What about those raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face, right-wing nut-jobs?

Bless me, folks, for I have sinned. It has been far too long since my last confession. But what with COVID and all, I haven’t been too eager to look into the mirror. But we have arrived at the end of the church year, and with this comes a parable attributed to Jesus, about the sheep and the goats, and I must confess my goatyness has become all too apparent. It has been sneaking up on me for weeks now. I blame the media. Why not, everyone else does? Over and over again, the news media has delivered reports about various prominent, what shall we call them, Trumpsters? who are testing positive for the coronavirus. The news of raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face right-wing nut-jobs who, are making fun of science one minute only to test positive the next, well, forgive me but I can no longer stop my lips from twitching and breaking out in a self-righteous smile. Not that I wish them harm, but a few weeks on a ventilator might just be the medicine they need to convert them to my way of thinking.

I know. I know it’s wrong. This is after all a confession. But admit it. Go on. Tell me you don’t smirk even a little when “those people,” you know the ones who rant and rave, in that self-righteous way of theirs, ridiculing, or denying, or objecting to all the stuff that we care about. You know the stuff “we” progressive, forward-thinking, smart people, us, the ones who know better, all the stuff “they,” “them,” “those,” “others,” well let’s face it, they just don’t have a clue about.

Forgive me. I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself from judging “them,” those others, whether they’re Trumpsters, or those science-denying, greed-inspired, racist, ignorant, card-carrying nut-jobs. Why shouldn’t we take some delight that when they get what they deserve? After all good christian folk like us, have been judging people for centuries! You’ve got your sheep and you’ve got your goats. And the good shepherd knows enough to separate one from another: sheep to the right, goats to the left. Yay sheep! Boo goats! The parable is clear!  Yay us! Boo them!

According to the parable, judgement falls upon the sheep who are praised as “blessed” and rewarded with the promise of inheriting a kin-dom, prepared from them since the creation of the world. As for the goats, well there’s an ever-lasting fire fit for the Devil and the fallen angels, where they will receive “eternal punishment” while the lambs “go off to eternal life.” Blessed are those who wear a mask, for you shall be rewarded with good health. Cursed are those who refuse to wear a mask, for you shall be rewarded with a positive test for COVID! Here endeth the lesson. Or does it.

Now, clearly, I’m over-simplifying to make a point. But parables do have a way of turning our perceptions upside-down and inside-out, and they do so not just to make a point but to radically change our perception of reality. The point of this parable couldn’t be clearer:  the basis on which judgement hinges is in the response to “the least of these”. Whether you’re a sheep or a goat, did you reach out to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the prisoner? Did you give to the “least of these” the very thing they needed most? If you did, the paradise of your dreams, well congratulations, you’re in it. If you failed to reach out to the least of these then, woe is me, for the hell of your worst nightmare, well look around for it is yours.

Now if this was simply a moral tale, the point would be clear. But a parable is more than simply a moral tale. Parables are designed to turn everything upside-down and inside-out for the sole purpose (pun intended) for the soul purpose of radically changing our perceptions of reality. The turning point of this parable of the sheep and the goats is when we see who Jesus is. “For I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me; in prison and you came to visit me.” 

When?  When? When” Ah, there’s the rub. “The truth is, every time you did this for the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it for me.” Jesus not only identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the needy of every kind; Jesus identifies himself as one of “them”.

Now. Not so fast, we’ve turned it upside-down. Now let’s see how it looks when you see it inside-out. Imagine the needy for just a moment. Think about what it would be like to be hungry, thirsty, a stranger, a prisoner, poor and needy. Sounds like hell to me, perhaps even the kind of torment which feels like eternal punishment. The problem with categorizing “them,” “those people,” you know who I mean, the problem with labeling or judging “them” as “other” is that the ONE we profess to follow, this Jesus of Nazareth, not only identifies with “them,” he doesn’t just sympathize with “them,” this Jesus fellow, he sees himself as one of them. We are, all of us, both sheep and goats.  We all have the power to give and to withhold.

Now as clear as this parable may have sounded to our ancient ancestors, some of us may not fully hear it, so let me be clear. “Those people,” substitute your particular goat of choice, “those people” they too are just as capable as “us,” substitute your particular sheep of choice; “those people” are just as capable as “our people” of giving and withholding. The question is not whether or not we can identify or sympathize with those we have judged to be “others”. The question is can we see CHRIST in them? And before we go seeing CHRIST as “other than” remember, this CHRIST is the same ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us.

So, what this parable is also asking us to see is ourselves in “the least of these.” For until we can see our own humanity in the humanity of those in need, we will not see eternal life. This parable is not a cautionary tale about how to avoid judgement at the end of it all. This parable invites us to see the CHRIST in, with, through, and beyond, the least of these of whom we are ONE. Our ancient ancestors spoke about the vast realities of the cosmos in language so plain and ordinary that even, “the least of these” could see themselves as part of extra-ordinary reality of a life which has eternal dimensions. 

We are indeed all sheep and goats. We are also embodiments, incarnations, of the ONE Jesus embodied; we are the Body of CHRIST; a CHRIST which is so much more than we can begin to imagine, a CHRIST of COSMIC dimensions. As for “them,” you know, “those people” the “others,” well surely, we too have the power to see beyond our labels, beyond our categories, beyond our judgements, to see the HUMAN ONE, the CHRIST who lives, in, with, through, and beyond even “them.”

Let us take no pleasure in the misfortunes of others, whether they be sheep or goats. Let us be CHRISTs to one another, giving and receiving, LOVEing and being LOVEd, so that together we can create the heavens of our dreams and let us live life, in all its eternal glory, here and now.  Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

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Blest Are Those Who Mourn In a Pandemic – All Saints’ – Matthew 5:1-10

Since this pandemic began, more than 1.2 million people around the world have died from COVID-19. In Canada, the death toll exceeds 10,000 people. In Ontario, more than 3,100, and here in York region 267 people have died from COVID-19. Sadly, millions more people have died alone of the regular stuff which causes our bodies to perish. This year as a result of public health restrictions, death has been a lonely endeavour, for both the dying and for the grieving. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. But how do we mourn and how shall we be comforted in the midst of a pandemic?

So much of what I would call popular, cultural, Christianity imagines the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the SOURCE of ALL that IS, the SOURCE of ALL life as a kindly, old, gentleman in the sky from whom we should seek comfort from the pain of death. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY is readily offered to the dying and to those who mourn as a kind of talisman, who alone can provide the necessary comfort, all we need is just have faith in the various visions offered to us by the faithful of an afterlife. So, it doesn’t surprise me that those of us who have given up worshipping personifications of the MYSTERY which IS the DIVINE LOVE in which we are all ONE, we are left longing for a way to mourn and to comfort which does not require that we worship the idol of the all too small sky-god, which we once worshipped.

Today, as we remember ALL the SAINTS who have gone before us, together with ALL the SAINTS who dwell among us, my heart goes back to the WISDOM imparted to me by a particular saint, who taught me so much about the ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and beyond us to comfort those who mourn. This particular saint had no family.  She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon, I will call her Sophia; Sophia, the Greek word for WISDOM. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member of the congregation which I serve. When the doctors told her that she was dying she thought that she ought to have a pastor. So, via, a friend of a friend, I was summoned to her bedside.

I was afraid. I had been told that she only had a few weeks before the cancer would, and I quote, “take her,” not die, but that “the cancer would take her.” No one used the word death or said that she was going to die. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task.  No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.

I went to Sophia’s bedside every day for weeks. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. Not any pat answers. She didn’t want those. She didn’t want trite platitudes. Just the facts. She would say, “Just give me the facts!” I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts which I possessed, might not sustain us on our journey.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that she’d spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she had grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se, but someplace heavenly.  Like Paris in the springtime. She so loved Paris in the springtime. If only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who, like her appreciated the finer things of life. Life? Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.

One morning, I stopped by the bakery and picked up some of the most Parisian looking pastries I could find. Then I swung by a coffee shop and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down to me that I should heat up some milk so that we could have lattes. It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster.

Our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men all fell at her feet. Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried.

After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. London was wet and cold. Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come to be his love. Over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg, where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children.  

By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps. It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans.  By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and I had gone from being a suspected bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us.

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

“I don’t know?” was all I could honestly say. Sophia was patient with me. She asked me if I thought there was more to life or if death was the end. “No religious platitudes, if you please. Just the facts.”

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

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

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

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

Who will remember the hundreds, the thousands, the millions who have died this year?How shall we be comforted. Like most deaths, those who have died from the coronavirus, have done so out of sight, removed from the public eye, and they have been mourned out of sight. In addition to those who have perished of the virus, there have been those countless deaths of loved ones, we have been unable to mourn in our usual ways. No gatherings at all, or if we could manage it, just tiny, physically distant funerals scarcely able to do justice to our grief. Ever so faintly, Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount echo down through the generations: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Some translations say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled. Mourning is scarcely possible during these challenging times. It is as if we have been robbed of mourning’s blessings.

Blessed, “bless-ed,” what does it mean to say “blessed.” The Greek word “makarios” which is often translated as “blessed” is also sometimes translated as “happy”. But “happy are those who are mourning” is not a translation that makes much sense to me. Fortunately, there is another meaning to “makarios” which does make sense, “Makarios” can also mean,  “honoured.” “Honoured are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.”

“Honoured are those who mourn.”  To mourn is to grieve, to lament, to show sorrow for the death of someone, or the loss of something. And haven’t we all lost so much this year? There is much in this life to mourn, losses of all kinds. For life is change, and in change there are losses. As I look around this beautiful cemetery, there is a chill in the air. Last night, the temperatures dipped below freezing a sure sign that the autumn is almost over, and winter is coming. All the signs, together with the medical experts are telling us that this will be a very dark winter. In the midst of the sadness and grief which this pandemic has spread around the world, my attention is drawn to the leaves which are tenaciously hanging onto these trees.

As I marvel at their tenacity, I can’t help but remember Sophia hanging on for dear life. I remember how I wept each time that I left her bedside. I also remember other griefs. Losses which I have been privileged, honoured to mourn. I say privileged because LOVE is a prerequisite for mourning. We do not mourn unless we have loved or have been loved.  Honoured are those who mourn, for we shall be comforted, because every tear is pregnant with new life. Like fallen leaves which will provide the nourishment for new life, all that we are is not lost at our death. What we are forever impacts the WHOLE, in whom we live and move and have our being. Death is a transformation point into the MYSTERY who is, was, and ever more shall be the SOURCE  of our being. For those of us who mourn, grief is a narrow passage through which we pass from death to new life. Without tears and dreams there is no healing. Without laughter and singing there is no savoring of what is, and what is to come. LOVE is the tender lifeforce which transcends even death. Honoured are those who mourn for it is LOVE who consoles; the LOVE which IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING.

Over and over again, Sophia’s desperate plea, “Who will remember me?” punctuated our conversations with fear which went beyond belief. No theological words or phrases about believing would suffice or comfort. Only the promise to remember her could bring any comfort at all. But who was I to make such a promise?  So, I hesitated. I tried to calm her fears with words. I tried to explain her fear away. And then one afternoon, Sophia took my hand and she asked me about my travels, about my loves, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears. She said she wanted to be able to remember me.

I was reluctant. This wasn’t supposed to be about me.  I was after all the pastor, the caregiver, there were lines which the books say should not be crossed. Sophia didn’t care to be cautious; time was of the essence. She wanted to remember me, and to do that she needed to know me. So, I came out from under the protection of my clerical office and together we travelled back to the places which had shaped and molded me. Sophia and I became friends, if only for a brief moment in time, we were kin, each embodying LOVE for the other.

A few days before she died, a panic came over her as she feared what might become of her. Once more, holding tightly to my hand, she begged me, “Who will remember me?”

With all my heart I promised, “I will remember you Sophia. Those men in Paris who fell at your feet all those years ago, the young man who fell in love with you in London, the children in Hamburg and the people in Kentucky, they will remember you. Your friends will remember you.” And then I took a long deep breath and I said, “I will remember you.” Her breathing calmed and her grip loosened, and she began to smile. And then I asked her. “Sophia remember me!” “I will remember you.” Sophia promised.

Over the course of next few days as her death drew ever near, Sophia and I were kin for one another. Embodying the DIVINE for one another. LOVE-ing one another. Remembering one another. I remember you my dear. It is an honour to remember you. You are part of me.

It is in our remembering that the HOLY ONE consoles us. This may indeed be a dark winter, but the light which is the LOVE which we call “God” shines in, with, through, and beyond us, as LOVE empowers us to comfort those who mourn, by being LOVE to one another. Spring will come. The sap will rise.  New leaves from buds will transform all our grief into hope. Blessed are we. All that we are is not lost at our death. What we are forever impacts the WHOLE, the ONE who IS LOVE, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.

Blessed are we as we remember those we have loved and who have loved us. Blessed are we as we remember the saints who have walked among us and those who continue to dwell among us. Thanks be to the ONE, who makes us WHOLE, ONE with our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, LOVE.  Now and always. Amen.

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GOD’s Backside Passes By Our COVID Regulated Wilderness – Exodus 33

Yesterday, I while on my way to preside at a wedding, my mind kept wandering away from the imminent nuptials toward the vivid autumn colours and all that they foretell. I love autumn. I’m fond of saying that autumn is my favorite colour. But as I drew closer to my destination, thoughts of the passing of autumn into winter saddened me as I thought about how this wedding would unfold. Here in this region we are about to go back into lockdown, so this wedding was a wedding like no other wedding, I have ever been part of. As we hastily drew up plans for the event, we joked about our new reality and the challenges which have become all too real during this pandemic. Only a handful of guests would gather outside, in the back yard of the parents of the bride. Masks would be mandatory, and we would be required to keep our distance. The realization that this couple was just one of many couples whose weddings have been postponed or curtailed or carried out under strict social distancing regulations began to lower my mood. So, returned my focus to the vivid autumn vistas which lined my route. As my mind soaked up the beauty, it also began to wander toward the reality that these bursts of colour mean that the leaves are about to die. Soon they will all fall, just as the snow will begin to fall. Winter is coming.

Winter is coming and it shall be a winter like no other we have ever experienced. For in addition to the hardships which winter inevitably brings to this part of the world, the increased presence of the coronavirus will force us into the kind of hibernation which this past spring’s lockdown only hinted at. As my mood began to spiral down into the deeps of the wilderness into which we will soon find ourselves, I couldn’t help wondering, in the words of the psalmist in the old King James version, “from whence cometh our help?” I know the psalmist provides the answer, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” But I have long since given up the notion that the DIVINE MYSTERY which the interpreters of the King James Version of the Bible called, “LORD” was waiting around to magically solve all our problems.

During these intense days filled with the challenges of living and dying during a pandemic, those of us who spend our lives wrestling with questions about the mystery and meaning of life, find ourselves, like most people in a new kind of wilderness. In my line of work, talk of mystery, meaning, and wilderness often sends us scurrying back to the sacred stories which weave their way in and out, over and under, the meaning we try to make about the deepest MYSTERY of life. The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through story, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality.  

Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses, these are the stuff of truth.  We human creatures, we 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 experience and our wonderings; what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are we imagining? The best stories, the ones which capture our imagination and stimulate our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories were so profound that they just had to be written down.

They were elevated to the realm of the sacred and these stories, these wonderings, took on the quality of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some of us have sought to defend these stories with our very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identities between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred myths. 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 our GOD, who 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 of us even claim that between their line 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 tribe or nation.

From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. Let me remind you of once such story handed down from one generation to another, which is embedded in our psyche and contributes to our identity?

It’s a story of Moses, Moses who wanted to see GOD in all GOD’s glory. Moses who’d been talking with GOD for years, who’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinfolk, the lives of his people on the conversations he had had with this god of his. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory.

Who could blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost and wandering, hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere, anywhere. Moses had the stone tablets, yes. 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 to him. 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?

Moses said to Moses’ 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 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 proclaim the name of GOD with only a silence; a long pause where people could breathe the name within themselves. So sacred that when it came time to write down the sacred stories, they didn’t write the whole name of GOD. Just the consonants were enough to evoke the sacred name. 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. 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 with bold capital letters which included 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.

That says it all, our GOD IS. GOD WILL BE. NOW and FOREVER. This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you like more? Is it any wonder that Moses asked for just a little more? And so, one day, 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 see.”

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, a glimpse of God here and there. For our GOD WILL BE, WHO GOD WILL BE. And we must let the glimpse be enough, but oh those glimpses.

When I arrived at the backyard location, I was greeted by masked faces laughing and joking their way through last minute preparations. My own somber contemplations were dispersed by the task at hand. Proud parents and delighted siblings opened me to their sense of expectation, while beaming sunshine, stirred hope in this happy gathering in ways that only LOVE can. Once the bride and groom took their place in the midst of the LOVE which lives and breathes in every one of us who was gathered to bear witness to their promises, all our worries about the future slipped away as we celebrated LOVE’s triumph. Later, as we raised a glass to the happy couple, the wind rustled, and leaves fell, and I caught a glimpse of the DIVINE MYSTERY.

Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of GOD. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of GOD’s backside. For now, all we’ll see is a glimpse of God’s glory. But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. Remember the glimpses.

There, look can you see a glimpse of the DIVINE ONE? There, in the eyes of your beloved. The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse of the DIVINE. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the very first time, gazing into the wonder which you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse of the DIVINE. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem which told your whole life in just a few lines, there’s the hand of GOD.

Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride it 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 GOD in your own arms, waiting 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 GOD trying to catch up with him, trying with all your might to keep him safe; for you are the arms of GOD.

Look carefully as you watch the news, see the researchers, the doctors, nurses, and caregivers in all their efforts is the wisdom and the compassion of the LOVE which IS GOD, working in, with, through and beyond the many hands which will see us through.

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 breath of the ONE breathing alongside her as you breathe with her, as she breathes her last breath; for you are the breath of YAHWEH. And as you struggle to comprehend, 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, there, there they the arms of the MYSTERY holding you both in the LOVE which is GOD.

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, you will see the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE? Gaze out into the vivid autumn colours, there dashing by, through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see GOD’s backside passing by even now in this very wilderness of this pandemic.

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 the DIVINE MYSERY, the LOVE which we call GOD. Even in the midst of these challenging times, if you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of the LOVE which is YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe this wonder, this beauty, this magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are.

So, proclaim GOD’s glory! Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to YAHWEH’s splendor. Trust the MYSTERY of the LOVE which we call GOD, who even now passes in, with, through, and amongst us giving us a glimpse of YAHWEH’s ever so beautiful backside. Amen. Alleluia! Amen!

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Brussels Sprouts and Coronavirus at Thanksgiving

This year, an unwelcome presence looms large over all of our Thanksgivings. Oh, how I long for those childhood thanksgivings when the only unwelcome presence at Thanksgiving was the brussels sprouts, which thanks to my Mom, always managed to make their way onto my plate. If only the coronavirus was as easy to deal with as brussels sprouts. As a child, I became quite adept at swallowing those little suckers whole so that I didn’t have to bit into them and have their flavor invade my senses. I’d take one look at the obligatory brussels sprouts on my pate, take a deep breath, and pop them in my mouth and down they went, one at a time. Fortunately, my Mom was a cook from a different generation who always boiled vegetables into mush. So, there was no fear of choking on a whole soggy brussels sprout.

This Thanksgiving, the unwelcome presence of a global pandemic, is keeping us from gathering together in our homes with family and friends. Most of us will sit down with only the people we live with, no invited guests, no visiting family, no large tables, filled to overflowing with loved ones. Small turkeys rather than large turkeys were all the rage in the grocery stores this week. Over Zoom, I have heard people lament the empty spaces which will dominate their Thanksgiving celebrations.

Like the lepers who failed to give thanks for their healing, some of us may even be tempted to give Thanksgiving a miss this year.  I know, I know, we do indeed have so very much to be thankful for. A small turkey is better than no turkey. A small gathering is better than no gathering. The lingering presence of COVID is better than having COVID. We are so very richly blessed! We have so very much to be thankful for. We have roofs over our heads, food on our tables, technology to connect us, and most of us are healthy! We have the means to protect ourselves from the lingering presence of COVID and should we find ourselves testing positive, we are blessed to live in a country where our medical needs will be met. In a world-wide pandemic, Canadians are blessed to have the odds in our favour.

We have so very much to be thankful for. We ought to be among the first to offer our thanks and praise. I suspect, if the questions I’ve received from some of you over the course of this week leading up to Thanksgiving are anything to go by, I suspect that some of us may be keeping company with the nine lepers who failed to offer thanks and praise to “God.” This Thanksgiving is much like other Thanksgivings, when folks have asked me a perplexing question: “How or to whom do progressives give their thanks?” Over the years many of us have moved beyond the old images which personified the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call “God” as a person, a super-hero kind of super-person.

Who am I kidding those old images personified “God” as an old-man in the sky who enjoyed various omini super-powers. This omni-god was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent – all powerful, all knowing, always and everywhere present – sky-god is the same god which so many people conjure up when they tell me that they don’t believe in God.To which I usually reply, I don’t believe in the same god which you don’t believe in. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY falls far short of the ONE in whom we live, and move, and have our being, the ONE who in IS BEING ITSELF.

So how or to whom do we give thanks and praise when we no longer think of God as a super-hero, up there, or out there, who functions as a kind of master puppeteer in the sky? I will admit that it is so much easier to say, “Thank-you” to a deity that we have personified than it is to give thanks to a deity which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also! Our thank-yous to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, tend to be expressed in words which are so much more awkward than simply saying, “Thank-you Father” or “Thank-you Lord” or even “Thank God.” Continue reading

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you? – Thanksgiving Sunday sermons

Follow the links for previous sermons:

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

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

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

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you

After 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

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

Fortunately, this Sunday is Thanksgiving in Canada, so I do not have to preach on this troublesome text. However, for those of you who are struggling with this text, I post this sermon preached six years ago.

Listen to the sermon here

 

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said,  “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’  But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town. Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honour. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’  The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests. The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’   “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14

Is this the Gospel of CHRIST? In Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and other mainline denominations this text will be read and in those congregations the preacher will conclude the reading with a proclamation declaring that this is, “The Gospel of CHRIST!” or “The Gospel of the Lord!” to which the people will declare “Praise to you O CHRIST!” But I ask you: “Is this the Gospel of CHRIST?” “Wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Is this the Gospel of CHRIST?

I must confess that when I realized that this text is the one assigned for this, the very Sunday when we are about to begin our “visioning process,” my heart sank. This gospel reading comes around every three years and I’ve always managed to be on vacation when that happens, so I’ve never actually had to preach this particular gospel text.  I was sorely tempted to change our gospel reading to something more in keeping with the task that lies before us this afternoon. This text is hardly conducive to creating a new 21st century vision of what our church might become.  “Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are called but few are chosen.”

Throw him out into the darkness for the crime of being badly dressed? What kind of vision is this for us, here, today? Are we not a progressive congregation? Do we not pride ourselves on being an inclusive community?  “Many are called but few are chosen.” Is this the “Gospel of CHRIST?” “Praise to you O CHRIST!” I don’t think so. Continue reading

Getting to the Root of Our Dominion Over Creation: Genesis 1:27-28

From Coast to Coast to Coast, we Canadians live upon a land which far exceeds the blessings many of our ancestors could only long for. In addition to the milk and honey of our ancestors’ dreams, this land is rich in blessings more numerous than all the words in all the languages spoken by this land’s diverse inhabitants. I suspect that those of you who call other lands “home” are also blessed with a similar love for your land. We only have to close our eyes to see the images of the beauty of the land we love simply because it is home. Walking upon the land, the ground beneath our feet holds promises passed down from generation to generation. Memories of landscapes long changed by human hands, haunt our visions of ever-expanding settlements. In addition to being overwhelmed by the vast beauty and majesty of the land, our eyes weep and our bodies shudder at gaping wounds, and ugly scares which threaten to pierce our over-inflated egos and challenge the wisdom of our imbedded delusions of grandeur. Standing upon the Earth, with its vast, majestic lands, how did we ever become so enamored of our species domineering posture of self-importance? There is an arrogance to our Western posture which threatens the land.

Years ago, when my family immigrated to this land which I call home, it was known as the DOMINION of CANADA. That word “dominion” sticks in my throat, like a bile which threatens to make me wretch. While it has been a long time since this land was viewed as the DOMINION of CANADA, this land we love continues, like many lands, to suffer the pain of the dominion we inheritors of the Genesis myth continue to claim as our place in the order of Creation.

Listen to these words taken from one of the Creation myths found in the book of Genesis. I’m using the New Revised Standard Vision because it is a familiar translation of Genesis chapter 1, verses 27 & 28: the NRSV translates the Hebrew text like this:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”             Here endth the reading…or does it?

In one of the most treasured Creation myths of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, humans are placed as the crowns in the jewels of Creation. For two millennia, the dominant Christian culture has interpreted this myth to endow the right of “dominion over” every living thing that moves upon the Earth; indeed, over the Earth itself. Creation is ours to rule over. We have dominion over Creation.

“Dominion” the word comes from the Latin word dominium which means “lordship” or “right of ownership” from the word dominus which means “lord”.  Humans, male and female, for that is how “He” the “LORD GOD” created them in this particular Creation Myth, Humans are “lords of every living thing” we have dominion over Creation and we are to subdue the Earth, and multiply. Is it any wonder then that we are so very quick to consume the bounty of the Earth? It is as if we see ourselves as lords and ladies exercising our god-given right to tax the Earth and all her Creatures. One look at a “man-made” (sic) machine, excavating a mountaintop, confirms our “dominion” our “lordship” as we ravenously devour the land, so that we can gobble up the Earth’s resources.

Creation myths function as a kind of compass which orients a culture’s place in the world. But what if our Creation myths, or rather, Western Christianity’s translations and interpretations of our Creation myths went askew somehow? Perhaps instead of a compass our Creation myths are functioning as weights around our necks, millstones if you will, which continue to unbalance us? I believe that our notions of “dominion” continue to function as such a millstone and that we must cast off this weight if we are to have any hope of restoring our balance. Let me begin to lighten the load by looking back to our Creation myth to see if we can discover the roots of our delusions of “dominion”.

For centuries, the Hebrew word “radah” has been translated as “dominion” but when we go back to the roots of our myth we actually, quite literally discover a “root”. The Hebrew word, “radah” means “a point high up on the root of a plant.” When gardeners who pull up weeds encounter the radah the discover where the strength of the plant is. The radah of the root is the centre of the plant’s strength. The radah helps the plant say firmly in the ground when the winds come. What happens to the meaning of our Creation myth when we begin to understand the strength of a new translation? Continue reading

The DIVINE Expression of BEING ITSELF – Exodus 3:1-15

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. I believe that it stands to reason that a good story, a really good story has the power to reveal truth about the MYSTERY which we call God. So, let me tell you a good story. It is a story which I have told many times because like all good stories it is worth repeating. The first time I heard this story was from a seminary professor. Since then I’ve heard this story attributed to Marcus Borg he attributes it to Parker Palmer. Like many good truth revealing stories, its origins are somewhat elusive.

This story is about a little girl. She was four years old and her Mom is expecting a baby and Mom tells this little girl that the baby is coming to them as a gift from God and that this gift from God will be a new member of their little family. Sure enough, the baby arrives. A boy is born. The parents are a little bit worried because everyone knows that nobody knows how a 4-year-old will react, especially as an only child, to having a new baby in the house. So, they’re reading their parenting books and they’re trying to figure out ways to assimilate this new person into their family without having their little 4-year-old suddenly feel shunted to the side.

Well it turns out that this little 4-year-old has an unusual request; a request which her parents don’t know quite how to deal with. For some unknown reason the little girl keeps asking for some time alone with her new baby brother. The parents are a little worried because they’ve heard horror stories about what 4 year-olds can do to newborn babies. They don’t want to leave this child alone with their precious newborn. Then they remember the baby monitor and they figure they’ll set this baby monitor up so they can listen from a distance and know what’s happening.

Once everything is carefully set up, the little girl goes into the bedroom and her parents hear the footsteps of their daughter going over to the crib. The parents are very, very nervous. Then their little girl leans into the newborn’s crib and they hear her say to her new baby brother,  “Tell me about God. I have almost forgotten. Tell me about God.  I have almost forgotten.”

This coming Tuesday, churches all over the world will begin a monthlong celebration of the Season of Creation. From Sept. 1st, which is the Day of Creation until St. Francis Sunday on October 4th our awe and wonder at the beauty of Creation will be given voice in our worship celebrations.

The Season of Creation is a relatively new liturgical season, born out of our response to the concerns of so many of us about the plight of CREATION under the weight of human contempt and abuse of the Earth and her creatures. I know that many of you are concerned about the many and various ways in which our ravenous consumption of the bounty of the Earth threaten the wellbeing of CREATION. So, I won’t presume to preach to the choir. Instead, I’d like to look at the many and various ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God finds expression in, with, through, and beyond CREATION.

Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. For far too long, traditional Christianity has emphasized theological responses to our desire to know about God. Lutherans, Anglicans, protestants in general, our traditions have for all intents and purposes divorced the DIVINE from CREATION. Yes, I know that images of a DIVINE “FATHER” are employed to portray the MYSTERY of the ONE who is the SOURCE of ALL REALITY as “THE CREATOR”, but, this image casts the CREATOR off into the distant heavens and relegates the DIVINE to the role of distant observer, occasional interferer, and constant judge. This divorce, like all divorces, has impacted the children in ways which have allowed us to run amuck, forgetting as we do so often to pay attention to the LOVE which gave us birth, continues to nurture us, and in which we continue to live and move and have our being. Continue reading

Who do YOU say Jesus was and IS? – Matthew 16:13-20

“Who do you say that I AM?” Jesus’ question has been preoccupying me for most of my life. Indeed, my professional life requires me to spend hours and hours, week after week, month after month, year after year, and dare I say it, decade after decade, trying to figure out just who I think Jesus was and is. Your very presence here watching this video, suggests to me that you have also tried to figure out who Jesus was and is. From time to time, I suspect that most of us have believed that we had worked it out; that we know just who Jesus is. But Jesus, just like every person we have ever known, and or ever loved, Jesus keeps changing on us.

The Jesus I knew when I was a child was little more than an imaginary friend. “Jesus loves me this I know!” “Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me!” not because the bible tells me so, but rather as my friend and biblical scholar Harold Remus always insists, “because my Mommy told me so!” When I was a kid, the knowledge that Jesus loved me, earned Jesus the role of my imaginary friend.

Later, when I was a teen-ager looking for more love than my family could give me, I found my way into the Church and discovered, “What a Friend I have in Jesus! All my sins and griefs to bear!”

The idealism of my youth turned my imaginary friend Jesus into my radical friend Jesus, who understood my passion for justice, and led me into deep friendships with folks who were determined to practice what Jesus preached, as we proudly sought to be the kind of people who, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Sadly though, after 25 years in the church, I found myself as a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, with the keys of the kingdom jangling in my pockets, firmly believing that Jesus was and is, the: “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It has taken years for me to get to know Jesus as something other than the sacrificial Lamb of God. I stand in a long line of priests and pastors known as the Apostolic Succession.

According to the story, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew, Jesus handed the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, the “Rock” upon which the Church was founded, and in doing so Jesus handed over the authority to bind and loose in heaven. For generations, this passage has been interpreted by the Church as the establishment of the priesthood. The Apostle Peter is given the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and becomes the first gatekeeper precisely because possession of these keys gives him the power to decide just who will and who won’t be forgiven. Continue reading

“Nasty, Uppity, Woman!” – Matthew 15:21-28

That annoying Canaanite woman is at it again and not even Jesus can catch a break. Every three years that annoying woman comes along to disturb us. The way the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew tells his story, this annoying woman exposes Jesus for the human being that he was and shatters our illusions of Jesus the god-like super-hero. I know we could just look the other way. We could do what people, all too often, do when someone brushes off another human being with a racial slur; we could just pretend that we didn’t hear it. We could do what, according to the story, Jesus’ followers wanted Jesus to do, when they urged him to: “Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us”

It is clear from the way that the story is told that Jesus was trying to ignore this annoying woman’s incessant pleas. But she will not leave him alone. As much as I’d like to ignore her and everything she represents, she just won’t give us a break. Yes, I know that according to the story this woman was worried about her child, but how dare she expose Jesus in this way? Especially now, when we are all trying to cope with a global pandemic. Surely, we have enough on our plates, without rehashing this old story!  This one a hell of a pandemic we are living through. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard more than enough about racism during this pandemic to last me a lifetime. I don’t want to have to think about racism or white privilege, while I’m worrying how to stay healthy and protect my loved ones. I want to get away from all the noise about racism and I certainly don’t want to have to think about the fact that even Jesus is guilty of uttering a racial slur. If I still believed in the kind of god who functions like a puppeteer in the sky, I might suspect that this gospel reading didn’t just appear in the midst of this pandemic by chance. Even though I don’t believe in that kind of god, every once in a while, it would sure be nice to be able to blame this reading on some super guy up there. But like I said, every three years this reading comes up in the lectionary and this annoying woman forces us to see Jesus for who he was and always has been, a man.

Jesus was a man of his time; a man who was raised in an environment where women were to be seen and not heard;  a man who was raised to believe that his people were superior to other people, a man who wasn’t about to be disturbed by the yammering of a woman who was when all was said and done, nothing more than a Canaanite. Jesus was, after all a rabbi, and a busy rabbi at that. According to the story, Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water? He was a rabbi who was in demand, the crowds couldn’t get enough of him, Jesus had places to go and people to see. Just who did this woman think she was? Continue reading

If we are to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we must look beneath the surface!

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.

The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

click on the sermon title

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

I’m not that good a preacher!

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity,

Our Congregations Shrink???

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

The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity

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

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

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

The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening

Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Bags of Sugar – Mothers’ Day Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU CAN VIEW THE WHOLE WORSHIP SERVICE BELOW

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

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

Listen to the sermon here

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

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

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

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

Sermon Only – Watch the full service below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The past tense: WAS, WERE

The past participle: BEEN,

And the present participle: BEING.

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

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

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

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

JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.

ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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