It certainly hasn’t been a great week for the bible! You can’t tune into any kind of media right now without hearing the Attorney General of the United States quoting the bible to support the draconian practices of the US Justice Department. It’s not the first time that evildoers have used biblical quotations to justify the unjustifiable and sadly, it won’t be the last time. On this Pride Sunday, we are all too aware of the age-old practice of weaponizing the Bible. I know that there are many people in the queer community who would like to abandon the bible all together. During times like these, I too struggle with the reality that the bible contains some pretty weird shit. But as annoying as some of the stuff in the Bible is, I know that there is some amazing wisdom that I’m not prepared to give up just because some throw-backs to a bygone era can’t seem to read beyond their own narrow mindedness. The current narrow-mindedness of the abysmal administration of our neighbours to the south serves as a case in point. While the bible does indeed say, that we should obey the law, if you read a little beyond the quote that was bandied about, you will find, just a few lines later that the bible also says, and I quote: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love never wrongs anyone—hence love is the fulfillment of the Law.”
Like any book, when you isolate a small section of text, and fail to take into consideration the full context from which that isolated section has been drawn, you run the risk of abusing the actual intent of the original authors. The bible is a collection of books, brought together over hundreds of years in order to create an over-arching narrative. Those of us who have found value in the biblical stories, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that evildoers do not get away with abusing people with quotes from the very Bible that seeks to set all people free from false narratives. Sadly, many of us simply don’t know many of the biblical stories that make up the over-arching narratives of freedom, of justice and of peace. This morning, I’d like to draw our attention to an all too often hidden gem of a story that is particularly relevant to us as we celebrate Pride in all that we are created to be.Continue reading →
My granddaughter Audrey is just four years old. A couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from Audrey’s mother Laurel about a conversation over dinner. Said four-year-old Audrey, “Who made the world?” Her mother Laurel responded, “God made the world.” To which Audrey asked, “Who is God?” Audrey’s Dad, Jeff is a lawyer responded with a marvelous answer, “God is an all-powerful spirit who is everywhere. He made everything including you.” My brilliant granddaughter Audrey took her father’s answer in her stride and just like a four-year-old does, she pushed her parents even further by asking, “Who made God?” Jeff and Laurel answered in unison, “You should really talk to Gran.”
While I chuckled with delight at my granddaughter’s ability to stump her parents, I couldn’t help hoping that they might have spared me the prospect of trying to answer the unanswerable question of the ages. Little Audrey’s line of questioning echoes the questions of all the generations that have gone before her. I suspect that her parents swerved her theological challenge to their answers in much the same way as generations of parents have, by passing the question back to the generation that went before them; perhaps hoping that there might be an inkling of an answer that they might have missed along the way. But even though as Audrey’s Gran, I have spent the better part of my adult life dwelling in Audrey’s questions about the nature of reality, when it comes to questions about who made us, and who made God, all I can really do is look back to the wisdom generated by the generations who have gone before me. Just like my granddaughter, each answer that I discover, only generates a deeper more piercing question that leaves me to cope with the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality, that which is beyond every answer, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also. So, this morning as we peer back beyond the beyond, we turn our attention to a story that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Genesis, the very name of this the first book of the Torah, genesis means the beginning. But don’t let the name of this ancient book fool you into believing that it will reveal the answer to age old questions. For we know that Genesis is but the beginning of a multitude of questions. Most of us have heard the answers that have been wrestled from Genesis so many times that we have already formed opinions about the stories in Genesis based on arguments about whether or not the creation stories are literally true. I have little or no interest in such childish arguments, as our friend Dom Crossan insists, it “is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” Let’s just agree that the mythological stories contained in the book of Genesis were told to symbolize the nature of reality.Continue reading →
The gospel reading prescribed for this Sunday (Mark 3:20-35) paints a daunting picture of the perceptions of the people of Jesus’ hometown. The folks who knew Jesus, including his family worried that he might just be “out of his mind.” This is indeed a contrast to the ways in which Jesus is typically portrayed. This is a dangerous Jesus who ran the risk of being perceived as deranged. In his book “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” Robin Meyers captures some of this danger when he points to Mary Oliver’s poem “Maybe” in which Jesus’ “melancholy madness” is seen by his fellows as more dangerous than a storm. Safely ensconced in our imaginations, Jesus is rarely allowed to threaten the status quo to which we cling for dear life. Are we prepared for the stormy waters that would be stirred up should we take Jesus at his word? Maybe…
We have all heard the axiom: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” An axiom is a premise or a starting point of reasoning so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” or this old chestnut: “You should not mix religion and politics” Failure to adhere to the logic of accepted axioms is unsettling.
A long time ago, when I was but a teenager – back in the by gone days of yore—I remember believing beyond a doubt that all I needed to do in order to be successful in life was to learn. I figured any problem in life could be solved merely by studying the problem, figuring out the possible solutions, eliminating incorrect ideas, reviewing past solutions, anticipating possible outcomes and factoring in the various laws which apply to the subject, and arriving at the correct answer. Studying, the facts in a reasonable way, analyzing the various emotions that might arise, and determining what was best possible outcome for the largest number of people; this rational approach was the key to success in life. I resolved to learn all that I could about how people had done things in the past in order that I might succeed in the future.
It helped that I was a history buff. History and English were my favorite subjects in high school and I excelled in both. Math and science, I struggled with; biology and geography I could manage, but algebra, physics and chemistry just about did me in. But I wanted to go on learning and it was made clear to me that if I could not master high school math and science, I wouldn’t be able to go on to university to study anything. So, I worked hard not to learn math and science but rather to pass all the math and science tests.
It wasn’t easy! Physics was just about the end of me. Not only was I incompetent when it came to learning the lessons of physics, the teacher couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag; and besides he was just about the meanest marker in all the world, so I figured I was doomed. So, you can forgive me if I took a little pride in the fact that I actually got around to going to university as what they call a mature student. I didn’t actually go to university until I was 32 years old. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to make it through my first year, because in addition to all the subjects that I was wildly interested in, I was required to take a science class…but that’s another story. I was enrolled in a general arts program, majoring in religions of the world, with a minor in psychology. The subject matter in most of my classes was absolutely fascinating and I even remember being grateful to my high school physics teacher for drumming Newtonian physics into my non-scientific brain. You see little Isaac Newton went a long way in the study of theology. It turns out that when you are studying theodicy which is a fancy word for the reason behind the fact that God appears to let bad things happen and evil prosper; well when it comes to theologians trying to explain why God acts the way God does, there’s a whole branch of theology that figures God out using the rules of Newtonian physics. Although I didn’t learn much science in high school, I certainly did learn Newton’s laws of motion. So, I could understand how Newton’s explanation of how the physical world worked, was applied by theologians to explain why God let bad things happen in the world; even to good people. God wasn’t causing bad things to happen we were, because as everyone knows Newton’s third law of motion is an axiom, which is absolutely true; a fact beyond challenge, and I knew because not only did I memorize it to pass the test, but I actually thought I understood it. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Zippiddy do da! there you have it. When two objects interact, the size of the force on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.
A little knowledge of Newton and you can solve the problem of evil in theology. The bad stuff isn’t God’s fault. The bad stuff happens to good people, not because God is testing them, or because God is capricious, or because God is powerless to act. Bad stuff happens because people who are not good do bad stuff and their action creates more bad stuff. The theology proof asked us to imagine Newton’s mechanized view of reality, by thinking of a pool table. One ball is bad, very bad, that one ball’s badness hits a good ball with force, and that good ball is compelled to move, hitting another good or bad ball it doesn’t matter, one ball hitting another ball with force, has a ripple effect, the ripple effect isn’t chaos, it’s the nature of reality, the way things were originally created, and what is necessary is for enough good balls to use good force as apposed to bad force in order for justice to prevail.
Now it’s been a while, so I’m making a bit of a hash of this, but I hope you get the idea that I thought I was figuring it all out, wrapping my brain around theology; beginning to understand how a good God can let bad things happen to good people. It was the nature of creation itself that was getting in the way. God could still be considered good even though bad stuff happened, because God was not responsible for the bad stuff, we were with all our bashing about on that pool table. It sounds ridiculous now. But at the time it was like being hit with a blinding light; an epiphany of sorts. God didn’t cause bad things to happen, but because of God’s commitment to our free will God would not intervene, but God’s goodness compelled God to be there with us as the bad forces were hitting us. I even figured out that Jesus was thrown into the mix because all those crashing balls were causing so much pain that God was compelled not to intervene directly but to set an example of goodness in the midst of evil; an example that we could look to and follow, so that with enough good people exerting enough good force we could create an equal and opposite reaction of goodness. It was all slotting into place. Here was a theory about God which used reason and logic to arrive at the goodness of God, while demonstrating the need for Christ, and a way forward out of the pain of bad forces and onto a table where the force of goodness was matched with more goodness. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Stop all the bad forces with goodness. Everybody get together try to love one another right now. Love, love, love, all we need is love. Love is all you need.
I was delighted with my new understanding and they way in which the God I was learning about fit so nicely into the Newtonian world view as I understood it. But remember the axiom I began with: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. One day, during a second-year course in which we were studying the patristic explanations of the cross, we were arguing about the relative merit of a God who would demand human sacrifice when my carefully constructed vision of God was blown sky high. My defense of the goodness of God was challenged by a kid who had more than a little knowledge and whose broader knowledge of science just about robbed me of my sanity as I watched my carefully constructed vision of the goodness of God fall into the abyss. “Sadly,” this kid said, “Sadly your argument for the nature of divinity is constructed on a false premise.”
Try to remember the summer of 69. Pierre Trudeau had only been in office for a year. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The Vietnam was raging. Chappaquiddick and the Manson Murders dominated the news that summer. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The Beatles’ Album Abbey Road was number one. Sesame Street debuted on Public television while the Brady Bunch debuted in prime time to compete with I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched. In that last beautiful summer of the 60’s, 350,000 young people flocked to a farm in upstate New York for the three-day musical extravaganza that was Woodstock.
My family moved to Vancouver that summer and I turned twelve; too young to be a flower child of the sixties, but old enough to become a fan of the music of the sixties. Not many of us knew about Woodstock while it was happening. But when we found out, many of us wished we’d been there. Over the years millions of people have claimed that they were at Woodstock, despite the fact that the site could barely manage to accommodate the 350,000 thousand who did attend. News didn’t travel so quickly in those days. Woodstock may have captured the imaginations of millions but that was almost a year after the event when record albums began to hit the shelves.
Back then one of my prized possessions was my small transistor radio, which I held up to my ear so that I could listen to all my favorite tunes. The quality of the sound was abysmal. So, if you liked a song you heard you just had to rush out and buy a 45, for less than a dollar. I remember lining up to buy a copy of the number 1 tune that summer: Sugar Sugar by the Archies. But if you really liked a singer or a group, then you would have to save your money so that you could plunk down $5.00 for an LP, shot for Long Playing Album. That summer I spent weeks saving my baby-sitting money, about .25 cents an hour so that I could get my very own copy of The Fifth Dimension’s latest album, The Age of Aquarius. I was dancing and singing, “Let the Sunshine” and dreaming of becoming a teenager. Back then it took a whole year for the music from Woodstock to begin to seep into the culture. And so it was long after the summer of 69, that I got my very own copy of the quintessential album of the Woodstock generation: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà vu. I wore that album out. Our House, is a very, very, fine house! Teach your children well! Helpless, helpless, he…lpless! And then there was the best song on that album. Joni Mitchell may have written the song called Woodstock, but it took Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to make it timeless.
Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, Tell where are you going?
This he told me
Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
I must have listened to that song a thousand times trying to learn the lyrics, but try as I might a line from the chorus eluded me. I just couldn’t figure out what they were saying. Do you remember the chorus? We are stardust, we are golden, We are ???? what was the next line? We are stardust, we are….something, something, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. We are stardust, we are golden… We are ….billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. Well, then can I walk beside you?
When I finally figured out the lyrics, I was no wiser, I was lost…I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were on about. But it sounded good!!! So, I kept playing and I kept singing.
Over the years, I’ve hummed and sung along, trusting that we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. And longing for a simpler time, when I was young and still believed that Adam and Eve had once frolicked blissfully in the pristine garden of Eden, and if we could only recapture the innocence of that garden all would be right with the world. I remember as a teenager, hearing sermons about Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, as the start of it all. Something went terribly wrong; if only Eve hadn’t have listened to that snake and if only Adam hadn’t listened to Eve, then evil wouldn’t have entered creation and we’d all be able to frolic in the garden with God. If only we could get ourselves back to the garden, Jesus would not have to suffer and die for us: “For we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved God with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. And so for the sake of your Son , Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in our will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.” Week after week, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, I grew to understand that I along with all of humanity am in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Because Adam and Eve fell from grace, the stain of that original sin marks me as inherently sinful.Continue reading →
I am indebted to Jim Kast-Keat, a pioneering preacher who inspired me to open this sermon with the video below. I am also indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for teaching me more that I can articulate with words. His excellent book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic opened the Gospel According to John in ways that have helped me to see aspects of the Divine to which I was once blind. Much of the sermon consists of extensive quotes from chapter 9 of Jack’s book.
Readings: John Chapter 2 and John 3:1-17
Watch the video below carefully before reading or listening to the sermon the sermon below.
Listen to the sermon:
So, before tackling the story of Nicodemus, I want to toss two balls into the congregation. The first ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents something all too familiar, biblical literalism. We know all too well that this particular ball has been distracting the church and most of the western world for the past few centuries. The second ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents historical biblical criticism. This particular ball is newer. It’s only been seriously tossed about for the past couple of centuries, but it is a really serious contender for our attention. But these balls have acquired a rather rhythmic bounce that tends to mesmerize us. Add to that these other balls the balls of church doctrine and theological dogma and before you know it we are so distracted that we forget what game we were trying to play in the first place as we try to keep up with the various passes made by players that have taken on a professional edge that leaves us watching from the sidelines unable to focus one of them.
None of these balls commanded the attention of the early Christians. They simply weren’t interested in taking the scriptures literally, nor were they particularly interested in the historicity of the scriptures. As for doctrine and dogma, well they were left to the professionals who only came to town on those unpleasant occasions when the league needed to ensure that it’s franchises continued to rake in enough money to keep the game on a sure footing. The scriptures, like all sacred writings, were about so much more than words scribbled on a scroll. The scriptures, like all scared writings, are about the mysteries of life. But these balls have been served up for us to play with and literalism and concerns about historical accuracy have done a magnificent job of distracting us from what really matters in these texts. Our fascination with the details of the fight-patterns of the balls that are tossed around whenever the stories in these texts play through our lives, have caused us to miss so many moon-dancing bears over the years.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love tossing these balls around and over the years I’ve learned to play ball with the best of them. But when a moon-walking bear dances onto the court, at the very least, we ought to notice the bear’s moves because the only way we’re going to learn to dance with these bears is by paying attention.Continue reading →
Meister 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. Once again, I have failed to have the foresight to book my holidays so as to avoid the task of preaching on this festival of the church. So, I find myself plumbing previous sermons in search of a way through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer them here to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…
I cannot begin to explain to you what happened on that day in Jerusalem, without explaining to you who I am. My name is Mary and I come from the village of Magdala. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. But you have no idea who I am. There are many stories that have been told about me. Some of the things that have been said about me make my head spin. Over the years, thanks to the twisted interpretations of the men in the church that I helped to give birth to, I have gained quite a reputation for being a prostitute, a whore, an adulterer. Now I will lay claim to being a sinner and God knows I have had my share of demons, but prostitution, adultery, whore, where do people get these ideas? It seems that all you need to do is use the words sinner and woman in the same sentence and all some people can think about is sex.
Read your bibles and you will discover that, people have made me out to be something that I am not. It does not say anywhere in the New Testament that I, Mary of Magdala was ever a prostitute, the New Testament doesn’t say that, the men of the Church did that. The New Testament simply says I was a sinner who just happened to come from the city. If you insist on calling me a prostitute based on this evidence, that says more about you than it does about me.
You see, I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing. But I was not happy. I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often, I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair. Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation. From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus. Continue reading →
Pentecost Sunday is a day for stories about the nearness of God. So we begin with the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9, then make our way to the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s story of the early followers of Jesus’ encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21, and then the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John’s story of Jesus’ insistence that he and God are one, before rounding off with Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s excellent children’s book God In Between.
There’s a children’s Book that I love. I won’t tell you the name of the book because the book’s title is also the book’s ultimate meaning. I will tell you that the book is written by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who just happens to be the second woman to be ordained as a rabbi back in 1974. She is also the first rabbi to become a mother. Sandy Eisenberg Sasso brings the wisdom she has learned as a rabbi to her children’s books. As the Christian celebration of Pentecost is intimately tied to the Jewish festival of Shavout, when the Jewish people read the Book of Ruth, it seems fitting to read to you from the book of a Jewish Rabbi. Shandy Eisenberg Sasso’s story begins:
“Once there was a town at the foot of a hill with no roads and almost no windows.
Without roads the people of the town had nowhere to go, and they wondered what was on the other side of the hill.
Whenever they tried to leave their homes, they would sneeze through tall tangled weeds, tumble into deep holes and trip over rocks as large as watermelons.
Without windows they would sleep late into the day, and they often wondered when the sun turned night into morning.
Their houses were closed up like boxes sealed with tape.
They could never look out and their neighbours could never look in.
Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Birthday celebrations lend themselves to the telling of stories. So, we begin with a parable by the radical theologian Peter Rollins. So, sit back and try to imagine that you live not at the beginning of the 21st century but at the middle of the 21st century; say about 2050. The world has changed quite a bit. “It seems that in the future laws will be passed declaring that all those who follow the teachings of Jesus are subversive. Churches have been banned and to be a follower of Jesus is illegal. You have just been accused of being a believer. You’ve been arrested, and dragged before a court. You have been under clandestine surveillance for some time now, and so the prosecution has been able to build up quite a case against you. They begin the trial by offering the judge dozens of photographs that show you attending underground church meetings, speaking at religious events, and participating in various prayer and worship services. After this, they present a selection of items that have been confiscated from your home: religious books that you own, worship CDs, and other Christian artifacts. Then they step up the pace by displaying many of the poems, pieces of prose, and journal entries that you had lovingly written concerning your faith. Finally, in closing, the prosecution offers your Bible to the judge. This is a well-worn book with scribbles, notes, drawings, and underlinings throughout, evidence, if it were needed, that you had read and reread this sacred text many times. Throughout the case you have been sitting silently in fear and trembling. You know deep in your heart that with the large body of evidence that has been amassed by the prosecution you face the possibility of a long imprisonment or even execution. At various times throughout the proceedings you have lost all the confidence and have been on the verge of standing up and denying Christ. But while this thought has plagued your mind throughout the trial, you resist the temptation and remain focused.
Once the prosecution has finished presenting their case the judge proceeds to ask if you have anything to add, but you remain silent and resolute, terrified that if you open your mouth, even for a moment, you might deny the charges made against you. Like Christ you remain silent before your accusers. In response you are led outside to wait as the judge ponders your case. The hours pass slowly as you sit under guard in the foyer waiting to be summoned back. Eventually a young man in uniform appears and leads you into the courtroom so that you may hear the verdict and receive word of your punishment. Once you have been seated in the dock the judge, a harsh and unyielding man, enters the room, stands before you, looks deep into your eyes and begins to speak. “On the charges that have been brought forward I find the accused not guilty.”
“Not guilty?” your heart freezes. Then, in a split second, the fear and terror that had moments before threatened to strip your resolve are swallowed up by confusion and rage. Despite the surroundings, you stand defiantly before the judge and demand that he give an account concerning why you are innocent of the charges in light of the evidence. “What evidence?” asks the judge in shock.
“What about the poems and prose that I wrote?” you ask. “They simply show that you think of yourself as a poet, nothing more.” “But what about the services I spoke at, the times I wept in church and the long, sleepless nights of prayer?” “Evidence that you are a good speaker and an actor, nothing more,” replied the judge. “It is obvious that you deluded those around you, and perhaps at times you even deluded yourself, but this foolishness is not enough to convict you in a court of law.” “But this is madness!” you shout. “It would seem that no evidence would convince you!” “Not so,” replies the judge as if informing you of a great long-forgotten secret. “The court is indifferent toward your Bible reading and church attendance; it has no concern for worship with words and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paint pictures of love. We have no interest in such armchair artists who spend their time creating images of a better world. We exist only for those who would lay down that brush, and their life, in a Christlike endeavor to create a better world. So, until you live as Christ and Christ’s followers did, until you challenge this system and become a thorn in our side, until you die to yourself and offer your body to the flames, until then, my friend, you are no enemy of ours.” “
Rollins insists that this parable is true right here and right now. We don’t have to imagine a world were Christianity is illegal for this parable to be true. Rollins insists that: “If you or I were really to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, would we not sooner or later, find ourselves being dragged before the authorities? If we were really to live a life that reflected the subversive and radical message of love that gives a voice to the voiceless and a place to those who are displaced, if we were really to stand up against systemic oppression perpetrated by those in power, then would we not find ourselves on the wrong side of the lawmakers?”Continue reading →
Mothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women. Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:
to listen to the audio only recording of the sermon here
A little girl held tightly to her grandfather’s hand as together they walked toward the centre of town. Suddenly a tall, beautiful, woman dressed from head to toe in a long black flowing gown appeared in the street just ahead of them. The woman’s flowing gown gave the impression that she was floating rather than walking. Beneath the black flowing cloth which covered the woman’s head, was an elegant face encased by restricting starched white material. Below the smiling woman’s face, hung a slender silver cross. The little girl tugged on her grandfather’s sleeve and asked, “Who is that, Grand-dad?” The little girl’s grandfather explained, “That my dear is a witch! Now mind you behave yourself or she will take you away and boil you in her stew pot”. The little girl squeezed her grandfather’s hand tightly and resolved to stay far away from witches no matter how beautiful they looked.
I couldn’t have been more than about four years old when my grandfather and I encountered that Roman Catholic nun on the road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I can’t tell you how many times as a child in Belfast, I was warned to behave myself or the nuns would come and take me away. Later I would learn that the threat of nuns was often used by protestant families to keep children in line.
For generations, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have spent most of their fighting with their neighbours about how to love God that they’ve barely had time to love God and they’ve never really learned how to love their neighbours. When I was growing up, I was taught that there are good religions and there are bad religions. It wasn’t very complicated; our religion was a good religion and everyone else’s religion was a bad religion. My parents left Northern Ireland to avoid the warring madness between Protestants and Roman Catholics euphemistically known as the “Troubles.” I know all too well the mess we humans can get into when we forget that there is more than one way to live and move and have your being in the MYSTERY that we call God.
For just over ten years now, congregations that identify themselves as “progressive” have been celebrating Pluralism Sunday. Pluralism Sunday was conceived as an opportunity for churches to celebrate religious diversity and affirm that there are so very many pathways into the MYSTERY that we call God. I must confess that nun/witch that I encountered in Belfast all those years ago has haunted my preparations for this Pluralism Sunday. Life seemed so much simpler back then.Continue reading →
This sermon was preached in 2015 upon my return from Belfast. I went off script for this one. So, the manuscript does not adequately reflect what was actually preached. But you can read the notes here The audio is much better!!! I went off on a tangent using Robin Meyers’ observation that our historical creeds reduce Jesus life to a comma!
I post this on the morning of my return from another trip to Belfast, where I once again worshipped in St. Anne’s Cathedral. This time I managed to stay to the end of the service. My wife’s moderating presence may have something to do with this???
I am currently enjoying a continuing education leave in Belfast, Northern Ireland and so, it seems only right that I should begin by telling an Irish story. This particular story comes from the Irish author Frank McCourt. Some of you will be familiar with his most famous book, Angela’s Ashes. But this story comes from his autobiographical book entitled “Tis” McCourt was a school teacher and he tells this story about a particular class in which he was challenging the assumptions of his young students.
The story begins with a familiar nursery rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the king’s horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
McCourt asks his young students to tell him what’s going on in this nursery rhymed. The hands are up like a shot. “Well, like, this egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know you can never put an egg back together again. I mean, like, it’s common sense.
McCourt asks: “Who says it’s an egg?”
“Of course, it’s an egg. Everyone knows that.
Where does it say it’s an egg?
They’re thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never a doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis.
“I’m not destroying,” insists McCourt, “I just want to know where you got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg?”
“Because,” Mr. McCourt, “it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture musta known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg.”
“All right.” Says McCourt: “If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be, but I know the future lawyers in this class with never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg.”
The story of Humpty Dumpty and the missing egg has a great deal in common with the story of Jesus and the missing sacrifice for sin. When it comes to the written word, we tend to see what we’ve been conditioned to see. Today’s gospel text is a good example of our seeing and reading into the text things that are not there. The gospel of John was written at the end of the first century; at least one possibly two generations after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We know that the gospel of John is not what we 21stcentury dwellers would call history. We know the story-teller that we call John wrote his interpretations of the Jesus experience to address the needs of his community who were struggling under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. We know that the gospel storyteller that we call John relied heavily upon the stories, myths and history of the Hebrews to convey the magnitude of the impact Jesus life, death, and resurrection had on the small band of followers of Jesus, who were struggling to survive in very troubled times.Continue reading →
John chapter 10 causes me to remember Mrs Tanner, my grade ten english teacher. I can still see her handwriting all over my carefully crafted compositions. Red ink everywhere as she constantly admonished me not to mix my metaphors. Clearly the writer of the Gospel of John never had the benefit of Mrs. Tanner’s guidance, or he would not have dared to record Jesus words the way he does in his long and rambling I AM passages.
Before we even get to chapter 10, we read that Jesus says: “I AM the bread of life.” and “I AM the light of the world.” In chapter 10, we read, Jesus says, “I AM the gate,” “I AM the Good Shepherd.” Later we will read, that Jesus says, “I AM the Resurrection”, “I AM life.” “I AM the true vine.” “I AM the way.” “I AM in God.” “I AM in you.”
But in the tenth chapter the writer of the Gospel of John goes all out and has Jesus using not just a metaphor but a mixed metaphor. For in chapter 10, we read that Jesus declared: “I AM the Gate. The gate through which the sheep must pass.” and then mixes it up by saying, “I AM the Good Shepherd.”
Which is it? Gate or Shepherd, come on, I know your Jesus but I’m trying to understand how Jesus, who is after all, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is both the Gate and the Shepherd.
I wonder if Mrs. Tanner ever took her red pen to the Gospel According to John? If she did, the letters MMX would have appeared all over this Gospel. MMX = mixed metaphor wrong! Looking back, I know that Mrs Tanner was just trying to help us to be more careful about our ideas. But today I would have to ask both Mrs Tanner and the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, “What’s a meta for?”Continue reading →
My most memorable journey on the road to Emmaus was taken behind the wheel of a 1981 Oldsmobile, Cutlass, Brougham. I loved that car. It was a thing of beauty. It was a gift from my home congregation so that I could travel back and forth across the country to and from seminary. Despite its propensity to guzzle gas it was the perfect combination of power and elegance. It had the most amazingly plush interior with every imaginable power amenity of its day. It handled like a dream and even though I loved driving that car, neither it nor I faired well on our journey on the road to Emmaus. Five weeks into my Clinical training at the Grand River Hospital and I’d just completed one of the toughest weeks of my life when I set off for Emmaus. Clinical Pastoral Education is what the Church calls it but seminary students have other names for it, like boot camp, torture or hell. Twelve weeks of on the job training in a busy hospital combined with daily psychotherapy, group sessions, and sleep deprivation. It’s all designed to help seminarians put two years of academic study into practice before sending them off on a yearlong internship. Ask most pastors about their Clinical Pastoral Education and they’re likely to sit you down and tell you story after story about how intense an experience it was. Many of my colleagues will tell you that it almost broke them into little pieces, or that it almost destroyed their faith, or that they didn’t think they’d survive, or how they never thought that it was possible to be that scared or insecure for that many hours every day. Boot camp, torture, or hell, it all depended on whether or not you were able to get any sleep or if the demons you faced on the wards managed to destroy whatever self-confidence you might be able to muster.
The week before I set off on the road to Emmaus, wasn’t as bad as all that. I felt like I was just beginning to get the hang of things. I thought that the worst might be over. I’d managed to conquer my fear of being called Chaplain and being expected to help people who were sick, in pain, in distress, or dying. Why that week I’d even managed to help one or two of my patients. Those nagging doubts that haunted me during the first month of Clinical training were beginning to fade. It was becoming easier to believe that God was there in the midst of all the turmoil. I thought that maybe just maybe I could do the job and the terror wasn’t quite so intense when my pager went off. I remember saying to a colleague that maybe we’d be able to get through our Clinical training without coming up against the inevitable crisis of the faith that so many of our fellow students had warned us about. I wasn’t even nervous about having pulled the short straw for the long-weekend shift. 72 hours as the on-call emergency chaplain for the entire hospital. I felt like I was ready; that with God’s help, I could face anything that came my way.
I wasn’t particularly nervous when my pager went off and I calmly dialed the operator who announced that there’d been an MVA and six patients were on route; two of them were vital signs absent. MVA – Multiple vehicle accident. Vital signs absent = that usually means dead, but only a doctor can actually pronounce death so patients without vital signs are transported to the hospital before being pronounced dead.Continue reading →
This sermon was inspired on my own journey to Emmaus where in the space of the same afternoon I heard a stranger declare: “Christianity is dead!” and Karen Armstrong’s now famous TED talk about her call for a world Charter for Compassion.
Has anybody here ever been to Emmaus? Which one? According to the latest issue of Biblical Archeology there are at least nine possible locations that are candidates for the Biblical town of Emmaus. Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source. We simply don’t know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition, tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.
I know that I have been on the road to Emmaus most of my life. I’ve had lots of company on the Road to Emmaus. I’ve had many conversations along the way discussing, with anyone who’d care to accompany me, the ifs, ands, and buts of Christianity, of religion, and indeed of life. If you haven’t traveled down the road to Emmaus you must be very skilled in the fine art of turning off your brain and if you check you just might discover that your heart isn’t actually beating.
It’s so easy to imagine, those two characters striding down the Road to Emmaus that we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing about what happened. What on earth were they to make of all this! Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. Jesus was the One who had come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. Jesus was the One who was supposed to draw the people back to God, restore the relationship between God and God’s people. Now Jesus was gone, and what had changed? Now, Jesus was gone, and the Roman Empire was still oppressing them, still inflicting such pain and hardship, still killing them. Was it all a mistake? Was it all a lie? Had they been fooled by some kind of cruel hoax—were they wrong to put their hopes in this man from Nazareth? They had trusted Jesus believed in Jesus, followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed. They had seen the lives of others changed and they had expected even greater changes to come. Jesus had confronted corrupt powers. Jesus had charmed great crowds. Jews and Gentiles alike responded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Rich and poor had come to Jesus, believing in Jesus’ healing power. But Jesus had been shamed, and ridiculed, and humiliated, and crucified and now Jesus was dead. Well, was Jesus dead? Some said they’d seen Jesus, alive! Not that Jesus had survived the crucifixion by some miracle of strength, but that Jesus had risen from the dead. They seemed so totally convinced by their own experience…were they confused by their own grief? Were they delirious? Had they loved this Jesus so much—invested so much hope in Jesus life and leadership—that they simply could not let him go? And what did ‘resurrection” mean? Apparently it was not the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus wasn’t revived to resume his former life; to take up his broken body until the day he might die again. No, somehow this was some new mode of being that seemed to be spiritual to some and yet real to others. And, if Jesus were risen from the dead, what would be the point of all that? What was the point to a Messiah—to a presumed political and religious leader—if Jesus wasn’t able to lead people here on earth? How could Jesus restore Israel when he had so easily been defeated by a handful of Roman guards? How could he bring release to the captives, how could he bring justice for the poor, how could Jesus advocate for the widows and the homeless? How could Jesus call people to account for all the ways they had strayed from God’s intent, now? What good could come from some kind of spiritual ghost? We can hear these two friends wrestling with each other and with their own hearts on the road that day!Continue reading →
Readings included 1 Corinthians 15 & John 20:19-31 – between the readings we watched Mya Angelou preform her poem: Still I Rise – you canview the video here
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen in us! Alleluia! So, Christ is Risen! So, What??? What can it possibly mean to you and to me, that a rag-tag bunch of Jesus’ followers gathered together in an upper-room and talked about their experiences of Jesus and decided that not even death could extinguish the life that they experienced in Jesus? What difference does it make to you or to I that Christ is risen? The truth is that it can make absolutely no difference what so ever. Now there are a whole lot of people who will tell you that the important thing about resurrection is that you believe it. Those same folks absolutely love the story of doubting Thomas. So, every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of doubting Thomas as a kind of inoculation against Thomas’ disease. I sometimes think that the designers of the lectionary were trying to build up our resistance to doubt. Having problems believing in resurrection? — Well don’t do what Thomas did, don’t doubt, because you’ll be proven wrong. Jesus is alive, the wounds in his hands proved that to Doubting Thomas, so have no doubt about it the resurrection happened! Believe in the resurrection!
The trouble with believing in stuff is that belief can make absolutely no difference what so ever. I can believe in justice for all, but unless I’m prepared to seek justice, to be fair, or to resist injustice, it makes absolutely no difference what so ever that I believe in justice. We can shout, “Christ is risen!” all we want but unless we are willing to live it, the resurrection means very little at all. In order to live the resurrection, we need to begin practicing resurrection. In order to practice something, we need to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, or what it feels like. Most of us have seen resurrection with our own eyes. Many of us have experienced resurrection in our own lives. The trouble is most of us would hesitate to label what we have seen with our own eyes as “resurrection.” We hesitate to call something we have seen or experienced in our own body as resurrection. It’s long past time for us to move beyond “believing in resurrection” so that we can actually rise up.
Nearly 70 years or so after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John told a story of resurrection. According to this story, a bunch of rag-tag Jesus followers were huddled together in fear. Their beloved leader had been brutally executed by the powers that be and they were terrified that they would be next. Paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened that gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world.Continue reading →
Our first reading was the traditional gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter in which we heard the story of Doubting Thomas for John 20:19-31. This was followed by a video in which Richard Holloway retells the story of Peter’s denial and the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. You can view the video here . This was followed by the gospel reading from John 21:15-20
It has been said that, “The shortest between a human being and truth is a story.” It has also been said that the greatest story ever told is the story of resurrection. Like all really good stories, the story of resurrection has been told over and over again as storytellers attempt to convey the truth. We have heard Easter’s story of resurrection so many times that you would think the truth of resurrection would be obvious to us all. Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar story. Some of us have been shaped by this particular story. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about this story. Some of us have rejected this story and filed it with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from this story convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear this story because it takes us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with this story until it releases all the truth that it harbours in, with, and between the lines which calls us toward a new way of being that we long to embrace. I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with this familiar story determined to get from this ancient tale not just truth but an inkling of the Divine who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories.
The gospel storyteller who we know as John tells Easter’s resurrection story in a particular way, determined to reveal the truth that dwells in him and among the people with whom he dwelled. One of the things that we 21stcentury truth-seekers are particularly fond of is deconstructing stories. We love to take stories apart, dissecting every line, examining each and every detail, each and every word so as not to miss a single nuance of the author’s intent. We are also skilled in the imperfect art of attempting to place stories back into their historical context so that we can establish exactly what was going on in the first century lives of the story-teller and his listeners. We look to the historical context in the hope that we can determine the original meaning of the story. Convinced that history can tell us what the story-teller cannot, we wrestle with the facts, as best as we can determine them, so that we can be sure that the truth we thought we knew is more than just the summation of our mistaken interpretations.
Together, we have wrestled with Easter’s story of resurrection and together, I must say that we are pretty good wrestlers. We have deconstructed this story, we have applied the historical-critical method, we have approached it from all sorts of angles and employed the best 21stcentury scholars to aid us in our struggle to wrestle the truth from the piles and piles of dogma, which have been heaped upon it. But this morning, I’d like to approach Easter’s story of resurrection from the perspective, not of wrestlers determined to find the truth, but rather as people touched by the story itself. But even though we are not going to wrestle, like Jacob of old, we run the risk of being touched and even wounded by the truth as the Divine One is revealed and we are compelled by our wounds to walk in a different way.Continue reading →
This Sunday worship services will begin with the proclamation that: Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Let me follow that proclamation up with a good Lutheran question:“What does this mean?” What does it mean that Christ is risen? What does resurrection mean? The truth is that there are about as many different explanations of Christ’s resurrection as there are Christians. And that’s a good thing, because the question of the resurrection is a question that lies at the very heart of Christianity. So, is it any wonder that Christians have been struggling to come to terms with resurrection since the very first rumours that Christ had risen began to circulate. Over the centuries the various responses to the question of resurrection have divided Christians as various camps work out various responses.
For many Christians and non-Christians alike Resurrection is the dividing line. But this is nothing new. Indeed the drawing of that line can be seen in the earliest Christian writings that we have. The Apostle Paul himself, wrote to the community of followers at Corinth: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless—and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless.”
There are many believers and non-believers alike who point to these line’s in scripture and say, “Ah ha, there it is, either you believe in the resurrection or you don’t!” Continue reading →