Catching Glimpses of YAHWEH’ Backside – Exodus 33

A while back, 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 just 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 shore 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 which 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. The long grass embodied my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind pummelling it with sand. I thought about the RUACH, the WIND, the BREATH, the SPIRIT of DIVINITY, the power and the 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 which 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 DIVINITY entered my being. I wiped my 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 which is the source of ALL.

The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories. So, we plumb the depths of our 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 which 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 which 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 qualities 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 identity between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred truths. So afraid have they become that they have tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the divine ramblings of the MYSTERY we call, “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.

From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. All Moses wanted to do was to see GOD in all of GOD’s glory. Moses, who as the story goes, had been talking with GOD for years, he’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinsfolk, the lives of his people on those conversations. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory. Who can blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost, homeless, and afraid. Hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere. Moses had the stone tablets; GOD’s law, written in stone a gift for this people who’d followed him out into the wilderness. Imagine: they followed Moses out into the wilderness all because Moses had heard GOD speak. Right there from out of the flames of a burning bush GOD called out to Moses. The GOD of Moses’ ancestors spoke, and a promise was born, the promise of liberation from slavery, of deliverance from oppression, the promise of a land; a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Such a promise required more than just the ramblings of a burning bush; such a promise required a name. Who was this GOD speaking from the flames? Moses said to GOD, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The GOD of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is GOD’s name?’ what shall I say to them?” From that burning bush came the sacred name when his GOD said to Moses, “YAHWEH.” I AM WHO I AM. YAHWEH. I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE.

YAHWEH the sacred name of GOD, so sacred that Moses and his people would never utter it. So sacred that even after they’d told their stories for generations, they’d punctuate the name of GOD with only a silence; a long pause where people could breathe the name within themselves. YAHWEH. YAHWEH. So sacred that when it came time to write down their sacred stories, they didn’t write the whole name of GOD. Just the consonants were enough to evoke the sacred name, Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey. Over the generations, the people forgot how to breathe the name of GOD, and so the scribes, hinted at the vowels so that the breath of GOD continued to emanate from GOD’s people. But as the tribes fought over the details of the story, the sacred code of silence failed to evoke the breath of GOD and even though from the burning bush GOD was said to have declared, “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations,” the peoples of GOD, forgot the sacred name. So, the scribes replaced the sacred code of silence with bold letters which included the vowels and once again the name YAHWEH was heard when the sacred stories were told. YAHWEH, I AM WHO, I AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. It says it all, GOD IS. GOD WILL BE. NOW and FOREVER.

This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you want more? Surely, we can understand why Moses asked for just a little more? There’s no harm in asking, so good old Moses gave it a whirl: come on, just once show me. “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the MIGHTY ONE said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the HOLY NAME, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” said the MIGHTY ONE, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  And the MIGHTY ONE continued, “See there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” And so, Moses caught but a glimpse of YAWEH’s backside. Just a glimpse mind you. But isn’t that how it always is? Just a glimpse. Just a glimpse of DIVINITY here and there for our GOD SHALL BE WHO OUR GOD SHALL BE. We must let the glimpse be enough. But oh those glimpses.

When I arrived at the funeral, I was greeted by friends and colleagues as we began the task of preparing ourselves to pay our respects and give thanks for the life of one of our own. In the faces of friends and colleagues I caught glimpses of the ONE WHO IS the SOURCE of our being. In their tender embraces I felt the grace and the compassion of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD.” Later in the stories we told one another the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, soothed and nurtured us. Sitting around a table breaking bread with one another I felt a deep, heartfelt, “Yes!” rising within me. “YES!” I raised a glass, and I gave thanks for life. Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of DIVINITY. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of DIVINITY’s backside. For now, all we see is a glimpse of DIVINITY’s glory.

But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. So, close your eyes.  I mean it, close your eyes. There, look closely. Can you see a glimpse of DIVINITY in your mind’s eye? The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the first time, gazing into the wonder you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem that told your whole life in just a few carefully chosen words, there’s the hand of DIVINITY. Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride her bike all by herself. She’s growing up so quickly. Do you see right there behind her, there in the shadows watching her, if you look closely, you see the arms of DIVINITY ready to catch her. Look at him he thinks he knows it all, there he goes with the keys to your car, in the screech of tires can you hear it, it’s the sound of the LOVE, which is DIVINIY trying to catch up with him, trying to keep him safe. Listen carefully can you hear it, it’s ever so faint, the rattle of her last breaths makes it hard to hear. But if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the RAUACH, the SPIRIT breathing alongside her as she breathes her last breath, YAHWEH. YAHWEH. As you struggle to leave the room, wondering how you can ever find a way to say good-bye, good-bye Grandma, good-bye Grandpa, good-bye Mom, good-bye Dad, good-bye my love, if you lean back, you will feel them, embracing you, the arms of DIVINITY holding you in LOVE. Look there, GOD is in that smile, the smile that says I’ve known you so long and yes, I still love you even if you drive me nuts, there in the gleam in your lover’s eyes, can you see the glory of the LOVE which is DIVINITY? Gaze out into the fields and see, there amongst the wildflowers, there dashing by through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see DIVINITY’s backside.

There’s truth in our stories, sacred truth; truth in our myths, in our wonderings, our musings and our longings. Between the lines, beyond the page, in, with, through and under the words, there’s truth in questions and questions in truth and through it all dances our GOD who is LOVE, YAHWEH. If you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe the wonder, the beauty, the magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are. So, proclaim YAHWEH’s glory! Let the DIVINITY of your imagination, myth and story, take on flesh and dance with your memories of YAHWEH’s backside. Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to the splendor of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call GOD, YAHWEH. YAHWEH the GREAT I AM, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.  Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

 

Afghanistan: Bear Witness We Must!

When I was in my early twenties, I was so much more adventurous than the pastor who stands before you. Still foolish enough to believe in my own ability to meet any situation I stumbled into; I travelled the world seeking all the excitement which life might bring my way. More than once, I ventured into worlds beyond my meagre capacity for wisdom. With a reckless spirit, a rail-pass in my pocket, a backpack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars’ worth of travelers’ cheques, yeah, travelers’ cheques. That’s how long ago it was. I had several hundred dollars of travelers’ cheques tucked into my wallet, when I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. Despite my youthful vigor, I was tired. Several months of backpacking in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head to Greece, where previous visits had taught me, the living was easy. I longed for the warm sun, the blue skies and the equally blue waters and the promise of a cheap place to rest.

As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Hannia on the Island of Crete. I knew that in Crete I could find work. I planned to mix a lot of relaxation and fun with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean. As the train rattled through Austria towards, what was then, Yugoslavia, it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness. I remembered my previous journey by car through Yugoslavia and how, at the time, I had marveled at the diversity of this strange little country. I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as their ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra-modern section of the city of Belgrade, the showcase of the dictator Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all, and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade, with its towering buildings and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in this Yugoslavia.

I was awakened by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train, they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the correct papers and that my backpack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, the guns and the uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty-two years. He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa which I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language using unfamiliar alphabet. The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I could comprehend what was happening, I was being escorted off the train. I was shaking so badly that the young men on either side of me had to hold me up. I’m not sure if my feet even touched the ground.

After a long, lonely wait in a drab, windowless room, a woman entered. In broken English she told me that my visa was not in order. “NOT in order! NOT in order!” She kept repeating it.  I gathered from what she was trying to unsuccessfully to explain to me, that my passport contained the visa from my previous visit to Yugoslavia but was missing an official exit stamp. She demanded to know why there was no exit stamp in my passport. “NO EXIT STAMP! NOT in order! Needless to say, I could not explain. I told her that I had only spent a little over a week in Yugoslavia the year before and then gone on to Greece. I told her that I didn’t know that an exit stamp was necessary and that I couldn’t understand why the Yugoslavian consulate would have issued my current visa if my paperwork was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. “NOT in order! NOT in order! EXIT STAMP!” Continue reading

Sermon: Are You a MYSTIC Too? Genesis 28:16-22

Awe came upon me one hot August night when I was only 17 years old. That night there was supposed to be a particularly amazing meteor shower. So, about a dozen of us, we headed down to the beach, where there was boardwalk, to sleep out under the stars. It was a fabulous night. No adults were there to tell us what to do. So, we were trying on what it would feel like to be an adult ourselves and to do what we wanted, when we wanted. We had good friends to talk to. There was swimming after dark. We had an illegal campfire to make us feel just a little bit afraid that someone might catch us doing something a little beyond our abilities. It was a brilliant night. We laughed and we played, and we solved all the problems of the world, but we never saw a single meteor.

Around 3 o’clock in the morning we finally settled down to sleep. I’m not sure what woke me up. But I do remember looking up and seeing nothing but stars, and when the first meteor streaked across the sky, rather than waking up my friends so that they could see what I was seeing, I just lay there watching as streak after streak stretched across the darkness. I knew in my head that these were meteors, but it was as if the stars were putting on a show just for me. I’d never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Suddenly the Cosmos, was more than just a backdrop of my imagination. The Cosmos was there, right there in all its glory. It was the most beautiful display of cosmic grandeur. I was totally overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Far from feeling small, I felt like I was big enough to reach out and touch the stars. It was wonderful. There were moments when I felt that I wasn’t the only one doing the watching. There I was lying below the sky, looking up, feeling strangely at peace. For the first time, it felt as though I was actually being watched and seen. I was being seen and I was being known by something bigger than the sky.

In a sea of a billion galaxies, I felt the CREATOR of all that IS, surrounding me. The gentle sea breeze seemed to caress me, and for the first time in my life, I became conscious that I am part of something far larger than myself and I felt my heartbeat begin to quicken. Serenaded by the heavy breathing of my companions, I began to wonder about stardust, about breath, and wind, and about this thing called the SPIRIT, and I knew that somehow the heart of what I was staring into was miraculously related to the heart that which was beating so quickly in me. And the tears flowed, and I knew such joy. It was as if the Cosmos itself had opened up inside of me, and for the first time I knew who and what I am. I also knew somehow, deeply knew, that the breath in me and the SPIRIT at the heart of the universe that was exploding before my eyes, is intimately ONE.

I remember my joy was tinged with a kind of fear, because I knew that this was bigger than anything I’d ever been able to imagine, and I wondered if my head was about to explode. I remember laughter rising within me, which I suppressed because I didn’t want my friends to wake up and find me deliriously happy, like some kind of crazy person. I knew I’d never be able to explain the joy I was feeling. Nothing had ever filled me so full. I had no words with which to explain my experience. I still don’t have the words to describe this mystical experience. I felt as though my whole being was going to burst open because the joy, and love which I felt simply could not be contained. Over the years, I have returned to this experience to try to put into words an experience which is BEYOND words.

For a long time, I used the word “God” to describe what I was experiencing. At the time I remember thinking that GOD had better ease off just a little or I was going to entirely loose the plot. GOD was too much to take in. I wasn’t sure I could take much more, when suddenly; the sky began to change its hue. I was conscious of colour behind me. Don’t ask me how you can be conscious of colour, I just was. I was afraid to look toward the colour, because I knew that behind me the Sun would be rising, and if tiny meteors streaking across the sky could do what they did to me, I wasn’t sure I could handle the magnificence of the Sun rising. I closed my eyes, and in the darkness of my own mind, I felt the power of GOD overwhelming me.  

In the Book of Genesis, there is a powerful story about one of our ancestors named Jacob. The story takes place after Jacob has tricked his father into giving him the blessing which according to their custom, should have gone to his older twin brother Esau. Jacob has just left home and is travelling through the desert when he sets up camp for the night. Jacob takes a rock and uses it as a pillow. During the night, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a ladder, which stretches from the ground all the way up into the realm of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God. The Hebrew text uses the unspeakable name for God – YAHWEH – a word so sacred that the Hebrews did not speak it, a word which translates into English as “I AM WHO I AM!” Messengers of the DIVINE MYSTERY were travelling up and down Jacob’s dream ladder. Jacob could see the MYSTERY standing over him and from the HOLY ONE Jacob received the knowledge that his descendants would be as numerous as the specks of dust on the ground; spreading out all over the Earth and those descendants, that’s us, we, Jacob’s descendants would see ourselves as blessed by our ancestor Jacob. From the DIVINE MYSTERY, Jacob knew that the HOLY ONE would never leave him. Then Jacob woke and said, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” He was filled with trembling and said, “How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than the dwelling place of God; this is the gate to heaven! Jacob rose early the next morning and took the stone which he had used as a pillow and set it up as a monument and he anointed it with oil. Jacob named the place BETHEL “House of God” saying, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” Continue reading

TSADIYQ: So Much More than Mere Righteousness! – Amos 5:23-24

Years ago, when I was in the business of developing package holiday tours, I traveled on a junket to the city of Lima which was sponsored by the government of Peru. The Peruvian government tourist office was trying to convince the travel industry that Lima was about to become the hottest destinations for North Americans. I had never been to Peru before, but based on what I knew of the conditions in Peru, I strongly doubted that Canadians would be flocking there in great numbers. The now defunct Canadian Pacific Airways, had just opened up a new air route to Lima and it was my job to put together holiday packages for the airline. These government sponsored tours are designed to showcase a destination in its best light. So, I was not surprised when we were quickly hustled out of the airport in luxurious limos and taken to the best hotel in the city. That night after a magnificent meal we were briefed by the government tourism officials on what we could expect to find in the streets of Lima. During the course of our briefing, we were warned that from time to time during our stay we would undoubtedly run into “the odd beggar or two.”

The odd beggar or two? That phrase struck me as odd at the time.  But now it fills me with shame as I remember passively listening without comment. We were instructed not to let these beggars bother us. We were assured that many of them weren’t nearly as bad off as they looked and that we shouldn’t allow them to play on our sympathies and spoil our stay in Lima. According to our guide, begging was a way of life for most of the people who lived on the streets and if we showed them any courtesy, they would only try to take advantage of us. We were also warned to leave any valuables in the hotel safe. Wearing jewelry of any kind was strongly discouraged by our government guides.

The next morning as we prepared for our sightseeing tour, my assistant John and I, we dutifully deposited our valuables into the hotel safe. Before we left the hotel, John, who’d been on a few of these junkets with me in the past, asked me if I had enough change. John knew that our guide’s instructions about giving money to beggars would have, as usual, fallen on deaf ears. John didn’t like the idea that no matter where we were, if someone asked me for a handout, I always tried to oblige. John insisted that giving money to beggars sends out the wrong signal. He insisted that if you give money to one, then you’ll have to give money to all of them, and there’s no way that you can solve a beggar’s problems with a few coins, let alone deal with the problems of all the beggars who’ll jump on the gravy train. John and I had long since stopped arguing about the matter. We’d worked together for a long time, and we’d agreed to disagree, besides I was his boss, so rather than try to argue with me John just sort of looked out for me and tried to make sure I didn’t get myself into too much trouble. I had assured John that I had enough small change to see us through the morning, but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught from the homeless children of Peru.

It only took about ten minutes before my pockets were empty. When I ran out of coins, I was stunned when John took over where I left off. In the past, John had always managed to stick to his guns, but these kids somehow managed to get to him. It’s difficult for North Americans to understand how small children can be allowed to roam the streets. The poverty is beyond comprehension. I don’t remember much about the city of Lima. I couldn’t tell you anything about the tourist attractions which we visited. But I can still remember the pain and desperation in the eyes of the children we encountered. At lunch, John and I filled our pockets with left over bread and bits of cheese, which we gave to the children who accosted us outside the restaurant. John kept blaming me for starting something that we had no hope of finishing. But despite his insistence that we adopt a tougher stance, it was John who hustled over to the shop across the street and bought several loaves of bread, which he distributed, to a small band of kids who followed us the rest of the afternoon.

As we headed back to our hotel, I think both John and I took some consolation in the knowledge that for at least a few hours, the little band of kids who were following us, had food in their bellies. We were discussing the relative merits of buying these kids dinner, when a boy, who couldn’t have been more than about ten years old, came around the corner and blocked our way. Before John could do anything, the boy grabbed me by the arm. John was about to reach for the boy’s shoulder, but something in the boy’s appearance stunned John into stillness. The oozing sores which covered most of the boy’s face were revolting. It was as though this child was actually rotting before our very eyes. Before John or I could recover from the horror of being in such close proximity to septic human flesh, the boy reached for the silver necklace which hung around my neck. I had tucked the silver cross which hung around my neck inside my shirt so as not to attract attention to it. But as the boy took hold of the chain, the cross was revealed. The boy hesitated for just a moment, and the two of us exchanged a glace which contained such sorrow. And then in a flash, the boy, the chain, and the silver cross were gone. Continue reading

METANOIA the First Words Out of Jesus’ Mouth – Mark 1:14-15

Metanoia is one of my favorite words in all of Scripture. Metanoia is also one of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. In the very first chapter of the first gospel written sometime after the year 70, by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark, the story of Jesus begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordon, followed by a brief allusion to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness.

In all of this, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller’s Jesus remains silent, speaking not a word until the verse 15thverse of the first chapter, where we are told that John has been arrested and Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Listen to the first account of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth, when Jesus’ proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” That’s it.  That’s all there is to it.  Jesus’ first words, according to the first of the four anonymous gospel accounts. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!”

After giving us this first proclamation of Jesus, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller immediately moves the story on by taking Jesus for a walk down by the Sea of Galilee in search of some fishers to whom Jesus speaks his next words, “Follow me!” and you know how the rest of the story goes.

Sadly, very few of us seem to pay much attention to the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia.  Such a beautiful word.  Such a monumental beginning. Metanoia if only we could hear the blessing Jesus offered humanity, with this wondrous commandment, metanoia. Sadly, this magnificent commandment metanoia has been abused over the centuries. Tragically, translators have for far too long, offered us a severely limited translation of metanoia; a translation which fails to capture the richness or the beauty of metanoia.

For far too long, far too many of us have been stuck in our ways, the very ways from which Jesus was trying to set people free. We have been stuck in our ways but the little, limiting, restrictive, incomplete, dare I say, ugly translation of the word metanoia. Repent. Repent, I say. Repent! Repent, look it up.  Worse yet, Google it. Repent, let me quote Google for you, Repent means,  “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” Google even uses it in a sentence: “the priest urged his listeners to repent.” Can it be that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were: “feel or express sincere regret or remorse”? Well, I’m sure that there are all sorts of people who believe that we must repent if we want to follow Jesus. But as for me, I’m not buying it.

Did you ever notice how very often the little English word “repent” is followed by a dire warning designed to inspire fear? Repent or else something terrible is going to happen to you!  The number of times the little word “repent” is used to inspire fear and trembling in the name of Jesus, makes me wonder why so many of Jesus’ would-be followers have forgotten Jesus’ instructions about fear itself. Why is it that so many Christians are so well versed in the Ten Commandments, or the Greatest Commandment but so very few of us are as well versed in the top commandment? By top commandment, I mean the commandment most often cited in our sacred Scriptures. The commandment, “Do not be afraid,” appears 366 times in the Bible. As they say in Ireland, “366 times that’s once for every day of the year and once for no reason at all.”  “Do not be afraid.” In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, we hear first the voice of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” say it again and again, and then Jesus says over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” Continue reading

Sermon: BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound Welling Up Within

My first conscious memory of hearing the BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound, the still small voice of DIVINITY happened on a sojourn into a Thin Place during a summer camping trip when I was just 13. My family had travelled to the west coast of Vancouver Island to what was back then, a mostly unknown treasure. Pachena Bay is by far one of the most beautiful places in all of creation. These days hikers on the Pacific Rim trail often begin or end their hike by camping at Pachena Bay. But way back then; the bay was only accessible by the most treacherous of logging roads. And there was no official campsite back then. You simply asked the members of the First Nation for permission to pitch your tents on their land. As a result of this splendid isolation, we spent several weeks as the only family camped in this idyllic bay.

One of the main attractions at Pachena Bay were the pods of whales that are attracted to the bay. Pachena Bay with its warm Pacific waters, heated even more by virtue of its shallow depths, attracted schools of salmon, ling cod and halibut, who make up a veritable smorgasbord for the pods of whales, that continue to visit the bay to this very day. One quiet afternoon my brother Alan and I were playing on the shore. Our parents were sound asleep when the whales arrived. I’m not sure how many whales entered the bay. Our count was based on the number of spouts that emanated from their blowholes. So, there could have been half a dozen or there could have been only one whale. Anyway, we did what any self-respecting kid would have done in our position. We jumped into the rubber dingy, and we paddled as fast as we could, determined to chase whales. Now, the dingy wasn’t totally inflated on account of the leak that it had sprung the day before. So, it made it difficult for us to work up much speed. But I must tell you, when that first whale jumped up out of the water, and we saw the tell-tale signs of those white patches on its side, we moved faster than you’d think two kids in a slowly deflating rubber dingy ought to be able to manage.

Killer whales. These days they are called orcas. But Alan and I, we knew exactly what they were, and they certainly weren’t beautiful orcas to us. They were big giant killer whales, and we knew that we were their lunch. Suddenly, one of those magnificent monsters rubbed up against the bottom of our dingy. I went headfirst into the ocean, and I sank like a stone. The underwater sight of two killer whales caused me to open my mouth to scream and water rushed into my lungs. I knew I was about to drown. That’s when I heard the small voice. It was a very quiet little voice deep down inside of me, at least I think it was inside of me. The small voice within my very soul said only one word “Swim.”

And swim we did all the way back to shore. When our heartbeats returned to normal, we decided that we’d made a clean escape and we chose not to share the adventure with our sleeping parents. As frightened as I was, I was determined to get close to these magnificent beasts. So, the next morning I rose early, and as the mist was rising over the water I paddled out toward the mouth of the bay and waited. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in the presence of something much larger than myself. As a whale gently brushed the underside of the dingy, a strange calm came over me and I was not afraid.  It was as if my whole being was alive. One of the whales rose out of the water and as she came crashing down, I marveled at the magnificence of this beast. After what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, the whales moved on and I was left to clumsily put words onto the depth of my experiences, in what the ancient Celts would call a Thin Place; a place where the lines between the ordinary and the sacred are thin, and we can see, feel, touch, hear the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. 

There’s a story in the Hebrew Scriptures which resonates with me in light of some of my own experiences in Thin Places, in the presence of MYSTERY. You’ll find it in the first Book of Kings. (1 Kings 19:1-12) It is about a prophet named Elijah, who was struggling to understand the will of the they knew as YHWH, the HEBREW name for the MYSTERY we call God, which can be translated as I AM, WHO AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE or the GREAT I AM. Our HEBREW ancestors, JESUS’ very own kin, understood the MYSTERY which we call GOD, as the verb TO BE, for this MYSTERY IS BEING itself.  Anyway, poor old Elijah suffered in his quest to bring the WORD of YHWH to his people and in the midst of his turmoil, Elijah was lost and fearing for his life.   As the ancient storytellers weave their tail, Elijah was familiar with the voice of YHWH, so much so that he dared to argue with the voice.

One day, Elijah demanded of the voice, “I have been very zealous for YHWH God Omnipotent. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death by the sword. I am the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me, too.” Elohim (that’s an ancient Hebrew word which we translate simply as God or Lord.  The word literally translates as EL – the generic term for a god, put together with the feminine form of the word for “majesty” – so clearly “LORD” is not a correct translation for ELOHIM the God who is described as more than one QUEEN?) But I digress. “ELOHIM,” the GOD who is the feminine plural of MAJESTY, said to Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWEH, for YAHWEH is about to pass by.” Imagine the MYSTERY, which is the I AM, the very essence of BEING is about to pass by. Our Hebrew storyteller paints such a vivid picture of the Thin Place in which Elijah stands. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWEH’s power—but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire—but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice.”

“A still small voice.” Our English translations do not do the HEBREW justice. For after the fire came a BAT KOL. BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND or as some translations put it the DAUGHTER OF A VOICE. ELOHIM the MYSTERY which IS the god known by our ancestors as the GOD who IS the feminine plural of MAJESTY, the ONE Elijah knew as YHWH, the ONE who IS the verb TO BE, the I AM, this ONE comes to Elijah in the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND. Continue reading

DABHAR the ISNESS of DIVINITY the CREATIVE ENERGY of WORD and DEED

Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.

I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.

Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?

That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. 

It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land.  Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.

I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.  

I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years.  I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.

Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.

“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS.  It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS. Continue reading

Jesus the FULLY HUMAN ONE – the Gospel of Mary

While he was dying of cancer, American poet and short story writer Raymond Carver, penned a poem which, although it is but a fragment of a poem, it has the power to move me into the deepest part of my very self. This poem would eventually be titled, “Late Fragment”

“And did you get what

You wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved,

to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

Carver’s fragment, offered as he lay dying, is a tantalizing broken piece which is almost completely whole. Some may doubt the power of fragments to heal us. I don’t. I’m convinced that my life, and I suspect your lives are often made whole by fragments; broken pieces barely recognizable, but when we see them, really see them, they have the power to make us whole.

Today, the last Sunday of the Easter season, I want to give you some powerful fragments. For weeks now we have been celebrating resurrection. Not the physical resuscitation of a corpse kind of resurrection for we know only full well the power of medicine to bring corpses back to life. Alas, resuscitation of a corpse doesn’t necessary lead to resurrection. Even though the resuscitated live again, their life is not always one of resurrection and they too must die.  Our celebration of resurrection is about awakening to life, new life, fuller life, abundant life, life with an eternal quality.

As I look back to the fragments left to us by our ancestors, I long to see the promise of the Risen CHRIST. Among the broken bits of history, I catch a fleeting glimpse of Mary, the one who in the early morning light, through her tears of grief, was able to see the face of CHRIST in a gardener. Mary, this migdal, this first Apostle whose ability to see CHRIST, resurrected her from the grief and torment of death to life as the Apostle to the Apostle, where she stood as a tower, a migdal in Hebrew, a tower, head and shoulders above the rest of the first fledgling followers of Jesus’ way of being in the world. Dubbed Mary Magdalene by the men who would reduce her legacy to that of prostitute and relegate the fragments of her story to the margins, despite the absence of evidence for their convictions. Sifting through the dispersed fragments of her story, a new story rises up. A story slowly and painstakingly being resurrected by those whose hope is found not in CHRIST ascending to the clouds, but in CHRIST rising up from the Earth itself to live and love here and now. In the fragments, of the Gospel which bears her name new life arises as herstory is pieced together.

From the tattered remains of Mary’s reputation, her accusers can be easily dismissed once and for all. Mary a woman described in the canon of the gospels as “a sinner from the city,” who discovers healing in Jesus company, is set free by the fragments of her own gospel, which for too long now has been set aside by those who would rather bury her witness. Although the author of the gospel attributed to Mary is unknown, this gospel story resurrects the Migdal restoring her relationship as the Tower who stood at Jesus’ right hand, remained faithful to her beloved Jesus while others abandoned him, followed Jesus beyond the cross to the tomb and was able to see that not even the forces of Empire could destroy the CHRIST which she saw, which she experienced in Jesus.

Mary the Migdal, who from the moment she was able to see the face of CHRIST in a gardener, went forth to proclaim the power of resurrection. Mary proclaimed, “I have seen the CHRIST” and sifting through the fragments of herstory, we too can see the CHRIST, in words her followers attributed to Mary, words which continue to offer hope, “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be troubled.  For CHRIST’s grace will be with you all and will shelter you.  Rather we should praise CHRIST’s greatness, for CHRIST has joined us together and made us fully human.”

Mary saw the risen CHRIST in the face of a gardener.  Mary understood Jesus’ practice of referring to himself as the “Fully Human ONE”. The title “Fully Human ONE” comes from the Greek – gios tou anthrópou – which translators have been rendering as the “Son of Man”. Son of Man is not, I repeat, not an adequate translation of this important phrase which according to the gospels that did make the biblical canon, Jesus used to describe himself 81 times:  gios tou anthropou  Anthroupou or Anthropos – we get our English word anthropology from the same root. It does not mean man! It means human.  There is a perfectly good Greek word that is used in the New Testament for man – that word is “aner”. The anonymous writers of the gospels deliberately did not translate Jesus’ Aramaic sayings into Greek using the word for “man”. Instead, some 81 times they chose instead, the Greek word for human which includes both males and females. We can only guess why the English translators failed to be so inclusive. Some of us have paid the price for their failure.  All of us have missed the incredible, radical meaning of Jesus’ declaration that he is the HUMAN ONE.  The Gospel of Mary spells out this tragedy in detail. The Gospel of Mary points us toward Jesus’ vision for a new way of being human. The contemplative scholar Cynthia Bourgeault translates gios tou anthropou so beautifully into English as, “Fully Human”. In the Gospel of Mary, we encounter Jesus as the FULLY HUMAN ONE whose embodiment of the CHRIST provides a vision of the transformation or the evolution of women and men into a new way of being human which transcends gender, a way of being in which we become FULLY HUMAN. As FULLY HUMAN as we can begin to recognize as Jesus did, our ONENESS with the DIVINE; as when Jesus says, “I and ABBA are ONE.”

This ONENESS with the DIVINE ought to open us to the reality that because we live and move and have our being in the DIVINE, the DIVINE is everywhere, for every THING is in the DIVINE. Embracing our FULL HUMANIY, we embrace the CHRIST which lives in, with, through, and beyond us. In the Gospel of Mary, we can begin to see a vision of what it means to follow Jesus into a new Way of Being in which we recognize Jesus as the CHRIST, but more importantly we begin to recognize CHRIST in one another. Perhaps when we begin to share Mary’s faith that the risen CHRIST  can be seen, we will begin to see the face of CHRIST in those around us; in faces of the strangers we meet on the road, in the face of the homeless man as we sit and share a meal with him, in the face of a child we reach out to lift up out of poverty, in faces the women upon whose shoulders we stand, in the faces of our opponents as together we struggle for understanding, in the faces of our enemies as we begin to work for peace, in the faces of our tormentors as we strive for justice, in the faces of the sick as we seek healing, and in the faces of the poor as we offer aid, compassion, and justice. When we can look into the faces of those we meet and see the face of Christ, then perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of Mary the Migdal, the TOWER, and all the world will know by our LOVE, that we too follow CHRIST.  St. Mary the Migdal, the Tower, the first Apostle, the Apostle to the Apostles, the ONE to whom the RISEN CHRIST entrusts the good news. May the power of Mary’s witness inspire us to live into our FULL HUMANITY so that we can begin to see the CHRIST in every thing and every ONE. From the fragments arise a way of being in the world, which seeks not an escape from life in the world, nor a passport into the next life, but an embrace of our FULL HUMANITY.

“And did you get what

You wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

In the fragments of herstory, let us find a Way to see CHRIST who is the embodiment of the LOVE which is DIVINITY in the face of every ONE and every THING so that ONE with CHRIST we, you and I might be LOVE the world. Feel yourself as beloved, here and now on the Earth, loved by the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HESELF. Amen.

VIEW THE FULL WORSHIP SERVICE BELOW

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

As the Pandemic Rages, REFUSE to be COMFORTED!

This week from the safety of my privileged isolation, I became inconsolable, as the world’s sorrows penetrated the safety of my lockdown. I was drawn into our world’s sorrow by the news from India. In my comfortable living-room, I watched the death of a mother in a crowded, ill-equipped hospital. As this mother slipped away, one of her sons begged for medical care for his mother, while two of her sons desperately administered CPR. When the doctor finally arrived, she took the mother’s pulse and in seconds the sons were wailing in grief as the doctor confirmed that it was too late. The son who had begged for help, began wailing, shouting, screaming, and rocking back and forth, inconsolable, in his grief. Holding my breath in a hopeless attempt to hold back my tears, I felt myself rocking back and forth with this grieving son, and words of scripture rang in my ears. Over and over again I heard: “…Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more…”

On this Mothers’ Day, Rachel’s tears are magnified by the tears of millions. Millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, grandparents and children are weeping and like Rachel they refuse to be comforted. As the third wave of this pandemic ravages our planet, there is lamentation and bitter weeping and like the biblical Rachel, there is power in the sorrow of those who grieve. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Rachel refuses to be comforted.

The prophet Jeremiah alludes to this matriarch of Israel, the mother of Joseph, weeping over an event which happened generations after Rachel’s death on the road to Bethlehem. Rachel’s tears are for the descendants of her children’s, children’s, children who have been carried off into captivity by the forces of empire. In the Christian Testament, the anonymous gospel storyteller we know as Matthew, summons up Rachel’s tears as his response to the Slaughter of the Innocents by the forces of yet another empire.

Confronted by the horror of unspeakable tragedy our tears flow, we weep, we wail, we rock back and forth, and we refuse to be comforted, for there is power in our sorrow; a power all too often muted by the comforts heaped upon us by the powers of yet another kind of empire; a financial empire the likes of which the world has never seen before.

I know full well the need we all share right now, not to let the overwhelming suffering of millions consume us in a flood of tears. If we dwell upon just a few of the millions upon millions of tragedies happening all over the world, we run the risk of drowning in our own tears. There’s a good reason for our individual psyches to be working so overtime to distract us from sorrow. It is no wonder that our collective hearts and minds distract our very selves from the pain and the suffering. Occasionally, a tear or two escape when the suffering comes too close to home, and compassion gets the better of us. But as the song says: “tears are not enough.” Ever so quickly, our privileged lives grant us the comforts of home which sooth and sap the power of sorrow to move us beyond the safety of our splendid isolation. What few tears flow, are quickly dried, our fears are quelled, our compassion is muted, and we return to our new normal of coping with, while complaining about the inconvenience of lockdowns. Perhaps a prayer wells up in us; a remnant of a long-rejected belief in the grand-puppeteer-sky-god; a just in case kind of prayer, there’s no harm in trying, kind of prayer, even as our minds scream, “Hopes and prayers are not enough to face the magnitude of sorrows!” But if the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God is not pulling the strings, how then do we face the suffering?  What comfort is there in a MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also? If we let the tears flow, what power will save us from drowning in a sea of despair?

I remember the breathlessness of the weeping man wailing in sorrow for his mother who could not breathe and now I too must catch my own breath, as the image of the almighty-puppeteer-sky-god’s void functions like a vacuum within me. I am not sure I have the courage to refuse to be comforted. Give me that old time religion, so that I can find comfort and breathe freely again. As the wailing son’s tears threaten to overwhelm me, I find myself gasping, gulping huge breathes, breathing as deeply as I can as if my own intake of life-giving air can support his desperate need for comfort. Form long ago, another voice calls to me from the wonderings, pain, and fears of our ancestors; an unfamiliar voice, a voice muted by the seekers of comforts. Her voice is not the voice of comfort. Hers is the voice of DIVINE MYSTERY, known to our ancestors as SHOPIA, named for WISDOM, her story is recorded in the WISDOM Books of the Hebrew Scriptures as she cries out for wisdom. In the midst of our world’s suffering, I hear a thin echo of her words:

“Doesn’t SOPHIA call? Doesn’t UNDERSTANDING raise her voice? On the hills along the road, at the crossroads, she takes her stand; beside the city gates of the town, in the gates themselves, SOPHIA cries out, “Women and men, people of everywhere, I’m calling out to you! I cry to humankind! You who are simple, learn to make sound judgments! To the foolish among you, use your common sense! Listen closely, for what I say is worth hearing, and I will tell you what is right; for my mouth will speak the truth, and my lips hate to lie. Everything I say is right; none of it is twisted or crooked. All of it is plain-spoken to those who understand, clear to those seeking knowledge. Accept my lessons in place of silver, and knowledge in place of gold; for SOPHIA/ WISDOM outsparkles jewelry; anything you desire cannot compare to her.”  (Proverbs 8:1-11)

Those are the words of SOPHIA, the feminine voice of God in the Book of Proverbs. These words, crafted as a hymn to WISDOM by our ancestors in the midst of their own crisis, call to me like a voice, the voice of the MYSTERY who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us. Perhaps you can hear it too; the voice of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, calling from deep within, speaking not words of comfort, but demanding wisdom. The suffering millions, their tears flow in rivers which cannot be stemmed by our desires for comfort. Only WISDOM discerned in, with, and through the LOVE, which is DIVINTIY dwelling in, with, through, and beyond us can move our suffering world beyond the placating comforts of wealth and privilege toward the kind of healing which restores wholeness.

In the midst of all our suffering, let us offer our strength to the quest for wisdom. Let us refuse to be comforted at the expense of our neighbours. Let us wail when leaders refuse to waive patens for vaccines. Let us refuse to talk of budgets, deficits, and the need to store up our treasures. Let us scream at the horror of national, regional, tribal or self-obsessed interests being put before the interests of our neighbours. Let us mask-up and stand up in the face of ignorance. Let us cheer on the difficult choices of those who have carefully, generously, bravely, sought the wisdom of science together with compassion. Let us shout on behalf of those whose voices have been drowned by their tears. Let us listen to the cries of the grieving. Let us open ourselves to the power of our sorrow and refuse to be comforted until the tears of the suffering millions are dried with the compassion of the MYSTERY of the ONE which IS the LOVE, living, working and LOVing in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the sick, comfort the dying, and feed the poor, so that justice and not tears can begin to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Let it be so. Let it be so among us. Let it be so.

VIEW the full WORSHIP VIDEO below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Stretching Metaphors Beyond their Ability to Carry Us – a sermon for Easter 5B – John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

Tomorrow at Holy Cross, we will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. For those of you looking for a sermon following the Revised Common Lectionary, this sermon from 2018, explores those readings.

to listen to the audio only click here

There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God.  Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.

Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the DIVINE.

The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”. Continue reading

Reflections on Psalm 23: Words Revealing MYSTERY

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I am delighted to be joined by the members of Holy Cross’ Worship Team as we reflect together upon our experiences with the 23rd Psalm. We begin with a familiar translation of the Psalm. Our own reflections are punctuated by Rabbi Jamie Arnold’s translation from the original Hebrew.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

For most of my life, the words of the 23rd Psalm, as they were translated and interpreted by the authors of the King James Version of the Bible, have been with me, here and here. When I was just ten years old, we moved to Newmarket and lived here less than a year. It was a lonely year.

My brother and I were what we called back then, latch-key kids, which meant that we pretty much took care of ourselves while Mum and Dad had to work. I vaguely remember a brief friendship with a girl who lived down the street, who had the audacity to invite me to join her for a week of Vacation Bible School. Never having attended church, I had no idea what to Vacation Bible School was. Nevertheless, my parents’ discouragement about church, was all the encouragement I needed to want to attend. There was something exciting about the independence of striking out on my own, without parental encouragement, to explore the goings on at this place my parents avoided; indeed disparaged. I remember very little about that week except for the ongoing lessons of a gifted teacher who taught us the 23rd Psalm. I say taught us, but it would be more accurate to say, that he imprinted the 23rd psalm on our memory-banks, where it remains to this very day. I remember a sense of confusion about the meaning of these strange words. I remember feeling their weight, their importance, as if they were to be treasured and remembered because of their power. Power which my ten-year-old mind equated to the only other thing I had ever memorized, my twelve-times-table. If I could only capture those words, the way I’d captured the twelve-times-table, the power of numbers stored in my memory, would pale in comparison to the power of these magic words. I remember the teacher carefully explaining that these words together are poetry and that it is important to memorize poetry because poems are alive; they are sacred living words.  At the time I had no idea what the word “sacred” means, but like the strange and mysterious words of the poetry of the psalm, the word “sacred” sounded mysterious and so filled with wonder.  So, I stored the word “sacred” away as a precious gift. Over the years the sacred gift of Psalm 23, graciously given by wise teacher, has over and over again, filled me with wonder and opened me to the power of MYSTERY.

The King James Version of the 23rd Psalm, lends itself well to the mysterious power of poetry. Recently, I discovered another version of the 23rd Psalm translated from its ancient Hebrew origins by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Rabbi Arnold’s translation adheres to the original Hebrew and like the King James Version captures the mysterious power of poetry to reveal the SACRED. Earlier, I invited the members of our Worship Team to briefly reflect upon their most vivid SACRED encounters with the poetry of the 23rd Psalm. What follows is a reading of Rabbi Arnold’s translation wrapped around some of our Worship Team’s reflections. Rabbi Arnold’s translation of the 23rd Psalm, which he calls:

Six Verses of Refuge (Equanimity) begins, “A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the Guide by-my-side, I want for nothing… Continue reading

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

Reposting this by request for all those celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday and looking for an approach to the metaphor of shepherd born out of a Jewish translation of Psalm 23. This sermon was preached last year during the early weeks of lockdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The past tense: WAS, WERE

The past participle: BEEN,

And the present participle: BEING.

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

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

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

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

JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.

ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

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

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Still Longing for Resurrection! – John 20:26-31

One year ago, our worship the Second Sunday of Easter was online because we were locked down. Today, is the first day of a stay at home order and this sermon about Jesus’ followers being locked in in fear in an upper room, seems appropriate. We are blessed that this current lockdown contains the hope of vaccines.  Stay safe. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESURRECTION – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

This video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating. For this reason, our Easter worship services forgo the prescribed readings, including the anti-semitic ones,  to make room  to include a reading from 1 Corinthians 15. 

RESURRECTION: Can This Be Real?

The word resurrection is not a word which gives up its meaning easily. Far too many preachers and theologians have tried to use words to express the meaning of resurrection. But mere words, are incapable of rendering meaning from the word resurrection. The best way I know of wrestling meaning from a word like resurrection is through a story. I know I have told this story before. But as my Irish Nannie would say, “Sure if a story is worth tellin once, then it’s worth telling again.” This story of resurrection dates all the way back to my first year as a pastor, when I naively believed that the right words could save me.

It wasn’t my first visit to Anna’s home, but it was my first visit to the home of someone who had just died. In the driveway, I crossed paths with the doctor who had signed Anna’s death certificate. We recognized one another from the few times which our visits to the house had overlapped. I stared with envy at the doctor’s medical bag, “at least she has some real pain medication in there.” All I had in my bag was a bible and my tiny, little travel communion kit. Just some cheap wine and a few stale wafers. I envied the doctor with her knowledge, her pills, her medicine and her skills. The doctor sighed, “Oh thank-God you’re here! They’re a real mess in there.”

As I stood there, wondering how to respond, I remember wishing the doctor had something in her bag of tricks which could give me the courage to enter the house. I felt like a fool. What was I supposed to do? I felt as useless as I did upon my first visit with Anna. A parishioner had called me just a few months earlier, “Could I go and visit a friend of hers who was dying? Cancer.” she said, “It won’t be long now. She’s being cared for at home; she wants to die at home. She used to go to church and now as the end draws near, she wants to reconnect. Would I please go to see her?” I knew I was out of my depth from the moment I hung up the phone. I thought this is it. This is the real stuff of being a pastor.  This is where they discover that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. Leading worship, preaching, and teaching is one thing, this, this is something entirely different. But my parishioner was insistent, as she described her friend Anna. “Pastor, you’ll never guess, Anna was once a Lutheran.

Yes, she went to Sunday School, Confirmation, and had her kids baptized, and even taught Sunday School. But since they moved to Newmarket, they had fallen out of the habit of going to church.  Anyway Pastor, she really needs to get close to God right now, so I told her you would come. You will go and see her won’t you, I know she’s not a member, but she really needs to get things in order before she goes.”

Standing there in the driveway feeling like a fool, I said good-bye to the doctor and tried to get myself to go inside the house. The black van in the driveway signaled the presence of the funeral home; there to collect the body. Her husband welcomed me at the door, fell into my arms and said only, “It is almost finished; they’ll be gone soon.” He motioned to the stairs and I got the impression that he wanted me to go up. I expected him to follow me. I was wrong. I entered the familiar room. Anna was still lying there. She looked much the same as she had when I’d seen her the day before. I’d like to say she looked at peace, but she didn’t. Her face was frozen in the same tortured expression, I’d seen the day before. The gentlemen from the funeral home stopped what they were doing and quietly stepped out of the room. I guess they thought I needed some privacy, and I was grateful for the moment to think. You see, I love words and I was convinced that words would save me. I’m a preacher and a teacher and words are my friends. Words help me to figure things out. Words help me to make meaning out of events. Words give me the stories which give shape to the meaning which I try to make out of the stuff that happens. But standing there in that room, words failed me. There was only silence. 

After the silence became unbearable, I shot up a prayer to the faraway god, up there in the sky, “You got me into this! Tell me what to do. Tell me how to help. Where are you when I need you?” I went out into the hall were wordlessly the gentlemen from the funeral home were about their business and in just a few moments the body was gone. I was sitting in the living room listening to her husband recount the details of Anna’s final moments, when their daughter burst through the front door. After many, many tears were shed it was decided that I should accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home the next morning so that she could see her mother. Anna’s husband insisted that the body they had taken away was not Anna; Anna had left sometime during the night. Anna’s daughter wanted to kiss her mother good-bye. She was angry that they had not waited for her arrival before taking her mother from her. Before I left, I reached into the bag of tricks which lurk somewhere in the back of my mind and I remembered the words of a wise seminary professor, who taught us that storytelling helped us to make sense out of life, and while there is nothing that can make sense out of death, a few good stories can make the pain bearable. Stories, my professor would say, are a good a way, as she had ever found of beginning the healing process. So, before I left, I made arrangements to accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home, and I encouraged Anna’s husband to invite members of the family to come by for tea, or a meal, or even a few drinks, just a small get together where they could tell me stories about Anna, and we could begin to plan her funeral.

The next afternoon, I accompanied Anna’s daughter to the funeral home. They had done a splendid job of preparing her body. She looked tortured, somehow. Anna’s daughter reached for my hand, squeezed tightly and leaned into me. Her whole body began to tremble as she wailed and sobbed. Over and over again I heard, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”  And I am ashamed to say that I was grateful that it was Anna’s daughter and not me that was echoing these words, over and over again. I had no words, no idea what to do, what to say, how to help. It took some time, but her sobbing began to subside and was replaced by something more daunting as even more questions began to leap out of her. “What will I do without you?” “Where are you Mom?” “How can I go on without you?”  “Why, why did you have to leave me?” For once I was glad, I had no words. No words only silence with which to reply.  Question after question met only with silence until suddenly, Anna’s daughter announced, “That’s not my mother. My mother is not here.” We left together in silence.

When we arrived back at Anna’s home, we heard laughter coming from the living room. Eight, nine, maybe ten people, some of them I’d met on previous visits, all laughing and telling stories, stories about Anna. It wasn’t long before her daughter joined them.  A glass of wine was thrust into my hands; there was bread and cheese on the coffee table, and casseroles in the oven. Apparently, the neighbours didn’t need words, just practical care filled loving actions. As we shared a meal, we remembered Anna. When the meal was over, Anna’s husband said, “I wish Anna was here, she would have loved this!” One of the guests disagreed, she insisted that Anna would have been mortified to be the center of attention, which sent the whole group of us into gales of laughter, at the thought of Anna being mortified on the day of her death. Gallows humour. Before I left, I had collected enough words and stories to do Anna proud at her funeral.

As I said my good-byes Anna’s husband asked me if I had a favorite flower. It had been a long, hard winter, and I told him that at this time of the year, I was longing for spring to finally arrive. So right about now, tulips are my favourite flowers. “Perfect” he said, “Tulips it is.” Then came more stories about how much Anna hated the flowers that professional florists concoct for funerals. Everyone it seems had a story about Anna going on and on, at some funeral or other, about how horrible these contrived funeral bouquets looked. Natural, hand-picked flowers lovingly arranged by friends and family, that’s what was called for. Anna’s husband insisted that, “as the pastor is longing to see some sign of spring, tulips it is!” So, everyone was instructed to bring tulips.

At Anna’s funeral, there were tulips everywhere; more tulips that you can imagine. It was beautiful. Tulips lovingly arranged by those who loved her. The tulips and the stories got us all through the funeral of a woman who died much too young. The tulips and the stories helped us to begin the task of making meaning out of the death of a loved one. The tulips and the stories did not take the pain away, nor did they explain the pain away, and they certainly didn’t change the fact that Anna was dead, or that her family would have to go on without her. The tulips and the stories did help us to begin to make meaning out of her death. Together we wept among the tulips and we wept in the midst of the stories and together we began to find words and to make meaning out of death.

“Woman. Why are you weeping?” “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I do not know where they have put the body.”  “What am I going to do? What will I do without you? Where are you Mom? How can I go on without you? Why, why did you have to leave me?” “Woman. Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?”  She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

If only, all those we have lost and will lose could appear to us and comfort us in our grief. The followers of Jesus were bereft. Their beloved Jesus had been taken from them, tortured, and executed by their enemies. They had placed all their hopes and dreams in Jesus. Jesus had taught them a whole new way of being in the world. Jesus had lived in such a way, taught so challengingly, loved so fully, that in Jesus they had seen an image of God which turned their whole lives upside down. Jesus’ way of seeking peace, not through violence but through justice, opened them to new possibilities. They had dared to dream. They had hope in the face of oppression. They had been willing to follow Jesus into battle. But when Jesus had insisted on living what he preached, most of them had fled in fear, and the horrible truth of their abandoning him, the reality of their failure was more than they could bear. It is almost impossible for us to imagine because we’ve read it in the bible, which reads much like those professional bouquets of flowers at funerals, designed to provide answers to the unanswerable, all tied up with neat little bows. Generations of arrangers have taken the stories which have been told, as followers and lovers of Jesus struggled to make some sense out of his death. Generations of interpretations upon interpretations of those stories make it seem as though everything happened just thus and so, neat and tidy. Resurrection happened just like that, in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus died. He was not there. They didn’t know what they were going to do. They wept. They trembled.  They were consumed by grief. Huddled together in an upper room, terrified that they too would soon be killed. Suddenly, after only three days Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia! Resurrection all tied up in a neat little bow. The perfect bouquet. Smell the flowers and all will be well. I wonder.

I wonder. People do wonder you know. That’s how people are. They wonder. Questions. Questions. Questions. What’s going on? What are we going to do? Words. Words. Words.  Anna’s grieving loved ones wove their stories of Anna in and out of the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die, will live.”  Words familiar words, designed to help us to make meaning. For the followers of Jesus, there were also words, familiar words designed to help them make meaning. In Jesus, his grievers, had experienced God as LOVE. Surely, God would not stand idly by and allow their enemies to take Jesus from them. Surely, LOVE itself could not be destroyed by the powers of evil. Surely, their God, the ONE in whom they live and move and have being,

surely God who Jesus had taught them is LOVE, surely LOVE would not abandon them. Surely LOVE would live on. Questions, questions that have no answers. Questions for which words always fail us. Questions we just can’t help answering with words. Words which are designed to comfort and to satisfy. Words that when all is said and done, fail and leave us with more questions. So, if God is LOVE and we experienced that LOVE in Jesus then, where is Jesus? Will we ever see Jesus again? Will we ever see LOVE again? Will the LOVE that lives in us die? “Woman: Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?” “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

We can’t help ourselves when love dies, we keep hearing and seeing that love all around us. It is as if our beloved is right here, in the midst of us. We hear them call our name. They mean so much to us. In the presence of our beloved, we were transformed into the best of ourselves. To hear them call our name…ah…the sheer beauty of their presence. Perhaps they can tell us. Perhaps they know the answers.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to him and said, “Rabboni! –which means “Teacher.”  Jesus then said, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God.”

Are they here?  Are they real? Am I imagining Jesus? What is happening? I don’t understand. The followers of Jesus could still feel the impact of his being on their lives. When he spoke, Jesus’ words challenged everything they knew or believed they knew. When Jesus acted, his actions turned their world upside down. When Jesus loved them, they knew the power of LOVE. When they saw Jesus’ love others, even their enemies, they saw a power in Jesus which was so much more than they could put into words. It was as if Jesus embodied the very LOVE which lies at the heart of everything. When Jesus spoke, scales fell from their eyes and they saw things which they’d never seen before. And now, now that he was gone, they could still hear him, they could still feel him. And in seeing him and feeling him, all their hopes and all their dreams of a better way of being in the world still seemed possible.

What was happening? Could this be real? It certainly wasn’t neat and tidy. Not with the Romans threatening to annihilate them and the religious authorities demanding that they just shut up and stop causing trouble. But they keep hearing his voice and feeling his presence, and the words, Jesus’ words, continued to challenge everything. Jesus’ presence continued to turn their world upside down. What was happening? Could this be real?

Even Jesus’ enemies were touched by his presence. Even Jesus’ enemies were being challenged by his words. Words designed to help us make meaning. Words which when all is said and done fail us. So, we turn to more words, other words and craft our stories so as to comfort us. And still the words of Jesus challenge us. And still the presence of Jesus continues to turn our world upside down. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of Jesus, can this be real? Our questions echo the questions of the first followers and lovers of Jesus. Our stories build upon their stories, which were built upon the stories of the ones who had gone before them. None of these stories are neat and tidy. None of these stories can tie everything up in a pretty bow so that we can present the perfect bouquet which will heal all our pain and answer all our questions. They are just handpicked, slightly askew, bouquets which contain such beauty that we cannot take our eyes of them. They do not answer all our questions, but the really beautiful ones, the ones like tulips after a long, cold, winter, they can capture our imagination and give us the courage to ask our questions and struggle to make meaning of those things which are beyond words. Things like life and death, and resurrection.

About five years after Anna died, I ran into her daughter in the grocery store. I mean it, I actually ran into her. Our shopping carts collided. We laughed when we realized that each of us had a couple of bunches of tulips in our carts. “Somewhere Mom is smiling,” Anna’s daughter insisted. I agreed and added that it had been a long, cold, difficult winter and the tulips looked so beautiful I just had to take some home. Anna’s daughter nodded and agreed that winter is brutal. She was really looking forward to spring and the tulips would certainly give her hope. Suddenly, the toddler in Anna’s daughter’s cart shouted, “Who’s that?” Her mother said, “This is Pastor Dawn, she is a friend of your Grandma Anna.” “And who are you,” I asked the beautiful little girl. “I’m Anna! I’m free.” Whether it was free or three it was all the same. This beautiful little girl shared her grandmother’s eyes as well as her name. In her eyes I saw the reflection of Anna’s story, her stories, and her love. After we said our goodbyes, I went back to get more tulips. In Anna’s absence, I felt her presence. Anna lives. Anna lives in little Anna, and her daughter and in me, and now she lives in you.

Friends, this has been a long and difficult year. Isolated and fearful, we have felt one another’s absence. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of LOVE. Can this be real? Are these tulips real? You bet they are. As real as the challenges we experience in the stories we tell. As real as the LOVE we feel in even in the absence of one another. As real as the LOVE which lives and breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us. In Jesus absence, his grievers felt LOVE’s presence. LOVE lives. LOVE lives in you and in me.  LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia! Alleluia!

View the Full Easter Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Jesus Is Fully Human: Good Friday Sermon – Mark 15:32-47

I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, together with all the horrendous moments which have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus’ plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Now, maybe that’s because most of the Hollywood films depicting the crucifixion that I have ever seen show Jesus looking up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God, who’s somewhere up there in these movies.

Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries, as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died. Questions about Jesus’ death have left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries. Why did Jesus have to die? Now, I’m sure that in pulpits all over the internet, preachers are struggling to help our listeners and our viewers cope with the realities of the violence which murdered the ONE we seek to follow. I can tell you that I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers which have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can almost recite chapter and verse of the various theories which have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I could tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the doctrines of the fall and original sin and our need for reconciliation. I could recount various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then they proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. 

The atonement theory which we are all probably too familiar with, is western Christianity’s favourite: the penal substitutionary sacrificial atonement theory. How’s that for a moniker? Popularly expressed as: “Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin.” Or “Jesus died for me. ” Or “Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sinfulness.” The theory of the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus lies at the very heart of so much of what you and I have been taught about Jesus. It also lies at the heart of so many of the reasons which people give for rejecting Christianity. And why wouldn’t they? I mean really, who wants to worship a God who sets his, and I do mean his, sets up his creatures up in a beautiful garden and warns them, “you can eat anything you like; only don’t eat this fruit over here, no this is the fruit of knowledge and you mustn’t eat this.”  We all know if you put a child in a room full of toys exactly where that child is going to go. So, Adam eats the forbidden fruit because everyone knows it is the sweetest of all fruit and for the crime of being human, Adam and his lovely wife Eve are cast out from the garden because God is ticked. According to the Apostle Paul, because Adam sinned, we are all tarred with the same brush. We are sinners and the only way we can get back to the garden is

if somebody pays the price for our sin with blood. So, Paul sets Jesus up as the new Adam, and casts the story of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. Paul’s Jewish listeners understood sacrifice. Jewish audiences understood the death in terms of the Passover sacrifice of a lamb, while gentle Romans, schooled in Greek thought, understood the sacrifice of scapegoats who were offered up on behalf of the people to placate the gods. It worked for Paul and later, Augustine would add his ideas and the notion of original sin. The fall, and our need of a sacrifice would lead Anslem to weigh in with his scales of justice and have Jesus tip the scales in our favour by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin. It was the kind of logic which worked for centuries to keep the followers of Jesus in line, convicted by their sinfulness and looking to Jesus to save them from the wrath of God by climbing up there on the cross to die in order to placate an angry God. Sure, Luther came along and challenged the angry God stuff, which the church was using to keep the people in line. Luther’s theology of grace is indeed a thing of beauty. It softens God. For we are indeed wicked sinners in need of forgiveness and so God who is gracious and merciful becomes one of us; takes on flesh in the form of Jesus and dies to set us free from our sin.

We could spend the rest of the day exploring the answers which have been developed over centuries to explain why Jesus died on the cross. But I dare say, no matter how many hours we spend tracing the details of these answers, some questions will remain. We all know what happens when the answers don’t quite answer our questions; that’s where faith comes in.  If it doesn’t make sense, if you don’t quite get it, don’t worry just have faith and believe.

Maybe that’s why Jesus’ question from the cross continues to echo so loudly in me, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Maybe if I just had enough faith, I wouldn’t hear Jesus’ question quite as loudly as it rings in my ears, in my heart and in my mind. My God, My God why have you forsake Jesus? I mean really what kind of god, gets ticked off at children for doing precisely what children do? What kind of god allows their wrath to so overwhelm them that the only way they can be satisfied is if somebody pays the price!!! What kind of god sends their own child to pay that price?

I know, I know, there are those who will try to remind me that maybe just maybe Jesus was God and that Jesus dying on the cross was actually God dying on the cross. They will try to convince me to see that God is so gracious that God, God’s-self is willing to die for us. But why? Why does anyone have to die, let alone God? What is this god trying to convince us of? Does God think that some divine suicide is going to convince the world to join hands and sing kumbya? Well, it’s 21 centuries and counting and I don’t think it’s working.

So, the question remains, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I don’t have an answer to this question. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pat you on your sweet little heads and tell you, “There, there dear ones. Just have faith and God will take care of you. All shall be well.” I can only respond to Jesus’ cry, by making it my own question. My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can’t we end these endless cycles of violence? Why do we keep crucifying you? Over and over again? When I have the courage to allow the echoes of Jesus’ cry permeate my very being it hurts and there is pain, and loneliness, confusion and a distinct feeling of fear. What if we really are abandoned? What if we are all just left here to squirm on our various crosses; wounded by our encounters with the world? My God, My God, Why?

When echoes of Jesus’ plea become our own; when we take up our cross and make that horrible journey to Golgotha and feel the pain as we are wounded by the world and hoisted up upon the cross from which we can see the violence, the poverty, the disease and the madness which surrounds us; when we too cry out, “My God, My God, why?” then and only then can we begin to look beyond the religious platitudes which have protected us from the realities of our humanity. It’s taken some 14 billion years for us to arrive at this moment and it is an amazing moment. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but humanity was not created in an instant. Humanity has been evolving for millions and millions of years. There are no perfect creatures back in there in the past who fell from some perfect garden. We are evolving and part of the reality of our evolution is that it is a messy undertaking. We have evolved into creatures who are capable of such great goodness and creatures who have the capacity to do great evil. Our evolution has involved some of the most horrific evils. All around us we can see the evidence of the destructive power of our human nature. All around us we can see the evidence of the magnificent power of our nature to do good. We have gazed into the farthest reaches of the universe and we have plumbed the depths of depravity. We know that God is not up there in the sky like some grand puppeteer controlling our strings. We have learned so very much about the man Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and died in such a way that humanity has been, and continues to be changed by his teaching, his life, his death and his ability to live on. In this the great information age we are no longer held captive by the powers that be. We can dig and dig, learn and study, question and theorize for ourselves. We are free to explore the wonders of Creation,

free to examine the life and teachings of Jesus, of Moses, Mohamed, Buddha, and Confucius and so many other great humans. The sacred scriptures are open to us and we can read for ourselves the Gitas, the Upanishads, the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Quran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, together with the wisdom of the ages. We are not confined by the logic of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to articulate his own struggles with Jesus’ question. Nor are we bound by the legalisms of Anslem, who balanced Jesus’ questions with the sensibilities of his generation. Even though some of us bear his name, we are not Luther, oppressed by the powers of the church struggling to comfort the afflicted by convincing them of God’s grace by offering God up as a sacrifice. And we are certainly not like so many people today willing to check our brains at the door in order to protect our fragile faith. We have been up and the sky and know that God is not sitting up there on a throne.

So, let us feel the echoes of Jesus’ question resonate in the core of who we are. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Let Jesus’ question move us to a deeper questioning of our own. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn/t until I set myself free from the idols which have been made of God that I began to let Jesus’ question resonate in me. When we allow ourselves to question, then we can begin to know Jesus. Not the theological construct of Jesus, but Jesus the Jewish man who preached the urgent need to establish the kin-dom of God on Earth; the need for Justice for all people; Jesus, the inspiring and courageous man, in whom those he met could see the depth of the DIVINE PRESENCE in human form. Jesus did not believe that he had to die in order to win God’s forgiveness. We only have to read his parables about God’s mercy to know that he did not believe in a vengeful God, or a God who dispensed justice measured against our sin. Jesus would not have told people to walk in relationship of utter trust with God, if Jesus believed that God was withholding forgiveness from people because of Adam’s sin.

Jesus died a shameful death on a cross because that was where his life, his teaching and his preaching took him. It’s where his passion for justice took him. He accepted the consequences of what he stood for. He did not see himself as a grandiose, other-worldly god-figure striding the heavens and the Earth setting everything right between God and a sinful humanity. Jesus was a courageous Jewish man who gave the best possible human expression he could to the gracious, life-giving, compassionate, DIVINE PRESENCE alive within him.

We are told in the gospels that Jesus taught with authority. We can presume that this was not the sort of authority the temple priests and the legal experts from Jerusalem exercised, but the authority of someone who lived what he preached. Jesus was a man who knew the pains and the struggles of the human condition. Jesus demonstrated in his own pain and struggle that it was possible to hold onto belief in the utter goodness and graciousness of God, and to trust the presence of God, whatever the darkness. Jesus lived in integrity to the fullest extent possible. Jesus did what many others have done and continue to do: he stood up for what he believed and accepted the consequences. Jesus final journey to Jerusalem was precisely that. Jesus knew that in the face of such a corrupt, violent regime, he was about to take a stand for justice which would set him at odds with evil and he was willing to take that stand. Jesus was willing to die for what he had lived his life to exemplify. The human condition and human systems of control and governance led Jesus to his death, not a God ruling from the heavens.

Life took Jesus and tested him. Jesus’ struggle to be fully human in the face of all that life dished out can be heard in Jesus’ plea from the cross, when we remember the very nature of the God whom Jesus proclaimed. The Abba to whom Jesus’ teachings point is not some far off distant God up there, or out there; but in here, in you and in me. Jesus declared, “I and Abba are one.”  “If you have seen me, you have seen Abba.” Jesus embodied God and pointed to God who dwells, in, with and through us. Jesus believed and taught that the DIVINE PRESENCE is in all people. Jesus’ insight about the here and now reality of God’s PRESENCE in people is missed when we contemplate Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin.

When we look at Jesus’ human integrity, his courage, and his faithfulness, we can begin to see the SPIRIT of DIVINITY in this human being. When we honour the reality that Jesus was human like us, we can begin to understand that the very same SPIRIT of DIVINITY is active in our lives when we struggle for justice, when we struggle to be good, to be courageous, to take a stand, to bear suffering and disappointments, to be faithful to what we know to be true, to be just, to be loving. Jesus’ way of dying reveals the extraordinary capacity of the human to rise above evil and pain and struggle and fear.

As I said before, when I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined Jesus looking up to the heavens to ask God why? But seeing the face of God in my sisters and brothers of all faiths and of none, I realize that I need to let go of this image of the crucifixion which I have turned into an idol. What happens if we imagine that Jesus, knowing full well that the DIVINE PRESENCE lives and breathes and has its being in all of Creation, in each and every one of us, can we then begin to see that Jesus didn’t look up and cry, but looked out to the people around him and cried? What can we see in the image of Jesus looking out at his executioners, appealing to the SPIRIT in them? Looking out at the jeering crowds and beseeching the SPIRIT in them? Looking to the women who were gathered below, and crying to the DIVINE PRESENCE in them? Shouting to those who abandoned him and fled he knew not where, pleading to the DIVINITY in them: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

When we begin to understand that our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, we can perhaps see Jesus’ plea from the Cross as a cry to the SPIRIT that Jesus knew in himself and his sisters and brothers and yes even in his enemies. When we begin to understand that the SPIRIT lives and breathes in with, through and beyond us, can we begin to hear Jesus’ plea from the cross as a plea to the DIVINE PRESENCE in us. Can we hear the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross as the embodiment of all those who have cried out from far too many crosses, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” hoping against hope to stir the SPIRIT in their fellow human beings?

Can we begin to hear in the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross the utter sadness, desperation and misery at humanity’s failure to give expression to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God? Can we look beyond the idols we have worshipped for so long; see past the theories and conjectures, and actually begin to feel not for ourselves and our own failures, but for Jesus and every other sister and brother in whom DIVINITY lived and breathed and see the suffering and death which has been wrought because of humanity’s failure to give full expression to the LOVE which dwells in, with, through, and beyond us? For the sake of the Jesus, who gave such beautiful expression of DIVINITY, and for all those who in giving expression to LOVE have picked up their crosses, can we listen to their cries and work together to give expression to the God who is LOVE? If we cannot hear Jesus’ cry; if we cannot hear the cries of the countless millions of those who have been forsaken, abandoned, tortured, abused, left to die, then all the sadness of this Good Friday and every day, is for naught.

As we weep for Jesus, let us hear the cries of everyone who looks to us and cries: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Let the awesome responsibility of responding to their cries for justice, peace, mercy and love, stir in us so that the LOVE who dwells among us, can find expression in us. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?

View the full Good Friday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Jesus Saves Us from Our Fear, NOT from Our Sin – Maundy Thursday reflection

At this time of year, I am often asked, “So, if you don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins, then why do you even bother celebrating the events of Holy Week?”  Behind this question lies the assumption that the only way to understand Jesus’ death is to frame it within the context of the theology of “sacrificial atonement”, which is the technical name for the understanding of Jesus’ death which insists that: we are judged to be sinful creatures, punishment is required, and so God, who is imagined as a supernatural being, sends Jesus to pay the price for our sin.  This theory of atonement was not formulated until the 11th century by the Benedictine monk known as St. Anslem. Anslem’s theory continues to hold sway in the minds of far too many followers of Christ.

The success of the theory of sacrificial atonement is a testament to the power of our liturgies and hymns to form our theology; for our liturgies and hymns are filled of sacrificial atonement images.  However, Anslem’s theory is not they only faithful way to understand Jesus’ death.  When one seriously engages the question, “What kind of god would demand a blood sacrifice?” the answers often render God impotent at best and at worst a cruel, and vindictive, a child abuser. The too small god of sacrificial atonement is a far cry from the ONE who is MYSTERY, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also; the ONE some 21st century Christians relate to using the phrase first coined by the 4th century saint Augustine of Hippo, who described the DIVINE MYSTERY as our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.

While atonement theories all too often cast their god as little more than a cosmic perpetrator of filicide, who can only be placated by a blood sacrifice, of a beloved child, we only have to look as far as the Book of Genesis, to discover a vastly different view of DIVINITY, which offered to us by our Hebrew ancestors. The story of Abraham’s flirtation with child sacrifice, ought to have serve as an eternal reminder to the descendants of Sarah and Abraham that YAHWEH, the GREAT I AM, is not ONE to demand child sacrifice. Fortunately, theologians continue to open up different ways of understanding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that empower the followers of the Way to see new ways of understanding the life and the death of Jesus of Nazareth, ways which empower us to practice resurrection here and now. 

On Maundy Thursday Jesus’ followers commemorate not just the events leading up to Jesus’ death.  We celebrate Jesus’ gift of a “mandatum” from which we get the word “maundy” – a mandatum is a commandment and so today we celebrate Jesus’ gift of LOVE. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment:  Love one another. And you are to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.” 

That we should “love one another” is not a new commandment. There were many before Jesus, and many who came after Jesus who commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus’ commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. Which begs the question:  How exactly did Jesus love? 

I believe that Jesus loved in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE which is God; that Jesus was able to live his life fully without fear. I believe that Jesus wanted more than anything else for his followers to be so open to the power of LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY we call “God,” so open, that they too would live their lives fully without fear. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.” I believe that Jesus lived life abundantly and that living life abundantly means that Jesus loved abundantly and without fear. Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE, which is God, that Jesus would not let the powers of darkness stop him from loving and living fully.

The kind of LOVE which Jesus embodied and taught is limitless.  No darkness, no power, no fear, not even death can limit the power of LOVE which IS God. For if LOVE is limited by death, then LOVE will always be qualified and quantified. That Jesus was willing to LOVE without limits, came at great cost to himself. 

But Jesus was willing to pay that price in order to show others the way; the way to LOVE without limit, without fear, without boundaries. Limitless LOVE is abundant life. That Jesus’ LOVE endured the worst that the world could send his way, that Jesus’ LOVE was for all the world, dead and buried, and yet bursts free from the grave, in ways we are still learning to understand, bears witness to the power of LOVE. That Jesus’ LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself, saves us from our need to fear death. Jesus has shown us the way. We can live abundantly, lives which are free from the fear of death and because Jesus has shown us the way, we are free to live fully, to love extravagantly and be all that we are created to be. LOVE shines in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome LOVE. If Jesus, life, death, and resurrection teach us anything, surely, they teach us not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of the darkness. Not to be afraid of living fully. Not to be afraid of loving extravagantly. Not to be afraid of the powers of evil. Not to be afraid of the power of death, because LOVE will endure. LOVE lives on, and on, and on. Jesus cannot save us from life. There is still evil to contend with. There will be darkness and there will be death. Jesus couldn’t save himself and he cannot save us from life. Darkness and death are both part of life. 

Each of us must walk into the darkness which lies before us. We can beg God to take the cup from us! But the darkness will still come. And there will be days when the darkness will triumph. There are Good Fridays too many to mention out there. We can shout all we want for Jesus to save us, but in the end we too will have to take up our cross and find a way to follow Jesus into the darkness and beyond, trusting that even though it feels for all the world that God has forsaken us, we will make it beyond the darkness. The cross will not look the same for each of us. But there will be crosses to bear. But, Jesus has showed us the way. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must love one another the way that Jesus loved. LOVE is the only way beyond the darkness.

Do not be afraid of evil. Do not be afraid of death. Do not be afraid of the darkness. Follow Jesus who by LOVE frees us from the power of darkness to hold us captive to our fears, so that we can live life and live it abundantly. How exactly did Jesus love? Without limit. What did Jesus save us from? Our fears. Jesus saves us to love one another, just as Jesus loved. This is the way of abundant life, to LOVE one another, for LOVE is of God, the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.  Amen.

VIEW the full Maundy Thursday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Jesus Is NOT the Answer to All Our Questions

I remember arriving in high school, at the tender age of thirteen and longing to learn all of the answers. So many of us were trained that way as children, to believe that growing up meant learning more and more answers. Looking back at that eager, young girl, it amazes me how sponge-like I was, soaking up more and more facts in my quest for answers. The essence of that child still lives in me now. But so does the joy of knowing that each answer brings with it dozens and dozens more questions, as I live into the reality of my unknowing. But back then the questions had only one purpose and that was to arrive at an answer. And it wasn’t until I encountered MS Wadell, my grade-seven science teacher, that I began to acquire a taste for the questions themselves. MS Wadell, it was 1970 and I had never met a “MS” before, MS Wadell brought with her a not-so-subtle feminist critique of the answers which were offered by the curriculum and it wasn’t long before we began setting aside our desire to learn the answers to the prescribed questions.

MS Wadell challenged us to ask different questions; questions the established school curriculum, never encouraged us to ask; questions which often went unanswered, questions which took on lives of their own within our very being. I confess that a good many of those unanswered questions I took with me right into my first year of seminary some twenty-three years later; still convinced that if I could only learn the answers, I would finally grow up. Fortunately, a wise seminary professor challenged the quality of my questions, insisting that the set of questions which I was working with, were incapable of helping me to move from my current position.

Alas, as we embark upon our annual Holy Week journey, I hear many of the questions which waylaid me in the wilderness echoed in the pleas which are sent to me from people searching for answers.  In the wilderness of this pandemic Lent, perhaps it is to be expected that there’d be so many more people seeking answers. If my inboxes are anything to go by, many of you are hoping that I might use my Palm Sunday sermon to set you up with more than a few answers to your questions. Some folks have even reached out with answers of their own. And it is tempting to use this opportunity to give you whatever answers I have been able to distil from my own place of unknowing. However, I’ve noticed something about all of the questions which have been sent in to me and all of the answers if I’m honest, they have something in common. They appear to project a theme not well served by the answers I might offer. A theme which challenges the answers of the various institutional teachings of the “Church,” answers which we all learned in various ways, answers which have left so many of us stuck, precisely where we are, feeling neither in nor out of the faith to which we once clung to. Stuck here, clinging to “that old, rugged cross,” unable “to cherish it,” no longer hoping “to exchange it some day for a crown,” because the answer on offer, that we “love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain” doesn’t have the power to move us any closer to the ONE we long for, the ONE who IS BEYOND our once cherished answers. So, our “Hosannas” have a hollow ring to them, a once more for old time’s sake kind of  plea, “hosanna, hosanna, hosanna,” save us, save us, save us, from simply through the motions to placate our sense of nostalgia. I suspect that my beloved teachers were on to something when they encouraged me to abandon the same old questions because the same old questions aren’t up to the task of moving us beyond the wilderness into which we have been banished by our persistent questions; questions, which not even the wisest of answers can move us beyond.

So, as it is Palm Sunday, and Holy Week stretches out before us, let me suggest that we put down all our cherished questions and step aside from the answers which may or may not satisfy us and stick with our Hosannas for just a few moments. Hosanna from the Hebrew which means to save or to rescue. Here in this moment in time, I invite you to take a deep breath and consider for yourself what you long to be saved from. What do you desire to be rescued from? No judgement. This is not a trick question. And there is no “correct” answer. Just an honest inquiry. Is there something you need to be rescued from, right here and right now? Is there a reason for you to shout, “Hosanna!” If nothing comes to mind, how about the people you care about? Is there someone who you would dearly love to see rescued? If no one comes to mind, how about the planet? Is there some part of Creation which you hear crying out to be saved?

Our ancestors gifted us with a story about a reluctant messiah, a saviour who heard the collective cries of his people for salvation from the burdens of violence, greed, poverty, oppression and grief which separated them from their dreams of liberation, freedom, justice and the sheer joy of living. The apparent wisdom of this powerful story lies not in any answers to the peoples’ shouts of “Hosanna,” but in the reluctant messiah’s refusal to provide the particular answers the people thought that they wanted to hear. In our story, the people cry out for a Messiah, a Saviour who will parade into the center of their abuse like the super-heroes of their daydreams, or the conquerors of their nightmares. The people believed that the answer to their longings was a super-hero who would ride to the rescue, conquer their enemies, through violence and carry the day in ways which would put them on top. But our reluctant Messiah refuses to give the cheerers in our story the answers that they are pleading for. Our Saviour offers instead a splendid piece of street theatre which mocks the very answers which were on offer, leaving in their wake not just trampled palm-leaves but a broken pathway to perceived victory. Our reluctant Messiah responds to the cries of “Hosanna” with answers, which inspire a whole new set of questions. The gift of this story is given to us by our ancestors, not to put an end to all our questions, but to set us free from offering up the same old answers to the same old questions, so that liberated from nostalgia, we might shout new questions which have the power to move us beyond our lethargic malaise to find the courage to venture into our unknowing. Remember if you will your own “Hosannas” those you uttered for yourself, those you cried out on behalf of others, and those you shouted out for our planet.

Now, imagine if you will, just for a moment that a messiah has set you free from all your cherished questions and answers. Liberated to a place of your own unknowing, what can you see? What can you do? How can you help? Are there questions to be asked? New answers to be revealed?

Hosanna!  Hosanna! Hosanna! No need to wait for a messiah. For just as Jesus refused to be his people’s messiah and freed them to be all that they needed to be to be LOVE in their world, Jesus is NOT the answer to all of our questions. For LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY lives and moves and has BEING, in, with, through and beyond us and we are free to move beyond our tightly held questions and answers, free to move into our roles as messiahs of one another. Listen for the Hosanna’s being shouted out to you and use your freedom to respond with LOVE. For we are created by LOVE and of LOVE, which is God, to be LOVE, here and now, to one another, indeed to all of Creation. Let us hear today’s “Hosannas” as our call to liberation from all which separates us from ONE another, so that all may know justice, freedom, joy and peace. Let us hear today’s “Hosannas” as our call to resurrection! Let it be so.  Let it be so.  Amen.

VIEW the FULL Palm Sunday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

 

 

 

Repent! Think New Thoughts! – John 3:16 – Lent 4B

For far too many centuries, the clarion cry to “REPENT!” has echoed through our Lenten liturgies, urging worshippers to remember “that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  Our Lenten practices encourage us to pick up our metaphorical crosses and follow Jesus all the way to his death upon “the cross” and prayer after prayer is uttered to evoke the age old trop of a quid pro quo relationship with the DIVINE MYSTERY known as “the FATHER.” Metaphorical words are placed on the lips of the FATHER, who offers us a deal, “Repent! You wicked sinners! Repent!” And the gravity of your sinfulness is born upon the cross on which the “only begotten Son of the FATHER” is offered as a blood sacrifice for sin. To which my weary soul cries out with the HOLY LOVE which lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond me, “REPENT! REPENT!”

The appointed Gospel reading for this the fourth Sunday in Lent includes the infamous passage known simply as, John 3:16. This verse has been dubbed by many evangelicals as “the gospel in a nut-shell.” So popular is this verse that in certain parts of rural North America you will still find billboards out there in the field, which read simply John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” So many traditional interpretations of this verse have painted a particular picture of who Jesus was and why Jesus died. It is long past time for us to repent of so many of our tightly held beliefs about why Jesus died.

“Repent,” it comes from the Greek word “metanoia” which means “to think new thoughts”. Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts about who Jesus was and why Jesus died. Repent, Metanoia – let us think new thoughts so that we might ask:  What can Jesus teach us? What does Jesus have to say to us?

The way in which the Jesus story has been told has crafted, molded and shaped the idol which masquerades as the MYSTERY which we call God. The stories about Jesus have been told in ways which paint a particular picture of what it means to be human. According to so many traditional interpretations, humans were originally created in a state of perfection to live in a perfect Creation. These perfect humans enjoyed a perfect relationship with their CREATOR. Then one day that perfect relationship was severed when for one reason or another the humans disobeyed the rules established by their CREATOR. 

You all know this story. This story provides the raw material for the idol which we have created to serve as our god. According to the story humans are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Humans were cast out of the perfection of the garden and alienated from their CREATOR. Humans have tried in vain to get ourselves back into the garden, to restore our ONEness with our CREATOR. But try as we might we are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We need a saviour to rescue us from our sinfulness and our CREATOR needs us to pay for our sinfulness. We must be punished. So many interpretations of the life of Jesus insist that Jesus sacrificed himself, or was sacrificed by the Father, and took all our respective punishment onto his shoulders, died for us, upon a cross, so that our relationship to our CREATOR could be restored.

We’ve heard these interpretations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection so many times that they have almost become indistinguishable from the idol which we have created to stand in for the MYSTERY which we call God. The trouble is, we all live in the 21st century, not the first century, and we know that the definition of what it means to be human which these stories rely upon, no longer rings true to anyone.  We know that humans have been evolving over millennia. We know that humans were not created as perfectly formed creatures who fell into sin. We know that humans are continuing to evolve. Humans are incomplete beings. We are not fallen creatures. This knowledge has to change the way in which we see our relationship with the MYSTERY which is the very SOURCE of our being; our CREATOR if you will. This knowledge impacts how we interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we look at the stories which have been told about Jesus, the stories which have contributed so much to the creation of the idol that masquerades as the MYSTERY we call God, we discover a narrative which is preoccupied with Jesus’ death. It occurred to me the other day, that it is quite peculiar that most of what has been written about Jesus in the New Testament and indeed our liturgies, and even in the hymns we sing about Jesus, this stuff shifts our focus away from Jesus’ life, and celebrates Jesus’ death as the lynchpin of our relationship to the DIVINE. Imagine if you will, trying to understand the life of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi simply by focusing upon their death. Imagine trying to understand who Dr. King was and focusing your attention upon his assassination. Imagine knowing everything there is to know about that final day in Memphis, about the motel, about the people who were on that balcony when Dr. King was shot, about the shooter, the gun which was used, about the funeral procession, the grieving, and about the people who tried to go on walking in the ways of Dr. King. Imagine all the information you would miss if you simply focused upon Dr. King’s death. You wouldn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, about Dr. King’s dream, his vision of equality, his struggle for inclusion, his cries for justice for the poor, his vision of economic equality, his passion for peace, or his commitment to non-violent resistance. So, let us repent. Let us metanoia. Let us think new thoughts by taking our focus off of Jesus’ death and all we may have heard or learned about why Jesus died, so that we can see what it was about Jesus’ life which endeared him to his followers. What can Jesus teach us? What can we learn from Jesus’ life about who, or what the MYSTERY we call God is?  What can Jesus teach us about the God Jesus embodied?

The Gospel this morning comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as John. This gospel was written some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The storyteller writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Today, which is the first day of Daylight Savings Time, when each of us is coping with the loss of an hour’s sleep, perhaps it is easier for us to understand that the way in which we describe reality does indeed change over time. Yesterday, when the sun was in the same position in the sky as it is now, we insisted that it was an hour later. Today, thanks to daylight savings time, the earth hasn’t quickened its course around the sun. The sun is in the same place at the same time as it was yesterday, but today all our clocks insist that it is actually 11 o’clock and not 10 o’clock.

When we focus upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth rather than the death of Jesus, we can begin to hear some of the things which Jesus was passionate about. Jesus’ passions reveal to us the image of the YAHWEH which Jesus worshipped. When we set aside the institutional narrative called “atonement,” which the church has relied upon to interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the idol which masquerades as god, the idol whose contours are reinforced in our worship services, by our hymns, our prayers, creeds, choice of scripture readings, and rituals, this idol begins to crumble. When we forgo our obsession with Jesus’ death and open ourselves to the passions of Jesus’ life, we begin to see new ways to understand the new images of the HOLY ONE which Jesus encouraged his followers to see. Jesus’ life reveals images of God which point far beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to the Ultimate MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of all reality.

The apostle Paul who was the first to write about Jesus, portrays Jesus as a doorway into the ULTIMATE. For Paul, Jesus was not God, but a human in which God is revealed. For us, Jesus can be the medium through which the MYSTERY which we call God can be imagined.

For centuries our imaginations have been limited by images created in the 4thcentury when the institution carefully crafted creeds about the nature of God and interpreted the death of Jesus which reflected their limited knowledge of reality. Our ever-expanding knowledge of reality is inconsistent with these 4th century interpretations of the experience of Jesus. Setting aside the doctrines of previous centuries, frees us to explore Jesus’ life from a whole new perspective; a perspective which embraces all that we have learned about what it means to be human; a perspective which is mindful of the vast expanse of the cosmos, a perspective which sheds light on the evolution of our species, a perspective which provides a window into the process of healing the wounds we created NOT by our bondage to sin, but rather by our incompleteness as ever-evolving creatures, a perspective which points beyond itself to a ONEness with the MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call God.

Take for example Jesus’ passion for non-violent resistance to oppression. In a world where tribalism was the only remedy offered as a solution to our quest for survival, the life of Jesus represents a significant evolution in human consciousness. Jesus was able to move beyond tribalism, Jesus was able to evolve beyond the human instinct for survival and give himself to and for others. When we tell the story of Jesus’ life from this perspective, we, like the early followers of Jesus, we are able to see the LOVE which is God lived out in the life of a human being. In Jesus, God did not invade the world, coming down from heaven on high to pay a price for human sinfulness.

In Jesus we see a life in which the DIVINE ONE is revealed. Jesus broke down the boundaries and the barriers by which humans separated themselves from one another. The LOVE, which is God, that is seen in the life of Jesus, is the Way. Jesus insisted that LOVE is the only way of overcoming fear and division. In the presence and through the experience of Jesus’ life, the tribal barriers between Jew and Gentile, Jew and Samaritan, male and female, Jew and Roman, bound and free, rich and poor, life and death, all these divisions, they faded away. In the life of Jesus there was a humanity which included everyone and that dismissed no one. In the life of Jesus, a human community without boundaries could be imagined. In the life of Jesus God is imagined as the power of life, the passion of love, the ground of being which draws all lives into a new way of being human.    In Jesus, we see the LOVE which IS God lived out in the life of a human being.  In Jesus’ life we are able to see a way of being which moves us beyond our tribal instincts and points us toward a way of being which is open to the power of the REALITY which is the LOVE that is God. In the life of Jesus, the passions of Jesus, we are directed beyond the idol we worship as god, beyond the doctrines created by 4th century understandings of reality, beyond the primitive madness of blood sacrifice for sin, beyond the fear of a judgmental god, toward an integration of all that we are learning about what it means to be human in a cosmos far more incredible that our ancestors could ever begin to imagine.

The passions of Jesus are embodied in a life which reveals the LOVE that IS God. As followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, we are called to embody that LOVE here and now, in ways which will continue to move us beyond our tribal quest for survival, beyond our fear of death, beyond the divisions which threaten not only human life, but all life.  As followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, we are called to evolve in ways which will expand human consciousness so that all may know the LOVE which is God.

Our clocks have moved forward. Surely, it is time for us to move forward. Like the sun, up in the sky, Jesus hasn’t changed, what is changing is the way in which we are seeing Jesus, the way we are telling Jesus’ story. The experience of Jesus remains the same, the explanations of that experience are changing. As we evolve, as our consciousness expands, so too do our understandings of what it means to be human. The life of Jesus continues to point beyond craven idols we create to worship, beyond our deepest fears, beyond our tribal urges, beyond our limited vision, BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, to the ONE who is LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.

Repent, Metanoia, think new thoughts!  Discover ways of being human in which we become more fully the medium through which the LOVE which is God can be seen and experienced here and now, in, with, through, and beyond us.  Repent. Metanoia. Think new thoughts! For you are gloriously and wonderfully made to be LOVE in the world!

View the Full Lent 4B Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service