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

LOVE, which we call God, IS a STRANGE ATTRACTOR!

Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of the Roman Empire, whose death continues to impact the world. His death upon the Empire’s instrument of execution, was relatively unremarkable. Thousands upon thousands of unruly inhabitants of the Empire were executed during Jesus’ lifetime by those charged with the task of establishing and maintaining order by force. To the powers that be, Jesus’ execution was little more than the routine death of a homeless, outcast who spent far too much time creating social unrest. Nothing more than the insignificant death of a troublemaker without influence in the halls of power, who would not or could not moderate his own behavior. An insignificant troublemaker dies, under the rule of law, and yet, the impact continues to reverberate all around the world, nearly 2000 years after it should have been long forgotten.

Late last fall, nobody’s really sure exactly when or to whom it happened, but sometime last fall, a person so obscure that history will fail to name them, someone living in an Empire where order is maintained by force, got sick and died. The impact of that death has kept millions of us all around the world, locked up inside our homes avoiding tiny droplets whose impact upon any one of us could be catastrophic. For months now, I have heard various people, including myself, refer to these strange times which we are living in as “chaotic”.  The very word chaos summons in me visions of Genesis, when the Ruach, the breath of the CREATOR hovered over what in Hebrew is called the tohu va-bohu, the formless void, or the chaos, the RUACH hovers over the tohu va-bohu and calls forth light out of the chaos of darkness. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

click on the sermon title

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

I’m not that good a preacher!

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity,

Our Congregations Shrink???

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

The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity

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

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

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

The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening

Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Bags of Sugar – Mothers’ Day Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU CAN VIEW THE WHOLE WORSHIP SERVICE BELOW

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

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

Listen to the sermon here

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

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

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

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

Sermon Only – Watch the full service below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The past tense: WAS, WERE

The past participle: BEEN,

And the present participle: BEING.

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

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

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

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

JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.

ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

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

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Maundy Thursday Sermons

MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMONS

Two Suppers – Maundy Thursday – A Strange Night

Scuffed Up Reddish Pumps

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

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

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

You can download the worship bulletin here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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