“O God we call, O God we call, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn for you.” The first time I sang Linnea Good’s plaintive song, was back in my seminary days back in the late 90’s. It is difficult to believe that I’ve been singing that song in various settings for almost a quarter of a century. A lot has changed since the longing of that tune first matched my own deep longing for God. I have changed, the world has changed, even my own longing has changed. Yes, I still long for God, but the god I long for is so much more than the god of my yesterdays. The intensity of my longing has deepened as the immensity of my own unknowing has been revealed.
The god of my childhood fell away long ago. I stopped longing long ago for the benevolent Father-god. He was replaced with longings for the theological images of a church struggling to survive in the modern world with a more sophisticated and gracious version of a super-hero; a shero if you will. My cravings to see feminine images of the DIVINE have deepened into longings that seem to transcend images altogether as my questions about the nature of the REALITY that lies at the very core of ALL that IS tear at the very fabric of my ability to comprehend the MYSTERY who is the LOVE that for millennia we have called “God.”
O God we call, from deep inside we yearn to capture you in words and images so that we can pin you down, explain you, and contain you in temples we erect to worship you without ever knowing the sheer magnitude of our unknowing. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of my questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.
The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us? What happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins. What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.
They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…
What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint.
There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the far-away-god in the sky and have him solve all our woes. And then I remember Jesus.
It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus, I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are ONE. Jesus who put people ahead of the law. Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship. Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see the face of God the source of ALL that IS and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.
The Temple was too small, God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the ONE who IS the very SOURCE of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the DIVINE ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay, or we can look for the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, and through us in the faces of those around us; the ONE who lies beyond us in universes that stretch beyond our comprehension. We can let the dead bury the dead, or we can seek the DIVINE One in the LOVE that is God embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us. Continue reading
I was twenty years old, young and adventurous, with a rail pass in my hand, a back pack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars worth of American Express Travellers cheques in my pocket, when I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece.
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 for Greece, where the living is easy, where the warm sun, blue skies and equally blue waters held the promise of rest and relaxation.
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 rest and relaxation with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean.
As the train rattled through Austria toward 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 marvelled 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 there ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra modern city of Belgrade; the showcase of Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor people 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 skyscrapers and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in 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 right papers and that my back pack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, guns and uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty years. He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa that I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar alphabet. Continue reading
Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a very large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting that portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings. One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner.
However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains too, but they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is a state of mind, a way of being that breaks out in the midst of turmoil. A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace. Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the danger, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places.
Peace is a way of being in a world that appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” If you listen to the news or tune into the media you will hear of wars and rumours of wars.
Tomorrow, we will commemorate Remembrance Day and although our tone may be somber, our laments quickly fade into images of glory and celebration not of peace but of violence. Our moments of silence will linger for but a moment before the violence begins to move our hearts and minds towards what our chaotic world makes us believe is the inevitable and once again, the violence will rage. Continue reading
Listen to the sermon here
Our Gospel reading has often been called the Beatitudes. It is traditional to read the Beatitudes on All Saints’. Some years we read the eight Beatitudes as they have been passed down to us from the anonymous gospel storyteller known as Matthew, who sets Jesus’ sermon on the mount. But this year is the year of Luke, so we read this anonymous storyteller’s version of the Beauties which appear in Jesus’ sermon on the Plain. But whether it’s the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain what has been passed down to us is a description of the important characteristics of those who are blessed. There are all sorts of ways to interpret the word “makarios” which was translated into Latin as “beatus” the word for “blessed,” “happy, or “fortunate.” Today, I’d like to offer you another way of interpreting the Greek word “makarios”. “makarios” contains the Greek word “karios” Some of you will recognize the word “karios”,
here in Canada the mainline churches work together within the organization that bears the name “karios”. Karios is the organization through which we work together to achieve justice in Canada and in the world. The name Karios was chosen because it is one of the Greek words for “time”, a special kind of time, the opportune time, or the supreme moment. Karios is used in the scriptures to mean that time when all is well, when people are making the best use of their time, when there is harmony or peace among people, or peace with God. Karios can also be used to describe the time when it is clear that the Divine has somehow visible right here and right now. Karios is sacred time. “Makarios” is related to Karios because a person who achieved “makarios” was said to be a person who had moved beyond the constraints of time and space. Continue reading
Our worship took a different form as we listened to the cries of Mother Earth using some clips from the documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. Turns out that Mother Earth is a persistent woman which we discovered when we wrestled with the SACRED ONE. Two reflections instead of a sermon. You can follow along with the bulletin found here
Reflection: Luke 18:1-8
When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.
Jesus told a parable that has become known as the “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. The parable is actually about a “Persistent Woman.” As we listen to the parable I’d like you to imagine this persistent women is the personification of our Mother the Earth and the unjust judge, well that’s you and I, we are the unjust judge.
Reflection: Genesis 32:22-31
When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.
Some say that Jacob wrestled with an angel; an angel is the word that means a messenger from God. Some say that Jacob wrestled not with an angel, a mere messenger from God, but with God herself. Some say, the Earth is in God and God is in the Earth. Some say, that the Earth is God’s body. Surely, we can all agree that the Earth is sacred.
The sacred Earth is crying out to us. Each one of us must wrestle with this sacred messenger; with the DIVINE ONE of which we are also a part. Wrestling with the sacred is never easy. Not everyone is up to the task. Many will simply roll over in the night, hoping that the sacred messengers, or the DIVINE ONE herself, will simply go away and leave us alone. Some will no doubt find themselves overwhelmed by the messenger, overwhelmed by the immensity of the task of wrestling with such an infinite complexity. Others will resign themselves to their apparent insignificance and accept the paralysis which comes in the darkness.
I’m reminded of a story about Martin Luther who when asked what he would do if word came from an angel, a messenger from God that the world was about to end. Legend has it that Luther insisted that if he was convinced that the world was about to come to an end that he would plant a tree.
Plant a tree. Such defiance, such hope, such faith in the future, gifts such as these are what every wrestler needs so that they may engage the DIVINE.
Wrestling with the sacred will exhaust us, frustrate us, wear us out and maybe even leave us wounded. The reality of this sacred wrestling is that it will forever change us.
May you be blessed in the darkness by Messengers to wrestle with.
May the wounds of the struggle change you in ways you can scarcely begin to imagine.
Like our ancestor Jacob, may you see the face of God and live.
May we all see the DIVINE ONE, in the sacredness of the Earth, and live together in the shalom, the peace that comes when all God’s creatures hobble away from their careless ways of being, forever changed by the blessing of our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.
Before I read our Gospel text I took a few moments to reflect upon the story from the Torah that was our First Reading (Gen.32). I showed the short film below which was created by Jewish scholars to help rabbis teach the stories of the Torah to young children. I use this video to teach the stories of the Torah to our Confirmation students. I think it is important for those of us who follow the teaching of the Rabbi Jesus, to pay attention to the way in which the stories that spoke to Jesus continue to speak to Jewish people here and now. Watch the video and then listen to the sermon here
Our Gospel reading comes to us from a story told by an anonymous writer named Luke, who tells a parable that he attributes to the Rabbi Jesus: According to Luke: “Jesus told the disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and not losing heart. “Once there was a judge in a certain city who feared no one—not even God. A woman in that city who had been widowed kept coming to the judge and saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a time the judge refused but finally the judge thought, ‘I care little for God or people, but this woman won’t leave me alone. I’d better give her the protection she seeks or she’ll keep coming and wear me out!’” Jesus said, “Listen to what this corrupt judge is saying. Won’t God then do justice to the chosen who call out day and night? Will God delay long over them? I tell you, God will give them swift justice. But when the Promised One comes, will faith be found anywhere on earth?”
I too have met this tiresome, troublesome, annoyingly, persistent widow who constantly cries out for justice. This woman won’t leave me alone. I must confess that I would rather not have this woman clamouring at my door! Each and every time I encounter this woman, she goes on and on, she wears me out! I cannot go anywhere without seeing this woman. She is everywhere. Pointing to her oppressor and demanding justice. She is on the radio in my car as I go about my business. She is on my computer screen as I try to keep up with the news of the day. She is in my living room as I try to relax flipping channels seeking respite from her persistent cries for justice. She appears in my facbook feed, and tweets at me from my phone, I cannot escape her cries for justice. I am sick and tired of this annoying woman. I cannot escape her shouts for justice.
I’m not sure that anything at all can be done to secure justice for this annoying woman. Too much time has passed. There are no witnesses. Boys will be boys. She needs to forgive, forget and move on. Why doesn’t she just leave me alone. There’s nothing that I can do for her. There’s nothing I want to do for her.
I have my own troubles. People to see, places to go, things to do. If only she’d leave me alone. Her persistent cries for justice have begun to haunt me and not even sleep gives me respite from her persistent cries for justice. If only she’d stop going on and on and on and on about her oppressor, about the injustice that has been perpetrated against her.
Maybe if she would just shut up about it, I wouldn’t have to wrestle with her in the night. Round and round we go, pinning one another down, she demanding justice, me pleading for peace. This wrestling over things beyond my control is wearing me down. I’m starting to wonder who this woman thinks she is. Hell, I’m beginning to wonder who I think this woman is. In the darkness of the night I sometimes wonder if this persistent, complaining woman, is just some trumped up version of myself. In her eyes, I sometimes think I see a glimmer of something far too familiar, something ugly, fearsome, unpleasant, and lurking in my own memories. In the wee hours before dawn, I think I can actually see myself in her.
But no, I’m not going there. We are not going there. Women all over the world don’t want to go there. Defenseless, innocent, naive children all over the world we dare not see them in the face of this persistent woman.
And then, just when I think that I have her pinned down and I’m about to wrestle something anything out of this insane encounter, the light begins to dawn on me, as I realize that there in the face of this persistent woman is the ONE in whom we all live and breathe and have our being; the ONE whose name eludes us.
I awaken to the realization that this place where we have all been, this place where we cannot escape is indeed Peniel, for here and now, in the face of this persistent woman, in the face of every persistent woman, indeed in the face of every persistent man, woman, and child, crying out for justice we have seen God face to face. It isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always what we want to see or where we want to see it, but it is the face of the ONE that we call God; the face of God shouting, crying, pleading, for justice.
Wrestling with the persistent, pleading, ones who continue to demand justice from me, I rise wounded from Peniel – the place where I know that I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared. Limping away, forever changed, knowing that the wound that changes the way I walk in this world is the blessing given to me by those who have the courage to cry out for justice. Transformed by this wound I begin to see that I am at one and the same time both the judge who has the power to create justice and the one who cries out for justice.
In this Peniel, is where ever and when ever we have the courage to look into the face of another and see the face of God, and our lives have been preserved. We cannot walk away from an encounter such as this without responding to the ONE in whom we see the face of God, with justice. Whether our role in this life long wrestling match is that of the judge or the seeker of justice, may we see God face to face.
Looking back on a sermon I preached twelve years ago on this week’s readings from Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8, I am struck by how much my own images of the DIVINE ONE we call “God” have changed and yet remain oddly similar. The intervening years have afforded me the opportunities to begin to leave behind notions of an anthropomorphic God who intervenes in our lives. As I have embraced the writings of progressive and evolutionary theologians, I have struggled to understand and articulate DIVINITY’s nature from the perspective of panentheism (everything is in God). There are those who suggest that this is a departure from the Christian tradition. Yet looking back, I am beginning to see this movement as a natural progression of the tradition. Indeed, so much of what I have always loved about Lutheran theology has freed me to explore this path. So, I offer this old sermon as a snapshot of my own pathway toward new visions of the Divine. I trust that my early efforts to move beyond the notion of God as the “unjust judge” will move some to begin to see God in, with, and through all those who persistently plead for justice.
What little I know about the art of wrestling I learned from my brother Alan. He and I are just eighteen months apart in age and together we participated in many a wrestling match. All too often one or the other of us would be bothering the other and before we knew it we were rolling around on the floor wrestling. I’ll have you know that up until the age of about twelve I was quite a good wrestler. Up to that point I usually managed to hold my brother to the ground and with my knees firmly pinning his arms I would be able to get my brother to agree to my point of view. But my brother’s adolescent growth spurt put an end to my winning streak. Just as soon as my brother was big enough to pin me to the ground I decided to stop bothering him. Bothering my brother became dangerous and I had to give it up in order to save my dignity. Continue reading
Follow the links for previous sermons:
Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!
Who IS God? – Not One, Not Two – inspired by Garrison Keillor & Joan Chittister
The Blessing of Michael’s Story – a Thanksgiving
Brussel Sprouts, Ebola, and Thanksgiving – seeking the ONE who IS
To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you
After You Move Beyond Personifying God?
Over the course of the past nine years a group of little people have come into my life. Lovely little people who call me Gran. There are seven of them and participating in their little lives is a source of such great joy. Each stage of their development is a wonder to behold. I particularly enjoy watching their parents as they attempt to teach these little darlings the things that they need to know about being human. One of the first things that we teach little humans is the fine art of saying thank-you. It takes a fair amount of repetition to teach a child to say thank-you. Over and over again, after giving them exactly what they want, we ask, “Can you say thank-you?” and the little darlings repeat the words “Thank-you.” Sometimes all we have to do is ask the question: “What do you say?” in order to hear the words “Thank-you” uttered in such a delightful way as to inspire us to praise them as such good little girls and boys.
Expressing gratitude is a skill that all tiny little people must learn in order to develop into well-rounded human beings. Indeed, scientists insist that being grateful is a prerequisite of happiness. Happy humans it seems, are humans who embody gratitude. But there is more to gratitude than simply saying thank-you. I remember learning that gratitude includes more than simply expressing our thanks. It happened when I was about sixteen and actually noticed the beauty of a sunset and for the first time I realized that I was part of something so much bigger than myself. I know I must have seen the sunset before, but this time I actually saw the sun set. We were driving down the road, my friend Valerie and I were riding in a car driven by her mother, Lola. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia. Just a few clouds. You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden, Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening.
These happy, glowing, smiling people made me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear. What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it. It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing. The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent. A work of art. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice.
Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So, I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Actually noticing a magnificent sunset was the beginning of a journey beyond myself as the reality that I am part of something so much bigger than myself continues to permeate my being.
Back then, I expressed my gratitude by very much the same way as my grandchildren are being taught to express their gratitude, simply by saying “Thank-you”. The object of the Thank-you being God. At the time, God was an old bloke up there in the sky somewhere. As my images of God changed over the years, my Thank-you’s continued to be expressed to my ever-changing images of God. But I must confess, that it was a whole lot easier to say thank-you to God when God was some big guy up there, out there somewhere? It was so much easier when I thought of God as “Father” or even as “Mother” to express my gratitude by simply mimicking the behaviour that I’d been taught as a child, “Can you say “Thank-you” Oh yes indeed I can say thank-you. “God is great, God is God, let us thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed, Give us Lord Our Daily Bread.” Continue reading
Today all over the world, churches of all sorts of denominations will gather to celebrate communion. World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to embrace the embodiment of the infinite variety that exists in within the communities of our fellow Followers of the Way. Today, we uphold the reality that no matter how communion is celebrated we Followers of the Way are all companions. For to be a companion is to literally share bread together. The word companion is made up of two Latin words, “com which means “with or together” and “panis” which means “bread”. To break bread together is to be a companion.
Humans began engaging in the sacred act of breaking bread together generations before Jesus embraced the sacred act of sharing a meal together to strengthen the bonds of companionship among his followers.
How many of you remember the very first time you participated in the companionship of communion? I suspect that for many of us are of an age where we can remember when are communion practices were less inclusive than they are today. For several generations many mainline denominations tried to limit communion to those who had been “properly” instructed in the “meaning” of communion. In Lutheran churches children often had to wait until after they were Confirmed in order to be welcomed at the table. Back then, Communion wasn’t so much celebrated as it was endured as a sort of ritual reward for penance. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the somber communion rites of the past. But, I suspect that many of us still carry the residue of less than life-affirming theologies that taught us to view Communion as a sort of ritual that needs to be endured as a way to remember a “blood sacrifice”, a kind of quid pro quo for our sinfulness.
I can still remember my very first communion. It was, for all sorts of reasons, a life changing experience. Fortunately, for me my first Communion was free from the trappings of penitence. There was little or no thought of a blood sacrifice for sin. You see, my first Communion happened by way of what some would call an oversite or an accident, but I think of as a grace-filled DIVINE blessing.
As I’ve told you before, I did not grow up in the Church. My family’s experiences in Belfast had shown us the worst that the Church can offer and so, my brother and I were never encouraged to go anywhere near a Church of any kind. We were baptized as infants as a kind of insurance policy and I never darkened the doorway of a church until I was fifteen years old. I was an incredibly lonely teenager. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, country to country, school to school; always on the move. I learned very early not to make friends with people because if you make friends it is so much more painful when you have to move away.
Longing and loneliness were predominant emotions that characterized the deep homesickness of my younger self. Looking back to my younger self, I can see a little girl who was homesick for a home she never really knew because when you move about as much as we did, no place ever feels like home. Eventually all you can feel is this deep longing for something you cannot quite name. So, one day, at the tender age of fifteen, a new acquaintance that I was tempted to turn into a friendship, invited me to come to church with her. Continue reading
I moved out of my parent’s house when I was quite young and like most young people I didn’t have much money so I lived in some pretty weird places. I once shared a house with a bunch of people that I met working in the travel industry. I didn’t know them very well when I first moved in but as the months dragged on, I got to know some of them better than I would have liked. There were five of us living in a four-bedroom house about a block from Spanish Banks in Vancouver. The house’s proximity to the beach made up for some of my roommates’ shortcomings and the rent was cheap. So, even though I didn’t like the idea, I didn’t kick up much of a fuss when one of my roommates brought home a puppy.
Now there are those people who would argue that all puppies are cute, I just don’t happen to be one of them. Besides this thing was a Doberman and I don’t care if it was cute, I don’t like Dobermans. I was trying to convince my roommate David that he couldn’t possibly keep a Doberman in our house, when two of my other roommates showed up and quickly became besotted with the creature. One of my roommates when so far as to insist that the puppy was the cutest thing she had ever seen and that we simply had to keep it. While she was hugging and kissing the puppy, David got quite annoyed and pulled the puppy away from her and insisted that this dog was not going to be a pet. He declared that we needed this dog to grow up and be a guard dog, and if that was going to happen then we needed to start treating this dog as we meant to continue.
I had no intention of sharing a house with a Doberman, let a lone a guy who wanted to have one as a guard dog, so I started looking for another place to live. Before I moved out of that house, I had the unfortunate opportunity to watch David as he tried to train his puppy. First of all, David had to give the dog a name and it had to be a name that would instill fear into people, so that’s how the puppy ended up with a name like Vader, as in Darth Vader. None of us were supposed to cuddle the dog or pat the dog or play with the dog. That was just fine with me. But one of our roommates, Ellie was forever getting into trouble for treating the puppy like a baby. So, David insisted that Vader be chained up outside. A few months after I moved out of the house, I went back to visit and discovered that even Ellie was afraid to go into the backyard because Vader was actually turning into a viscous guard dog. She told me that David had been leaving Vader chained up for longer and longer periods of time and no one in the house would dare to go out into the back yard to feed Vader. I found out from the others that even though they’d tried to get David to pay more attention to Vader, he insisted that it there was nothing wrong with the way he was treating Vader. For months David left Vader chained in the backyard for days at a time and as the dog got bigger and bigger, the three roommates that were left in the house with David became more and more afraid of the dog and eventually they had to insist that David move out. A few months later, I heard that David and Vader had parted ways. It seems that Vader had taken a chunk out of David’s arm and David had to have the poor creature put down. For some reason Jesus’ parable about Lazarus reminded me of Vader the Doberman. Continue reading
“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body. Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! When we try to understand a biblical text, it is helpful if we keep in mind three particular contexts. The first context to keep in mind is the context of the story itself. What is happening in and around the characters in the story itself. The second context to keep in mind is the context in which the storyteller tells the story. What is happening in and around the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke. The third context to keep in mind is our own context. What is going on in our lives and in the lives of the communities in which we live?
So, let’s begin by looking at the context of the story itself. Jesus is speaking to his disciples. The year is somewhere between 30 and 33 of the Common Era. The place is Palestine, a far-flung province of the Roman Empire. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are a conquered people, living under the oppression of a foreign power. The people to whom Jesus is speaking have no power. They are being persecuted, oppressed, and terrorized. Life is difficult. There’s a very thin line between life and death and the people to whom Jesus is speaking understand that by listen to this rebel Jesus they are risking death. All Jesus’ listeners really have is hope, hope that one day their Messiah will rescue them from their cruel taskmasters.
Fast forward about 60 years or more to the context in which the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke tells this story. Conditions have deteriorated. The Jewish people have rebelled against their Roman oppressors and they have been crushed. The Temple, the very heart of who they are as a people, has been destroyed and much of Jerusalem along with it. Both Jews and the followers of the Way have been driven out into the wilderness as outlaws. Historians tell us that after the rebellion Rome inflicted abominable terrorism upon the people of the once proud Jewish nation. The smell of rotting flesh was very familiar, thousands upon thousands were crucified as enemies of Rome, their corpses left to rot upon makeshift crosses. For the Followers of the Way life was worse. Excommunicated from the synagogues they met in secret fearing not only the Romans but their Jewish neighbours as well.
Fast forward to today. What is going on around us as we hear this story? Well, there’s a crazy orange megalomaniac sitting in the most powerful office the world has ever known. We are told that this powerful buffoon has seriously contemplated exercising his power to nuke hurricanes. All around us the dangers of climate change are being felt as winds blow, and sea-levels rise. Money, money, money is the order of the day as we all scramble to ensure that we get what is ours.
So, we are busy people. We are well informed people and we know more about what is going on in the world than any other generation before us. We are stressed out and we don’t know what to do first. And so, we come to church, seeking what? guidance? solidarity? comfort? inspiration? or maybe just a little distraction from the stress of it all. But even here we can’t relax because here too we are met with stress inducing challenges. Churches are closing all over the place. The once mighty flagships of our own Lutheran church have already closed, and our beloved little Holy Cross is struggling to survive. There are just a few of us left and we are finding it more and more difficult to meet our challenges. In all three contexts to which this story speaks, there is so much for people to worry about.
Indeed, in all three contexts the temptation to despair is immense. To all three contexts, Jesus says the same thing: LIGHTEN UP! “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body. Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!
Look around. Look at the beautiful people who are here. Look at where we are. We live in one of the best places on earth! We are richer than the vast majority of people on this planet. We have wealth beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. We have this building! We have each other. There are no oppressors on our doorstep waiting to torture us. The first followers of the Way would have loved the opportunity to worship in such a fine place as this.
We are all relatively healthy. Most of us live very comfortably. So why is it so difficult for us to hear Jesus say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!
I know, I know, it is easier said than done. It is so very difficult not to worry when we are so stressed out. Stressed out. Think about that phrase for a moment. I don’t remember my parents ever complaining about stress. Being “stressed out” is a condition of our age. We have become masters of the art of catastrophizing. We can awefulize a situation faster than a Roman centurion could grab his sword.
I know I’ve said this many times but think about the way we greet one another. “Hi how are you?” What is the most common response to this simple question? “I’m busy.” We have become obsessed with our own business and it brings us precious little pleasure. When we tell someone we’re busy, they usually respond with something like, “you think you’re busy. let me tell you how busy I am.” We no longer human beings we are human doers, obsessed and stressed out by all the stuff we need to do and all the stuff that we aren’t doing. It’s no wonder that we catastrophize and awefulize all day long. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy this life of ours.
Take the weather for example. We are entering a spectacularly beautiful autumn. The weather has been fabulous around here. And yet, all this week instead of remarking on how lovely it is outside, people insist on awefulizing the weather. “Winter’s coming.”
“Yeah it may be lovely now. But winter is coming.” It’s as bad as Game of Thrones, “Winter’s coming.” Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Doesn’t matter that winter can be beautiful. Doesn’t matter that we all enjoy the luxury of beautiful centrally heated homes. Most of our cars have heated seats. I even have a car that will heat my steering wheel. Heck we have cars. We won’t have to trudge here on snowshoes. Nevertheless, we moan winter is coming.
There are lunatics running the world. Churches simply can’t survive in our modern world. We are fighting a losing battle. People these days are spiritual but not religious. So, we huddle together and we do what everyone else is doing these days, we catastrophize and we awefuize because winter is coming. These days seems as though worrying is the only way we connect with one another. So many of our speech patterns revolve around our stress. Take a moment to step out of yourselves and pay attention to how and what we are saying to one another. The experts say that the average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day. How many of your 60,000 thoughts are negative? How many of the conversations we have with one another lean into your fears? Think about social media? How many posts or articles do you read that strike fear into your hearts? Global warming may not be as big a problem as global whining.
To all of this catastrophizing and awefulizing Jesus insists: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up! To which I’m sure you may be thinking, “Easier said than done.”
Don’t get me wrong our problems are real. But can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single hour to your life? Lighten up. Let’s try to be spiritual but not religious. One of the best definitions of spirituality that I have come across recently comes from the social researcher Bene Brown, who writes, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us,
and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.” To which I say, in the spirit of Jesus “Lighten up dear friends.”
If we can connect to one another in ways that do not begin with catastrophizing and awefulizing, perhaps we can begin to gain a sense of perspective that will not only bring meaning to our lives together but may just remind us of the many things we love about one another. I know we have all sorts of challenges in our little church. It is difficult not to worry. I stay up nights worrying about our life together as a community.
One of the things that I have come to believe is that if the only level at which we can connect with one another is through our worries, we will lose any desire that we may have to connect in the first place. We need to connect in ways that remind us of our many blessings and inspire us to share our blessings.I’m hoping that we can begin by stepping out of ourselves and looking at how we talk to one another. If we try to become witnesses of our own behavior. Think about what we are thinking. Are we leaning into fear? Are we connecting through negative language? Are we connecting through misery?
The best way I know how to step outside of myself is with humor. When I hear Jesus say, “Do not worry!” I hear him say it with an Irish lilt. “Sure, what da want to be worrying about. Have ya taken leave of yer senses? What good is worrying going to do ya? Look at the birds – sure they’re not worried. Look at the flowers – they can’t worry. Look around the birds can fly. The flowers are lovely. How stupid you to be worrying in such a place as this? Stop worrying.”
Now as lovely as an Irish lit is, I can still find something to worry about. And it doesn’t quite make me laugh. And laughter is what is called for because laughter is one of the deepest surest ways that humans connect. So, the other day, I was wondering how we get from worrying to laughter. Now I’m not a comedian. So, I’m not going to try to joke us out of our troubles. But I am a student of human behavior and apparently, it’s almost impossible to take someone seriously if their wearing one of these. (put on a Red nose).
“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!
Okay, this might work better if we all wear a read nose. (distribute red noses)
As your go through the week and you find yourself slipping into catastrophizing or awefulizing or even just complaining, put on your read nose. And say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!
We have all sorts of challenges to deal with. If we can put our challenges into perspective and connect with one another without catastrophizing or awefulizing, together we can meet whatever challenges come our way in the LOVE that IS the ONE who nourishes grounds and sustains us in the beautiful life, in this beautiful place, in these wonderful times. For we are after all is said and done, a spiritual people.
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.” Therein lies our hope. Lighten up! Look at the birds. Look at the flowers. Remember the CREATOR of ALL that IS created the duck-billed platypus. So, laugh a little.
Jesus you’ve got to be kidding! “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple?…None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions?”
Hate your father; hate your mother; hate your wife; hate your children; hate your brothers; hate your sisters; hate even life itself and oh yes while you are at it, give up all you possessions and then, and only then will you be ready to take up your cross and follow Jesus. What is Jesus talking about? Has Jesus forgotten about the fourth commandment? Are we to forget about honouring our parents? Wasn’t it Jesus who said that we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves? Didn’t Jesus try to talk people into loving their enemies? Has Jesus forgotten that his Abba is LOVE itself? Why does Jesus rant and rave about hating our father’s, mothers, children, sisters, brothers and even life itself?
It is difficult to recognize the Jesus in this text. This is not the gentle Jesus of my childhood. This is not the happy Jesus who smiled out from the pictures in my illustrated Bible.This is not the Jesus that the rightwing conservative Christians point to when they harp on about family values. This is not the gentle Jesus we have come to expect. This Jesus sounds too harsh. This Jesus wants to turn us into religious fanatics who hate everybody and give up everything, even life itself.
For a few years now, there has stood on the shelf above my desk a quotation from Deuteronomy 30. I put it there so that these word’s of WISDOM might guide me in my decision making. According to the writers of Deuteronomy, our CREATOR says: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live”. Our CREATOR says “Choose life!” How do I reconcile this to the Gospel lesson in which Jesus says whoever does not hate even life itself, cannot be a disciple of Jesus? Why was Jesus so harsh? What is going on here? Continue reading
On this the first Sunday of the Season of Creation, we pause to contemplate the Ocean. I say the Ocean because even though we can the Ocean by many names, there is only one Ocean. Covering 71% of the Earth’s surface in one interconnected body, the Ocean contains 321 million cubic miles of water. This one gigantic Ocean contains 97% of the Earth’s water in which somewhere in the neighbourhood of 250,000 different species of life make their home. Only about 5% of the Earth’s Ocean has been explored by humans. The truth is that we humans know very little about the Ocean. We do know that at its deepest point, the Ocean reaches a depth of 6.8 miles.
For me, the Ocean has always been, what the Celts describe as a “thin place” – a place where the DIVINE permeates our being; a place where all the divisions we have constructed between the sacred and the ordinary disappear. A distant memory of my small barefooted self, clutching a bucket and spade, splashing in tide-pools, humming an old song, “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, Oh I do like to be beside the sea!”, a memory that brings with it the sweet, salty smell of the sea.
I have not always been land-locked. Childhood memories of trips to the seaside in Northern Ireland, followed by high school memories of skipping class to pay amongst the waves, youthful excursions sailing up the coast of British Columbia, and long walks along Vancouver’s sea wall, permeate my senses with memories so sweet that I can almost hear the sound of waves lapping on shore, bringing with them the sure and certain knowledge that life is sweet and good. “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea!”
When my Dad was just a teen-age boy, he joined the British Merchant. Years spent travelling the Earth’s Ocean spawned a healthy respect for the power of the Sea; a deep abiding respect that he engendered in his daughter. To this day, while I do like to be beside the seaside, the deep, dark, open waters of the Ocean with their unknown secrets inspire a fear in me that can make my land-loving legs tremble.
What lurks beneath the Sea from which our ancient precursors first emerged? Deep, deep, darkness harbours mysteries of our origins over which the CREATOR of ALL that IS brooded and the RUACH swept over the face of the deep drawing forth life; our primal memories of the Sea inspired perhaps, by the breaking of the waters that heralded our own birth. Some four billion years ago, the miracle of tiny, living cells percolating in the depths remains a mystery we long to unravel. Six hundred million years ago, life miraculously moves onto the land, out of the waters of our gestating mother the Earth life emerges in all its magnificent complexities. Staring down into the depths of the Ocean, I have often been struck by the magnitude of my own insignificance and yet, here I am. Here you are. Here we are. All of us floating along in the blue-boat home of ours, even as sisters and brothers, cousins, and friends in the southlands prepare themselves for the power of the oncoming rush of the Ocean’s furry.
Storms rage upon the Ocean each and every day. But not until the Ocean threatens to encroach upon the Lands, do we shift our gaze and wonder at the depth of life’s mysteries. Knowing that in the coming days, like Job shaking his fist at the heavens, there will be those in the path of a storm named Dorian, who will be left with nothing but their own shaking fists with which to protest the cruel vicissitudes the powers of the Ocean. Dorian from the Greek word meaning “gift” as if such furry could be tamed by a name. This gift-storm will surely stir us, if for but a moment from the momentum of our lives, inviting us to spare a thought for our fellow creatures.
Recalling our connections one to another inspires a kind of concern that causes some to exclaim, “There but for the grace of God…” A kind of trivial response of inconsequential value in the face of such suffering. Is it any wonder that the god of our ancestors scorns our shaking fists in our sacred scriptures, where out of the storm YAHWEH can be heard to demand: “Who is this obscuring my plans with such ignorant words?”
Dare we turn the pages to seek comfort in a later text. As from the confines of a small boat, Jesus directs us out into deeper waters. Do we have the courage to risk deeper waters? I wonder.
Before a storm the calm upon the surface inspires such confidence in us as we quietly navigate without risk. As the storm rages, the temptation is to rush to the shore and abandon our small boats. Even if there are fish out there to be caught, why take the risk? After all we’ve been work hard for years and have caught nothing and lost more than we can bear. Our boat is too small. Our spirits are weary. And still Jesus says, “Pull out into deep water.”
In the midst of the turbulence we long for calm clear waters in which to sail. Fearful of the depths, can we hear Jesus, urging us to go deeper. Deeper, where pretentions having floated to the surface give way to authentic connections. Deeper, where we must hone our focus in order to see what really matters. Deeper, where conscious communication opens our lungs so that we can breathe with compassion. Deeper, where the LOVE that lives in us longs to stir us beyond our fear. Deeper, where MYSTERY dwells, compels, and empowers. Deeper, where darkness gives birth to awakening.
To this day, while I do like to be beside the seaside, the deep, dark, open waters of the Ocean with their unknown secrets inspire a fear in me that can make my land-loving legs tremble. And yet, here I sand, clutching my bucket and spade, full of visions of castles yet to be built in the sand, nursing my fears that the crashing waves might just wash it all away. Somewhere from deep, deep, within, I hear the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. “Pull out into deep water.” Go deeper still.
May the ONE who gave birth to the OCEAN fill us with the courage to go deeper still. Deeper where the LOVE that lives in us longs to stir us beyond our fear. Do not be afraid.
Readings: Luke 14:1,7-14; Mechthild of Magdeburg’s “The Flowing Light of the Godhead”; Hebrews 13:1-3
Listen to the sermon here:
I am often reminded of the fact that one of the most basic parts of my job of being a pastor is pointing out the sacred. Most of what I do revolves around noticing when we are in the presence of the HOLY, the MYSTERY, the ONE who is so much more that we are, the LOVE that lies at the heart of all that IS. My job is to point to the sacred ONENESS, the LOVE that many call GOD and say “there,” or “here,” or “now,” “don’t miss IT.” All too often we find ourselves in the company of angels, messengers of the LOVE that IS God, and we don’t even notice it.
For the most part we humans can’t quite grasp the magnitude of the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality and so we do what humans always do: we personify this ONEness, or we use symbols and metaphors to indicate the presence of the sacred in our midst, and we tell stories. Stories that include burning bushes, ladders into the sacred realm, shepherds, lost coins, all sorts of symbols and metaphors that point to the ONE who IS. We have told some of those stories so often that the REALITY of the MYSTERY that these stories were created to bring down to earth, seems ever so distant and far away, lost in the mists of time. The REALITY that so many call God has been cast out there far away beyond our reach. So, week after week, I try to bring the stories, symbols and metaphors a little closer to the world that we inhabit so that you might be able to see in your own stories the angels that you have entertained without even knowing it.
In October of 1977, when I was twenty years old. I was young and adventurous. With a rail pass in my hand, a back pack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars worth of American Express Travellers cheques in my pocket, I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. I was tired. Several months of back-packing in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head for Greece, where the living is easy, where the warm sun, blue skies and equally blue waters held the promise of rest and relaxation.
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 Chania on the island of Crete. I knew that on Crete I could find work. So, I planned to mix a lot of rest and relaxation 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 called 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 marvelled 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 city of Belgrade; the showcase of what was then Tito’s communist regime.I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor people 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 sky-scrapers and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in Yugoslavia.
I was awakened from my dreams 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 right papers and that my back pack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, guns, and uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty years. He carefully read over the Visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa that I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar alphabet.The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I knew 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 am not sure that 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. I gathered from what she was trying 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. 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 paper work was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. After several fruitless attempts to try and get her to tell me what I was supposed to do, I found myself in a small room. Its only window was reinforced with bars.
In the darkness of a Yugoslavian holding cell, I sat down and I began to cry. I cried like I have never cried before or since. I was terrified and my sobbing was uncontrollable. After a while I became conscious of a sound that did not come from me. “Susssssssssh.”
I realized that I was not alone in the darkness. Someone else was in the room with me. In the shadows, I could make out the shape of a woman. My sobbing began to subside as she continued, “Shussssssh.” The woman began to pace back and forth in our tiny room and gradually her shusssh turned into humming. She hummed unfamiliar tunes that somehow managed to calm me. Occasionally her humming would turn to singing. She sang softly and quietly and my sobbing began to ease.
In the shadows I could not tell how old she was. Her hair was long, dark and curly. She wore a plain cotton dress, ankle socks and a beaten up pair of shoes, whose laces flapped back and forth as she paced. It took only a few hours for my travelling companion to contact the British Embassy, sort out the mess and secure my freedom. The sunlight was just beginning to find its way into our room when my captor arrived to release me. As I left, I took a close look at my roommate. I smiled, hoping that she would understand my smile as gratitude for her kindness. Her tender sounds had calmed me and helped me through one of the darkest nights of my life. She returned my smile and added a wave of her own. Then the guard roughly escorted me out into the bright lights of the customs house.
Before I boarded a train that would take me safely out of Yugoslavia, I thought that perhaps I should try to help my roommate. Maybe I should try to find out why she was being detained. Perhaps I should try to help her get out. But this was not a place that welcomed questions and the warm sun of Greece beckoned me. And so, I boarded the train and I left. My few hours of captivity – I chalked up to just one more adventure on the road and I rarely thought of my room-mate again. Continue reading
I have often heard Jesus’ teaching about who sits where at a wedding feast used to encourage a kind of humility that requires those who would follow Jesus to take a back seat or better still adopt a cloak of invisibility lest we be mistaken for the proud and self-righteous. Canadians have a special affinity for this particular way of interpreting this text. It seems to me that the image of Canadian humility suggests that Canadian Christianity has had a huge impact upon our national psyche. I know that there are many who would insist that our humble national character is a direct result of living in the shadow of the Americans, whose national identity is anything but humble. I have to admit that the constant drumbeat of “We’re number one!”, “We’re number one!” coupled with a patriotism that champions the idea of American Exceptionalism which is the notion that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary. With such pride of place, you can be sure that each and every one of our American cousins is endowed with the confidence on knowing exactly where they belong at the head table. So, is it any wonder that living next-door to a nation that instills such patriotic ardor in its citizens, that we Canadians would find a more humble approach more appealing.
Don’t get me wrong; I know that stereotypes rarely express the full character of a nation and so, it would be a mistake to paint all Americans with the same brush. But I dare say that you’d be hard pressed to find a Canadian who would disagree that even the most enlightened of our American cousins who might be found from time to time to speak softly, doesn’t underneath it all carry a big stick. Where Bravado flows through our American cousin’s national character, most Canadians prefer a quieter, softer, gentler approach, lest we be confused with the worst of American stereotypes: “the ugly American.” Continue reading
View it yourself here
Listen to the sermon here
“Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you. Before you were born, I dedicated you. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
I have this distant memory of walking along a sidewalk. I couldn’t have been more than five years old. I was bent over watching intently, determined not to miss a single crack in the sidewalk. Step on a crack – break your mother’s back. A silly childish rhyme. A wild idea placed into the mind of a child. An idea that kept me hunched over and focussed upon cracks in the sidewalk. So focussed upon a silly childish rhyme, that even my body was hunched over and my vision was restricted, so restricted that I didn’t even the see the telephone pole that jumped out in front of me and smacked me in the forehead, sent me crashing to the ground and left me with a bump the size of a robin’s egg.
Do me a favour, stand up and bend over. Without straightening your back, take a long look around. How far can you see? Can you see the piano? Can you see the banner’s hanging on the wall? How well can you see out of the windows? Do you see the sky? Ok, straighten up. How much more can you see?
When I was a child, my vision was restricted by a silly childish rhyme that used a fearful idea to direct my focus. Just now the posture of your bodies physically restricted your vision. Earlier, when we viewed the Awareness video, the instructions about where to focus, restricted your vision and most of you missed the moonwalking bear that pranced across the screen. Bent out of shape, crippled by ideas, traditions, fears, prejudices, allegiances, peer pressure, or narrow focussed lenses, our vision can be restricted to such an extent that we are blind to what is going on around us. Obstacles to our progress can actually jump out in front of us and knock us down or out.
I’d like us to focus for a moment on the very narrowness of our focus. How bent out of shape are we as a result of who we are and where we live? How does our history shape the way we see reality? How does our education impact the way we see? How does our family history restrict our vision? How do the things we were taught to believe about God narrow our view of the Source of our existence? How do the stories we have been told narrow our focus? How does our status as privileged, mostly upper-middle-class Canadians narrow our focus and leave us blind to the realities of life in the world around us? What might it take to help us stand up and talk a good look around us? How many Moondancing Bears have we missed? Continue reading
Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus or as it is still called in the Roman Catholic Church The Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary into Heaven. This enigmatic woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. So on this festival day I this re-post this sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.
Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago. For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading
Listen to a version of this sermon
‘‘Have no fear little flock. Have no fear little flock. It is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.” Have no fear. Do not be afraid. But what is it that we are all afraid of? What fear is Jesus trying to sooth? What fear drives us? In the deepest darkest hours of the night, what are we afraid of? Does it all come down to the darkness in the end? Darkness in the end?
Darkness in the end? Have no fear. Do not be afraid. But how can I not be afraid? What if in the end it all comes down to darkness?
Have faith! Have faith. ”Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Have no fear little flock. Do not be afraid. Have faith. But what is faith? The reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. I’d love to get me some of that. I’d love to have faith; faith that in the end all is not darkness. If I only had faith, I could believe that in the end I will not be left in the darkness of the abyss. If I only I had faith.
After this morning’s worship, I will begin five weeks of vacation. Five glorious weeks to do whatever I want, whenever I want to.I am richly blessed!!! Not only do I have five weeks stretching before me. My vacation begins at the peak of the Perseids. In fact the absolute best time to view the most spectacular meteor shower of the year will be tonight and tomorrow night. From about 10:30 to 4:30 am the universe will be putting on a show. It will start off slowly and then peek just before dawn and if you lie out under the sky, there’ll be more falling stars to wish upon than you’ll be able to count. I’ve spoken to you many times about my experiences out under the stars. I’ve been a fan of the Perseids ever since I was a teenager and felt the nearness of something so much bigger than myself under a starlight night. Stars have always given me the courage to peer into the darkness and trust that we are not alone. Stars in the night-sky and not doctrines or theologies or creeds or a list of things I ought to believe, but stars in the darkness of the night sky. Stars in the night sky take me back to all hope filled nights I’ve spent peering into the darkness for a trace of the ONE for whom my heart yearns. Stars in the night sky help me to see beyond the darkness. Stars in the night sky are best viewed far away from the lights of the city. In the city there is too much artificial light interfering with our view. In the city there is just too much of everything and there is good reason to be afraid.
I still remember my first trip to New York City. I was a young woman, and the hustle, and bustle, and reputation of New York City gave me so much to be afraid of. New York City is dirty and gritty. In an effort to escape the stickiness of the busy streets, I ducked into the Museum of Modern Art. Back then I didn’t have much of an appreciation for great art, but even so, I was left breathless when I turned a corner and was confronted by Van Gogh’s masterpiece, Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh’s image of the night sky swirls across the canvas full of vitality and power that speaks of DIVINITY’s presence. The stars don’t just sparkle; they explode in radiance. Looking closer, I could see that the earth itself seems to respond to the movement in the heavens, forming its own living waves in the mountains and the rolling trees beneath them. In the sleepy village, the windows of the houses glow with the same light that illuminates the universe. The church steeple in the center seems to struggle to point to God, who is so alive in this scene. But the little church is dwarfed by the cypress trees at the left, which seem to capture the joy of the inhabited creation around them by erupting in a living flame of praise.
I spent a couple of hours standing and sitting in front of that masterpiece and that afternoon was just the beginning of my love affair with Vincent Van Gogh’s work. Over the years I have travelled to Amsterdam many times and spent hours in the Van Gogh museum gazing in wonder at the work of this master. If you have only ever seen a print of a Van Gogh then you have missed the wonder of the thousands and thousands of brush strokes that make up one of his masterpieces and you have missed the opportunity to be mesmerized by the wonders of the details imbedded in each painting. I have traipsed around Europe exploring the various museums that contain Van Goghs and I have often gone out of my way to catch a glimpse of a Van Gogh. I’ve seen hundreds of his masterpieces, but none can compare to the splendour of Starry Night.
Preaching on Luke 12:32-40 and Hebrews 11:1-16
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom” So begins the gospel reading for this coming Sunday. But I am afraid and my fear is not about the the thief who this text insists may break into my house or that the HUMAN ONE is coming at some unexpected hour. No, my fear is wrapped up in my desire to pay little or no attention to the second reading prescribed for this Sunday from the letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. Because of faith, our ancestors were approved b God. By faith, we understand the world was created by the word from God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible…..”
Do I have faith? Do any of us have faith? For that matter: What is faith? According to Hebrews faith “is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to hear Jesus words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to believe. So I wonder: Do I have faith? Do I have the faith that makes it possible for me to believe? Do you? Do any of us?
I write this as one who finds it difficult and sometimes even impossible to believe much of anything. I am a doubter by nature. Doubting is part of who I am. I know that there are those who are more inclined to believe and I am envious of believers. I envy those who are sure and are able to find comfort in the Scriptures. For a very long time I was ashamed of my inability to believe. I often sat in church and wondered if I might just be a hypocrite. I wondered if someone who had as many doubts as I have belongs in the church. So, I tried to conquer my doubts by studying the Scriptures. Continue reading