Abundant Life in the Cosmos – Evolution Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas: a Cacophony of Chaos! – Advent 4

Watch this sermon here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I grow too old to dream

I’ll have you to remember

When I grow too old to dream

Your love will live in my heart

So kiss me my sweet

And so let us part

And when I grow too old to dream

That kiss will live in my heart

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

The Story of Jesus’ Birth is a Subversive Parable

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

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

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

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

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

emmanuel with us

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

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

Listen to the sermon here

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

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

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

“You Brood of Vipers!” How Dare You? – Matthew 3:1-13 – Advent Two

You brood of vipers! How Dare you? How dare you continue to Santa-fy the incarnation of Christ? John the Baptist is our annual reminder of that darkness is all around us. Sadly, despite this annual reminder, we are all too willing to glorify this terrifying messenger as we relegate his apocalyptic warnings about the catastrophic events that are happening all around us. Repent! the very word itself means “turn around.” Repent! Turn around! Stop focusing on your efforts to Santa-fy the coming of Christ. Repent and see that John the Baptist’s warnings continue to cry out to us from the wilderness to warn us of the fires that threaten to burn. You brood of vipers! Behold! A prophet cries in the wilderness!  This is what she looks like…

Watch Greta Thunberg’s warning. (see the video above)

Every Advent, John the Baptist’s warnings are served up on a silver platter as we remember the darkness of his wilderness. After John came the ONE in whom the LOVE that is DIVINITY was embodied. Jesus of Nazareth embodied LOVE. In Jesus we can see a new way of being in the world which promises to user in the Reign of LOVE. Not the heart and flowers kind of love, but rather, the LOVE that is the source of reality itself. The kind of LOVE that is capable of changing the world, the LOVE that is willing to sacrifice and to suffer for the all of Creation. The LOVE that is the ONE we call God.

The Reign of LOVE is calling upon each of us to embody LOVE as Jesus embodied LOVE. John the Baptist described the realities of his day accurately, but John was so wrong about what the Reign of God would look like. John envisioned the wrath of God. But the ONE who IS God did not come dressed in wrath to inflict punishment, doom, and destruction. The ONE who IS God came as LOVE.  In Jesus we can see that LOVE – dressed in human flesh, a baby yes, a baby subject to all the perils and dangers of life in the world; but also, as a fully-grown human being. A human being that embodied the LOVE that IS God in ways that offered us a glimpse of a new way of being in the world. Continue reading

Not Even Jesus of Nazareth Can Contain ALL that Christ IS – Second Sunday of Advent

You can view this sermon as it was preached at Holy Cross in Newmarket here

By now most of us are well on our way to “Preparing the Way.” Unlike John the Baptist’s plaintive cry to clear a straight path, fill every valley, and level every mountain, our preparations find us harkening back to the Christmases of our childhood, so that we might capture the love and joy that we imagine awaits us if only we prepare to do Christmas, the way it was done way back when. Right about now, in gatherings all over the place people are telling stories about how it was “way back when.”  You know, “way back when” people knew just how to prepare the way for Christmas. I remember way back when I was just a little girl, you know long, long, ago, way back when Christmas celebrations were so different. Way back when I was a child, we didn’t hang fancy, specially dedicated stockings on the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. No, way back when, people didn’t have the money to waste on special, fancy, Christmas stockings that were only used once a year.  Way back when, we just went into our sock draw and pulled out the largest sock we could find, and we hung it up, in the hope that if we’d been good, our stockings would be filled with treats, instead of the dreaded lump of coal that our parents had been threatening us with for weeks. Come Christmas morning, way back when, we were happy when our sock was filled not with stocking-stuffers like we have these days, but with the same thing we got every Christmas in our stockings, an apple, an orange, a few toffee’s and a couple of coins.

You see way back when, fruit was seasonal and fresh apples and oranges were a real treat. These days we can haul crates of tiny delectable oranges from the grocery store all year long. But, way back when, oranges at Christmas time, they were a real treat. I never did like oranges very much, so I would always try to trade my orange with my brother so that I could have two apples instead. You see, way back when, children were easier to please and Christmas was different.

Which leads me to another story. I don’t remember when or where I first heard this story about way back when, World War II had just ended, and refugees were loaded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people. Back then, refugee camps were filled to overflowing with children who’d lost their families during the war. Apparently, there was this little boy in a camp in France, we’ll call him Andre. Andre couldn’t have been more than about seven years old and he could barely remember the family he lost almost three years before the war ended. He’d been living in the refugee camp, more of an orphanage really, for almost a year.

The camp was run by a few nuns who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly. But they did their best, and the children were, after all was said and done, lucky to be alive. The children hardly noticed that Christmas was approaching until one of the nuns announced that a neighbour had promised to come by on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the three tiny sections of his share of the orange that oozed precious juice down his half-starved throat. Andre spent the days leading up to Christmas Eve dreaming of having a whole orange of his very own. He thought about the smell of the orange, dreamed of peeling the orange, and carefully considered whether or not to devour each and every section of the orange all at once or whether he should divide it and save a section or two for Christmas morning. Continue reading

Four ForeMothers: A Transformational Parable – Matthew 1:1-17

Reading:                    Matthew 1:1-17

This is the family record of Jesus the Christ, descendant of David, descendant of Abraham; Abraham begot Isaac; Isaac begot Jacob; Jacob begot Judah and his sisters and brothers; Tamar and Judah begot Perez and Zerah; Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begon Ram; Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon; Nahshon begot Salmon;  Rahab and Salmon begot Boaz;  Ruth and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse; and Jesse begot David, the ruler. Bathsheba—who had been the wife of Uriah—and David begot Solomon; Solomon begot Rehoboam; Rehoboam begot Abijah; Abijah begot Asa; Asa begot Jehoshaphat; Jehoshaphat begot Joram; Joram begot Uzziah; Uzziah begot Jotham; Jotham begot Ahaz; Ahaz begot Hezekiah; Hezekiah begot Manasseh; Manasseh begot Amon; Amon begot Josiah; Josiah begot Jeconiah and his sisters and brothers at the time of the Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonian captivity, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel; Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel; Zerubbabel begot Abiud; Abiud begot Eliakim; Eliakim begot Azor; Azor begot Zadok; Zadok begot Achim; Achim begot Eliud; Eliud begot Eleazar; Eleazar begot Mattan; Mattan begot Jacob: Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary. And from her Jesus was born. thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian captivity, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian captivity to the Messiah.

Reflection:     Transformational Parables Gestating Within:

Wow! That was a whole lot of begetting to get through! Fourteen generations plus fourteen generations, plus fourteen generations plus that makes 42 generations. Now you might just think that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew has provided us with a genealogy of Jesus. But I really don’t think so. If these first 17 verses are anything to go by the storyteller either doesn’t care very much about providing an accurate record or he is simply a very poor genealogist. The stories in the Hebrew Scriptures provide us with the names from the generations that Matthew left out. Either Matthew missed them by mistake or Matthew didn’t see the value of recording all the names. I suspect these seventeen verses are something more significant than a mere genealogy.

I suspect these seventeen verses are in and of themselves a parable. A parable is a story which communicates meaning. I believe that the first 17 verses of the Gospel according to Matthew is but the first of a series of parables which the storyteller uses to communicate the meaning of Jesus birth.

All too often we ignore the first 17 verses of Matthew, because we see them as little more than a boring recitation of a bunch of names, a genealogy to be gotten through (pardon the pun); a long intro if you will, before the real action begins. If we look closely, we will see the skillful way in which the storyteller prepares us for the scandal of Jesus’ birth. Quite unusually, this ancient genealogy contains the names of four women. There were lots and lots of women in the course of 42 generations, that the storyteller could have mentioned. But the anonymous gospel storyteller who we call Matthew choose to mention only five women. Five very particular women.

The first of the forefathers mentioned is not, surprisingly, Abraham. Our storyteller could have mentioned Abraham’s wife Sarah but instead choose to ignore Sarah, and tell us instead about Isaac, Jacob, and Judah before mentioning the first of the four foremothers. Our storyteller never mentions Sarah, or Rebekah, or Rachel, or Shelah, before he offers up Tamar for our consideration. Our storyteller declines to mention several more of Jesus’ foremothers before offering us Jesus’ foremother Rahab. And you guessed it, our storyteller fails to mention other foremothers before offing us Ruth, and then again Bathsheba.

What meaning is our storyteller trying to convey with this parable designed to prepare us for the story of Jesus birth? Like all good parables we must delve deeply into the stories behind the story, to discover the power of the parable to transform our understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ birth.

            Sung Response:  Prepare the Way of God

           Reading from Genesis 38:6-11

Judah found a spouse named Tamar for Er, his firstborn.  However, Judah’s firstborn Er was corrupt in YAHWEH’s sight, so YAHWEH caused Er’s death. Then Judah told Onan, “You must sleep with your brother’s wife to fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.  You must raise the offspring of your brother.” Onan knew the offspring would not be his, so whenever he would lie with her, he would ejaculate on the ground to avoid begetting an offspring for his dead brother.  But Onan did was bad in YAHWAH’s sight, so YAHWEH took away Onan’s life too.

  Reflection:     Tamar

The mention of the name Tamar to a Jewish audience at the end of the first century, would have had the effect, I believe our storyteller was after. Tamar is a widow, who must sleep with her dead husband’s brother in order to produce a male heir. Tamar is widowed again when her brother-in-law refuses to play along and dumps his seed on the floor so that Tamar will not become pregnant. This story is rarely told on a Sunday morning. Continue reading

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

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

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested. 

The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’  

The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’

The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’

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

As we approach the Season of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. We are about to begin a new cycle in the RCL. In what is know as “Year A”, the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to  Matthew. But followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, not even Mary will put in an appearance despite the fact that all of these women are mentioned in the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew! Last year was the same even though the RCL focussed upon the Gospel according to Luke, neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!”

As this is the year of Matthew, why not invite onto centre stage those “Shady gospel of matthewLadies” from Matthew Chapter 1: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, verses 1-17 make an excellent reading! John Shelby Spong is an excellent resource, you can find a transcript of his excellent sermon here. At Holy Cross we will use Matthew 1:1-17 as our first reading and Matthew 18-24 as our Gospel reading. This will allow us to usher Mary onto centre stage. Then on the Fourth Sunday of Advent we will switch over to the Gospel according to Luke for all three readings: First Reading – Luke 1:26-38, Second Reading – Luke 1:39-45, Gospel Reading – 1:46-59.  

I am forever hearing people despair about biblical illiteracy as clergy and church-insiders bemoan the collective forgetfulness of our culture. I suspect that the snippets of readings that we hear year after year may be a factor in the gaps of our collective memory when it comes to the women of the New Testament. Let this Advent be different. Invite the women of the gospels onto the stage. John the Baptist will be happy out there in the wilderness until his feast day in June!

Reign of Christ Sunday – sermons

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

Christ is a Cosmic Event!

Ruled By a Power Greater Than Fear

Home in the Love We Call God

Jesus Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kin-dom

Quest for the Cosmic Christ

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

Our Temples Lie in Ruins: Luke 21:5-19

“O God we call, O God we call, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn for you.” The first time I sang Linnea Good’s plaintive song, was back in my seminary days back in the late 90’s. It is difficult to believe that I’ve been singing that song in various settings for almost a quarter of a century. A lot has changed since the longing of that tune first matched my own deep longing for God. I have changed, the world has changed, even my own longing has changed. Yes, I still long for God, but the god I long for is so much more than the god of my yesterdays. The intensity of my longing has deepened as the immensity of my own unknowing has been revealed.

The god of my childhood fell away long ago. I stopped longing long ago for the benevolent Father-god. He was replaced with longings for the theological images of a church struggling to survive in the modern world with a more sophisticated and gracious version of a super-hero; a shero if you will. My cravings to see feminine images of the DIVINE have deepened into longings that seem to transcend images altogether as my questions about the nature of the REALITY that lies at the very core of ALL that IS tear at the very fabric of my ability to comprehend the MYSTERY who is the LOVE that for millennia we have called “God.”

O God we call, from deep inside we yearn to capture you in words and images so that we can pin you down, explain you, and contain you in temples we erect to worship you without ever knowing the sheer magnitude of our unknowing. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of my questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.

The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us? What happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins. What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.

They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…

What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint.

There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the far-away-god in the sky and have him solve all our woes. And then I remember Jesus.

It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus, I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are ONE. Jesus who put people ahead of the law. Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship. Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see the face of God the source of ALL that IS and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.

The Temple was too small, God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the ONE who IS the very SOURCE of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the DIVINE ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay, or we can look for the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, and through us in the faces of those around us; the ONE who lies beyond us in universes that stretch beyond our comprehension. We can let the dead bury the dead, or we can seek the DIVINE One in the LOVE that is God embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us. Continue reading

Shusssh…Peace…Shalom…Shusssh… Oh No! the apocalypse is here in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading from Luke 21:5-19

The end is nearI was twenty years old, young and adventurous, with a rail pass in my hand, a back pack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars worth of American Express Travellers cheques in my pocket, when I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece.

I was tired.  Several months of backpacking in Northern Europe had left me weary.  In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head for Greece, where the living is easy, where the warm sun, blue skies and equally blue waters held the promise of rest and relaxation.

As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Hannia on the island of Crete.  I knew that in Crete I could find work.  I planned to mix a lot of rest and relaxation with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean.

As the train rattled through Austria toward what was then Yugoslavia it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness.  I remembered my previous journey, by car, through Yugoslavia and how at the time, I had marvelled at the diversity of this strange little country.  I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as there ancestors had done.  I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra modern city of Belgrade; the showcase of Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor people in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade with its towering skyscrapers and streets filled with automobiles.  Several centuries seemed to co-exist in Yugoslavia.

I was awakened by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection.  When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds.  Even though I knew that I had all the right papers and that my back pack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, guns and uniformed officials struck fear into my heart.  I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty years.  He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa that I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar alphabet. Continue reading

Peace Sunday Sermon: Micah 4:1-4; Luke 6:27-37; John 14:23-27

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a very large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting that portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings. One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner.

However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains too, but they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is a state of mind, a way of being that breaks out in the midst of turmoil. A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace.  Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the danger, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places.

Peace is a way of being in a world that appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” If you listen to the news or tune into the media you will hear of wars and rumours of wars.

Tomorrow, we will commemorate Remembrance Day and although our tone may be somber, our laments quickly fade into images of glory and celebration not of peace but of violence. Our moments of silence will linger for but a moment before the violence begins to move our hearts and minds towards what our chaotic world makes us believe is the inevitable and once again, the violence will rage. Continue reading