable which was written to challenge whatever peace we have made with the chaos in our lives, a parable carefully crafted to reject our impulse to pull the covers over our head and pretend that life isn’t happening the way it is happening.

Christmas is chaotic precisely because it is in the midst of chaos that we encounter the ONE who IS…that’s IS, with a IS with a capital I and a capital S. IS the third-person singular, of the verb “to be” the ONE who IS – the one our ancestors knew as YAHWEH, the great I AM – that’s AM in capital letters, the first-person singular of the verb “to be”, YAHWEH the I AM, is not off in the heavens looking down at some angelic nativity scene. The ONE who IS, is as Jesus taught us with his very being, the ONE who IS, is LOVE, and as LOVE the ONE who IS, is to be found in all the muck and the mire, right smack dab in the midst of our chaos. For not only do we live, and move, and have our being, in the ONE who IS LOVE, this very ONE, this DIVINITY, this GOD if you will, works in, with, through, and beyond us, in all of our chaotic mess, constantly creating hope in the midst of despair, creating justice in the midst of injustice, creating vaccines in the midst of this pandemic, and offering compassion, kindness, and LOVE, as we work together to keep as many people as possible safe and healthy. Even in this COVID chaos in which we are locked-down, LOVE is working miracles. We are not alone in this chaos.

Christmas is the celebration of new birth and birth is chaotic, messy, frightening, painful, and anything but silent! The parable of Christmas is a raw story, a bare bones story, to which we have added our own desires for a Silent Night. Whatever our imaginings about that holy night may be, one thing we can know for sure there was nothing silent about Jesus’ birth. It was a birth like any other birth, with all the mess of blood, urine, mucus, pushing, screaming, and amniotic fluid. This birth had more than its fair share of fear and anxiety. Whatever Jesus’ birth was it was not the Silent Night of our dreams.

Jesus birth was just like your birth and my birth. Like every birth, Jesus birth was chaos filled with the excitement and the worries which come before something wonderful happens. I suspect that Jesus’ young mother, Mary, was screaming, cursing, pushing, crying, bearing down, and sore afraid. Christmas was not a silent night and therein lies our hope for the world. For a god who is a creator of angelic, surreal, nativity scenes, would be a god far removed from the chaos and the reality of our lives. A god who is devoid of the messiness of life, isn’t any kind of god that I want to be a part of, let alone worship. I need to know that we are all part of something so much bigger than we can begin to imagine that isn’t some kind of distant creature, aloof, and separated from the reality of our lives. I want to be part of the SOURCE of ALL, ALL that IS, a deity, a force, a LOVE which is capable of working in, with, through, and beyond us to bring order out of the chaos, to inspire scientists to create vaccines. I want to be part of the ONE who weeps with those who weep, who suffers with those who suffer, a LOVE which dances, sings, laughs and rejoices whenever and wherever LOVE emerges in the midst of the mess and chaos of life. I want to be part of a LOVE which is beyond my ability to comprehend and yet a LOVE which works in, with, and through those who work to heal the sick, care the dying, toil away in laboratories seeking vaccines, who seek for justice for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, a LOVE which works, in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the wounds of the afflicted. I want to be part of a LOVE which challenges us, and at the same time, a LOVE which allures us in ways which empower us to live fully, love extravagantly, and be all that we are created to BE.

The Christmas story is the story of such a LOVE; LOVE which emerges in the midst of chaos, LOVE which empowers us to prepare new ways of being LOVE, which is born in a baby, for this is how LOVE is always born. This is how LOVE was born in you. At your birth LOVE came into the world and in you lie the hopes and dreams of all the Earth. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. A thrill of hope the wear world rejoices. Fall on your knees, fall on your knees” and LOVE will be there.

LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call, “God” is gestating in you. We will get our Silent Night. It may not be the Silent Night of our sentimental rememberings, but like all nights, it will provide darkness from which we can give birth to LOVE; LOVE powerful enough to bring peace on Earth and healing to the nations.

Prepare the way for LOVE to be born here and now! Trim your trees. Mull your wine. Wrap your presents. Sing carols. Zoom, Zoom, Zoom as we must. Reminisce to your hearts content as you, stay home. Stay safe. Keep your neighbours safe. Make room for LOVE to be born here and now! LOVE which IS, BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. Our CREATOR, CHRIST, and SPIRIT, ONE. Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

In the Wilderness of COVID Captivity, We Cry Out for Comfort NOW!

“Comfort, O comfort My people! says our God.” When I close my eyes, the words of Isaiah become music. In my very being, with all that I am, I hear the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is LOVE, sing notes this same LOVE created through LOVE’s servant Handel, “Comfort Ye! Comfort Ye! My people says your God” and again, “Comfort Ye! Comfort Ye! My people says your God”, over and over again like a mantra echoing down through the centuries. These words of LOVE, they well up in me, and I am comforted. The pain does not go away. The tears are still there beneath the surface, waiting to well up. My heart is remains broken. I am bereft. But I am comforted by the very I AM who draws breath in me. The pain is still there for the countless children of the CREATOR, who continue to suffer. The tears remain for the almost two-million people who have died from the coronavirus. My heart is broken for endless stolen moments which will never come again.

“Comfort Ye! Comfort Ye! My people says your God” Like the bereft of generations before me I long for a saviour, one more powerful than I am, one whom I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal. Maranatha. Come now o Saviour!  Come now and comfort the people! Comfort us! Comfort us NOW!

For ten long months we have been held captive by COVID! Exiled into the wilderness of isolation. Even our grieving of so many losses has been muted, forced into captivity as we mourn our dead in isolation. Rituals denied, forestalled, minimized, robbed of their power to adequately comfort us.

Each loss stifled, as we contort our faces, dress from the waist up, disguising our pain to fit into boxes on Zoom screens. Missing moments together, longing for embraces, shivering behind masks, huddled outside, socially distant in all our fear of what is to come. Comfort us! Comfort us NOW!

But there’s no saviour to tear open the heavens, just news of a vaccine together with forebodings about when, how much, who will and who won’t be first in line. Comfort us! Comfort us NOW! In our privileged lives, we have become so accustomed to our comforts; so accustomed to comforts that we have confused the verb “to comfort,” with our own need for comforts as we long to be comfortable.  Continue reading

Gestating in MYSTERY: the Darkness of this Pandemic

First Sunday of Advent – Mark 13:24-37

I realize that inviting you to contemplate the safety of the darkness of the Womb which gives birth, is a bit of a risk in the midst of a pandemic. Surely, the hope we crave might be more easily come by with images filled with light. Alas, Advent is a season of waiting in expectation. So, while we long to rejoice in the light, I’m inviting you to wait in the expectation that there is so much LIGHT emanating from the LOVE which gestates in darkness.

The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark provides us with a kind of pathway into the very darkness which we all too often fear to embrace. Peering into an unknown future, this ancient gospel-storyteller speaks of a time of distress which is passing. This distress gives way to darkness; a time when, “the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Look around you. Let yourself see the darkness in which we find ourselves in this Advent like no other we have experienced. These past months have seen so many of the things we take for granted fall away, only to be replaced by dire news of rising numbers, which threaten to breech the very foundations of institutions and systems which we have always assumed will save us. Is it any wonder that prophets heralding the news of salvific vaccines curry our favour amongst the clamor of the prophets of doom, who warn us of the end of the world? It is so tempting to abandon the darkness, lean into the light, and rush beyond the end of the world, to the promised land of milk and honey, where all is calm, and all is bright. But linger with me in the darkness for a while. Perhaps there is WISDOM which can only be revealed in the darkness; the kind of WISDOM which has the power to give birth to new ways of being LOVE in the world.

It has been said that a crisis reveals what has always been there. Perhaps the same can be said of the darkness? If someone had told us, last Advent that the world as we know it is about to come to an end, many of us would have assumed that such predictions are simply rhetorical devices designed to make us wake-up and pay attention to what is happening all around us. Indeed, like so many preachers, I too have employed end of the world rhetoric in my own Advent efforts to wake-up complacent listeners. This year, perhaps we are more willing to concede that the world as we knew it has already come to an end, back in the first wave of this pandemic. But every year, the world as someone knows it comes to an end. Poverty, oppression, hunger, illness, disease, racism, anger, violence and greed, these aspects of our lives together, bring an end of the worlds of so many of us, each and every year. Someone’s world is always coming to an end.

This pandemic, like all crises has done so much more than simply bring hardship and death to the world. In the early days of lockdown, a journalist Peter C. Baker wrote this, “When a crisis visits a community, the fundamental realty of that community is laid bare.” This pandemic has revealed to us the problems which we are all too willing to ignore, or to tolerate, or to deny. In addition to exposing what was already there, the pandemic exacerbated the suffering of those who were already struggling under the weight of our treasured systems and ways of being in the world.

If you are watching me on a screen, chances are you are richly blessed and well placed to be insulated from the full impact of this pandemic. Many of us have the option to flee the darkness and distract ourselves with light which is a paler version of the very Light we long for. It is so very tempting, to forsake the revelations of darkness in favour of visions of jolly old super-santas capable of numbing us back to sleep. But the echoes of cries from our distant past, stir us with warnings, “Stay awake!”  “Keep watch! For you do not know the day or the hour.” As much as I’d like nothing better than to lull myself into a long winter’s nap and wake up to find we’ve arrived on the far side of this pandemic, I believe that our ancient ancestors were on to something when they warned that as the world grew darker people should “Stay alert!”.

I’m convinced that if we have the courage to see what is being revealed in the darkness of this pandemic, something new will be born! My hope is, that what is about to be born will not be born out of our fear, but rather out of the LOVE which lives, in, with, through and beyond us. Birth and darkness are intimately related to one another. Gestation takes place in the darkness; seeds need the darkness of the earth, and humans we need the darkness of the womb. Movements and revolutions are created in the darkness. The darkness of poverty and despair, the darkness of injustice and war, the darkness of danger and death germinate the seeds of movements and revolutions which change the world. We have scarcely begun to imagine what might be born out of the darkness of this pandemic. But I am convinced that in order for LOVE to be born out of the darkness, we must have the courage to look beyond our fears and peer into the contours of the darkness.

Yes, we long for the way things used to be. I miss you all, more than I know how to say. I long for the day when we can gather together in person, here in this sanctuary. I can’t wait to share the peace with embraces so tight that they will give us comfort and strength. I would love to be able to sing carols, and celebrate communion, on Christmas Eve. I have faith that those days will come again.

But if they come again and we have failed to see what this crisis is revealing, we will return to a Church which was failing in all kinds of ways to usher in the DIVINE MYSTERY’s Reign of Peace. Yes, I want the stores to fully open again. I want people to be able to go back to work. Yes, I am convinced that in time the various vaccines which are within our grasp, will make it possible for us to return to what so many of us see as “normal life.”  But if we go back to the status quo without seeing what is being revealed by this crisis, we will fail accept that our economic systems are oppressing the poor in ways which cannot and should not be tolerated? Yes, I want to be able to travel again, and I am confident that the day will come when I can get on an airplane and fly across the country and see my family. But if we fail to see the benefits which lockdown brought to our bruised and battered Earth, we will fail to face up to the impact modern travel has on the fragile ecology of our planet? I want to celebrate Christmas with my family. I want to see my grandchildren open their presents. I want to gather around a Christmas feast and celebrate the LOVE that we share. Like many of you I grieve the loss of so many moments together. I will be the first to rejoice when the all-clear is sounded and we celebrate the end of this pandemic. I am confident that a new age is about to be born in which we can rejoice and be glad. I long to celebrate the death of the coronavirus. But I also believe the words of Joan Chittister, who said, “Every age that is dying is simply a new age coming to life.”

If we have the courage to peer into the darkness to see what is being revealed, we will surely see that we cannot simply return to the way things were. Longing for a return to what we call “normal” will only lull us back into sleep, from which we may never again give birth to LOVE.

Keep awake! Be alert! For a new age is about to be born. Look into the darkness and you will see new ways of being, born out of what is being revealed. In the darkness of this pandemic, there is much more to see than the death-throws of all that must die in order for new life to be born. Look into the darkness and you will see that new life gestating, as LOVE is born again, and again, and again.

In the darkness of this pandemic, we have also seen the courage of doctors, nurses, caregivers of every kind, as they have healed the sick and accompanied the dying. In the darkness of this pandemic, we have seen the compassion of neighbours reaching out to neighbours in ways which have inspired hope, even in the most jaded of us. In the darkness of this pandemic, we have seen LOVE’s birthing revealed in so many random acts of kindness. There is so much WISDOM being revealed in the darkness.

As we journey through Advent this year, let us explore the contours of the darkness in which we are gestating, so that what is about to be born, might be a world in which we see the LIGHT of the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is LOVE, live in, with, through and beyond us, empowering us to forsake the way things were; to let go of our longing to return to “normal”, so that we are ready to embrace new ways of being, as we usher in a new age in which justice leads to peace.

Keep awake! Stay alert! LOVE is being born in the of the darkness, and the LIGHT, which is DIVINE MYSTERY, is being revealed, over and over again! May the LIGHT which is LOVE, be born in you, so that the world may know in you, the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Amen.

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

FULL WORSHIP VIDEO for the First Sunday of Advent

 

 

What about those raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face, right-wing nut-jobs?

Bless me, folks, for I have sinned. It has been far too long since my last confession. But what with COVID and all, I haven’t been too eager to look into the mirror. But we have arrived at the end of the church year, and with this comes a parable attributed to Jesus, about the sheep and the goats, and I must confess my goatyness has become all too apparent. It has been sneaking up on me for weeks now. I blame the media. Why not, everyone else does? Over and over again, the news media has delivered reports about various prominent, what shall we call them, Trumpsters? who are testing positive for the coronavirus. The news of raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face right-wing nut-jobs who, are making fun of science one minute only to test positive the next, well, forgive me but I can no longer stop my lips from twitching and breaking out in a self-righteous smile. Not that I wish them harm, but a few weeks on a ventilator might just be the medicine they need to convert them to my way of thinking.

I know. I know it’s wrong. This is after all a confession. But admit it. Go on. Tell me you don’t smirk even a little when “those people,” you know the ones who rant and rave, in that self-righteous way of theirs, ridiculing, or denying, or objecting to all the stuff that we care about. You know the stuff “we” progressive, forward-thinking, smart people, us, the ones who know better, all the stuff “they,” “them,” “those,” “others,” well let’s face it, they just don’t have a clue about.

Forgive me. I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself from judging “them,” those others, whether they’re Trumpsters, or those science-denying, greed-inspired, racist, ignorant, card-carrying nut-jobs. Why shouldn’t we take some delight that when they get what they deserve? After all good christian folk like us, have been judging people for centuries! You’ve got your sheep and you’ve got your goats. And the good shepherd knows enough to separate one from another: sheep to the right, goats to the left. Yay sheep! Boo goats! The parable is clear!  Yay us! Boo them! Continue reading

The Plague and the Printing Press to the Pandemic and the Internet: Always Reforming!

Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming! This tired old phrase is trotted out each Reformation Sunday by preachers like myself to encourage our listeners to embrace the need for the reformation of the Church to continue. However, appealing it may sound, Semper Reformanda, to be always reforming, is not a task which is often embraced by the Church. Take for example preachers: we who are called to earnestly exhort our listeners to be about the task of reforming the Church, we preachers, we all too often fail to reform our own preaching, especially when it comes to Reformation Sunday. A quick review of some of my sermons and my colleagues sermons  written for this occasion, reveal a tendency to narrow our focus upon the story, or the legend, perhaps dare I say it, myth that on October 31, 1517, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and launched, “THE Reformation.” We proclaim the central thesis of Dr. Luther’s theology, that we are justified not by church rules or doctrine, but rather, we are saved by the grace of God, by faith in Christ, then we all sing a few verses of the good doctor’s “A Mighty Fortress” and give thanks that we have been set free from the errors of the Church’s past and move quickly onto next week’s celebration of All Saints. Alas, our annual, protestant reformation rituals, are in and of themselves designed to free us from the burden of always reforming! So, on this Reformation Sunday, I would like to embrace the Reformation tradition of preaching a loud “semper reformanda” by giving thanks that on this Reformation Sunday, the church’s pandemic predicament makes it impossible for the church to do anything but reform. In the words of the wise Dr. Luther, “Here we stand. For we can do no other.”

Here I stand in an empty sanctuary, for we can do no other! Ten months ago, this sanctuary was effectively shut down and I have been leading worship from my home to your home. Remaining physically distant is what LOVE-ing our neighbour looks like in 2020. So, here I stand!  Alone, preaching into the camera on my phone, trusting that the miracles of technology will bring us together. What I wouldn’t give to see this sanctuary filled with your smiling faces. I miss you all and my longing for the traditions of old is only accentuated by the reality that we are headed into what promises to be a long, dark, and difficult winter. There is no end in sight. So, we must content ourselves with our hopes and dreams of a vaccine to cure what ails us. Or do we?

I know that many of us are blessed with the wherewithal to hunker down in our homes and sit this winter out, as we wait for the scientists to do their magic. If you’re watching this on a screen, you like me are among the wealthiest people on the planet and while we are not immune to COVID, we are insulated in ways that the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed, and the homeless can only dream of. So, if we are careful, follow all the rules, and forgo some the pleasures we used to take for granted, we stand a pretty good chance of survival. Well today on this strange Reformation Sunday, I am here as your preacher, to proclaim that survival is not enough. I want us to consider the possibility, indeed the hope that we can do so much more than simply survive this pandemic. I stand here today to encourage us all to consider the hope which comes from semper reformanda; the hope found when we truly engage in the process of always reforming. Continue reading

Reformation Sunday Resources

semper reformanda

Preparing for Reformation Sunday? Some of these posts might be useful:

Always Reforming: Freedom and Loss

”The Truth Will Set You Free. But First It Will Piss You Off!”

Echoing the Divine Plea: “I Lay Before You Life and Death. Choose Life!”

What if we won’t ever really understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until we understand that God is dead?

Enough with “A Mighty Fortress” Already! Sing a New Song!

95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century

Freedom from What?  All this Reforming is Wearing Me Out!

What Darwin Never Knew

A Reformation Day Nailing to the Internet – John Shelby Spong

A Prayer for Reformation – Thomas Berry

GOD’s Backside Passes By Our COVID Regulated Wilderness – Exodus 33

Yesterday, I while on my way to preside at a wedding, my mind kept wandering away from the imminent nuptials toward the vivid autumn colours and all that they foretell. I love autumn. I’m fond of saying that autumn is my favorite colour. But as I drew closer to my destination, thoughts of the passing of autumn into winter saddened me as I thought about how this wedding would unfold. Here in this region we are about to go back into lockdown, so this wedding was a wedding like no other wedding, I have ever been part of. As we hastily drew up plans for the event, we joked about our new reality and the challenges which have become all too real during this pandemic. Only a handful of guests would gather outside, in the back yard of the parents of the bride. Masks would be mandatory, and we would be required to keep our distance. The realization that this couple was just one of many couples whose weddings have been postponed or curtailed or carried out under strict social distancing regulations began to lower my mood. So, returned my focus to the vivid autumn vistas which lined my route. As my mind soaked up the beauty, it also began to wander toward the reality that these bursts of colour mean that the leaves are about to die. Soon they will all fall, just as the snow will begin to fall. Winter is coming.

Winter is coming and it shall be a winter like no other we have ever experienced. For in addition to the hardships which winter inevitably brings to this part of the world, the increased presence of the coronavirus will force us into the kind of hibernation which this past spring’s lockdown only hinted at. As my mood began to spiral down into the deeps of the wilderness into which we will soon find ourselves, I couldn’t help wondering, in the words of the psalmist in the old King James version, “from whence cometh our help?” I know the psalmist provides the answer, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” But I have long since given up the notion that the DIVINE MYSTERY which the interpreters of the King James Version of the Bible called, “LORD” was waiting around to magically solve all our problems. Continue reading

Brussels Sprouts and Coronavirus at Thanksgiving

This year, an unwelcome presence looms large over all of our Thanksgivings. Oh, how I long for those childhood thanksgivings when the only unwelcome presence at Thanksgiving was the brussels sprouts, which thanks to my Mom, always managed to make their way onto my plate. If only the coronavirus was as easy to deal with as brussels sprouts. As a child, I became quite adept at swallowing those little suckers whole so that I didn’t have to bit into them and have their flavor invade my senses. I’d take one look at the obligatory brussels sprouts on my pate, take a deep breath, and pop them in my mouth and down they went, one at a time. Fortunately, my Mom was a cook from a different generation who always boiled vegetables into mush. So, there was no fear of choking on a whole soggy brussels sprout.

This Thanksgiving, the unwelcome presence of a global pandemic, is keeping us from gathering together in our homes with family and friends. Most of us will sit down with only the people we live with, no invited guests, no visiting family, no large tables, filled to overflowing with loved ones. Small turkeys rather than large turkeys were all the rage in the grocery stores this week. Over Zoom, I have heard people lament the empty spaces which will dominate their Thanksgiving celebrations.

Like the lepers who failed to give thanks for their healing, some of us may even be tempted to give Thanksgiving a miss this year.  I know, I know, we do indeed have so very much to be thankful for. A small turkey is better than no turkey. A small gathering is better than no gathering. The lingering presence of COVID is better than having COVID. We are so very richly blessed! We have so very much to be thankful for. We have roofs over our heads, food on our tables, technology to connect us, and most of us are healthy! We have the means to protect ourselves from the lingering presence of COVID and should we find ourselves testing positive, we are blessed to live in a country where our medical needs will be met. In a world-wide pandemic, Canadians are blessed to have the odds in our favour.

We have so very much to be thankful for. We ought to be among the first to offer our thanks and praise. I suspect, if the questions I’ve received from some of you over the course of this week leading up to Thanksgiving are anything to go by, I suspect that some of us may be keeping company with the nine lepers who failed to offer thanks and praise to “God.” This Thanksgiving is much like other Thanksgivings, when folks have asked me a perplexing question: “How or to whom do progressives give their thanks?” Over the years many of us have moved beyond the old images which personified the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call “God” as a person, a super-hero kind of super-person.

Who am I kidding those old images personified “God” as an old-man in the sky who enjoyed various omini super-powers. This omni-god was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent – all powerful, all knowing, always and everywhere present – sky-god is the same god which so many people conjure up when they tell me that they don’t believe in God.To which I usually reply, I don’t believe in the same god which you don’t believe in. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY falls far short of the ONE in whom we live, and move, and have our being, the ONE who in IS BEING ITSELF.

So how or to whom do we give thanks and praise when we no longer think of God as a super-hero, up there, or out there, who functions as a kind of master puppeteer in the sky? I will admit that it is so much easier to say, “Thank-you” to a deity that we have personified than it is to give thanks to a deity which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also! Our thank-yous to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, tend to be expressed in words which are so much more awkward than simply saying, “Thank-you Father” or “Thank-you Lord” or even “Thank God.” Continue reading

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you? – Thanksgiving Sunday sermons

Follow the links for previous sermons:

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

Who IS God? – Not One, Not Two – inspired by Garrison Keillor & Joan Chittister

Brussel Sprouts, Ebola, and Thanksgiving – seeking the ONE who IS

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you

After You Move Beyond Personifying God?

Over the course of the past nine years a group of little people have come into my life. Lovely little people who call me Gran. There are seven of them and participating in their little lives is a source of such great joy. Each stage of their development is a wonder to behold. I particularly enjoy watching their parents as they attempt to teach these little darlings the things that they need to know about being human. One of the first things that we teach little humans is the fine art of saying thank-you. It takes a fair amount of repetition to teach a child to say thank-you. Over and over again, after giving them exactly what they want, we ask, “Can you say thank-you?” and the little darlings repeat the words “Thank-you.” Sometimes all we have to do is ask the question: “What do you say?” in order to hear the words “Thank-you” uttered in such a delightful way as to inspire us to praise them as such good little girls and boys.

Expressing gratitude is a skill that all tiny little people must learn in order to develop into well-rounded human beings. Indeed, scientists insist that being grateful is a prerequisite of happiness. Happy humans it seems, are humans who embody gratitude. But there is more to gratitude than simply saying thank-you. I remember learning that gratitude includes more than simply expressing our thanks. It happened when I was about sixteen and actually noticed the beauty of a sunset and for the first time I realized that I was part of something so much bigger than myself. I know I must have seen the sunset before, but this time I actually saw the sun set. We were driving down the road, my friend Valerie and I were riding in a car driven by her mother, Lola. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia.  Just a few clouds.  You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden, Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and  just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening. 

These happy, glowing, smiling people made me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear.  What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it.  It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing.  The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent. A work of art. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice.          

Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So, I stood there.  Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Actually noticing a magnificent sunset was the beginning of a journey beyond myself as the reality that I am part of something so much bigger than myself continues to permeate my being.

Back then, I expressed my gratitude by very much the same way as my grandchildren are being taught to express their gratitude, simply by saying “Thank-you”. The object of the Thank-you being God. At the time, God was an old bloke up there in the sky somewhere. As my images of God changed over the years, my Thank-you’s continued to be expressed to my ever-changing images of God. But I must confess, that it was a whole lot easier to say thank-you to God when God was some big guy up there, out there somewhere? It was so much easier when I thought of God as “Father” or even as “Mother” to express my gratitude by simply mimicking the behaviour that I’d been taught as a child, “Can you say “Thank-you” Oh yes indeed I can say thank-you. “God is great, God is God, let us thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed, Give us Lord Our Daily Bread.” Continue reading

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth: Is this the Gospel of CHRIST? – Matthew 22:1-14

Fortunately, this Sunday is Thanksgiving in Canada, so I do not have to preach on this troublesome text. However, for those of you who are struggling with this text, I post this sermon preached six years ago.

Listen to the sermon here

 

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said,  “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’  But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town. Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honour. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’  The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests. The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’   “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14

Is this the Gospel of CHRIST? In Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and other mainline denominations this text will be read and in those congregations the preacher will conclude the reading with a proclamation declaring that this is, “The Gospel of CHRIST!” or “The Gospel of the Lord!” to which the people will declare “Praise to you O CHRIST!” But I ask you: “Is this the Gospel of CHRIST?” “Wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Is this the Gospel of CHRIST?

I must confess that when I realized that this text is the one assigned for this, the very Sunday when we are about to begin our “visioning process,” my heart sank. This gospel reading comes around every three years and I’ve always managed to be on vacation when that happens, so I’ve never actually had to preach this particular gospel text.  I was sorely tempted to change our gospel reading to something more in keeping with the task that lies before us this afternoon. This text is hardly conducive to creating a new 21st century vision of what our church might become.  “Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are called but few are chosen.”

Throw him out into the darkness for the crime of being badly dressed? What kind of vision is this for us, here, today? Are we not a progressive congregation? Do we not pride ourselves on being an inclusive community?  “Many are called but few are chosen.” Is this the “Gospel of CHRIST?” “Praise to you O CHRIST!” I don’t think so. Continue reading

Being LOVE in Toxic Soup??? coping with Trump’s toxicity!

My oh my, what a toxic week this has been. The bilious rhetoric went off the scale this week when the most-watched debate in history transmitted ignorance and hatred around the world like poison.  I know that there may be some of you who did not watch the presidential debate for all sorts of really good reasons, not the least of which may be your desire not to be infected by the toxic politics of our neighbours to the south. However, unlike wearing a mask, which offers the best protection we have in this pandemic, not watching the debate on Tuesday night offered little protection from the fumes of the toxic soup which is being cooked up by our neighbours.

I myself, I breathed far too deeply as the fumes from the bubbling orange cauldron travelled through various media into my home. I am ashamed to confess that the steam from this toxic soup nourished my own dark side. I did not know how dangerously infected I had become until the media brought the news that the most powerful person on the planet had tested positive for the coronavirus. I simply couldn’t help myself. Try as I might, the darker side of my nature positively bubbled up with glee, as smug retorts collided upon the tip of my tongue. “That’ll teach that arrogant, orange, idiot!” This was one of the kinder retorts that I will confess in this context. I shall leave you to imagine the more colourful thoughts, words, images and desires which sprang to mind as I smugly anticipated a fellow human being’s demise and gleefully rejoiced in my “I told you so!s”. I know that I can trust you to come up with more than a few dark thoughts of your own, some harsh words, and some smug images as well, because we’ve been swimming around together in this toxic soup for years now, waiting for the orange fellow who holds the nuclear football to receive his comeuppance.

It took more time than I care to admit for my kinder, gentler self to begin to choke on the bile being generated by my darker self. May all that is HOLY forgive me, but it sure isn’t easy to be LOVE in the world. As we flail about in this hate-filled toxic soup which feeds our baser instincts, it is difficult to remember those things which nourish, ground, and sustain us as the LOVERs we are created to be. Continue reading

St. Francis – BEYOND the bird-bath!

This coming Sunday, the Season of Creation concludes with the celebration of the life of St. Francis – Matthew 6:25-29 – this video was recorded in 2019 – when we looked beyond the ubiquitous bird-bath image to uncover the radical Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (1181-1286), who posed a prescient question which continues to resonate with those of us who live lives of privilege?  ARE WE BEING LOVING ENOUGH WITH EVERYTHING WE HAVE? As we learn to understand the Gospel as LOVE, then putting the Gospel at the centre of our lives requires us to ask ourselves, over and over again, “I am I loving with everything I have?”

The RIVER of LIFE

Whenever I sit down by a riverside, memories of other trips to other riversides tend to meander through my mind, flowing here and there, as images of my younger self reveal the long and winding, twists and turns of this river of life, and I can’t help but reach out to pat that little girl, or young woman, that I once was on the head and tell her to relax and go with the flow. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing by a riverside, holding onto a brand new fishing rod, hoping against hope that I would be able to somehow catch a fish. I had come well prepared and yet not prepared at all for what I was about to encounter. Earlier in the week my Father had presented my brother and I with our first fishing rods. Throughout the week, Dad had instructed us in the fine art of casting our lines. Instead of hooks, Dad had tied little rubber weights to the end of our lines. Over and over again we practiced, releasing our thumbs from the levers on our reels at just the right moment so as to send the line way out beyond us onto the grass. I could hardly sleep the night before our first fishing trip. I worried that I wouldn’t have the courage to impale a wiggling worm on my hook. I wondered which one of us, me or my younger brother, which one of us would manage to impale ourselves with a barbed hook. I can almost see the little girl that I once was tossing and turning on the top bunk as she hoped against hope that she would catch a fish, but not just any fish, this little girl longed to hook a really big fish, a fish to impress her Dad. No one told that little girl, that fishing is a waiting game which requires the kind of patience which few children can muster. I can see that little girl staring at a little red and white float, waiting for movement, determined that at any moment a fish, a really big fist was going to come along.

There were many riverbanks, and lots of fish were landed, some were big, some were small. All of them were interesting. Not beautiful really, but interesting. Personally, I liked catching the small fish, or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The small fist could be released back into the river to fight another day. Eventually, other things captured my attention. Dragon flies, darting here and there, birds singing, grasses blowing in the breeze, there was so much to discover down by the riverside. Dad was the purveyor of wisdom, explaining every mystery until that little girl began to tire of life on shore.

Eventually, I gave up fishing in favour of diving in. I can see that little girl splashing about in the water, laughing and giggling as I played for hours and hours in the river. I remember once, trying to stand still as the river’s swift current threatened to topple me over. I wondered where the river might take me if I failed to keep my balance. And just as that little girl is about to topple over, the image of a confident young woman emerges from the depths and she rolls over on her back and begins to float upon the water, and I can remember staring up at the clouds content just to be me, on a summer’s day so long ago. As the summer’s day gives way to evening, I see a less confident image of myself, sitting on a riverbank staring up as the sun sets wondering and wondering, filled with questions about how and why, longing to fish out of the river, or the sky, the answers to my endless questions.

I wonder when I stopped looking to the rivers, or to the sky, or the oceans, or the mountains and all the creatures who live upon the Earth so that I might find the answers to my questions. I can’t quite pinpoint the moment when I stopped fishing for answers in Creation and began fishing in libraries. One after another, each book caught me rather than me catching them, but still fishing none the less for answers. Sometimes the books would give way to the wisdom of teachers, scholars, mentors, and folks whose faith was stronger than mine. Hoping against hope, that this one, or the next one would provide answers to the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality.

Looking back at this long meandering journey, I can’t help but see that I’ve been fishing for answers my whole life long. Whether its fishing or studying, I’m still that little girl, longing to capture the really BIG FISH, the ONE which IS the SOURCE of ALL, the ONE who is MYSTERY. I wish I had tapped myself on the head a long time ago and told myself to relax. There’s no need to catch a fish, or follow the trail of some creature. There’s no need to harvest knowledge from books, or seek wisdom from the wise ones. Just go with the flow, let the river take you.

I remember once a long time ago watching a fish flounder on the shore, desperately trying to stay alive, when the wind drove the current on shore, and suddenly the fish was carried back into the river. The salvation of that fish brought tears to my eyes as I longed to be able to simply be carried away like that. For the fish lived and had its being in water; water flowed in and around and through the fish. The answers to the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality are all around us. For as our ancestor Paul said some 2,000 years ago, the MYSTERY, the ONE Paul called, “God.” is “the ONE in whom we live, and breathe, and move and have our being.”

So, as I pat the little girl, or the young woman, that I once was on the head, I hope that the person I continue to become will have the faith to go with the flow of this RIVER OF LIFE, this MYSTERY in whom we live and move and have our being. And when from time to time, the current runs swiftly, I hope that the person I am continuing to become will have the WISDOM to remember that the RIVER itself flows in, with, through, and beyond me and that I find the courage to drink deeply from this LIVING WATER which is the MYSTERY at the very core of who we are: BELOVED children of the ONE who IS.

The next time you find yourself down by the riverside, splash about a bit. Life in the river is far more exciting and life-giving than any of the answers you might be able to capture. So, splash about and play in the ONE who IS, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, the ONE in, which, we, live, and move and have our being, the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, now and forever. Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

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Getting to the Root of Our Dominion Over Creation: Genesis 1:27-28

From Coast to Coast to Coast, we Canadians live upon a land which far exceeds the blessings many of our ancestors could only long for. In addition to the milk and honey of our ancestors’ dreams, this land is rich in blessings more numerous than all the words in all the languages spoken by this land’s diverse inhabitants. I suspect that those of you who call other lands “home” are also blessed with a similar love for your land. We only have to close our eyes to see the images of the beauty of the land we love simply because it is home. Walking upon the land, the ground beneath our feet holds promises passed down from generation to generation. Memories of landscapes long changed by human hands, haunt our visions of ever-expanding settlements. In addition to being overwhelmed by the vast beauty and majesty of the land, our eyes weep and our bodies shudder at gaping wounds, and ugly scares which threaten to pierce our over-inflated egos and challenge the wisdom of our imbedded delusions of grandeur. Standing upon the Earth, with its vast, majestic lands, how did we ever become so enamored of our species domineering posture of self-importance? There is an arrogance to our Western posture which threatens the land.

Years ago, when my family immigrated to this land which I call home, it was known as the DOMINION of CANADA. That word “dominion” sticks in my throat, like a bile which threatens to make me wretch. While it has been a long time since this land was viewed as the DOMINION of CANADA, this land we love continues, like many lands, to suffer the pain of the dominion we inheritors of the Genesis myth continue to claim as our place in the order of Creation.

Listen to these words taken from one of the Creation myths found in the book of Genesis. I’m using the New Revised Standard Vision because it is a familiar translation of Genesis chapter 1, verses 27 & 28: the NRSV translates the Hebrew text like this:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”             Here endth the reading…or does it?

In one of the most treasured Creation myths of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, humans are placed as the crowns in the jewels of Creation. For two millennia, the dominant Christian culture has interpreted this myth to endow the right of “dominion over” every living thing that moves upon the Earth; indeed, over the Earth itself. Creation is ours to rule over. We have dominion over Creation.

“Dominion” the word comes from the Latin word dominium which means “lordship” or “right of ownership” from the word dominus which means “lord”.  Humans, male and female, for that is how “He” the “LORD GOD” created them in this particular Creation Myth, Humans are “lords of every living thing” we have dominion over Creation and we are to subdue the Earth, and multiply. Is it any wonder then that we are so very quick to consume the bounty of the Earth? It is as if we see ourselves as lords and ladies exercising our god-given right to tax the Earth and all her Creatures. One look at a “man-made” (sic) machine, excavating a mountaintop, confirms our “dominion” our “lordship” as we ravenously devour the land, so that we can gobble up the Earth’s resources.

Creation myths function as a kind of compass which orients a culture’s place in the world. But what if our Creation myths, or rather, Western Christianity’s translations and interpretations of our Creation myths went askew somehow? Perhaps instead of a compass our Creation myths are functioning as weights around our necks, millstones if you will, which continue to unbalance us? I believe that our notions of “dominion” continue to function as such a millstone and that we must cast off this weight if we are to have any hope of restoring our balance. Let me begin to lighten the load by looking back to our Creation myth to see if we can discover the roots of our delusions of “dominion”.

For centuries, the Hebrew word “radah” has been translated as “dominion” but when we go back to the roots of our myth we actually, quite literally discover a “root”. The Hebrew word, “radah” means “a point high up on the root of a plant.” When gardeners who pull up weeds encounter the radah the discover where the strength of the plant is. The radah of the root is the centre of the plant’s strength. The radah helps the plant say firmly in the ground when the winds come. What happens to the meaning of our Creation myth when we begin to understand the strength of a new translation? Continue reading