Transforming LOVE: Mark 9:2-9

Today, two days collide into one. For today is both Valentine’s Day and Transfiguration Sunday. Valentine’s Day, a glorious celebration of LOVE and Transfiguration Sunday the church’s celebration of the story of Jesus’ journey to the top of a mountain where he is recognized as the beloved child of the MYSTERY we call, “God,” which is LOVE. The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark creates his story of the mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus by reaching back into the rich traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures to set Elijah and Moses up there on the mountaintop with Jesus and thereby insists that, just like the prophets of old, in Jesus you can actually see a glimpse of the DIVINE.

When the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark sat down to convey who and what this Jesus of Nazareth was, he created a story that resonated with his community. They thought they knew who Jesus was and then the gospel storyteller told them a story which gave them a glimpse of who Jesus really was. At the top of a mountain, Jesus was transformed before them. The story as it has been handed down to us, portrays all sorts of things happening around the disciples, and it is full of symbolism. The mountain is shrouded in cloud, just like Mt. Sinai was when Moses climbed it.

The appearance of Jesus was changed, in ways similar to Moses when he was in the presence of YAHWEH. Moses and Elijah appeared, to fulfill prophecy. A voice from heaven speaks, confirming what was spoken at Jesus baptism, “this is my child, my OWN, this ONE pleases me, listen to this ONE.”  It’s as though the disciples have never really seen just who Jesus is before this moment. In this moment Jesus is transformed right before their eyes and they can never again see him as they once did. Each of us carries with us our own understanding of the reality which we call “God.” 

Each of us has our own way of dealing with the awesome nature of the LOVE we call “God”.  For the most part our images of DIVINITY help us to be in relationship with this awesome LOVE that IS. We need those images.  But unless we are prepared to travel up the odd mountain or two and look beyond our images to the awesome nature of the MYSTERY, which IS God, our images become no more than useless idols. Our ancestors believed that when Moses returned from the mountaintop with the tablets of the law, right up there at the top of the first tablet was a warning which we would do well to heed. “You shall have no gods except me. You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them.”  When we cling too tightly to our images of the DIVINE, we run the risk of holding on to an idol. When we refuse to allow our understanding of the MYSTERY to be transformed by the MYSTERY, on a mountaintop, or by the seashore, or at a friend’s bedside, or in a lover’s embrace, or at a funeral, at the birth of a child, or in any of the million and one places LOVE may choose to reveal LOVE’s self, then we shut ourselves off from LOVE and we become little more than idol worshippers.

Our relationship with MYSTERY, our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, of what LOVE can do is constantly undergoing change. Change is a vital part of what life is. There are transfigurations, and transformations in our understandings which are sometimes dramatic mountaintop experiences, and sometimes just little light-bulb moments. Some of us experience earth-shattering shocks. But more often than not these transformations, they come as little eye openers, aha moments. If we allow ourselves to follow Jesus, then we have to expect that from time to time, we’ll see a side of Jesus which we never knew existed and never in our wildest dreams expected to meet. There’s and Irish expression which warns that, when you stop expecting the unexpected, you might just as well lie down and pull the sod over your head because you’re as good as dead if there are no surprises left in your life.

I can still vividly remember the surprise I had when I discovered who I am. It happened in the arms of my beloved. Wrapped in the LOVE which Carol brought into my life, I was transformed. Together over the years, we have climbed all sorts of mountains, some figuratively, some literally. These days the figurative mountain which confronts us all is the isolation imposed upon us by this pandemic. Sadly, we will continue to be separated from the tender embraces of so many of our loved ones for months to come. But it occurs to me that this particular Valentine’s Day, with its enforced isolation, offers to each of us an opportunity to climb to the top of that figurative mountain of isolation, so that we may catch a glimpse of the DIVINE.

I remember, years ago, a wise teacher inviting his congregation to go home, find a mirror and take the time to gaze upon the DIVINE which finds expression in each one of us. Now, I confess that I wasn’t too impressed at the time and it took many years for me to actually gaze upon myself in a mirror and allow myself to be surprised by the image in the mirror which continues to be transformed by LOVE into a glimpse of the MYSTERY of which we are all ONE.

You are wonderfully made, a living, breathing, miracle. Beloved by the ONE who IS LOVE. May each of you be transformed by the surprises you see in the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Happy Valentine’s Day! May the LOVE which is DIVINE, surprise you. May the delights of Jesus, move you. May the passion of the SPIRIT,  inspire you. For you are made, by LOVE, for LOVE. Happy Valentine’s Day!

View the full Transfiguration/Valentine’s Day Worship video below

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 What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the Body of Christ? – Mark 1:21-28

Listen to the audio only version here

Recorded in 2018

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are the Holy One of God.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark, puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, and now we have to deal with them; or do we? I’ve been struggling all week with today’s assigned gospel reading. I was sorely tempted to change the reading. I usually only put our Contemporary readings in the service bulletins. But, let me confess, the only reason I put the full text of today’s reading in the bulletin, was to ensure that I didn’t cop out and change the readings. If it’s in the bulletin for everyone to see, we have to use it and I can’t just ignore it.

I remember, a few years ago, running into an old friend from high school, who was surprised to discover that I had become a pastor. He said to me something like, “you always seemed to have your head screwed on back in the day. How can you stand all that hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo?” His words have haunted me as I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with this text.

Hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo indeed! The dictionary defines hocus pocus as “meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening. Hocus pocus actually came into usage in English from a Latin phrase that would have been familiar to everyone who has ever heard the Mass in Latin: Hoc est corpus meum which means “This is my body.”

According to the dictionary, mumbo jumbo is defined as: “language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment.”Or: “words or activities that are unnecessarily complicated or mysterious and seem meaningless”

The anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of Jesus preforming what sounds very much like an exorcism certainly seem meaningless to our 21st century minds. Last week, after I we did a bible study instead of a sermon, one of you commented that they never see any of the stuff I pointed out, when they read the bible by themselves, that’s why they don’t read the bible anymore. “It’s too complicated! I don’t know the history, so it just confuses me.” So, when I started preparing today’s sermon, I thought here we go again, more complicate and misleading words.  What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the body of Christ? What am I supposed to do with this unclean spirit? I was so tempted to just exorcise this demon from our worship. Sure, I could find all sorts of commentaries and sermons that went on and on explaining away this unclean spirit as some sort of victim of “mental illness.” Which when you think about, this is one way to deal with the reality that most of us, dare I say all of us, don’t really believe in demonic possession and don’t want to have anything much to do with someone who goes around the country preforming exorcisms. Twenty-first century, Canadian followers of Jesus tend to ignore the first century stories about demons and exorcisms.

As tempting as it is to explain the demon in this exorcism away as a suffer of mental illness, I’m not convinced that that helps us any. Because if the “unclean spirit” is mentally ill, then, the story asks us to believe that Jesus had the power to heal the mentally ill simply by commanding the illness to “Be silent and come out.” OK, we all know that that can’t happen, right?

So, in the spirit of the great New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, “why did the writer of this text tell this story the way he told this story.” What was the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark trying to say to his first century audience? We all know by now that there’s usually lots going on between the lines of the gospel texts. The stuff between the lines is what keeps people like me employed. It is after all my job to read between the lines.  So, let’s move beyond the words on the page and venture beyond the literal to see what we can discover in the more-than-literal interpretation of this text. Continue reading

What the Blankety Blank? A New Authority??? a sermon for Epiphany 4B; Mark 1: 21-28

Blankety blankReadings included: Psalm 111 and Mark 1:25-28, prior to the sermon we viewed the video The Awe Factor of God which can be viewed here

Listen to the sermon here

Years ago, when I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I worked the afternoon shift at the Royal Bank of Canada’s Vancouver Clearing Room. Back then, I’m talking the early nineties here, so not the distant past except if we are talking about technology. Back then, at the end of each banking day, so after 3 o’clock banks used to have people check every single transaction that had been made by hand. Every check, deposit slip, and withdrawal, was recorded on a small piece of paper and at the end of each day all those pieces of paper would be collected and sent to the central clearing room. The room in which I worked housed several hundred machines which looked like big desks, which.  were actually giant calculators. These calculating desks, sat empty during the day, but come 4:00pm they would be staffed with people eagerly waiting for their branch bags to arrive; these operators of which I was one, were called proofers. Each of those operators, knew that the clearing house had until 11 pm to balance the daily transactions of the entire province of British Columbia. 

I didn’t last more than a few months as a proofer. I was plucked from my proofing machine by management and assigned the task of wandering around being useful. Technically I became a runner. It was may job to run around and collect the proofed bundles, and make sure that they appropriate balanced calculation tape was attached. Management also made it very clear to me, that a major part of my job was to be a kind of helper, who would scan the proof floor for confused proofers and quickly offer my help. You see when people are working under pressure to balance transactions and they get stuck because something doesn’t quite balance they can spend an inordinate amount of time stuck on just a handful of transactions trying to force them to balance. Management knew this, and they also knew that sometimes all it takes is a second pair of eyes to spot the mistake and voila, the problem is solved, and the proofer can move on and the giant national proofing machine can be fed, and the books can be closed by mid-night. You see in the grand scheme of things; the bank could not close the national books until the clock stuck mid-night in Vancouver. That’s a lot of pressure. Bonuses were at stake. So, handful of us who functioned as runners, were under a great deal of pressure to make sure than no single transaction slowed down the whole process. We all wanted to be out of there and on our way shortly after midnight, no one could leave until everyone could leave, and bonuses were at stake.  Those of us who were runners wielded a great deal of authority. We could sign off on a forced balance. We could decide that a transaction was simply going to take too long to balance and so with the stroke of our pen, small amounts could be forced to balance. We runners with our red pen wielded a great deal of authority. But we knew that our authority was limited by the number of forced transactions we authorized in a given week. Most of us would rather eat our red pens than force balance a transaction. Reputations were at stake. In the course of a month I would rarely force more than one or two transactions. I was good at my job. And because bonuses were at stake, operators would often call upon me when they got stuck.

I loved that job. After a long day of lectures at the university, that job was such a fun departure from thinking. I was one of the happiest runners in the clearing room. During my last few months on the job, the word got out that I was quitting to go to seminary so that I could study to become a pastor. It kind of freaked people out. The proofers began to watch their language around me. One night when things were going particularly badly, and it looked like we weren’t going to make our deadline, one bad transaction kept leading to another. Problems spread from proofer to proofer like a disease. Proofers were making all sorts of dumb mistakes and we were all losing patience with one another. It was looking like we’d be there until the wee hours of the morning. So, the language got pretty vivid. After solving one particularly difficult branch’s problems, I remember a proofer shouting out, “Hey Hutchings, I don’t what the blanket blank, you think your doing quitting on us to go to seminary. You’re going to hate seminary. There won’t be enough to keep you busy. They have all the answers in that place and all the answers are the same. Jesus is the blankety blank answer to every blankety blank question.” This, somehow lead to most of the proofing floor laughing hysterically, which lead to something I never in my wildest dreams imagined happening in that of all places. Hysterical laugher dissolved into a chorus of “Jesus Loves me this I know for the bible tells me so.” What the blankety blank?

There was nothing left but for me to join in the singing. We didn’t make our deadline that night. But we had the best sing song ever, later in the after-hours nightclub down the street from the bank, and I never did make it to any of my classes the next morning.

Jesus is the answer. Jesus speaks with authority. Let’s all just sing a few choruses of “Jesus loves me” and forget about this sermon. Jesus is the answer.

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another. What is this? A new teaching—with authority! Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread.” What the blankety blank? If Jesus is the answer to every question, what’s the point? Let’s just balance our transactions and get out of here. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by Christ’s authority I declare onto you that Jesus is the answer. I have the collar, I’m wearing the stole. I have the title. I have the call. I am a Master of Divinity! Jesus is the answer to every question. Go home and enjoy the super bowl. I have the authority to declare that all our transactions have been balanced, even if we have to force balance a few of those transactions, 12 noon is approaching, and we want to be out of here shortly, so we can enjoy the afternoon. Continue reading

BOOK STUDY: faith after doubt – by Brian D. McLaren

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Are we fish or fishers? Jesus’ call to justice! Mark 1:14-20

I suspect that many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief this past week as the most powerful office on the planet changed hands. I know that I am feeling lighter and breathing easier. I know full well that we are headed into the darkest winter of our lives. COVID is not over. Millions are suffering.  Fears and anxieties continue to disturb us, and we have a long way to go. But at least we no longer have to worry about the orange madness which stirred up the worst of who we are, in ways we never imagined possible. Huddled in the isolation of our homes, many of us watched the transfer of power feeling a new sense of hope.

There was a moment during Joe Biden’s inaugural address which filled this preacher with such joy. After all, it isn’t every day you hear the most powerful person of the 21st century, quote a 4th century Doctor of the Church. St. Augustine of Hippo was a bishop and theologian who has and continues to a tremendous impact on Christianity both Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther himself was an Augustinian. So, when the newly sworn in President Biden quoted Saint Augustine as having said, “a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love, defined by the common objects of their love,” not only did I breathe a huge sigh of relief, I took a long deep breath as I resolved to explore the various ways in which those of us who strive to follow Jesus are defined by our LOVE.

According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call “Mark,” upon hearing that John the Baptist had been arrested by the forces of Empire, Jesus of Nazareth “appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Reign of God is at Hand. Change your hearts and minds and believe this Good News.” What follows, (pardon the pun), is the familiar story of Jesus calling the brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John, four hardworking fishers, to abandon their nets in order that they might become fishers of humankind. No sooner than Jesus implored these fishers to follow him, than they followed him. Just like that. What could have possessed them to drop everything and follow Jesus, this itinerant preacher?

For as long as I can remember, this story has been interpreted in ways which exhort the faithful to “follow Jesus and Jesus will make us, in the words of that old Sunday School chestnut: “fishers of men, fishers of men, if we follow him.” I’m sure many of you remember being encouraged to get out there and fish for people and bring them to Jesus. Now, within the context of mainline denominations, these fishing expeditions were designed to bring in new members to save struggling congregations. Within the context of the more conservative denominations, there was to be no doubt that there were fish just waiting to be saved and once saved they would be brought to Jesus to confess that he alone was their Lord and saviour. As for those of us who seek to follow Jesus as progressive christians, well, fishing for people makes tends to make us a little squeamish. So, we do our best to remove any barbs from our fishhooks, and rather than reel them in, we choose to cajole and persuade them, perhaps over a pint of beer, to perhaps chat with us as we save them from the tired old ways of understanding christianity. Whether it’s mainline traditional fishers, bible thumping evangelical fishers, or radical freedom-loving fishers, no matter how you bait the hooks, fishing is all about saving fish from drowning in the very waters upon which they are relying so that they can be washed into the waters by which the fishers themselves have found new life. As I consider the haste with which Simon, Andrew, James and John abandoned everything they knew and “went off in the company of Jesus,” I can’t help but wonder if there is more to this story than fishing for new members, new converts, or new conversation partners. Continue reading

Resisting Tribalism: A Kin-dom of LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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View the full Worship Service for the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jesus’ Birth Story: A Radical, Subversive Parable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gestating in MYSTERY: the Darkness of this Pandemic

First Sunday of Advent – Mark 13:24-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FULL WORSHIP VIDEO for the First Sunday of Advent

 

 

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

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

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

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

Blest Are Those Who Mourn In a Pandemic – All Saints’ – Matthew 5:1-10

Since this pandemic began, more than 1.2 million people around the world have died from COVID-19. In Canada, the death toll exceeds 10,000 people. In Ontario, more than 3,100, and here in York region 267 people have died from COVID-19. Sadly, millions more people have died alone of the regular stuff which causes our bodies to perish. This year as a result of public health restrictions, death has been a lonely endeavour, for both the dying and for the grieving. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. But how do we mourn and how shall we be comforted in the midst of a pandemic?

So much of what I would call popular, cultural, Christianity imagines the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the SOURCE of ALL that IS, the SOURCE of ALL life as a kindly, old, gentleman in the sky from whom we should seek comfort from the pain of death. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY is readily offered to the dying and to those who mourn as a kind of talisman, who alone can provide the necessary comfort, all we need is just have faith in the various visions offered to us by the faithful of an afterlife. So, it doesn’t surprise me that those of us who have given up worshipping personifications of the MYSTERY which IS the DIVINE LOVE in which we are all ONE, we are left longing for a way to mourn and to comfort which does not require that we worship the idol of the all too small sky-god, which we once worshipped.

Today, as we remember ALL the SAINTS who have gone before us, together with ALL the SAINTS who dwell among us, my heart goes back to the WISDOM imparted to me by a particular saint, who taught me so much about the ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and beyond us to comfort those who mourn. This particular saint had no family.  She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon, I will call her Sophia; Sophia, the Greek word for WISDOM. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member of the congregation which I serve. When the doctors told her that she was dying she thought that she ought to have a pastor. So, via, a friend of a friend, I was summoned to her bedside. Continue reading

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

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

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

Brussels Sprouts and Coronavirus at Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the links for previous sermons:

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

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

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

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you

After You Move Beyond Personifying God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the sermon here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DIVINE Expression of BEING ITSELF – Exodus 3:1-15

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. I believe that it stands to reason that a good story, a really good story has the power to reveal truth about the MYSTERY which we call God. So, let me tell you a good story. It is a story which I have told many times because like all good stories it is worth repeating. The first time I heard this story was from a seminary professor. Since then I’ve heard this story attributed to Marcus Borg he attributes it to Parker Palmer. Like many good truth revealing stories, its origins are somewhat elusive.

This story is about a little girl. She was four years old and her Mom is expecting a baby and Mom tells this little girl that the baby is coming to them as a gift from God and that this gift from God will be a new member of their little family. Sure enough, the baby arrives. A boy is born. The parents are a little bit worried because everyone knows that nobody knows how a 4-year-old will react, especially as an only child, to having a new baby in the house. So, they’re reading their parenting books and they’re trying to figure out ways to assimilate this new person into their family without having their little 4-year-old suddenly feel shunted to the side.

Well it turns out that this little 4-year-old has an unusual request; a request which her parents don’t know quite how to deal with. For some unknown reason the little girl keeps asking for some time alone with her new baby brother. The parents are a little worried because they’ve heard horror stories about what 4 year-olds can do to newborn babies. They don’t want to leave this child alone with their precious newborn. Then they remember the baby monitor and they figure they’ll set this baby monitor up so they can listen from a distance and know what’s happening.

Once everything is carefully set up, the little girl goes into the bedroom and her parents hear the footsteps of their daughter going over to the crib. The parents are very, very nervous. Then their little girl leans into the newborn’s crib and they hear her say to her new baby brother,  “Tell me about God. I have almost forgotten. Tell me about God.  I have almost forgotten.”

This coming Tuesday, churches all over the world will begin a monthlong celebration of the Season of Creation. From Sept. 1st, which is the Day of Creation until St. Francis Sunday on October 4th our awe and wonder at the beauty of Creation will be given voice in our worship celebrations.

The Season of Creation is a relatively new liturgical season, born out of our response to the concerns of so many of us about the plight of CREATION under the weight of human contempt and abuse of the Earth and her creatures. I know that many of you are concerned about the many and various ways in which our ravenous consumption of the bounty of the Earth threaten the wellbeing of CREATION. So, I won’t presume to preach to the choir. Instead, I’d like to look at the many and various ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God finds expression in, with, through, and beyond CREATION.

Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. For far too long, traditional Christianity has emphasized theological responses to our desire to know about God. Lutherans, Anglicans, protestants in general, our traditions have for all intents and purposes divorced the DIVINE from CREATION. Yes, I know that images of a DIVINE “FATHER” are employed to portray the MYSTERY of the ONE who is the SOURCE of ALL REALITY as “THE CREATOR”, but, this image casts the CREATOR off into the distant heavens and relegates the DIVINE to the role of distant observer, occasional interferer, and constant judge. This divorce, like all divorces, has impacted the children in ways which have allowed us to run amuck, forgetting as we do so often to pay attention to the LOVE which gave us birth, continues to nurture us, and in which we continue to live and move and have our being. Continue reading

Who do YOU say Jesus was and IS? – Matthew 16:13-20

“Who do you say that I AM?” Jesus’ question has been preoccupying me for most of my life. Indeed, my professional life requires me to spend hours and hours, week after week, month after month, year after year, and dare I say it, decade after decade, trying to figure out just who I think Jesus was and is. Your very presence here watching this video, suggests to me that you have also tried to figure out who Jesus was and is. From time to time, I suspect that most of us have believed that we had worked it out; that we know just who Jesus is. But Jesus, just like every person we have ever known, and or ever loved, Jesus keeps changing on us.

The Jesus I knew when I was a child was little more than an imaginary friend. “Jesus loves me this I know!” “Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me!” not because the bible tells me so, but rather as my friend and biblical scholar Harold Remus always insists, “because my Mommy told me so!” When I was a kid, the knowledge that Jesus loved me, earned Jesus the role of my imaginary friend.

Later, when I was a teen-ager looking for more love than my family could give me, I found my way into the Church and discovered, “What a Friend I have in Jesus! All my sins and griefs to bear!”

The idealism of my youth turned my imaginary friend Jesus into my radical friend Jesus, who understood my passion for justice, and led me into deep friendships with folks who were determined to practice what Jesus preached, as we proudly sought to be the kind of people who, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Sadly though, after 25 years in the church, I found myself as a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, with the keys of the kingdom jangling in my pockets, firmly believing that Jesus was and is, the: “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It has taken years for me to get to know Jesus as something other than the sacrificial Lamb of God. I stand in a long line of priests and pastors known as the Apostolic Succession.

According to the story, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew, Jesus handed the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, the “Rock” upon which the Church was founded, and in doing so Jesus handed over the authority to bind and loose in heaven. For generations, this passage has been interpreted by the Church as the establishment of the priesthood. The Apostle Peter is given the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and becomes the first gatekeeper precisely because possession of these keys gives him the power to decide just who will and who won’t be forgiven. Continue reading

“Nasty, Uppity, Woman!” – Matthew 15:21-28

That annoying Canaanite woman is at it again and not even Jesus can catch a break. Every three years that annoying woman comes along to disturb us. The way the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew tells his story, this annoying woman exposes Jesus for the human being that he was and shatters our illusions of Jesus the god-like super-hero. I know we could just look the other way. We could do what people, all too often, do when someone brushes off another human being with a racial slur; we could just pretend that we didn’t hear it. We could do what, according to the story, Jesus’ followers wanted Jesus to do, when they urged him to: “Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us”

It is clear from the way that the story is told that Jesus was trying to ignore this annoying woman’s incessant pleas. But she will not leave him alone. As much as I’d like to ignore her and everything she represents, she just won’t give us a break. Yes, I know that according to the story this woman was worried about her child, but how dare she expose Jesus in this way? Especially now, when we are all trying to cope with a global pandemic. Surely, we have enough on our plates, without rehashing this old story!  This one a hell of a pandemic we are living through. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard more than enough about racism during this pandemic to last me a lifetime. I don’t want to have to think about racism or white privilege, while I’m worrying how to stay healthy and protect my loved ones. I want to get away from all the noise about racism and I certainly don’t want to have to think about the fact that even Jesus is guilty of uttering a racial slur. If I still believed in the kind of god who functions like a puppeteer in the sky, I might suspect that this gospel reading didn’t just appear in the midst of this pandemic by chance. Even though I don’t believe in that kind of god, every once in a while, it would sure be nice to be able to blame this reading on some super guy up there. But like I said, every three years this reading comes up in the lectionary and this annoying woman forces us to see Jesus for who he was and always has been, a man.

Jesus was a man of his time; a man who was raised in an environment where women were to be seen and not heard;  a man who was raised to believe that his people were superior to other people, a man who wasn’t about to be disturbed by the yammering of a woman who was when all was said and done, nothing more than a Canaanite. Jesus was, after all a rabbi, and a busy rabbi at that. According to the story, Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water? He was a rabbi who was in demand, the crowds couldn’t get enough of him, Jesus had places to go and people to see. Just who did this woman think she was? Continue reading

If we are to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we must look beneath the surface!

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.

The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading