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

You can download the worship bulletin here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Distancing and the Woman with a Flow of Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I remember three things about the church’s recommendation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 4:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Sunday in LENT – sermons

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

Facing Our Demons here

Awe and Wonder: A Lenten Practice here

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

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know here

Giving Up God for Lent? here

What a Joke: These Stories Never Actually Happened! here

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

Abundant Life in the Cosmos – Evolution Sunday

The extreme cold which we have been experiencing this week reminded me of an experience of the Cosmos which left me awestruck. It happened one long-ago spring when I was working in Whitehorse for a big tour company. One morning, my boss asked me to drive to Skagway to help oversee the meet and greet of a large cruise ship. I’d been on the road for about an hour, so it must have been about 8 o’clock in the morning. In the Yukon, at that time of the year the sun wouldn’t come for a least a couple of hours.  I had just pulled out of Carcross, a tiny town. In those days there was just a small general store in Carcross where, I’d picked up a cup of coffee for the road. I was sipping on the last of my coffee and thinking about how very bright the stars were up in the Yukon. The lack of city lights meant that the sky was illuminated in ways that were positively astonishing to this town dweller.  I was enjoying the view, when something began to happen which caused me to pull the car over and venture out into the cold.

Now if you know me, you know that once it gets down below zero, I’m not much interested in venturing out into the cold.  So, for me to have gotten out of my warm car when it was more than 25 below zero, you know that what was happening must have been something spectacular. The beauty of the star-filled sky began to dance with colours so dazzling that I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. I cannot adequately describe the dance of the Aurora Borealis. The magic of colours dancing across the sky evoked such wonder in me. I tried to imagine just how far the particles of colour had travelled in order to dance above me.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing the Northern Lights, you will understand when I say that the dance of colourful rays is breath-taking. But the sound of the Northern Lights is positively other-worldly. There’s a kind of crackling and hissing which rises to a gentle clapping as if the Cosmos itself is applauding the intricacies of the dance. Standing there in amazement, I couldn’t help but join the Cosmos in rapturous applause. Looking back on my frozen adventure, the profound beauty that continues to dance in my memory reminds me of a quote I love that comes from Sir Francis Bacon who insisted that: “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one.”  Of course, we are all familiar with the first book God wrote, namely Scripture.  But God has written a second book called creation. Lift up your hearts and listen again as the Cosmos declares in infinite and magnificent ways the Gospel of Christ: “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!”

Abundance:   the dictionary defines the word abundance as an adjective meaning “existing or available in large quantities: plentiful. Copious, ample, profuse, rich, lavish, abounding, liberal, generous, bountiful, large, huge, great, bumper, prolific, teeming, plentiful, bounteous. We stand in the midst of the abundance of Creation. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and live it abundantly!” Abundant life, abounding life, generous life, bountiful life, large life, huge life, great life, bumper life, liberal life, prolific life, teeming life, plentiful life, bounteous life. Look around and you, look outside the windows of this humble dwelling and you will see the Earth living abundantly. Take a deep breath and you can actually taste the abundance of life, teeming life, bounteous life, plentiful life, abounding life. Continue reading

Blessed Are We Who Mourn – Matthew 4:1-12

She had no family.  She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying she thought she ought to have a pastor. I was summoned to her bedside. I was afraid. I had been told that she only had a few weeks before “the cancer would take her,” not that she would die, but that “the cancer would take her.” No one used the word death or said that she was going to die. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task.  No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.

I went to Sophia’s bedside every day. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. No pat answers or trite platitudes if you please, just the facts. I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts that I possessed might not sustain us on our journey. It didn’t take me long to figure out that she’d spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she’d grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se but someplace heavenly, perhaps like Paris in the springtime. She so loved Paris in the springtime. If only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who appreciate the finer things of life. Life, would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.

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

After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. It was cold and wet in London. Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come and be his love. Over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg, where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children.  By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps.  It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans.  By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and I had gone from being a suspected bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us.

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

“I don’t know?” was all I could honestly say.

Sophia was patient with me. She asked me if I thought there was more to life or if death was the end. “No religious platitudes please. Just the facts.”

“I don’t know Sophia. I believe that we live and die in God and that God is LOVE and in LOVE we have nothing to fear. All will be well? I trust that in death we fall into the LOVE that IS God.”

Sophia took my hand firmly and confessed, “I’m afraid.”

I did not know how to comfort her, so I asked, “What are you afraid of Sophia?”

“Not of dying! Good God no! I’m not afraid of dying.” Sophia insisted, “I’m afraid of being forgotten. Who will remember me?”

Yesterday, I was struggling with this sermon. I’d been reading about our gospel text for hours and hours trying to figure exactly what to say to you about the line in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which kept jumping out at me. “Blessed are those who are mourning:  they will be consoled.” Some translations say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Mourning has fallen out of fashion these days. People don’t like to talk about mourning. They’d rather celebrate life than mourn a death. “Blessed are those who are mourning:  they will be consoled.” Continue reading

More than Just the Be Happy Attitudes: a sermon for Epiphany 4A

jesusThe beatitudes, from the Gospel According to Matthew have become  so very familiar to us that they have almost lost their ability to touch us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  Blessed, blessed, blessed, yeah, yeah, yeah, we know, we know, we’ve heard all before. So, tell us something we don’t know.

These twelve verses are from the introduction to what’s known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. A sermon that strikes fear and trembling into the hearts of any preacher worth her salt. I remember hearing that it’s insane to try to preach on Jesus’ sermon, after all it is the greatest sermon ever written. It has been said that preachers shouldn’t even try to preach on this, because it is in and of itself a sermon. We should simply read it and then sit down. Jesus is the preacher; he has said it all. He has said it like no has ever said it before or since. This sermon is the heart of the Christian message. It is what Jesus is all about. Blessed be the name of Jesus. Hallelujah! Pass the bread and wine and we’re ready to face the world as followers of Jesus. Continue reading

The Beatitudes and the Power of One: a sermon for Epiphany 4A – Matthew 5:1-12

sad EckhartMost us us have heard the words from Matthew 5, known as the Beatitudes, so many times that we can recite them from memory. Indeed, the Beatitudes are at the very core of our Christian tradition. But there is a danger in our familiarity with these words because it allows us to distance ourselves from them as we relegate them to some idealized notion of some unattainable goal.

I have studied these words many times and I do not believe that Jesus intended these words to become a prescription for how to be a better Christian. So, I won’t be encouraging anyone to be poor in spirit, to mourn, or to be meek in the hope that they might gain the kindom of heaven, or be comforted, or inherit the earth. While hungering and thirsting for righteousness is in and of itself a good thing, along with being merciful, pure of heart, and peace-making, all of which I heartily encourage. However, these attributes or beatitudes are not a prescription for holiness or wholeness.

So, if Jesus wasn’t prescribing the beatitudes from atop the mountain, what was he doing? Well, there’s an old storytellers’ ploy that I’d suggest in order to better understand Jesus words. The ploy doesn’t have a name, but most of us are very familiar with the trick. It’s the one where you tell an unfamiliar story alongside of a very familiar story in the hope that the unfamiliar story will help to shed some new light on the words of the familiar story. The unfamiliar story is taken from Bryce Courtenay’s autobiographical novel “The Power of One.” The Power of One was are into a movie about twenty years ago, so the story may be somewhat familiar. Continue reading

What are you looking for? – John 1:29-42

“What are you looking for?” It takes a special kind of person to venture out on a cold and snowy January morning to come to church. So, let me ask you again,            “What are you looking for?” 

The people of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to come and save them from the injustices perpetrated by the Romans.  Many of them believed that they’d found the kind of saviour that they were looking for in Jesus. But Jesus refused to be the kind of messiah that they were looking for. Jesus refused to lead them in an armed revolt against the Romans.  Jesus called them to a different path; a path that required them to renounce violence, hatred, and greed; a path that demanded not violent resistance, love of enemy, and care for the poor and marginalized among them. Jesus’ way of being in the world was not an easy path to walk.

Already, in the gospel according to John we see those early followers of Jesus, retelling the story of Jesus in ways that recast him into the role of the messiah that they longed for. Over time, the storytellers, the theologians, and the church has pointed to Jesus and declared, “Look, there’s God’s sacrificial lamb, who takes away the world’s sin!” For generations, too many of us have looked to Jesus to take away our sin. Believing that all we need to do is believe and Jesus will save us. Like so many who have gone before us we have wanted Jesus to be the kind of saviour who would save us from our sinfulness.

 Our ancestors defined sin as missing the mark. Who can live a life without missing the mark? Surely, there is someone, who can offer us some way of living a life without missing the mark, for each time we miss the mark, there is sadness, pain, suffering and death.  Surely there is someone who can save us from all this?             But Jesus refuses to be the kind of messiah that we want. Jesus calls us not to believe in him, but follow him, follow him to passionately non-violently resist injustice, follow him by loving our enemies, follow him to care for the poor and the marginalized among us.

Believing in Jesus won’t save us. Becoming a Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, or New Ager won’t save us. Only our shared humanity will save us. Jesus lived and taught a way of being human that spoke directly to our common humanity and called us to walk a path that would lead humanity to a new way of being in the world. But what are we looking for? Are we looking for a different kind of Messiah than one who will not save us from our troubles?

Our friend Pete Rollins tells a story of this kind of longing. Pete speaks of an: “old Buddhist parable that tells the story of a young woman who gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. But after only a few weeks the child dies and the woman is distraught.  She wraps the child’s body in linen and then she wraps the child’s body to her own, and she goes in search of someone, of anyone who could resuscitate her child. She goes to faith healers, and witch-doctors.  She talks to the tribal elders. But nobody can help. Continue reading

Welcome Home to the MYSTERY that IS LOVE – Christmas Eve sermon

A number of years ago, back when I had only been a pastor for a couple of years, on the Sunday just before Christmas, immediately after our worship service, I travelled over to the hospital to pay a visit to a member of this church. I was all decked out in my Sunday best.

So, I very much looked the part of a pastor. Back then, I was very unsure of myself in my new role as a pastor. Nothing made me more uncomfortable than hospital visits. I felt like I was a bit of impostor. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and even though the collar around my neck often felt like it might choke the life out of me, that collar proclaimed to everyone at the hospital that I was there in my professional capacity.

I enjoyed a very pleasant visit with one of the seasoned members of this congregation, who went out of her way to ensure that we both enjoyed the visit. As I was leaving the floor, a woman beckoned me into a visitors’ lounge, ever so quietly she asked, “Could you please help me?”

I sat down beside her and listened to her story. When you’re wearing a clergy collar people presume all sorts of things about who you are. This distraught young woman presumed from my attire that I was a competent professional who could accomplish what she could not. Tearfully, she told me that her farther, from whom she’d been estranged for many years, was dying and needed a priest. She had called the Roman Catholic churches in town and none of the priests were available to come right away. The young woman explained that she was afraid that there may not be enough time to wait for a Roman Catholic priest. She asked me if I would be able to administer the Last Rites to her father. I hesitated as I considered her request.

I was frantically going over what I had been taught about the Roman Catholic practices commonly known as “the Last Rites:” Confession, Absolution, Communion, Anointing the Sick. I had been trained to do all of these as a Lutheran, but not as a Roman Catholic. The Last Rites always were intended to provide comfort to those who were dying. But for centuries, many Roman Catholics had come to believe that the dying needed to receive the Last Rites in order to assure their place in heaven. This popular misconception created all sorts of anxiety about securing the services of a priest. While I was tossing this over in my mind, the young woman, grabbed my arm and loudly asked: “Protestants do have Last Rites, don’t you?” Continue reading

Christmas: a Cacophony of Chaos! – Advent 4

Watch this sermon here

For days now, I’ve had an ear-worm.  I suppose that it is more than fitting for a pastor to suffer from this particular ear-worm at this particular time of the year. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and it must be the struggle to get everything ready for the Holy Night that has put this particular ear-worm on an endless loop. Consider this an early Christmas gift, I won’t sing it. I’ll let you sing it in your own minds. Maybe then I can give you my ear-worm for Christmas. My ear-worm is the Christmas carol, O Holy Night. It’s not the whole Carol, just the one line of the Carol that repeats itself:   “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Over and over again, I hear: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” T’is the season for being weary! Hands up all you who are weary! Apart from the fact that there is so much to be done, the news is full not of glad-tidings but of tales of woe. Everywhere we turn, the media is doing its level best to instill fear into our hearts, rather than tidies of comfort and joy. The world is weary of worrying about the strange fellow who occupies the Whitehouse, weary of populist, authoritarian, politicians like the fellow we have up here, prancing around Queens Park; weary of begging the powers that be to do something about climate change; weary of economic inequality; weary of corporate greed, weary of catastrophic fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, stock-market crashes,  weary of war and rumors of war.

Sure, we can turn off our devices in the hope that we can avoid the bad tidings. But then, we have our own bad news to deal with, quarrelsome families, troublesome friends, sick or dying loved ones, the day to day grind of making a living, and our own personal angst and insecurities. To top it all off, if regular life isn’t wearisome enough, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Fall on your knees?  If I fall on my knees, I’ll never be able to get up!!! In times like these, that it is as if our lives are in a constant state of chaos.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, one of my favorite parts of Christmas is Silent Night. I positively long for Silent Night, because when we’re singing Silent Night, here at Holy Cross, my work is done.  We don’t have a Christmas Day service, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, our Christmas Eve service always ends with the singing of Silent Night. We turn out all the lights, light candles and hold them high as we sing. Silent Night, holy night, all is calm…

….all is calm….all is calm…all is bright. Now there’s an ear-worm I’m happy to live with. But there’s a lot of chaos to be endured between here and Silent Night. As much as we try the sound of Christmas is not Silent Night. The sound of Christmas is far more discordant than that. Do me a favour, make some noise. I mean it. I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, I want you to create a cacophony of chaos. I want us to raise a little hell. Ready, One, two, three…………….

In order to get the true sound of Christmas, you would need to add to our cacophony, the sounds of traffic, car crashes, waves crashing, hungry children crying, poor parents weeping, homeless sisters and brothers shivering in the cold, bombs dropping, babies crying, the Earth suffering…and you will have but a taste of the sounds of chaos. Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas doesn’t much sound like silent night. The sound of Christmas is a cacophony of chaos. Christmas is the sound of messiness, the sound of unpredictability and confusion. So, is it any wonder that in the midst of all the chaos of living we should long for a Silent Night? The trouble is, the story of new birth is never a Silent Night. Life itself is chaotic, and if we’re waiting for the birth of Jesus to arrive in Heavenly peace, I doubt that we’ll ever understand the Christmas story. Continue reading

A Newborn Baby Positively Oozes with the Aura of the MYSTERY that Lies at the Very Core of Reality

Every Christmas, the parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols that proclaim the birth of God among us do more than recount the birth of a baby in an ancient faraway land. Every Christmas, these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols proclaim the birth of hope in us; hope not just that some far off supernatural being is going to come and save us from the worst of who we are, but hope that the Source of ALL, the Creator of Universes, the ONE Who IS, WAS, and Every More Shall BE, the ONE in Whom we LIVE and MOVE and Have our Being, this ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, is born over and over again to live and breathe in, with, through, and beyond us. The words just don’t do this reality justice, so we resort to the power of these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols, to move us beyond words so that we might approach the truth of our humanity. It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, is it any wonder that we approach this sacred celebration of who and what we are, by telling stories.

Together, at Christmas, we participate in the birth of a child. We see in the image of a new born baby swaddled in our hopes and dreams.  All our longings for LOVE and peace rest in the images that live and breathe in this story that has been handed down to us. It is a story we know so well and yet, it is a story that we have barely begun to understand. Like all stories, we can simply listen to it, or read it, and respond with little more than a nostalgic nod to simpler times when we hoped that someone or something out there, or up there, would come and save us from ourselves, our warring madness, and selfish greed, or we can open ourselves to the transformative power that some stories have and we can boldly dare to participate in the story, engage it, wrestle with it, and make it our own. If we let it, this story can open us to that which lives and breathes beyond the words of the story. The characters in this story can live and breathe and have their being in us.

Sadly, we all too often get bogged down in the words themselves, measuring them and testing them as we try to pinpoint the origins of the words and miss all together the many truths that this story can convey.  Some folks never get past arguing about the history. They just can’t seem to understand the power of myth to convey truth. The ancient scribes, who passed this story on to us, knew well the wisdom using mythology to convey truth. So, on this Christmas Eve, in the presence of one another, let us seek the wisdom of the ages remembering that wisdom is a precarious treasure; a treasure that has the ability to enrich our lives. At the heart of this story is a newborn baby. Each and every one of us is wise enough to know that there is nothing like a newborn baby to help you get to the very heart of reality. For who among us can hold a newborn in our arms and not wonder? Awe and wonder is the place where wisdom begins. A newborn baby positively oozes with the aura of the mystery that lies at the very core of reality. Who is this little creature? Where did it come from? How did get here? Who created it? What is it? What is life? What is it all about? Continue reading

Dreams Inspired by Joseph the Dreamer – Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas music has been playing all over the place for weeks now. So, much so that many of us have been developing earworms; songs we simply can’t get out of our heads. Not surprisingly, this story from the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew has inspired an earworm in my head. But the song is not what most people would consider Christmas music.  It is a song that I remember from my childhood. It is a song my Granda used to sing when he was in his cups.

It’s an old World War II classic made popular by Vera Lynn:

When I grow too old to dream

I’ll have you to remember

When I grow too old to dream

Your love will live in my heart

So kiss me my sweet

And so let us part

And when I grow too old to dream

That kiss will live in my heart

My Granda could make me weep when he sang that song. I was too young back then to understand the myriad of meaning in this song, but the very idea of being too old to dream, brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it was just childish of me to have believed that the ability to dream would last as long as life itself. Somehow the very thought of being too old to dream seemed like an impossibility. As I’ve grown older, I can well imagine life without dreaming. Life in the world can shatter dreams and sometimes even rob us of the desire to dream. Over the years I’ve known more than a few people who have given up on their dreams, and others who refuse to waste their time dreaming, and even some who are too weary to even bother dreaming. Continue reading

The Story of Jesus’ Birth is a Subversive Parable

Some have said that the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth; God incarnate; fully divine and fully human. Not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus birth can’t even claim to be unique. Some claim that Jesus’ birth story is just one of a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it’s our story; our story that we tell over and over at the expense of other birth stories from other communities that are just as great.

Well it’s really not all that difficult to Google, “greatest birth story ever told”, select one or two of the greats and put them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as simply one birth story in a long line of ancient birth stories. Allow me to demonstrate.

Among the ancients, some insisted that the story of Alexander the Great’s birth was the greatest story ever told. Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. He was, after all the, son of a Queen and a god and a king. His mother, Olympias was a Queen, betrothed to King Philip of Macedonia. The night before they were married, Queen Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all around her, and then as if by magic they were extinguished.

King Philip dreamed that he sealed up his Queen’s lady parts with a seal, which bore the impression of a lion. The high priests who interpreted the dream warned Philip not to even entertain the idea of consummating the marriage because one wouldn’t go to the trouble of sealing up something that was empty.  So, Queen Olympias must already be with child, who would undoubtedly be a boy with the courage of a lion. If that wasn’t enough to put Philip off, he found a serpent lying beside Queen Olympias as she slept, which was said to have abated his passion. Later the oracle of Apollo at Delphi went on to explain that this was no ordinary serpent; NO, this was the incarnation of the God Zeus. The day that Alexander the Great was born, one of the Seven Wonders of the World burnt to the ground. The temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus was the home of the Goddess Artemis who was said to have been attending to the birth of Alexander at the time.   Continue reading

Joseph and the Shady Ladies: The Revealing Story of Emmanuel – Matthew 1:18-24

emmanuel with us

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent: all around us the world is hustling and bustling toward Christmas. With less and less time devoted to the telling of the Christmas story, perhaps we in the Church might consider changing the lectionary so as to provide more opportunities to engage the birth narrative in Matthew. Advent 3 is a perfect opportunity to substitute two readings into the lectionary. Here’s what happened when we tried this:

Readings Matthew 1:1-17 and Matthew 1:18-24

Listen to the sermon here

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story.[1] I would add that,  the truth we find in a story teaches about our humanity. So, as we seek to embrace our humanity we would do well to pay close attention to the stories we tell. The unknown writer of the Gospel according to Matthew had a great story to tell and in order to get to the truth of who and what the man Jesus was, he chose a particular way to tell the story so that all those who heard the story would know the truth of who Jesus is in the grand scheme of humanity’s story. Sadly over the centuries that have elapsed since this story was first told have seen the tellers and listeners of this story haggle over the truth. Some have forgotten the power of story to bridge the gap between humanity and truth, and they have insisted that the truth will be found in the absolute accuracy of each and every detail.  Fortunately, many more have remembered that stories are just that, they are stories and while we know that events did not actually happen in they way they are told, they happen just that way all the time.

So, as we begin in the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News according to Matthew, let me remind you that we know that the story of Jesus birth did not happen the way it is told in the story, and we know that birth is always happening this way. For the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew was a skilled storyteller and he wrapped the story of Jesus of Nazareth in the stories of his ancestors. Written in the style of his own ancestors the gospel-writer begins his story, with the same words that every one of his listeners would have remembered from the sacred book of Genesis which begins, “In the beginning”. A sort of once upon a time, if you will, the gospel-writer begins with, the genesis of Jesus the Messiah and then proceeds to connect Jesus to the ancestors of the Jewish faith, will making sure that the truth of Jesus’ connection to those outside the faith will also be made clear.

The gospel-writer’s inclusion of the women who Bishop John Shelby has dubbed the “shady ladies” would have alerted Jewish listeners that Jesus is a different kind of Messiah; a Messiah who will transcend race, creed, or clan. Rahab, who was a Canaanite; a foreigner, was known as the mother of Israel for saving Joshua in Canaan, just happened to run a brothel there. Tamar, also a foreigner, was married to Judah’s son who according to Genesis is killed by God, and as was the custom his younger brother married her to ensure that his older brother’s name would be carried on. When that son dies, Tamar is left a childless widow, a fate worse than death in a patriarchal culture.  Tamar is known for impersonating a prostitute to trick Judah into knowing her, in the biblical sense of the verb to know, so that her father-in-law could impregnate her. Continue reading