Re-Birthing God: a sermon for Advent 1C

Made of God Julian pastordawn copyThis sermon relies on the work of John Philip Newell in his book, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. On this, the first Sunday of Advent our readings included “The Star Within” a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman and Rev. Sarah Griffith, Luke 21:25-36, and John 3:1-9. A deliberate choice was made not to use the traditional Advent reading from Jeremiah so as to avoid the trap of the false Christian appropriation of the Hebrew prophets as foretellers of Jesus as the Messiah. Listen to the sermon here

A very happy new year to you all! On this the very first Sunday of the Church year, in churches all over the world, congregations have sung out their pleas for advent. Advent from the Latin verb “to come:. O Come, O Come Emmanuel, loudly and with gusto, or softly but with earnest desire, that Emmanuel “God with us” would come and put an end to our anxious longing to escape the darkness. I love all the blue, with just the hint of evergreens. I love the images summoned up in our liturgical silences, of darkness, wilderness, longing and expectation. I love the idea of coming in here as sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of our consumer culture’s lead up to the Christmas season. I love the music, I could sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel during all four Sunday’s of Advent and never tire of all eight of its plaintive verses. Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, Preee—pare Ye the way of the Lord, There’s a Voice in the Wilderness crying, Comfort, Comfort Now My People,  Each Winter As the Year Grows Older, we’ll have no Christmas carols in Advent even if you please!!! Soon and Very Soon, we are going to see our God, wait, wait, wait, for it ….let the malls over-dose you with carols…let us wait… Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.

People, Look East, Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding! Let the world fill up on Christmas cheer, shop till they drop. For we in here are Lost In the Night. Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah. Hark, the Glad Sound! Prepare, Prepare, Prepare, we’re not there yet! Wait! Awake! Awake! As the Dark Awaits the Dawn. Wait for the Lord. Prepare the Royal Highway. Four blue Sundays, contemplate, keep silence, get ready to Fling Wide the Door, the Unexpected and Mysterious, Creator of the Stars of Night, let the silence speak to us, as our Ancient Love, prepares the way for our God. Hope, Joy, Love, Peace shall be ours if we but wait.

Every year while the church heralds Advent, the world greets Santa. For years I’ve loved this valiant attempt to hold on to allow the child to gestate, while the world casually tosses the baby into the muck and the mire of busy streets, crowded malls and boisterous, drunken, celebrations. I still treasure the memories of my first Advent seasons. I came to the church when I was just fifteen years old. I had never even heard of Advent. I was excited about my first Christmas in the church. I wanted to soak it all up. I expected Christmas carols, and stories about the Christ Child. I had no idea about the darkness of the wilderness. My first inkling came on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. The Lutheran church where I was introduced to life in and among Christians, was comprised mainly of Scandinavians who had more Advent traditions than you can shake a Yule log at. Don’t get me started on the lutefisk!!! No, gelatinas lye fish for me if you please, just save the rullupylsa for me, and maybe just maybe I’ll have a little pickled herring, but pass the aquavit and let a few icy shots loosen us up and before you know it … off da… we’ll all be warm from the inside out. Continue reading

Christ Will Come Again, and Again, and Again – a sermon for Advent 1C – Luke 21:25-38, 34-36

Old SpiceChrist has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Outside the world is hurtling toward the Christmas; toward the celebration of the birth of a baby. While the world prepares for the birth, the church says, “wait”. Wait, keep watch, and beware, for the world is ending. While the church cries out:

“Signs will appear in the sun, the moon and the stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish, distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth.” the world sings: “You better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, Santa Clause is coming to town.” And all the while we declare the mystery of our faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Somewhere between our deepest fear and our deepest longings we wait, the world prepares and we wait and watch, knowing all the while that, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” knowing that because the world will end, our hope lies in the knowledge that Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, will come again.

Advent, the very word means come; tis the season of coming. Advent is not about waiting; waiting for Christmas, or waiting for the birth of a baby; Advent is about coming, the coming of Christ. In the darkness of the end, we long for Christ to come. Yes, we will have to wait for Christmas to come; but Christmas will come as it always does. The point is not the waiting, the point is in the midst of darkness, in the trials and tribulations of the end, Christ will come; the point is Christ will come. In the midst of the darkness of the end, our deepest longings are stirred up, our longings for hope, for peace, for love and for joy.

All around us we can see the signs of the end; death is everywhere. Galaxies collide and stars die, and there is darkness, the end. Dreams die, and there is darkness, the end. Barriers go up, bullets fly, bombs explode, people die; there is darkness, the end. Words are spoken, promises broken, hopes are dashed; there is darkness, the end. The work dries up, the job ends, funds are exhausted, the bills pile up; there is darkness, the end. Illness overwhelms, shadows on x-rays frighten, scans scare, falls break us, dreams are dashed; there is darkness, the end. In the darkness of the end, we long for hope, for peace, for love, for joy.

I remember, when I was a kid; I was about thirteen, we’d just moved to the West Coast and I can still remember it as if it was yesterday. I set off on my bicycle in search of the perfect Christmas I was as moody and emotional as any thirteen year-old could be. I was lonely, because we’d moved around so much that my only close friend was my younger brother; and what thirteen year-old girl, wants to admit that her only real friend is her eleven year-old brother. My parents were worried sick about money. We’d moved, Dad’s job was unstable and Mom’s job barely paid anything. About the only good news in my life was that I was twelve and back in those days, at twelve you were considered old enough for babysitting and babysitting meant money. Every weekend, I would babysit. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe that at thirteen, I was actually left in charge of little children. I remember getting a couple of bucks for babysitting on Friday and Saturday night; and I do mean a couple of bucks, two dollars for two nights of babysitting.

IMG_1220I remember, calculating that by the time Christmas arrived, I should have $27 dollars saved up. Twenty-seven dollars should be just enough to buy presents for my Mom and Dad, my brother, my aunt and uncle, and my two little cousins. I still remember heading off on my bicycle, into the bustling metropolis of Ladner. Ladner was just a small fishing village back then. There were just three stores worth looking for Christmas presents in: Perry’s Department store proved to be far too expensive for my blood. So, I headed off to the 5 and 10 store. For those of you who don’t know what a five and ten store was, just think dollar store, only back then it was the 5 and dime and you could actually get stuff for five and ten cents. I spent hours in there trying to figure out the perfect gifts for my brother and my two little cousins. I left thinking that I could take care of their gifts with about five dollars. So it was off to the drug store to figure out what to get for my Mom and Dad and Aunt and Uncle. That took another couple of hours as I agonized over the various Old Spice gift sets. I could just about afford a 3-piece set for my Dad that included saving cream, after-shave and a soap-on-a-rope. Surely my uncle would be happy with a soap-on-a-rope. Then it was a Yardly gift set for my Mom, dusting powder, perfume and soap all for about six dollars; which would leave enough left over for a small bottle of perfume for my aunt. Continue reading

Christ is a Cosmic Event!

She had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and Sophia certainly revealed wisdom to me. I became her pastor in a round-about-way. Sophia knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying Sophia’s friend thought she ought to have a pastor.  So, I was summoned to Sophia’s bedside. I was new at this pastor stuff and I was afraid.  I had been told that Sophia only had a few weeks before the cancer would take her. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task. No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.

I went to Sophia’s bedside every day. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. No pat answers or trite platitudes if you please, just the facts. I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts that I possessed might not sustain us on our journey.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that Sophia had spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she’d grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se but someplace heavenly, perhaps like Paris in the springtime. Sophia so loved Paris in the springtime, if only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who appreciate the finer things of life.  Life? Sophia spoke the word “Life?” as if it were a question. Life?: Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.

One morning, I stopped by the bakery that used to be on Main Street and picked out the most European pastries I could find, then I swung by Starbuck’s and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down and asked me to heat up some milk so that we could have lattes.  It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster, and our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men fell at her feet. Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried.

After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. It was cold and wet in London and Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come and be his love. One day, over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children. By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps. It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans. By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and in Sophia’s eyes, I had gone from being a no-good, bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us…       

“What will become of me?” Sophia pleaded. I told her that the doctors would see to it that there was no pain. That wasn’t what she meant “What will become of me?” “Will there just be darkness? Or Will I see a bright light?”… Continue reading

The World Comes to an End Every Day! – Mark 13:1-8 – Pentecost 26B

It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate.  It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.

Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died.

Karen and Bill had been working for hours on the new nursery. There wasn’t much time left.  The baby was due in just eight weeks and so very much still needed to be done. But at least they had finally finished the painting and papering. They were admiring their handiwork when Karen’s water broke. In the car on the way to the hospital, Karen tried to reassure Bill. Over and over again she told Bill that lots of first babies arrive early. After 20 long hours, Michael was born. The doctors carefully explained that Michael’s spine had not developed properly. They assured Karen and Bill that he would be alright, but unfortunately, he would never be able to walk. On the morning their son was born the life that Karen and Bill had looked forward to was over. Karen and Bill’s world ended when Michael was born.

Mary loved her job. She was a high-powered executive with a company that was expanding at a phenomenal rate. She worked hard to get where she was. She poured all her energy into her work. She barely had time for a personal life, but that didn’t bother Mary. She knew there would be plenty of time for that after she had gotten where she wanted to go. Ten years and she was already playing with the big boys. She was a mover and a shaker.  She loved her work and as good as she was at her job, she just didn’t see it coming.  She was stunned when the announcement came.  Apparently, the company had expanded a little too quickly. Bankruptcy put an end to the life that Mary loved. Mary’s world ended the day she lost her job.

I used to think that the end of the world would come in a blaze of glory. I used to think that when the world ended there would be plenty of warning. I used to think that if you paid enough attention to what was going on around you, you would be able to tell when the world was going to end. But that was before a doctor came into a room and told me that they had found a tumour that needed to be removed immediately. The end of the world came quietly without any fanfare at all. It hit me like a ton of bricks, without any warning what so ever. The world came to an end. It hardly seems fair that the world can come to an end so suddenly. I for one would have liked a little notice. 

Today, the media is full of news that heralds the end of the world. There are wars and rumours of wars as explosions end the world for hundreds and thousands of people in faraway places. The world comes to an end every single day.  It hardly seems fair that the world can come to an end so suddenly. When I was younger, I always wanted to know how a story ended. As a kid, I would often flip to the last chapter of a wonderful book to see just how things ended. I can still remember watching movies on TV that my father had already seen before and begging him to tell me how it all ends. Sometimes, my Dad would oblige, but more often than not he would tauntingly tell me to just watch and enjoy the movie, because it would all become clear soon enough. Continue reading

War is not an Inevitable Part of Our Reality! – a Remembrance Day sermon

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Yeah right Jesus…have you seen the news? Blessed are the peacemakers.  They better be blessed because all their peacemaking is more than likely going to get them killed than it is to see them heralded as the Children of God!

Today, we commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I. But, since the end of that “War to End All Wars” the world has experienced the horrors of World War II in which millions suffered and died in the Holocaust, and even more millions were killed in battle and it took the dropping of not one but two atomic bombs to put an end to the madness. Since the end of World War II with its genocide upon genocide the world has seen the violence and untold murders perpetrated by the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. More recently repressive regimes together with the greed of capitalist consumption continue to perpetrate violence and genocide upon the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, and the Rohingyas. Refugees fleeing violence are cast as fearsome caravans, and kids just out to enjoy some country music are gunned down in affluent neighbourhoods. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. Jesus hasn’t got a clue. About the only thing peacemakers are likely to inherit is the right to die trying.

Wars and rumors of war are the order of the day. Face it, humans are a violent lot and violence and war aren’t about to end soon. So, I’m sorry Jesus, but this way of life that you keep encouraging us to embrace is only going to get us all or over-run, or enslaved, and killed. But then what would Jesus know? War sure ain’t what it was in Jesus’ day. War has gotten uglier as our means of destruction have gotten more efficient.

Had enough yet? Do you wish you could just find a remote and turn me off? Doom and gloom, just like the news. Over and over again the drumbeats get more and more intense. These are dangerous times. So, be afraid. Be very afraid. We live in the midst of violence and war as horrible as it is, war is a necessary evil. So, before you tune me out, please hear me out. For the times they are a changing.

The truth is our ancestors were far more violent than we are. The truth is, and statistics will bear this out, the truth is that violence has been in decline for years and years and years. Today, dear friends we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ history. So, blessed are the peacemakers because peacemakers will be called the children of God.

Now lest you think that I am suffering from delusions, let me lay out a few facts. For centuries now, violence has been on the decline. I don’t have time to delve into the orders of magnitude in the decline of violence over the centuries. So, let’s just look at the last century. Many of us look back fondly at the good old days, of the last century, because we honestly believe that things are getter worse and not better. But the truth is that since 1945 in Europe and the Americas, there has been a steep decline in: interstate wars, deadly ethnic riots (otherwise known as pogroms), and military coups, worldwide, there has been a steep decline in deaths in interstate wars. Back in those good old days, like the 1950s the average number of deaths in battle stood at about 65,000 deaths per conflict per year. Today, that number has shrunk to less than 2,000 deaths per conflict in a year Don’t get me wrong an average 2,000 deaths per conflict per year is still way too many deaths. But since the end of World War II there has been a 90 percent reduction in deaths resulting from civil wars and genocides; a 90% reduction represents, in the history of violence, a colossal decline in violence and war. (Steven Pinker)

For the sceptics among you, who aren’t that worried about the rumors of war because you’re more concerned about violent crimes in your own neighborhoods, let me just direct your attention to our more violent neighbours to the south. In the US, the FBI compiles what it calls “Uniform Crime Statistics” which tell us that violent crime is going down, in fact in the past ten years crime rates overall have returned to levels last seen in the 1950’s. Canadian statistics are even better. You are far less likely to become the victim of a violent crime than your parents were. As for your grandchildren, they have never been safer than they are right now. That’s what the statistics tell us. As a species we have never experienced such peace. It is unprecedented. (Steven Pinker)

So, why are we living in fear? Statistics indicate that we’ve never been so afraid. Even in Canada, where we once took pride in our military because they were among the world’s most respected peace-keepers, we are responding to our fear, and over and over again we hear calls for us to build up our military, not as peace-keepers but as well-equipped warriors.  We are afraid, we are very afraid.

We are safer than we have ever been. We are living longer than we have ever lived. Statistically, humans have never had it so good. So, why are we living in such fear. Granted, we all know that humans now have the ability to wipe out human life with the kind of efficiency that we have never had. Our weapons have fearsome capacity. But surely, the reductions in violence and war that we have been able to make, might point us in the direction of further reductions in violence and war. Surely, if we find ways to ramp up our efforts, we can capitalize upon the great strides towards peace that we have already made? Continue reading

Lazarus: It’s All in the Name! – John 11:32-44

WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.”  and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.

Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.

For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress.  I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”.  I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!

How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear!

I could almost hear Marcus Borg insisting that the two important questions one must ask when trying to get to the heart of any Bible story:

  • Why do you suppose they told this story?
  • Why do you suppose they told this story this particular way?

All these years of struggling to understand this gospel story and getting hopelessly caught up in trying to explain how it is that Jesus might have been able to raise a dead man from the grave. Searching, for some reasonable explanation. Perhaps Lazarus wasn’t really dead. I mean 2000 years ago, if he’d slipped into some sort of state where his heart-rate and breathing slowed down to such an extent that people thought he was dead, well they might have buried him before he recovered. The ancient world is full of stories of people being mistaken for dead. There must be a perfectly good scientific explanation for this story.

Can’t find a reasonable explanation? How about we just settle for reality that we will never know exactly what happened and we will simply have to accept that Jesus was so remarkable a human being that over the years the stories that his followers told were bound to have been exaggerated? I mean, I know how to tell a good story. I know that the secret to a really good story is a kernel of spectacular truth that you weave marvelous details around in order to get to an even more spectacular truth. Remember the bubbles bubbling away. Bubble, bubble, bubble, the bubbles are not the point, what’s happening beneath the bubble, beyond the bubbles.

As Lazarus bubbled to the surface, I finally began to realize that Lazarus is not the point of this story. Then Jesus’ bubbled to the surface, and I began to wonder, maybe Jesus isn’t the point of this story either. Then it was as if the Jesus bubble burst right before my eyes and up through the cosmic ooze came a bubbling crude.  Suddenly I could see power, the amazing power of resurrection, but not Lazarus’ resurrection, not Jesus’ resurrection, not even our resurrection, but resurrection nonetheless. It’s all in the name! Lazarus!

I raced to my Hebrew dictionary. It wasn’t there. No Lazarus to be found. It must be Greek, so I flipped through the pages of my Greek lexicon until there it was Lazarus, the Greek for the Hebrew Eleazar. Eleazar = break it down   El means God. eazar from the verb: to help, God is my help. Ok, maybe, God sure helped Lazarus, but how does that help me?

And then it hit me! Eleazar, the son and successor to Aaron.  Aaron the brother of Moses. All these years of reading and studying this story, how could I have missed it? Aaron the first high priest of the people of Israel and Eleazar is Aaron’s successor. Eleazar the supreme representative of the priesthood who held the office longer than any Jew before or since Jesus. I might have missed it, but there is no way that the people at the turn of the first century would have missed it.

Why would the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John tell this story and why would he tell it this way? Was he trying to tell his listeners something about the priesthood?

New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan reminds us that the stories in the gospels mimic the teaching style of Jesus. Jesus taught through parables. Parables are stories designed to enlighten his listeners to the truth. Dom reminds us that you don’t ask the same questions of parables as you do of history. Nobody ever worries about whether or not the story of the Good Samaritan actually happened, because it makes absolutely no difference whether or not it actually happened because the story tells us something that is true about life. The writers of the New Testament, says Crossan, imitated Jesus’ teaching style and taught their listeners the truth about Jesus using parables about Jesus; parables like the two different birth stories in Luke and Mark. These stories are not history, they are parables designed to teach their listeners that Jesus was very special; more special even than Caesar at whose birth legend has it, a star appeared in the sky. The writers of the gospel communicated the truth about Jesus through story because history hadn’t been invented yet…the concept of history would take several hundred more years to develop.

So, if we look at the story of the raising of Lazarus not as history but as parable, what truth about Jesus can we learn? Well for starters we can stop worrying whether or not it actually happened. The truth in this story doesn’t rely on our ability to believe the unbelievable. Lazarus the very name itself is the biggest clue. The priesthood. The religious authorities of the day were as good as dead. Religion lay rotting in the grave. The religion of Jesus’ people had been killed by the long years of occupation by foreign gods and there was nothing left to pray over but a rotting corpse, a corpse, which Jesus called back to life.

“Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’’ So, they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’  When Jesus had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus , come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’”

Years of occupation from foreigners and their gods had left the priesthood bound and gagged and defensively hovering in the caves of the dead. Jesus wept over the state of Lazarus and called the priesthood out from the dead.

The anonymous gospel-story-teller that we call John let his story bubble up in ways that would have caught the attention of his late first century audiences. As this story bubbles up in us, can we see our own story in this parable? Can we see that Christianity is bound up held captive and lies rotting in a tomb of our own making?

Some say Christianity is dead. Others say Christianity is held captive by those to whom the gospel, the Good News that whatever God is, God is LOVE, is so foreign to them that it’s as if they are following some other god. Others say Christianity is on life support and it’s time to pull the plug. As for me, well I believe that only Jesus can bring Christianity back from the dead. I’m not talking about the Jesus whose been dressed up in foreign clothes, not the vengeful, vindictive, Jesus, or the mealy-mouthed, sweetness and light Jesus. I’m talking about the Jesus that the gospel story-tellers told their stories about. The Jesus that continues to bubble up from within a story that runs deeper than the bubbles. I’m talking about the radical Jesus, the scandalous Jesus, the Jesus who wept over the sorry state of the religion of his people. The Jesus who could not tolerate a society that kept so many people in poverty or the religious establishment who co-operated with the powers that be in order to maintain the status quo. The Jesus who reached out to those on the margins of society and called the rich and the powerful to reach out beyond our comfort zones. The Jesus who abhorred violence and walked in the pathways of peace. The Jesus who was so disgusted with the state of the priesthood that he turned the tables in the temple. The Jesus who preaches the radical gospel that God is LOVE and that loving God is about loving our neighbours and loving our enemies. This Jesus who preaches love, compassion and grace and not judgment, tyranny and hate. This Jesus has the power to call Christianity out from the depths to which we have sunk.

When the Gospel According to John was written, the Temple had been destroyed and many of the Jewish people had escaped Jerusalem and the followers of the Jesus escaped Jerusalem. Just as Jesus reached into the riches of the Jewish tradition so too did the religious authorities of who escaped to Jabneh who reached into the riches of their Jewish tradition and out of the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judiasm and Christianity. Out of this experience we reached into the depths of the best of who we can be, the best in the Jewish tradition and the best that was developing in the Christian tradition and out of that new life was resurrected.

For us, the followers of Jesus, Jesus can bring life where there is death. This Jesus knew nothing of the church’s theologies or doctrines. Jesus knew nothing of the doctrine of the fall, or of original sin, or the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian creeds, or of judgments based on these well-intentioned attempts to sort out who and what Jesus was and is. Jesus was a good Jew who understood that the Creator of all that is and ever shall be loved creation and all its creatures and this being, this Creator, this Source, this YAHWEH this great I AM, the one Jesus called his ABBA,  continues to love creation and all its creatures and so this Jesus understood himself as someone who comes that we might have life and live it abundantly.

And so, on this All Saints Sunday, we should all take a good look in the mirror and see what this Jesus would see in us. Each time we look into a mirror we must remember that in everyone, Jesus saw a beautiful, beloved, child of God. Now, more than ever we need to see ourselves as beautiful, beloved, children of God, saints, sacred, holy, children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must look beyond our mirrors and see everyone as beloved children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must be able to look into the eyes of those we see as enemy, into the eyes of those we fear, into the eyes of the stranger and we need to see in those eyes a beautiful, beloved child of the MOST HOLY, a saint, sacred, holy, child of the ONE who is LOVE.

Friends, Jesus is weeping. Can we hear Jesus calling out from the dead? Can we be called from the dead? Surely, it is time to let the dead bury the dead. Let the worst of our religions die.  Let those things in Christianity that have caused pain and agony in the world, die.  Let us  come out from the tombs we have made and unbind one another from our respective grave clothes so that we can dance and sing? So that we can dance to the life around us! So that we can rejoice in your sainthood! It’s all in the name. And the name is LOVE.

 

“The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!” – a Reformation Sermon – John 8:31-36

“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Let me take a moment to face the truth about who we are as Lutherans. The truth is that from the beginning Lutherans have participated in hate-filled tribalism that gives rise to anti-Semitism. The irony of attempting to commemorate the Reformation on the day after the slaughter of Jewish sisters and brothers cannot be ignored. Sadly, our church’s tragic participation in anti-Semitism goes all the way back to Martin Luther himself. Luther’s anti-Semitic rants provided the theological grounding that empowered Nazi’s to fan the flames of the Holocaust. It took until 1983 for the Lutheran World Federation to confess and repent Luther’s words.

Let me read from our sister church, the ELCA’s Declaration to the Jewish Community:

“In the long history of Christianity there exists no more tragic development than the treatment accorded the Jewish people on the part of Christian believers. Very few Christian communities of faith were able to escape the contagion of anti-Judaism and its modern successor, anti-Semitism. Lutherans belonging to the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the twentieth century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented.

The Lutheran communion of faith is linked by name and heritage to the memory of Martin Luther, teacher and reformer. Honoring his name in our own, we recall his bold stand for truth, his earthy and sublime words of wisdom, and above all his witness to God’s saving Word. Luther proclaimed a gospel for people as we really are, bidding us to trust a grace sufficient to reach our deepest shames and address the most tragic truths.

In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.

Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us. Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community.”

Semper Reformanda, means always reforming, or keep on reforming, or always reform. I don’t know about you, but after some of the horrendous events this week, I’m almost too tired for any more reforming. Between the Make America Great Again bomber, the white supremist, anti-Semite shooter, the defunding of Ontario colleges, and the abandonment of protections designed to ensure workers at the low end of the pay scale, see not only a dollar an hour raise but more than just a few paid sick days, I’m tried. I don’t even have it in me to pay attention to the worst humanitarian crisis in human history, so please don’t show me any of those horrendous pictures of starving children in Yemen, and whatever you do, please don’t remind me of the genocide of Rohingyan people Between the orange yahoo south of the boarder and our own moronic blowhard at Queen’s Park, I’m so very tired of bad news.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to save the world, I just can’t seem to face the world right now. I am in bondage to compassion fatigue and I cannot free myself. I can’t even begin to live up to the standards I set for myself. The onslaught of news that comes flooding in at a fevered pace, has left me longing to just hide away, curl up into a ball and forget that I ever believed that I had a role to play in making the world a better place.

When I was too young to know any better, I fell in love with an image of myself that I’ve been failing to live up to year after year, decade after decade. The truth about who and what I am is far from the ideal image of the person I long to be. The gap between our ideal self and our real self is a truth most of us would prefer to deny. The truth that we are far from the perfect ideal person that on our good days we aspire too, is tough to swallow. As relatively healthy human beings most of us recognize that we are missing the mark. Missing the mark is how the word sin is defined in the Hebrew Scriptures. We can try to put our faith in ideals, or rules or as the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther would say we try to put our faith “in the Law.” But ideals, or rules, or Law cannot save us from the reality that we are incomplete beings, ever-evolving beings, beings still hoping to become all that we can be. Continue reading

Reformation Sunday Resources

semper reformanda

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

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

There’s that word, ransom? – a progressive view of ransom – Mark 10:35-45

This sermon relies heavily on the exegetical work of David Lose. I am indebted to Marcus Borg for teaching us the questions to ask of ancient authors and their stories. I am also indebted to the critic of my work who took the time to challenge me to “confess that Jesus died for my sins”. While I do not share my critic’s atonement theology, I am grateful for his willingness to engage in conversation. 

Some of you may know that our gospel readings follow a three year lectionary. Earlier this week I received an email from one of the followers of my blog who said, “Now the Gospel has you. Now you will have to confess that Jesus died for your sins.” and so here is the part of the reading that prompted the email: “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The Human One has come not to be served, but to serve—to give one life in ransom for the many.”

The message that I received had, “TO GIVE ONE LIFE IN RANSOM FOR THE MANY” in capital letters and was underlined. My critic believed that as a progressive preacher, the Gospel had captured me and that I would have to confess that Jesus died for my sins.

Well, I’ll make a confession this morning, in the past, I have always read this story about Jesus with nothing but contempt for the sons of Zebedee. I confess that the characters of James and John have always inspired me to feel more than a little bit smug and I have always felt justified, indeed dare I say it, righteous in treating these two ambitious brothers with more than a little disdain. In fact, I had a sermon ready to preach that pointed out the ridiculous arrogance of this pair of wannabes.  My sermon was all done and dusted, when I settled in last night for a quiet night. Somewhere around four this morning, I was awakened by an annoying question that caused me to jump out of my bed. Let me assure you that I am not a morning person and I almost never jump out of bed. But this morning, I realized that the sermon I planned to preach, need to be moved to my computer’s trash bin. Continue reading

The View from Job’s Dung-heap: Peering Beyond the Heavens Toward a Theory of Everything?

string theoryRuminating over this Sunday’s prescribed reading from Job 38, my mind harkens back to 2012, when I had the privilege of attending a series of lectures given by the great Phyllis Tickle who described the current reformation that the church is experiencing as part of a cultural phenomenon that happens about every 500 years, which she calls “The Great Emergence”. When asked what skills religious leaders will need to navigate the information age, Tickle insisted that the best advice we could give to anyone considering a religious vocation was that they should study physics. Inwardly I groaned, remembering my feeble attempts to come to grips with the most rudimentary theories of quantum physics. But I also nodded in agreement, knowing that so many of our religious narratives strive to make meaning of the cosmos as it was perceived by ancient minds. When our ancestors looked into the heavens they had no way of knowing the wonders of the cosmos that we are beginning to discover. While physicists can ignore theology, theologians who ignore physics will find themselves stuck atop Job’s dung-heap impotently shaking their fists at the Divine.  Perhaps Tickle is correct and the clerics of the future will out of necessity need to be physicists.  Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku speculates that the universe is “a symphony of strings” and the “mind of God would be cosmic music resonating through eleven dimensional hyper-space”.  If you have the courage to climb down from the dung-heap, take a look at Michio Kaku’s “The Universe in a Nutshell”. If the Divine bollocking that Job endured makes you wonder if ignorance might just be bliss, then take a peek at “Is God a Mathematician?” or “The Mind of God”. Who knows, maybe if a few more of us dare to dwell in the questions we might just come up with imaginative narratives to help us fathom what it means to be human. 

Eternal Life: no beginning and no end! Mark 10:17-31

The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark weaves together a story that reveals the many ways in which we are possessed by all that we possess. The gospel-storyteller begins simply and directly: “As Jesus was setting out on a journey, someone came running up.” “Someone” anyone, everyone really. You or I, we come running up to Jesus and we ask:  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Such a question? Eternal life? Such a loaded phrase. Eternal life? Eternal – that which has no beginning and no end. Timeless, boundaryless, limitless, infinite. Life beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Eternal life is so much more than a prize to be achieved when life in the here and now ends. Eternal life is life that has always been and always will be; life that stretches back beyond our birth into this world, stretches back beyond the beginning of time, for eternal life has no beginning. Eternal life that has no end, that is not bound by time, life that includes our life right here, right now, and continues on beyond our life here and now, eternal life is a quality beyond our minds ability to comprehend which moves us into the realm of MYSTERY.

Someone, anyone, everyone, you and I, we run up to Jesus and we ask: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We want this quality, this eternity, this limitless life, this MYSTERY that is beyond our comprehension, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Somehow, we sense this eternal life, this MYSTERY, this limitless, boundaryless, infinite, timeless quality in Jesus and we want a piece of what Jesus has. If that means keeping ancient laws, well sign us up, we’ll have a go.  No killing. No committing adultery. No stealing. No bearing false witness. No defrauding. Honour our mother and father. Sure, sign us up, what’s a few rules compared to eternal life, we’ll give it a go.

Jesus looks at this someone, this anyone, this everyone, this you and I, Jesus looks at us with love and says, “There is one thing more that you must do. Go and sell what you have and give it to those in need; you will then have treasure in heaven.  After that, come and follow me.”

At these words, the inquirer, this someone, this anyone, this you, and this me, we, who own so much property, we become crestfallen and we walk away sadly. Jesus looks around and says, “How hard it is for the rich people to enter the kin-dom of God! My children, how hard it is to enter the realm of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the Needle’s Eye gate than for a rich person to enter the kin-dom of God!” Those of us who can still hear Jesus words ringing in our ears, we grumble to one another,“Then who can be saved?” Jesus looks at us and says, “For mortals it is impossible—but not for God. With all God all things are possible.”         Continue reading

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

Thankyou autumn

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

Feed the Wolves – a sermon for St. Francis Sunday – Matthew 6:25-30

It has been a very strange week. Many of us, indeed not just us but people all over the world have been transfixed by the goings on with our neighbours to the south. Not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the full array of bombasity dressed up like fair play. Portrayed as a “he said, she said” fight for the truth, judgements are being made, that expose the fearsome truths of human tribalism. From the security of our various cultural silo’s, we have born witness to a wrenching polarization of our culture that threatens to tear us apart one from another. If only the wisdom of Solomon could be trusted to prevent us from ruthlessly tearing in two the tightly woven fabric of what is left of the fair-play that we struggle to raise up.  Emotions have risen to the surface and exposed the rot that permeates our precious hierarchal structures. White privilege and male dominance have been laid bare and the pain of that exposure has triggered more pain.

This week several women have reached out to me to weep again over wounds so deep that they fear the tears will never end. The word “triggered” has taken on a whole new meaning, as vibrant memories seared upon the minds of survivors ricochet with such intensity; an intensity that rips those of us who have experienced the pain first hand. I still can’t believe the power of such memories to tear through us afresh.  

I have listened as women have wept, and their tears have opened the wounds we share. We have seen the angry of the privileged blaze across screens, as powerful men bare their teeth and threaten dire consequences.  Anger has been stirred on both sides, and unlike Solomon, I don’t possess the wisdom to dispassionately judge who should win and who should lose. My anger burns in me like a white-hot fury and I cannot see beyond to the beauty of the lilies in the field. Ah sweet Jesus, if only the memory of the future you envisioned for us, could calm our fears.

To those of you who haven’t been watching, or won’t watch, or cannot watch, and encourage those of us who can’t help but watch to simply turn off and tune out, well you may be right. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is to simply refuse to engage the madness that is transpiring. Just turn it off and walk away, move on and look at the beauty that surrounds us. The leaves are putting on a much better show as they begin their bursting forth into a beauty that is far worthier of our attention than the muck-raking display that constantly demands that we watch.

I was reminded this week of an old native story, a story that brought me some respite from my anger and frustration. I’ve read that it is a story first told by our indigenous sisters and brothers. It’s about a boy and his grandfather:

One day the boy says to his grandfather, “How is it you never seem to get upset?  Don’t you ever feel angry?”His grandfather replies, “I sometimes feel there are two wolves inside me, each of whom fights to tell me what to do.  Whenever something angers me, one of the wolves is full of fire, and wants to attack and act nasty. The other is calmer, thinks clearly, and makes better choices. But they’re both always there.And the boy asks, But if they are always fighting, how do you know which wolf is going to win?”  The grandfather answers, The wolf who wins is the one I choose to feed.”

Our angry wolves have been well-feed this week and there are a few great feasts just waiting to be served up in the weeks to come. But surely that doesn’t mean that I have to feed my angry wolf? There’s a very big part of me that sees the wisdom of this old story and I am sorely tempted to starve my own anger. Indeed, I had resolved to do just that, turn it off, tune it out, pretend it isn’t happening, walk away, enjoy a more beautiful autumn view. But alas, this is St. Francis Sunday, and another wolf has caught my attention; and yes, it is an angry wolf demanding to be fed. Continue reading

Weeds Upon the Altar

As the Season of Creation winds to a close, some of us will take the opportunity to comemmorate St. Francis of Assisi this Sunday.  You can follow the links to previous sermons for this celebration:  A Feminist, the Niquab, St. Francis and the Sultan, The Saint and the Sultan Daring to Dance in the Midst of a March

Weeds Upon the Altar

On this the last Sunday of the Season of Creation we celebrate the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Gospel text is Matthew 6:25-28

Listen to the sermon here

Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once God asked me to join God on a walk

through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed God lingered a bit longer

before any face that was

weeping,

and before any eyes that were

laughing.

And sometimes when we passed

a soul in worship

God too would kneel

down.

I have Come to learn:  God

adores God’s

creation.

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!

Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,

I have Come to learn: 

God adores God’s

creation.

Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers.  Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God. Continue reading

Beyond Christianity’s Imperial Endings – Mark 16 the Long and the Short of It?- a sermon for Mountain Sunday

The Season of Creation was established in 1989 by European Christians and embraced by the Roman Catholic Church as recently as 2015. It is the newest addition to the Church year, designed to respond to the groaning of creation as the Earth suffers at the hands of humanity. We hear at Holy Cross have been observing the Season of Creation since 2011. The Season begins on Sept 1stand ends on October 4, which is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi – the patron saint of animals. Today is the 4thSunday in the Season of Creation – the day for the celebration of Mountain Sunday.

When I began my preparations for this Mountain Sunday I was more than a little perplexed by the prescribed readings for this Sunday. I must confess that I struggled to understand why the powers that be chose to prescribe such strange readings. So, I changed the first 2 readings. I was about to change the gospel reading, from this strange and dubious text to something like a reading from the sermon on the Mount, when I thought, “No” let’s stick with the prescribed reading and see what we can learn from it.

When you go home today, open up your bible to the very end of the Gospel According to Mark and you will discover a biblical chapter unlike any other chapter in the Bible. (click here to see chapter 16) The last chapter of this gospel is chapter 16. When you get to the end of verse 8 you will find a note from the editor of your bible. Some editors tell you that “The gospel ends here.” Others simply put in a note that says two other endings were added by later writers. The Shorter Ending or the Longer Ending. The prescribed reading for Mountain Sunday is the Longer Ending which was added by a later writer. The Gospel of Mark was written by an anonymous storyteller that was given the name Mark by something called “TRADITION” We don’t know who wrote it.  We do know that it is the first of the gospels to be written. We also know that it was written sometime after the year 70. That’s some 40 years after the execution of Jesus by the Romans and about 20 years after the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; Paul’s writings about Jesus that we have.
The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we know as Mark was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. He wrote his story sometime after the Roman Empire destroyed the city of Jerusalem. The Romans leveled the city and sent Jews and followers of the Way running for their lives. His gospel is the shortest of the gospels. There is no Virgin Birth in this gospel; no birth narrative at all. Joseph is never mentioned in this gospel. Jesus is referred to as the “son of Mary” which at the time would have been an insult that implied that Jesus was a bastard. Continue reading

Life is a Gift – LOVE is the point! a sermon for Homecoming Sunday

Homecoming Sunday provided an opportunity to welcome folks home with roses and ice-cream. Readings from Mark 12:28-34 and 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13.  I am indebted to Brian McLaren’s book The Great Spiritual Migration for inspiring me to explore what it might mean to be a church that focusses on learning together how to be LOVE in the world. 

Technical difficulties prevented us from filming the sermon. The audio recording is provided below (here)

On this Homecoming Sunday, I wanted to welcome you home with flowers. Aren’t they beautiful. I love roses. Roses always remind me of my Granda and my Mom. I have this vague memory of my Granda tending his roses. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old. I remember watching him ever so lovingly prune his roses. My Granda was a very austere man.  Austere is a kind way to put it. Other people might use other words to describe my Granda. You might say he was mean; some people would go so far as to say he was nasty. But I was his first grand-child and I always knew that my Granda loved me. Granda also loved his roses. The earliest memories I have of my Granda are of watching him tend his roses.Even though I was just a little girl I knew not to bother him when he was tending his roses. The ice-cream helped me learn to be patient. I can still remember patiently watching my Granda prune his roses and then after each and every rosebush had been lovingly cared for, my Granda would finally turn his attention to me. Granda would take me by the hand and we would walk to the shop and Granda would buy me an ice-cream.

I can still see my Granda, who was not the kind of man that often showed his gentle side, I can see him gently licking the ice-cream with such a smile of pure delight. Granda loved his ice-cream. I know it sounds strange, but that ice-cream melted is grumpy old heart. That ice-cream opened him us just enough so that he could play with me. I learned to love my Granda over ice-cream; ice-cream and roses.

I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect that my Mom must have had some equally loving moments with Granda because my Mom also loves roses and she loves ice-cream. We moved around a lot when I was growing up. Feeling at home is difficult when you move as much as we did. So many different houses over the years were turned into homes partly as a result of my Mom efforts. One of those home-making efforts included the planting of rose-bushes.

I’m not much of a gardener myself. Carol is the gardener at our house. Carol picks out the kinds of flowers that get planted at our house. But if you look closely, in one of our flower beds you will find a small rose-bush. My attempt to make our house a home.

Home is the place where we are first loved. Home is the place where we learn how to LOVE. When asked by a religious authority to explain what is the most important law of all the laws, we are told that Jesus said,  “Our God is one. You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this:  ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment great than these.”

LOVE is the Way. LOVE. It sounds simple. LOVE. But LOVE is anything but simple. LOVE is the Way.  LOVE God, LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself. Jesus sifts centuries of religious seeking, religious teaching, and religious practice and reveals what is most import LOVE.

LOVE is such a simple word. And yet, anyone who has ever loved knows that LOVE is also a word that can be one of the most complicated, challenging, misunderstood, difficult, intimate, spectacular, passionate, gratifying, mysterious words we have. LOVE God. LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE our selves. LOVE is the Way. LOVE is the Way that Jesus taught. LOVE is a Way of being in the world. LOVE is the Way of being that Jesus was passionate about teachings with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind. LOVE was Jesus’ Way of being in the world. LOVE is the Way that Jesus taught his followers; a Way of being in the world that was perceived as a threat by the powers that be. Continue reading

Jesus ain’t no super-hero!

On this the Second Sunday of the Season of Creation, we celebrate Humanity. In Mark 7: 24-37, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark reveals that Jesus ain’t no super-hero! Jesus is a flesh and blood, down to earth, fallible, short-tempered, and sometimes narrow-minded human being, very much like the rest of us.

Listen to the audio only here

The anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark, provides us with the shortest of the four gospels — just 16 brief chapters. But don’t let that fool you. The writer of this account of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth packs more action into his short gospel than any of the racy novels, spy thrillers, mystery novels or tell all biographies that you can find today on Amazon. Today’s reading occurs barely half way through our anonymous storyteller’s account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and already Jesus has: been baptized in the river Jordan and been tempted in the wilderness by the evilest of villains, Satan himself.  Jesus has gathered together a motley crew of disciples, and he has cast out demons, cured lepers, healed the sick, the lame, and the blind. Jesus has preached to the multitudes, appointed apostles, and he has even been restrained from preaching by his own family because they feared that Jesus had gone out of his mind. Jesus has turned away his own mother and brothers in favor of teaching the crowds of people who gather to hear what this itinerate preacher has to say. Jesus has taught the crowds in parables, calmed the stormy sea and if that wasn’t enough he brought a dead girl back to life only to be rejected and scorned in his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus has had to face the death and decapitation of his cousin and fellow evangelist John the Baptist. He has somehow managed to feed five thousand people with just five loaves and two measly fish. To top it all off, Jesus, this walking, talking, healing, miracle working, super-hero has managed to walk on water.

In just six brief chapters, the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Mark has painted the picture of a mythical super-hero. A man of the people who is capable of amazing feats of daring do.  Not even Superman, Superwoman, Spider Man, Wonder-woman, Bat Man, Cat-woman, James Bond or Lara Croft could match the heroic deeds of the anonymous storyteller’s amazing Jesus. Our storyteller’s Jesus is a super hero’s, super hero.

In many ways this picture of Jesus keeps our mind’s eye far away from understanding just who this itinerant preacher, who somehow managed to change the world, really was. According to our anonymous storyteller, Jesus really is some kind super-natural, super-human being. Jesus is a hero beyond all other heroes, whose abilities are beyond the bounds of the natural order of things.  A hero who stands head and shoulders above all the rest. A super-hero whose abilities, sensibilities, wisdom, knowledge and kindness are beyond those of us who are but mere mortals. And if this was all there was to our storyteller’s Jesus, then there really wouldn’t be much of a story here. You see as long as we see Jesus as SUPER – super hero, super natural or super human, then following Jesus is no more demanding than following your favorite super hero in a comic strip. The exploits of these heroes may be interesting, intriguing and maybe even enlightening, but each and every one of us knows that we can’t do what they do. We may be able to follow their exploits and applaud their heroism, but we cannot be like them, any more than we can do what they do. They are after all super heroes; heroes whose abilities are beyond the average mortal. Indeed, I am sure that many of us follow Jesus in much the same way as we follow the exploits of the other heroes we have set for ourselves. We admire Jesus, we trust Jesus, we may even wish we could be more like Jesus, and we are even willing to listen to some of the things that Jesus said. But when it comes to following Jesus, we often let ourselves off the hook, because after all look at what happened to Jesus. They nailed him in the end and if it weren’t for intervention from God on high, Jesus would never have escaped the clutches of death.

Fortunately for us, there is more to our anonymous storyteller’s gospel, than there is to the story of the average comic-strip super hero. You see unlike the average super hero, Jesus is all too human. In today’s story, Jesus is a flesh and blood, down to earth, fallible, short-tempered, and sometimes narrow-minded human being, very much like the rest of us. In this story Jesus’ humanity is revealed.

Jesus has just finished teaching and feeding a huge crowd of five thousand people. After dismissing the crowd, he and a few of his followers climb aboard a small boat and head off to the other side of the sea. Jesus goes ashore alone and retreats to a mountaintop to pray. A storm picks up and Jesus walks across the water, and calms both his followers’ fears and the wind itself. When they get ashore, Jesus is quickly recognized by the waiting multitudes.  Continue reading

A Spirituality of Work – Labour Sunday – a sermon Matthew 5:13-16

Audio only here

It is but a distant memory now. The details are all but forgotten. But I can still feel the emotions as if it were yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than about five or six years old. I desperately wanted to be a big girl. I wanted, so very much, to show my mother that I could help her. Still, I can almost feel the heat and see the steam as it rose from the iron. I knew it was dangerous. I knew that the heat that pressed the cloths could burn me. But I wanted to help.

Either I nagged my mother so much that she finally gave in, or her own loathing of the chore of ironing was so intense that she just couldn’t help herself, and somehow taught her little girl. I can’t remember Mom showing me how it was done. But, I do remember carefully moving the hot steaming iron over the dishtowels and pillow cases and marveling as the creases disappeared. I remember carefully folding the cloth and then magically creating new sharp creases in the folds. I remember the pile of neatly pressed items growing in stature. I can still feel the pride welling up in me as I completed my work. I was a big girl. I was helping my Mom. I was brilliant! I was so proud of myself and proud of the fruits of my labour. I could wait to show my Dad when he got home. I was a good little worker!  And yet, even now as I remember the pride swelling in me, I remember also, the quick rebuke. Don’t be a smart-alec! Who do you think you are?

I don’t think my Mother actually said the words, “Pride goeth before a fall.” but my memory of these events provokes these words in me. The words well up inside me. Indeed, the words are part of my being – “pride goes before a fall” – don’t get too big for your britches.

All too often, I feel the self-rebuke. Who do you think you are? Oh, there are other memories other clichés. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Take pride in your work. I heard these phrases from parents and teachers as I grew up.      But somehow the warnings not to be proud of myself, these warnings undid any pride that I could ever muster.

 On this Labour Day weekend, when we are all encouraged to celebrate our labours, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gift that work is. In the stories handed down to us from the anonymous gospel storytellers we are told that Jesus was a “tekton.” The Greek word tekton is often translated as “carpenter” but a more accurate translation of tekton is worker. Jesus we are told was a worker, but the anonymous gospel storytellers are not clear about what kind of worker Jesus was. They also tell us that Jesus was a rabbi – a teacher. Whatever kind of work that Jesus did, I hope convinced that Jesus took pride in his work. For how else could Jesus teach his followers that they are light of the world, unless Jesus had also known the pride of a job well done? Continue reading