Erotic Playfulness: SOPHIA/WISDOM, a sermon Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In Jesus’ words, we can hear the dim echoes of a time gone by. Long before Jesus came there was a character who called out in the marketplaces. You can read about her in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. What students of the Bible call the “Wisdom literature” is full of stories about a character who so many people have never heard of.

In the book of Proverbs, she claims to have been there when CREATOR was busy creating and she declares:  “When God set the heavens in place, I was present, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God fixed the clouds above, when God fixed fast the wells of the deep, when God assigned the sea its limits…when God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman. Delighting God day after day, ever at play by God’s side, at play everywhere in God’s domain, delighting to be with the children of humanity.”   

So, just who is this master craftswoman? Job insists that, “we have heard reports of her”. But, “God alone has traced her path and found out where she lives.” The writer of Ecclesiasticus admonishes the reader to: “court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go.  For in the end, you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”

In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is described as, “quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of God’s goodness. Although alone, she can do all things; herself unchanging she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.”

You may not know who she is, but Jesus certainly did. Tales of her deeds were popular in Jesus’ day. Jesus, a student of the scriptures who was referred to as a rabbi, would certainly have known who this heroine of the scriptures is. In the ancient Hebrew texts of the Wisdom Literature she is called “CHOKMAH.”  In the ancient Greek translations of these texts she is called “SOPHIA.” In our English translations of these texts she is simply known as “wisdom.” The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages were written without punctuation. Often in Greek, there were no spaces between the words. Until long after Jesus’ day there were only capital letters. Upper- and lower-case letters were not used. Unlike our system where personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Often ancient Greek, the words did not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us. 

When you read the texts that describe “wisdom,” it is clear that they are, at the very least, speaking about Wisdom as though Wisdom is a person. SOPHIA is wisdom personified. SOPHIA is spoken of as being around from the beginning–before Creation. She was with YAHWEH at the time of creation; creation couldn’t happen without her presence. Other biblical passages show her coming to be with humanity, reaching out to people to be in relationship with them. She walks through the streets, calling out to people, trying to get them to listen–to follow her. She’s also a welcoming hostess inviting people to her table, a bountiful provider of food, the source of all good things.  She is the way to abundant life.

She is also a trickster and play is one of the ways she gets things done. You may not have heard of her, but when Jesus speaks to the people about children calling to one another in the marketplaces, the people would have remembered SOPHIA standing in the marketplaces and calling the people out to dance. But the people refused to join in SOPHIA’s playful dance. SOPHIA’s reputation for playfulness led the people to refuse her invitation.  In the same way, Jesus who came eating and drinking, called out to the people and his reputation led the people to label him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Jesus declares:  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance”.  Jesus harkens back to the images of SOPHIA in the Scriptures and insists that, “SOPHIA/WISDOM will be vindicated by her deeds.” SOPHIA’s reputation as a trickster who accomplishes great deeds through play and Jesus’ reputation as a glutton and a drunkard who comes to the world eating and drinking aren’t usually emphasized these days, by those who tout their religion in the public square, or on social media. I can honestly say, I have never heard people who call themselves, “Bible believing Christians,” taking to social media to encourage friends and followers to eat, drink, and be merry. And yet, this stuff is in the Bible.

The Bible describes playfulness as an important part of the God in whose image we are created.  All too often those of us who profess to follow Jesus, refuse to hear Jesus’ cry: ‘We piped you a tune, but you wouldn’t dance.” Jesus is calling us out to play. Yes, I know this is a summer like no other summer we have ever experienced. I would love to just go out to the lake and splash and play in the water. But the beaches remain closed, so let Jesus’ words take us back to the words of Sophia, so that we can play together in the words of the scriptures.

In the Bible, it is Sophia who is first given the task of calling God’s people out to play, and that playfulness goes way beyond dancing. Despite the church’s history of attempts to contain and or constrain our playfulness, Jesus continues to call us out to play!

On this glorious summer Sunday, on a weekend when it is meet right and salutary to celebrate, we can listen to the tune Jesus is piping and we can dance for joy for we are wondrously and gloriously made. Weekends are not the only things designed for play; we are. In the biblical books which are known as Wisdom Literature, it is made very clear that our bodies are blessings given by God so that we might delight in them.

Playfulness includes exploring the pleasures that one body can give to another body. There’s a little book in the Bible which we call the Song of Solomon, which for centuries was simply known as the Song of Songs and there you will find words that can make self-righteous Christians blush and televangelists positively apoplectic. “Look, there my love stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:  ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; and come away; for now, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. Let my love kiss me with kisses on the mouth!”  How did this get into the Bible?

The Song of Solomon, or as it is sometimes called, the Song of Songs is surely the most erotic book of the Bible. This erotic song of songs is a long poem in which a woman, “Black and beautiful,” woman and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and every taste. The radiant young man declares to his lover, “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.”  And she tells anyone who will listen that, “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” He responds by exclaiming that her, “two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. I am my beloved’s” she exults, “and his desire is for me.”

The Song of Songs is a song about desire, and so it is also a song about the pain of separation, of missed meetings, and of absence. “O that his left hand were under my head,” the woman sings with palpable yearning, “and that his right hand embraced me!”  When this passionate woman’s lover knocks on her door, she hesitates for a moment to open it. And when she begins to speak, this ancient biblical woman speaks some of the sexist lines in any literature. “My beloved thrust his hand into the opening and my inmost being yearned for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.”

When she opens the door, he is gone, and she heads out into the city to search for him, crying,  “I implore you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.” 

How did this erotic love poem make it into the Bible?  No one knows for sure. But scores of interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, have found in it the song of human yearning for the DIVINE ONE and the DIVINE ONE’s desire to be in intimate relationship with humanity.

The Song of Songs is read at the festival of the Passover as a reminder that YAHWEH delivered Israel from slavery not only because the DIVINE ONE was bound by the covenant to do so, but also because the HOLY ONE loved the people of Israel and desired goodness for them.

The ancient Christian writer Bernard of Clarvaux wrote more than eighty sermons on the Song of Songs without even making it past the third chapter. According to Clarvaux the poem provided a means by which the individual believer could come into intimate relationship with God. Like all great poetry, the Song of Songs can easily sustain a wide range of interpretations. But it resists being read only as a spiritual text about human beings devoid of bodies. Clairvaux warned young monks and nuns not to read it until their faith matured, because of the sexual feelings it is able to inspire.

The song is so erotic, that to this day, orthodox Jews are cautioned not to read it until they reach the age of forty. For to read the Song of Solomon without the wisdom that comes from age could cause the reader to unwisely give in to their own passionate desires.

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire and the power of love. The Song proclaims that “Love is as strong as death, and passion fierce as the grave.” “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.”

And we’re not talking about agape here.   No this is not the agape love shared between friends or members of a faith community. We’re talking about eros.  Eros, the love that is expressed in the passionate embrace of bodies. In the Song of Songs, we find no anxiety about erotic desire’s power.

In the Song of Songs, passionate desire is portrayed as the force that binds us to one another.  The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire.  They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by one another; they are equally determined to give and to receive pleasure. For centuries, the church has selected particular pieces of scripture in order to say, “no” to the pleasures of sex in any way shape or form.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus declared that “WISDOM/ SOPHIA will be vindicated by wise deeds.” Surely WISDOM/SOPHIA is vindicated in relationships so intimate and satisfying that they draw us out of ourselves and more deeply into the passions of life in Creation? Relationships in which pleasure is given and received with joy. Relationships in which knowledge of the body is sought with care and gentleness, in which the body is pronounced beautiful over and over again.

As we come to experience the erotic as sacred, we can begin to know ourselves as holy and to imagine ourselves sharing in Creation with one another for our common well-being. When we recognize the face of the HOLY ONE in the face of our lover as well as in our own face, we can begin to feel at ease in our bodies.  The DIVINE ONE moves among us. In, with, through, and beyond our bodies the DIVINE ONE lives and breathes and plays.   

Jesus implores us: “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yolk is easy, and my burden is light.” In these strange times, we may not be able to enjoy our regular summer pleasures. So, as our beaches remain closed, why not open up the Song of Solomon and rejoice and be glad, as you read: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s desire is for me. Come, my beloved let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early into the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened, and the pomegranates are in bloom. Then I will give you my love.”  According to the Scriptures, SOPHIA stood out in the streets and invited the people to come and play–to tell jokes–to laugh at our blunders. 

In today’s gospel Jesus compares his generation to children who sit and refuse to play. Do NOT let it be said of this generation that we refused to play, that the delights and pleasures which come to us as gifts from our CREATOR were shunned or wasted. Our bodies are sacred instruments designed to play. In the sacred dance of desire, we are opened to the transforming power of LOVE. So, remember to give and take delight in your play. Let yourselves be transformed. Let your bodies open you to the wonders of life and for God’s sake dance! Dance, and rejoice for you are wonderfully made; designed to play. Amen.

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National Indigenous Peoples Day: In this storm, Jesus is not asleep in the back of the boat! We are!

The raging storms are all around us! The tumultuous winds are churning up the waters and tossing us about in treacherous seas. Our small boats are tossed to and fro as massive waves heave us left and right. The roaring winds create upheavals, which leave us cowering in fear, trembling as we struggle to meet each wave which carries with it the potential to destroy the few planks of wood that we have hewn together to carry us upon the ever changing sea, which holds both the promise of sustenance and the threat of oblivion within the darkness of its depths. With each crash upon the hull our fear rises, and the ferocity of the storms intensifies. Frightened, clinging to life as we are tossed from one danger to the next, we cry out into the storm, convinced that only some power more intense, bigger, stronger, beyond our abilities to even imagine, only a power such as this can save us from being swamped in our small boats. We fear that left to our own devices, without the meager security offered by our small boats, we will be overcome by the waves and drown in the very sea that we must rely upon to sustain us.

Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fear. As the storms rage all around us, we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters which lie before us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that drive us ever closer to wrecking our small boats. Boats hastily designed without thought to the perils which threaten to consume us, as monsters from below depths below, surface all around us.

The weather forecast looks bleak as one storm after another rolls our way.  We are so very tired. Tired of the winds of racism, which continue to blow despite our efforts to quell their intensity. We have seen the power of racism which over and over again rises up in our midst. Some of us have learned to live in the almost silent breezes which are generated by our fear of the “other.”  We have figured out mechanisms to quell the intensity of racism’s loathsome impacts. We built lifeboats to carry us beyond the pain of the hatred which wafts in and around us, blown about by racism’s destructive currents. We are afraid that there aren’t enough lifeboats to save us all, so we jettison lives and simply turn away as “others” drown.  We’ve grown accustomed to systems designed to allow us to deny the suffering of “others” as they flail about. We trust the designs of our lifeboats to protect us. Different seas have different “others.” But the lifeboats are crafted from the same materials.

As racist breezes churn up the waters, poverty, disease and violence continue to howl, while we are tossed upon the waves, trusting that sleeping in the back of our lifeboat lies a power who IF roused will protect us, save us, carry us safely to better shores. Today, many of us are feeling more than just a little seasick. Many of us believed that we’d managed to quell the racism that once again howls in our midst. It’s Fathers’ Day after all and we were looking forward to calm waters so that we could celebrate the love of fathers for their children and children for their fathers. Our treasured memories were to be hauled up on deck, so that we could all admire the virtues of loving fathers and loving children, treasured memories, hopes for the future, gentle embraces, good wishes, and happy families. Surely, the ill winds can be quelled long enough for us to celebrate Father’s Day in peace. But the winds of racism and violence have joined forces and blown about the pain of too many atrocities which threaten the stability of our lifeboats. Our boats are weighed down with the pain of First Nations martyrs, Inuit martyrs, Metis martyrs, black, brown, and Asian martyrs; the pain of those “othered” by white privilege, slaughtered in the places we believed the winds could not, and did not penetrate.

Not even our beloved Canada, all dressed up in the history of the underground railway and multiculturalism, not even the mythical Canada, can protect us from the harsh winds of racism and violence. We recognize the power of racism and violence to stir up the waters and so we comfort ourselves with the thought that the destructive winds blow only in the south, as if we here in the north are immune to the dangers which are blowing in the wind. We point to our American cousins as if they alone, with their lifeboats weighed down by their shoot-em-up culture, are at risk of sinking. But we have our own baggage stowed deep within our holds which has the power to sink us.

National Indigenous Peoples Day: a day scarcely etched in our calendars for the sake of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. Not even a day set aside to reveal what lies in the bowels of our own lifeboats can convince us to jettison the baggage of imperialism or forgo legacies of colonialism, which we are hell-bent upon preserving even if it means that Indigenous women and girls are thrown overboard, indigenous men beaten and incarcerated, while families and indeed whole nations are denied safe drinking water; water: water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink.

We breathe deeply of the winds of racism, while denying that the very air we breathe is polluted by systems designed to ensure that the white privileged few continue to enjoy the benefits so many of us have grown to love and to horde, convinced that if the first inhabitants of these shores would only learn from us how to swim, all would be well. The winds of racism carry with them abuse, while poverty howls, dis-ease wipes out family after family, and violence destroys, and we turn away, continuing to deny that we have the power to save them all. So, we don’t save anyone of “them,” because they are “them” and not us. Let them, those people, the “others,” save themselves, there is only so much that we can do. Besides, they don’t want our help anyway. They would rather be left to their own ways. So, we narrow our gaze, trim our sails and hope for calmer seas. Relieved whenever we hear one of them, one of the “others,” condemn us for our delusions of grandeur, which allow us to imagine ourselves as “their” saviours.

Friends, the powerful metaphor offered to us by the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Mark is designed to open us to the reality of the relentless storms which rage all around us. Using familiar symbols designed to conjure up images of the fears we all harbour deep inside the very fibers of our being, the gospel storyteller wants us to feel the lashing winds which threaten to separate us from one another, as we desperately seek to survive. We have been distracted for too long now, arguing about whether or not this miracle story actually happened exactly the way it was written. It simply doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus of Nazareth preformed miracles.In fact, a miracle worker living 2000 years ago doesn’t matter at all when people are dying and being killed here and now. What matters to those who are threatened by storms or who are perishing in storms, or who are mourning the death of victims of storms, is not whether or not some guy living 2000 years ago had the power to change the course of nature. What matters to those in peril on the sea is what you and I and they are going to do in the face of the howling winds of racism, disease, poverty and violence. For this miraculous story to be worth anything at all, it needs to be able to carry us away from the realities of the ordinary into the dream of a future where miracles are actually possible.

It has always annoyed me that Jesus lies sleeping in the back of the boat, lying on a cushion no less, while his followers are in fear for their lives. I know that according to the story, Jesus was tired. He’d spent the whole day, saving those around him. The crowds had gathered and were pressing in on him and the only way to get away from their incessant demands was to get in a boat and sail away. Who among us hasn’t needed to get away from the incessant demands of others? We get it. Jesus was tired. We’re tired. I don’t want to hear about one more killing. I’m sick of hearing about racism. I’m smart enough to know that I’m one of the privileged. I know that the systems of power and control favour me and mine. What can I do about? Besides, I don’t hate black people or indigenous people. I wasn’t raised to think I’m better than anybody else. Yeah, I know the system ensures that I remain one of the privileged. But I didn’t ask to be born white and powerful, any more than they asked to be born poor and powerless. I can’t save them all. Besides they don’t want a white saviour. We keep hearing that white privileged people need to shut-up, listen, and learn because our solutions are not “their” solutions. So, I just sail on, sparing only a prayer and some small change for those who are flailing about in stormy waters.

It sure would be nice if Jesus was the answer to every question. If not Jesus then that big something more than me, that God fella, the old bearded white man in the sky, sure has a lot to answer for, leaving us alone to flail about, letting untold millions sink to the bottom. No wonder, I read this story and I want to scream at the god of my dreams, “Wake up. Don’t you care that so many people are drowning?” Wake up we need you to do something.    Help us!    Save us! I’d really like to believe that if we shout loudly enough that God will hear us and that God is powerful enough to make a difference, to save us, and to save “them.” I’d sure like to believe that there’s a master mariner powerful enough to still the winds and calm the seas. Peace! Be still!

Like many people, I am reeling from the onslaught of the news and I too, am trying to make sense out of what I do and don’t believe. Over and over again the familiar words we at Holy Cross, use to close our worship services each Sunday ring in my ears: “Go in peace. Be LOVE in the world.” Be LOVE in the world! It would be so much easier to rely on a force more powerful that I to quell this storm. And yet, we profess to follow a saviour who taught that God is LOVE; a saviour who embodied the LOVE that IS God.

Be LOVE in the world? Be God in the world? God in the world? We are part of a church which teaches that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the ONE in whom the LOVE that IS God was embodied. I smile every time I remember, Dom Crossan saying, “Do you want to know what God looks like in the first century?  Well, Jesus is what God looks like in sandals.”  Jesus is what LOVE looked like in the first century. Jesus is the Christ precisely because he was LOVE in the world. Christ is God in the world. The Church teaches us that we are the body of Christ. In the words of Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now but yours.” “Christ has no hands now but yours.” Being Christ in the world means being LOVE in the world.

Being LOVE in the world means to stop seeing ourselves as disciples cowering in fear, terrified that the storm is going to cause the seas to rise up and drown us. It is time for us to see ourselves sleeping in the back of the boat, resting on a cushion. For all those who are afraid shouting for a saviour to wake up, we, you and I the followers of Jesus, we are the body of Christ. It is time for us to wake up, speak-up, and calm the storm which is raging. We have the power together as the body of Christ to command the winds of racism, disease, poverty, and violence to cease. Together we are the Body of Christ and together we are so much more powerful than any storm. If it really does matter to us that our sisters and brothers are going to drown, if we really do care, then it is time to wake up and speak up. It is time to put an end to the power of white privilege to in-spire or to give breath to the winds of racism, disease, poverty and violence. There is work for each one of us to speak up. We all know the power of racism. We have all, at one time or another remained silent in the face of racism so as not to rock the boat. We all have relatives and friends who are trapped in delusions of superiority and have spouted racist comments and we have let them pass. We all know or have been those people who deny that our systems are rigged so that one race, the white race, maintains its power. It is time for each of us to speak up and to take some risks, we have to rock the boat even in the midst of a storm. If our particular part of the sea appears quiet, we have to have the courage to see our reflection in those calm waters and take a long hard look at the way we live our lives. We need to examine the systems that we are engaged in to seek out injustice and to do our part to create peace through justice. Together, we are a power which is stronger than the raging storms or the treacherous waters. In the past we have used, or allowed our power to be used, to save ourselves along with those few we have deemed worthy of our rescue.

Slowly, some of us are learning that the ways in which we have exercised power from positions of privilege have only increased the ferocity of the winds of racism, poverty, disease, and violence. It is long past time for white privilege to remember the ONE so many of us profess to follow. Jesus may have rocked that boat when he spoke up, but he very quickly turned his attention to calming the seas. Together we, the Body of Christ must use our power to calm the seas. In the open letter to Canadians, the Chiefs of Ontario asked Canadians to: “Make a personal commitment to change the narrative by listening, challenging racism, educating yourself and sharing your power, space and platforms.”

The storms raging around us will not end until the winds of racism, poverty, disease, and violence are deprived of breath. So, what might being LOVE in the world look like for those of us who are privileged? Well, we may not need to put on sandals, but we will surely need to take off the trappings of wanna-be-saviours. To be LOVE in the world will mean taking off our capes of privilege, by listening to those who are drowning outside the boats we have crafted. We can begin by taking onboard the Chiefs wisdom:  listen, challenge racism, educate ourselves, and share our power, space and platforms. It’s time for us to wake up to the power of LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond us; the power which is the LOVE we call God.

Peace…be still….peace….be still…..peace….be still.

It all begins when we are awakened to the power which lies sleeping within us all. Together we can command the winds to cease, so that as the seas are stilled, peace can be restored.   It is long past time for us to wake up, speak-up, to risk rocking the boat, and begin the difficult work of stilling the storms raging around us, by listening to those who are drowning in the turbulent waters of white privilege, challenging racism whenever and wherever we find it, educating ourselves, and sharing our power, space and platforms.

It is time for us to be LOVE in the world. The seas will only be calmed when we work with and for one another to put an end to racism, an end to disease, an end to poverty, and an end to violence. Wake up, there is no miraculous saviour who is going to do this for us. We are the body of Christ. We are in God, and God is in us! God is not a caped crusader. God IS LOVE. In the LOVE which we call God, we live and move and have our being.” Wake up, speak up, rock the boat and be LOVE in the world. Be LOVE in the world so that peace may begin to break out on these turbulent of seas. Peace…be still….peace….be still…..peace….be still. Let it be so, dear ones. Let it be so here and now, be LOVE in the world.  Amen.

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“The Great Commission” Birthed White Supremacy! – Trinity Sunday sermon

How did we get here? All over the world people are marching in the streets proclaiming, “Black lives matter.” Millions have defied the fear of the corona virus, and taken their lives into their hands to venture out into the streets to protest the systemic racism that permeates institutions all over this planet. Even in Canada, where it takes a colossal effort to turn people out into the streets, even in Canada hundreds of thousands of people have defied public health orders to march against racism.

By now we are all familiar with the recent murders which ignited the powder keg of outrage which continues to propel people into the streets. As horrific as these current murders are, it is not enough for those of us who benefit daily from our white privilege to simply look to the most horrific consequences of racism in order to understand the inherent depths of systemic racism which infect our world. If we are to begin to untangle ourselves from our own participation in the proliferation of racism, we must begin to understand the role of Christianity in the creation and maintenance of white supremacy.  For the same Christianity which gave us these words from Galatians which I just read as today’s Gospel, also gave us the words which are actually prescribed as the Gospel reading for this Trinity Sunday.

“All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female.  All are ONE in Christ Jesus.” This is the Gospel as it was professed in the first century, by the followers of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. But this is not the gospel reading which is prescribed for this Trinity Sunday. The prescribed reading for this day comes from the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, which was written by an anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew. This prescribed reading is known by the Church as “The Great Commission.” I deliberately, did not read “The Great Commission” and indeed, I doubt that I will ever again read The Great Commission and publicly claim it as “Gospel.” Over the course of many years of study, I have come to believe that the so-called “Great Commission” is anything but the “Gospel.” Indeed, I have come to believe that this particular ending to the Gospel According to Matthew may be the source of the systemic racism which permeates, not just the Church, but also, all of the Western cultures and institutions which arose out of what history has dubbed the Holy Roman Empire.

Hear the words, prescribed for this Trinity Sunday, they come from the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, and as I said before this reading is known as Jesus’ “Great Commission.” Matthew 28:16-20

“The Eleven made their way to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had summoned them. At the sight of the risen Christ they fell down in homage, though some doubted what they were seeing. Jesus came forward and addressed them in these words: “All authority has been given me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of Abba God, and of the Only Begotten, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I AM with you always, even until the end of the world!”

Here ends the gospel, not according to the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew. No, no, I could not get out of a first year New Testament class and without learning about Eusebius, (265-339) an early Christian historian who quoted this text from Matthew and the trinitarian clause does not appear, suggesting to some that the text was altered. Could, the so-called “great commission” have been added to the gospel by the Christian community sometime around 325 – to bring it into line with the brand spanking new Creed which you know as the Nicene Creed? Now whether or not you agree with the preponderance of evidence unearthed by New Testament scholars, about the very real possibility that Jesus never actually said everything he is propertied to have said in the New Testament, you must begin to understand that these words, whether Jesus said them or not, these words became the justification for The Doctrine of Discovery. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI (6th) issued the Papal Bull which would give license to European Christians to colonize the world.  The Church granted white European Christians the authority to claim, seize, conquer, and “Christianize” any and all lands inhabited by people who were not Christian.

Colonizing became Europe’s preferred method of evangelizing and in Jesus’ name indigenous people were slaughtered or subjugated. The Doctrine of Discovery not only justified the dehumanization of those peoples who lived in lands beyond Europe, the Doctrine of Discovery, birthed by the Great Commission, solidified the notion of white supremacy in the so-called “civilizing” of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia, and far too many points in-between to enumerate here.

The roots of today’s civil unrest run deep into the very bible the colonizers used to ensure the privileged status  their descendants, that’s you and me, and all the other white privileged folk who continue to thrive as settlers, on lands stolen from indigenous peoples.

I am only beginning to learn the contours of my own white privilege.  While there is so much more for me to learn, one thing is becoming clear, it is long past time for me to listen to the cries of all those who have felt the knee of my privilege pressing down upon their necks. It is time for me and my privileged sisters and brothers to learn about the ways in which the institutions, in which we have thrived, have perpetuated systemic racism.

It is long past time, for us to set aside our defensive denials of our own white privilege and accept the truth of our participation in the racism which is perpetrated on our black, brown, red, and yellow sisters and brothers. All lives will not matter unless and until black lives matter, brown lives matter, indigenous lives matter, and Asian lives matter.

No place is our white privilege more evident than in the church which has fostered us, nourished us, grounded and sustained us in our white privilege, while all the while claiming authority from none other than Jesus himself to baptize all nations in his name. So, on this Trinity Sunday, when the Church celebrates its creeds, let us not look to the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, nor God-forbid, the Athanasian Creed. But let us look to the very first creed; the creed quoted by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Galatia

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written long before the second, third, or fourth century when the Great Commission was added to the Gospel according to Matthew. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written in some 20 to 30 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Many scholars now believe that the Apostle Paul did not actually write the words of the first Creed, but rather quoted them from the well-known liturgical practices of the first followers of the teachings of Jesus. The Apostle Paul borrowed and adapted the words, which were the earliest attempts to capture in words the meaning of the Jesus movement.

This nascent Jesus movement understood well the tendency of humans to resort to tribalism and in the teachings of Jesus they came to understand “that race, class, and gender are typically used to divide the human race into us and them to the advantage of us.” This evolving Jesus movement declared in their creed that there is no us, no them.  We are all children of God. The Jesus movement was about solidarity, not cultural obliteration.

New Testament scholar Stephen J. Patterson has studied the early manuscripts in an attempt to uncover the words which the Apostle Paul quoted and adapted.  His unearthed version of that first christian creed reads like this:

“You are all children of God. There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female, for you are all ONE.”

Imagine a subjugated and oppressed people hearing that they too are “Children of God” for in the DIVINE MYSTERY we call GOD there is “no Jew or Greek” no race; there is “no slave or free,” no class; there is “no male or female,” no gender. In the eyes of the DIVINE all are equal. Please do not hear this as a denial of race, class or gender, but rather a denial that race, class and gender can be parleyed into a first-class ticket to the Kin-dom of God. Now imagine a misguided white privileged member of a racist system hearing, “your race, class and gender” are of no account for all are equal, all are children of the DIVINE.

Just how different would our world be if the Church in which we were nourished, grounded and sustained had not have become “a citadel of patriarchy” and enforced a regime prioritizing race, class and gender? Even the very Trinity, which we are called by the Church to celebrate today, even this doctrine carefully designed to depict the very nature of the DIVINE MYSTERY has for generations portrayed the institution’s preference for a white, male, god who quite naturally bestows riches upon those created in the image of its white, male deity. “You are all children of God. There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female, for you are all ONE.” In the Kin-dom of the DIVINE, race, class, and gender do not bring with them privilege.

So, now what? What are we, the benefactors of church’s institutional racism, to do, now that we know the nature of our white privilege? Well, we might begin with the difficult work of confession. We have a lot to learn and a lot to confess. Denial is no longer an option. As the contours of our privilege become clearer, we need to learn to repent; to turn around, and to cease and desist. Some of us will need to just shut up and listen. Once confession and repentance begin to lead us beyond our tribalism, then the really difficult work of reconciliation will begin. This means many of us will need to look in the mirror and see the things that are actually there, not the things we hope to see, but the actual truths that are reflected back to us. It means having the intellectual courage to confess that Jesus didn’t say all the things we would have liked for him to say. It means moving beyond our cherished notions about the nature of the DIVINE MYSTERY, even the blessed trinity! It means having the courage to learn at the feet of others, silently, reverently, and respectfully.   It may even mean having the honesty to give back what was never ours in the first place.

There is an old spiritual which I have always loved, the refrain speaks of the troubled waters in which we find ourselves, Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the waters. The waters are indeed troubled. May all that is HOLY, grant to each of us the courage to wade into the troubled waters, trusting that we are all created in the image of the ONE who IS, BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. Amen.

View the Full Worship Service below – click here for the Order of Service

 

 

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

Eckhart rid me of GodMeister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar.  I offer some previous Trinity sermons to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…

click on the sermon title

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

I’m not that good a preacher!

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity,

Our Congregations Shrink???

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

The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity

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

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

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

The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening

Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus

The celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is a church festival that I have always chosen to ignore. The ancient tradition that has Jesus floating up into the clouds stretches the credibility of the church to such an extent that I’ve always assumed that the less said about the Ascension the better. But I was challenged by a parishioner to try to make some sense out of the Ascension story so that 21st century Christians would not have to check their brains at the door should they happen upon a congregation that still celebrated the day. What follows is a transcript of my attempt to leave behind the miraculous Jesus in order to be better able to welcome the human Jesus down from the clouds. I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong together with Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-city for their liberating insights.  

Traditionally, on the 40th day after Easter, the church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. But because so few people in the 21st century are willing to come to church during the week, the Ascension is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Ascension. Since I have been your pastor we have not celebrated Ascension Sunday. But as this particular Ascension Sunday follows so closely after Jack Spong’s visit with us, I thought that it was about time that rather than avoid the Ascension, I’d like to try to confront it.

Jack has been telling his anti-Ascension story for quite a few years now. Just in case you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, let me remind you. It seems that Jack was speaking with Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. Jack says that Carl Sagan once told him  “if Jesus literally ascended into the sky and traveled at the speed of light, then he hasn’t yet escaped our galaxy.”

With that said, let me just say, that the Ascension never actually happened. It is not an historical event. If a tourist with a video camera had been there in Bethany they would have recorded absolutely nothing. 

I know what the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” But like the members of the early church, I do not have a literal understanding of the scriptures. And so, as I do not understand the Bible literally, neither do I understand the Nicene Creed to be a literal interpretation of the faith. Like all creeds the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian creeds are snapshots of theology as it was at a particular time in history.

We would do well to remember that the Creeds were developed to answer questions about the faith in a time when people understood the cosmos to be comprised of a flat earth, where God resides above in the heavens and located beneath the earth were the pits of hell. I know that the universe is infinite.  I also know about gravity. I also know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus had helium flowing through his veins.  I’ve flown around the world, and I can tell you that there is no heaven above the clouds. So, I can say with confidence that:  The very present Jesus of resurrection faith did not literally elevate into heaven while his disciples looked on. Continue reading

Five Bags of Sugar – Mothers’ Day Sermon

When I was a child in Northern Ireland, my Mom would often as me a question which would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts which I suspect she learned   when she was a child from her Mother. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me, “How much do you love me?” and I would answer, as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you to bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I love my Mom, “Five bags of sugar!” Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who grew up measuring love in bags of sugar.

As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with rationing during World War II. Sugar’s ability to make all things sweet tied it to people’s perception of a happy life. A “big bag of sugar” was more sugar than most people would ever see. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how people could begin to measure love in bags of sugar. To this day my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders, to measure love in bags of sugar; even though we have all since learned that consuming large quantities of sugar makes us sick. I suspect the wartime custom of  expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosy…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague which saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posy, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few.

This week the world remembered VE Day; the end of war in Europe was commemorated from the confines of our physically isolated planet as we all seek refuge from the pandemic which has brought an end to many of our treasured cultural norms. The combination of Mothers’ Day, the 75 Anniversary of VE Day, a global pandemic was topped off with news of the arrival in North America of some beast called a “murder hornet.” These are strange times in which to live. According to the experts, many of us are experiencing culture shock. Think back to just two months ago. Way back then, we would not be confined to worshipping together over the medium of the internet. Less than two short months ago, we enjoyed the freedom of movement which all of us took for granted and many of us would have been gathered together in our sanctuary, singing, praying, exchanging the peace, sharing communion, and then feasting together over coffee, tea, and conversation. In less than two months, so very many things which we took for granted, are no longer possible and we do not know when or if they shall be returned to us.

Last week I listened as Bill Gates, the kazillionaire behind so much of the technology which characterized the past thirty years, insisted that many of us have had to learn new skills at a rate which has seen us absorb fifteen years’ worth of change in just six weeks. Gates called this phenomenon “cultural compression.” So, if you are struggling to come to terms with your new life, rest assured, you are not alone. Go easy on yourself. Humans were never designed to cope with the rate of change we are experiencing today.

Yes, we are privileged. We came into this crisis as the privileged few. We are certainly wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and grandparents. In addition to our wealth and privilege we also have all sorts of mechanisms in place to cushion the effects of whatever we may still have to endure. We know that there are others who are much worse off than we are, and yet, we can’t quite shake the angst which comes in the middle of the night. No amount of sugar or packets full of posy can obscure the shock waves which are impacting our way of being in the world.

So, reeling from the so many changes, I must confess that today’s Gospel text, makes me feel the way I used to feel when I would turn the tables on my Mom and ask her, “How much do you love me Mom?” As some of you know, my Mom lives on the West Coast, I miss her terribly and there I nothing more I’d rather hear than, “Five big bags of sugar!” There is something about your mother’s voice that has the power to sooth even our deepest upsets. Even if your Mom has long since gone on to “prepare a place for you,” I’m sure that you can still hear her soothing you in times of trouble.

Now, I know full well all the scholarly reasons for insisting that the words of the anonymous gospel-story-teller which we call John has put on the lips of Jesus, very probably come from the community of people who followed the ways of Jesus, rather than Jesus himself. I don’t care much whether or not Jesus actually said these words. However, I do care very much about the truth which these words convey about the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL. I know that love measured in “bags of sugar” and safeguards like  “packets of posy”  are expressions whose meanings have been lost over time. I also know that the words used to express the characteristics of the DIVINE MYSTERY have also lost their power over time. 

We have forgotten so very much about those things we once took for granted. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so! Little ones to him belong! Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.” We are all grown up and in the face of so much suffering, it may indeed be time for us to put away childish things. When our physical isolation is over and we are released to return to our lives, our lives will not be as they once were. Nothing stays the same under normal circumstances.  Life changes over time and the experts may just be correct when they tell us that the effects of cultural compression will have a colossal impact on the ways in which we return to life out there. But whether it’s bags of sugar, pockets of posy, or the sure and certain knowledge that “Jesus loves me!”, this I do know, LOVE remains constant. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me as well.” Our way of speaking about the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the source of ALL REALITY may have changed and will continue to change over time.  But the truth that the DIVINE MYSTERY IS LOVE, this LOVE never changes. God IS, was and evermore shall be LOVE. In Jesus of Nazareth, his followers like the anonymous gospel-storyteller who we call John, in Jesus people for generations have seen the embodiment of the LOVE which IS God. Jesus’ Way of being in the world is LOVE alive in the world.

Jesus insistence that, “I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life.” is not some arbitrary barrier to be crossed or hoop one must jump through in order to know the DIVINE. But rather the followers of Jesus’ attempting to express the reality that for Jesus the Way of LOVE is the only Way of being. The Way of LOVE empowered Jesus to claim unity with LOVE. “I AM in LOVE and LOVE is in me!” “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is LOVE, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of LOVE.” Jesus loves me this I know; just as surely as I know that my Mom loves me. Just as surely that I know that there is nothing in heaven or on earth which can ever separate me from the LOVE that IS God.

It may indeed be scary out there. I suppose it has always been scary out there. But my Mom always pushed me out the door to meet the world, in the sure and certain knowledge that she loved me more than five big bags of sugar. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Trust in the DIVINE ONE who is LOVE. LOVE beyond the ability of mere words to describe. LOVE beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond you. LOVE is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Know that LOVE is in you and you are in LOVE and there is nothing which can separate you from the LOVE which is God. LOVE’s got this! Be LOVE and you will be well. Be LOVE and all manner of things shall be well.

YOU CAN VIEW THE WHOLE WORSHIP SERVICE BELOW

Download the Order of Service here

 

Breasted ONE – reflections for Mothers’ Day – John 14:1-14

Readings: Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation; Revelations of Love, by Julian of Norwich Chapter 26; John 14:1-14

Listen to the sermon here

“I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life. NO one comes to Abba God but through me.” Over the course of two millennia, the ways in which these words have been interpreted by far too many people who insist that they are “Christian” is enough to make most mothers, be they Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Shikh, Jew, atheist, or agnostic, CRINGE. It seems to me, that to insist that it’s Jesus’ Way or the highway, as if Christians have the exclusive way of being in the world, violates the basic principles of the image we have of what it means to be a good mother.  Today, while we celebrate all the various stereotypes of what it means to be or to have a good mother, I don’t think any of you would hold point to the image of a mother who favoured one of her children to the exclusion of her other children. Yet somehow, the image of God as “Father” of us all, is messed up with the notion of a God who insists on a particular Way of being in the world, a way of being that believes particular things about who Jesus of Nazareth is, was, and ever more shall be; a way of being that insists that only those who believe particular things about Jesus will be welcomed into God’s household. The Good News is, that New Testament scholars have learned a great deal about this passage that contradicts the so-called “traditional interpretations” of this text. New Testament scholars begin by teaching us that these words attributed to Jesus, were in fact written some 70 plus years after Jesus’ crucifixion by an anonymous story-teller that we call John, who in all likelihood put these words into the mouth of Jesus in order to address a particular problem in the community to which this story is addressed.

But, more important than the realization that Jesus may never have actually said these words is the reality that taken out of context and proclaimed in ways that exclude some people at the expense of others, these words fail to express the very ideas of inclusion that the anonymous story-teller that we call John was trying to express to his community in the first place. For as the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call John insists:

“In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well. Continue reading

I AM, You ARE, We ARE the Good Shepherd – Psalm 23 and John 10

Sermon Only – Watch the full service below.

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want” or,“A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-side, I want for nothing.”

The translations of this ancient Hebrew hymn may be separated by centuries, but both the English translators of King James and the American Rabbi Jamie Arnold seek to move us deeply into the inner workings of our being.

Like the unknown ancient Hebrew who created this pathway to a realm beyond the surface of our thinking toward our deepest longings, our darkest fears and into our deepest peace, all translators, interpreters, readers, and listeners of this ancient LOVE song, approach the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.

IS , is the word is the present tense of the verb TO BE.

The verb “to be” is unique among all verbs.

The present tense of the verb to be: AM, IS, ARE

The past tense: WAS, WERE

The past participle: BEEN,

And the present participle: BEING.

TO BE a verb which struggles to communicate the very ISNESS of BEING.

 For the ancient ancestors, the very essence of a being is contained in the name of that being. Is it any wonder then, that the verb “to be” in Hebrew was used by the ancients to communicate the name of the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS?  

YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM, or I AM, WHO I AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE

Or as the anonymous gospel-storytellers put it, simply, “I AM.”

JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.

ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.

 When we turn to this song of the ancients, we see, lush meadows, meandering waters, green pastures, and valleys crowed with figures of death and disgrace, pictures, images, hopes, dreams, and fears, laid out in words designed to lead us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.

Today, each one of us can, without much difficulty, move beyond the distractions of the moment toward our wants and our fears, all around us death is very much a part of life. At our fingertips we have access to images aplenty of the valley of the shadow of death which no amount of hand-washing can erase. In our lives there are losses and griefs which mask our ability to see beyond our fears. We know that the lush meadows are all around us, but the enormity of the world’s pain coupled with the uncertainty of tomorrow’s worries blind us to the WAY beyond. From the isolation of our homes, so many of us lumber through these days, longing for release, while others venture out on our behalf, fearful of what lurks in unseen molecules. If only there were a shepherd to lead us, a saviour to save us, a way to move us beyond, this, whatever this, is, was, or will become. No press conference, no medical expert, no brilliant scientist, bi astute economist, bi canny politician, can move us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. And yet, we long for green pastures and the memory of ONE who insisted that, “I AM”, this ONE continues to inspire possibility beyond words or images. 

“The truth of the matter is, I AM the sheep gate.” “I AM the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe – you’ll go in and out and find pasture.” “I came that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Abundant life, life beyond our wants, beyond our fears, abundant life. The anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John speaks of Jesus as ONE who claims wandering sheep as his own, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God.  For Abba and I are ONE.”  

Therein lies the MYSTERY, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” Therein lies the WAY beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, ONE. “Even when” I, You, We, “descend into valleys crowded with figures of death and disgrace,” I, You, We, “will not succumb to fear, now knowing where” I, You, We, are, “I AM, I AM with YOU,” YAHWEH. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, with YAHWEH, ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY.  

“Ancestral staff of family tree in hand, courage and comfort blossom under the sun, casting shadows revealing time in melodies measure for measure, these and these harmonies lay my frets to rest.”  “When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-your-our-side, I, You, We want for nothing.” For the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, IS LOVE. 

“Patience and perseverance, playing with polarity, stand and say, “Send me. Send me before you; tabling shame and sorrow for tomorrow that you may feast today, head anointed with oil, LOVE’s cup pouring-over the rim with plenty.”

We can move beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. Look around, there are lush green pastures everywhere. Our cups overflow with goodness. “Gratefulness and lovingkindness run me down and up, coursing through my vines to live in all my limbs, words and ways, coming home at last to sit and sabbath. Your ever-presence, here, now embodying, housing, LOVING CONSCIOUSNESS in time-space-and-soul.” 

I, You, We, and the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, who IS, WAS, and every more SHALL BE, LOVE, I, You, We, and this LOVE are ONE. This ONEness into which LOVE draws us moves us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. It is our ONEness which transforms us into the Good Shepherd. You and the Abba are ONE.  In LOVE we live and move and have our BEING. We set the table in the midst of all this, whatever this is, the table is set by LOVE, this, all this IS abundant life, eternal life.  I, You, We ARE the LOVE who IS. We are the shepherds, we are the saviours, we ARE the ONEs. See beyond your wants, beyond your fears and let us dwell in the house of LOVE forever.  Amen.

You can watch the full worship service below – download the Order of Service here

Emmaus is Nowhere because Emmaus is Everywhere: a sermon on Luke 24

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

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

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

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

Longing for Resurrection! – Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:26-31

“A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.”
Four, Five? How many weeks is it and we have been in our houses?
Their doors were locked for fear of the authorities.
We too are locked down for fear of, well you all know what we are afraid of…
Even in our respective lockdowns we cannot shutdown our fears.
And now Thomas is with us.
Or maybe Thomas has always been with us?
Doubt and fear seem to be old friends.
Hand in hand, doubt and fear, are locked in here with us and there is no amount of sanitizer which will save us from the ability of these particular viruses to haunt the darkness of our isolation.

Outside the sunshine appears so tantalizing, luring us to move beyond the limits of physical distancing, while inside we long for resurrection. Yearning to burst forth from the darkness of these tombs of isolation, we long for resurrection.
Grasping on to any hint that the restrictions will be lifted, we can’t help but hope for a return to our lives as they once were, before, you know, when things were normal. Suddenly, without warning, our stories resonate a little too much with their stories. Like the disciples of old, the ones who followed Jesus, we now huddle in the confines of our darkness. All they had were a few brief stories.
We too have their brief stories, together with our emerging stories. The one about the empty tomb and the one about a vaccine.  Folded grave-cloths. Discarded face masks. Weeping women and fleeing men. Worn out nurses and discouraged doctors. Horrible wounds: the mark of the nails; bruised faces and scarred psyches. Rumors, Confusion, Fear, and Doubt. Is Thomas with us, or are we with Thomas?

Thomas is the one forever known as doubting. So, is believing, trusting what we have not seen, is faith the answer? There are plenty who will tell us that faith is all we need, that this too shall pass, that everything is going to be all right. But like Thomas, I’m not so sure. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in Jesus’ side, I will not believe.”

Longing for resurrection, I want to believe. But we have scarcely even begun to see the marks the virus is making or touch the depths of the wounds inflicted on millions.

Many of us, are tucked up safe and warm, in our isolation.
We are well fed, well entertained, and conveniently distracted,
happily confused about the nature of the very resurrection we now long for.
Dreaming of hugs and handshakes, gatherings and workplaces; trusting that all we need to do is to go back to the way things were.

In the same way that some believe that faith in the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse is all there is to resurrection, there are so many who believe that faith in the status quo is all we need to resurrect our world. Those fear-filled followers of Jesus huddled together immersed in the trauma that crucifixion wrought, they knew that nothing, nothing was ever going to be the same again. Jesus could no more rise up from the dead, free from the wounds of his death, than we can. Their dreams of a messiah who would make everything better died upon the cross.  They could not return to life as they once knew it. Jesus’ life and death changed everything they had ever known or hoped for. They were forever changed by the visible wounds and the not so visible deeper wounds.

Today, the marks of the nails are seen in different ways. New media beam images of death and our fear of death into the isolation of our minds. The crosses of execution have been replaced with images of body bags, temporary morgues, and forlorn care-facilities. Nail marks look more like facial bruising.  Not all wounds can be seen on the surface, some are held deep within the confines of isolation as we worry about our finances, job security, and where we might take a walk. While anxiety and depression consume others, and far too many feel the sting of abuse, poverty and homelessness, others struggle to find food.

While the knowledge that some of these wounds will heal helps us to move from one day to the next, we know that many wounds will never heal.
The pain of those who have lost loved ones must wait to be soothed by the practices we have grown accustomed too. Mourning and grieving must begin in unfamiliar isolation. The balm of shared tears and laughter, the strength gained from long embraces, and the familiar grieving rituals, have been taken from us, leaving far too many gaping wounds on so many mourners.

No belief in the resuscitation of a corpse can heal the inequities of our world which have been revealed by this virus. The poverty of millions has been exposed along with the lack of medical care. The ease with which the privileged are entertained during what has become a nightmare for others rubs salt into the wounds. The frustration of the powerless endangers the safety of everyone.
If the Risen Christ cannot bear these wounds, then the tomb is nothing but empty. Rumors of an empty tomb was not enough to calm the fears of Jesus’ first followers.

In the midst of their fear and grief, in the turmoil of their attempts to figure out what to do next, in the anxiety of their panic about the dangers which surrounded them stood the Risen Christ bearing the wounds of the world. In the absence of Jesus, in whom all their hopes were founded, the Risen Christ appears. This Christ, this Risen One is so much more than a resuscitated corpse – this Risen ONE is the presence of the LOVE that cannot be contained by death.

This Risen ONE is LOVE.
LOVE there in the midst of a rag-tag, fear-filled gathering of hapless individuals confused by the magnitude of their trauma.
This Risen ONE stands wounded, and bids them, “Shalom. Peace be with you.” and drawing attention to the wounds of the world, sends them back into the world to make it whole.
No mere, revived corpse has the power of the ONE who is LOVE.
Surely, if this virus has taught us anything, it is that we are all ONE.
When one of us is suffering we are all suffering.
Our world is suffering, we are all suffering.
But there is nothing, in heaven or on earth, no virus, not even death which can separate us from the LOVE that IS God.

LOVE rises again, and again, and again.
And when LOVE rises, LOVE heals.
LOVE makes us whole.
For in the LOVE that is God we are all ONE.
LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen in us!
And it is that LOVE which will heal our wounds.

But like the wounded in all times and in all places, we will be forever marked.
We cannot go back to life as it once was.
For our wounds to heal, we must allow them to change us.
There is much we can learn while we heal.
So much is being revealed. So much is being exposed.
Not the least of which is the reality that we don’t have to go back to the way things were. LOVE can work in, with, through and beyond us to make all things new. Therein lies the hope of the world.

We can linger in our houses, with the doors shut, confident that LOVE cannot be contained by death. We can breathe deeply of the SPIRIT, trusting that LOVE rises in us, with us, through us, and beyond us. There will be much that needs to be transformed in the weeks and months that lie ahead. But for now, take comfort in the RISEN ONE, who IS the LOVE we call God, who even know stands among us bidding us, “SHALOM, Peace be with you.”

May the peace which comes from the LOVE who is God, continue to work healing
in, with, through and beyond us.
Resurrection is here and now.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

Soon, Risen LOVE will send us back into the world to make all things new.
For we are the hands and feet of the ONE who IS LOVE.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

View the full service below – Download the order of service here

Resurrection: Believing is NOT the point! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

 Anticipating Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here

Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Maundy Thursday Sermons

MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMONS

Two Suppers – Maundy Thursday – A Strange Night

Scuffed Up Reddish Pumps

MAUNDY THURSDAY – When you don’t believe that Jesus was a sacrifice for sin!

We must peer beyond Passover lambs and scapegoats if we are to understand the LOVE that we call God

In Need of Prayer? How Do We Pray In This Crisis?

You can download the worship bulletin here

Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells a story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journalist looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist, she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”

The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home, and I have a cup of tea, and I come back and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from all the earth.”

The journalist is intrigued and asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”

For many of us, social distancing, has created a wall between us and separated us from our lives. Bumping up against this wall over and over again, our noses can almost smell the fear filled mortar which oozes from the newly laid brickwork.

This week people have asked me to pray for them. But many more people have asked me, “to whom shall we pray? Most of us learned to pray to a faraway-sky-god and we were taught that faith meant believing that the faraway-sky-god was waiting around to answer our prayers.

As the news gets bleaker and bleaker and the danger draws closer and closer, our loved ones, our livelihoods, and our lives are threatened. So, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing for a personified-parent-god to be the super-hero who come to our rescue? And so, we pray and sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall.

Earlier this week, a well-intentioned priest sent some of my colleagues and I an urgent message urging us to combat COVID-19 by praying without ceasing and then he quoted the words of Jesus:  “That is why I tell you, keep asking and you will receive; keep looking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted.”

If asking and knocking could save even one person from this virus, I would not get off my knees. And, I suspect that I would have a great deal of company down there on my knees. The problem with telling people to pray, or promising people that you will pray for them is that so many of us learned to pray to an image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that fails to capture the magnitude of the CREATOR of all that IS. We were trained to look up to the heavens as we beseeched a god who we cast in the role of a cosmic superhero, ready, willing, and able to intervene on our behalf. Our prayers were crafted with a transactional mindset which perceived life from a dualistic perspective: either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, answered or unanswered prayer. You either believe in God or you don’t.

Slowly, as we have learned more and more about the nature of reality, our longing to connect with the Source of All reality has caused us to expand our images of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As the CREATOR OF UNIVERSES shakes off our way too small superhero costume, we are left standing among the snakes and scorpions, and yes, the virus, wondering: to whom shall we go?  how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray? I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE, to whom, or how do you pray in a crisis such as this?

We were trained in the art of transactional prayer, I believe, so do this, help me, save me, help them, save them.  But what if prayer is not transactional but transformative? If prayer is transformative and not transactional, then we don’t need the super-hero god to reward our prayers by giving us whatever we ask for. If you, with all your short comings, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the MYSTERY, who is the DIVINE, give. How much more, well how about the transformative power of the HOLY SPIRIT?

Jesus does not promise a successful transaction as our reward for persistent prayer, but rather the HOLY SPIRIT herself. The transforming power of the SPIRIT is ours. For the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, breathes, the very breath of the DIVINE, the SPIRIT, the RUACH breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us.

What if the transformative power of prayer opens us to the presence of the ONE in whom we have our BEING? What if prayer is a way for us to open ourselves to the persisting presence of the DIVINE which permeates the universe; a way to be open to a universe that is saturated with the sacred? What if prayer is a doorway to consciousness; a practice to strengthen our intention to work toward the answers to our prayers? What if prayer doesn’t change a thing? What if the power of prayer is its potential to change us? What if prayer opens us, breaks down our walls, opens doorways, points us toward the connections we so long for? What if prayer helps us to see clearly, to pay attention, to connect, to care about our neighbours, to welcome the stranger, to seek justice, to be merciful, and to love extravagantly?  What if prayer is the way to recognize the ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us?

What if our intentional, traditional, formal prayers are not the main event but rather a spiritual practice, an educational tool designed to prepare us by reminding us who we are and what is important about each moment. So that we can live more deeply and compassionately connected to the DIVINE, to Creation and to one another? In other words what if what we have always thought of as prayer is just the beginning, an opening up, into being the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God? What if prayer is transformative? Our lives have changed so very much in the past week. We can only imagine what is going to happen next week or next month. We can respond to these changes with fear and try to find a super-hero to save us. Or we can let our prayers open us to transformation.

Let us pray without ceasing. That is to say, let our prayer be our striving to live these moments in loving relationship to the HOLY ONE, in loving relationship to our neighbours, all our sisters and brothers, and in loving relationship to ourselves. Transformative prayer is our living, loving, and being in which, we relate to one another giving and receiving the LOVE that is the MYSTERY that we call God.

Jesus we are told was fond of telling one story to shed light on another story. So, in the SPIRIT of Jesus, let me tell you a story that sheds light on our Gospel story.

Once upon a time there was a wise old woman who lived in a small village. The children of the village were puzzled by the woman’s great wisdom, her gentleness, and her strength. One day a few of the children decided to test the old woman. They just couldn’t believe that anyone could be as wise as everyone claimed this old woman was. They were determined to prove that the old woman wasn’t very wise at all.

One day the children found a baby bird and one of the boys cupped the bird in his hands and said to the other children, “All we need to do is ask the old woman whether the bird I have in my hands is dead or alive. If she says the bird is dead.  I will open my hands and let the bird fly away. If she says the bird is alive, I’ll crush it in my hands, and she’ll see that the bird is dead. So, the children, went to the old woman and presented her with this challenge. “Old woman,” the boy demanded, “Is this bird in my hands dead or alive?”

The woman became very still, studied the boy’s hands, then she looked carefully into his eyes. “It is in your hands whether the bird will live or will die.” The wise old woman smiled, and repeated the wisdom from within, “It is in your hands.”

Each one of us holds within our hands the transformative power of the SPIRIT. It’s in our hands! So, as you wash or sanitize those powerful hands of yours, pray without ceasing. As you practice physical distancing, pray without ceasing. For with every act of compassion, you are praying. Pray without ceasing so that we might be opened up to a way of being in these challenging days, a way of being that opens us up to the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God! Today, and in the coming weeks and months may all our fears be transformed into compassion so that we may be LOVE in these ever-changing moments. Let it be so. Amen.

[1]Clay Nelson, Auckland Unitarian Church July 23, 2017

[2]My questions are adapted from and  inspired by John Shelby Spong’s exploration of prayer in A New Christianity For a New World (chapter 11)

[3]Versions of this story appear in “NON_THEISTIC LITURGY RESOURCES”St. Stephen’s College – follow the link for the full PDF – an excellent resource for progressive liturgists.

 

Now, more than ever, its the time for each one of us to put on LOVE. – a sermon in the midst of a pandemic

We abandoned the regular lectionary our readings were Matthew 11:28-30; Colossians 3:12-17; and Mark 1:29-35 you can read them in our service bulletin, found here

It was almost five years ago now, and I can still see her smile. It was a beautiful smile; a smile which I often return to in my mind’s-eye. I have long-since forgotten her name. But her smile, I will never forget. It was a smile which she brought to me every day for about a week. A smile that calmed me, soothed me, at a time when my fear was at a fevered pitch. I had travelled to Vancouver to be at my Mother’s bedside. Mom was deathly ill, and we weren’t sure that she was going to survive. Standing there, looking down at the woman who nursed me through all my childhood illness, I felt so very helpless. Even though I am a pastor, and I have been trained how to visit the sick, visiting my Mom, I was simply her daughter.

Helpless and afraid, just standing there or sitting there, waiting for the doctors and nurses to heal my Mom. Every morning the smiling woman would come into the room and she would sooth my fear. All it took was her beautiful smile. Yes, she was on the hospital staff and yes it was her job to come in every morning to take my Mom’s food order. But she wasn’t required to be so very kind. Her kindness went beyond her smile. I could hear her kindness in her voice and feel her kindness in the patient way she tried to coax my Mom into ordering something to help her to get stronger. I could hear her kindness when she turned her attention away from my Mom to focus on me. “You should go for a walk. Get some fresh air. You’re no good to your Mom, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Her kindness, was not part of her job, not required of her, but like her smile, her kindness soothed my fevered fear and dove away the demons long enough for me to recognize her as my Sister, and to capture a glimpse of the LOVE she embodied. Our ancestors tell us that Jesus had the same kind of power. I don’t know if he eased fevers or drove away daemons with a smile, but I believe that kindness had a role in Jesus’ ability to bring healing.

On Friday, I found myself in a grocery store. It was as if we all spiked a fever at the same time. Some of us were trying to keep our selfish demons at bay. Yes, there were more than a few who were completely possessed by demon.  But on the whole, our polite Canadian instincts managed to keep us relatively civil. But our civility was sorely tested as we searched for an easy way out of the grocery store. I witnessed a few ugly moments. I also saw many kindnesses. Strangers helping one another. Strangers sharing information. Strangers expressing dire warnings. You could almost feel the fever rising.

Driving home, I remembered the last time she gifted me with a smile. She had very kindly convinced my Mom to try ordering a dinner, when she turned to me and explained that she was going to be off work for a few days. But that I shouldn’t worry about my Mom because she had left a note with the nice young man who would be there for the next few days. She had told him to take good care of us and she had explained that my Mom needed extra help with the menu. Then she placed her hand on my arm and gave me that beautiful smile of hers, and it was as if the fever finally left me. In the kindness of a woman whose name I cannot remember, I was embraced by the LOVE in which we all live and move and have our being.

Over the next few weeks and months we are all going to experience more than our fair share of fevers and we will be visited by fearful demons. This pandemic threatens all of us and it threatens those we love. Our fevers and the fevers of our neighbours will require as much kindness as we can muster. The demons that are lining up to haunt us will only be driven off by LOVE. Now more than ever, is the time for each one of us to, in the words of the Apostle Paul,  “clothe (y)ourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances we have against one another—forgive in the same way God has forgiven us.  Above all else, put on LOVE, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Let CHRIST’s peace reign in (y)our hearts since, as members of one body, we have been called to that peace.  Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness.  Let the WORD of CHRIST, rich as it is, dwell in you. Instruct and admonish one another wisely.”

We don’t have to smile. We don’t have to be kind. We can let our demons run wild. We can infect one another with fear and let the fever continue to rise. Or we can take strength from one another, trusting that the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being IS LOVE.

Dear sisters and brothers, beloved, when all is said and done, and COVID-19 becomes a but a memory, let it be said of us, above all else, we put on LOVE and clothed ourselves with compassion, with kindness, gentleness and patience. Let us embody the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, so that all the world may know the healing power of the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

Social Distancing and the Woman with a Flow of Blood

This is not the sermon which I planned to preach this morning. On this International Women’s Day, I planned to preach about the unnamed women who walk with Jesus. I was going to riff off of the Leviticus text (Lev.15:19-30) which outlines the way in which women have been cast out from the temples of power simply for being women. Shedding blood comes naturally to women. But for millennia men have feared the life-giving abilities of women so much that they have judged the natural functions of our bodies as unclean. I planned to tell you about my own experiences of being cast out from the holy of holies. I was going to use my story as a way of celebrating just how far women have come in my lifetime.

You see when I was just seventeen years old, I was elected to the Church Council of my home parish. It was the late nineteen-seventies and the liturgical renewal movement was beginning to make its way through congregations. In my home parish it was decided that Council members would function as Worship Assistants. For the first time the pastor would have an assistant to help serve communion. For the first time in the life of our church laypeople would serve communion and pronounce the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you.”

I say laypeople, but I should really say laymen. You see, even though I was serving on Church Council, the pastor told me that the time wasn’t quite right for me to be a Worship Assistant. At first, I thought it was because I was too young. But then one afternoon, my beloved pastor told me that women were not permitted behind the altar. I had only been attending church for about two years, and I’d never learned about this particular rule. Imagine my surprise when my pastor explained that I couldn’t go behind the altar because in the Bible women were not allowed into the holy of holies because of our monthly cycles. I could not be a worship assistant because I could not stand behind the altar.

I was going to use that little story to make the point that the church has come a long way. You see, all the while my pastor was telling me that I couldn’t, the church already was. In 1976, Pamela McGee became the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in Canada. Today, I planned to preach a sermon in celebration of all the unnamed women whose faith has propelled them to move beyond societies attempts to limit their participation. I planned to celebrate the women who have been ordained in Canada these past 44 years. Daughters of this church whose faith gave them the courage to reach beyond the limits carved out for them by the taboos and fears which all too often defined them. Daughters who even though they bleed, they saw Jesus out there and decided to follow.

Well that’s what I planned to preach about and then I began receiving communications from York Region’s Public Health department. Listening to York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, I learned a new phrase:  social distancing.           Social distancing, suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation of our reading from Leviticus. In the course of this past week, we have all been learning not to touch one another. Indeed, we are not supposed to touch our own faces. Fear has birthed all sorts of new taboos as we try to navigate our new reality. If only blood were the cause of these taboos. But alas, miniscule droplets have become the basis of so much fear that there isn’t a drop of sanitizer to be found in any of our stores. Continue reading

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


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

I remember three things about the church’s recommendation:

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

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

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

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

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

It’s ALL About Eve! – Lent series: The Women Who Walk with Jesus

On this the first Sunday of Lent the powers that be designed our lectionary so that the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures and our Gospel reading would speak with one voice. Sadly, the powers that be have used the myths about Eve to set Jesus up to save us from the church’s idea that all humans need to be saved from original sin. A while back, I said to a group of Roman Catholic Women Priests, that I would never read Eve’s story in public without provided the listeners with the information necessary to hear the story as it was written rather than how it is miss-remembered. So, before I read the second creation story which is found in the Book of Genesis, let me remind you of some of what has been forgotten about this story.

(see the video for the unpacking of Genesis 2:15-25 and Genesis 3:1-7 – the song we sing between and after the Genesis reading “Mother Eve Chose Love of Knowledge” which can be found in “Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action” by is Jann Aldredge-Clanton, with composer Larry E. Schultz – verse 1 between the readings and verses 2 & 3 as our Acclamation)

Matthew 4:1-11

Sadly, the spirit of the mis-remembered Eve continues to walk with Jesus. Generations of Jesus’ followers have forgotten all about Eve. The church has failed to teach Jesus followers about Eve the giver of life and the seeker of knowledge. The church has stripped Eve of her power to breathe life, and her wisdom in seeking knowledge. The church has offered up a miss-remembered fallen woman, a temptress, to be punished over and over again. Eve has become the cross women must bear in our bleeding and in our birthing. The church has offered Eve up as if she is little more than a doctrine, the doctrine of original sin; a doctrine born of the fall and served up by Augustine in the fourth century to solidify the church’s role as the arbitrator of salvation. The trouble is there was no fall. We are not fallen creatures. We were never perfect creatures who fell from grace. For there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. Jesus never said a word about the fall or about original sin. Yet, generations of church hierarchies have offered Jesus up as a sacrifice sent to save us from “the Fall”.

During the Season of Lent, we are encouraged to repent. Repent comes from the Greek, Metanoia – which means to turn around or to change your way of thinking. It is long past time for us to re-member the story of Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Everything and repent, change our way of thinking. By portraying Eve’s quest for knowledge as a “Fall from Grace” the patriarchal church hierarchy has spawned leaders who have created and maintained systemic misogyny for generations.

Just listen to the words of the Church Fathers spew their venom: Clement of Alexandra reflecting on Eve’s story insisted that:  “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” No less a figure than Tertullian himself proclaimed that, “Women were the reason Jesus had to die on the cross; they were the “gate to hell,” and a “temple built over a sewer.” Saint Augustine wrote, “Men by themselves are the image of God, while women are not, they are merely men’s helpmates.” Saint Albert the Great, preached, “Women have faulty and defective natures; their feelings drive them to evil while reason drives men to good. Women are by nature, lying, deceptive creatures; one must be on guard against every woman as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil himself.” Saint Thomas Aquinas proclaimed, “Women are defective and misbegotten. “ The mystic John Chrysostom wrote, “Amongst all the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.”

Now I know that some may shake their heads and insist, that the church has long since given up misogyny. I will confess that I struggled with the idea of this Lenten preaching series on the Women Who Walk with Jesus, precisely because I too want to believe that we have come a long way baby. But then news of yet another male member of the privileged church fathers serial sexual abuse of women came to light. The recent confession by the L’arche foundation about Jean Vanier guilt, is sad but it is not shocking, not even very surprising. Those of us who are among the “firsts’, the first generation of women to serve as pastors, are not surprised by the depths of misogyny that continue to spawn snakes.  It will take more than a generation or two of women in positions of power to affect the necessary repentance. Changing an institution’s systemic misogyny requires more than simply changing our way of thinking about women. We must repent, turn around and change the way we act not just how the church acts towards women, but how we women think about ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder how different the church, indeed the world would be if the church had not miss-remembered Eve. I dream of a church in which Chavah, Eve, Mother of All Living, walks with Jesus breathing life into our quest for wisdom., with Chavah, Eve, the Mother of All Living walking with Jesus perhaps we can learn to look to Eve’s decision to choose knowledge over blind obedience and begin to celebrate the rights of women everywhere to choose, with Chavah, Eve, the Mother of All Living walking with Jesus, perhaps we can begin to celebrate women’s bodies rather than abuse them.

I dream of a church and indeed a world in which young girls will naught be taught to see their own bleeding as a curse but as the miraculous gift of potential new life. I dream of women and men who follow Jesus’ example of reaching out beyond the lines drawn by the religious establishment, or cultural expectations. I dream of a world where young girls and boys will be raised to imagine the DIVINE as our ancestors did, El Shaddai, The Breasted ONE. I dream of a church where we can once again see the humour and the humility in the stories our ancestors told. Humour and Humility, both words come from the same root as the word humus – which means earth. For we are, when all is said and done, both women and men, simply Earth Creatures.

So, let us always re-member our common earthiness. May the Breasted ONE who breathed life into us, female and male, continue to breathe in, with, through and beyond us. May the spirit of Eve the Mother of All LIVING, continue to walk with us, as we seek the knowledge and the wisdom to follow Jesus, with humour and humility. Amen.

Facing Our Demons – a sermon on Matthew 4:1-11, Lent 1A

1100A long time ago, when I was just a young woman, I think I was about 22 or 23, still young enough to believe that all the answers to all my questions were out there somewhere, just waiting for me to discover. I was a serious young woman full of serious questions, always pondering the meanings of thins – big things like life and death, goodness and evil, love and hate, sickness and health, sin and forgiveness, God and no-god. I truly believed that if I actually applied myself to my questions, I would be able to discover the answers. It was the pursuit of particular answers that lead me into the wilderness of the desert.

Now, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are real deserts in British Columbia. You will discover one of those deserts as you travel between Ashcroft down to Merritt.  They’ve improved the roads since then, but back in the day that particular route was quite the challenge. Mind you, it didn’t help that I was driving an old beat up 1969 Austin 1100, that had no business being on mountain roads, let alone mountain roads that wound their way through a desert. Now if you don’t know what an Austin 1100 looks like, picture an old Austin Mini; an 1100 is only slightly bigger than an Austin Mini, and my old 1100 was purchased for the grand sum of $300.00. About the only thing this car had going for it was my faith in it to take me places.

 On this trip, I had loaded my little car down with all sorts of camping equipment along with several plastic milk jugs that held a gallon of water each, because the car’s radiator had a nasty habit of overheating. The woman that I am know, looks back on the young woman that I was, and I can’t help wondering what possessed me to head out into the desert in that stupid little car. I can almost see myself sitting on the side of the road waiting for the radiator to cool down, so that I could risk loosening the radiator cap, to fill it up with cool water so that I could travel another hour or so, before it over-heated again.

To say that I was young and foolish, would be an understatement. But I was also, adventurous and inquisitive. I had traveled into the wilderness to do some thinking. I needed to find some answers. I had some decisions to make; decisions, that at the time, felt like life and death. I truly believed that some time away by myself would guarantee me the kind of peace and quiet I needed to discover the answers to my questions.

Sitting there, on a rock, hoping against hope, that the 95 degree heat from the blazing sun would be enough to guarantee that any rattle snacks would remain tucked away in some distant shade, I couldn’t believe that I’d been driving for two hours without seeing another car on the road. I was out there in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where I had intended to be. I had travelled into the wilderness to find a place where there were no distractions, so that I could apply myself to finding an answer that I desperately needed. You see, some stuff had happened in my life; stuff that had lead me to doubt the god that over the years I had come to love.

Looking back, I think that I went out into the wilderness looking for a sign; a sign that God existed. My faith in the God who lives out there somewhere, who from time to time hears my prayer and decides to intervene in my life, my faith in that God, had been fairly strong, right up to the point where some really tough stuff started to happen to some folks I cared a great deal about, and no matter how long or how hard I prayed, the great Sky God that I had been taught to worship, simply refused to show himself. So, I decided to take a page or two out of the bible and follow Jesus right out into the wilderness to see if God would show up. Sitting there on a rock, roasting in the hot sun, as the tumble-weeds tumbled by, I wondered what I would do, if I discovered that God wasn’t really there. What if it was all just wishful thinking? I desperately wanted to meet the god that I’d been taught to believe in to be there in the wilderness. Isn’t that why Jesus wandered out into the wilderness of the desert? Surely, he didn’t go out there to meet the devil? Or did he? Maybe Jesus went out into the wilderness to meet his demons.

Over the years, I’ve learned enough about the anonymous  gospel storytellers to know that their stories are more than just history. I’ve learned to read beyond the words that have been handed down to us, to ponder the multi-layered texture of meanings that lie hidden waiting to be discovered. The storytellers’ careful crafting of their tale of Jesus time in the wilderness uses images and illusions that harken back to earlier stories of Moses leading the people of Israel into the wilderness where they spent not 40 days, but 40 years forming themselves into the nation that would go on to inhabit the promised land. In the wilderness, Jesus encountered his own demons. I can well imagine Jesus contemplating his own future and realizing his own desires for power were actual temptations that would distract him from his overriding desire to embody a new way of being in the world. A quest for power would have seen Jesus giving the people what they wanted a leader who could feed them with bread and everything that bread represents, wealth and power; the kind of power that would enable them to fight their Roman oppressors. The temptation to be the kind of messiah that the people wanted was Jesus’ temptation.

In the wilderness, alone with his desires and temptations Jesus fought his personal demons. According to the gospel storytellers, Jesus didn’t conquer his demons, “The Devil awaited another opportunity.” As the storytellers follow Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond, the temptation to forsake the new way of being in the world that Jesus embodied, in favour of being the kind of messiah that the people wanted continues to haunt Jesus. Jesus steadfastly refuses to take the mantle of power that so many would have handed to him the power to form an army the likes of King David, to rise up and violently resist the tyranny of Rome. As tempting as it may have been for Jesus to become the people’s messiah, Jesus summons up the courage to be a new kind of messiah. Jesus chooses to embody a posture of non-violent resistance to evil even though he knows full well that such a posture against the Romans could get him killed. Jesus refuses to give into his fears, trusting that even death cannot defeat the LOVE that he chooses to embody. Continue reading

First Sunday in LENT – sermons

Giving Up Theories of Atonement for Lent in Favour of Listening for God’s Laughter here

Facing Our Demons here

Awe and Wonder: A Lenten Practice here

Lent: Letting Go of Our Tightly Held Piety to See Our Need of Confession here

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know here

Giving Up God for Lent? here

What a Joke: These Stories Never Actually Happened! here

Don’t Give Up Chocolate, Give Up God for Lent here