Learning to Die Daily: a sermon for the second Sunday in Lent

Lent 2B – Mark 8:31-38 this sermon is inspired by my study of the work of Dr. Cornel West. His words flow through the lines of this sermon and his prophetic imagination provides the hope-filled vision of LOVE parading around the world as justice.

Listen to the sermon here

The anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark, wants us to know that: “Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the one the oppressed people of Israel had been longing for, waiting for, expecting, hoping for, the Promised One,  had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later.” Furthermore, the gospel storyteller makes it absolutely clear, “if you, wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, you must pick up your cross and follow in my footsteps.”  Those of us who have the audacity to call ourselves Christian, those of us who seek to follow Jesus, must deny our very selves, we must pick up our cross, and we must follow in the footsteps, of Jesus. Follow in the footsteps of the ONE who is understands that he must suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the pillars of society, the powerful religious leaders and the scholars, follow in the footsteps of the One who understood that rejection meant that he would have to be put to death, and rise again. Quick change the channel. There must be something better on offer than this.

Change the channel, I can’t stand to watch this one again. I’ve seen it before. The hero, the beloved, the freedom fighter, justice seeker, peace maker, that one, the one we’re all rooting for, our saviour, suffers and dies. Change the channel, I’m not up for this. Don’t give me Jesus. I don’t want Jesus. I don’t want anybody telling me that suffering and death are the inevitable; especially my suffering, and my death. Change the channel. There must be something better out there.

I don’t want to know. Distract me. Distract me from the pain and the suffering. Change the channel. Find me something more interesting, more uplifting, more hopeful, more cheerful. Continue reading

Giving Up GOD for Lent – the Journey Begins – Lent 1

This year, we at Holy Cross are giving up God for Lent. Letting go of our carefully crafted and tightly held images of the ONE who IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING is a daunting task. To aid us on our journey, we have decided to radically alter the way we worship together. It is a scary proposition for a pastor to venture out on a journey without the familiar trappings of familiar liturgy.  Gone are the vestments, the prescribed lectionary readings, and the familiar words.  The sermon is broken up into three short homilies. There are flowers in the sanctuary during Lent! The congregation is encouraged to move around the sanctuary. You can peruse my notes for the service in the pdf of my missal here. You can also watch the videos of the homilies – our videorgrapher is enjoying the Family Day weekend – so my head is missing from the first parts but thanks to a volunteer’s intervention my head is restored in the third video. It was quite a beginning to what promises to be an exciting journey.  

Beyond the Wildernesses: a sermon for Lent 1B

JusticeThis sermon is inspired by the work of Dr. Cornel West whose words and challenges infuse this sermon with courage and passion. The questions which frame the challenges are from W.E.B du Bois as quoted by Cornel West. Listen to the sermon here

On Ash Wednesday, this week, we began the season of Lent. Traditionally the Lent is a season for contemplation, repentance, confession, and self-denial designed to prepare us for Holy Week. 40 days, not counting Sundays because all Sundays are a celebration of resurrection, 40 days leading up to our commemoration of Jesus’ death and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 40 days inspired by the stories recounted by the gospel storytellers known as Mark, Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, which of course are patterned after the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about Moses spending 40 nights on Mt Sinai, or the 40 days and nights it rained in the story of Noah and the flood, or the 40 years the Hebrew people spent wandering in the desert.

The gospel-storytellers cast Jesus out into the desert where he encounters Satan, the personification of evil. The first Sunday in Lent always includes a reading from one of these three gospel-storytellers about Jesus’ encounter…..this year our lectionary follows Mark, which you heard as our first reading. I’ve chosen the version out of Matthew for our gospel reading because it expands further on Jesus encounter with the personification of evil.

For several weeks now, our Adult Study Class has been ReThinking the concept of Evil; that is we have been looking at evil in light of all the ReThinking of Christianity that we have been doing for the past several years. How does our evolving Christian theology change the way we think of evil? Once you move beyond the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall from grace as the prevailing explanation for the existence of evil in the world, from whence cometh the problem of evil. So, in preparation for those classes I’ve had the privilege of delving into the subject of evil. I’ve spent weeks, no months now, but it feels like years now, researching the topic of evil. I get all the fun jobs around here.

Turns out most of us don’t really believe in Satan. Sure, the guy still haunts the deepest darkest recesses of our psyche’s – both our personal psyche and our collective psyche. But when push comes to shove, we’ve confined Satan to the pits of hell, which of course we all know doesn’t exist anywhere but in our collective imaginations. What we have here in this morning’s story, is metaphor heaped upon metaphor. Metaphors are those things we use when we don’t really have words to adequately describe particular phenomenon. Meta which means beyond and phor which means words, metaphor means beyond words and that works both ways. Metaphors describe those things that are beyond words and when looking at metaphors we are supposed to look beyond the words of the metaphor itself. Satan is used to describe that which is beyond words and we need to look beyond the word Satan itself to understand the metaphor of Jesus encounter with Satan.

The gospel-storytellers place the story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. Baptism was and is a public act; a sort of declaration of intent to be a certain kind of person.  Jesus is about to step into his life as a public teacher. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist who preached a  baptism of repentance; repentance means to turn around, to turn from the direction you’ve been going, to turn around toward God so that you might live in God, recognizing that God lives in you. No sooner does Jesus engage in this public act which sets him up as a committed follower of YAHWEH in a world where committed followers of YAHWEH where hanging on crosses all over the place; no sooner does Jesus set himself up against the powers-that-be than he is driving by the Spirit into the wilderness where the personification of evil, Satan himself pays Jesus a visit for the sole purpose of enticing Jesus to follow Satan and not YAHWEH. Isn’t that always the way? Each and every time we resolve to follow one path, someone or something comes along and entices us to follow another. When that someone is the personification of Evil himself, well who else would be up to the task of tempting Jesus other than Satan himself. The gospel-storytellers are setting up a battle of cosmic proportions between good and evil. Our very lives write large upon the canvass of the heavens themselves, cause you know the big guy up in the sky and all the heavenly host will be watching this one; just as they tune in each and every time we are come face to face with the choice between good and evil. What better way to begin a season, which encourages contemplation, repentance, and confession? Continue reading

Laugh! It Is Lent – a sermon for the first Sunday in Lent 1B

TickledA sermon preached on Lent 1B 2012 which began a journey into the wilderness with the Mystics. St Teresa of Avila and my granddaughter’s laughter inspired this sermon.

I find myself wishing that we were entering some other season of the church year. Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.

Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first Sunday of Lent. OH goodie! We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”

Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent. And I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century.

It is so easy for us to lean not on the ever-lasting arms of Jesus but on the scales of St. Anslem and find ourselves not looking forward to the promise of resurrection and the gifts of eternal life, but rather dreading judgment day knowing that the scales of justice must be balanced and fearing the moment of truth when our sins are piled onto the scale and knowing that our only hope for reconciliation with our Maker is that Jesus is sitting on the other end of the scale. Woe is me. Woe is me. For I am sinful. My sins are too numerous to count. There’s all the things I have done and all the things I have left undone. Thank God Jesus died for me. Somebody had to pay the price for my sinfulness. Jesus died for a reason, and you and I dear sisters and brothers are that reason. A blood sacrifice had to be paid. God’s justice demanded it and Jesus paid the price with his very own blood. Jesus took our place up there on that cross and the least you and I can do to say thank-you is to spend some time shouldering our own crosses as we retrace Jesus steps to Jerusalem. Continue reading

Transfiguration Sermons

transfigurationSermons for Transfiguration Sunday:

LOVE Transforms here

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are? here

Looking Back at the Way Forward here

You Have the Power to Transfigure the Face of God here

Transfiguration Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song here

LOVE Transforms: a sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

transformation

Readings include 2 Kings 2:1-14; Mark 9:2-10

Listen to the sermon here

When I was a kid the scepter of nuclear annihilation hung over the world’s psyche. Children were not immune to the images of mushroom clouds rising in the distance that held the power to destroy entire populations. I can still remember classroom drills in which we were instructed in the fine art of what to do if a nuclear missile was on its way. We practiced hiding under our desks. Our desks were supposed to protect us from a nuclear blast. It sounds funny now. But I remember the day that I put two and two together. We were watching a film of a nuclear test out in the desert of Nevada which showed dummies being blown away by the nuclear blast; dummies that were miles away from ground zero. It was then that I realized that our teachers were lying to us and that if the big one came our way we would all be blown to smithereens.  If we got lucky and ground zero was just far enough away, we would all suffer the effects of radiation sickness. Images of rotting flesh on the bodies of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki haunted me and my fear spawned cries of outrage which developed into anger; anger that was embodied in my politics.

I was a very angry teenager. At the time, I believed that my anger was the result of the state of the world and I resolved to change the world. Ah the innocence of youth. It has taken decades and a whole lot of therapy for me to understand that my anger came from a deeper and darker place that rivaled the world’s warring madness. I was in fact a very lonely teenager. We moved around a lot. Every year of my life there had been a new school to contend with. Friendships were fleeting at best. The pain of moving from place to place left me longing for something I didn’t even know how to describe, and that pain came out as anger; anger which I directed at every adult who crossed my path, especially if that adult was in a position of authority. It didn’t take me very long to learn that anger isn’t exactly socially acceptable. So, I tried my best to bottle it all up. Until the day, I discovered what a lot of young people discover:  the love affair between anger and politics. So, I took up the cause of my day and became an angry protester who actively fought the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

I was 13 in 1970 when Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver and I was there in the Pacific Coliseum at their very first fundraiser. My parents knew nothing about it. My friends and I hitchhiked into the big city to join all those who were protesting the nuclear tests that the Americans were carrying out on the Island of Amchitka. Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs headlined the concert that launched Greenpeace onto the world stage. So, inspired were we that we spent most of the following year organizing a student strike.

In 1971 at the tender age of 14, I was on the organizing committee of the very first High School strike in Canadian history. We managed to convince over 9,000 high school kids from all over the Greater Vancouver Area to walk out of their classrooms and march down to the American Consulate and demand that they put an end to the nuclear testing on Amchitka.

Those were the days my friends. We were going to change the world. Stop the bomb and put an end to the war in Vietnam. Feed the hungry, end racism. What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!

Peace now! Was our rallying cry. Looking back, I realize that I wouldn’t have recognized peace if it broke out in front of me. There was so little peace in my life at home. As for the life inside of me, well that was so full of turmoil that peace would probably have driven me to madness. The only thing stopping me from going insane was my focused anger at the injustices in the world. As long as I could rage against the world, I didn’t have to listen to the demons that were raging inside of me.

Then one day, I started hanging out with a gang. I haven’t got time to go into the details of my involvement with this gang; suffice it to say, if I knew what this gang was all about I would never have gotten involved with them. The kids in this particular gang all had one thing in common; the Lutheran church. These kids were part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’ve never heard of before; a retreat. A weekend at a place called Camp Luther. Somehow, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. Continue reading

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are? – reflecting on Transfiguration

Listen to the sermon here

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, I found myself studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done here on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach to you about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. Then two things happened on Thursday that transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Where once my images were shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the experiences I had on Thursday have transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of God beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. The first thing that happened on Thursday, happened not just to me but to the whole world.

You see on Thursday, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”

NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…

As I struggled to wrap my brain around the reality of what has been discovered, our little grand-daughters came for a sleepover.Audrey is three and Evelyn is two and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I’d almost forgotten all about Trappist 1 when I found myself leaning over little Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler.   After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level.  Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.

Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. Continue reading

So, as a progressive christian, how do I think prayer works? – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

AUDIO ONLY VERSION HERE

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” In the morning, while it is still very dark, I can often be found sitting in my home office clutching a warm mug of coffee. Some of my most creative hours occur just before dawn, as do some of me least creative hours. Staring at a blank computer screen, hoping against hope that the Spirit will inspire me with new insights, my vision is often distracted by the rising sun. My computer sits in front of huge bank of windows that face the eastern sky. I have seen some spectacular sunrises beyond my computer’s screen. No matter what task I am feverishly trying to complete, the blinding light of the sun always causes me to stop what I’m doing, reach for my coffee and pray. More often than not, I pray for this congregation. I pray for each and every one of you. I pray for the work we do together. I pray about the challenges we face together. I pray for the concerns you have expressed for the people in your lives. I pray about the various afflictions that trouble you. I often pray for the wisdom to respond to your needs. I also pray for healing and I pray that the demons that haunt us will be driven out. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

I know, right, I’m a progressive Christian pastor. I have long since stopped believing in a God who intervenes in our lives like some kind of grand puppeteer in the sky. So, why do I pray? To whom do I pray? And, what do I expect my prayers to accomplish? If there’s no Big Guy upstairs or out there who is waiting to hear and answer my prayers, and if Jesus isn’t some sort of super-human miracle-worker, who intervenes on my behalf, then why bother praying at all?

Let me say this very clearly, because sometimes I think that people get the wrong idea about what it means to be a progressive Christian: just because our ideas about who God is are changing and we no longer see Jesus as some sort of super-human healer, that does not mean that progressive Christians no longer believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer! I believe that prayer has worked and continues to work miracles! I pray fully expecting that prayer can make a difference. My prayers do not address a personified being. My prayers take the form of contemplation of the needs and concerns that rise up in me.

I would be the first person to sympathize with anyone who finds it difficult to understand how prayer fits into the ways in which we are just beginning to speak about who and what God might be. As our notions about God change, so do our notions about Jesus. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. But when we begin to see God as something other than a grand-puppeteer in the sky, who pulls all our strings, the way in which we see Jesus changes as well. This is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us convince the grand-puppeteer to heal someone, or something in our lives. Sometimes, usually when I’m up against something that frightens me, I really miss that old sky-god, and I long to walk in the garden alone with Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what we are supposed to do once we begin to move beyond personifying the LOVE that we call God, how and why do we pray?

So, as a progressive Christian, how do I think prayer works? The truth is, I simply don’t know how prayer works. Prayer remains a mystery to me. I cannot do anything more than speculate and like all speculation, I am fully aware that I may have it all wrong.

I may not know how prayer works, but I suspect that prayer works because the power to heal one another is ours. I have come to believe that part of being human, is the power to heal one another, to heal the planet, and to heal the world. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth loved so fully that he was able to access the power of his humanity to heal others.

I also know that healing takes many forms. There is a tremendous, largely unheralded power in the bonds between people, in the gentle touch we can offer one another, in the hospitable presence of the LOVE we can extend to both our friends and even to our enemies. I believe that the power that lies in the bonds that exist between us, is the power we access when we pray. I believe that whatever God is, exists in, with, through, and beyond the bonds that connect us to one another.

There’s a story that has always intrigued me that illustrates this reality. You can find the story in a book called “Outliers,” written by Malcolm Gladwell, who also wrote “The Tipping Point.” It’s the story of a modern-day miracle that takes place in a small American town.

Roseto, is a small working-class town in Pennsylvania that was founded back in the late 19th century. From its founding to the late 1950’s it was populated by Italian immigrants from a town also called Roseto in Italy. Roseto would have remained a relatively obscure little town had it not been for the work of a medical school professor called Steward Wolf. While attending a medical conference Professor Wolf met a GP from a town very near Roseto who told him that he’d been practicing medicine for 17 years and in all that time very few patients ever came to see him from Roseto who were under the age of 65 and were suffering from heart disease. Professor Wolf was very surprised by this, because in the 1950’s heart attacks were epidemic in the United States. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in men under 65. So, Professor Wolf decided to investigate. Colleagues and students from his medical school were recruited and they analyzed the medical records of the inhabitants of Roseto.

The entire population was tested and re-tested. The results were astonishing. No one under 55 had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. Indeed, the death rate from all causes in Roseto was 30 to 35% lower than the national average. Wolf’s team broadened their research and brought in sociologists and members of other academic disciplines. They found there were no suicides, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. Continue reading

Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human! – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

Six years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of six years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fifth sermon in the series: 

Prayer #5 – Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!  preached on Epiphany 5B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Colossians 3:14-15; Mark 1:29-39

Usually, the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing the sick leave me wanting more. They usually seem so incomplete. I have always wanted more details about how exactly Jesus was able to heal those who were sick. Usually, the stories about Jesus healing are read or referenced by the notion that Jesus was some sort of miracle-worker and we are predisposed to believe that Jesus had miraculous powers; that he was somehow able to harness the healing power of God and dispense it at will. We are encouraged to believe that that very same power is available to us if only we figure out exactly how to cozy up to Jesus and ask him in just the right way to heal us or heal those we love. But these stories found in the earliest of the Gospels and attributed to an early follower of the Way known as Mark, don’t portray Jesus as a miracle-worker at all.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breath, when the time came, I got myself up out of bead, and whoa-presto, it was as if the power of Elton John’s name had cured me and I was able to follow the Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, together with my friends I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother, the sheer power of all the rumors she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power that lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons isn’t difficult to believe. Lets face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional illnesses, so Jesus ability to cure people who are disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch. But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways that portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of God. Because after all, our image of God is that God is some sort of super-human miracle-worker. So for generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we look to God to cure all that ails us. And so we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. So, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change also. Continue reading

 What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the Body of Christ? – a sermon on Mark 1:21-28

Listen to the audio only version here

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are the Holy One of God.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark, puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, and now we have to deal with them; or do we? I’ve been struggling all week with today’s assigned gospel reading. I was sorely tempted to change the reading. I usually only put our Contemporary readings in the service bulletins. But, let me confess, the only reason I put the full text of today’s reading in the bulletin, was to ensure that I didn’t cop out and change the readings. If it’s in the bulletin for everyone to see, we have to use it and I can’t just ignore it.

I remember, a few years ago, running into an old friend from high school, who was surprised to discover that I had become a pastor. He said to me something like, “you always seemed to have your head screwed on back in the day. How can you stand all that hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo?” His words have haunted me as I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with this text.

Hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo indeed! The dictionary defines hocus pocus as “meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening. Hocus pocus actually came into usage in English from a Latin phrase that would have been familiar to everyone who has ever heard the Mass in Latin: Hoc est corpus meum which means “This is my body.”

According to the dictionary, mumbo jumbo is defined as: “language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment.”Or: “words or activities that are unnecessarily complicated or mysterious and seem meaningless”

The anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of Jesus preforming what sounds very much like an exorcism certainly seem meaningless to our 21st century minds. Last week, after I we did a bible study instead of a sermon, one of you commented that they never see any of the stuff I pointed out, when they read the bible by themselves, that’s why they don’t read the bible anymore. “It’s too complicated! I don’t know the history, so it just confuses me.” So, when I started preparing today’s sermon, I thought here we go again, more complicate and misleading words.  What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the body of Christ? What am I supposed to do with this unclean spirit? I was so tempted to just exorcise this demon from our worship. Sure, I could find all sorts of commentaries and sermons that went on and on explaining away this unclean spirit as some sort of victim of “mental illness.” Which when you think about, this is one way to deal with the reality that most of us, dare I say all of us, don’t really believe in demonic possession and don’t want to have anything much to do with someone who goes around the country preforming exorcisms. Twenty-first century, Canadian followers of Jesus tend to ignore the first century stories about demons and exorcisms.

As tempting as it is to explain the demon in this exorcism away as a suffer of mental illness, I’m not convinced that that helps us any. Because if the “unclean spirit” is mentally ill, then, the story asks us to believe that Jesus had the power to heal the mentally ill simply by commanding the illness to “Be silent and come out.” OK, we all know that that can’t happen, right?

So, in the spirit of the great New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, “why did the writer of this text tell this story the way he told this story.” What was the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark trying to say to his first century audience? We all know by now that there’s usually lots going on between the lines of the gospel texts. The stuff between the lines is what keeps people like me employed. It is after all my job to read between the lines.  So, let’s move beyond the words on the page and venture beyond the literal to see what we can discover in the more-than-literal interpretation of this text. Continue reading

What the Blankety Blank? A New Authority??? a sermon for Epiphany 4B; Mark 1: 21-28

Blankety blankReadings included: Psalm 111 and Mark 1:25-28, prior to the sermon we viewed the video The Awe Factor of God which can be viewed here

Listen to the sermon here

Years ago, when I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I worked the afternoon shift at the Royal Bank of Canada’s Vancouver Clearing Room. Back then, I’m talking the early nineties here, so not the distant past except if we are talking about technology. Back then, at the end of each banking day, so after 3 o’clock banks used to have people check every single transaction that had been made by hand. Every check, deposit slip, and withdrawal, was recorded on a small piece of paper and at the end of each day all those pieces of paper would be collected and sent to the central clearing room. The room in which I worked housed several hundred machines which looked like big desks, which.  were actually giant calculators. These calculating desks, sat empty during the day, but come 4:00pm they would be staffed with people eagerly waiting for their branch bags to arrive; these operators of which I was one, were called proofers. Each of those operators, knew that the clearing house had until 11 pm to balance the daily transactions of the entire province of British Columbia. 

I didn’t last more than a few months as a proofer. I was plucked from my proofing machine by management and assigned the task of wandering around being useful. Technically I became a runner. It was may job to run around and collect the proofed bundles, and make sure that they appropriate balanced calculation tape was attached. Management also made it very clear to me, that a major part of my job was to be a kind of helper, who would scan the proof floor for confused proofers and quickly offer my help. You see when people are working under pressure to balance transactions and they get stuck because something doesn’t quite balance they can spend an inordinate amount of time stuck on just a handful of transactions trying to force them to balance. Management knew this, and they also knew that sometimes all it takes is a second pair of eyes to spot the mistake and voila, the problem is solved, and the proofer can move on and the giant national proofing machine can be fed, and the books can be closed by mid-night. You see in the grand scheme of things; the bank could not close the national books until the clock stuck mid-night in Vancouver. That’s a lot of pressure. Bonuses were at stake. So, handful of us who functioned as runners, were under a great deal of pressure to make sure than no single transaction slowed down the whole process. We all wanted to be out of there and on our way shortly after midnight, no one could leave until everyone could leave, and bonuses were at stake.  Those of us who were runners wielded a great deal of authority. We could sign off on a forced balance. We could decide that a transaction was simply going to take too long to balance and so with the stroke of our pen, small amounts could be forced to balance. We runners with our red pen wielded a great deal of authority. But we knew that our authority was limited by the number of forced transactions we authorized in a given week. Most of us would rather eat our red pens than force balance a transaction. Reputations were at stake. In the course of a month I would rarely force more than one or two transactions. I was good at my job. And because bonuses were at stake, operators would often call upon me when they got stuck.

I loved that job. After a long day of lectures at the university, that job was such a fun departure from thinking. I was one of the happiest runners in the clearing room. During my last few months on the job, the word got out that I was quitting to go to seminary so that I could study to become a pastor. It kind of freaked people out. The proofers began to watch their language around me. One night when things were going particularly badly, and it looked like we weren’t going to make our deadline, one bad transaction kept leading to another. Problems spread from proofer to proofer like a disease. Proofers were making all sorts of dumb mistakes and we were all losing patience with one another. It was looking like we’d be there until the wee hours of the morning. So, the language got pretty vivid. After solving one particularly difficult branch’s problems, I remember a proofer shouting out, “Hey Hutchings, I don’t what the blanket blank, you think your doing quitting on us to go to seminary. You’re going to hate seminary. There won’t be enough to keep you busy. They have all the answers in that place and all the answers are the same. Jesus is the blankety blank answer to every blankety blank question.” This, somehow lead to most of the proofing floor laughing hysterically, which lead to something I never in my wildest dreams imagined happening in that of all places. Hysterical laugher dissolved into a chorus of “Jesus Loves me this I know for the bible tells me so.” What the blankety blank?

There was nothing left but for me to join in the singing. We didn’t make our deadline that night. But we had the best sing song ever, later in the after-hours nightclub down the street from the bank, and I never did make it to any of my classes the next morning.

Jesus is the answer. Jesus speaks with authority. Let’s all just sing a few choruses of “Jesus loves me” and forget about this sermon. Jesus is the answer.

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another. What is this? A new teaching—with authority! Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread.” What the blankety blank? If Jesus is the answer to every question, what’s the point? Let’s just balance our transactions and get out of here. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by Christ’s authority I declare onto you that Jesus is the answer. I have the collar, I’m wearing the stole. I have the title. I have the call. I am a Master of Divinity! Jesus is the answer to every question. Go home and enjoy the super bowl. I have the authority to declare that all our transactions have been balanced, even if we have to force balance a few of those transactions, 12 noon is approaching, and we want to be out of here shortly, so we can enjoy the afternoon. Continue reading

Peering Through New Windows – a bible study for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Mark 1:14-20

In place of a sermon, we engaged in a bible-study of our Gospel text Mark 1:14 not from the perspective of The Church, but from the perspectives of history and justice. I’m indebted to the work of Ched Myers whose book – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, provides a perspective that turned my own understanding of this text upside-down! We are all indebted to the excellent teaching of New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, whose visits to Holy Cross have empowered us to be more fervent followers of the Way! Below you will find my notes for the bible-study.

You can listen to the audio version of the study here

  • New windows – New perspectives
  • Very familiar Gospel text
  • My first memory of this text – “fishers of men” listening to a children’s choir
  • Solicit memories of the text – interpretations
  • What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
  • From the perspective of the church
  • For years we have been looking at this morning’s gospel reading from the perspective of the church
  • “I will make you fishers of men.”
  • Go out there and teach people about Jesus ð convert people and grow the church
  • We have seen the call to follow Jesus as call to become fishers of “men” the church has sent us out to spread the word and to call others into the church
  • Photographs of Cherilyn – on the Sea of Galilee
  • Reminding me of all that we learned from John Dominic Crossan about the Sea of Galilee
  • Fishing industry – first century Galilee
  • Pax Romana – Roman Empire
  • Fishing leases sold by the Empire through tax collectors
  • First century fishers were disenfranchised workers
  • What is the Anonymous Gospel Storyteller that we call Mark trying to tell us?
  • Follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind.”
  • This is one place where I happen to believe that it is a mistake to use inclusive language.
  • I have learned that Jesus used this language for a reason and I believe that in this instance Jesus is targeting “men”
  • “I will make you fishers of men.”
  • In order to understand this passage we must change our perspective
  • We need to look through new windows
  • Peering through the windows of history
  • What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
  • When we look at this text from the lenses provided by the church, we interpret this Gospel as an instruction to go out and catch the church some fish
  • But looking back through the lenses of history we see a different story
  • Jesus never meant to create a church
  • Gift from Pastor Jon Fogleman: Ched Myers – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus”
  • Gospel of Mark written after 70 – the Empire has destroyed the Temple – the disenfranchised are suffering at the hands of the Empire
  • How are the persecuted to respond
  • According to the Gospel – Jesus invites them to become “fishers of men.”
  • If this means what we have learned from the perspective of the church, we are supposed to covert people – to grow the church
  • But what if it means something else?
  • What if fishing for men means more than we know?
  • Ched Myers suggests that we look back into the Hebrew Scriptures and look at how this phrase has been used by the Jewish prophets
  • When we peer through the lenses of history we discover that key to unlocking the revolutionary code of the Gospel account
  • The prophets Jeremiah (16:6), Amos (4:2) and Ezekiel (29:4) used the metaphor of “hooking a fish” as a euphemism for judgement upon the rich
  • Jesus is inviting the disenfranchised fishers to follow him to learn how to “hook fish “ and as good, observant, Jews, these fishers as well as those early hearers of this story would have understood the phrase to mean:
  • As Ched Myers puts it:“Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”
  • Looking through this new window on the text how might we hear this text today in our context?
  • “Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God:  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!”
  • “the reign of God is at hand.”
  • The basilea of God ð the “kingdom” the “empire” or as our modern translation puts it “the realm of God”
  • What might this “realm of God” look like?
  • Who are we in this metaphor? – the fishers or the rich?
  • What does the realm of God look like to us?
  • “basilea theou”  Basilea – the Greek feminine noun for “sovereignty” traditionally translated as “kingdom” – dominion, empire
  • “basilea ouranou” – ouranos means sky or heaven but it is also the name of the father god of the Greeks – in Latin Uranus – “Ouranos was one of the primary realities, who, with his wife, Gaia, or Earth, brought forth all creatures. The creative father spirit imagined to exist in the fine ether of the sky, somewhat remote from earthly life yet very much involved in it. The cosmos began with these two realities, earth and sky, mother and father to all beings.” (Moore – Walking on Sand)
  • Realm of God – is at hand – the Empire of Rome cannot stand.
  • Peering through the windows of history we can see: Jesus is about to lead a movement that seeks justice for the disenfranchised.
  • “Follow me to usher in the Realm of God”
  • “follow me to seek justice for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the persecuted, the poor; follow me and turn the world upside down.”
  • To follow Jesus is to join a revolutionary movement to turn the existing structures upside down.
  • What fishes need to be hooked today?
  • Are we prepared to hook a fish or two? Are we prepared to be hooked?
  • The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to be part of a radical quest for justice.
  • Are we prepared to usher in God’s realm of justice and peace.

Continue reading

Fishing for Young People Will NOT Save the Church! a sermon for Epiphany 3B – Mark1:14-20

Blessing for New Beginnings O'Donohue pastordawn

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday after Epiphany 2015 . Our readings included Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, “A Blessing for New Beginnings” by John Donohue and Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the sermon here

Fishing for Young People Will NOT Save the Church!

Changing National Demographics Tell Us that

Youth are NOT the Future of Christianity!

Good News!  Yesterday, I spent over an hour embracing our newest grandchild. Our granddaughter arrived into our corner of the cosmos on Wednesday morning. As I held this precious little humanoid in my arms, I couldn’t help marveling at the billions and billions of years of development that led to the configuration of cells in which little Evelyn Adele’s conscious self is now poised to be without a doubt one of this planets most dynamic, intelligent, beautiful, talented, compelling, loving, engaging, smart… funny, did I say beautiful?

She’s gorgeous!!! Just like all our grandchildren! Of course. Just like all of your grandchildren. Just like each and every child who has ever been born! Little Evelyn has already won my heart. It is amazing how much love bursts forth when a tiny little humanoid appears in your life. Holding Evelyn is like holding the sun, the moon, and the stars in your arms. It is difficult not to burst with sheer joy at the realization that life is so much more intricate, complex, beautiful, and awesome than you can even begin to imagine and yet, there’s a sadness in the tenderness of that sweet embrace. Because life is more intricate and complex that we can begin to imagine, the knowledge of all the risk, danger, sadness, and tragedy in creation I couldn’t help thinking of all the disappointed parents and grandparents whose hopes and dreams did not come to fruition. Then there’s the tragedy and injustice of all the beautiful children whose lives are at risk because of poverty, injustice, hatred, violence, war, and indifference.  The complexity and the fragility of life seem so acute when you are holding a newborn. The mixture of emotions and the intensity of feeling is something that mere words cannot adequately describe.

All of the parents and the grandparents here know this. But if you had told me any of this a few years ago, I would have understood what you were saying but I would have had precious little idea of what it is that you were feeling. Being a grandparent is something that I never thought possible for me. Usually you have to have children before you can be a grandparent. But thanks to the generosity of my beloved Carol’s children, I have been blessed to be a grandmother. Next to Carol herself, I must say that being “Gran” is the best surprise I could have hoped for, way back when I was discovering who I actually am. But I will confess that the role of grandmother is not a role I ever imagined playing. My image of myself is changing. My ideas about the future are morphing into something I barely recognize. My hopes and dreams are expanding. I can hardly wait to see what lies ahead. The future is calling me to follow wherever these glorious little humans may lead us. Continue reading

Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?”

Martin Luther King Sunday – John 1:43-51 – Epiphany 2B

Audio only version here


“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” WOW! All over Christendom, where-ever the Revised Common Lectionary is used, preachers were busy preparing their sermons on this particular Gospel reading, when the most powerful man on the planet caused us all to hone in on these words: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I can assure you that the sermon that I had planned to preach this morning, was nothing like the sermon, I am compelled to preach. Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I must confess that I was not exactly articulate when I first heard the hate filled comments of the man whose name sticks in my throat. For the sake of decency, I shall not quote my own reaction, which can be expressed with the letters W T F followed by a question mark. But decency does not come easily to the current president of the United States. Watching this sorry excuse for a man, sign a proclamation declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brought tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons.   The hatred expressed on Thursday by a president who holds the futures of so many hopeful immigrants in his hands makes it clear that Dr. King’s dream is not yet realized.

Yes, many of us have come a long way. Some of us can still see Dr. King’s vision. Some of us have lived that dream. But we all received a real slap in the face that ought to wake us up to the reality that we have a long way to go before Dr. King’s vision can be embodied by all those who seek justice and freedom from poverty. Slapped in the face by a man who has ridden his own racism to the pinnacle of political power, we must awaken our sensibilities to the positions of privilege that we enjoy as a result of the legacy of tribalism that continues to enslave our world in systems of abuse that perpetuate fear; fear the enemy of compassion, fear the enemy of justice, fear that leads to hatred; hatred that divides us from one another and robs us of our humanity.   

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Indeed, how can anything good come from Nazareth? The soon to be disciple of Jesus, asked a question born out of the very tribalism that continues to haunt us. In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was what number 45 would call a “shit-hole”.  Nazareth, where Jesus was from, was located in Galilee, a hick-town in the Roman occupied backwater of Judea. Judea was characterized by its Roman occupiers as a real shit-hole, and Nazareth was a hot-bed of radical terrorists bent on overthrowing the established order. Nothing but trouble came from Nazareth. Nothing and nobody from Nazareth could be trusted.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth, a shit-hole of a town, in the back of beyond. The last thing anyone in Jerusalem needs is a bunch of Nazareans coming into town to stir up a whole lot of trouble. The juxtaposition of this particular Gospel reading with the comments made in the White House on Thursday is tragic in and of itself. But add the memory of Dr. King to this horrendous outpouring of hatred and perhaps we might, just might, be able to shed some light on the darkness that has descended upon our world. Dr. King insisted that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And while it is so very easy to hate the spewer of racist venom who wields more power than anyone else on the planet, Donald J. Trump is also our brother and we, my dear sisters and brothers, we are called to love even this sorry excuse for a human being. And while it is so very tempting to respond to his venom by asking, “Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?” two wrongs won’t make it right. As easy as it is to assume that Trump is beneath contempt, my hatred of Trump will not shed the kind of light that drives out hate, only love can do that.

So, how do I learn to love Donald J. Trump? I confess that a big part of me doesn’t want to learn to love this despicable excuse for a man. But bear with me for just a moment as I try to explore some things that Mr. Trump and I share; indeed, some things that I suspect we all share with Mr. Trump.

Let’s begin with the disciple Nathanael’s question:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect that each of us have asked a similar question at some point in our lives. As a child, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was trained to believe that people from certain areas were worthy of my suspicion, simply because they inhabited Roman Catholic neighbourhoods. Later when we immigrated to Canada, I was taught to believe that people who came to town from reservations were lesser beings. I was taught to suspect that the people who lived on reservations, were lazy, no-good, drunks, who spent their lives freeloading off the government, and that nothing of much worth ever came off a reservation. As I grew to adulthood, I was taught to be suspicious of everyone who wanted to come to this country who was not British. My parents didn’t teach me this; this I learned in the playgrounds of the various schools I attended in both Ontario and British Columbia, where I learned to label fellow students as, “pakies and rag-heads” because they came from countries that our brother Mr. Trump would call “shit-holes”.

Take a moment. Look into your own lives. Do you remember the way people used to talk about our First Nations sisters and brothers? Do you remember the way people used to talk about immigrants? Most of us, I hope had enough compassion not to say these hate-filled things but if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that the fear behind these hate-filled words, infected us to the extent that we became at the very least suspicious of people whose origins we did not share. Continue reading

Let Freedom Ring Through You! Celebrate the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King2

Monday is Martin Luther King Day, today “a very stable genius” occupies the most powerful office on the planet. In many ways, this emperor, who has no clothes,  represents so much of what Dr. King struggled to overcome. So this year, it seems more important than ever to lift every voice and sing the praise of all those who bear witness to the kind of justice that Jesus of Nazareth embodied. What follows is the transcript of a sermon preached in 2014 to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I offer it here in the hopes that it will encourage fellow preachers to turn to the writings of Dr. King as they prepare their sermons for this coming Sunday.  Let freedom ring!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” During the struggle to open the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, there were some very dark days. As many of you know, during my first years in ministry, it was a struggle that I did not want any part of.  I was for all intents and purposes living in the closet, even if it was the most transparent of closets, the walls of that closet made it very clear to me that my job would be at risk if I spoke publicly about who I am. So, in the early years, I was determined to keep my mouth shut about my own sexuality and fight the good fight from the relative safety of the background. Then, by virtue of my office, I was asked to speak publicly at a forum being held by York region, mental health professionals who were gathering resources to support GLBT youth. The organizers of the forum knew that many young people suffered because of their family’s involvement in churches that propagated hatred toward gays and lesbians and they wanted me to speak directly to these issues so that mental health professionals might be equipped to begin to counter some of the religious propaganda that was damaging so many young people. A few days after I spoke at this public forum a note was hand delivered to the mailbox at the parsonage. The note contained two quotes from the book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind it is abomination” and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

I was shaken by the quotes and even more shaken by the fact that they were hand delivered to my home. I tried to shake off my fear by telling myself that the note represented the ravings of a fool. But when I shared the note with members of the church council, I was reminded that in my world these words represented Bible quotes but in the real world they constituted a death threat.

I confess that at the moment, I realized that violence might actually be a consequence of my speech, I beat a hasty retreat back into my closet. I was determined to stay within the relative safety of the cozy, obscure little world in which Lutheran pastors usually live out our ministries. But calls kept coming in for help. So, I ventured out of the closet and mail continued to come in spouting hatred and suggesting violence as a very real possibility. There were some very dark days and even darker nights and from time to time I was sorely tempted to return in kind some of the hatred that was coming my way. One of you, I don’t know who, although I do have my suspicions placed a note in my church mailbox, right over there. The note contained these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let me just tell you, that those words stopped me on more than one occasion from lashing out in anger and on several occasions those words helped me to remember that I am called to love; love not only when it is easy or convenient, but to love in the face of hatred.

Now our struggle was not nearly as difficult as the struggles of others. I would not for a moment even begin to suggest that we have tasted the kind of hatred or been subjected to the kind of violence that was faced by the freedom fighters who achieved so much under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. I do however know very clearly that we drew our inspiration from their struggles. The life and witness of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and continues to inspire millions of people to seek justice, to stand up for freedom and to love in the face of hate.  Dr. King is more than just an inspiration to justice seekers and peacemakers, he is an example of what it means to impact the evolution of our species.  Humans are better beings as a result of the many ways in which Dr. King changed the way we interact with one another. Creation is not the same as a result of the life and witness of Dr. King. Continue reading

Surely, we can learn to tell our stories, to enact our rituals, and to be LOVE to one another in ways that transcend, religions, cultures, and old hatreds? – a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus

Baptism of Jesus – Mark 1:4-11  audio only

Welcome to a new beginning. The celebration of the Baptism of Jesus begins the church lectionary’s focus upon the Gospel according to the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark. For the balance of the church year most of our gospel readings will come from the oldest gospel in the New Testament, from storyteller that we call Mark. Written before the development of the nativity myths, this gospel begins with the story of Jesus baptism by the prophet known as John the Baptist. As the oldest account of Jesus’ baptism, written sometime after the year 70, some 40 plus years after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, this story gives us particular insights into the ways in which the legacy of Jesus was experienced by the early followers of the teachings of Jesus.  In those early years of the followers of the Way, Jesus’ life and teachings not only ushered in a new way of being in the world, they also provided a new way of understanding the Divine.

Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. Raised in the ways of first century Jewish people, Jesus would have been taught to relate to the Source of All Being, the One we call God, as a far off distant, super-natural being.  This is the kind of understanding of Divinity that is reflected in John the Baptizer’s proclamation of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. However, this is not the understanding of Divinity that the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark portrays in his depiction of Jesus’ baptism. Most of us have heard the stories of Jesus’ baptism so many times that we tend to miss the radical nature of Jesus’ baptism. Once we let go of the notion that this is some sort of historical account of Jesus baptism, we can begin to understand how the gospel-storyteller understands the significance of Jesus’ life and teachings.

“Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests.” The intimacy portrayed in this story, defies what would have been, for the story-teller and the story-teller’s community, the accepted understanding of the nature of the Divine. The God depicted in this story is radically intimate. Jesus’ relationship to the Source of All Being, is one of intimacy. You can almost hear the Creator of All that Is, declare, lovingly, “That’s my boy! He brings me such pleasure.” At that time, the prevailing understanding of God, of YAHWEH, as KING of KINGS, LORD of LORDS, is expanded to what will eventually be taught by Jesus as Abba, or Daddy. Jesus’ teachings move beyond the hoped for super-natural, super-hero God, that the persecuted Hebrew people longed for and point instead to a God who is known in the intimacy of LOVE. Within the Jewish tradition there was and is a great diversity of depictions of the Creator of All that IS. Sadly, so many of those depictions of Divinity had been reduced to an understanding of God as a super-natural-male-being. The feminine attributes of the Divine that are depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures were largely forgotten. Gone too were the depictions of the Divine as something other than a super-natural being.  It was as if, over time, the understandings of the Power that lies at the very heart of reality were reduced to the projections of human desires to be saved from the trials and tribulations of this life. Continue reading

Wear Your Baptism in Ways that Others Might See a Visible Means of Grace in You – a sermon on Baptism

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Listen to the sermon here

How many of you know what this is? Where I come from it is often referred to as a dog-collar and the folks who wear them are called God-Bothers. Back when I first started seminary, I resolved that I wouldn’t wear a clerical shirt and collar. I didn’t like the idea of being set apart from others. I really didn’t want to be seen as one of those holier-than-thou types, who took themselves so seriously. Learning the history of clerical garb didn’t help me to warm up to the idea of wearing them. Apparently, back in the middle ages fashion dictated that educated professionals wear black. Also, during the middle ages, long before shirts had collars it was all the rage to let your white undergarments show around your neck. This was the precursor to shirt-collars. Apparently during the reformation, this trend fell out of fashion but clergy, who couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion continued to wear black shirts with their white under-garment showing.      

Over time, the church does what the church often does and applied a liturgical meaning to explain what is already happening. So, the church began to explain clerical attire theologically. If you google it, you will discover that, pastors are just like everyone else, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. So, they wear a black shirt to signify their sinfulness, but they wear a white collar to signify that the words they speak are not their own, but God’s words, because you see the collar covers the pastors voice-box to signify that we speak the Word of God. Now the presumption that I or anyone else speaks on behalf of God is rather daunting to say the least and did nothing to encourage me to wear a clerical collar, nor did the obscure explanation of the tab collar, which insists that this little white notch is placed strategically over the Adam’s apple to cover over the reminder of Adam’s sin. Not having an Adam’s apple, myself, I wasn’t much taken with the idea of wearing special clothing to set me apart. But when I first became a pastor, I was insecure and believe it or not I didn’t want to rock the boat. So, I ever so hesitatingly began wearing a clerical collar. I was uncomfortable wearing the collar, so I decided that I would only wear it on Sundays, or to protest marches, and sometimes when I was visiting people in the hospital, because in hospitals, wearing a collar makes it easier to gain access to patients.

Well one day, I needed some candles and so I dashed into the Zellers over the road to quickly grab a couple. I was having difficulty finding just the right candles when a store clerk came up to me and asked me if I would come with her. I figured that I’d been lingering over the candles for so long that she must have mistaken me for a shoplifter, but as we hurried along, she explained to me that there was a man in housewares who was abusing his wife and child. I’d forgotten that I was wearing a collar, but the reality of what this clerk was asking me to do choked me into realizing that the collar had led her to believe that I could actually do something. Not knowing what she expected me to do, I told her to call 911. She assured me that they had already called, but that in the meantime perhaps I could help. We stopped just before the aisle where the abuse was taking place. The store clerk whispered that, “they are just over there.”  As she pointed, I realized that she wanted me to go on alone. So, not knowing what to expect, I took a deep breath and walked in on a scene that was way beyond my abilities. A big burly guy was twisting the arm of a woman while a little girl of about 4 or 5 stood crying. The man was yelling obscenities when I interrupted him. When he looked at me, I saw the fear in his eyes as he immediately let go of the woman who fell to the floor. The little girl ran to her mother. I expected the man to turn on me, but instead he just stared at me, as he began to cry, “I’m sorry pastor, forgive me.” It wasn’t I who stood before him, but the church, his church, the church that had taught him right from wrong. The collar I wore made the church visible to him and made it impossible for him to forget who he was. As a child of God, he couldn’t continue what he was doing. As a child of God, he knew in his bones that he was wrong. He wept until the police arrived. From that day on, I’ve known the power of the collar to make the church visible in the world and so I wear it a lot more often than I’d ever expected I would. Continue reading

Epiphany Sermons

epiphanyEpiphany arrives on Saturday  Jan 6. Traditionally, Epiphany was celebrated in grander fashion than Christmas. But time has seen the Christmas feast eclipse the festival of Epiphany. In our modern culture few churches will offer Epiphany services on Saturday and Sunday will see us choosing to follow the lectionary to travel beyond the arrival of the wise-guys to the Baptism of Jesus. But for those who enjoy a moment to reflect upon the changing of the seasons, here are a few of the Epiphany sermons I have preached over the past few years. 

You are the Light of the World here

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening. here 

Don’t Forget the Mystery of Our Faith here

Wisdom Seeks Wisdom here

Incarnation Changes Everything – a sermon for the first Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:8-20

God In US pastorDawnI have tried to locate the source of the parable told in this sermon about the encounter between the little boy and the old woman. But despite the many authors who claim it as their own, I suspect that its origins go back farther than I have been able to trace. The Readings for this first Sunday after Christmas offer us the parable of the Presentation of in the Temple: Psalm 42:1-3, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:8-20

You can listen to the sermon here

The nativity stories about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are parables carefully crafted by the Gospel storytellers to make us think. This morning we have another parable that is also carefully crafted to make us think. The question 21st century readers of this parable may well ask is, “What is it that the gospel storytellers want us to think about this parable often referred to as the “Presentation of Jesus”?

One ancient way of discovering meaning in a parable is to tell the parable alongside another story and allow the second story to interpret the first. So, let me tell you a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. The little boy knew it was a very long trip to where God Gives, so he packed his suitcase with some tubes of Smarties and some cans of Coke and he set off on his quest to meet God. When the little boy had gone half a mile or so, he met an old woman. She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to the old woman and he opened up his suitcase. The little boy was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry. So, he offered her some of his smarties. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled at the little boy. Her smile lit up her whole face. I was so lovely, the boy wanted to see her smile again, so he offered her a drink of Coke. Once again, the old woman smiled at him and the little boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a world. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he bot up to leave, but before he’d gone more than just a few steps, he turned around, and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. The old woman gave him her biggest smile ever. When the little boy opened the door to his own house a sort time later, his mother was surprised by the look of pure joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?”          The little boy declared, “I had lunch with God.” And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on his mother’s face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties in the park with God.” And before her son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected.”

Our expectations have been groomed to point us up, up and away, out there, far beyond the everyday clatter of our lives. Sometimes, we expect that just for a moment the sacred will pierce our reality. At other times, when we are in need, we summon up the sacred in the guise of a god all dressed up in majesty, strength, wisdom, authority, and immense power, yet gentle, loving, and attentive to our every need. Continue reading

The Messiah Is Among Us!

Christ is born in youDuring these twelve days of Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Messiah, is a word the ancient Hebrews used to describe the anointed one. The one whom God would send to change the world. In Greek the word for Messiah is Christ.

My thoughts swirl around a poem written by the unknown writer of the Gospel of John in which the birth of the Christ is describe as the WORD. It’s a mysterious cosmic poem that moves our minds away from the mundane everyday ordinary stuff of life to the extra-ordinary mysteries of creation, which when you think about it is what every birth does.

Just holding a newborn in your arms and before long you’ll find yourself pondering the mysteries of this life. Who are we and where do we come from?  Why are we here? What does it all mean? These are all perfectly wonderful questions and speculating upon the many possible answers to those questions is a fascinating process. But in the end, our words will always fail us when it comes to answers. As we are speculating about the birth of this beautiful little baby, the baby is alive and among us, and needs to be fed and changed, nurtured, guided and protected. Continue reading