A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1
Recognizing that many do not make it to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we usually read the entire birth narrative on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
The quotes in this sermon are from Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and Joseph Holub’s “Fear Not” The Acclamation sung, on the audio recording, prior to the sermon is “The Magnificat” from Holden Evening Prayer, by Marty Haugen, featuring Gary Curran and Linda Condy: Listen to the sermon here
This week as millions of people flock to theatres all over the world to see the latest Star Wars epic (Rogue One), I am reminded of the old joke: you know you might be Lutheran if, when you hear: “The force be with you.” you must fight the urge to say, “And also with you.” While I confess that I have not yet seen the new Star Wars movie, and my memories of the original Star Wars movie are decades old, my social media feeds have been filled with allusions to “The Force”. Over the course of the past few days, I’ve read more than a few articles from would be theologians, which insist that “The Force” of Star Wars is akin to the way many progressive Christians describe our understanding of God. While it is true that may of us who have long since given up images of God the portray the super-natural being who lives off in a galaxy far, far, away, who from time to time meddles in the affairs of earthlings, and many of us have indeed have embraced notions of God that reflect early Christian teachings about the One in whom we live and move and have our being.
The panentheistic view of God as the one who both lies at the very heart of reality and permeates reality so that God is in all and yet more that all, the one who lives and breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us, may on the surface bear a slight resemblance to “The Force” I can assure you that God is so very much more than the limited notions of “The Force”.
Right about now, I expect that some of you are wondering, why on earth I am rambling on about a childish science fiction movie just days before Christmas when I have all the ramifications of the greatest story every told from which to draw a sermon on this the fourth Sunday of Advent. Well bear with me for a bit, and if we are lucky and the force is with me, I try to explain just how Mary’s response to an angelic annunciation relates to our cultures fascination with “the force” and maybe just maybe assure you of the Good News that the God in whom we live and move and have our being is so much more of a force than the force that would be Jedi warriors all over the planet are embracing. The little that I do know about George Lucas’ force is that it inhabits a dualistic universe that is divided into to camps. On one side, we have “The Empire”, the dark evil side represented by the Sith, on the other side, the good side, the Rebellion, represented by the Jedi. The Force, is the name given to the collection of the energies of all living things that are fed into one Cosmic Force. The Force that is available to both Jedi Rebellion and the Empire of the Sith because The Force has two sides. The Force is neither malevolent or benevolent, neither good nor evil it has a bad side involving hate and fear, and it has a good side, involving love, charity, fairness and hope. The Force can be used for good or for evil. The Force is if you will, humanity write large, or the human psyche deified. The Force is nothing more than our collective strengths and weaknesses writ large.
Listen to the sermon here
I’ve known more than a few heralds in my times; modern heralds whose voices have cried out in the wilderness. Heralds whose voices have made ready a way through the desert. Heralds whose voices have cleared a path and made the rough road smooth. These voices crying out in the wilderness haven’t always belonged to characters that look a lot like I imagine John the Baptist to have looked. They may not have all been wild, wooly, but they were all driven, passionate people, who talk about their passions as if our very lives hang in the balance over every word. If the truth be told, I’m partial to these wild and passionate types. These prophets who lend their voices to seemingly lost causes and dedicate themselves to seeking and proclaiming the truth no matter what it costs them personally. Passionate prophets tilting at windmills trying to open up whoever will listen to them, to the wisdom that lies beyond the ways of the world are a rare breed. I’m sure that if you think back, most of you can remember a John the Baptist in your own lives who has opened you up to pathway beyond the limits of conventional wisdom. I’m sure that each one of you could weave a tale of a prophet who has been able to make the rough places smooth, by filling a valley, or leveling a mountain that has stood between you and the wisdom you needed in order to embrace the future.
The first herald I can remember didn’t drape himself in camel’s hair or consume locusts and wild honey, but he did wear leather pants and I’m pretty sure that he consumed more than his share of magic mushrooms. My grade nine English teacher let’s call him Mr. Ripple, just in case he’s still teaching, and because I’m sure he’d rather I didn’t use his real name; Mr. Ripple wasn’t like any teacher I’d ever met before. In addition to the black leather pants and tie-dye t-shirts which he wore despite the fact that all the other male teachers wore boring old suits, Mr. Ripple had a long unkempt mustache which made him look a little like a cartoon bandit. I remember the very first class I had with Mr. Ripple shocked me into believing that he might just be some sort of joke the principal was trying to play on us and that Mr. Ripple wasn’t actually a teacher at all but an imposter who just needed to hide out for a while. My suspicions were only heightened when Mr. Ripple insisted that we call him by his first name. This John went on and on about pushing beyond the barriers imposed upon us by the system. John insisted that we needed to… get to really know who we are because in his view self knowledge was crucial to living a life that was worth anything at all. John also insisted, that in order to find out who we really are, we need to take chances. To give us the courage to take chances, John guaranteed that each and every one of us would receive a B in his class just for showing up and asking questions. I never really liked Bs. A’s were more my style. So, I put up my hand in order to ask what it would take to get an A in his class. John said, we didn’t need to raise our hands in his class, just shout out. Then he assured us all that students who demonstrated that they had learned something about themselves would get an A+ from him. I said, “I thought we were supposed to learn something about English Literature in his class.” John insisted that studying literature was all about learning about your very own self.
W O H Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind, had been listed in the published syllabus for the course and many of us had newly purchased copies of it sitting on our desks. John suggested that we could read it if we wanted to kowtow to the system or we could read something more challenging of our own choosing. This annoyed me, because I’d purchased “Who Has Seen the Wind” and read it during the summer break, anticipating that this would help me towards my goal of an A in English. John suggested that rather than reading books that the school-board gave their stamp of approval to, we might like to read some books that over the years had been banned by more than one or two school boards. He then opened up his cupboard and revealed all sorts of books free for the taking as long as we promised to pass them on to someone else when we finished reading them. That year I read, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and learned to love Hemingway, “Catch-22” and contemplated the horrors of war, Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Ginsberg’s “Howl.” My own love of books had met its match in John. Continue reading
Reading over sermons I have preached about John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, I came across this “cry for the wilderness” that I preached six years ago. Sadly, the wilderness has an even greater need today for prophets who are willing to cry out on its behalf! I offer my plaintiff cry here to inspire my colleagues as they prepare to prepare the way on this coming Sunday.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted. The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things, I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet. All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.
I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months. I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot. My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as they supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other. I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure.
Anyway, we were driving along the road. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia, just a few clouds. You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said, “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening?
Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird. Happy, glowing, smiling people make me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear. What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it. It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing. The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent, a work of art, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!
If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there. Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach. At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home. I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence. That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone. In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.
I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.
You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.
I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.
Take a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland. You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror. Continue reading
This sermon relies on the work of John Philip Newell in his book, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. On this, the first Sunday of Advent our readings included “The Star Within” a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman and Rev. Sarah Griffith, Luke 21:25-36, and John 3:1-9. A deliberate choice was made not to use the traditional Advent reading from Jeremiah so as to avoid the trap of the false Christian appropriation of the Hebrew prophets as foretellers of Jesus as the Messiah. Listen to the sermon here
A very happy new year to you all! On this the very first Sunday of the Church year, in churches all over the world, congregations have sung out their pleas for advent. Advent from the Latin verb “to come:. O Come, O Come Emmanuel, loudly and with gusto, or softly but with earnest desire, that Emmanuel “God with us” would come and put an end to our anxious longing to escape the darkness. I love all the blue, with just the hint of evergreens. I love the images summoned up in our liturgical silences, of darkness, wilderness, longing and expectation. I love the idea of coming in here as sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of our consumer culture’s lead up to the Christmas season. I love the music, I could sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel during all four Sunday’s of Advent and never tire of all eight of its plaintive verses. Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, Preee—pare Ye the way of the Lord, There’s a Voice in the Wilderness crying, Comfort, Comfort Now My People, Each Winter As the Year Grows Older, we’ll have no Christmas carols in Advent even if you please!!! Soon and Very Soon, we are going to see our God, wait, wait, wait, for it ….let the malls over-dose you with carols…let us wait… Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.
People, Look East, Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding! Let the world fill up on Christmas cheer, shop till they drop. For we in here are Lost In the Night. Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah. Hark, the Glad Sound! Prepare, Prepare, Prepare, we’re not there yet! Wait! Awake! Awake! As the Dark Awaits the Dawn. Wait for the Lord. Prepare the Royal Highway. Four blue Sundays, contemplate, keep silence, get ready to Fling Wide the Door, the Unexpected and Mysterious, Creator of the Stars of Night, let the silence speak to us, as our Ancient Love, prepares the way for our God. Hope, Joy, Love, Peace shall be ours if we but wait.
Every year while the church heralds Advent, the world greets Santa. For years I’ve loved this valiant attempt to hold on to allow the child to gestate, while the world casually tosses the baby into the muck and the mire of busy streets, crowded malls and boisterous, drunken, celebrations. I still treasure the memories of my first Advent seasons. I came to the church when I was just fifteen years old. I had never even heard of Advent. I was excited about my first Christmas in the church. I wanted to soak it all up. I expected Christmas carols, and stories about the Christ Child. I had no idea about the darkness of the wilderness. My first inkling came on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. The Lutheran church where I was introduced to life in and among Christians, was comprised mainly of Scandinavians who had more Advent traditions than you can shake a Yule log at. Don’t get me started on the lutefisk!!! No, gelatinas lye fish for me if you please, just save the rullupylsa for me, and maybe just maybe I’ll have a little pickled herring, but pass the aquavit and let a few icy shots loosen us up and before you know it … off da… we’ll all be warm from the inside out. Continue reading
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 First Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? End times and John the Baptist strutting across the stage are featured prominently in the Advent lectionary. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year C the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from 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!” 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!” Continue reading
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Outside the world is hurtling toward the Christmas; toward the celebration of the birth of a baby. While the world prepares for the birth, the church says, “wait”. Wait, keep watch, and beware, for the world is ending. While the church cries out:
“Signs will appear in the sun, the moon and the stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish, distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth.” the world sings: “You better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, Santa Clause is coming to town.” And all the while we declare the mystery of our faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Somewhere between our deepest fear and our deepest longings we wait, the world prepares and we wait and watch, knowing all the while that, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” knowing that because the world will end, our hope lies in the knowledge that Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, will come again.
Advent, the very word means come; tis the season of coming. Advent is not about waiting; waiting for Christmas, or waiting for the birth of a baby; Advent is about coming, the coming of Christ. In the darkness of the end, we long for Christ to come. Yes, we will have to wait for Christmas to come; but Christmas will come as it always does. The point is not the waiting, the point is in the midst of darkness, in the trials and tribulations of the end, Christ will come; the point is Christ will come. In the midst of the darkness of the end, our deepest longings are stirred up, our longings for hope, for peace, for love and for joy.
All around us we can see the signs of the end; death is everywhere. Galaxies collide and stars die, and there is darkness, the end. Dreams die, and there is darkness, the end. Barriers go up, bullets fly, bombs explode, people die; there is darkness, the end. Words are spoken, promises broken, hopes are dashed; there is darkness, the end. The work dries up, the job ends, funds are exhausted, the bills pile up; there is darkness, the end. Illness overwhelms, shadows on x-rays frighten, scans scare, falls break us, dreams are dashed; there is darkness, the end. In the darkness of the end, we long for hope, for peace, for love, for joy.
I remember, when I was a kid; I was about thirteen, we’d just moved to the West Coast and I can still remember it as if it was yesterday. I set off on my bicycle in search of the perfect Christmas I was as moody and emotional as any thirteen year-old could be. I was lonely, because we’d moved around so much that my only close friend was my younger brother; and what thirteen year-old girl, wants to admit that her only real friend is her eleven year-old brother. My parents were worried sick about money. We’d moved, Dad’s job was unstable and Mom’s job barely paid anything. About the only good news in my life was that I was twelve and back in those days, at twelve you were considered old enough for babysitting and babysitting meant money. Every weekend, I would babysit. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe that at thirteen, I was actually left in charge of little children. I remember getting a couple of bucks for babysitting on Friday and Saturday night; and I do mean a couple of bucks, two dollars for two nights of babysitting.
I remember, calculating that by the time Christmas arrived, I should have $27 dollars saved up. Twenty-seven dollars should be just enough to buy presents for my Mom and Dad, my brother, my aunt and uncle, and my two little cousins. I still remember heading off on my bicycle, into the bustling metropolis of Ladner. Ladner was just a small fishing village back then. There were just three stores worth looking for Christmas presents in: Perry’s Department store proved to be far too expensive for my blood. So, I headed off to the 5 and 10 store. For those of you who don’t know what a five and ten store was, just think dollar store, only back then it was the 5 and dime and you could actually get stuff for five and ten cents. I spent hours in there trying to figure out the perfect gifts for my brother and my two little cousins. I left thinking that I could take care of their gifts with about five dollars. So it was off to the drug store to figure out what to get for my Mom and Dad and Aunt and Uncle. That took another couple of hours as I agonized over the various Old Spice gift sets. I could just about afford a 3-piece set for my Dad that included saving cream, after-shave and a soap-on-a-rope. Surely my uncle would be happy with a soap-on-a-rope. Then it was a Yardly gift set for my Mom, dusting powder, perfume and soap all for about six dollars; which would leave enough left over for a small bottle of perfume for my aunt. Continue reading
She had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and Sophia certainly revealed wisdom to me. I became her pastor in a round-about-way. Sophia knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying Sophia’s friend thought she ought to have a pastor. So, I was summoned to Sophia’s bedside. I was new at this pastor stuff and I was afraid. I had been told that Sophia only had a few weeks before the cancer would take her. 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 Sophia had 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. Sophia 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? Sophia spoke the word “Life?” as if it were a question. Life?: Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.
One morning, I stopped by the bakery that used to be on Main Street and picked out the most European pastries I could find, then I swung by Starbuck’s 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, and our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men 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 and 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. One day, 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 in Sophia’s eyes, I had gone from being a no-good, 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?”… Continue reading
It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate. It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.
Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died.
Karen and Bill had been working for hours on the new nursery. There wasn’t much time left. The baby was due in just eight weeks and so very much still needed to be done. But at least they had finally finished the painting and papering. They were admiring their handiwork when Karen’s water broke. In the car on the way to the hospital, Karen tried to reassure Bill. Over and over again she told Bill that lots of first babies arrive early. After 20 long hours, Michael was born. The doctors carefully explained that Michael’s spine had not developed properly. They assured Karen and Bill that he would be alright, but unfortunately, he would never be able to walk. On the morning their son was born the life that Karen and Bill had looked forward to was over. Karen and Bill’s world ended when Michael was born.
Mary loved her job. She was a high-powered executive with a company that was expanding at a phenomenal rate. She worked hard to get where she was. She poured all her energy into her work. She barely had time for a personal life, but that didn’t bother Mary. She knew there would be plenty of time for that after she had gotten where she wanted to go. Ten years and she was already playing with the big boys. She was a mover and a shaker. She loved her work and as good as she was at her job, she just didn’t see it coming. She was stunned when the announcement came. Apparently, the company had expanded a little too quickly. Bankruptcy put an end to the life that Mary loved. Mary’s world ended the day she lost her job.
I used to think that the end of the world would come in a blaze of glory. I used to think that when the world ended there would be plenty of warning. I used to think that if you paid enough attention to what was going on around you, you would be able to tell when the world was going to end. But that was before a doctor came into a room and told me that they had found a tumour that needed to be removed immediately. The end of the world came quietly without any fanfare at all. It hit me like a ton of bricks, without any warning what so ever. The world came to an end. It hardly seems fair that the world can come to an end so suddenly. I for one would have liked a little notice.
Today, the media is full of news that heralds the end of the world. There are wars and rumours of wars as explosions end the world for hundreds and thousands of people in faraway places. The world comes to an end every single day. It hardly seems fair that the world can come to an end so suddenly. When I was younger, I always wanted to know how a story ended. As a kid, I would often flip to the last chapter of a wonderful book to see just how things ended. I can still remember watching movies on TV that my father had already seen before and begging him to tell me how it all ends. Sometimes, my Dad would oblige, but more often than not he would tauntingly tell me to just watch and enjoy the movie, because it would all become clear soon enough. Continue reading
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Yeah right Jesus…have you seen the news? Blessed are the peacemakers. They better be blessed because all their peacemaking is more than likely going to get them killed than it is to see them heralded as the Children of God!
Today, we commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I. But, since the end of that “War to End All Wars” the world has experienced the horrors of World War II in which millions suffered and died in the Holocaust, and even more millions were killed in battle and it took the dropping of not one but two atomic bombs to put an end to the madness. Since the end of World War II with its genocide upon genocide the world has seen the violence and untold murders perpetrated by the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. More recently repressive regimes together with the greed of capitalist consumption continue to perpetrate violence and genocide upon the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, and the Rohingyas. Refugees fleeing violence are cast as fearsome caravans, and kids just out to enjoy some country music are gunned down in affluent neighbourhoods. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. Jesus hasn’t got a clue. About the only thing peacemakers are likely to inherit is the right to die trying.
Wars and rumors of war are the order of the day. Face it, humans are a violent lot and violence and war aren’t about to end soon. So, I’m sorry Jesus, but this way of life that you keep encouraging us to embrace is only going to get us all or over-run, or enslaved, and killed. But then what would Jesus know? War sure ain’t what it was in Jesus’ day. War has gotten uglier as our means of destruction have gotten more efficient.
Had enough yet? Do you wish you could just find a remote and turn me off? Doom and gloom, just like the news. Over and over again the drumbeats get more and more intense. These are dangerous times. So, be afraid. Be very afraid. We live in the midst of violence and war as horrible as it is, war is a necessary evil. So, before you tune me out, please hear me out. For the times they are a changing.
The truth is our ancestors were far more violent than we are. The truth is, and statistics will bear this out, the truth is that violence has been in decline for years and years and years. Today, dear friends we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ history. So, blessed are the peacemakers because peacemakers will be called the children of God.
Now lest you think that I am suffering from delusions, let me lay out a few facts. For centuries now, violence has been on the decline. I don’t have time to delve into the orders of magnitude in the decline of violence over the centuries. So, let’s just look at the last century. Many of us look back fondly at the good old days, of the last century, because we honestly believe that things are getter worse and not better. But the truth is that since 1945 in Europe and the Americas, there has been a steep decline in: interstate wars, deadly ethnic riots (otherwise known as pogroms), and military coups, worldwide, there has been a steep decline in deaths in interstate wars. Back in those good old days, like the 1950s the average number of deaths in battle stood at about 65,000 deaths per conflict per year. Today, that number has shrunk to less than 2,000 deaths per conflict in a year Don’t get me wrong an average 2,000 deaths per conflict per year is still way too many deaths. But since the end of World War II there has been a 90 percent reduction in deaths resulting from civil wars and genocides; a 90% reduction represents, in the history of violence, a colossal decline in violence and war. (Steven Pinker)
For the sceptics among you, who aren’t that worried about the rumors of war because you’re more concerned about violent crimes in your own neighborhoods, let me just direct your attention to our more violent neighbours to the south. In the US, the FBI compiles what it calls “Uniform Crime Statistics” which tell us that violent crime is going down, in fact in the past ten years crime rates overall have returned to levels last seen in the 1950’s. Canadian statistics are even better. You are far less likely to become the victim of a violent crime than your parents were. As for your grandchildren, they have never been safer than they are right now. That’s what the statistics tell us. As a species we have never experienced such peace. It is unprecedented. (Steven Pinker)
So, why are we living in fear? Statistics indicate that we’ve never been so afraid. Even in Canada, where we once took pride in our military because they were among the world’s most respected peace-keepers, we are responding to our fear, and over and over again we hear calls for us to build up our military, not as peace-keepers but as well-equipped warriors. We are afraid, we are very afraid.
We are safer than we have ever been. We are living longer than we have ever lived. Statistically, humans have never had it so good. So, why are we living in such fear. Granted, we all know that humans now have the ability to wipe out human life with the kind of efficiency that we have never had. Our weapons have fearsome capacity. But surely, the reductions in violence and war that we have been able to make, might point us in the direction of further reductions in violence and war. Surely, if we find ways to ramp up our efforts, we can capitalize upon the great strides towards peace that we have already made? Continue reading
WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.” and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.
Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.
For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress. I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.
Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”. I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!
How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear!
I could almost hear Marcus Borg insisting that the two important questions one must ask when trying to get to the heart of any Bible story:
- Why do you suppose they told this story?
- Why do you suppose they told this story this particular way?
All these years of struggling to understand this gospel story and getting hopelessly caught up in trying to explain how it is that Jesus might have been able to raise a dead man from the grave. Searching, for some reasonable explanation. Perhaps Lazarus wasn’t really dead. I mean 2000 years ago, if he’d slipped into some sort of state where his heart-rate and breathing slowed down to such an extent that people thought he was dead, well they might have buried him before he recovered. The ancient world is full of stories of people being mistaken for dead. There must be a perfectly good scientific explanation for this story.
Can’t find a reasonable explanation? How about we just settle for reality that we will never know exactly what happened and we will simply have to accept that Jesus was so remarkable a human being that over the years the stories that his followers told were bound to have been exaggerated? I mean, I know how to tell a good story. I know that the secret to a really good story is a kernel of spectacular truth that you weave marvelous details around in order to get to an even more spectacular truth. Remember the bubbles bubbling away. Bubble, bubble, bubble, the bubbles are not the point, what’s happening beneath the bubble, beyond the bubbles.
As Lazarus bubbled to the surface, I finally began to realize that Lazarus is not the point of this story. Then Jesus’ bubbled to the surface, and I began to wonder, maybe Jesus isn’t the point of this story either. Then it was as if the Jesus bubble burst right before my eyes and up through the cosmic ooze came a bubbling crude. Suddenly I could see power, the amazing power of resurrection, but not Lazarus’ resurrection, not Jesus’ resurrection, not even our resurrection, but resurrection nonetheless. It’s all in the name! Lazarus!
I raced to my Hebrew dictionary. It wasn’t there. No Lazarus to be found. It must be Greek, so I flipped through the pages of my Greek lexicon until there it was Lazarus, the Greek for the Hebrew Eleazar. Eleazar = break it down El means God. eazar from the verb: to help, God is my help. Ok, maybe, God sure helped Lazarus, but how does that help me?
And then it hit me! Eleazar, the son and successor to Aaron. Aaron the brother of Moses. All these years of reading and studying this story, how could I have missed it? Aaron the first high priest of the people of Israel and Eleazar is Aaron’s successor. Eleazar the supreme representative of the priesthood who held the office longer than any Jew before or since Jesus. I might have missed it, but there is no way that the people at the turn of the first century would have missed it.
Why would the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John tell this story and why would he tell it this way? Was he trying to tell his listeners something about the priesthood?
New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan reminds us that the stories in the gospels mimic the teaching style of Jesus. Jesus taught through parables. Parables are stories designed to enlighten his listeners to the truth. Dom reminds us that you don’t ask the same questions of parables as you do of history. Nobody ever worries about whether or not the story of the Good Samaritan actually happened, because it makes absolutely no difference whether or not it actually happened because the story tells us something that is true about life. The writers of the New Testament, says Crossan, imitated Jesus’ teaching style and taught their listeners the truth about Jesus using parables about Jesus; parables like the two different birth stories in Luke and Mark. These stories are not history, they are parables designed to teach their listeners that Jesus was very special; more special even than Caesar at whose birth legend has it, a star appeared in the sky. The writers of the gospel communicated the truth about Jesus through story because history hadn’t been invented yet…the concept of history would take several hundred more years to develop.
So, if we look at the story of the raising of Lazarus not as history but as parable, what truth about Jesus can we learn? Well for starters we can stop worrying whether or not it actually happened. The truth in this story doesn’t rely on our ability to believe the unbelievable. Lazarus the very name itself is the biggest clue. The priesthood. The religious authorities of the day were as good as dead. Religion lay rotting in the grave. The religion of Jesus’ people had been killed by the long years of occupation by foreign gods and there was nothing left to pray over but a rotting corpse, a corpse, which Jesus called back to life.
“Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’’ So, they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When Jesus had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus , come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’”
Years of occupation from foreigners and their gods had left the priesthood bound and gagged and defensively hovering in the caves of the dead. Jesus wept over the state of Lazarus and called the priesthood out from the dead.
The anonymous gospel-story-teller that we call John let his story bubble up in ways that would have caught the attention of his late first century audiences. As this story bubbles up in us, can we see our own story in this parable? Can we see that Christianity is bound up held captive and lies rotting in a tomb of our own making?
Some say Christianity is dead. Others say Christianity is held captive by those to whom the gospel, the Good News that whatever God is, God is LOVE, is so foreign to them that it’s as if they are following some other god. Others say Christianity is on life support and it’s time to pull the plug. As for me, well I believe that only Jesus can bring Christianity back from the dead. I’m not talking about the Jesus whose been dressed up in foreign clothes, not the vengeful, vindictive, Jesus, or the mealy-mouthed, sweetness and light Jesus. I’m talking about the Jesus that the gospel story-tellers told their stories about. The Jesus that continues to bubble up from within a story that runs deeper than the bubbles. I’m talking about the radical Jesus, the scandalous Jesus, the Jesus who wept over the sorry state of the religion of his people. The Jesus who could not tolerate a society that kept so many people in poverty or the religious establishment who co-operated with the powers that be in order to maintain the status quo. The Jesus who reached out to those on the margins of society and called the rich and the powerful to reach out beyond our comfort zones. The Jesus who abhorred violence and walked in the pathways of peace. The Jesus who was so disgusted with the state of the priesthood that he turned the tables in the temple. The Jesus who preaches the radical gospel that God is LOVE and that loving God is about loving our neighbours and loving our enemies. This Jesus who preaches love, compassion and grace and not judgment, tyranny and hate. This Jesus has the power to call Christianity out from the depths to which we have sunk.
When the Gospel According to John was written, the Temple had been destroyed and many of the Jewish people had escaped Jerusalem and the followers of the Jesus escaped Jerusalem. Just as Jesus reached into the riches of the Jewish tradition so too did the religious authorities of who escaped to Jabneh who reached into the riches of their Jewish tradition and out of the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judiasm and Christianity. Out of this experience we reached into the depths of the best of who we can be, the best in the Jewish tradition and the best that was developing in the Christian tradition and out of that new life was resurrected.
For us, the followers of Jesus, Jesus can bring life where there is death. This Jesus knew nothing of the church’s theologies or doctrines. Jesus knew nothing of the doctrine of the fall, or of original sin, or the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian creeds, or of judgments based on these well-intentioned attempts to sort out who and what Jesus was and is. Jesus was a good Jew who understood that the Creator of all that is and ever shall be loved creation and all its creatures and this being, this Creator, this Source, this YAHWEH this great I AM, the one Jesus called his ABBA, continues to love creation and all its creatures and so this Jesus understood himself as someone who comes that we might have life and live it abundantly.
And so, on this All Saints Sunday, we should all take a good look in the mirror and see what this Jesus would see in us. Each time we look into a mirror we must remember that in everyone, Jesus saw a beautiful, beloved, child of God. Now, more than ever we need to see ourselves as beautiful, beloved, children of God, saints, sacred, holy, children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must look beyond our mirrors and see everyone as beloved children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must be able to look into the eyes of those we see as enemy, into the eyes of those we fear, into the eyes of the stranger and we need to see in those eyes a beautiful, beloved child of the MOST HOLY, a saint, sacred, holy, child of the ONE who is LOVE.
Friends, Jesus is weeping. Can we hear Jesus calling out from the dead? Can we be called from the dead? Surely, it is time to let the dead bury the dead. Let the worst of our religions die. Let those things in Christianity that have caused pain and agony in the world, die. Let us come out from the tombs we have made and unbind one another from our respective grave clothes so that we can dance and sing? So that we can dance to the life around us! So that we can rejoice in your sainthood! It’s all in the name. And the name is LOVE.
Preparing for Reformation Sunday? Some of these posts might be useful:
A Reformation Day Nailing to the Internet – John Shelby Spong
A Prayer for Reformation – Thomas Berry
Ruminating over this Sunday’s prescribed reading from Job 38, my mind harkens back to 2012, when I had the privilege of attending a series of lectures given by the great Phyllis Tickle who described the current reformation that the church is experiencing as part of a cultural phenomenon that happens about every 500 years, which she calls “The Great Emergence”. When asked what skills religious leaders will need to navigate the information age, Tickle insisted that the best advice we could give to anyone considering a religious vocation was that they should study physics. Inwardly I groaned, remembering my feeble attempts to come to grips with the most rudimentary theories of quantum physics. But I also nodded in agreement, knowing that so many of our religious narratives strive to make meaning of the cosmos as it was perceived by ancient minds. When our ancestors looked into the heavens they had no way of knowing the wonders of the cosmos that we are beginning to discover. While physicists can ignore theology, theologians who ignore physics will find themselves stuck atop Job’s dung-heap impotently shaking their fists at the Divine. Perhaps Tickle is correct and the clerics of the future will out of necessity need to be physicists. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku speculates that the universe is “a symphony of strings” and the “mind of God would be cosmic music resonating through eleven dimensional hyper-space”. If you have the courage to climb down from the dung-heap, take a look at Michio Kaku’s “The Universe in a Nutshell”. If the Divine bollocking that Job endured makes you wonder if ignorance might just be bliss, then take a peek at “Is God a Mathematician?” or “The Mind of God”. Who knows, maybe if a few more of us dare to dwell in the questions we might just come up with imaginative narratives to help us fathom what it means to be human.
Join us at the Gathering Centre: home of Holy Cross as we explore the intersection between science and faith.
As the Season of Creation winds to a close, some of us will take the opportunity to comemmorate St. Francis of Assisi this Sunday. You can follow the links to previous sermons for this celebration: A Feminist, the Niquab, St. Francis and the Sultan, The Saint and the Sultan Daring to Dance in the Midst of a March
Weeds Upon the Altar
Listen to the sermon here
Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once God asked me to join God on a walk
through this world,
and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed God lingered a bit longer
before any face that was
and before any eyes that were
And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship
God too would kneel
I have Come to learn: God
In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!
Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,
I have Come to learn:
God adores God’s
Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers. Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God. Continue reading
Then Jesus brought a little child into their midst and putting his arm around the child, said to the Twelve, “Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me.” Readings included Exodus 40:34-38, Mark 9:33-37
Listen to the sermon here
(September 2015) For the past few days Carol and I have been blessed to have two of our little grand-daughters staying with us. Audrey is about to become a two-year-old and little Evelyn is just seven months old. It has been an amazing couple of days as our very tidy, ordered, quiet, home has been turned upside down and inside out by these two bundles of beautiful energy and all the amazing baby paraphernalia that their Mom brought with them. Between toys, bottles, diaper bags, baby beds, and all the stuff that had to be moved from their regular resting spots to spots out of reach from tiny little hands, our house became a beautiful cluttered mess. It’s wonderful, it’s chaotic, it’s noisy, it’s exhausting and it’s the best fun imaginable. I’ve loved every wild and crazy moment every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed each and every sweet and tender joy filled moment. There is nothing quite like staring into the eyes of a baby and seeing all that precious potential and marveling at the miracle of life. Children have the power to open us to the wonders of this amazing mystery that we are a part of. But even as a wax on about the joy and wonder that children can inspire in us, I know that when all is said and done, their Mom will take them home and our world can return to its quiet, ordered, everything in its place, and a place for everything kind of way.
Children can be quite demanding and there are even people on this planet that find children annoying. I’ve even heard tell of people who don’t like children. So, when I read of Jesus, the great master and teacher of wisdom, bringing a little child into the midst of his most ardent students, in order to teach them something, I can see how they might have been a little perplexed. After all, the Twelve as they were called had given up everything to study with Jesus. They left their lives and jobs behind and followed him where ever he went listening and learning. They attended his public classes where he taught the masses and they also attended his very private classes where Jesus delved deeper and farther teaching them more and more about his program and broadening their vision of a new way of being in the world. Even when Jesus wasn’t actively instructing the Twelve, they were watching and listening to him as they traveled to and fro, risking their safety in a world where life for their people was lived under the persecution of their conquerors. So, when they returned home to Capernaum, perhaps they were expecting a little R & R, or maybe even a couple of masters’ classes in the relative peace and quiet of familiar territory. Continue reading
Jesus is not some sort of cosmic bargain with a demanding, jealous, elsewhere god, sacrificing himself so that we can live happily ever after! Jesus of Nazareth was fully human. The Christ is the experiece of Jesus his followers encountered after his death. The Cosmic Christ is neither human nor divine, but rather a gateway into the MYSTERY’s presence among us. Our BRUNCHtalks continue to explore what it means to be Progressive in approach: Christ-like in action.
You can find the all the slides from the presentation (including the ones that were skipped in the interests time) for this BRUNCHtalk here
Audio only click here
Listen to the sermon here
As many of you know, I’ve been on a diet for the past few years. Dieting is not easy in this land of such great abundance. I have had to work very hard to resist so very many temptations. Some foods have been cut out of my diet all together. Most of the foods that I have had to eliminate from my diet are foods that I love. The most difficult food for me to resist is bread. I love bread and in order to lose the weight that I needed to lose, I had to eliminate bread from my diet. For the first few months of this diet, the only time I ate any bread was here in this sanctuary during communion. I must confess that I was only able to abstain from bread for about three months and then I simply needed a fix. So, after the initial shock of no bread, I gradually introduced just a little bread back into my diet. But I really miss bread. All kinds of bread. I miss great big hunks of crusty bread, endless slices of buttered toast, croissants, baguettes, bagels, rye bread, sourdough bread, white bread, raisin bread, stuffing, croutons, buns, rolls, breadsticks…I could go on and on and on…telling you about all the breads that I miss…I just can’t eat any of them. So, I hope that you will all give me a big “aahh poor Dawn” when I remind you that for the past few weeks all of the gospel readings prescribed by our lectionary have Jesus talking about bread. Come on I’m serious let me hear a big sigh of sympathy: “aah poor Dawn”.
Bread, Bread, Bread, the gospel according to John: “I am the bread of life. I am the bread that came down from heaven. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, and if you eat it you’ll never die. I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If any eat this bread they will live forever.” Bread, Bread, Bread, for five weeks in a row, preachers all over the world are doing our darnedest to serve up Jesus as the bread of life, bread for the world, bread that comes down from heaven, bread that provides eternal life. Bread, Bread, Bread. I who am not supposed to be letting bread pass my lips; I have been called upon to create sermons that will satisfy the lectionary’s insistence that we gorge ourselves on words and images which offer up Jesus as bread for the world. So, to help you understand a little bit of what it is like to be so hungry for bread, whilst trying to create sermons which inspire hunger for bread, I decided to bring you this basket of bread. Look at it isn’t it beautiful. Buns, buns, and more buns…bagels, croissants, more buns. Bread, bread, bread. Isn’t it beautiful? Take a long, deep breath and smell just how marvelous this is?
It is the aroma of bread that gets to me. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread. I read somewhere that it is not the smell of bread that makes us hungry for bread, but rather that the aroma of bread alerts us to our hunger. Which means that the hunger is already there, and the smell of bread simply reminds us of our desire for bread. It doesn’t make much difference to me, which comes first the smell or the hunger, I just want some bread. I love me some bread. Bread is comfort food to the enth degree!!! When it comes to comfort food, just give me bread. I don’t think I’ve ever met a bread that I don’t like; as long as it’s fresh, I’m hungry.
So, for weeks now, Jesus the great I AM has had his mouth filled by the storyteller we call John with words about bread. And all the while I have been hungry for bread. Jesus keeps promising to satisfy that hunger; Jesus is the bread of life, bread for the world, bread that provides eternal life. For weeks now, our liturgies have been full of hymns about bread, so have our prayers. It’s a good thing that I’m on vacation after today, because next Sunday the gospel according to John will give you more images of Jesus as the living bread. My hunger for bread, might just surpass my hunger for something more important than bread, so, before I gorge myself on this basket full of bread, let me try to shift our attention beyond the bread to that to which all this talk of bread is designed to point us toward. Remember it is not the bread that makes us hungry but rather the bread that alerts us to our hunger. So, what is it exactly that we are hungry for. As humans we all share this insatiable hunger for something more. Something beyond mere food. Something beyond that which we can explain with words. Something beyond all the images and symbols. Something beyond our very selves. Something beyond the sum of all of us. Something that we call God.
This longing to know, this desire to touch or be touched by, this hunger for that which is bigger than us, more than us, beyond us, out there and yet deep, deep, within here, this appetite that drives us to seek out, to question, to wonder, is the very stuff that drives us as a species. We call this something God. Others call it by other names; names like knowledge, wisdom, force, energy, spirit or love. This object of our desire, our hunger, our thirst, our quest, our longing, this thing beyond words or symbols which is sought after by those who see themselves as spiritual or religious. These days the seekers of this experience beyond words all too often describe themselves as spiritual BUT NOT religious.
Spiritual but not religious is a phrase that has come into fashion as religion has gone out of fashion. I am the first to admit that there are all sorts of good reasons for religion to fade from favour. The excesses and abuses of religion and the religious are legion. The number of times people have regaled me with stories justifying their desire to have absolutely nothing to do with organized religion has put flesh on the phrase, “I love Jesus, but his followers scare me to death.” Continue reading
When last this text appeared in the lectionary, it was, as it is this weekend, a holiday weekend here in Ontario. So, in the midst of our relaxed worship, I decided not to preach the sermon I had written and simply spoke briefly in response to the video animation which was shown after the reading of the Gospel John 6:24-35. You can watch the video: The Stonecutter here and listen to the recording of my comments here. The sermon which I prepared but did not preach is printed below.
Following the video The Stonecutter (1960) Japanese Folklore view here
Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Food that endures for eternal life: WOW! Talk about satisfying. Who wouldn’t want some of that? Who isn’t hungry for food that does not perish but lasts for eternal life? No wonder the people cried out to Jesus. “Sir, give us some of that.” To which Jesus replied, “I AM it!” It’s clear that were not talking about ordinary food here. Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
But isn’t hunger and thirst the very stuff of life? Isn’t hunger, thirst, desire, longing, yearning, the very thing that drives us all? Don’t we all hunger for a better, fuller, more satisfying life? Don’t we all want to feed that emptiness that lies within? Aren’t we all looking for something?
If I were to try to tell that ancient Japanese fable in our modern Canadian context what might it sound like? You’re driving along in the car, widows open, listening to some tunes thinking hey look at me, I’ve got it pretty good, when all of a sudden a guy pulls up along side of you in a beautiful in a sleek e-type jag convertible, woe! If I could afford a car like that, just think about how great it would be to pull away from all the other traffic, the wind blowing through my hair, wouldn’t that be great. Well you save your pennies and you finally get the car of your dreams, and your driving along and you see this house, not just any house, but the most beautiful house in the neighbourhood, and you know there’s just got to be a pool in the backyard, and you wonder maybe, just maybe there’s a Jacuzzi in one of the dozen or so rooms and you know that if you could come home to a place like that, well then you’d be really happy. So you work hard and you scrimp and you save and one day, you get your hearts desire and you turn the key in the lock an all of a sudden your living in the house of your dreams. But there’s the pool to clean, and the gardens to maintain, and a lot of rooms that need dusting and you see that your neighbours have a pool boy, a gardener, and a housekeeper and you know if you could only afford to hire some help then you’d be happy. You know that with just a few more bucks in your bank account you’d be happy. So, you wish and you wish and one day you win the 649 and you have millions of dollars, several beautiful cars, lots of staff to keep everything ticking over, and no one to share it with. Continue reading
The beheading of John the Baptist is an unusual subject for a beautiful summer morning. However, from time to time the lectionary takes us where we are reluctant to go. Our readings included: Mark 1:1-11, Mark 1:14-15 and Mark 6:14-29
Listen to the sermon here
I can’t exactly tell you how it felt after a wonderful week of summer vacation to return to work on Wednesday morning and discover that there was a beheading on the menu for this morning. I was sorely tempted to forget about the prescribed reading for this particular morning. I mean, who among us has the stomach to gaze upon John the Baptist’s severed head on this gorgeous summer morning? We could all be relaxing on our various patios and sun decks enjoying a leisurely breakfast, listening to the birds sing, tending to our gardens or catching up with friends. I’d much rather head up to the lake for a swim than contemplate the fate of a radical like John the Baptist. Summertime and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high! At first, I thought just crank up the tunes and maybe our love of singing together will get us through and help us to ignore the horrors of the main course. But the image of John’s piercing eyes staring up from my imagined silver platter made each hymn-choice seem trite. So, I opened up my sermon files to see what I’ve done in the past when this horrendous gospel reading has come up. It turns out that I’m rarely here at this time of the year. I’m either at convention or on vacation and some other preacher has had the privilege of this particular main course. Oh, there’s one sermon that I preached years ago, but when I read it, I couldn’t help wondering what I was thinking; I told a cute story about bears in the mountains being dangerous and moved on to insist that Jesus wasn’t some cute cuddly teddy bear, but a wild radical bear who if taken seriously is far more dangerous than any wild bear we might meet in the woods. It wasn’t a bad sermon really, but I just couldn’t bear to preach it a second time. So, I started playing around with other readings. I thought I’d find something more fitting for a lovely summer morning; maybe preach on the beauty of creation and encourage us all to enjoy the pleasures of life. But John’s eyes wouldn’t stop looking up at me from the banquet table, taunting me to prepare the way for our God. I tried to avoid his gaze by promising to do him justice when Advent rolls around and the lectionary goes on for 3 consecutive Sundays about John the Baptist, but John’s severed head sent my mind to the Garden of Gethsemane and I ran into that Jesus fellow down on his knees begging to God to spare him, to take this cup from him and I couldn’t help hearing John in the background yelling, “You brood of vipers as we tried to enjoy this beautiful morning. So, here we are sisters and brothers, gathered around the table with the vision of a main course served up on a silver platter, encouraged by the traditions of the church to partake of the radical fare that lies staring up at us. Prepare the way for our God. Now we could prepare the way simply by exploring the text. Continue reading