Over and over again as I have explored the stories handed down to us by our ancestors, I have been struck by the significance of names in ancient literature. The ancient writers used names as a tool to reveal important details. A character’s name in a story can be used to remind us of other characters in other stories that also carried that name, or a character’s name can be taken from a word that has significant meaning. We can use the names of biblical characters to explore deeper meanings within the stories. We would do well to pay attention to the names of biblical characters. The lack of a name is just as important as any given name. I believe that there’s a reason that the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Luke failed to give a name to the woman we find bent over in chapter. The writer we call Luke can be very deliberate about names when he wants to be. I believe that the storyteller wants us to see this woman as our very selves.
So, let’s play along shall we? Stand up. Stand up and bend over. Please, if you are able stand up and lean over 45 degrees. I want you to have a sense of the woman’s predicament. For a few moments, just a few moments I want you to feel the strain on your back, and the burden on your shoulders that that woman felt for 18 years. I want you to look and see how being bent limits your vision. See how your perspective is shorter. Stooping, you cannot easily look into the faces of those around you, you can’t be on the same level with anyone, you can’t see the whole church. It’s not so easy to look toward the horizon to see a glorious sunrise or sunset. Vistas of God’s wondrous works on earth are restricted. So bent out of shape, how could you ever gaze into the awesome stars at night.
Listen to the story one more time: Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled here for eighteen years. How many of us arrive on the Sabbath with spirits that have crippled us? She was bent and quite unable to stand up straight. She was bent….in Greek the word is “kyphotic.” She was a kyphotic woman. The word kyphotic literally translates as bent together or bent with. It is as if this woman is bent in on herself. It’s a picture of someone who has not only borne the yoke but who really owns it in her very body. She is not just a woman with an infirmity but the Scripture says, with the spirit of an infirmity. Whatever it was that had bent her, whatever emotional or physical burden she had borne, the Scripture suggests, ultimately became part of her until her very body was confirmed to its image. There is nothing she can do now to help herself out of the spiritual pretzel her life has become. Each of us knows this infirmity intimately. At one time or other, over and over again, we have all experienced this infirmity in our lives and in our bones.* (Jana Childers “The Kyphoptic Woman” 2005)
Each of us have been bent with the burdens of our relationships, our jobs, our finances, or our health and sometimes even our lovelessness. We have all been this woman who is bent out of shape by her burdens. We have all been bent in on ourselves. But today, I want to take the image of this woman a few steps further to see what she reveals about our culture.
Okay, you can sit down now. Sit back and relax as I tell you the story of two communions; two communions that are not limited in time or space to the actual communions that they reveal. The first communion is indeed my first communion. I was just 15 years old and I’d only just begun to attend church. It was a small Lutheran church and back then they only celebrated communion a few times a year. I wasn’t prepared for communion. I’d only been attending church for a few weeks and I had no idea what it was all about. I still remember wondering what I should do. I was leaning toward just sitting where I was and waiting until after the service so that I could ask the pastor for an appointment to talk to him about what I needed to do in order to make sure that I was prepared properly to go to the table. That’s when my friend’s mother Lola leaned over and asked me if I wanted to go up for communion with them. I whispered that I’d never been to communion before. She smiled and took my hand and said that’s okay, you’re welcome at the table. I didn’t see any table and I was sure that I was missing something. So, I stood there with my hand in hers and listened very carefully as the Pastor told the story, “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks; broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again after supper, he took the cup gave thanks and gave it for all to drink….”Continue reading →
Meister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar. Happily, I so not have to worry about the Trinity this coming Sunday as we shall celebrate Pride Sunday at Holy Cross. I do not have to wade through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer some previous Trinity sermons to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…
I am indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic and John Philip Newell’s “Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings” for insights beyond my own imaginings.
When I was just a kid, my mother would ask me a question that would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts that comes out of my Mom’s own childhood in Northern Ireland. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me: “How much do you love me?” and I would answer as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which my Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you two bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I loved my Mom, “Five big bags of sugar!”
Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who measure love in bags of sugar. As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with sugar’s ability to make all things sweet and the fact that over the generations sugar was in short supply because most people simply couldn’t afford to buy sugar. I’ve also been told that during and after the two World Wars sugar was rationed, so a big bag of sugar was more sugar than most people ever saw. Sugar was a much sought after satisfying treat, that was essential to a happy life, so measuring love in bags of sugar is something that to this day, my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders. But these days even children know that sugar isn’t what it used to be. We all know too well the dangers of a big bag of sugar. Sugar in large quantities is bad for us! Loving someone today, often means limiting their sugar intake. I suspect that expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosie…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague that saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posey, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few. Given a few generations and our ways of expressing things, like language changes over time. Take for example our way of expressing the DIVINE the SOURCE of ALL that IS and all that Ever Shall BE, the names we give to the ONE who is responsible for our Creation, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE we call “God,” has been known by many names over the centuries. The earliest name for the ONE credited with our Creation is quite simply “El”…”El” is if you will, the generic name for “God” El a word found in both the Ancient Sumerian and Canaanite languages translates as, god. In the ancient manuscripts of what we know call the Hebrew Scriptures, but our parents called the Old Testament, the earliest expression used for the God we were raised to worship is, El Shaddai, which is all too often incorrectly translated into English as “God Almighty,” but which quite literally translates into english as “breasted one” or the more accurate translation, “She Who Has Breasts”.
This morning, I want to talk to you about an epidemic that is rampant in our world. This epidemic is growing at such an alarming rate that governments all over the world are scrambling to address the pervasive suffering that this epidemic is causing in people of all ages, all races, all classes, all faiths; this epidemic does not discriminate, every one of us is susceptible to the devastating consequences of this epidemic. Any ideas about what governments are calling this quickly growing epidemic? Loneliness. Loneliness or as some experts refer to it, social isolation is growing in leaps and bounds all over the place.
All of us have known the pain of loneliness. Some of us also know that loneliness can have a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health. Loneliness causes increased rates of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Research now shows that loneliness can also be physically harmful. Loneliness is linked to potentially life-shortening health issues like, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Some experts have gone as far as to argue that being lonely for a prolonged period of time is more harmful to a person’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. One of the most socially isolating aspects of loneliness comes from the social stigma that surrounds loneliness. We simply don’t talk about our loneliness. This social stigma often prevents people from seeking help. “People think if they admit they are lonely it means people don’t want to be with them.” People just don’t want to admit that they are lonely.
Loneliness is a global problem. In the United Kingdom the situation has become so serious that the government has appointed a loneliness minister to address the issue. In Canada, studies have found that one in five Canadians identify as being lonely. One in five of us suffer from the shame and the fear that come from being lonely.
Watch the Lonely Bench
I can’t help but marvel at Sukhkaran’s courage. I know that I would not have had the courage to sit down on the Lonely Bench. At his age I would have been too afraid that if I sat down on that bench, nobody would have come to sit beside me. We moved around so much when I was a kid. I was always the new kid in class. Every year a new school. Sometimes more than one new school in a year. As a child, I had intimate knowledge of loneliness. All too often I felt the pain of social isolation, of not belonging. I cried so many tears because of the pain that consumed me because I had little or no connection to the strangers into whose midst I stumbled in and out of.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally found my people. I was fifteen, when I found my tribe when I happened upon a Lutheran youth group which lead me into the church. Finding my people, my tribe and finding a place to belong in church, made my life a lot better. But even a sense that I actually belonged somewhere didn’t end my loneliness. Even the church can be an incredibly lonely place.Continue reading →
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” What exactly is this peace that Jesus gives? The his letter to the church at Philippi theApostle Paul described the peace of God as the peace that surpasses all understanding. Is this the same peace that Jesus offers, this peace that surpasses understanding? It reminds me of a story I heard years ago about a little girl who went to Vacation Bible School. Her favourite thing about Vacation Bible School was the singing, and her favourite song was, “I’ve God the Joy in My Heart”. It’s the kind of song that can very easily become an ear worm. “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart Down in my heart to stay.” But for this little girl it was the second verses that stuck with her. When she got home her parents were surprised and amused to hear their little girl, sing the second verse with such gusto. Do you remember the second verse? “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, (where?”) Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart Down in my heart to stay.” Except this little girl kept singing over and over again: “I’ve got a piece of pastor’s understanding down in my heart, down in my heart (where)”
The reason that that particular ear worm won’t leave me alone, is the “where” part of these lyrics. I’ve got the love of Jesus, Love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart, “where” down in my heart, where, down in my heart to stay. When we hear down in my heart we tend to think of emotions, and feelings. But the heart hasn’t always been thought of as the source of feelings and emotions. Way back in the 4th century BCE…the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the heart as the seat of intelligence. Observing that the heart is the first organ formed in the embryo of chick’s eggs, Aristotle surmised that the heart must be vital for life itself and life meant that which makes us human, our ability to think. All the other organs simply existed to serve the heart. Indeed the ancient’s didn’t really know what brains were, except for being the mushy part encased in the skull, which they surmised must have some sort of role akin to the lungs, and served only to cool the heart.
In Jesus day, the brain was viewed as the location of the soul; the place were spirits came together. The heart was where the real thinking happened. It wasn’t until late in the 17th century that the seat of intelligence moved to our brains. So, I find it mildly amusing that Christian children should be taught that they “have the peace that passes understanding down in their hearts, where, down in their hearts to stay.”
Okay, I know I just made an impossible intellectual jump there, but hear me out. This peace that surpasses understanding, this peace that Jesus offers “is not like the world’s peace.” Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” In other words, “Don’t let your mind be troubled, there is nothing to fear.”
These days, the world tells us to be afraid, to be very afraid.For the most part, the logic of the world wins out, and we are sore afraid. We worry about everything. We are afraid of stuff our ancestors never even thought about. Some of us are so afraid that our own images in the mirror make us worry about going outside where others might see us. The advertising industry has convinced us to be afraid of our own humanity, our smells, our oily skin and hair, all ingeniously designed to keep us healthy and happy, have now become something we are so afraid of that we spend billions and billions of dollars each year to keep them at bay.
If our own image isn’t enough to frighten us into staying indoors, then the news media has us so afraid of all the monsters that lie in wait to do the most horrendous things to us. This despite the fact that crime is lower than it has ever been and we are safer than people have ever been in all of history. We are so afraid that we refuse to let children play, even though children are safer than they were back in the bygone days of our very own youth. Child abductions are lower than they were in the 1950s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s ex cetera, ex cetera, you get the picture.
We are obsessed with our own safety. If you don’t believe me just try to open up a bottle of pills, between the childproof caps and the tamperproof packaging you almost need an engineering degree together with a strong pair of hands just to get into the bottle. Every package comes complete with its own set of warnings.
Safety helmets, don’t get me started on safety helmets, we have helmets for all sorts of activities, but don’t worry because most kids never get the chance to use their bicycle helmets, because we are too afraid to let them go outside to play.
And what about the stock market? Back in the day, most people never even knew what the stock market was, nowadays we spend countless hours afraid that the markets will crash and we’ll loose all of our money. Money! We are so afraid that we simply won’t have enough money, this despite the fact that most of us have more money and more stuff than most of our ancestors could have ever dreamed of having. I don’t know about you but I come from hearty peasant stock: workers, miners down in the pits on my fathers side, and industrial workers on my mothers side, poor working folk who rarely enjoyed a luxury in their lives. But at least they didn’t have all the fears that we have. Oh they had fears, don’t get me wrong, but they quelled their fears with the sure and certain faith that it would all come out in the end. All they had to do was read their bibles and pray ever day. They had the peace that passes understanding down in their hearts. Down in their hearts to stay.
We have the news media, reporters telling us each and every day to be afraid, to be very afraid. Terrorists, climate change, child abductors, predators, scammers, floods, wars and rumours of wars. Be afraid, be very afraid. Oh, and by the way, God is dead. Jesus can’t and won’t save you. So be afraid. The Buddha can’t save you either, and forget about Mohammed, and all the rest of those religious folk who promised you the sun, the moon and the stars. And while we’re at it, what about those endless movies that portray the horrors of falling in love, and the pain of loss? We are doomed I tell you doomed. So, be afraid, be very afraid. Use your heads, think about it, there is no hope, hope is an illusion. We are all going to die. Once you are dead, you are dead, that’s it, over done, nada.
So, be afraid, exercise, exercise, get healthy, don’t eat that, be afraid it’s the only way to live longer, be afraid,take this pill and eat this food, and run, run, as fast as you can, be afraid. Use your head, its a big bad world out there and you need to be afraid, oh by the way, try this, buy this, use this, put your money here, build a wall, build a very big wall, keep them out, you know the ones, the big bad scary people who want to come here and take all your stuff, be afraid, be very afraid.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful. ‘
So what is it that Jesus offers when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” ?
I believe that there can be no peace in the world as long as we are afraid.Fear makes us forget who we are and whose we are. Fear makes us forget that we are richly blessed. Fear makes us forget that we live in relative safety. Fear makes us forget what we believe. Fear makes us forget who and what we love. Fear makes us forget to think. Fear makes us forget to breathe. I also believe that the memory of who we are calms our fear and that this is the only hope we have of ever finding any peace in the world.
When I am afraid, I mean really afraid, I often forget who I am.The person that I am, is not angry, or greedy, or violent. But given enough anxiety, fear or terror, and I will react angrily. Take away the familiar, push me beyond my comfort zone, expose me to strange and foreign ways, and I will become anxious.Threaten me with poverty and my fear of poverty will inspire me to be greedy.Threaten me or the ones I love with violence, and my fear of losing my life or my loved ones will embolden me to resort to violence.
When the ground beneath our feet begins to shift it can cause us to forget who we are and unless we take a deep breath, we might just forget the SPIRIT that dwells in with, through, and beyond us. Jesus believed and taught a new way of being in the world. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Jesus understood himself to be intimately related to the very SOURCE of his BEING. Where others had looked to the source of their being and seen a CREATOR to be feared and obeyed,Jesus looked to the source of his being and saw a CREATOR who takes delight in creation; a CREATOR so intimately connected with creation that it is impossible to see where creation ends and the CREATOR begins. I and the CREATOR are ONE.
Our GOD dwells in the midst of us. If we breathe deeply and feel the rhythm of the ONE who breathes in us we can begin to remember who we are.I am convinced that the peace we so long for in this world will only be realized when we find peace in ourselves. We are wonderfully made. Ever evolving humans in an ever changing cosmos. As conscious beings we are an integral part of a magnificent creation, the source of which flows, in, with, through, and beyond us. Embracing the mysteries of creation need not involve being afraid of the unknown.
Jesus taught a way of being that encompassed the SOURCE of our BEING as part of the ONENESS of all creation, and encouraged us to embrace the peace that this knowledge brings. When we are grounded in who and what we were created to be, it quells our fear and we are better able to respond to the fears of others in ways that will help them to remember who they are.
Fear is the enemy of peace. Jesus knew this. Why else was he constantly telling people not to be afraid? Have no fear is Jesus’ mantra. There’s so much more I could say about our fears.
I could go on and on about the ways in which fear separates us from ourselves, from one another and from our CREATOR.I could tell you all about the definition of sin as that which separates us from ourselves, from one another and from GOD. But I’m afraid that that would take to long and as being afraid is the very thing that I want to avoid, let me just give you a little peace.So, Sit up, take a long slow breath….let it out….
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to take a long slow breath when you are afraid?Panting, gasping, sometimes even holding your breath all have more in common with fear than breathing deeply.Perhaps our bodies really do know best because when we do breathe deeply it has a calming effect.Pay attention to your breathing. Really, I mean it pay attention to your breathing.Take a few moments, right here and right now and just breathe.
In and out. Don’t try to moderate your breath. Don’t try to slow it down and breathe more deeply. Just breathe……. Notice each breathe…. Your body knows exactly what you need. Opening ourselves to the rhythm of our own breathing opens us to the reality of our ONENESS with every creature that has ever breathed, in and out the very same air down through the centuries. In and out, the SPIRIT of the SOURCE of our very BEING, flows in, with, through, and beyond us. We are an intricate part of something bigger than we can even begin to imagine.
So, the next time the anxiety and fear threatens to make you forget who you are, breathe, notice each breath, and slowly you will begin to remember who you are. Slowly, you will feel the presence of the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond you. Knowing who we are, will begin to free us from fear and enable us to free others from fear and before we know it peace will be breaking out in, with, through, and beyond us. Let it be so, dear ones, let it be so. Amen.
The year was 1998. I was in my final year of seminary. I took a course from a visiting New Testament Scholar, who shall remain nameless, to protect not his innocence, but because it is bad form to speak ill of our elders. Suffice it to say that this professor had achieved some renown as a New Testament Scholar, so I was eager to learn from his wisdom. This professor lived up to his reputation. He was brilliant and he was demanding. I learned a great deal from him. During a class on the women of the New Testament, I recorded a conversation between the professor and myself. The conversation impressed me so much that I included it in my Master’s Thesis. It went like this…
He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!”
He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says,
“she is a “prostitute!”
My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where? Where? Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”
As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”, I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice, and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”
He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”
“A sinner not a prostitute.” I respond.
He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”
“Where?” I ask.
Again, he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”
I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”
He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”
I lose control, “How do you know? What words does the author use to say that this woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”
He still doesn’t get it,“What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”
Once again, I push, “Show me. Show me where?”
He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”
I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”
He replies, “amartolos”.
I push, “Does that mean prostitute?”
We both know that it does not.
He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”
Still pushing I ask him to “Show me. Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual. Show me where it says so in the narrative.”
He says, “It’s clear.”
Clearly, we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you. Show me. Show me!”
As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay. Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute. For Christ’s sake! Show me!”
He couldn’t show me. It’s simply not there.
Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek, or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute. But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute. In the years that have transpired since that day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I have delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of that I like to call, the resurrection of Mary the Migdal as the first Apostle. Migdal is a Hebrew word for tower and some scholars suggest that this was actually Mary’s title. Mary the Tower – perhaps because she was tall, but more likely because her authority as an Apostle “towered” above the authority of the apostles who abandoned Jesus.Continue reading →
Mothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women. Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for? In responding to this question, our understanding of the Christ all too often restricts the way in which we tell our stories of resurrection. Richard Rohr’s sermon preached at All Saint’s in Pasadena follows readings from Acts 5:27-32 and John 20:19-31 and pushes us to broaden our visions of the risen Christ.
It happens every year as Doubting Thomas makes his Easter appearance. It’s a kind of resurrection of a glimmer of the faith that I long to recall in my flesh. I harken back to the time when I could embrace those wounds as proof. Oh how that faith comforted me. Resurrecting the memory of Thomas, who for years functioned as a trusted hero in my scant faith, now sends me into the dream of belief as the answer in and of itself; a kind of innocence that once gone is never forgotten. My nostalgia for my faith in belief will pass. But for just a moment or two, I pause to embrace the wounds, waiting for my doubts to open me to the evolving reality of now. Jump!!!
This time last year I was in Belfast. Many of you know that I lived in Belfast when I was a child. When I visit Belfast, I always stay in the part of the city that is known as the Cathedral District. From there you easily get around to most of the attractions that Belfast has to offer. Sure, there are plenty of tourist attractions in the Cathedral District but the real attractions are the pubs in this splendid part of Belfast. Trust me I’ve walked, some would say crawled, to some of the best pubs in Belfast. Which is not surprising because you see, I do come from a long line of pub-crawlers. My Grandad was a legendary pub-crawler. Grandda loved a wee dander about, as long as that dander took him to either a pub to the dogs. Fortunately, for Grandda there was always a pub at or near the dog racing tracks. So, when I wander the streets of Belfast city, I do so haunted by images of my Grandda all done up in his best, walking with such purpose and determination at first and then with a little less of a sense of direction as he crawled the pubs. Grandda has been dead for almost 40 years but in Belfast I can still see him in all his old haunts. So, when I’m in Belfast, every pub I go into, I enter with expectation and I wonder what it must have been like when me Grandda came in here. Sometimes I actually see my me Grandda. I know he is long dead and gone. I know that he can’t possibly be there. But I can’t help myself, the feelings are so overwhelming.
We don’t really have a word in the English language that captures the emotion that I feel when I walk the streets of Belfast. There is a word that I learned a long time ago, it is a Portuguese word: “saudade.” Saudade doesn’t actually translate into English. The best translation of saudade that I have ever come across is, the presence of an absence….the presence through absence. It doesn’t appear to make any sense. How can you experience presence through absence? Something is either present or it is absent. And yet, if you speak to anyone who has ever lost someone they love and they will tell you that that person’s absence is so intense that they can actually feel them, right here, deep inside.
When a mother loses a child, the pain of that absence is so intense that she can feel the child she carried in her belly right here, inside. When a lover loses their beloved, the pain of that loss is so intense that the lost love is felt here, right her deep inside. When someone we love is gone, they are still here. We see them here there and everywhere. We catch glimpses of them on the streets. Sometimes we shake our heads knowing that what we see can’t be real, and yet we know it’s real. A loved one’s absence can be very present. Saudade, through the absence we feel a presence. Saudade.
Now I suspect that some of you are thinking and why wouldn’t you, it is Easter after all, so some of you are thinking, “Aha, I get it…this is this progressive preacher’s way of explaining the resurrection.” Pretty good ha??? Well know, there might have been a time when I would have tried to explain the anonymous gospel-story-tellers’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. I am after all a progressive Christian pastor, and you are all enlightened 21 century people, with a pretty clear understanding of reality. There may be one or two of you who believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But I’m guessing that most of us don’t hang our Christianity on the concept of the physical resuscitation of a corpse.
As for this preacher, I’m with the Apostle Paul when it comes to the resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection were annoying to Paul. So much so that the Apostle Paul used pretty strong language in his letter to the church at Corinth, “Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have? What a stupid question!” Like the Apostle Paul, my faith in the reality of resurrection does not hinge on the physical resuscitation of a corpse. “The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.” So says the earliest explanation we have of Jesus’ resurrection.
Saudade is not my way of trying to explain the stories of Jesus resurrection. Saudade is my way of describing what it feels like to be a progressive Christian during Holy Week. After abandoning the notion that the DIVINE source of all that IS is actually some sort of far-away person in the heavens, who orchestrated the life and the execution of a person purported to be “His only begotten Son, begotten not made,” via an execution so vile that we shouldn’t even begin to contemplate it lest we tremble, tremble, tremble; well once you come out of the closet as a 21stcentury progressive Christian, Holy Week is like a saudade festival!Continue reading →
Every Sunday I stand at the altar and preside over a mystery. A mystery that has its roots in the events we remember this Holy Thursday. On Maundy Thursday, we gather together to contemplate MYSTERY. We know what will happen tomorrow as Good Friday plunges us into darkness. So is it any wonder that we cannot fully comprehend this MYSTERY.
The various gospel writers have created a record of Jesus’ last evening that is filled with bittersweet images. Our mystery begins with the foreshadowing of what is to come as we hear the name Judas Iscariot. Judas, son of Simon, is perhaps the most trusted of Jesus’ disciples, after all Judas is the one who is trusted with the financial resources of this struggling little group. Even though we know Judas’ role in this unfolding mystery, we must remember that Judas is among those who Jesus loved to the end. But long before the silver changes hands, we already know enough to dread the betrayal.
Our mystery continues with the tender intimacy of a teacher washing the dirty feet of his beloved bumbling students, as Jesus breaks the bonds of decorum to demonstrate the fierce tenderness of loving service. The image of Jesus washing the feet of his followers still seems undignified all these centuries later. So, is it any wonder that the intimacy of Jesus’ tenderness is more than Simon Peter can bear? In order to get beyond their inhibitions, Jesus must spell it out for them. “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Sovereign —and you are right, for that is what I AM. So, if I, your Sovereign and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you and example.” Jesus has washed their feet; all their feet, even Judas and the talk of betrayal continues as Jesus returns to the meal.
The writer of the Gospel of John does not record the details of the breaking of the bread or the passing of the cup. These details are recorded by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and by the writers of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke: “on the night he was betrayed, our Savior Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying, “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper, he took the cup and said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do it in remembrance of me. For every time, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim Jesus’ death until Christ comes.” Week after week, year after year, generation after generation, century after century Christian priests have presided over ritual communions using what have become known as the words of institution. In remembrance of Jesus we eat and drink. The body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And therein lies the mystery. The mystery of communion. Sometimes the meal has transforming power, nourishing power, restorative, profound power. At other times the meal is just one more religious ritual carried out by rote, experienced without feeling, or impact. Sometimes the meal seems foreign to us, almost alien, perhaps even barbaric.Continue reading →
Years ago, long before I ever became a pastor, I had a friend who was nearing the end of her life. During my last few visits with her, Clara would ask me over and over again, “Am I going to be alright?” I would always answer her with words designed to assure her that all would be well. Unlike some people I have known since, Clara never asked me what was going to happen to her when she died. Instead she would ask, “Am I going to be alright?” At the time, I thought that she was worried about the pain she might encounter or the fear that she might feel. So, I would assure her that the care that she was getting was the best there is and that the doctors and nurses would make sure that she could manage whatever pain came her way. I also assured her that her loved ones would be there with her, and furthermore I believed that the very source of her being, would be there to embrace her. My friend wasn’t particularly religious, so the words that I’d learned in church to offer as comfort, were not words she wanted to hear. So, I spoke of God, in vague and general terms. Even though back then, I still imagined God as some sort of supernatural being.
The last time I saw my friend Clara, I knew that the end was near. I was feeling woefully inadequate I wasn’t sure how long I could bear to be in the same room with my friend. I remember hearing a rattling sound as she struggled with each breath. My own breath slowed and became quite shallow as if my body was trying to mimic hers. It is a moment in time that lives in my memory not because of the intensity of my feelings at that time, but rather because of the way in which our parallel breathing took me to a place of knowing where the wizened dying body in the bed was transformed into a beautiful young woman.Continue reading →
This Sunday worship services will begin with the proclamation that: Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Let me follow that proclamation up with a good Lutheran question:“What does this mean?” What does it mean that Christ is risen? What does resurrection mean? The truth is that there are about as many different explanations of Christ’s resurrection as there are Christians. And that’s a good thing, because the question of the resurrection is a question that lies at the very heart of Christianity. So, is it any wonder that Christians have been struggling to come to terms with resurrection since the very first rumours that Christ had risen began to circulate. Over the centuries the various responses to the question of resurrection have divided Christians as various camps work out various responses.
For many Christians and non-Christians alike Resurrection is the dividing line. But this is nothing new. Indeed the drawing of that line can be seen in the earliest Christian writings that we have. The Apostle Paul himself, wrote to the community of followers at Corinth: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless—and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless.” There are many believers and non-believers alike who point to these line’s in scripture and say, “Ah ha, there it is, either you believe in the resurrection or you don’t!” Continue reading →
Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.
If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating. For this reason, our Easter worship services ought to include reading from 1 Corinthians 15!!!
Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. From comments, messages, and emails I hear from fellow preachers who, like me, are daunted by the task of preparing the Good Friday sermon. That task is even more daunting for those of us who serve progressive communities. My fellow progressive-christian-preachers tell me of the dearth of progressive-christian Good Friday sermons to be found on the internet and encourage me to re-post my own attempts to rise to the occasion. So, here are the links to some of the Good Friday sermons I have preached over the years of my journey with the progressive community which I serve. The people Holy Cross Lutheran Church have over the years provided an invigorating space for me to pursue my questions. They have also provided the resources which make this blog possible. So, if you find the work posted here of value to you and your community, please consider supporting this ministry of Holy Cross. I rarely solicit donations. But Holy Cross is a small community that continues to give to others in so many ways and your encouragement is greatly appreciated!!! (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3) Donate via CANADA HELPS click here
Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost
Moving On From the Tragedy of Good Friday click here
2017 I cannot and will not worship a god who demands a blood sacrifice. But the residue of atonement theories still causes me to tremble click here
2016 I’m still working on getting my body out of the tomb in which it was laid all those years ago – reflecting on everyday crucifixions click here
2015 Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation click here
During Lent we are exploring the various ways in which the work of LOVE is accomplished. Each Sunday in Lent we will view and reflect upon a video that tells a story of LOVE’s embodiment in the world. Revolutionary LOVE calls us to love, others, love our opponents, love the Earth, love ourselves and thereby LOVE the MYSTERY that we call God.
Today, Rabbi Sharon Brous’ TEDtalk: “It’s time to reclaim religion” holds a paradox in tension: “I am dust and ashes.” and “For me the world was created.” Watch the video and remind yourself that you are dust and ashes and for you the world was created. Then watch our reflections upon Rabbi Brous’ reclamation of religion from the dual scourge of extremism and routinism.
It was nearly 20 years ago, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday. I was working as the on-call Chaplain at the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. I had been paged to the emergency room to attend to a man who had accompanied a patient to the hospital, VSA, the code for Vital Signs Absent. Someone was waiting for me in the Quiet Room. The Quiet Room was a small ten by twelve room, into which loved ones of really serious patients were asked to wait for the worst possible news. They were kept there in the Quiet Room so that they wouldn’t be disturbed, but I suspect that the real reason is so that they wouldn’t disturb the less seriously ill patients.
Inside the Quiet Room sat one of the largest men I have ever met. He was about six-eight, with big broad shoulders. He wore blue jeans and a black leather jacket. He had long black hair and a bushy beard. He could have passed for the head of a biker gang and under normal circumstances, I probably would have been very afraid of this character. I introduced myself as the Chaplain and he just put his head in his hands. Chaplains are not popular people in hospital emergency rooms. People usually expect the worst when the medical profession calls in a chaplain. I took a seat and together we waited.
Slowly, this big bear of a man began to tell me what had happened. He said, that everything was all his fault; he was to blame. Anne, his partner wouldn’t be in the other room fighting for her life if it wasn’t for him. After years of being on his own, driving truck from one place to another, never really having a home, he had met Anne and she had changed everything. No more long hauls for him. He switched to driving locally. For the first time in a very long time he had a home; a home he and Anne had made together. She’d made him so happy. He loved her so much. Everything was going so well for them.
Why? Why did this have to happen? He knew he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be happy. It was all his fault. If only he hadn’t of stuck around. None of this would have happened.
Quietly, I asked him just what had happened. He explained that he had come home from the store. He’d gone out for a pack of cigarettes. Anne had asked him to quit. He should have quit smoking. When he got back from the corner-store he found Anne lying on the floor. He dialed 911 and started CPR.
They wouldn’t let him stay with her. Could I go and see how she was doing? I headed back to the resuscitation room. They were tidying up. The doctor said she had a massive coronary, she was dead before she got to the hospital, they had just been going through the motions. I waited while the doctor filled in the paperwork and then together, we headed toward the Quiet Room. The doctor didn’t say a word when we arrived, he let his face do all the talking and I watched as a giant of a man fell to pieces.
When he quieted down a little, he told me that Anne was one of the best things in his life and that he should have known better. It was all his fault. If he’d just left her alone she would have been better off. Mutual friends had introduced them just a year ago. He fell for her right away. He should have known it was too good to be true. It was all his fault. It was happening all over again, only this time he should have known better. Through his tears, he asked me, how I could believe in such cruel God. God took his son away from him and now God had taken Anne. He began to moan, over and over again, crying out for his lost son Billy.
It took about an hour for him to tell me what had happened, some 25 years earlier. His son had been playing with some friends down by the river. They’d made a makeshift raft. Somehow, little Billy had drowned. Just five years old and he was taken away. It was all his fault. If he hadn’t been such a lousy father, Billy wouldn’t have been taken away from him. After Billy died, his marriage fell apart. That was all his fault too. If only he’d been a better husband, a better man, God would have helped them to work it out. But clearly, God was punishing him for all the terrible things he had done in his life.
He should have known better than to take the chance. He just should have known better. If he had just stayed on the road. If he hadn’t tried to make some sort of life with Anne, she’d still be alive. God had really stuck it to him this time. This was his punishment for trying to be happy. He cried softly then. Over and over again crying out the names of Anne and Billy.
I quietly told this big bear of a broken man, that I didn’t believe in the kind of God that he was talking about. The God that I know wouldn’t do something like that. God is not that cruel. I told him that I believed that God wept for his son and for Anne, and that God knew the kind of pain that he was feeling. He just kept on sobbing, telling me that I didn’t understand, insisting that it was all his fault. Looking back, I realize that I was probably trying to convince myself at that moment that God was not some sort of monster. At that very moment I suppose that I felt like God was indeed some sort of monster. How could I have expected to help this man to reconcile the death of his son and his partner with the notion of a loving God? Surely that man was better off believing in a punishing God rather than an absent or capricious God who allowed the innocent to suffer? The man himself was willing to blame himself rather than to blame God. God, in that man’s mind, was just doing what had to be done, punishing a guilty man. He knew beyond a doubt that he was to blame. His crimes had caused the deaths of his loved ones, not God. Who was I to destroy his worldview? At least his reasoning allowed him to make some sense out of his life.
Who among us has not done the same when calamity strikes, wondering what we have done wrong to deserve our plight? Who among us at some time or another has not scrutinized our own behaviour, our relationships, our diets, our faith or lack of faith, hunting from some cause to explain our lot in the vain hope that we can find the reason behind our suffering? We are only human after all, less interested in the truth than in the consequences. What we crave above all else is to grasp for control over the chaos of our lives.Continue reading →
Written 3 years ago, before the fox became the most power person on the planet.
Sadly, it still resonates.
Drawing the connection between the French word “lent” as meaning slow and the historical Lenten practice of fasting, we began our Lenten journey with the suggestion that we adopt a spiritual practice of slowing down for lent by fasting from fast. So, following a delightfully slow start on Monday morning, I read the assigned gospel text for this Sunday and spent some time luxuriating in the study of fables about foxes in henhouses. The gospel’s description of Jesus describing himself as a mother hen longing to gather up her chicks in the safety of her breast so to protect them from encounters with Herod the fox created images that suggested that we lean into the Mystery that we call God. If as our friend Dom Crossan is fond of saying, Jesus really “is what God looks like in sandals,” then surely the gospel-storyteller’s casting Jesus as someone who compares himself to a mother hen, must tell us something about how Jesus want’s his hearers to understand the nature of God. So, I began thinking about preparing a liturgy devoted to gently leaning into the MYSYERY of God.
Part of my lenten practice of fasting from fasting from fast caused me to shun my regular Monday morning consumption of news media, as most of you know, I’m a bit of a news-aholic and so on my day off, I usually spend way too much time catching up on the news of the world. These days the news tends to send my blood pressure racing so, I avoided my usual media haunts in favour of enjoying a few movies and some exercise. As the week wore on, I developed a cold and so Wednesday and Thursday were spent drifting in and out of consciousness as I tried to sleep off the effects of fever and congestion. So, imagine my horror when I finally tuned back into the news of the world on Friday. The fox was actually in the hen house. There he was a fox whose sly cunning makes Herod Antapis look tame, attacking a beautiful tender sweet hen, who over and over again wants for nothing more than to gather children as a mother hen collects her babies beneath her wings. Donald John Trump was attacking the Pope! At first, I thought the decongestants that I was taking were causing hallucinations! Talk about foxes in the hen houses!
Herod Antipas wanted nothing more than to be King of the Jews and Trump wants nothing more than to be King of the World! Herod Antipas scandalized the first century and Trump is well on his way to scandalizing the 21st century. Jesus Christ shocked the first century by comparing himself to a hen.
Donald Trump continues to shock this century with the size of his ego. For over a billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis is Christ’s representative on earth, billions more see him as a religious leader of impeccable credentials, others see him as a kindly old gentleman who is struggling to bring a stodgy religious institution into the 21st century by opening the doors to welcome in the poor and marginalized. Donald Trump is a narcissist of epic proportions; a real-estate mogul, who despite his three financial bankruptcies has managed to translate his business savvy into reality show ratings that paved the way to a media career which he is currently trying to translate into a political career in his quest for the White House. Responding to a question about the astonishing popularity of Donald Trump, the Pope said something to the effect that “any person who focusses on building walls and not trying to build bridges is not a Christian.” And that audacious fox stopped dead in his tracks just long enough to insist that the Pope is and I quote, “disgraceful”.
Can you blame me for suspecting that I’d taken one too many decongestants? I turned the TV off lest I discover that aliens were about to land on earth and lock us all up for our own safety. Back in the relative safety of my office I returned to biblical commentaries to read about metaphors for God. What exactly is the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke getting at with this particular metaphor? I mean why a chicken? Why not something more elegant or graceful or majestic; an eagle perhaps, or a lion, or a bear? This are metaphors for God that were good enough for other biblical storytellers, but not for this one. Now I have only ever really had a relationship with one chicken in my life. I’ve got to say a chicken is the last thing I would want to be compared to let along something I’d compare myself too. If Jesus is comparing himself to a mother hen collecting her babies under her wings, and the gospel-storyteller wants us to think of Jesus as God then is the gospel-storyteller actually asking us to think of God as a mother hen?
Let me tell you about the one chicken I have actually known personally. Her name was Betty, Betty the Broiler. We called her Betty the Broiler because she wasn’t anything much to look at. You see back in the day, when I was helping to run a retreat centre, among the various animals we kept on Seabright Farm were chickens. Seabright chickens to be exact. Seabright chickens were breed to as ornamental chickens and a flock of seabrights are about as beautiful a flock of chickens as ever adorned a farmyard. For some unknown reason, our flock of seabright chicks came complete with a rather plain looking banti hen that was anything but a seabright, she was a plain white hen which we nicknamed Betty the Broiler on account of how she looked like a generic hen fit for broiling.
But Betty was anything but generic. Betty thought she was human. Right from the start rather than scratch about with the other hens, Betty liked nothing better than to follow the children wherever they went. The kids on the farm loved Betty and because they loved her, they fed her stuff that the average hen never eats; sandwiches, crackers, bananas, berries, ice-cream, Betty’s favourite food was hot dogs. The kids used to squeal with laughter as Betty chased them around the yard demanding that they share their food with her. Well one day, depending on whose telling the story, either one of the dogs on the farm, wanted to share in the food that the kids were eating or a strange dog wandered onto the property to only to attack one of the kids, anyway long story short the kids ran into the farmhouse screaming for help because “a dog tried to kill Betty.” By the time we got to her Betty was gasping on the lawn surrounded by feathers. Her throat had clearly been cut. Betty looked ready for the broiler.
But the children insisted, and so none of the adults had the heart to do what seemed like the kind thing and simply finish her off. Instead against better judgement of the adults, Betty the broiler was rushed to the vet, who even though he thought the so-called adults had taken leave of their senses, agreed to stitch Betty up. The vet had never before tried to rescue a chicken, so when he handed her back to the adults, he suggested that she might be in considerable pain, but rather than prescribe costly drugs, he suggested that we might try alcohol to ease her pain.Continue reading →