During these past two years, we have had to adapt to an awful lot. If you’d have asked us just three years ago, how we would cope if we had to lockdown in our homes for months and months on end, we couldn’t have imagined how we would cope. But somehow, we all managed to adapt to the isolation, working from home, the masks, the technology, the fears and the disappointments.We found ways to cope with a life-threatening pandemic by adapting to changing circumstances.
Humans are blessed with the ability to adapt to our surroundings. We are blessed and we are also cursed. Adaptation allows us to make adjustments to our behaviour in order to cope with changing realities. But adaption can also allow us to continue relatively unchanged. For those of us who live as the wealthiest Christians who have ever walked this planet, the privileges we claim for ourselves, allow us to continue our lives in relative security provided we adapt ever so slightly to our changing circumstances. And therein lies the curse of adaptation. Adaptation allows for the maintenance of the status quo. In the grand scheme of things, the fundamental realities of our lives haven’t been transformed by the monumental challenges of a life-threatening pandemic. Sure, we may have tweaked a few things, but we are still the privileged few on this planet and our planet, the only home we have is still careening toward becoming largely uninhabitable. We are clever enough to understand that the status quo cannot hold, and we are adaptable enough to carry on without being transformed by the reality that our behaviour is threatening the survival of billions of people. We have largely adapted to the terrifying realities of climate change without letting the facts transform us.
I used to put my faith in the intelligence of our species to adapt. These days, I’m beginning to see that the intelligence of our species may only be able to help us adapt, when what we need in order to survive is to be transformed. Transformation of the way in which we live threatens the status quo, and without threatening the status quo, we won’t be able to adapt quickly enough to survive. To date human intelligence is failing us. The facts, we are all well versed in the facts, and we have all, myself included, chosen to tinker with a few minor adaptations, rather than seriously engaging our need for radical transformation of the status quo. So, I have to ask what it will take for us to open ourselves to the possibility of the radical transformation necessary to meet the challenges which are raining down upon us.
Status quo – the existing state of affairs – has been good to those of us who live privileged lives here in Canada, and if you are watching on a screen somewhere other than Canada, then believe me you too are privileged. Our wealth makes it possible to take time out in our day, to come here, or to turn on a screen, and spend some time contemplating that which is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. The luxuries we enjoy, afford us the time, the space, the tools, and the company of like-minded individuals to explore the MYSTERY with. We are all richly blessed.
Blessed enough to have the wear-with-all to maintain the status quo longer than the vast majority of our siblings on this planet will be able to. Today, lots of privileged people, just like us, all over the world, will gather like us to listen to the Gospel reading which is proclaimed on this the Fifth Sunday of Easter, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John, who writes:
“Once Judas left, Jesus said, “Now is the Chosen One glorified and God is glorified as well. If God has been glorified, God will in turn glorify the Chosen One and will do so very soon. My little children, I won’t be with you much longer. You’ll look for me, but what I said to the Temple authorities, I say to you: where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples: that you truly love one another.” (John 13:31-35)
According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, Judas has just left the room, and we all know what that means, Jesus is about to be betrayed, the status quo will not hold. Jesus is about to be executed by the forces of empire. Jesus is a smart guy. He knows full well that the status quo will not hold. Jesus knows he is going to die. He tells the people he loves, “where I am going, you cannot come.”No amount of tinkering with adaptations will suffice. Jesus proposes total transformation. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples: that you truly love one another.”
Love one another. It sounds too simple to our ears. Love one another. We have prettied love up, with hearts and flowers, for so long that we have forgotten the power of LOVE to transform everything. In the recesses of our imagination, we piece together the story of what LOVE looked like for the followers of Jesus, as if it were some fluffy-cloud world in which they lived. We imagine that it was easy for them. In our mind’s eye we see those happy-clappy christians, smiling as if they haven’t a care in the world, welcoming strangers, and being LOVE and it is all so peaceful, so beautiful, so groovy, with all those hearts and flowers, who wouldn’t be able to just peace out, man. “LOVE one another” doesn’t seem to measure up somehow at least not the hearts and flowers kind of love, the impotent, easy, lovin of we privileged few; the kind of love which demands adaption without transformation.
This cannot be what a man on his way to his execution was calling for. Jesus spent his life teaching people about the kind of LOVE which is beyond the hearts and flowers pretty love, we privileged few are fond of. Cornel West describes this kind of LOVE as JUSTICE, when he says that, “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public.” Justice is what makes the LOVE which Jesus commands transformative. Justice transforms and without justice we cannot be the LOVE humanity needs us to be in order to transform the status quo into a Way of being which is life-giving.
Now for those of you, who aren’t convinced that talk of LOVE can save us, who’d rather fight facts with facts, well let’s take a long hard look at the status quo: This week, I’ve been devouring a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called, The Ministry for the Future. The novel takes its name from an international agency set up by the Paris Agreement to concern itself with the people of the future.
The book is laced with facts about the status quo. Stanley Robinson writes this:“Possibly some of the richest two percent of the world’s population have decided to give up on the pretense that “progress” or “development” or “prosperity” can be achieved for all eight billion of the world’s people. For quite a long time, a century or two, this “prosperity for all” goal had been the line taken; that although there was inequality now, if everyone just stuck to the program and did not rock the boat, the rising tide would eventually float even the most high-and-dry among them.
But early in the twenty-first century it became clear that the planet was incapable of sustaining everyone alive at Western levels, and at that point the richest pulled away into their fortress mansions, bought the governments or disabled them from action against them, and bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized better time, which really came down to just the remainder of their lives, and perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling optimistic—beyond that, après moi le deluge.
A rational response to an intractable problem. But not really. There was scientifically supported evidence to show that if the Earth’s available resources were divided up equally among all eight billion humans, everyone would be fine. They would all be at adequacy, and the scientific evidence very robustly supported the contention that people living at adequacy, and confident they would stay there (a crucial point), were healthier and thus happier than rich people. So the upshot of that equal division would be an improvement for all.
Rich people would often snort at this last study, then go off and lose sleep over their bodyguards, tax lawyers, legal risks—children crazy with arrogance, love not at all fungible—over-eating and over-indulgence generally, resulting health problems, ennui and existential angst—in short, an insomniac face plant into the realization that science was once again right, that money couldn’t buy health or love or happiness.
Although it has to be added that a reliable sufficiency of money is indeed necessary to scaffold the possibility of those good things. The happy medium, the Goldilocks zone in terms of personal income, according to sociological analyses, seemed to rest at around 100,000 US dollars a year, or about the same amount of money that most working scientists made, which was a little suspicious in several senses, but there it stood: data. And one can run the math.
The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 wats of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. The society’s members then tried living on that amount of electricity to see what it was like: they found it was by no means a form of suffering; it was even reported to feel more stylish and meaningful to those who undertook the experiment.
So, is there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training peopled and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough and everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education.
Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things (I just listed) and your children will have them too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security.If one percent of the humans alive controlled everyone’s work, and took far more than their share of the benefits of that work, while also blocking the project of equality and sustainability however they could, that project would become more difficult. This would go without saying, except it needs to be said. To be clear, concluding in brief: there is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which on one can rise. Enough is as good as a feast—or better. Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader.”
I am struck by the way in which Stanley Robinson lays out the facts, transforming our perceptions of the status quo, into a vision of reality which sounds so much like, the basileia ton theon, the kin-dom of GOD which Jesus taught a new kind of status quo in which everyone has enough. This basilea of DIVINITY, this way of being LOVE in the world, is not the kind of justice which can be achieved by merely adapting, this kind of justice requires transformation. We have been richly blessed. By we, I do not mean, we privileged few. The Earth’s blessings are more than enough for everyone.Today, here and now, LOVing one another, requires the kind of justice which is transformative.
Listen again to the transformative cry for justice: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples: that you truly love one another.” We, my friends, we have been richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Let us be transformed. Let us be justice, so that all may know in us, the LOVE which transformative.
These past two years have been challenging in many ways. Today, I’d like to focus on a challenge which in the grand scheme of things, may seem insignificant. For some of us who have chosen to gather in community to celebrate the MYSTERY of the LOVE we call GOD around Word and Sacrament, the challenge of participating in the Sacraments has brought with it some interesting revelations. Technology helped us with the Word part of worship.
Indeed, congregations all over the planet have managed in various ways to traverse the steep learning curve of technology which has empowered them to proclaim the WORD in worship in new and innovative ways. And while two years of worshipping primarily online has provided some interesting revelations about the way in which we experience the WORD in worship,
I’d like us to turn our attention both here in this sanctuary and indeed, out there among those of you participating online, to some of the disturbing revelations about the Sacrament of the Eucharist which have come to light after two long years of abstaining from the Eucharist. I say abstaining because for two years during which we were only able to worship in-person for a brief period last fall, we didn’t celebrate Communion. Even when we returned to in-person gatherings, on March 20th, we didn’t resume the celebration until just 3 weeks ago on Easter Sunday. So, in two years, we, here at Holy Cross have only celebrated Holy Communion twice.
Speaking only for myself, I have to confess that while I desperately missed gathering in-person to worship with this congregation in the flesh, I really didn’t miss celebrating Communion. I know that many worship leaders made different decisions during lockdown and discovered various ways to celebrate Communion over the internet. While we briefly considered using those individual plastic sealed containers of a sip of wine and a thin wafer, the idea of all that packaging, left much to be desired.
And yes, I have absolutely no difficulty understanding that the SPIRIT is not bound to the physicality of our sanctuaries and indeed can work wonders over the internet, I must confess that I just wasn’t feeling the need to give it a try. It wasn’t until Easter Sunday and the challenges of celebrating Communion safely with all the COVID protocols in place, that my own faith in the power of Communion was severely challenged. So, as word reached me this week, of several of our members testing positive for COVID, even though I know that they were infected elsewhere, and that over time we are all going to be infected by OMICRON, I had to ask myself and eventually our Worship Team, should we continue to take the risk of celebrating Communion.
It wasn’t until I allowed myself, to actually listen and hear the words repeated in the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s story of Jesus celebrating breakfast with some of his followers. Writing some seventy years after the life of Jesus, our gospel-storyteller sets a scene in which Jesus, repeats words which speak to me, challenging me to actually taste and see the goodness of the LOVE we call GOD. When speaking to Peter, you remember Peter the friend of Jesus who, when push came to shove, when it really mattered, Peter is the one who betrayed Jesus not once but three times, Jesus sits Peter down by the lake, and not once, not twice, but three times, Jesus puts Peter in his place. In my sacred imagination, I can see the two friends sitting on the lakeshore, and I like to think that Jesus invited the friend he called his Rock to sit upon a rock, and ask not once, not twice, but three times, “Peter, I thought you were my rock, but all things considered, I have to ask, do you love me?” I can see Peter visibly shrivel sitting there remembering what he did and didn’t do or say. “Yes Rabbi, you know I’m your friend.”
It is Jesus’ response which speaks to me now, “Then feed my lambs.” In my sacred imagination, I’m right there on the adjacent rock shrivelling along with Peter, when Jesus asks again, “Do you love me.” I hear the words, “Care for my sheep.” and again I hear Jesus insist, “Feed my sheep.” Yes, I know it’s my imagination speaking to me. Yes, I know I’ve entered the realm of metaphor. You are neither lambs nor sheep and I’m certainly not Peter, and all the New Testament scholars I love and respect, insist that the historical Jesus didn’t actually say these words. Like Peter, I have all sorts of reasons for denying Jesus. Not the least of which is the fact that this world-wide pandemic ain’t over just yet, and I, we together, we have a duty of care, and feeding people remains a risky endeavour.
So, on Friday, I met with our Worship Team and we talked about the challenges of safely celebrating Communion. It was a good conversation, a conversation when I learned that I am not alone in wondering why? So, we tweaked our protocols, and I was encouraged to consider celebrating Communion in one kind, that is to say distributing the bread but not the wine, because passing wine around brings with it safety challenges, and after all, breaking bread together ought to be enough for us to experience the visible tangible means of GOD’s grace. So, we decided, loosely that we would remind one another that the word companionship comes from the French pan for bread, com means with, companions are those who break bread with one another. I confess that I was prepared to leave it at that.
But in my sacred imagination, I kept hearing Jesus say, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Not just once, not just twice, not just three times, on and on it went, until finally I crumbled.
As the solid rock of my avoidance crumbled, I finally began to see what I didn’t want it to be revealed.
So, let me confess to you my beloved community, both here in the room and online, the truth is of all the things I have missed these past two years, Communion doesn’t even make the list. Once the truth was revealed to me, after I dried my tears, I had to ask myself, “Why?”. Why haven’t I missed Communion?
Over the course of my life in the Church, the Sacrament of Communion has fed and nourished me in ways I can’t even begin to count. Yes, my understanding of the Sacraments has changed over the years.
Long gone are the notions of Communion as a sombre penitential act of remembering Jesus as a sacrifice for sin. Over the years, I came to understand our Lutheran theology about celebrating the sacrament as a visible, tangible means of GOD’s grace. Not a blood sacrifice but a celebration of the gifts of bread and wine with the understanding that the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and under the visible and the tangible elements so that we can taste and see that our GOD is good.
Over the decades, of celebrating the Eucharist, which literally means “thanksgiving”, I have been nourished, grounded, and sustained by the companionship created over this meal. Yes, as my theology changed, and I gave up the notion that Jesus was a human sacrifice for sin, rejected the idea that humans were once perfect and fell from grace, and indeed fixed my gaze beyond the notion of a personified deity, the words of the sacrament challenged me to find new ways to express our place in the Cosmos. The reality of the DIVINE MYSTERY responsible for setting the Cosmos into being, juxtaposed to a little piece of bread and a tiny taste of wine, did indeed challenge my sacred imagination as I struggled to enter ancient metaphors so that I could taste and see that the MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, is indeed good. Let’s just say, our little ritual Communions began to feel all too puny a celebration to carry all that.
The last two weeks of trying to celebrate communion with COVID protocols have left me hungry for better ways to taste and see that the MYSTERY is indeed good. So, with Jesus’ words ringing in my sacred imagination, I did what I usually do when faced with a problem which I cannot resolve. I tried to read my way out of the reality that I haven’t really missed communion. Surely, I’m not the only one, who is struggling with Communion. Surely, somebody wiser than I am, has seen something which I cannot see. So, I scoured my bookshelves, until I came upon a book which actually arrived there just before the first lockdown. At the time, Communion was the last thing on my mind, we had bigger problems to be unravelled. The book is entitled, “Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century” – by R. Alan Street. It sounds very dry. But Jesus kept going on and on in my head, so for the love of Jesus, I began to read, if only to drown out my doubts, screaming in my head, in the guise of Jesus. I reminded myself that those first century followers of Jesus had so much more to worry about and they managed to be nourished by Communion. I might as well learn how they fed one another.
Well, right here on page one, in the very first sentence, I was hooked, when I read this: “…the Lord’s Supper of the first-century CE was an anti-imperial praxis. Whenever early Christians met for a communal meal they saw themselves as participating in subversive non-violent acts against the Roman Empire.” What! Holy Communion, the Eucharist as a subversive non-violent act against the Roman Empire? Well, let me tell you I have devoured this book and it has fed me, even as it has created a hunger in me for more. Pass the bread. More wine please, and while you’re at it send the fish my way, I’m starving, starving I say, famished for some of that old-time religion. But don’t give me any of your comfort food. Just some basic bread, wine, and if you happen to have it some fish would be fine too.
Those first century followers of the Way certainly knew how to throw a supper. Not even our church potlucks come close to the resistance they served up back in the day. Do me a favour, open your historical imaginations, and travel back in time with me to the first century. We only have time for a brief visit. But trust me we will be going back for more and more in the weeks ahead.
So, here we are let’s say at the end of the first century. Jesus was executed by the state as a criminal almost 70 years ago, that’s about 3 and a half generations ago. Much has been said about Jesus. Not much has been written, besides you probably can’t read anyway. The Romans have been making your life a misery and you liked what you’ve heard about Jesus. You’ve joined the struggle and you’re a part of the resistance to the domination of the Empire. It isn’t easy to risk your life but you can’t see any other way to resist than to through your lot in with the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. To keep your strength up you get together, a crime in itself, but you get together with the members of the resistance to participate in a subversive non-violent act against Rome. Rome dominated and kept its citizens in line by any means possible. Those didn’t just include tyranny, brutality, terrorism, and civic events designed to mold their citizens into acquiescence.
One of these civic events was the Roman banquet. Roman banquets were designed to do more than feed the body, they followed a formula which enforced patronage, together with a strict hierarchy. They would begin with a meal, at which only those invited could attend, and were seated according to their place in the Roman power structure. Slaves and women had no place around the table. The meal lasted about ninety minutes, followed by a libation. A libation was a kind of toasting. Wine was poured out for the gods, of which CAESAR was supreme. With raised chalices those in attendance would proclaim, CAESAR IS GOD! The toasting was followed by a three hour symposium. The symposium included storytelling, mostly about the triumphs of Rome, entertainment, music, sport, magic, and jokes. All designed to uphold the values of Rome and solidify one’s place in the Empire.
Now follow me to the home of a prominent follower of the Way, where we are getting together to encourage one another to resist the forces of the Empire. We’re going to take that Roman banquet idea and turn it upside down. First, we shall eat our fill. Remember food insecurity was rampant at this time, people were starving. We are going to pool our resources and everyone regardless of class or wealth is going to eat their fill. Forget about whether you are a slave or free, Jew or a Gentile, man or woman, you have a place at the table, we are all equal at this mean.
Oh, and there will be a libation. But you don’t have to worry about toasting CAESAR! We will raise our chalice and proclaim that Jesus and not Caesar is our GOD! And yes there will be a symposium. Stories will be told. We will sing songs of protest. We will hear from our WISDOMKEEPERS and we will dream together, strategize together, and we will be nourished for the struggle which lies before us.
Now, move from your historical imagination and come with me into your prophetic imagination, the place where we dream dreams about what can be. Imagine if you will, a banquet in which we gather to resist the forces of the empire in which we are hopelessly entwined. A banquet where everyone is equal, everyone has a place at the table. A banquet where the hungry are fed with good food. Yes there will be a libation. We will raise our glasses to proclaim that LOVE is our GOD. We will drink a toast to justice as the way to peace! We will declare that the Earth is our home and not our property. We will toast justice seekers and peace makers and not powerbrokers and warriors. We will declare that generosity and not greed is our way. We will toast all that makes us ONE.
And then the symposium will begin. Stories will be told of resisting our lesser angels, songs of protest will be sung, our WISDOMKEEPERS will reveal truth as they teach us to reverence Creation, care for the Earth and feed everyone who hungers. There will be music. There will be dancing. There will be art and beauty and wonder. We shall all taste and see that the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being is GOOD.
Suddenly, my desire to resist is creating hunger-pains, and once again I need to taste and see. I hope that as we continue to follow Jesus Way of being in the world, we can once again learn to taste and see, for life is so very GOOD. I pray that our feasting together will nourish us in our struggle to resist, so that all may know the LOVE which is DIVINITY.
What I remember most about Malcolm is that he did not suffer fools gladly. He couldn’t have been much older than I am now when we first began working together. By day, Malcolm was an astounding problem solver. But on evenings and weekends, Malcolm was a super-hero! A justice-seeker, peacemaker and the personification of LOVE itself. Malcolm was a brilliant co-worker. But, if you needed his help at work, you had to catch Malcolm during working hours, because as soon as the clock struck 5, Malcolm would be out the door. He always had places to go and people to see, mountains to move, wrongs to make right, people to save, injustices to oppose, and people to feed. Malcolm, no matter how much you tried to resist his charms, would sweep up any able-bodied person to help him on his epic his quests to right whatever wrongs he encountered. I don’t remember much of what I learned from Malcolm at work, but I can still feel the intensity of his passion, sweeping me up like a whirlwind as he embodied a vision of justice which always took my breath away.
Malcolm and I shared a kind of bleak gallows sense of humour which we put down to our shared British birthplace. When he discovered that as a child, I had been subjected to my father’s collection of recordings of Goon Show, our gallows humour went into overdrive. Malcolm would insist that I play Eccles to his Seagoon. For those of you who were never blessed to hear the Goons, suffice it to say, the Goons taught the Monty Python crew how to do comedy, the way comedy needs to be done. Says I, using the voice of Eccles, to Malcolm who hailed from Aberdeen: “All you hairy Scotsmen, today we’re gonna march north to England!” To which Malcolm would responded with the voice of Neddie Seagoon “But England’s to the south!” “Aye” says I, “We’re gonna march right round the world and sneak up on them!”
Our co-workers thought we were mad, but I loved that old guy, right up until the moment he left us. I remember sitting by his hospital bed as he lay dying, we’d exhausted all the Goon bits we could remember, and the rattle of Malcolm’s breathing warned me that it wouldn’t be long. When all of a sudden, he sat right up in bed and demanded to know what Jesus was all about. Never once, in all the time I’d known him had we ever mentioned Jesus to one another. I’d kept my mouth shut on anything remotely connected with religion simply because every single time anyone else mentioned religion, Malcolm would become incensed. Malcolm was positively vulgar on the subject of religion and I for one didn’t want to risk our friendship by saying anything remotely religious.
“Come on tell me, what was Jesus all about? Quickly, I don’t have much time!” Malcolm pointed to the Easter cards which the nurses had lined up on the windowsill. “There look at them” he’d taken on the voice of Seagoon, “If those cards are anything to go by, then Jesus must have been a bunny rabbit, hopping through a field of daffodils.” Trying with my best Eccles voice, I could only muster the classic Eccles conundrum, “He’s goon but he’s not forgotten.”
Sorry, you’ll just have to Google it because it is Easter after all, and my task here is Malcolm’s question, “What is Jesus all about?”
I believe that Jesus is all about the story; a parable to be exact. I’m not just talking about the parables which Jesus told. I’m talking about the Parable of Jesus. The Parable of Jesus is not about his death, although Jesus does die, but then again, in the Parable, he is dead, but he won’t lie down. The Parable of Jesus is not all about Jesus’ death, nor is it about life after death. The Parable of Jesus is about so much more than individual salvation from some vengeful god. The Parable of Jesus is about the context in which Jesus was born, the oppression under which Jesus lived, and the passion with which Jesus embodied non-violent resistance to the powers of domination, a commitment which Jesus was willing to die in order to teach the world that justice and not violence is the way to the peace we long for.
The Parable of Jesus is a Parable of Resistance. The Parable of Jesus is about resistance to a way of being that is based upon selfishness and greed. The Parable of Jesus is about a vision of a new way of being in which the abundance of Creation is shared by all, so that everyone has enough in order to live their lives. Jesus insisted, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Jesus’ understanding that the MYSTERY responsible for creating life is so much more than a tribal deity who favours one tribe over the other. Jesus spoke of this MYSTERY as an ABBA, a PARENT, with which we are ONE. Jesus’ understood this ABBA’s primary concern for the people of the world, all the people of the world, is that we LOVE ONEanother. Jesus took the best of the teachings of his people when he highlighted as the most important rule of their religious teaching that we LOVE one another and added a new twist, spelling out exactly how we are to LOVE one another. In the Parable of Jesus, on the night before Jesus is executed, he gives his followers a New Commandment that we LOVE ONE another in the same way as Jesus’ loved them.
We don’t have to look very far into the Parable of Jesus to see exactly how Jesus loved. The Parable of Jesus contains all sorts of little parables about the way in which Jesus loved without discrimination, the lowest and the least, the outcasts and the sinners, and the powerless, comforting, feeding, healing, eating and drinking with them. As for enemies, the powerful, the self-centered, the wealthy, Jesus called his followers NOT to take up the sword against them, but to lay down their arms, to love them. Jesus urged his followers to live self-less-ly, giving extravagantly, as they learned new ways to LOVE one another.
In the Parable of Jesus, we meet a person willing to sacrifice, to make holy every aspect of his being in order to resist the forces of empire. Jesus steadfastly he resisted violence as a way to resist. Jesus’ whole life proclaims that peace cannot be achieved through violence, peace is born of justice,
justice not just for the rich and powerful, but justice for all. Jesus resisted violence. He resisted the trappings of his fame. Jesus even resisted the temptations of his own power, even in the face of the one thing we humans fear most of all, death.
According to the Parable of Jesus, not even death can kill Jesus’ vision of the Reign of GOD, what Jesus called the basileia ton theon, the Reign of the MYSTERY which Jesus understood as the ABBA, the LOVing Parent. Not even death at the hands of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, could kill Jesus’ vision of the Reign of ABBA, in which justice prevails.
Jesus’ idea of justice did not include revenge. Jesus understood justice to be distributive. Distributive justice ensures that everyone has enough to live life abundantly. After the empire had done its worst, after Jesus was executed for resisting the powers of the Empire, his followers came to understand Jesus teachings, and they too became non-violent resisters who looked to the Parable of Jesus’ resistance to encourage their quest for peace through justice.
But the temptations of empire are powerful, and over time, the all too human fear of death softened Jesus’ followers commitment to resistance. Over time, the followers of Jesus were co-opted by the very temptations Jesus resisted all his life, even unto death. Eventually, Jesus’ resistance was softened, as people returned to the old ways of trying to establish peace through the empire’s violence. As Jesus’ resistance was softened, the people’s vision of Jesus’ ABBA was hardened, indeed the Father became known as a vengeful, punishing parent, who employed threats not unlike the Empire’s torture.
Sadly, the Parable of Jesus’ Resistance, became a quid pro quo with the powers that be. Resist the empire which the church had become and be damned to eternal punishment. NO wonder resistance was forsaken in favour of bunnies and chocolate, as Jesus himself became an opiate which if swallowed produced a kind of euphoria which promised heavenly rewards in some other life-time, allowing the people to forget the creation of heaven here on Earth. Resistance was set aside in favour of acquiescence in the service of the empires created by wealth. The forces of the empires of Rome and the religious authorities may have killed Jesus, but according to the Parable of Jesus, not even death could kill Jesus’ vision of the basileia ton theon. We catch glimpses of Jesus’ vison, here and there, wherever and whenever people resist the temptations of empire. You’ve all seen glimpses of the basileia ton theon, whenever peace breaks out not because of violence, for this is no peace at all, but mearly a lull in the violence. You’ve seen the basilea ton theon when peace is established because justice prevails, when justice and not violence creates the kind of peace where LOVE flourishes.
That’s the Easter part of the Parable of Jesus, the time and place when resurrection happens. When and where the LOVE which Jesus embodied resists the temptations to selfishness, greed, and violence. Those moments when LOVE rises up and people are empowered by their LOVE for one another, to resist injustice, to champion justice for people everywhere. The Parable of Jesus is just a story told by idealistic, religious, fools, when it is fed by those who intoxicated by the temptations of empire. But the Parable of Jesus still holds the power of resurrection within the transforming LOVE which is embodied in the life, the teachings, the death, and the powerful legacy of Jesus’ resistance.
For it is Jesus’ vision of the basileia ton theon, the Reign of ABBA in which the power to be LOVE in the world is resurrected each and every time LOVE is embodied in the world. For the REIGN of the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call GOD, is already here, in the life of each and every person who resists selfishness, resists greed, resists the hunger for power, resists complacency, resists hatred born of fear, resists me first, resists not with violence but with the quest for justice, not the punitive justice born of our self-centred desire to punish, but the distributive justice of Jesus vision of a world in which everyone has enough to live fully, love extravagantly and be all that we are created to be.
The Parable of Jesus is a powerful parable of resistance which does not end with Jesus’ death. Death does not have the final world in this powerful parable of resistance, because death cannot destroy the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being, precisely because LOVE has being in, with, through, and beyond us. LOVE lives, LOVE dies, and LOVE comes again and again and again.
As the rattle in Malcolm’s chest weakened, his grip on my hand tightened. I could almost see the young man he once was, leaning in close to the wireless so that he could hear every silly word the Goons broadcast. I couldn’t help but smile, which when Malcolm noticed, he asked me what I was smiling about. I told him that the folks in the afterlife weren’t going to know what hit them once he arrived. “So, you think I’m going to Heaven then?” “You don’t believe in Heaven.” I reminded him.
“That’s because I’m not there yet. It will be heaven once I get there.” That’s our Malcolm, “There’s always something that needs doing to make things better for everyone!”
It was standing room only at Malcolm’s funeral. Dozens of people stood up to remind us of Malcolm’s super-powers. Last night as I was remembering my old friend Malcolm, I couldn’t help laughing when I thought of an old line from a long-ago Goon Show. I think it was the character of Bluebottle, who was played by Peter Sellers, who was always being killed off, or as the Goons would have it Bluebottle was always being “deaded”. Each time Bluebottle would be “deaded” he would rise up and go on talking. I can still remember Malcolm saying in his Seagoon voice, “He’s deaded, but he won’t lie down.” Laughing in the face of death is an old Easter tradition because at Easter, death is always the butt of the joke. “He’s “deaded” but he won’t lie down.”
Malcolm’s passion for justice, his visions of making heaven here on Earth, they live on in each and every person that Malcolm ever loved. Jesus’ passion for peace through justice, this LOVE which people encountered in the life and teachings of Jesus could not be conquered by death. LOVE rises again and again and again. On this Easter morning it may appear as if LOVE has died and is buried in the tomb of our stupidity. But I assure you that not even death will have the final word; not death in the Ukraine, or South Africa, or Myanmar, or in the violent streets of corporate greed, or the lonely hovels in which people die unjustly from hunger and disease.
LOVE may indeed be deaded but LOVE won’t lie down for long. LOVE is risen. LOVE is risen indeed. In every act of resistance inspired by the vison of the already and not yet Reign of LOVE. Resistance is the only kind of resurrection we need in order to create the peace we long for.
Death cannot conquer LOVE. Not as long as LOVE is embodied in the world. Every act of LOVE resurrects our hunger for justice and inspires our desire to be LOVE in the world. LOVE even if it is deaded won’t lie down. LOVE never lies down for long. ay we all know the power of LOVE rising in us!
My GOD, My GOD, why? On Good Friday, it is so difficult to know where to begin. My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? The Hebrew Psalmist’s cry ought to be enough. My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? But on Good Friday, which is anything but Good, it is my own selfish cry, “My GOD, My GOD, WHY?” which seems like as good a place as any to begin. But then there is nothing “good” about Good Friday, not even where we begin, which is of course in agony.
So, let us not begin with the “MY” part of this plea for answers, but with the “GOD” part. “GOD” such a little word for the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL this IS, WAS, and EVER MORE SHALL BE. The MYSTERY in which we live, and move, and have our BEING, the MYSTERY which has BEING in, with, through, and beyond us. The MYSTERY responsible for the creation of the Cosmos and therefore the ONE which must BE BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also;
certainly the ONE beyond any and all words, any of us can utter. This ONE is the ONE to which when all is said and done, when the worst of all possible things happens, this is the ONE to which each of us cry, which in and of itself, make us all ONE. My GOD, My GOD, why?
And so, like his ancestors before him, and those who will follow in his wake, when the worst of all things happens to him, Jesus cries out, “My GOD, My GOD, why?” So, let the reality of the MYSTERY of our GOD, move us beyond the details articulated with mere words, so that we might catch a glimpse of the WHY of it ALL. Why death? Why not just any death, which must come to us all, but why such needless death, at the hands of ourselves, why such violent death? My GOD, My GOD, why? Why violence? Violence the word we use to describe the physical force used to cause injury, damage, or death. Violence we can define. Violence we can know. Perhaps more importantly, violence we can feel. We can feel it when it is applied to our person and worse yet we can feel it when it rises up in us. Violence is all too familiar for violence too has the power to make us one; one in the perpetration of violence, one as we perish from violence inflicted upon us, and one in our fear of violence. Violence disturbs our peace and violence motivates our desire to become strong enough to resist the violence of others. No wonder our ancient ancestors imagined the MYSTERY responsible for Creation as super-heroes powerful enough to save them from violence. My GOD, My GOD, why?
My GOD is bigger than your GOD. My GOD’s violence can defeat your GOD’s violence. My father can beat your father. My GOD will not forsake me. And if your violence is stronger than my violence, it is not because your god is strong than MY GOD, for surely therein lies the despair which leads only to madness, the kind of madness in which we are consumed by our fears. Within our fear is where violence gestates. Surely, any defeat is not down to the power of our GOD, but rather to some offence or other we have given to our GOD, who because of such an offence our GOD has chosen to forsake us. And there you have it, our need to placate the POWER of the ONE who IS. What can we offer to placate the anger of such a ONE? What will return our god to our side, ensuring our victory? What can we mere mortals offer to make atonement with the HOLY ONE?
Questions, heaped upon questions, as one violent tragedy leads to another. Our historians, our archeologists, and our anthropologists can point to the sacrifice of humans to the gods, here, there, and everywhere. Sacrifice which literally means to make holy, “sacrem facere”. To restore to wholeness our relationship with that which is BEYOND our words. So, it is beyond the words themselves to the stories handed down from one fear-filled generation to another that we must turn with the same old question, My GOD, My GOD, why? Why have you forsaken me? us? In favour of them? Our Hebrew ancestors tell the story told to end the violence born of fear’s attempt to sacrem facere. It is a story told by the WISDOM bearers of old to put an end to human sacrifice.
Abraham the Father of nations, learned the difficult lesson of the ONE who IS BEYOND our fear, YAHWEH, the Great I AM, the ONE who will BE. It is a story which was told to put an end to human sacrifice, in which the son Isaac is spared the violent death, the making holy by the offering of a life, the spilling of blood, to placate a DIVINITY which has no need of sacrifice. But the WISDOM of moving beyond our fear, beyond our primitive attempts to placate the ULTIMATE POWER, which the most precious things we can offer, life itself, upon the altar of our fear, the WISDOM of forsaking violence as the answer, was stillborn, killed in us by the very fears which gave it birth.
So, another story is born. A story designed to turn our ways of thinking upside down. A parable if you will. The parable of Jesus. Not a parable told by Jesus. But rather the parable of Jesus. The story of a life and death, for you can’t have one without the other; the story of a life and death told to put an end to making violence holy, the end of the sacrem facere of violence.
As the story is told, over and over again, the GREAT I AM, the FATHER of FATHERS, is cast as both the recipient and the giver, indeed even as the instigator of an act so horrendous in its violence that surely will put an end to making violence holy. For even if the myth of Abraham and Isaac, a myth designed to carry the truth that violence cannot make our fear holy in order to create peace.
For the ONE who we call GOD cannot by refusing such a sacrifice convince us to put an end to human sacrifice, perhaps in the sacrifice of GOD’s own beloved son, we can see the inability of such violence to make anything HOLY. So, the parable of Jesus is told over and over again. A parable created to put an end to violence. A parable in which Jesus lives within the brutality of violence refusing to become violent while all the while pointing to the I AM as ONE who has no need of our sacrifices. For Jesus came not to participate in violence, but that we might have life and live it abundantly. Life and not death.
The choice is ours and we have made it. We choose not Jesus’ life but his death, glorifying the violence, once again we offered blood to placate our GOD. Despite Jesus’ insistence that violence is not the answer. Despite everything Jesus lived for in every act of non-violent resistance, we refused to see that for Jesus, justice is the only way to make things holy.
Justice and not violence is the only way to peace.
In glorifying the violence which killed Jesus, we cannot see the parable of Jesus; a parable designed to move us away from sacrificing human lives to violence born of fear.
Look beyond the violence to the life of Jesus and you will see a human-being struggling to move beyond the notion that violence can save us from what we fear most in life, only LOVE can do that. For if the life of Jesus teaches us anything it is that LOVE conquers fear. Jesus embodied that LOVE, insisting that, “I and the Abba, the Father, are ONE.” You and I and the LOVE we call GOD we are ONE, nothing can separate us from this LOVE, not even death.
The parable of Jesus is the story of a life which embodies LOVE, the LOVE which continues to allure us beyond our fear, beyond our violence, beyond death itself. Jesus saw a DIVINITY which was more than the sum of our fears. Jesus called us to a vision of the HOLY which invites us to forgo violence as the answer to our fear, a vision of the HOLY which offers justice and not violence as the way beyond our fears into the peace we long for.
Like all parables there is a twist, a moment when our expectations are turned upside down. Along the way, Jesus embodies LOVE, calls for justice as the way to peace, and steadfastly refuses to resort to violence no matter how fearful his oppressors become. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE gives us a glimpse of LOVE’s life in the world. This parable of LOVE in the flesh opens us to the possibility of a new way of being in the world.
The WISDOM is clear, justice must prevail if we are to live beyond our fears. But Jesus’ way of being makes us nervous. For who are we to challenge the power of empire, the biggest baddest perpetrators of violence are all around us? We fear for Jesus’ life. We are afraid that we cannot embrace what Jesus taught us. We long for a superhero to save Jesus from our fear. My GOD, My GOD, why? Jesus the perfect one, why does he have to die? Our fear looms large, and our god becomes small, smaller than the vision of Jesus. Jesus’ vision of the ABBA with which we are ONE, is too much for us to bear. For if we are ONE with the DIVINE then it is we who have forsaken Jesus.
The parable does its work, but we are afraid, so we forsake the parable. We confine the power of the myth so that the truths it reveals can be managed.
We are afraid to embody LOVE, to forgo violence, to seek peace through justice, to be LOVE in the world. So, our fears echo the shouts of those who would “Crucify him. Crucify him” and once again Jesus is sacrificed to placate the gods we have become. The parable of Jesus takes us into the darkness of our very selves, as LOVE dies in us, sacrificed to our fears. The parable of Jesus leaves us with but a glimpse of peace, pointing as Jesus does to a MYSTERY beyond our fear, beyond the power of death itself.
My GOD, My GOD, why? Until we see that we are in GOD and GOD is in us, we will not see that we are the ONES to whom Jesus cries, My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? Will death have the final word? Can LOVE rise in us? My GOD, My GOD, when will the violence end? My GOD, My GOD when will we put an end to violence born of fear? My GOD, My GOD, why have we forsaken Jesus?
Maundy Thursday marks a turning point, not only for Holy Week, but also for the way in which Christianity functions in the world. For quite some time now, I have been struggling to pinpoint just where Christianity went wrong. I confess that for years now, I’ve conveniently pointed to the year 312, when the emperor Constantine formally adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is a convenient scapegoat, partly because we can point our fingers and say, There, right there the followers of a passionate, non-violent, radical resister, to the domination of empires, right there by imperial fiat, these rag tag communities of non-violent resisters were transformed into a new kind of empire; an empire that would go on to create the Doctrine of Discovery, justify violence, and plunder the planet so that it could dominate the power structures of countries, nations and lands all over the globe. Right there, with Constantine, that’s where it all went wrong.
If only this were that simple, then all we’d need to do is dress Constantine up as a scapegoat and drive him from our midst. After all, Holy Week, of all the days in the Church year, Holy Week provides so many opportunities for scapegoating. However, despite the reality that Christianity was indeed joined in unholy matrimony with the forces of empire by Constantine, the impetus for this coupling can be seen in the betrayal of LOVE which occurred on the very night which Christians commemorate each and every Maundy Thursday.
Now, before you pounce upon another scapegoat, let me assure you that I’m not pointing to the betrayal of Judas Iscariot as the one responsible for Christianity’s getting into bed with the domination forces of his day. Sadly, there are more betrayers on Maundy Thursday than we can ever begin to count. For it is our focus which betrays us. It is our focus which betrays the teaching and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We who call ourselves Christian, and so many who went before us, touting their love for Jesus, we took our eyes off the “maundy” and there began our betrayal of everything Jesus lived his life to teach us.
When I ask people what Maundy Thursday is all about, the majority of good, faithful, followers of Jesus respond with sentences which include the phrase “last supper.” Which is of course correct. The anonymous gospel storytellers we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have provided the followers of Jesus with various accounts of the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his followers shortly before he was executed by the Empire for disturbing the Pax Romana. Out of those different accounts, the followers of Jesus adopted ways of remembering which were ritualized. Sadly, only one of these Last Supper rituals developed into a sacrament. Even more tragically, all too often this particular sacrament is “celebrated” as a sacrifice, complete with a scapegoat, or should I say a sacrificial lamb, whose blood is spilled in the minds and hearts of worshippers again and again and again.
Imperial Christians, that’s us, we who enjoy privileges established by the domination forces of various empires which have used Christianity as a sort of opiate of the masses, we have been betrayed by generations who have fixed their gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence. Indeed, lest we fall into the trap of scapegoating those who have gone before us, let us also remember our very own betrayal, for we too have fixed our gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence and we taken our focus off the “maundy” of that long ago supper, “maundy” from the Latin word for “commandment.” As the story is told, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: LOVE one another. And you’re to LOVE one another the way I have LOVED you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly LOVE one another.”
That we should “LOVE one another” is not a new commandment. There were many before Jesus, and many who came after Jesus who commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus’ commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. Which begs the question: How exactly did Jesus love? According to the story, which is told on Maundy Thursday, Jesus didn’t just tell those gathered around the meal to “LOVE one another” Jesus embodied LOVE in a way which demonstrated the way LOVE works in the world. The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John puts it this way: “Jesus realized that the hour had come for him to pass form this world to Abba God. He had always loved his own in this world, but now he showed how perfect this love was. The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus—knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God—rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with the towel that was around his waist. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Rabbi, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” Jesus answered, “You don’t realize what I AM doing right now, but later you’ll understand.”
By washing the feet of followers, Jesus humbles himself and provides an example of service that exemplifies how we are to carry out his new commandment that we love one another. And so, on Maundy Thursday, some churches participate in the ritual of washing one another’s feet as a way of embodying Jesus’ new commandment. But let’s face it, a ritual only sporadically embodied once a year doesn’t really have the same power as a ritual which became a sacrament and is now embodied again, and again, and again. There are very few people in the world who would identify Christians as foot washers. Christians are however identified as consumers of the body and blood of the Lamb of God.
Two rituals were born at Jesus’ last supper, but only one became a sacrament. Our focus upon ritual sacrifice would not be such a betrayal of Jesus’ new commandment if it were not for the way in which doctrines of atonement have cast the sacrament of the meal, the eucharist, Holy Communion as a sort of commemoration of a violent bargain struck with a violent god. I am well aware, that Communion can be and is often celebrated as a thanksgiving, or celebration of LOVE, but far too many of us have focussed our gaze on the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as the ultimate scapegoat, the divinely ordained blood sacrifice. I can’t but help asking what ought to be an obvious question: What might christianity have become with a focus on foot washing? Could foot washers have embodied Jesus’ new commandment in such a way as to create a more humble christianity; a christianity less palatable to empire?
We will never know the answer to this question. But we can ask it anew. What if we 21st century followers of Jesus, shifted our focus away from the myth of redemptive violence and toward the embodiment of LOVE? Imagine if you will, a community humble enough to wash one another’s feet, sitting down to a holy meal. What might we become if we allow the story of the last supper help us to understand that it is our focus and not Judas that betrays Jesus? As foot-washers instead of scapegoaters, might we learn new ways of embodying Jesus’ new commandment to LOVE one another? Might shifting our focus help us to see new ways of being LOVE in the world?
All things considered; I can’t see the ritual of foot washing becoming a sacrament any time soon. Not unless we are prepared to imagine what foot washing might look like here and now, in our day, in our time. Imagine all the opportunities a shift in our focus might reveal. What might Jesus’ new commandment look like in the face of the empires in which we are entwined? Can you see yourself embodying LOVE as you do whatever you can, whenever you can to tend to the needs of your neighbour, to care for even the betrayers you encounter, or to humbly open yourself to ridicule for the sake of LOVE?
We know all too well, that the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well. Our world is rife with the impacts of violence. But it is not just out there in the world that violence lives. It is in here (within me). For I too am compelled by the alure of violence as a solution. Violence is alive in me, and it lives in you.
So, as we anticipate the events we will commemorate tomorrow, Good Friday, I hope we can see that it is violence which will kill LOVE, and more importantly, it is LOVE which dies not just on Good Friday, but each and every time that violence triumphs. Whether LOVE is crucified on a cross, or in the streets of Ukraine, or the jungles of Myanmar, or in the darkest reaches of corporate empires, or in the palatial homes of the rich and powerful, LOVE is crucified over and over again. LOVE dies, and it is LOVE which lies in the grave of our being, in need of resurrection.
But death will not have the final word. For we do not live as ones without hope. LOVE dies. LOVE will rise. LOVE will live again. So, let us remember Jesus’ last supper. Let us remember, trusting that there nothing in heaven or on Earth which can separate us from the LOVE which is DIVINITY. May the power of the ONE which allures us into LOVE, shift our focus so that we can see beyond the violence, beyond the death of LOVE, to the resurrection of LOVE as we learn to embody Jesus’ new commandment to LOVE one another.
Earlier this morning, a child was baptized. I do not know all the details of his baptism. But let me tell you what I do know. Little Lev was born on March 10. Little Lev was baptized this morning, on the one-month anniversary of his birth. Little Lev’s baptism took place at Saints Peter & Paul Garrison, Catholic Church in Lviv, Ukraine. Little Lev is our brother in CHRIST, as are the proud members of his family who paused as they were leaving the Church, just long enough to speak to a Canadian reporter, who up to this point had been interviewing Father Stephan Sus about his work in Lviv. In the midst of the chaos, which is Ukraine, Father Stephan spoke about life. Five funerals yesterday, a wedding and a baptism this morning. Father Stephan is from Kiev, where he hopes to return soon.
But for now, he is busy, tending to the needs of our sisters and brothers in CHRIST. Father Stephan spoke about the ways in which life continues even in the face of what he described as “the evil of our enemies” who “want to destroy the people” who “want to destroy the peace of Ukraine.”
Father Stephan described his work helping to “receive migrants to Lviv” having coffee with mourners, tending the cemetery, providing meals for those in need, comfort to the wounded. Father Stephan spoke about continuing with what he called, “existing life here during the war.” Existing life, like Little Lev’s baptism. He reminded us that “children are being born and couples are getting married.” He said, “we are trying to live because we understand that to be alive is to be strong to fight this evil which wants to destroy life.” Father Stephan is our brother in CHRIST.
This is not the sermon I wrote to preach this morning, not on this particular Palm Sunday. For the past two years, our Holy Week commemorations have seen us locked down inside our homes. We have waited a long time to be able to gather here in this place, to return to “normal” if you will. Much has changed over the past two years. Today, we are living a new kind of normal. We have grown accustomed to the changing realities of COVID and the divisions various public health precautions have inspired among us. Our new normal has been shattered this past month by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the shock of the daily images of destruction and slaughter which invade our screens each and every day, even that is becoming normal. I confess, my own desire to look away from the daily bombardments to shield myself from the images of blurred out bodies lying in the once suburban streets, which look very much like our streets. This has become routine, a kind of normal for us. So, I try to limit my exposure to the news in order to preserve my own mental health. I check in each morning. It has become a bit of a routine. I turn on the news. I allow the horror to touch me, just for bit, and then I move on with my day. War in Ukraine has found its way into our normal routines.
Today, marks the beginning of a break in our normal routines as we embark upon the week which we call Holy. For centuries, Christians have marked Holy Week by tracing Jesus of Nazareth’s journey to Jerusalem, bearing witness to the events which lead up to Jesus’ execution. We begin today with the joyous celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, knowing that it will lead his, betrayal, his arrest, torture, his trial, and his execution. So, here we are bearing witness to a parade which happened nearly 2000 years ago. A parade in which our brother in CHRIST, Jesus of Nazareth publicly demonstrated against what New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan calls the incredible “drag of normalcy.” Life in the first century had its own sense of normal. Jerusalem had been occupied by the Romans for decades, and the routine cruelties of Empire were normal. The celebration of the Passover happened against the backdrop of this oppression. The Empire demonstrated its power by exerting additional hardships during a time when pilgrims flocked to the city to commemorate the pass over, where their ancestors were delivered from yet another oppressor. Rome’s military might was on full display.
It was also normal for some people to rebel against the status quo. So, the religious authorities, they flexed their own muscles in order to keep the people in line. All in all, it was a normal kind of celebration, despite the violence of Empire. Even though in their heart of hearts the people longed for a messiah to save them from their oppression. A messiah the likes of King David, who would ride in with majesty and strength to put down their oppressors and lead them to victory. And along comes Jesus, moseying into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. No military might. Resisting the temptations of violence and yet still turning the heads of the crowd if only for a moment. And we all know how it will end. Rome will do what empires always do, they will crush Jesus, make an example of him. Jesus will become an instrument of their terrorism. The people Jesus longed to awaken to a new way of being will not just turn their heads away, they will join in the crushing because Jesus threatens their own status quo. How dare he expect them to change their ways now! The have spent their lives accommodating the evils of empire. They’ve made their peace with violence; they have put their faith in power, in strength, and in might. Soon, so very soon, they too will cheer on the executioners, the powers that be. Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!
It’s perfectly normal. Totally expected. Over and over again the strong, the powerful, the violent, stomp all over the weak, the powerless, the idealistic dreamers, who dream of a different way of being in the world. So, why are we here? Why do we choose to bear witness to a parade which demonstrated that resistance to violence is a dead end? Why do we still talk about resisting violence when we know that it leads to death? I expect that we are here for all sorts of reasons, many of them quite normal under the circumstances. Some of us are here looking for company as we navigate our new normal. Some of us are here out of a sense of longing for the way things used to be. Some of us are here just because it’s Sunday and that’s what you do on Sundays. But I hope that in each of us, deep down, we are also here because we are sick and tired of normal. I hope that somewhere inside each of us there is pent-up desire for a messiah, a saviour, who will hear our Hosannas and save us from the incredible drag of normalcy.
I hope that some of us are here to access hope for a new way of being in the world! A way that resists that pull into the normalcy of violence. I hope that the reality that even though the powers that be threw everything they had at Jesus, perpetrated the worst kind of violence upon him that is humanly possible, even though Jesus died up there on that bloody cross, death did not have the final word. Jesus’ dream of peace through justice, of a world where everyone has enough, and greed is replaced with generosity, and shalom becomes a reality, Jesus’ dream never died. Death did not and will not have the final word. The hope for resurrection is waiting to burst forth.
This morning, our little baby brother, Lev was baptized into this hope. In the midst of all the violence, our brother Father Stephan, spoke about the support the Ukrainian people feel from the people of Canada, from North America and from Europe. It would be perfectly normal for us to turn our backs, to walk away, to get on with our lives. Especially, when the pundits keep telling us that it is only a matter of time, Russia will win this war. They have the military advantages.
Our brother, Father Stephan spoke this morning about his sadness yesterday at the five funerals for those who did not survive the violence. Father Stephen insisted that, “despite the sadness, we are living as a people who still have hope. We are not hopeless,” he went on, “but those who live with hope, hope in victory, hope that we will continue our life, hope that we will stop the war. Every funeral for us,” he said, “but also a moment for sadness and also a moment for hope. We are as a faithful people, in providing these funerals, we hope that one day we will meet our friends, our guys, our military, in the heaven we would together be. But now, during the funeral we are feeling responsibility that we have to follow their example and do all these good things which they show by their life, defending our country, defending the people, and dignity of human beings, the people in this war.”
A perfectly normal thing for a priest to say. I felt myself slipping back into the myth of redemptive violence, longing for some of that military might. But then my brother Stephan became the voice of hope, when he insisted, “We never stop to repeat that our hero’s never die. It means that they are living forever. Why because they never stopped to love, they laid down their lives to love this world, to love the people, to love their neighbours, and I think against all this hate, and evil which we see in the faces of our enemies, we are trying to be a people who are ready to love.”
Ready to love against all this hate, and evil. Father Stephan’s words ring out as the answer to our Hossannas. For we are the messiah. The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives and moves and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. As for the faces of our enemies, Jesus’ dream that we can see in the faces of our enemies that they too are our sisters and brothers in CHRIST, this dream is our hope for resurrection.
Today, we can see the cross on the horizon, and there will be many more crosses ahead. There will be more violence, and more death. This is the normal state of affairs in our world. But this morning our little brother Lev was baptized into the Body of Christ. This morning, in Russia little sisters and brothers were also baptized. We do not live as ones without hope. Let the hosannas of our little sisters and brothers, friends and foe alike, let their hosannas ring in our ears and move our hearts to be LOVE in the world.
LOVE is not yet the normal way of being in the world. There are crosses which must be endured.
But death has not and will not have the final word. For we live in hope. Our hope lies in the not yet and already here Reign of LOVE in which justice and not violence is the way to peace. We live in hope by living lives, unafraid to be messiahs, bearing LOVE as we encounter the crosses of this world.
There are many crosses in sight and many more crosses beyond our sight, but there are many, many, many, more resurrections ahead. Resurrection will happen each and every time LOVE is brought to life in the world, in the tending of the sick, harboring of the homeless, healing the wounded, and seeking justice for the oppressed, and most of all in loving our neighbours and most of all in learning to love our enemies. This is the work of messiahs. Responding to hosannas, wherever and whenever we hear people crying out for LOVE. Let us be that LOVE in the world. Here and now. Amen.
“I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke places these words on the lips of Jesus, and I have no difficulty believing this story of Jesus’ response to those who were grieving the tragedy of the deaths of the Galileans whose blood had been spilled as the result of political violence. “I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” This is as true now as it was then. We shall all come to the same end unless we change our ways.
“Change our ways.” This phrase is translated from the Greek word metanoia – and I’ve spoken about metanoia many times — it is all too often translated simply as repent. Sadly, our understanding of the English word repent, is scarcely capable of capturing the depth of meaning in the Greek word metanoia. Taken at its most literal, the word metanoia means to turn around, to go another way. In first century Palestine, metanoia was often used to communicate the need to change the way you think, the way you see things, they way you respond to things, the way you act. To do things differently, to change our ways. To go beyond the mind you have, the way you think and respond to life or to change our ways. Unless we change our ways, we will all end up like the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their own sacrifices in the Temple.
Pontius Pilate, the appointee of the Empire which dominated the people in the lands it invaded with an iron fist. Pontius Pilate, so wicked that even his own Roman over-lords couldn’t stomach his abuses. So vile was Pilate, that even the powers that be in Rome were forced in the end to relieve him of his post and summon him back to Rome to face charges, for what today, we would call war crimes.
The Galileans of which Jesus’ spoke are believed to have been, the news of the day, the latest victims of Pilate’s cruelty, pilgrims to Jerusalem murdered on Pilate’s orders, their blood spilled as a public example to obey the Empire. Did they deserve their fate? The oppressed peoples of Palestine certainly didn’t believe so. They were good people, pilgrims fulfilling their religious obligation to visit the Temple, publicly displaying their piety. Then murdered in the public square, in front of the Temple, no less. A violation of everything the people held dear. Such good people, they surely didn’t deserve to die.
Why do bad things have to happen to good people? I don’t know about you, but that question resonates a little too well for me, right now. It rises from deep within my very core, causing my entire body rock back and forth. I’ve recognized this question rocking the bodies of others several times in the past few weeks. Most vividly of late in a young man, a boy really, a boy forced to grow up, far too soon. He’s kneeling before the butchered body of his mother, head in his hands, his whole body rocking back and forth, his mother’s blood running in the bombed-out street of a far-off town in Ukraine. His pain beamed around the world and into our own living-rooms, and it caused me to rock back and forth with him.
Why. It is a question on the lips of countless sisters and brothers all over the world this very morning. A question rocking the bodies of countless millions grieving, those who are grieving the spilling of blood and the oppression in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Myanmar, in Ukraine and in countless other locations all over the world. “I tell you, we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.” Metanoia. Metanoia. Metanoia. You would think we would have learned by now. How much more innocent blood must be spilled before we learn that we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.
Hypersonic. Hypersonic missiles. I’d never even heard of hypersonic missiles until just a few days ago. Nor had I thought much about NORAD recently. Remember NORAD? I’m old enough to remember those drills in school where we were taught that in the event of a nuclear attack we should hid under our wooden desks. We laugh at it now. It was as a child in school crouching under my desk, that I learned the acronym NORAD. North American Aerospace Defense Command. This week, the Canadian Commander General of NORAD warned us all about the treat of supersonic missiles something I’d never heard of before. But he warned us of this threat, these missiles which he predicted might lobbed in our direction. Then he came in with his clincher: the reality that we have no way to stop them. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bad things it seems can happen even to good, upstanding, peace-loving Canadians. Albert Einstein is often credited with having lamented that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. Metanoia! “We’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.”
I know. I tried not to do this. This should be a day of celebration. It’s been two long years of pandemic isolation, and here we are together, in the flesh. It’s the first day of spring. We should be celebrating. We should be jumping for joy! We should be filled with the excitement as we anticipate what the future holds. And all this preacher can offer you is a warning. No wonder, churches can’t attract people back into their buildings. I could sugar-coat all of this. I know colleagues who do. No talk about what’s happening in the world. Let us pray. Let us just bow our heads and pray.
Maybe our prayers will stop us from rocking back and forth in despair. I too would like something more to offer Jesus saying, “you’ll all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” That’s the thing about truth, we know it deep within the very core of our being, that place where the rocking back and forth begins. The place where our “Why?” questions are kept. Deep within us. We know that unless we change our ways blood will continue to be spilled.
We also know that there are so very many of our ways which need to be changed in order to end the violence. Justice is a difficult taskmaster. Peace, real peace, the shalom Jesus lived for, demands armies of justice-seekers in order that peace can break out all over the planet. There’s so much to do. We are enmeshed in systems, in ways of being which demand the oppression, the poverty and the inevitable spilling of blood of innocents. What can we possibly do to achieve justice in the kinds of empires of domination in which we continue to live, and move, and have our being? We are but a handful of people. What can we possibly do?
Well, it turns out that there is so very much we can do. For we are wonderfully and beautifully made, capable of such astonishing deeds of compassion. Millions and millions of us have mobilized, armed only with our desire to offer comfort and support. About a million people a week have fled their homes in Ukraine. Their neighbours in Poland, Romania, Moldovia, Hungry, and various other places, they have opened their arms in welcome, offering shelter and comfort. Millions and millions and millions of dollars have been offered to meet humanitarian needs. They may have escaped the media’s attention but aid agencies, continue to mobilize colossal responses to the needs of those who are suffering in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and countless other places were innocent people are suffering from the oppression and violence perpetrated by the empires in which we are enmeshed.
Yes, the needs are many and the workers are few. But we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We can shrink in despair, or we can roll up our sleeves, join together, pool our wisdom and our resources, and tend the vineyard. That’s what prayer is. Prayer begins with our “why?” moving deep within us. Prayer flows through our tears and rocks our bodies in ways we have the power to ignore and the power to respond to with action.
Yes, the suffering is immense. Yes, the injustice, the oppression, the hatred, and the greed seems insurmountable. Yes, it is tempting to offer up a few prayers, post something positive on social media, wear a ribbon, and then shake it off, move on to the next thing, comforting ourselves with the idea that we are only one person. What can we possibly do in the face of so much suffering in the world? We can do? What can we do? We can do what we all too often do; we can allow ourselves the luxury of turning away. We can turn away and we can resign ourselves to the fact that we can’t change and so, yes we too shall perish. Or we can refuse to accept that we are less than splendid creatures. Billions of years of evolution resulted in the creation of our species. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
We can do so much more than we are doing. We can change our ways. The MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of REALTY lives, and moves, and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. We are intimately connected to one another in ways which will take more than our lifetimes to comprehend. We are in the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE and this LOVE which is DIVINITY is in us. Each one of us is a beautiful expression of the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE. The SPIRIT of LOVE has been at work for billions of years finding expression in the wonders of Creation. Right here and right now, this LOVE is expressed in, with, through and beyond us, seeking justice and making peace.
Unless we change our ways, we will perish. So, might I suggest that we begin by changing up our questions a little. How about instead of “why” we begin to ask “what?” What will people learn about the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY when they encounter us? What LOVE will they discover living in, with, and through us? What justice will they see us seeking? What peace will they see us making? When people encounter us, “What” expression of DIVINITY will they encounter us?
Don’t like the question “what?” Then ask, “HOW?” How can I embody the LOVE which is the SOURCE of all being, right here and right now? How can I become the answer to my prayers? How can I become the answer to their prayers? Maybe now is not the time for our questions. Maybe now is the time for us to change our ways, so that no more blood needs to be spilled. We, together with all those we are intimately connected with, we are the answer to our prayers, to our questions, to our longings for justice and peace.
There is so very much more that we can do, right here and right now. Let us join our efforts to the efforts of the countless millions who are right now, seeking justice, right now making peace. Yes, there is lots of work for us to do. More work than we can even begin to imagine. But when we begin to understand that LOVE finds expression in us, LOVE which is beyond our ability to even begin to imagine, finds expression in us, then we begin to see endless possibilities.
There’s a mishmash of quotes attributed to the Talmud which has been going around these days, which has become for me an answer to, the seemingly endless work which lies before us. It goes like this, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon the work.” The good news is we are fearfully and wonderfully made, capable of changing our ways. So, let us metanoia, now. For we have a whole lot of LOVE in us and a whole lot of LOVing to do. Metanoia, now. Be LOVE in the world. Now.
The images of the horrific war in Ukraine together with the prescribed readings for this second Sunday in LENT have me thinking about tribalism. My first temptation was to ignore the first reading from Genesis. I was not planning to include it in our worship because we have all born witness to far too much bloodshed as our sisters and brothers of Ukraine are relentlessly attacked, killed, and wounded by our sisters and brothers of Russia. This week, I have heard the word unimaginable uttered by pundits and friends alike and each time it is expressed I want to scream, “this bloodshed is all too imaginable! Indeed, this bloodshed is part of the foundational imaginings of our very own tribes. We need not look farther than the Book of Genesis to soak ourselves in our own bloodthirsty imaginings!”
The story which will be read in worship services of most mainline Christian church this very Sunday is a foundational myth about the patriarch of the world’s three powerful religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Our foundational myth from the 15th chapter of the Book of Genesis, goes like this: the word of YAHWEH came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I AM your shield; I will make your reward very great.” Abram said, “But my Sovereign, My God, what good are these blessings to me, so long as Sarai and I will die in disgrace? My only heir is a foreigner who lives in my household, Eliezer of Damascus. Since you have given me no offspring,” Abram continued, “An attendant in my house will be my heir.” Then the word of YAHWEH came to Abram and said, “This person will not be your heir. Your heir will be of your own flesh and blood.” Then God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can! As many as that, you will have for descendants.” Abram believed YAHWEH and God accounted it to Abram as righteousness. YAHWEH the said to Abram, “I AM YAHWEH who brought you from UR of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” Abram asked, “Sovereign God, how am I to know that I will possess it?” God answered Abram, Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”Abram brought all of these, cut them in half, and place each half opposite the other—except the birds, which he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell over Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadomonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Aorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18)
Here ends the reading. This is not the Gospel. Not because it is the first reading. But because it is not good news for anyone at all. There’s something about those bloodied, split, rotting carcasses which sealed the deal between God and Abraham that makes me wonder about the nature of the god we have projected into the heavens and ask: “Have we evolved at all?”
This foundational myth portrays the MYSTERY which we call “GOD” as a god who promises to “His” “Chosen People” a deal which reduces this god to little more than a churlish player in humanity’s game of tribal rivalry. I am aware that in the evolution of humanity tribalism has often served us well. I would even go so far as to agree that tribalism continues to serve us well.
New people to meet can be exciting or it can be frightening. Taking comfort with your own people is wonderful. But taking too much pride in your own kind is dangerous. One minute you’re cheering for your team the next minute you’re hurling insults at the other guy and one too many insults and the next thing you know you’re at war. A little tribalism is a good thing, but how much tribalism is too much? Tribalism is a basic human survival instinct. Tribalism is lodged deep within our psyches. It has been from the very beginning of time. Tribalism is part of our primordial selves. Tapping into this basic human instinct can mean the difference between survival and death. Tribal thinking exists on almost every level of human life, from the international to the local, from the congregation to the denomination, from the denomination to the religion. Attack a human on any level and that human will resort to instinctive behaviour. When threatened humans have two basic instincts, fight or flight and the choice between the two often comes down to tribalism. If you have enough people to back you, you’ll probably choose to fight. Not enough people and you’ll probably choose flight.
Humankind has evolved a great deal over the centuries, but we haven’t evolved very far from our basic instincts. You don’t have to scratch a fan too deeply to find the primitive tribal mentality. Tribalism is seen in the way we portray our rivals. Sporting competition is all well and good, but when tribalism is carried to its worst possible conclusion, wars beak out. Tribal feeling is then exacerbated in times of war, and tribal propaganda is used to dehumanize our enemies to make it easier to hate or to kill without any qualms of conscience. We don’t kill human beings in war; our victims are not someone’s child, spouse, or parent. No one kills either, the Huns, the Krauts, the Japs, the Nips, the VC, the insurgents, the fanatics, the fascists, or the terrorists. Of late, we have begun to hear our Russian sisters and brothers described as monsters.
There is within us all a basic, dominant, intrinsic fear of those tribes different from our own, a predisposition to be on guard against them, to reject them, to attack and even to kill them. This tribal tradition arises out of our deep-seated survival mentality, and it feeds something at the heart of our insecure humanity. We are tribal people to our core.
Far more than we will consciously admit, the religions of the world including Christianity rise out of and sustain our tribal thinking.Religions are all too often, very deep expressions of a tribal mentality which worships a tribal god. Our foundational myth, is the story of Abram a wandering Aramaean, who is about to become the father of many nations.
Abram has a vision; a vision in which his god promises to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky if Abram only promises to worship YAHWEH as his only god. To seal the promise YAHWEH enacts an ancient tribal custom, common in Mesopotamia. Centuries ago, in the days of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, custom dictated the appropriate manner in which a bargain was to be sealed. When two parties entered into an agreement, a covenant, they would take a bunch of good-sized animals, slaughter them, sever them into halves, clear a path between the pieces, and require that each partner to the agreement walk between them as a sort of self-curse. Kind of like: “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” By passing through the severed bodies of the animals, each partner says, in effect, “May the same thing happen to me if I do not keep my word.”
The whole thing sounds so very barbaric to our modern ears. But this story is part of the foundation of the narrative which begins the narrative of YAHWEH’s covenant with the self-described “chosen people.” The last two verses of this story are not usually read in church. The crafters of our lectionary leave them out; perhaps because they are so very offensive. But I would argue that we must include them because it is important for us to remember that tribalism permeates our foundation myths.
“When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram: To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
The Promised Land, the land which this image of the DIVINE promised to the chosen people was not some vacant lot somewhere, waiting for inhabitants to come and enjoy the bounty of milk and honey which flowed there. The Promised Land was inhabited by many tribes; tribes who worshipped other gods. And there have been wars and rumours of wars in the Promised Land from that day to this. The image of YAHWEH painted by this story is not a particularly glorious one if you are anything other than the Chosen People. The Kenizzites the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephiam, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites, rue the day YAHWEH chose the descendants of Abram over them.
This image of a tribal god is offensive to our modern ears. We much prefer the more evolved image of God which Jesus paints in the gospel text for this Sunday. “Jerusalem, O, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings—yet you refuse me! “ (Luke 13:13-35)
This MOTHER-HEN-GOD is a far cry from the YAHWEH of Genesis. Sadly, this MOTHER-HEN-GOD is rarely imagined, let alone embodied by Christianity. Except perhaps when Christians, resort to a kind of “my tribe is better than your tribe” kind of one-upmanship which points to Jesus’ portrayal of the ABBA as a kinder gentler version of Judaism’s violent GOD. Forgetting all the while that Jesus is, was, and ever more shall be Jewish. Not to mention the fact that this Jewish Jesus is hailed by the vast majority of Christians to be the blood sacrifice sent to appease their very own image of the DIVINITY, as a scapegoating, Father willing to send his own beloved son to be murdered. Not to mention the part about this particular tribal image of the DIVINE goes on to insist that every tribe must believe in their version of events, or their very own Father God will toss them into the fires of Hell where they will be burn in torment for all eternity. This all out rejection of the MOTHER-HEN-GOD must be maintained at all costs in order to ensure obedience to the tribal hierarchy, the domination system which so many churches embody.
Don’t. I know that right about now, you are tempted to point to some other tribe of Christians and condemn them. Those ones not us are the churches which cling to primitive theologies while absolving your very own tribe’s theology of any error. The temptation to see only the best in ourselves while condemning the worst in others is in and of itself indicative of a kind of tribal mentality which does not serve humanity well.Tribalism may well have been an asset in the human struggle to survive during our early evolutionary development. But there is a primitive dark side of tribalism which feeds on our fear and stunts our evolution. Unless these destructive aspects of tribalism are transcended, a deeper more compassionate, peaceful, humanity cannot be realized. We cannot transcend what we fail to recognize.
At this moment in our collective history, it is possible to recognize the role of tribalism in the war Russia is inflicting upon the people of Ukraine. Even as Putin insists that Kiev is the birthplace of Russia, he can also insist that Russia acts with impunity because the Ukrainians have deviated from his own Russian tribal narrative which sees Ukraine moving toward western notions of democracy. This threat to Putin’s tribal insistence upon compliance is further acerbated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s perceived defiance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s claim of authority.
Religious, political, economic, ethnic, cultural, and military expressions of one tribe verses the religious, political, economic, ethnic, cultural, and military expressions of another tribe propel the whole world toward the possibility of the kind of violence which is propagated on the threat of mutual inhalation. As our worst fears escalate our desire for peace, we in the West are quick to recognize an affinity with the religious, political, economic, ethnic, and cultural expressions of the Ukrainian people. So, we quickly mobilize everything we deem to be safe for us to mobilize in order to offer comfort and support to Ukraine, while never once recognizing the ways in which our own tribal instincts have been aroused.
While I’d like to believe that we, you know our tribe, we Westerners, especially we Western Christians, and most especially we progressive christians, we have risen above our tribal instincts. But then I remember the reality of the plight of the woman of Afghanistan which has slipped from our radar, and it causes me to tremble. My trembling increases when I realize my very own failure to express any tangible aid or comfort to the starving millions, who face even more dire consequences as the result of this war.
What is it about those tribes which fails to compel me to weep in the way the fleeing Ukrainians can? I must confess that I am racist. I do not want to be racist. But I can find no other explanation to our current reality than the racism which inevitably flows out of tribalism. And so I tremble. Just like the words of that old American spiritual, which we sing every Good Friday. I tremble, because once again, over and over again, LOVE is crucified by tribalism.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should not be consumed by the plight of our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. We should celebrate the tribalism in us which evokes kinship and compassion. We should do everything in our power to provide aid and comfort to our Ukrainian sisters and brothers.
What I am saying is that we should also do everything in our power to provide aid and comfort to our Afghani, our African, our Syrian, our sisters and brothers in Myanmar, and yes everything we can to provide aid and comfort to our Russian sisters and brothers. I’m not there yet. I still hesitate at the thought of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. I have much to learn about what LOVE for our enemies looks like. But if humanity has any hope at all of becoming all that we are created to be, we must learn that it is not either this tribe or the other tribe.
Escaping our destructive tribal mentalities and the inherent racism which flows from tribalism is not an either-or equation. Being LOVE in the world calls us into a both-and equation as we struggle to LOVE our enemies in ways which benefit this tribe as well as that tribe. Transcending the destructive racism which flows from tribalism cannot begin until we confront the racism which we do not want to see in ourselves.Once recognized we can begin to transform our behaviours and be about the task of being LOVE in the world.
The three world religions which look to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as the founders of our faith, bear a special responsibility to transcend our tribalism; for Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic religions undergird the very tribalisms which rely on the acquiesce of our religious institutions. Our primitive images of the CREATOR continue pose an imminent danger to our planet as tribes and nations parade around the world proclaiming with their lives that our god is bigger than your god. Sadly, our collective images of the MYSTERY we call GOD have failed to represent the CREATOR of all we hold dear in ways which foster peace. Recognition of our failures is the only way we can begin to transcend the destructive aspects of our various tribal practices. Each of us must begin where we are, in our own tribe, embodying what our tribal allegiances proclaim: that the CREATOR of all that is and ever shall be, the MYSTERY we call GOD, according to the revelations we hold dear, is BEAUTY, JUSTICE, and LOVE.
So, if you feel a particular kinship affinity for the people of Ukraine, you must embody the BEAUTY, JUSTICE, and LOVE which has been revealed to you in the life, teachings, and death of Jesus by doing whatever you can to provide aid and comfort to the people of Ukraine. Celebrate the aspects of tribalism which contributes to our evolution as humans, the tribalism which allures us into UNITY. Empathize with the victims of this war and then do something, anything, and everything you can, for we are richly blessed. As our Jewish sisters and brothers believe, teach, and embody, we are blessed to be a blessing.
As you embody LOVE for those who have evoked this strong tribal affinity in you, challenge yourself. Ask yourself, why these and not those. Recognize the destructive aspects of tribalism which motivate you.Challenge yourself to see and then transcend the racism which flows out of our tribalism. I’m learning that the only thing worse than a racist is a person who fails or refuses to see the racism which lives in them. The destructive aspects of tribalism which foster racism in us do not serve humanity. They only serve our fear while creating even more indifference and violence.
We who are privileged to live in safety must challenge ourselves to transcend the racism which motivates both our indifference and our compassion by challenging ourselves to also provide aid and comfort to a tribe we feel no affinity for. We must empathize with the victims of war, all wars, and then we must do something, anything, everything we are able for them, those others, the ones we feel little or no affinity for. For we are richly blessed and as our Islamic sisters and brothers proclaim with their almsgiving, charity is pleasing to the DIVINE, for the DIVINE is charitable. Charity comes from the word which means LOVE.
LOVE is of the DIVINE, so be LOVE, for you are made of the DIVINE. You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to do something. We are called to be LOVE in the world, LOVE to the members of every tribe, every nation, clan, and people. We are blessed to evolve into the embodiment of the MOTHER-HEN-GOD embracing, enfolding, tut tutting, cluck clucking, as we gather together the of the children of the DIVINE to provide aid and comfort to every tribe and nation.
So, you LOVEly chickadees, grow a pair. Wings that is. The HOLY Wings which will embrace every tribe and nation in LOVE. Be that LOVE in the world.
View the full Worship Service for the Second Sunday in Lent below
Snow is gently falling outside my window. I can just make out the Sun’s glow through the clouds. It is beautiful. Quieting. Silent. Every now and again a gust of wind sweeps up the fallen snow into a whirlwind reminding me that this morning’s weather forecast warns that in addition to the snow squalls blowing in off the lake, we can expect wind gusts approaching 70 to 80 km per hour. With this winter storm in mind, I can’t help thinking about the goings on farther to the north, in our nation’s capital. When I turn my attention from my front window to my television set, I can see the winds fiercely blowing in Ottawa, as police and protestors alike stomp their feet in that familiar dance designed to keep the blood flowing in the numbness of this cold of winter. For three long weeks, we have watched as a few frustrated, misinformed, angry truckers together with some others who have found community with them, as they occupy a city and render those we have entrusted with the job of maintaining social norms impotent.
If I look beyond the blockade of trucks, I can make out our parliament buildings and remember summer walks and smiling faces as strangers together took delight in the solid structure in which we gladly and yes often cynically place our trust. Suddenly the roar of the wind commands my attention and outside my window all is whiteness. I can’t see through the swirling snow, as the whiteout robs me of any desire to venture outside. I can just make out the impression of a young maple tree standing firm, as the gusts of wind blow so much snow into the air, that I fear the tree might snap or be torn from its roots.
I hear the news announcer as she shifts her focus from Ottawa to Kiev to warn that war seems inevitable. Footage of Russian troops positioned along Ukraine’s boarder followed by the American Vice-President Kamala Harris addressing leaders from around the world who have gathered in Munich, to respond to threats from Russia with threats of economic sanctions and military reinforcements designed to deter with strength and all the might the world cares to muster any incursion into Ukraine. In the cut-out screen below, there’s a view of Ottawa where lines of police are methodically pushing the protestors back, ever so slowly.
I turn off the set and return my focus to my task, a sermon which proclaims good news extracted from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain as it is written by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke. Before we even get to the Gospel assigned for this Sunday, Jesus gives us the beatitudes: “You who are poor are blessed, for the reign of God is yours. You who hunger now are blessed, for you will be filled. You who weep now are blessed, for you will laugh. You are blessed when people hate you, when they scorn and insult you and spurn your name as evil because of the Chosen One. On the day they do so, rejoice and be glad: your reward will be great in heaven, for their ancestors treated the prophets the same way. But woe to you rich, for you are now receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are full, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will weep in your grief. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in the same way.” (Luke 6:17-26)
I can still hear the winds howling outside. And there’s a churning now inside of me as the woes of the world outside will not subside. I want to scream at Jesus: Is that all you’ve got blessings and woes? The memory of an angry Canadian, “Christian nationalist” screaming on behalf of the so-called “Freedom Convey” stifles my own scream. I remember reading about her ranting and raving, as she echoed words she must have learned from those pro-Trump rallies after the 2020 US election. They sounded so familiar. She threatened to blow her truck horn till the walls come tumbling down, promising a daily “Jericho march” around Parliament Hill. Out of my own righteous indignation, I disown that woman. I disown the woman, as a christian, and as a Canadian. With every fiber of my being, I disavow her as my sister. I can hardly bring myself to read the Gospel assigned for this Sunday because I know exactly how it begins and Jesus’ words don’t feel like Good News right now, at this particular moment.
Jesus said: “To you who hear me, I say: love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. When they slap you on one cheek, turn and give them the other; when they take your coat, let them have your shirt as well. Give to all who beg from you. When someone takes what is yours, don’t demand it back. Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. If you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ do as much. If you lend to those you expect to repay you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to other ‘sinners’ expecting to be repaid in full. Love your enemies and do good to them. Lend without expecting repayment, and your reward will be great. You will rightly be called children of the Most Holy, since God is good even to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Do not condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you: a full measure—packed down, shaken together and running over—will be poured into your lap. For the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.” (Luke 6:27-38)
Earlier this week, I had highlighted one verse and written in the margins, “the Gospel in a nutshell.” That verse reads: “Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate.” I can feel myself resisting. I don’t want to be compassionate. I do want peace. But I want peace without having to love my enemies. Just clear out the streets of Ottawa and restore order. Threaten Putin with whatever it takes so we don’t have to go to war. But please don’t ask me to LOVE my enemies or be compassionate as my LOVing GOD is compassionate, for I have no idea what compassion looks like in the face of the overwhelming woes of our world. I do know what woe’s look like, and woe betide those who disturb our peace.
There’s another note in the margins, right under the one which reads, “the Gospel in a nutshell,” is the phrase “womb-like”. Womb-like is a very literal translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic words which are translated as “compassionate.” Marcus Borg reminded us that to be compassionate is to be womb-like, to be like a womb.“GOD is like a womb, Jesus says, therefore, you be womb-like.” Borg asks, “What does it mean to be womb-like? and then he answers, “It means to be life-giving, nourishing. It means to feel what a mother feels for the children of her womb: tenderness, willing their well-being, finding her children precious and beautiful. It can also mean a fierceness, for a mother can be fierce when she sees the children of her womb being threatened or treated destructively. Compassion is not just a soft, woozy virtue. It can have passion and fierceness to it as well.”
Borg’s compelling description convicts me. I suspect it may also convict you as well. I wonder what our lives would be like if we who claim to follow Jesus’ Way felt compassion for those we disagree with, for those who make us angry, for our enemies, for all those who disturb our peace. What if we felt the kind of compassion which embodies our WOMB-LIKE GOD’s desire for their wellbeing? Marcus Borg’s words go a long way to reminding me of my own tribal tendencies to settle for the kind of peace which benefits my people. If I am to participate in the evolution of humanity, I must learn not to seek or to settle for this pale imitation of peace. Peace without compassion is no peace at all. Compassionate peace provides the space for all of us to learn to grow into womb-like LOVers of our enemies. In Jesus, we see a life which is the incarnation of this SACRED WOMB-LIKE LOVE.
Jesus understood that peace is achieved by seeking justice, not just for those of our own tribe, but justice for all. Justice is the social dynamic of LOVE. Justice for all tribes, all nations, all races, all genders, justice for those on the left and justice for those on the right.Justice-seeking, peace-making is a Way of being in the world which has the power to transform enemies into LOVers. It is not for the faint of heart, but for the fierce. Not ferocity, which is born of self-interest, but the ferocity born of LOVE, of compassion. The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis defines fierce love this way: “Sometimes love gets a bad rap for being tepid and squishy and co-dependent. Fierce love is the kind of love that acknowledges that we’re inextricably connected to each other. It’s the kind of love that made people wade into the water during Katrina and risk their own bodies to save other people’s lives. It is the kind of love that made a man run into the fire on 9/11 knowing he might not come out.” “I believe” says Jacqui, “ I believe fierce love is hardwired into our DNA. If we can remember it, I think we can heal the world.”Jacqui Lewis understands this fierce LOVE as the kind of motivation which compels us to seek justice for everyone.
Sometimes, when the storms outside are raging, I retreat into the safety which I have built around me, my home, my loved ones, my people, and I content myself with counting my blessings. For I am richly blessed. This brings me to the third note which appears in the margins of my copy of Jesus’ sermon on the plain. The note appears beside Jesus’ blessings and woes. It reads, “not passive”. It comes from the wisdom of theologian Megan McKenna whose exploration of the word “Blessed” disturbs my complacent peace. McKenna points out that “Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. When we look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, we find that the original word was ashray. Ashray does not have a passive quality to it at all.Instead, Ashray means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, to repent.”
McKenna goes on to translate the Aramaic into an interpretation of the beatitudes like no other I have ever heard: From the Aramaic Jesus says, “Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.” To McKenna this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. She hears Jesus saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair. ‘Get up, go ahead, do something, move,’ Jesus said to his disciples.”
So while the wind blows outside, we can warm ourselves in the safety we have built around us. In the womb-like environments of our homes we can take time to reflect upon our many blessings. But woe to us if we fail to reflect upon those who are being blown about and ravaged by the storms. For they are our sisters and brothers, children of the ONE WOMB in which we live, and move, and have our being. They too are our sisters and brothers, our people, our kin. What pain, what alienation, what frustrations, drives them out to do battle. Can we hear in their anger the source of their pain? Can we begin to see the contours of their wounds? Can we be compassionate as our LOVing GOD is compassionate? What will that compassion look like? Are we wise enough to seek more than the restoration of order? Are we only interested in selfishly settling for a return to the status quo? Do we have the courage to confront our sisters and brothers, our kin, with the fierce LOVE of someone who seeks not to win the battle but as someone who seeks peace, the kind of peace which recognizes the woes of our sisters and brothers and compassionately works to reconcile with our kin by seeking justice? “Get up, go ahead, do something, move.” Jesus said to his disciples. “Be compassionate, as your LOVing GOD is compassionate.”
It is cold out there. The wind is still howling, and that poor little tree out looks like it might just snap. Our kinfolk are suffering, they are alienated, misinformed, and angry. But just as surely as I know that beneath the snow, spring lies waiting to be born, I also know that our suffering kinfolk will not heal without us doing something, without us being compassionate.
May the fierce LOVE of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, generate warmth in each of us so that the COMPASSIONATE WISDOM which lived and breathed in Jesus, can live in us as the SPIRIT inspires us to venture out into the world, as justice seeking peace makers. Let us not just huddle together to keep warm. Let us, “Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples.” Be compassionate, as our LOVing GOD is compassionate. LOVE with the kind of ferocity which acknowledges that we are all intricately connected to one another. For we are ONE, ONE with the LOVE which is DIVINITY, and ONE with the DIVINITY which lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us all. Thanks be to All that Is HOLY!
I can’t begin to tell you how often well-meaning and not so well-meaning “Christians” quote to me the 15thchapter of Paul’s first letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth. I say quote to be polite, which is generally not the way these “Christians” impart these words of Scripture to me. Some will hurl the text at me in ways which communicate their anger, their disgust, and in some cases their hatred of me. While others deliver the words in boldface type punctuated with lots of exclamation points. So, when I was preparing for this worship service, I confess I was tempted to leave out the reading from 1st Corinthians 15 which is prescribed for this particular Sunday by the Revised Common Lectionary. But then I looked at the readings assigned for next Sunday and discovered that, yet another section of 1st Corinthians 15 is included. So, rather than side-step the subject of resurrection, I decided to include both readings today. Even though I know full well that by doing so, I will undoubtedly open myself up to the wrath of those who would have me confess and repent the error of my ways.
So, let me get to the point, so that those who like nothing better than to use the Bible to bludgeon anyone who dares to stray from their narrow understanding of the text, they can simply hit ALL CAPS in their keyboards, without having to read any further. Let me say it right up front: “Yes, I do deny the resurrection!” I deny the resurrection. Furthermore, I suspect that you do to.
In my sacred imagination, I can see the Apostle Paul smiling and nodding. You see Paul was skilled in the ancient art of rhetoric and would recognize my own rhetoric for what it is. Inflammatory rhetoric is a method of speaking designed to capture the attention of those upon whom it is inflicted. Listen for yourself to the skilled rhetorician Paul, who employs the tactic well in the reading assigned for this Sunday, by the powers behind the Church’s Revised Common Lectionary. Paul addresses the squabbling Followers of the Way in Corinth this way: “Tell me, if we proclaim that CHRIST was raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 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. Indeed, we are shown to be false witnesses of God, for we solemnly swore that God raised Christ from the dead—which did not happen if in fact the dead are not raised. Because if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiful of all the human race. But as it is, Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Ah Paul, you sure know what you’re doing! Rile em up! Get their attention and then, deliver your point! Your rhetoric is sublime! I take my hat off to the master. Alas Paul, if you’d been there when the Church was cutting up your letters to be delivered in snippets on Sunday mornings, I can only imagine what you might have said, when they decided to cut you off in mid-stream. Why they decided to cut your off before you made your point, well that’s a sermon for another day. My point is Paul was just warming up. But if all you hear is, this reading, then surely, my denial of the resurrection numbers me among, as Paul would say, “the most pitiful of all the human race.”
So, let’s skip ahead to next weeks reading, when Paul makes his point. Listen carefully. You don’t want to miss Paul when he’s worked himself up to his point. Ready: “Perhaps some will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question! The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. When you sow, you do not sow the full-blown plant but a kernel of wheat or some other grain. Then it is given the body designed for it—with each kind of seed getting its own kind of body. Not all flesh is the same. Human beings have one kind, animals have another, birds another, and fish another. Then there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Heavenly bodies have a beauty of their own, and earthly bodies have a beauty of their own. 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.”
There’s more, lots more, but let’s just stop and catch ou breath. “Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question!” My oh, my, oh my… In my sacred imagination, I can see Paul sitting up from his letter writing and nodding as if to say, “there that out to stop those endless arguments about the resuscitation of a corpse.”
Alas, the power of Paul’s rhetoric has waned over the centuries. The irony of having Paul’s rhetoric used as a bludgeon by those who insist on a physical resuscitation of Jesus corpse, well the irony is lost on most Bible thumping fundamentalists who have engaged me with their own brand of humourless rhetoric.
Let me attempt to be kinder than the Apostle, whose willingness to call his opponents “stupid”, I do not share. The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Scholars tell us that the letter was written between the years 53 and 57. That’s at least 20 years before the Gospel according to Mark, 30 to 40 years before the gospels according to Matthew and Luke and probably nearly 50 years before the Gospel according to John. The writings of the Apostle Paul contain the earliest writings that we have on the subject of the Resurrection. Paul’s understanding of resurrection was good enough for those early followers of Jesus’ way. Paul’s description of resurrection does not conflict with our 21st century inability to accept the suspension of the natural order of the Cosmos.
The Apostle Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection. As a Pharisee, Paul believed in the resurrection of the dead and certainly he believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But as for our question about an actual physical body, Paul insists that this is simply a stupid question. For heaven’s sake, when you sow a seed into the ground and it bursts forth into new life, that new life doesn’t come in the form of a seed, it comes to life as a plant! Not all bodies are the same! The Apostle Paul did not need there to be an actual physical resuscitation of a corpse in order to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. To ask the question of whether the resurrection is true, and to mean by this that only a resurrected corpse constitutes such proof, is to impose the standards of the modern mind upon a pre-scientific culture of myth and magic.
The dualism of body and soul was a Greek idea, for the Jews there could be no resurrection without a resurrection of the body. After all, could one rise without a body to rise in? What we refer to as the soul was a foreign concept to first century Jews. So the question about the kind of body the risen Jesus had was, as Paul puts it, quite simply, stupid. “There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies.” Not all bodies are the same. The question of a physical body makes no sense to the ancients. Christ was alive to those early followers.
Paul insists that there are natural bodies, which he equates with earthly bodies what we would call physical bodies and there are spiritual bodies which Paul equates with heavenly bodies. According to Paul, the earthly body; the physical body must die in order for the heavenly or the spiritual body to be born. “A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up.” The spiritual resurrection which Paul describes gave birth to Christianity, within the Jewish context. It wasn’t until Christianity moved beyond Judaism that it came into direct conflict with the Greek understanding of reality, which insisted upon the dualism of body and soul. Faced with the task of communicating the gospel, the early followers of the risen Christ, began to articulate experiences of the risen Christ in ways that the Greek influenced Roman Empire could understand giving rise (pardon the pun), giving rise to the question of a physical resurrection.
At this point, we would do well to remember that CHRIST is not Jesus last name. Jesus existed within time whereas the CHRIST exists in and beyond time. Theologian Richard Rohr reminds us that “the CHRIST is the Christian code word for REALITY. Jesus reveals CHRIST. Resurrection is a statement of how reality works. Physics teaches us that nothing dies, everything is transformed. Jesus, the archetypal human, in which DIVINITY is embodied, confirms that human life, does not die, but is resurrected, transformed.
OK, if you’ve stuck with me this far, you are probably beginning to wonder how exactly you, or I deny the resurrection. You would be correct to conclude that I do believe in resurrection. I like the Apostle Paul, do not believe in the resuscitation of a corpse. So, how is it that I deny the resurrection. Well, I deny the resurrection in the very same way as I suspect you deny the resurrection. My friend and radical theologian Peter Rollin says it much better than I ever could. Pete said it this way, and I couldn’t agree with him more: “I deny the resurrection of CHRIST every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of CHRIST when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However,” Pete goes on, “there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of CHRIST.”
Pete’s words remind me over and over, and over again that Jesus lived and died embodying the CHRIST which is the DIVINE LOVE which rises in with through and beyond you and I, again, and again, and again.
Yes! I do deny the resurrection and I’m guessing that you do too! So, I’m trusting that it doesn’t much matter whether or not you or I or anyone believes or doesn’t believe in the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. What a stupid argument. What matters is that LOVE rises. The LOVE which is the SACRED MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call “GOD”.
By the way, there’s much more in Chapter 15 of Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth. I proclaim these words from Paul’s conclusion to the chapter at every funeral I have ever presided over. When all the rhetoric is said, and done, I lean in close to the beloved ones who have gathered, and I proclaim the same truth which Paul proclaimed, and the science of REALITY confirms to us: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?””
Let us affirm the resurrection by living as Jesus lived, embodying the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY. Let LOVE live in, us, through us, and beyond us, for now as always, LOVE lives, LOVE dies, and LOVE rises, again, and again, and again. Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY! Amen.
It was the summer of 1978, when twenty-somethings like myself, we couldn’t get enough of the Bee Gees and their Disco tunes. We were Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive all week long, working toward Saturday Night Fever, when we Should Be Dancing, dancing the night away. I had just moved up to Jasper, Alberta, determined to make enough money during that summer, so that I could continue my backing excursions in Europe. I had three jobs, but back in the day, the grocery store, and the Legion Hall, where I worked as a cashier and a waitress, they closed on Sundays. Oh, how I miss those Sunday closings! That left my chamber-maiding at a local lodge where the housekeeper was always kind enough to keep my Sunday mornings free so that I could go to church, while hung-over colleagues struggled to clean up.
Working, dancing, and church, a blessed trinity designed to secure passage back into my travels abroad. Living accommodations were not a priority. I rented a small room in a basement apartment, which I shared young couple who worked in the same grocery store as I did. They were an unusual couple in that we shared the uncommon habit of going to church. There weren’t many of us who made the effort. But Anna and Steve were always at it. Church that is. I was lucky to get myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, while they seemed to be in church almost daily, sometimes several times a day.
Anna and Steve were Pentecostals who were convinced that my slack Lutheran ways simply weren’t serious enough to earn me a coveted spot in the Heaven of their dreams. First of all, I hadn’t been born again, and then there was the dancing, and as for my serving beer to the crowd at the Legion, well, my roommates were concerned. They were concerned for my mortal soul. They thought I was in danger of being tormented in the bowels of Hell for all eternity. Try as I might, I could never convince either of them that I was saved by grace.
At every opportunity that our busy schedules allowed us, Anna and Steve did their level best to save me from my wicked ways. After spending far too long cornered by Steve, who preached a gospel of not very good news, I was desperate to silence him, so, I reluctantly agreed to attend a Tuesday night youth service. I was suspicious of the kind of “youth” I would meet on a Tuesday at a Pentecostal church, I convinced a fellow chambermaid to come along with me, so that if we had to, I’d have company as I hitch-hiked my way back to Jasper. You see the Pentecostal church was located down in the neighboring town of Hinton, about an hour’s drive away. Well, we never did manage to escape. Especially not when the Pastor insisted that there were sinners in need of prayer and headed over to the two of us and gathered us all in a prayer, a like no prayer, I’d ever been part of. I found out later that dozens, I mean dozens of young people were “slain in the Spirit,” that is, struck down onto the floor, writhing and shaking, hootin and a hollering. My friend and I were doing our level best not to laugh, we were too young to be sensitive, and to this day I find it difficult to keep a straight face in the presence of that particular kind of spirited movement. Disco dancing is one thing, but being slain in the SPIRIT, well let’s just say, There’s a reason I’m a Lutheran pastor. Lutheran “good order” can and does ensure that such ecstatic behavior never happens in worship. In the face of the pastor’s shouts, I stood as still as I could muster. When he placed his hand on my forehead, I stiffened my entire being, because there was no way I was going down.
Steve and Anna were very quiet on the ride home. Nothing was said until dinner the next day, by which time Steve and Anna had been back to church twice. Steve carefully explained to me that I was in mortal danger. Their pastor had warned them that my countenance was putting us all in danger. At the time, I didn’t know what the word countenance meant. I assumed that it had something to do with counting myself out of their way of worshipping. Turns out I was close. Apparently, my body language suggested that I was filled not with the SPIRIT but with Satan himself.
Once again, I struggled to keep a straight face. You might say my countenance betrayed me, because it wasn’t long before I took my body and its language out of the apartment to the nearest bar, where among friends, I began to look for a new place to live.
Later, at work, Anna sat down with me in the lunchroom to explain that their pastor had explained to them that he suspected that I didn’t believe that God sent Jesus to die for my sins. Apparently, some Lutherans are in this Pentecostal pastor’s opinion, a bit losey-goosey when it comes to atonement theories. I had to confess right then and there, in my twentieth year of life, I struggled to believe that any GOD who sent His only Child to die, on a cross, is worth getting up on a Sunday morning for.
Anna explained that unless, I was prepared to be born again, under the tutelage of her pastor, I would need to find someplace else to live. My youth and inexperience allowed the more ornery side of my nature to come to the fore. I was prepared to move out on my terms, but not on some jumped up pastor’s terms. What followed was a long, useless argument about the theories of atonement.
Neither Anna nor I knew we were engaged in a long pointless argument which had been going on since round about the fourth century. Neither of us had heard the word atonement before. We just knew what we knew. Anna knew that Jesus was sent by God as a sacrifice for human sin, to pay the price for our evil ways. I just knew that if God really did come up with such a barbaric bargain, then God must be in league with the Devil himself.
After work, I convinced the housekeeper at the lodged where I worked, to rent me a room for a couple of nights at a reduced rate and I headed over to the apartment to pack up my things. When I arrived, the place was empty, and I thought I was going to make a clean get-away. Then I discovered the card placed in the center of my bed. When I opened it, I found several passages of scripture written out in Anna’s immaculate style. Among the passages was the text which is assigned for this very Sunday from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Anna had copied it from the “Good News for Modern Man” paraphrase of New Testament. This particular interpretation is a poor translation, but it was very popular way back in the day. Above the passage, Anna had written, “The Gospel in a Nutshell”
Paul’s words were interpreted from the King James version of the bible to read like this:
“And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it – unless it was for nothing that you believed. I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6)
Anna carefully underlined in red the phrase: “Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures”
This piece of Scripture was followed by a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans, all of which was underlined in red:
“God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
Below these passages, Anna wrote: “Repent and believe! CHRIST was sent to die for you!”
I remember flying out of there in a hot rage. Not because I had been driven out of my home. But because I had been forced to grapple with something I could not at the time reconcile with the person of Jesus whom I loved. God at that moment was transformed into a violent, murderer, willing to put my beloved Jesus to a torturous death. My childlike faith died that day. Thanks be to all that is HOLY!
If I could, I would comfort the young woman I was by reassuring her that whatever the MYSTERY which we call “God” is, it is not a vengeful murderer whose thirst for a blood sacrifice, compelled Him and I do mean him, to come up with a plan which required violence, torture, and a slow, painful death.
I can only hope that each of you, have endured such moments in your life. Moments when as Paul would say, “we put away childish things.” Moments in which the Christian short-hand explanation of Jesus’ death has died in you. For the death of what it took me years to learn about, the death of atonement theories has given birth to the resurrection of DIVINITY, a DIVINITY liberated from ancient projections onto the DIVINE of the myth of redemptive violence.
Even our ancient Greek forebearers, they understood that if horses had gods those gods would be horses. So, it should not surprise us that our ancestors in the faith, projected onto the DIVINITY the kind of personality which resonates in a culture where violence is seen as the answer to chaos. The apostle Paul, both a Jew and a Roman citizen, would have known from the perspective of both the conquer and the conquered the Roman motto, vini, vedi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered. For Paul, like Jesus, lived as a Jew in Palestine under the oppression of Roman Empire, which insisted that peace could only be established and maintained through violence. It does not surprise me that Paul may have framed Jesus’ death in the context of both Paul’s own Jewish sacrificial theologies and Rome’s violent philosophies. It does sadden me that succeeding generations have projected their own violent proclivities onto the DEITY and offered up various atonement theories which rely on the DEITY embracing our primitive reliance upon violence. For if we are clever enough see that violence begats violence, why, oh why does the GOD of our design seem incapable of coming up with a better way of winning us over. It is long past time for the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, to repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia made up of two Greek words: “meta” which means, “beyond” and “noos” which means “mind.” Metanoia is an invitation to move beyond your current way of thinking. Metanoia is an invitation to think new thoughts.
Surely, today, when troops are again amassing in Europe and the world can’t seem to sake itself loose from the myth of redemptive violence, surely today, it is time for us to move beyond thinking of DIVINITY as the ultimate purveyor of violence and Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. Today, when science confirms that humans did not rise out of the Earth fully formed, but are continuing to evolve, surely today we can metanoia, think beyond the primitive, childish notions of original sin, and begin to see humanity as an incomplete, ever- evolving species which runs the very real risk of extinction if we don’t move beyond the myth of redemptive violence. We have been distracted by violence into compliance with systems which threaten our existence as a species, as we loot our planet of its life-giving resources so that we might increase our abilities to perpetrate violence on grander and grander scales.
In a world driven mad with bloodlust, we peddle as pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the kind of violence which can efficiently torture and kill distant populations at the push of a button. Evolving beyond the myth that violence can solve our problems, or bring us peace, is vital. Jesus knew this. Jesus taught this. Jesus lived for this. Christianity’s morbid preoccupation with Jesus’ violent death will not usher in the Kin-dom of DIVINITY which Jesus lived for.
It is in Jesus’ life, not his death that we will find salvation. Salvation is not about saving us for life after death. Salvation is about making us whole, ONE with one another and ONE with the ONE who is as Jesus taught with his very life is the LOVE we call GOD. Jesus insisted with all that he is, that justice and not violence is the only way to establish and maintain peace. Justice is what LOVE looks like in the world. Our continued evolution relies upon our ability to metanoia, to move beyond primitive ways of thinking. It is time for us to be LOVE in the world. And while we are at it, it is long past time for us to project LOVE onto the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY. For we are ONE with an evolving DEITY.
Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and may live it abundantly!” LIFE and not death. LOVE and not violence. Let us be LOVE in our lives here and now so that peace can break out again, and again, and again.
This week, while trying to figure out why so many scientists are so excited about the James Webb Telescope, I tried to learn some basic facts about the Cosmos, which my tiny brain continues to struggle to understand. My quest for understanding begins with light, which as a theologian struggling to write a sermon in this Season of Epiphany, when Christians are busy celebrating the LIGHT which came into the world at Christmas, is as good a place as any to begin. Apparently, there are different kinds of light. Light which is not visible and light which is not visible. I was only dimly aware that there are different kinds of light, so you may already know how difficult it is for me to comprehend the intricacies of science. So, let’s take it slowly, there’s light that is invisible to the human eye and there’s light that is visible to the human eye. The invisible light is known as infrared and ultraviolet light. It turns out that even as we worship here and now, both visible and invisible light emitted shortly after the big bang this, light is finally arriving in the form of invisible light.
I know science is hard for some of us. So, let me put it in words you may be more familiar with, In the beginning, the CREATOR said, let there be LIGHT and LIGHT was. Boom, they call it the Big Bang, and then LIGHT in all its glorious forms, a spectrum, some of it we can see and some of which, until recently we couldn’t see. But soon and very soon, thanks to a telescope which was launched on Christmas Day. I know, scientists with a sense of irony gathered in French Guiana to watch the James Webb Space Telescope launched into space. The Webb Telescope has been dubbed the successor to the Hubble Telescope. Where the Hubble Telescope could only view visible light, the Webb Telescope will capture information through infrared light.
Now here’s the part where my ability to comprehend wanes, the Webb Telescope will be able to sear farther back into time, capturing information from “ultraviolet and visible light emitted during the epoch when the very first galaxies formed is now arriving in the form of infrared light, after being stretched or ‘redshifted” by the expansion of the universe.” Suffice it to say, the largest, most powerful, telescope in history is about to blow our minds, revealing information which will shed light on the origins of the Cosmos. Scientists will be unraveling information from a device capable of enabling our species to look back in time to the genesis of our Cosmos.
The fabulous thing about the scientific method is that it is a way of thinking which enables us to confirm, deny, or revise our theories about the nature of reality. In this ever-evolving Cosmos our theories about what is and isn’t true, these theories evolve based on a theory’s ability to hold up in the face of observable evidence.
A wordsmith like myself takes great delight in the origin of the word “theory” which comes from the same Greek words from which we get the world “theology” – theo is Greek for the MYSTERY we have come to call, “GOD” and “logos” is Greek for “word” or “reason”. The combination of these Greek words came together over time to evolve into the verb “theoria” to watch and contemplate or speculate ideas and reasons about the nature of what we see. We humans are ever so fond of theorizing about the nature of the REALITY in which we live, and move, and have our being.
According to scientists we need to prepare ourselves for the epiphanies which are about to require us to confirm, deny, revise, and even develop new of theories about the origins of the Cosmos. Theologians, those of us who are fond of speculating on the nature of the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being are also about to have our minds blown.
This amazing new telescope has me thinking of an old telescope I once helped a wise theologian set up in a field almost thirty years ago. Friends and I, living, working, and dreaming on a hobby-farm come retreat center, invited a wise old man to spend some time expounding on theology which he had developed during his decades of being a pastor, chaplain, theologian, educator, and amateur astronomer. Fritz Norstad arrived ready to share his wisdom with us wearing a t-shirt with the words, “Old Age and Cunning, beats youth and exuberance every time!” and it was love at first sight!
The plan was for Fritz to deliver a lecture after dinner and then when darkness arrived Fritz would guide our attempts to star-gaze through his old telescope. In the afternoon some of the children and I were swept up by Fritz’s joyous presence. The children couldn’t get enough of Fritz as he mesmerized them with stories which always ended with children rolling in the grass with laughter. But it wasn’t all fun and games, Fritz employed the children to help him cart his telescope out into the field to get it ready for the evening’s activities. A deal was being negotiated that would see the children stay up long past their bedtime in exchange for some silence during Fritz’s impending lecture. But before the deal could be sealed, one of the youngest of the children managed to push his way up close to Fritz, as if on a mission to secure some understanding of what was going to happen, long after he should be in bed. Little three-year-old Justin, his eyes wide open, pointed to the telescope, and in a voice filled with wonder asked, “Do stars come out of there?” When the other children’s laughter died down, Fritz took Justin’s hand and placed it on the telescope and said, that if Justin could stay awake long past his bedtime, not only would he see stars, but through the telescope he would see the very face of GOD. Needless to say, all of the children were quiet during the lecture, except for the parts where Fritz elicited gales of laughter form all of us. And when the time came, little Justin was the first among us to see stars come out of the telescope as we stared into the very face of GOD.
Over the decades which have transpired since that spectacular summer’s night, I have often peered into the Cosmos rejoicing in the memory of the awe and wonder of an enthusiastic child who, thanks to the wisdom of a wise, old, theologian, began to see the face of GOD in the beauty and the majesty of the Cosmos. It wasn’t just wisdom which Fritz shared with us; it was LOVE. Not the hearts and flowers kind of love, but the LOVE, which is cosmic, so deep and vast that it not only permeates all that is; it is also the SOURCE and SUSTAINER of all that is. The kind of LOVE we see all around us as we live and move and have our being in the ONE Jesus life and teachings taught us is LOVE.
The LOVE which the Apostle Paul describes in the First Letter to the followers of the Way in Corinth where he writes: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
How many of us have the courage to seek the face of DIVINITY, the ONE which is LOVE? As for our theories and theologies, they too will come to an end, for we know only in part, and the partial will come to an end.
In her latest book, “The Primacy of Love” scientist and theologian Ilia Delio quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who insisted that: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces.” Writes Delio, “By declaring love a cosmological force, Teilhard indicated that love is an energy ‘present from the Big Bang onwards, though indistinguishable from molecular forces. In his poem ‘The Eternal Feminine,” Teilhard speaks of cosmic love in the voice of wisdom,” WISDOM SOPHIA: “‘I am embedded in the force field that is driving the cosmos towards greater novelty, towards greater integrity, and eventually towards greater consciousness.’”
Like little Justin, I can’t help wondering, not “Do stars come out of there?” but rather, “From where does LOVE come?” Like the scientists who created the Webb Telescope, I what to know where it all began. Like the theologians who dared to question Who, What, Where, Why, How, I have questions of my own. Looking up to the wonders of the Cosmos, out there at the beauty of the Earth, yes of course, I see the face of LOVE in the REALITY of which we are a dynamic part. I see the face of LOVE in the faces of sisters and brothers whose presence has touched me, molded me, shaped me, and in the faces of those I’ve yet to meet, I pray I’m wise enough to see the face of LOVE. I have plenty of evidence upon which to base my theories and theologies when it comes to the dignity and grace of my fellow humans to know that every one of them bears the face of LOVE when they love one another. What I all too often fail to know is that I too am the face of LOVE when I love.
For LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond me just as surely as LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond you. We are made of the stuff of stars, cosmic bursts of the LIGHT which is LOVE. We were created by LOVE, out of LOVE to be LOVE. Only when we can feel the face of LOVE shining out from us can we be all that we are created to be, the living embodiment of LOVE in the world.
Remembering the child, I was way back then, in a field far away watching stars come out of a telescope as the face of DIVINITY shone in, with, through, and beyond children gathered around an old telescope, I can hardly wait to see the epiphanies which will come out of our human desire to know the unknowable. I can’t remember who said it, but it rings true in me, “GOD is what is known of that which is unknowable.” What I know of the DIVINE MYSTERY we call GOD is that GOD is the LOVE in which the Cosmos continues to evolve, and I for one don’t mind a bit that to know this LOVE, I will inevitably have to put away some treasured theologies and theories as I continue to grow into the ONE in which, I live, and move, and have my being, the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED and BREATH of LOVE.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is LOVE.”
So, peer though the light no matter how invisible it may seem. Look and see that you are the face of LOVE, here and now, in this time, in this place, you are the incarnation of LOVE. Embody the LIGHT and let it shine! LOVE comes out of you! LOVE which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, BREATHE of LOVE, now and always, Amen. Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY!
Yesterday, I travelled out onto the frozen surface of Lake Simcoe. Somehow, these long busy days working in my office at home, while we all do our best to cope with what we hope will be the last tidal wave of this pandemic, somehow this created a longing in me, strong enough to push me out on the ice despite the -23º which threatened to rob me of my breath. So, longing to escape the confines of my cozy isolation, out onto to the ice I trudged, as the cold air sharpened my vision. It didn’t take very long before the many layers of clothing, with which I had hoped to insulate myself from the dangers of the cold, failed to keep me moving very far into the expanse of white snow drifts which glistened as the Sun’s glorious rays danced incapable of warming much of anything but my heart. Standing beneath a clear blue sky, looking out towards the horizon, I tried to breath in some of the vastness which stretched before me. Alas, such a deep breath choked on the frigid air, as if my lungs rejected their own impulse to breathe, lest they themselves freeze as solidly as the lake beneath my feet. A momentary panic began to surface as my mind questioned the wisdom of standing on ice not knowing what lay below. How deep? How solid? How safe?
A quick glace toward the shoreline confirmed that I was well beyond where I would safely swim on a summer day and a strange sort of vertigo began to take hold over me. It was as if my body was teaming up with my mind to convince my spirit to abandon this peculiar excursion. Such a strange dualism to entertain on the surface of a frozen lake, beneath a clear blue sky, staring out at a horizon, I have all too often entertained. Ice and water below me, the Sun shining before me, and behind me the Moon rising, all holding me in the embrace of a Cosmos the likes of which exceeds the farthest horizon of my ability to comprehend.
Imagining the horizons of my ancient ancestors, I could see in my mind’s eye a familiar worldview, a three-tiered universe, complete with an omnipotent god smiling and then frowning down at me. Heaven above the Earth and Hell below, all depending upon a smile or a frown from the omniscient god, Himself confined to sit in judgement in a celestial realm from which He sent His Son, to save creatures of His own creation from their own depravity. I stomped my feet upon the ice in a vain gesture of defiance until my stomping evolved into a dance of freedom, as I gleefully celebrated our liberation from the captivity of a three-tiered universe.
Suddenly, the Cosmos reminded me that freedom from ancient ways of knowing does not mean freedom from REALITY. Indeed, it can mean freedom to BE in ways which affirm REALITY, the REALITY we long to know, the ONE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, this LOVE which we call “GOD”. No sooner than I felt the freedom of union with the DIVINE, than it was time to seek the confines of my car to warm up.
All week long, I have been emersed in the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke’s account of Jesus’ first sermon, in which Jesus declares that he has been anointed to bring Good News, and it wasn’t until my own frozen epiphany set me to dancing on ice that I actually noticed that part of the Good News of which Jesus speaks involves the proclamation of “liberty to those held captive!” Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller recounts Jesus’ words:
“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. He was teaching in the Galilean synagogues, and all were loud in their praise. Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his habit, Jesus stood up to do the reading. When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison— to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus. Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”(Luke 4:14-21)
We are told by the gospel-storyteller that after his one-line commentary on the words of Isaiah, Jesus’ hometown congregation were so incensed that they decided to hurl him off a cliff. What could possibly compel Jesus’ friends and neighbours to consider homicide? This question has generated more than a few sermons of its own. That’s the thing with stories, one story, if it is even remotely engaging, that one story will inevitably lead to many more stories. So, I will not presume to answer for Jesus’ hometown congregation’s murderous intentions. I will only attempt to take you where this story took me out there on the ice of Lake Simcoe.
Exposed to the vastness of the Cosmos, it was the ancient story of a Three-tiered Universe that inspired not murderous intentions in me, but rather the euphoria of freedom from captivity to the limitations of our ancestors’ imaginations. Limitations which the evolving nature of our understanding of reality compel us to reject. For “GOD” is not safely ensconced in the Heavens and we do not need saving from our own depravity by a human sacrifice because there simply is no Hell below us. We are free from the captivity of a way of thinking which insists that we believe what our own experience confirms is no way to live in the very reality our ancestors were struggling to fathom. For we have been blessed with the ability to grasp so many more details about the Cosmos in which we live and move and have our being, than our ancestors could ever have imagined. Today, we, ourselves and our neighbours, no longer live captive to the contours of the very tiny universe in which our ancestors confined their thoughts.
Today, like Jesus, we too can proclaim liberty to the captive minds and recovery of sight to those who have been blinded by ancient ways of knowing. The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within us! The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within all Creation, permeating all of the Cosmos! The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is BEYOND Creation, BEYOND the Cosmos, even as it is in, and with, and through, all of Creation, all of the Cosmos. Infused, inspired, and incarnating as CHRIST’s body, as LOVE here and now in this place and in this time, we are anointed to this bring Good News to the poor and to free the captives! Free from images and idols created by the inhabitants of a universe of misconceptions, we can abandon lives devoted to a god preoccupied with judging our journey’s end, dispatching us to Heaven or Hell. We are free to live in the abundance of life here and now, in a Cosmos permeated by the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE. Free from misguided struggles to appease the idol god of our design, we are free to see beyond our blind self-centered desire for a life beyond this life, free to see the face of DIVINITY in our neighbours’ face, free to see DIVINITY in the majesty of the Cosmos, and in the beauty of the Earth.
Heaven is ours to create out of the hells we have made. We are free to imagine the grace of the MYSTERY capable of exquisite intricacy, unrelenting intimacy, magnanimous generosity, and evolutionary complexity; a MYSTERY which is the very embodiment of LOVE, the LOVE which is eternally becoming. We are free to seek, to know, and to become this LOVE in which we live, and move, and have our being. Our very freedom from ancient ways of knowing and being sets of a chain-reaction of freedom which can, if we let it, become Good News for the poor, as we finally begin to understand what Jesus knew all along, when Jesus insisted, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” For if Jesus and the ABBA are ONE, the Good News is that you and I and our neighbours, we are ONE with ABBA. I can hear them now, those held captive to by our ancestors’ limited understanding, I can hear them. They may not want to hurl me off a cliff, although some have wished me dead, or at the very least judged and punished by their god of eternal torment.
I can hear them tut tutting at the audacity of my taking such liberties with the Gospel. How dare I flirt with new ways of understanding REALITY, new discoveries about the Cosmos, new theories about the nature of human consciousness? How dare I posit a GOD who is LOVE? How dare I claim freedom from the old-man—in the sky-god only to embrace half-baked notions of a MYSTERY which is called LOVE, as if LOVE is the answer? How double-dog dare I? Well, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek let me blame it on a dog.
After warming myself on my car’s heating vent, I caught sight of sundog begin to emerge as the Sun was still setting. I fumbled for my phone and hopped out into the frigid air desperate to capture a photograph which has always eluded me. I failed to capture the sunset. Instead, I was blessed by two, I don’t know if they were my brothers or my sisters or one of each. I only know that they appeared to follow in my footsteps in the snow as they ventured out to the place where the Cosmos had made itself known to me. Our kinship warmed me as I imagined their delight at our Sun’s sensuous self-giving display as it set. They must have seen me gazing at them, or at least I like to imagine they did. So, I waved and was gifted by their own energetic response.
There we stood, we three kindred creatures, waving together as ONE, held in a vast Cosmos touched by the MYSTERY which is the LOVE which permeates ALL that IS, including us, for we are ONE, ONE with DIVINITY. We are free to embrace this LOVE, to walk in this LOVE, and to be this LOVE. This, dear ones, is Good News indeed! Now, today, let us become Good News for the poor, let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE in the world! Let us be LOVE. Today!
Here we are again. Riding the wave of a worldwide spike. Separated from one another by our approaches to the oncoming rush of a variant which has so many of us isolating in our homes while others must venture out into the fray to keep things functioning, while still others are left to fend for themselves, out there, in the cold and cruelness of a world in which this wave is but the latest in a long line of viral injustice. From behind the hoped-for protection of our masked façade we mumble our weariness. For we are tired. Tired of listening for news of this wave’s impact upon billions of us. Tired of being separated from all but a few of those billions. Tired of wondering, when, or how, or where this latest wave will take us. Who can blame us for trying to distract ourselves from tidal realities? Struggling to home-school, endless Zoom meetings, overdosing on news reports, bingeing endless entertainment, escaping down technology’s rabbit holes, or gorging on festive leftovers, these distractions of privilege are exhausting.
Yesterday, I sat here in the comfort of my living-room clutching a warm cup of tea as the sun sparkled through these windows, tempting me to venture outside into the Artic frigid air, wondering what I might say to offer you comfort, or inspiration as we ride this wave together and apart. The warmth of the teacup in my hands pulled me from my melancholic thoughts to remind me of the vast BEYOND. Upon this cup the imprint of a Starry Starry Night, and it brought words from the past into this moment. In my mind’s ear I heard the artist Vincent Van Gogh’s words urging me to look beyond myself. Van Gogh said, “When I have a terrible need of, dare I say religion, then I go outside at night and paint the stars.” Over and over again, a prayer welled up in me, “The stars, the stars, the stars.” As our Day Star glistened outside my window, sending LIGHT cascading around this room, I traversed galaxies in my mind’s eye squinted to see what lies beyond myself. “The stars, the stars, the stars.” I prayed again and again, as the swell of the Cosmos caressed me with a tenderness beyond words. Longing to linger in the embrace of the ONE who is revealed in, with, through, and beyond the Cosmos, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, resting in the grace of the Cosmos. When the wet, cold, tea fell into my lap, I was refreshed, no longer feeling the need to gasp for air as the threatened pandemic tsunami continues its approach. For I AM. I AM held within the LOVE which is the DIVINE ONE.
Refreshed, restored, and empowered, I climbed the stairs to my office to read once again, the words which will be read in far flung places as christian communities celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.Continue reading →
Years ago, a good many years ago in fact, when my life as an adult had only just begun, I was backpacking around Europe, and I began to hear people talk about the land of the mid-night sun. Now, talk of the mid-night sun always took me back to my childhood memories of my Dad reciting the Robert Service poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee. As a kid, this Canadian epic always sparked my imagination, as I dreamed of those, “strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.” for “The Artic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights”… and on and on it goes spinning a which always fills me with glee as I warm my soul by the heat of the cremation of Sam McGee, wondering about all the other strange things done in the mid-night sun. So, when the possibility arose to actually travel up to Narvik in Norway to see the mid-night sun I was off. My rail-pass covered all of Scandinavia, which before I had the opportunity to ride the Scandinavian rails, I had only seen on distorted maps which made it look ever so small in comparison to Canada’s vast land mass. The distortion of maps deceived me into believing that it would be a short trip from Bergen to Narvik. Little did I know that in 1977 it would take me almost three days to travel the more than 1,000 km; a trip which included disembarking over and over again to lend a hand to the conductors as we worked together to clear the tracks of snow.
It was an epic trip on which my once innocent 20-year-old self learned to swig akvavit like a Viking. As the train finally pulled into Narvik, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It was barely nine o’clock and the sun was already beginning to set. Alas, the sun does indeed shine at midnight in the summer months, but in Norway summer does not include the month of August. Disappointed I resigned myself to abandoning our plans to camp on the hillsides which envelope the port of Narvik. Fortunately, the youth hostel was full, and we were forced to hike up and out of town to find a suitable spot to pitch our tents. As we toasted ourselves by the fire, my mind wandered back to the Cremation of Sam McGee and I wondered, if I’d ever learn what strange things are done beneath the mid-night sun.Continue reading →
As we near the end of the Church Year, our lectionary turns to texts about the end of the world. Three years ago, when this text came up, we had only just begun posting video recordings of sermons…the world has ended many times since then. It happens every day…but back then we had no idea what lay before us..and yet…here we go again…
It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate. It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.
Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died.Continue reading →
As some prepare to celebrate All Saints Sunday and are struggling with the gospel reading, I have been asked several times to repost this sermon from 2018. I will be dipping into the parable of Lazarus again on Sunday, may the communion of saints continue to call us out from our tombs!
WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.” and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.
Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.
For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress. I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.
Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”. I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!
How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear!Continue reading →
Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.
I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.
Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?
That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses.
It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land. Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.
I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.
I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years. I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.
Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.
“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS. It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS.Continue reading →
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a year?
In cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in a life?
I wish I could sing this for you. However, I’m not a singer and we can’t afford the copyright license. Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? Here’s another question, which ought to be put into song: Six hundred twelve thousand minutes. Six hundred twelve thousand minutes. How do you measure fourteen months of lockdown? Fourteen long months worshipping via the internet. Fourteen long months locked away from one another.
Fourteen long months and only now, the end is in sight. With jabs in our arms, we approach the second summer of this pandemic with hope in our hearts, because the end is in sight. Here in Canada, our government is promising that all of us will have received our second shot before the end of September. See you in September. See you when the summer’s through. It’s gonna be a long lonely summer…Sorry, no more song lyrics. Instead let me offer you a refrain which we’ve been hearing, in all sorts of forms, whether it’s over Zoom or facetime or even in news reports, over and over again we hear people expressing our longing to return to “normal.” Young people are seeing visions, old people are dreaming dreams, of what our lives will be like, soon and very soon…sorry, sorry, I can’t seem help myself. It is as if a SPIRIT of freedom was injected into my arm with that first vaccine and I can’t help myself, I feel like singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. You have no idea how lucky you are that the songs which keeping popping into my head are covered by copyright.
As we begin to peer into our future, it is impossible not to look longingly back over our shoulder to life BC, Before COVID and hope against hope that soon, soon, we will be able to get back to “normal.” Now, I am well aware of the current trend of correcting those of us who are longing for normal life to return, by declaring, “Normal wasn’t working before, we can’t simply go back to normal.” I’ve said this myself on more than one occasion, but bear with me as I attempt to make an argument for our return to normal life!
To explore what a return to normal might look like, we will have to go back beyond Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, beyond the BCs, Before COVID and Before CHIRST, some 13 point 8 billion years ago to about 3 minutes after the big bang, when the Cosmos itself was but a newborn. In those early minutes of Cosmic existence, science tells us that the only things which existed were particles. When suddenly, like only 380,000 years, a mere blink Cosmic in history, suddenly, like the rushing winds, particles began to bond with other particles to form atoms. Now, one of the astonishing things about atoms is that the atoms possessed qualities which the individual particles which bonded to form the atoms did not possess. Particles bonded to make something completely new. Particles bonding to other particles doesn’t simply create a pile of particles but something new. Imagine the vast Cosmos made up of particles coming together to create atoms, which eventually begin to coalesce to become molecules.
Fast forward, incredibly fast, to 3.8 billion years ago approximately 750 million years after the Earth was formed, when molecules come together to make something new, as the first cells appear on this beautiful verdant planet, we call home. Particles beget atoms, atoms beget molecules, molecules beget cells, and cells beget, well you name it! Like comes together with like to create something altogether unlikely, something altogether new. 13.783 billion years of making all things new and humans finally begin to evolve. We are a new thing. After 13.783 billion years of newness, a mere 5 – 7 million years ago, some apelike creatures began to evolve and just 200,000 years ago, something completely new emerges, something which possesses qualities not present in earlier models, for we homo sapiens are so very new; brand spanking new things.
Now fast forward, very fast to about to just about 5,000 years ago when recorded history begins and we can hear tell of one new thing after another new thing being, imagined, envisioned, and created, for newness is baked into our DNA. The Cosmos itself is all about creating the new! There is a FORCE in the Cosmos which continuously allures in order to create something new. Some of our ancestors named this FORCE, RUACH, WIND, BREATH, SPIRIT. This SPIRIT continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, creatures of the Cosmos together to create something new. In all these 13.8 billion years the Cosmos has not gone back to the way things were in the past. History may repeat itself, but the Cosmos moves on into the newness of reality. Over and over again, in face after face, creature after diverse creature is born, unlike any creature born before it, no two creatures possessing exactly the same qualities. We cannot go back because everything old becomes new, again, and again, and again. Newness is an eternal quality of REALITY. Newness is, if you will “normal.”
There is no going back. Yes, sometimes newness involves reaching back and reintegrating, something which was good that was left behind, which newness needs in order to keep becoming. Please notice I said reaching back and reintegrating. I did not say replicating. Reintegrating something good which was lost, creates something new. At other times, new involves letting go of things which aren’t helpful or are destructive so as not to recreate something which cannot evolve into goodness. Newness both includes and transcends what was. But newness is always part of our REALITY, I’ll say it again, newness is normal. Even these past fourteen months, which have felt for many of us like suspended animation, a time when everything we had come to accept as normal life was set aside to avoid the pandemic, even these past fourteen months have seen the creation of something new, as this enforced time out has caused us to rethink how to move into the future.
Ways of life have been challenged as new ways of living have emerged. Just as surely as the FORCE, the RUACH, the BREATH, the SPIRIT continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and creatures of the Cosmos together to create something new, we who are longing for freedom, cannot resist the motion of the Cosmos, a new thing is born. Lifestyles, systems and organizations which insist upon returning to the way things were are not in the Cosmic sense of things “normal.” For new is normal.
So, where does that leave us, here as we begin to envision emerging from these six hundred twelve thousand minutes of lockdown? On this Pentecost Sunday when the church celebrates the birth of a new Way of being in the world, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul which on this very day will be read in churches all over the world: Listen to how Paul described the nature of REALITY to the church in Rome: “We know that from the beginning until now, all of Creation has been growing, groaning in one great act of giving birth. And not only Creation, but all of us who possess the first fruits of the SPIRIT we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.” (Rom.8:22-23)
That inward groaning as we await the birth of the new is an expression of our own future’s birth pangs as our fears and hopes to coalesce into dreams and visions of new ways of being in the world. Something new is about to be born. Let us dream dreams of life, not like life was, this wouldn’t be normal, for it goes against everything that the Cosmos is was or ever more shall be. Let us dream dreams of life as it is emerging, new life, life beyond our fears, beyond the limitations of our histories, life measured not in minutes, or years, life as the song says, measured in LOVE. How about LOVE? Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a life of a woman or a man? Remember the LOVE…Sing out, give out, measure your life
In LOVE…Seasons of LOVE…Seasons of LOVE…ah I wish I could sing it! LOVE which continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and creatures, that’s you and me dear friends, LOVE is calling us to create something new. LOVE which even now is swirling in and around us, inflaming us, exciting us, always inviting us into something new. THANKS be to ALL that IS HOLY! Amen.
 I am indebted to Rob Bell for his insight about “new” being normal which I either heard or read during this long lock down. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate exactly where, I only remember that it was Rob Bell. So credit where credit is due. Rob Bell’s insights begat this sermon!