Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

women Matthew1

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

Gestating in Darkness: a sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

gestatingThis sermon included quotes from James Carroll’s book “Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age” Carroll’s book is a splendid exploration prompted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question “Who is Jesus for us today?”

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8. Our sermon hymn was “God Is Within”, Text by George Stuart to the Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos = All Through the Night

Listen to the sermon here

While the world out there is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we here in the church embrace the season of Advent. Our Advent worship invites us to slow down so that we can take a journey into the darkness. Last week, I talked about the importance of darkness in the birthing process; for the seed needs the darkness of the earth to germinate and grow just as surely as we humans need the darkness of the womb to develop. So, as we prepare ourselves to give birth to the Christ, I invite you into the darkness precisely because in the darkness gestation happens and gestation gives rise to birth.

This Advent, our liturgy’s lectionary, the prescribed readings for worship in most mainline congregations, turns to the Gospel According to Mark. All year long, except for a few Sunday’s a reading is selected from the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel of Mark was written in the darkness. We don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Tradition did what tradition often does and this writing was attributed to Mark because it was customary for important writings to be attributed to an important person.  The technical term for this is pseudepigrapha; a fancy way of describing the ancient practice of attaching the name of an important person to a piece of writing to ensure that that piece of writing garners some of the respect the name has acquired over the years. That’s why even though the four gospels were written long after the disciples of Jesus were around, each of these gospels bears the name of an Apostle. The gospels were not written by the disciples of Jesus. Scholars tell us that the Gospel according to Mark was written sometime after the year 70. That’s at least 40 years after the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth. Continue reading

WAKE UP for CHRIST’s SAKE! – sermon for Advent 1B

purple universeOn this first Sunday in Advent we awakened ourselves to the cosmic contours of the darkness. Our first reading was The Star Within: a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith, followed  by a musical video reflection My Soul by Peter Mayer which you can watch  HERE Our Gospel reading was from Mark 13:24-37. Listen to the sermon here

 

As we embark on the journey of Advent, I need to take a poll, and there’s not much time left, so, we’ll conduct this particular poll by a show of hands. Before you answer this question, would you please close your eyes. Now, for the sake of this poll, I’m not going to continue until everyone has their eyes closed. Notice the darkness, the blackness that enfolds you. Now, I’d like you to remember the carefully and respond as honestly as possible: By a show of hands, when you were a child, how many of you were afraid of the dark? Pease answer as honestly as you can. Don’t worry about anyone knowing that you were afraid of the dark, I’m the only one who has their eyes open and I’m clergy, so I’m bound by the confidentiality of my profession and the privacy act, not to tell anyone.
Ok, those of you who were afraid of the dark when you were a child, you can put your hands down, but keep your eyes closed. Now, those of you who weren’t afraid of the dark when you were a child, please raise your hands. Ok, everyone keep your eyes closed. One more time, I need you to notice the darkness. Now, keep your eyes closed, do not open your eyes until I tell you to and listen carefully to the Gospel according to Mark:
Jesus said: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson:  as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep.
And what I say to you I say to all:  Keep awake.” The Gospel of Christ.
All right, everybody, WAKE-UP! I mean it! Wake up! There is darkness all around us!!!
Danger everywhere you look. I need you all to WAKE-UP FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!!!
Don’t sit down! Are you crazy. Who sits down in the midst of darkness? If you sit down, you’re likely to fall back to sleep! I need you to keep awake! Keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all:  Keep awake.
KEEP AWAKE FOR CHIRST’S SAKE! This is the Gospel of Christ! Keep awake!
The good news is that there are those among us who have never been afraid of the dark. All right, if you promise to Keep AWAKE, you may open your eyes and sit down.
Welcome to the season of Advent. While the world is busy scurrying about preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, we here inside the walls of the church are embarking on a journey into the darkness. Out there, t’is the season to be jolly! It is the season of good cheer, so everyone is busy getting all the stuff they need to be cheerful. There are decorations to be hung, lists to be made, presents to be bought, special food to be acquired, more presents to be bought, special drinks to be stockpiled, more presents to be bought, people to visit, more presents to buy, carols to be sung, parties to go to, people to visit, gifts to give, fun to be had as our world prepares for the arrival of  the baby Jesus or Santa Claus depending on your particular point of view. But in here, inside the walls of the church, the Body of Christ, it is my job to tell you all to wait. Advent the season when the church does it’s level best to hold off our culture’s rush toward a happy, jolly, Christmas each year!!! Advent the season of the church year, when those of us who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are invited to prepare ourselves not for the birth of a baby, but rather to prepare ourselves to give birth to Christ again and again and again.
Birth and darkness are intimately related to one another. Gestation takes place in the darkness; the seeds need the darkness of the earth, humans 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.
Beware! Be very aware! I am not inviting you into the darkness that is conducive to a winter’s nap. The darkness that I am inviting you into in this season of Advent, is a very dangerous darkness, the kind of darkness that requires you to KEEP AWAKE! WE ALL KNOW THIS DARKNESS WELL! We more than any of those who have gone before us are all too familiar with the darkness. We have more information about the darkness then generations of humans have ever had. At our very finger-tips we have devices which will bring word of the darkness to us 24 hours a day. In our living rooms, in our automobiles, even in the shopping malls, we can hear tell of the dangers of the darkness. Our earth is suffering under the weight of our filth. Continue reading

Pregnant with Possibility: Advent 1B sermon Mark 13:24-37


This sermon for the first Sunday of Advent was inspired by a sermon written by Ian Lawton entitled “The Mother of All Virgin Births” in which I was captivated by his use of the phrase “pregnant with possibility.” I read Lawton’s sermon after first reading John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book “The First Christmas” in anticipation of Dom Crossan’s first visit to our congregation (2008). I was so eager to prepare the congregation for Dom’s historical approach to Christmas that  I fear the sermon is overflowing, perhaps a little too pregnant with details.  Luckily, the congregation was treated to the wonders of Dom Crossan’s brilliance for several days and learned well from the master about the delights of historical details. I post the sermon here, trusting that some of the details may be enlightening as we once again prepare ourselves for the Season of Advent.

Let me tell you a story from down-under; an Australian story that was doing the rounds a few years ago. Like all stories it may never have actually happened, but it is absolutely true because it happen again and again, in various and myriad ways. This story happened a while ago in Brisbane, Australia…

“The story begins in the dark. A university student named John was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a storm. The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong John could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car slowly coming towards him and slowly it stopped. John was desperate for shelter and without thinking about it; he got in the car and closed the door.

It took only a moment for John to realize that there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on! But the car started moving slowly. John looked at the road and saw a curve approaching. John was so scared, that he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched how the hand repeatedly came through the window but never harmed him. Eventually, John saw the lights of a pub down the road and so gathering his strength, he jumped out of the car and ran into the pub.  Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying and he wasn’t drunk.  Suddenly two other people walked into the pub.    They, like John, were also wet and out of breath. They looked around and saw John sobbing at the bar, one of the men said to the other, ‘Look, Bruce, there’s that idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it.’

Spiritual Philosopher, Ian Lawton insists, “There is always more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than what our sight is able to see. Our eyes don’t simply pick up information relayed from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of what the brain works with is information already in the brain. We only use a small fraction of our brainpower. We very rarely exercise the full potential of our physical strength. We rarely access all that is available to our senses. We rarely maximize the potential of our mind, body and spirit in harmony. There is always more to life than meets the eye.” Continue reading

Reign of Christ Sunday – sermons

I usually struggle with this archaic feast day for nothing about the teachings of Jesus remotely suggests that the title “KING” would have appealed to him. The Church on the other hand, was only too willing to claim the title for their founder. So whether it’s “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday” or “Cosmic Christ Sunday”, to me it is simply the last Sunday of the church year and I can’t wait for Advent. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to book a vacation, so I don’t have to preach this Sunday. Here are a few links to some efforts I have made in the past. Enjoy!

Ruled By a Power Greater Than Fear

Home in the Love We Call God

Jesus Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kin-dom

Quest for the Cosmic Christ

Preparing to Preach or Not to Preach on Reign of Christ Sunday

For our American Cousins – Thanksgiving resources

At the request of several of our American cousins, here are a few resources for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving celebrations invite us to remember not just our blessings, but the Source of All that IS.

 

Follow the links to sermons:

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you After We have Moved Beyond Personifying God

The Blessing of Michael’s Story

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

 

Don’t you dare slam the door on my face, just because I went to get gas, because you kept me waiting! – a sermon Matthew 25:1-13

audio version here

“Wisdom, Sophia is bright, and does not grow dim, by those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them. Watch for her early and you will have no trouble; you will find her sitting at your gates. Even to think about her is understanding fully grown; be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you. She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go, in every thought of theirs come to meet them.” (Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-18)

“Sophia, if you are there, show yourself.” This has been my mantra as I have tried to sort out the meaning of this strange tale about ten bridesmaids. I must confess that the impish Sophia, whose playful nature inspired our forbearers to sing, dance, laugh, and play, might just be behind the creators of the lectionary’s decision to put today’s readings together. That these readings should appear, on this Sunday when I am supposed to be inspiring you to set out on the third installment of our Visioning Process, has caused me no end of consternation and grief.

Have you heard the one about the ten bridesmaids and the very late bridegroom? Well if you have heard it, can you please remind me of the punch-line, because I don’t see the point of this so-called parable. Ten bridesmaids were waiting for a bridegroom! Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish; all of them, the wise and the foolish fall asleep. Suddenly, they are awakened by a shout, “the bridegroom is almost here, come out and meet him.” The wise bridesmaids had brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids had not.  The wise bridesmaids aren’t very nice and refuse to lend any of their oil to the foolish bridesmaids, so the fools have to go off to the store to get some more oil. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep.  Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.  Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Ha, ha, ha, very funny…. I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this one, and leaving people hanging with this confusing story with a warning about the need to be prepared. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you’re not prepared. You don’t get to come into the party! Many of us have been hanging around the church for so long, that we’ve heard this story explained by preachers who are determined to convince us that the bridegroom is actually Jesus and that we, the people of the church are the bridesmaids who must keep awake, because we don’t know when Christ is coming back. The end is near!!! So, be prepared. Continue reading

Some Virgins and a Rabbi meet Sophia: a sermon on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and Sophia

SophiaDoveChaliceHranaJantoWisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 and Matthew 25:1-13 – Here’s a sermon that I preached several years ago when this coming Sunday’s readings prompted me to use/borrow/steal from the book “Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration”, by Susan Cady, Marian Ronan, Hal Taussig (Harper and Row, 1986). 

The parable of the ten, what??? Bridesmaids??? Really, ten bridesmaids, it sounds like the set up for some elaborate joke. Ten bridesmaids were waiting for a bridegroom, they waited so long that they fell asleep! I don’t know, you fill in the rest! I’ve never been much good at telling jokes, I’m more of a storyteller. Part of the fun of a story is the journey itself, but when you tell a joke you have to worry about punch lines. I tend to forget punch lines, or if I do remember them, I usually manage to mess them up and loose the laugh. So, there were these ten bridesmaids waiting for a bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish. The wise bridesmaids brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids did not. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Yada yada yada!

A little detail here, a little detail there and lo and behold we’re at the punch line. Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Ha, ha, ha, very funny…. I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this one, and leaving people hanging with that punch line. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you just don’t get it. You don’t get to come into the party!

Okay, I know this is a parable and that means that like all parables there’s a trick of some sort that we have to work out. So, for generations preachers have been unraveling this one and the usual explanation goes something like this….“Keep awake! Don’t fall asleep! And for heaven’s sake be prepared! Cause if your not, Christ will bar the door and you won’t get into heaven! So, Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Christ could come back at any moment and if your not ready! That’s it! Boom! Christ will deny you, the door will be shut and you’re not getting in. Oh and by the way, your going to burn in hell for all eternity. So, remember keep awake, be afraid be very afraid. Cause your gonna die! And if you haven’t brought along some extra oil for your lamp, well it ain’t gonna be pretty!” Continue reading

“Makarios” – Blessed, Happy, Fortunate, EVOLVED – a sermon for All Saints’ Sunday

All Saints’ Sunday readings:  Contemporary reading:  “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson, Gospel:  MATTHEW 5:1-12 – extensive quote within the sermon from evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould – the hymn sung before the gospel is “I Am the Dream” words: S. Curtis Tufts, Music: Rick Gunn

Listen to the sermon here

Our Gospel reading has often been called the Beatitudes. It is traditional to read the Beatitudes on All Saints’. Some years we read the eight Beatitudes as they have been passed down to us from the anonymous gospel storyteller known as Matthew, who sets Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  But this year is the year of Luke, so we read this anonymous storyteller’s version of the Beauties which appear in Jesus’ sermon on the Plain.  But whether it’s the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain what has been passed down to us is a description of the important characteristics of those who are blessed. There are all sorts of ways to interpret the word “makarios” which was translated into Latin as “beatus” the word for “blessed,” “happy, or “fortunate.” Today, I’d like to offer you another way of interpreting the Greek word “makarios”. “makarios” contains the Greek word “karios” Some of you will recognize the word “karios”,

here in Canada the mainline churches work together within the organization that bears the name “karios”. Karios is the organization through which we work together to achieve justice in Canada and in the world.  The name Karios was chosen because it is one of the Greek words for “time”, a special kind of time, the opportune time, or the supreme moment. Karios is used in the scriptures to mean that time when all is well, when people are making the best use of their time, when there is harmony or peace among people, or peace with God. Karios can also be used to describe the time when it is clear that the Divine has somehow visible right here and right now. Karios is sacred time. “Makarios” is related to Karios because a person who achieved “makarios” was said to be a person who had moved beyond the constraints of time and space. Continue reading

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

Listen to the sermon Here

As you can see and hear, our granddaughters are spending the weekend with us. As many of you know, because you have experienced it yourselves, when little children come into your life, they completely change your perspective. For the past several weeks, my focus and indeed, our focus together has been upon our Visioning Process as we try to envision the kind of church we here at Holy Cross want to be over the course of the next five years. There have been many questions and conversations about who and what we are together as a congregation and where and how we want to engage our talents and resources; questions and conversations about what it means to be a congregation in the 21st century and how we might respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. What do we have to offer? How can we play to our strengths? How might we make a difference in and with the various communities that we currently serve? How can we do more? What is the more that we can and should be doing? What are we as a congregation being called to be and do? What is the importance of our Lutheran heritage? What does our reputation for being a “progressive church” mean to us, to the communities that we serve, and to the future we see for ourselves? How can we stay relevant in a world where the church is continually being judged as irrelevant? How will we choose what is most important? Which needs or whose needs can and must we meet, and which needs, or whose needs must we say no to because we can’t possibly hope to meet everyone’s needs? Where will the energy, time, and resources come from so that we can fully live into all that we envision for ourselves?

Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming can and is so very exhausting. But Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming is also challenging, invigorating, and vital! So, “here I stand” on this Reformation Sunday, charged with the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News in ways that will challenge us all to be bold, to be the Church that Martin Luther set loose on the world 500 years ago.  So, since our Visioning Session last Sunday, I’ve been all up in my head trying to figure out exactly what I could possibly preach to you that would help us to break the log-jam in which we find ourselves as we try to figure out where we are going and what we are called to do. I’ve been reading and studying, going over and over where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing, and what we have been considering and my mind has been full of questions and concerns, and hopes, and dreams. That is until Friday evening when the little girls arrived. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my head and into the fierce immediacy of now! Now Gran? Gran, can we? Gran, can you get me? Gran, I want!!! Gran, NOW!!! Followed by me, saying, In a minute. Just a minute. Wait, I’m coming. Look out! You’re going to hurt yourself. Stop that please! Wait, hold-on, maybe, let me see, I don’t know, maybe, let’s wait and see, OK, Yea, OK, I said, “NO”. What, leave her alone. Don’t do that! Do this! Please. Please Gran. Can we Gran, can we? Playing with and responding to the needs of a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old has shifted my focus.  It’s exhausting and it’s liberating and there’s nothing quite like little ones to get you out of your head and into your heart.

So, today, despite all the grand and glorious questions that are swimming around in my head as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and regardless of all our concerns about our future together as a congregation, one question looms very large in my mind and perhaps more importantly, in my heart. Today, my response to Martin Luther’s challenge to the church to be “Semper Reformanda!” – “Always Reforming” comes from my heart’s concern for my grandchildren. Looking toward the future of these little people, I cannot help but wonder what kind of church they will encounter as they grow into all that they have been created to be. Will they encounter an irrelevant, out of touch, Church, that is in so much denial about the realities of existence, that fails to respond to our changing understanding of what it means to be human, a church that holds tightly to ideas, doctrines and dogmas of a bygone era and cannot respond to the needs of the poor, the hungry, or the powerless? Or will they encounter a Church that has died a slow, agonizing death? Or maybe they will meet a living, thriving, vibrant Church that is relevant, responsive, and vital? Continue reading

Glimpses of the MYSTERY we call GOD – Exodus 33

Listen to the sermon here

About ten days ago, I traveled up to Owen Sound for the funeral of a young colleague who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. During the two-and-a-half hour drive I couldn’t help wondering what life is all about. The stunning reality of the death of someone so young reminds us how very fragile life is. As I drove north the weather began to turn. So, by the time I reached Blue Mountain the wind was really howling. Driving along the shores of Lake Huron I could see waves rising. I’d been driving for over an hour, so I decided to pull over and take a walk before the rain began. Staring out over Nottawasaga Bay toward the vast grey horizon, I felt very small and insignificant. My mind wandered as my face was pelted by the sand that was kicked up by the wind. The sensation of the sand hitting my face awaked me to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

As my mind wandered, I caught sight of a small tuft of tall grass bent over by the force of the wind and sand. The long, tall grass shared my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind. I thought about the Ruach, the wind, breath or Spirit of God, the power and majesty of the Ruach as it blows where it wills. Pelted by the wind, the sand, and the reality of death, the fragility of my own being struck me to my core as a deep, loud, “No!” rose up from my inner being. It was as much a plea to the Ruach as it was a staunch denial of the reality of fragility of life. “NO!” I shouted into the horizon. But the Ruach, the wind and the sand threw my “NO” back in my face as my tears mixed with the rain that began to fall.

The wind must have changed direction because when I looked back at the tuft of fragile grass it was standing tall even as the rain’s intensity increased. I took a long, deep, intake of breath. It was as if the very Ruach of God entered my being. I wiped the tears and the rain from my face, straightened my spine and walked back to the car ready to face the reality of our mortality, strengthened by the knowledge that I had encountered MYSTERY; the MYSTERY that is the source of All.

The Bible is full of stories that touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality. Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses are the stuff of truth.  We human creatures just can’t help wondering. How did we get here?  Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about; speculating on the nature of our creator.  Story after story has been told; stories that weave in and out between our experiences and our wonderings, what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are imaginings. The best stories, the ones that captured our imagination and stimulated our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories so profound that they just had to be written down. Elevated to the realm of the sacred these wonderings, took on the quality of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some have sought to defend these stories with their very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identities between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings that birthed these sacred truths. So afraid have they become that they’ve tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the divine ramblings of our God. Whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some even claim that between their lines lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another. Continue reading

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

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

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you After We Moved Beyond Personifying God?- Thanksgiving Sunday sermons

Thankyou autumn

Follow the links for previous sermons:

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

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

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

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you

After We Moved 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

“Who Do You Say I AM?” – Jesus IS? – part 3of3

This interactive sermon is the third in a series of sermons responding to the question “Who Do You Say I AM?” Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here

The sermon is divided into two sections and the audio includes the readings as well as the songs. you can listen to the sermon here

“Jesus IS?” Section ONE: Questioning

We cannot un-know what we have learned. In the past one-hundred years biblical scholarship has exploded.  In the halls of academia, in the seminaries of mainline denominations the quest for knowledge about Jesus has born so very much fruit. Now thanks to the explosions of the information age, information that was once reserved to the carefully initiated, is available to everyone. Wander into your local bookstore, or turn on your computer and you will discover more information than any one person could ever digest on the subject of Jesus. And yet, despite more than 2000 years of scholarship, theologizing, speculating, preaching, and teaching, the question, put on the lips of Jesus by the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew, remains a daunting question to answer. 

“Who do you say that I AM?”  This is a question designed by the storyteller to evoke a response from the listener. “Who do you say that I AM?” Our individual responses to this question are tinged by all that we have been taught, by our families, by the church, by the culture in which we live, by the communities to which we belong, by the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the documentaries we have watched, the lectures we have listened to. Those of us who have stayed behind in the church, long after the vast majority of the population have left, we have been trying to answer questions about Jesus have learned so much about Jesus.  But rather than help us answer the question, what we think we know about Jesus, has left us tong tied.

“Who do you say that I AM?”  The way in which we answer questions about the identity of Jesus matters in a world where so many of the answers that have already been offered continue to misrepresent the man who lies at the heart of Christianity. These days, what passes for Christianity often stands in direct opposition to the teachings of the man Christians profess to follow. The idol worshipped by millions depicts Jesus as a super-hero God, sent to die as a blood sacrifice for sin.  This idol has co-opted the story of Jesus the man who steadfastly refused to take up violence against his enemies. Worshippers of this idol seek the companionship of a personal saviour, sacrificed violently for their personal sin, while they turn their backs upon Jesus’ the man’s personal quest for peace through justice for all.  Worshippers of this idol follow a saviour who encourages them in their personal quest for happiness in this world and the next.  All too often, this personal quest for happiness, results in the oppression and suffering of others, requiring the followers of this idol to embrace violence.

“Who do you say that I AM?” The way in which we answer this question has implications for the way in which we live in the world. “Who do you say that I AM?”  – a human, a seeker of justice committed to non-violent resistance to oppressive systems, willing to give everything to achieve peace, peace for all.   A teacher offering insights into a way of being in the world that embodies LOVE. Or a super-human, blood-sacrifice, who demands obedience and conviction to a carefully crafted story designed to ensure that your tribe wins the battle to create a new world order, where your tribe wins not only in this life but in the next. “Who do you say that I AM?”

Section Two: Imagining

“Who do you say that I AM?” Before we can say who Jesus is, we must imagine who Jesus was.  David Steindl-Rast reminds us that, “religions start from mysticism. There is no other way to start a religion.” Steindl-Rast  compares this mystical experience “to a volcano that gushes forth…and then…the magma flows down the sides of the mountain and cools off. And when it reaches the bottom, it’s just rocks. You’d never guess that there was fire in it. So after a couple of hundred years, or two thousand years or more, what was once alive is dead rock. Doctrine becomes doctrinaire. Morals become moralistic. Ritual becomes ritualistic. What do we do with it? We have to push through the crust and go to the fire that’s within it.”

The fire that sparked Christianity is Jesus. The red-hot experience of the living breathing Jesus, bubbled up out of out of the mountain that  Judaism had become. Like red hot lava Jesus flowed through the towns and villages of first century Palestine sparking a revolution that has long since cooled. We are the inheritors of the dead rock formations that lie scattered about us.  If we are ever to push through the crust to experience the fire that lies within, we will need to have the courage to shatter the idol of Jesus that Christianity has fashioned out of the rock. That means imagining who Jesus was when the fire ignited so that we can determine who Jesus is, here and now, in this place and in this time.

 “Who do you say that I AM?”  Let’s begin where it always begins in ancient literature, let’s begin with the name. The name given to the experience of whatever it is that lies at the very source of reality. YAHWEH – I AM WHO I AM. The ancient name given by the Hebrew people to their experience of the Divine. I AM – from the verb to be… God – IS

The question put on the lips of Jesus by the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Matthew “Who do you say that I AM?” echo’s the very I AM that this same Jesus depicts in a whole new way.  It is all in the name.  Sadly, we’ve missed the fullness meaning of Jesus’ name. Jesus was known by two names in the ancient world. Can anybody tell me what those names were? ……Yeshua ben Yosef  …. Yeshua bar abba … Joshua  =  God is Gracious or God Saves

      Yeshua ben Yosef = Joshua son of Joseph

      Yeshua bar abba   = Joshua son of abba the name Jesus used for God

      Joshua – salvation a man or a god

      There in lies the question – Jesus divine or human?

      “Who do you say that I AM?”

      Last Sunday I talked about how the Creeds have shaped us. The Apostle’s and the Nicene Creeds were created in the 4th century after the life of Yeshua ben Yosef, or Yeshua bar Abba by the powers of the Roman Empire to ensure that there would be a consistent view of Yeshua throughout the emerging church. That consistent view served the Empire well and went a long way to solidify the idol of Jesus Christ that continues to pervade our culture.  So, let’s set aside the creeds for a moment and respond to the questions of Jesus’ identity in ways that give us a glimmer of the fire that gave birth to a way of being in the world.

“Who do you say that I AM?” conversation

Where two or three are gathered in my name

I AM there in their midst.”

 

I AM IS in our midst.

 

I AM WHO AM

IS

in our midst.

The experience of the I AM

burned so brightly in

Yeshua

May that flame burn brightly

in, with, through, beyond us.

 

Who Do You Say that I AM? part 2 – Matthew 16:13-28

This sermon is the second in a series of three sermons responding to questions about Jesus’ identity. You can explore the part one here

Part Two of this exploration of Jesus’ identity includes three reflections interspersed throughout the liturgy. The audio picks up the liturgy as the congregation is remembering our old friend Jesus by singing an old hymn that evokes our personal histories with the character Jesus. You can listen to the songs as well as the reflections here 

Reflection 1:            Remembering.

Can any of you remember the first hymn you ever learned? (responses)

 “Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.”

What about the first prayer you ever learned?

(responses)

“Now I lay me down to sleep.”

“Come, Lord Jesus.”   graces

“The Lord’s Prayer”

“Psalm 23”

For those of you who were raised in the Lutheran Church, think back to your confirmation classes, do you remember learning the Creeds? I never went to church until I was 15.  I was considered too old for confirmation class. So, I received private instruction from my pastor. I remember weeks and weeks spent learning both the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds. Remembering those creeds still influences the way I respond to the question that the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call “Matthew” puts on the lips of Jesus:  “Who do you say that I AM.”

I remember, a few years back, when Emily Eastwood was helping us in our struggle to move the wider church to be more inclusive. Emily, insisted that the only way to reach out to those on the other side of the argument was to tell our story. Stories have the power to move us. Stories well-told can move us beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves. So, Emily encouraged each of us to learn how to tell our own stories. Emily taught us to be able to tell our stories about being gay, or knowing someone who is gay, or about changing our minds about homosexuality.  Emily, insisted that we needed to be able to tell our stories in about 3 minutes. We were encouraged to seek out folks who we suspected might be among those who were working to limit the roles that LGBTQ folks in the church. In just 3 minutes, our personal stories were told. These stories humanized the issues that divided us and indeed divided the church. Putting a face on the pain made the issues that we were debating, more than just theological, they made them real, immediate, and personal. By moving out beyond the boundaries established by doctrine we could touch the pain caused by doctrine.

Remembering all those weeks of learning the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which were designed by their 3rd and 4th century authors to answer, once and for all, all the questions surrounding the identity of the man we call Jesus, I can’t help but see the young woman that I was, reciting week after week, year after year, the doctrinal response to this pivotal question. For years, no for decades, my answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I AM?”  was bound up in my belief that the Creeds had answered the question: “Who do you say I AM?”  All you need to do is remember and believe.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Or the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit

and the virgin Mary

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate’

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

I remember trusting and believing the answer to all my questions was Jesus. I remember trusting and believing that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God who came down from heaven, suffered, died and was buried. I remember believing that Jesus died for my sins. I remember believing that because God was gracious HE sent Jesus to die so that I might live. I remember believing that this grace of God was all I needed to understand who Jesus was and is. I remember believing that Jesus’ death upon the cross was necessary so that I could live forever. I remember believing that I knew exactly who Jesus was. I remember knowing without the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

I remember eagerly eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ trusting that: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

I remember knowing who I knew Jesus was. I also remember my doubts. I remember worrying about the character of a God that I knew, because I am Lutheran after all, I knew God’s grace. But I could not, no matter how hard I tried, reconcile the notion of a loving and gracious God, with a God who could devise a plan to save me, that included the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son. I remember my doubts. Doubts squashed by doctrine.

I remember the very day that my dear pastor, the same pastor who had taught me the Creeds, dear Pastor Ernst invited me to join a Bible Study. Some of you may remember the old, Word and Witness program. Three years of intensive study of the Bible. A study based on the materials that seminaries were teaching prospective pastors. Pastor Ernst said I was too young for the program, but he thought I might just like to give it a try. Once again, I was the only one in the class. I remember well the day I learned the Jesus may not have said all the words that were clearly printed in red in my bible.

I remember the day I learned that the writers of the gospels were not actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; not actually eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus. I remember the questions that began to flow freely from my lips.  I remember the freedom of asking questions that were beyond the carefully set boundaries of the Creeds. I remember the freedom. Continue reading

Who Do You Say that I AM? part 1 – Matthew 16:13-20 and Romans 12: 1-8 – a sermon

Listen to the sermon here

“Who do you say that I Am?” For most of my life I have been trying to figure out who I think Jesus was and is. Your very presence here on a beautiful summer morning, suggests to me that many of 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 have 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 lead me into deep friendships with folks who were determined to practice what Jesus preached, as we proudly sought to be the kind of people that “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 that comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller that 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 gate-keeper precisely because possession of these keys give him the power to decide just who will and won’t be forgiven. Generations of priests have been called and ordained, and thereby entrusted with the keys to the kingdom, holders of the power to forgive in Jesus name. When a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ presides over the rite of public or private confession, we grant forgiveness of sin, in the name of Christ. We have the keys to the kingdom of heaven. WOW… Continue reading

Sometimes You Just Have to Be a Bitch! – Matthew 14:21-28

Listen to the sermon here

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. 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 pretend 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 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?

It’s been a hell of a week and I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard more than enough about racism this week to last me a lifetime. I don’t want to have to think about racism today. I want to get away from all the noise about racism and I 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 would suspect that this gospel reading didn’t just appear on this particular Sunday 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 God. 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, 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 after all was said and done nothing more than a Canaanite.

Jesus was after all a rabbi and a busy rabbi at that. Hadn’t he 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? It is clear from the way the story-teller recorded this story that she was a Canaanite woman, they were after all in the district of Tyre and Sidon and that place would have been full of Canaanites. Jesus and his disciples had wandered off the beaten track, probably trying to avoid the crowds that couldn’t get enough of Jesus. Well there’s just no telling who you might run into when you wander into neighbourhoods where those kinds of people live. Continue reading

Beneath the Surface: What difference does it make how we interpret this little story? – a sermon for Pentecost 10A – Matthew 14:22-33 and 1 Kings19:9-18

After a splendid month-long vacation, I have returned to work as two mad men toss rhetoric into the ether that is designed to to strike fear of a nuclear holocaust into the hearts of people everywhere. Looking at  Sunday’s readings:  1 Kings 19:9-18 in which Elijah hears the still small voice of God and Matthew 14:22-33 in which Jesus walks on water. Somehow, this sermon that I preached three years ago seems appropriate to repost so as to encourage us all to look beneath the surface of what we see, hear, and read! Shalom… 

Listen to the sermon here:

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 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 tow 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 Gospel according to Matthew’s story of 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 we 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, many more monks than simply two to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us were the stones are so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. One of those many monks is the ancient theologian known simply as Origen of Alexandria who lived from about 185 to 254 and who left behind a body of work which provided the Church with a way of approaching the texts of Scripture which nourished the lives of believers for generations. Indeed, Origen’s approach to scripture only fell out of fashion among protestants in the last 200 years or so. To put a long story short, Origen believed and taught, as have generations of theologians since Origen that the stories in Scripture have various layers of meaning. The first layer is the literal meaning, or surface meaning which is designed by the writers to reach those who are uninitiated or uneducated about the ways in which the sacred texts function. Beyond the literal meaning lay a deeper meaning, indeed Origen taught that beyond the simple literal meaning of the biblical the seeker of wisdom would find layers of deeper meaning. For centuries, the Church followed Origen’s views of scripture teaching the simple literal meaning to the masses while reserving the deeper layers of meaning for the initiated often referring to these deeper layers of meaning as the mysteries. While the masses were busy getting on with life, the religious professionals dug deeper and deeper into the mysteries eventually creating a church hierarchy that firmly divided the uninitiated from the enlightened. Obviously, I’m giving you the abbreviated version of this long and complicated story that goes much deeper; I am if you will simply pointing you toward a stone that lies below the surface of the water upon which we seek to walk. Hidden beneath is a method of exploring scripture that relies on symbols, myth, illusion and most important of all, allegory.

Origen and generations of theologian who came after him understood that the stories of scripture had many, many layers and relied on symbolic and allegoric methods to touch our imagination and inspire in us a way of being in the world. Sadly, perhaps in the beginning out for expediency’s sake, but eventually to preserve its own power over the masses the Church began to rely more and more on the simple literal meaning of the text. Indeed, the church reserved the mysteries to such an extent that it can be said that the hierarchy by and large hid the deeper layers of the text so well that even some members of the hierarchy forgot about the symbolic and allegorical methods of interpreting the scriptures. The hidden mysteries might well have remained hidden if it had not been for the fact that so many other mysteries have been uncovered by humanity regarding the natural world. Human knowledge has expanded by leaps and bounds and you and I live in a world where information is at our finger tips; most of us carry devices in our pockets which can unlock more mysteries that we can keep track of in the recesses of our memories. The reality is that these little devices can now unlock the deeper mysteries that the church once kept hidden for the initiated. The insights gleamed from historians, theologians, and clergy which once remained tucked away in the halls of academic institutions or in seminary libraries, are now available to one and all. Every line of scripture every jot and tittle have been carefully examined and re-examined and we know have so many interpretations that no-one of us can claim to be an expert in the field. We are all once again simply seekers of meaning. But there are a few of us who have dedicated their lives to the study of the deeper meanings and we here at Holy Cross have had the privilege of one who has come to be know the as one of the leading New Testament Scholars in the world and it is Dom Crossan who I’d like to point to as our second monk on the bank who has the power to point us toward a stone beneath the surface that might just enable us to find our way upon the sea so that we too might walk on water toward this character Jesus. Continue reading

Relinquish White Privilege: Rev. Jordan Cantwell, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, passionately preached to the National Convention of the ELCIC

The closing worship of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s National Convention was richly blessed by the Rev. Jordan Cantwell, the Moderator of the United Church of Canada! Rev. Cantwell’s presence throughout the convention enriched us in ways that I am still unpacking. Take some time to listen to this passionate preacher and be challenged by her call to relinquish white privilege. 

Erotic Playfulness: Our Bodies are Sacred Instruments Designed to Play in the Sacred Dance of Desire: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Pentecost 5A

“What comparison can I make with this generation? They are like children shouting to others as they sit in the market place. ‘We piped you a tune, but you wouldn’t dance. We sang you a dirge, but you wouldn’t mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He is possessed.’ The Chosen One comes, eating and drinking, and they say, ‘This one is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. ’Wisdom will be vindicated by her actions.”

Wisdom will be vindicated by her deeds.  In Jesus’ words, we can here 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 Old Testament books of Proverbs and Job, in 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 God was busy with creation 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.”   

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 was. 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. 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 were personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Words do not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us.  When you read the texts that describe wisdom, it is clear that they are, at the very least, speaking about wisdom as though wisdom were a person.  Sophia is wisdom personified. Sophia is spoken of as being around from the beginning–before creation. She was with Yahweh at the time of creation; creation couldn’t happen without her presence.  Other biblical passages show her coming to be with humanity, reaching out to people to be in relationship with them.  She walks through the streets, calling out to people, trying to get them to listen–to follow her.   She’s also a welcoming hostess inviting people to her table, a bountiful provider of food, the source of all good things.  She is the way to life abundant. She is also a trickster and play is one of the ways she gets things done. You may not have heard of her, but when Jesus speaks to the people about children calling to one another in the marketplaces, the people would have remembered Sophia standing in the marketplaces and calling the people out to dance. But the people refused to join in Sophia’s playful dance. Sophia’s reputation for playfulness led the people to refuse her invitation. Jesus who came eating and drinking, called out to the people. But his reputation led the people to label him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Jesus declares:  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance”. Jesus harkens back to the images of Sophia in the Scriptures and insists that, “wisdom will be vindicated by her deeds.” Sophia’s reputation as a trickster who accomplishes great deeds through play and Jesus’ reputation as a glutton and a drunkard who comes to the world eating and drinking aren’t usually emphasized by those who tout their religion in the public square.

I can honestly say I have never heard of members of the religious right taking to the airwaves to encourage society to eat, drink, and be merry. And yet, this stuff is in the Bible. The Bible describes playfulness as an important part of the God in whose image we are created. All too often those of us who profess to follow Jesus, refuse to hear Jesus: ‘We piped you a tune, but you wouldn’t dance.”

Jesus is calling us out to play. Yes, I know it is summer and I just go out to the lake and splash and play in the water. I can’t help myself. I just want to let Jesus’ words take me back to the words of Sophia, so that we can play together in the words of the scriptures.

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

On this glorious summer Sunday, on a weekend when it is meet right and salutary to celebrate, we can listen to the tune Jesus is piping and we can dance for joy for we are wondrously and gloriously made. Weekends are not the only things designed for play, we are. In the books of the Old Testament that are known as Wisdom Literature, it is made very clear that our bodies are blessings given by God so that we might delight in them. Playfulness, includes exploring the pleasures that one body can give to another body. There’s a little book in the Bible called that we call the Song of Solomon, but that for centuries was simply known as the Song of Songs and there you will find words that can make televangelists positively apoplectic.  “Look, there my love stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:  ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. Let my love kiss me with kisses on the mouth!”

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

The Song of Songs is a song about desire, and so it is also a song about the pain of separation, of missed meetings, and of absence. “O that his left hand were under my head,” the woman sings with palpable yearning, “and that his right hand embraced me!” and when her lover knocked on her door and she hesitated for a moment to open it, the woman speaks some of the sexist lines in any literature.

“My beloved thrust his hand into the opening and my inmost being yearned for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.” When she opens the door, however, he is gone, and she heads out into the city to search for him. “I implore you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.”

I know, I know, enough already.  This is a church! Surely eroticism doesn’t belong within the sacred walls of a sanctuary! How did this erotic love poem make it into the Bible? No one knows for sure. But scores of interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, have found in it the song of human yearning for God and God’s desire to be in intimate relationship with humanity. The Song of Songs is read at the festival of the Passover as a reminder that God delivered Israel from slavery not only because God was bound by the covenant to do so, but also because God loved the people of Israel and desired goodness for them. The ancient Christian writer Bernard of Clarvaux wrote more than eighty sermons on the Song without even making it past the third chapter. According to Clarvaux the poem provided a means by which the individual believer could come into intimate relationship with God. Like all great poetry, the Song of Songs can easily sustain a wide range of interpretations.   But it resists being read only as a spiritual text about human beings and God. Clairvaux warned young monks and nuns not to read it until their faith matured, because of the sexual feelings it is able to inspire. Continue reading