Not Even Jesus of Nazareth Can Contain ALL that Christ IS

By now most of us are well on our way to “Preparing the Way.” Unlike John the Baptist’s plaintive cry to clear a straight path, fill every valley, and level every mountain, our preparations find us harkening back to the Christmases of our childhood, so that we might capture the love and joy that we imagine awaits us if only we prepare to do Christmas, the way it was done way back when. Right about now, in gatherings all over the place people are telling stories about how it was “way back when.”  You know, “way back when” people knew just how to prepare the way for Christmas. I remember way back when I was just a little girl, you know long, long, ago, way back when Christmas celebrations were so different. Way back when I was a child, we didn’t hang fancy, specially dedicated stockings on the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. No, way back when, people didn’t have the money to waste on special, fancy, Christmas stockings that were only used once a year.  Way back when, we just went into our sock draw and pulled out the largest sock we could find, and we hung it up, in the hope that if we’d been good, our stockings would be filled with treats, instead of the dreaded lump of coal that our parents had been threatening us with for weeks. Come Christmas morning, way back when, we were happy when our sock was filled not with stocking-stuffers like we have these days, but with the same thing we got every Christmas in our stockings, an apple, an orange, a few toffee’s and a couple of coins.

You see way back when, fruit was seasonal and fresh apples and oranges were a real treat. These days we can haul crates of tiny delectable oranges from the grocery store all year long. But, way back when, oranges at Christmas time, they were a real treat. I never did like oranges very much, so I would always try to trade my orange with my brother so that I could have two apples instead. You see, way back when, children were easier to please and Christmas was different.

Which leads me to another story. I don’t remember when or where I first heard this story about way back when, World War II had just ended, and refugees were loaded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people. Back then, refugee camps were filled to overflowing with children who’d lost their families during the war. Apparently, there was this little boy in a camp in France, we’ll call him Andre. Andre couldn’t have been more than about seven years old and he could barely remember the family he lost almost three years before the war ended. He’d been living in the refugee camp, more of an orphanage really, for almost a year.

The camp was run by a few nuns who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly. But they did their best, and the children were, after all was said and done, lucky to be alive. The children hardly noticed that Christmas was approaching until one of the nuns announced that a neighbour had promised to come by on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the three tiny sections of his share of the orange that oozed precious juice down his half-starved throat. Andre spent the days leading up to Christmas Eve dreaming of having a whole orange of his very own. He thought about the smell of the orange, dreamed of peeling the orange, and carefully considered whether or not to devour each and every section of the orange all at once or whether he should divide it and save a section or two for Christmas morning. Continue reading

The World Comes to an End Every Day! – Mark 13:1-8 – Pentecost 26B

It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate.  It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.

Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died.

Karen and Bill had been working for hours on the new nursery. There wasn’t much time left.  The baby was due in just eight weeks and so very much still needed to be done. But at least they had finally finished the painting and papering. They were admiring their handiwork when Karen’s water broke. In the car on the way to the hospital, Karen tried to reassure Bill. Over and over again she told Bill that lots of first babies arrive early. After 20 long hours, Michael was born. The doctors carefully explained that Michael’s spine had not developed properly. They assured Karen and Bill that he would be alright, but unfortunately, he would never be able to walk. On the morning their son was born the life that Karen and Bill had looked forward to was over. Karen and Bill’s world ended when Michael was born.

Mary loved her job. She was a high-powered executive with a company that was expanding at a phenomenal rate. She worked hard to get where she was. She poured all her energy into her work. She barely had time for a personal life, but that didn’t bother Mary. She knew there would be plenty of time for that after she had gotten where she wanted to go. Ten years and she was already playing with the big boys. She was a mover and a shaker.  She loved her work and as good as she was at her job, she just didn’t see it coming.  She was stunned when the announcement came.  Apparently, the company had expanded a little too quickly. Bankruptcy put an end to the life that Mary loved. Mary’s world ended the day she lost her job.

I used to think that the end of the world would come in a blaze of glory. I used to think that when the world ended there would be plenty of warning. I used to think that if you paid enough attention to what was going on around you, you would be able to tell when the world was going to end. But that was before a doctor came into a room and told me that they had found a tumour that needed to be removed immediately. The end of the world came quietly without any fanfare at all. It hit me like a ton of bricks, without any warning what so ever. The world came to an end. It hardly seems fair that the world can come to an end so suddenly. I for one would have liked a little notice. 

Today, the media is full of news that heralds the end of the world. There are wars and rumours of wars as explosions end the world for hundreds and thousands of people in faraway places. The world comes to an end every single day.  It hardly seems fair that the world can come to an end so suddenly. When I was younger, I always wanted to know how a story ended. As a kid, I would often flip to the last chapter of a wonderful book to see just how things ended. I can still remember watching movies on TV that my father had already seen before and begging him to tell me how it all ends. Sometimes, my Dad would oblige, but more often than not he would tauntingly tell me to just watch and enjoy the movie, because it would all become clear soon enough. Continue reading

Lazarus: It’s All in the Name! – John 11:32-44

WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.”  and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.

Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.

For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress.  I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”.  I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!

How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear!

I could almost hear Marcus Borg insisting that the two important questions one must ask when trying to get to the heart of any Bible story:

  • Why do you suppose they told this story?
  • Why do you suppose they told this story this particular way?

All these years of struggling to understand this gospel story and getting hopelessly caught up in trying to explain how it is that Jesus might have been able to raise a dead man from the grave. Searching, for some reasonable explanation. Perhaps Lazarus wasn’t really dead. I mean 2000 years ago, if he’d slipped into some sort of state where his heart-rate and breathing slowed down to such an extent that people thought he was dead, well they might have buried him before he recovered. The ancient world is full of stories of people being mistaken for dead. There must be a perfectly good scientific explanation for this story.

Can’t find a reasonable explanation? How about we just settle for reality that we will never know exactly what happened and we will simply have to accept that Jesus was so remarkable a human being that over the years the stories that his followers told were bound to have been exaggerated? I mean, I know how to tell a good story. I know that the secret to a really good story is a kernel of spectacular truth that you weave marvelous details around in order to get to an even more spectacular truth. Remember the bubbles bubbling away. Bubble, bubble, bubble, the bubbles are not the point, what’s happening beneath the bubble, beyond the bubbles.

As Lazarus bubbled to the surface, I finally began to realize that Lazarus is not the point of this story. Then Jesus’ bubbled to the surface, and I began to wonder, maybe Jesus isn’t the point of this story either. Then it was as if the Jesus bubble burst right before my eyes and up through the cosmic ooze came a bubbling crude.  Suddenly I could see power, the amazing power of resurrection, but not Lazarus’ resurrection, not Jesus’ resurrection, not even our resurrection, but resurrection nonetheless. It’s all in the name! Lazarus!

I raced to my Hebrew dictionary. It wasn’t there. No Lazarus to be found. It must be Greek, so I flipped through the pages of my Greek lexicon until there it was Lazarus, the Greek for the Hebrew Eleazar. Eleazar = break it down   El means God. eazar from the verb: to help, God is my help. Ok, maybe, God sure helped Lazarus, but how does that help me?

And then it hit me! Eleazar, the son and successor to Aaron.  Aaron the brother of Moses. All these years of reading and studying this story, how could I have missed it? Aaron the first high priest of the people of Israel and Eleazar is Aaron’s successor. Eleazar the supreme representative of the priesthood who held the office longer than any Jew before or since Jesus. I might have missed it, but there is no way that the people at the turn of the first century would have missed it.

Why would the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John tell this story and why would he tell it this way? Was he trying to tell his listeners something about the priesthood?

New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan reminds us that the stories in the gospels mimic the teaching style of Jesus. Jesus taught through parables. Parables are stories designed to enlighten his listeners to the truth. Dom reminds us that you don’t ask the same questions of parables as you do of history. Nobody ever worries about whether or not the story of the Good Samaritan actually happened, because it makes absolutely no difference whether or not it actually happened because the story tells us something that is true about life. The writers of the New Testament, says Crossan, imitated Jesus’ teaching style and taught their listeners the truth about Jesus using parables about Jesus; parables like the two different birth stories in Luke and Mark. These stories are not history, they are parables designed to teach their listeners that Jesus was very special; more special even than Caesar at whose birth legend has it, a star appeared in the sky. The writers of the gospel communicated the truth about Jesus through story because history hadn’t been invented yet…the concept of history would take several hundred more years to develop.

So, if we look at the story of the raising of Lazarus not as history but as parable, what truth about Jesus can we learn? Well for starters we can stop worrying whether or not it actually happened. The truth in this story doesn’t rely on our ability to believe the unbelievable. Lazarus the very name itself is the biggest clue. The priesthood. The religious authorities of the day were as good as dead. Religion lay rotting in the grave. The religion of Jesus’ people had been killed by the long years of occupation by foreign gods and there was nothing left to pray over but a rotting corpse, a corpse, which Jesus called back to life.

“Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’’ So, they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’  When Jesus had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus , come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’”

Years of occupation from foreigners and their gods had left the priesthood bound and gagged and defensively hovering in the caves of the dead. Jesus wept over the state of Lazarus and called the priesthood out from the dead.

The anonymous gospel-story-teller that we call John let his story bubble up in ways that would have caught the attention of his late first century audiences. As this story bubbles up in us, can we see our own story in this parable? Can we see that Christianity is bound up held captive and lies rotting in a tomb of our own making?

Some say Christianity is dead. Others say Christianity is held captive by those to whom the gospel, the Good News that whatever God is, God is LOVE, is so foreign to them that it’s as if they are following some other god. Others say Christianity is on life support and it’s time to pull the plug. As for me, well I believe that only Jesus can bring Christianity back from the dead. I’m not talking about the Jesus whose been dressed up in foreign clothes, not the vengeful, vindictive, Jesus, or the mealy-mouthed, sweetness and light Jesus. I’m talking about the Jesus that the gospel story-tellers told their stories about. The Jesus that continues to bubble up from within a story that runs deeper than the bubbles. I’m talking about the radical Jesus, the scandalous Jesus, the Jesus who wept over the sorry state of the religion of his people. The Jesus who could not tolerate a society that kept so many people in poverty or the religious establishment who co-operated with the powers that be in order to maintain the status quo. The Jesus who reached out to those on the margins of society and called the rich and the powerful to reach out beyond our comfort zones. The Jesus who abhorred violence and walked in the pathways of peace. The Jesus who was so disgusted with the state of the priesthood that he turned the tables in the temple. The Jesus who preaches the radical gospel that God is LOVE and that loving God is about loving our neighbours and loving our enemies. This Jesus who preaches love, compassion and grace and not judgment, tyranny and hate. This Jesus has the power to call Christianity out from the depths to which we have sunk.

When the Gospel According to John was written, the Temple had been destroyed and many of the Jewish people had escaped Jerusalem and the followers of the Jesus escaped Jerusalem. Just as Jesus reached into the riches of the Jewish tradition so too did the religious authorities of who escaped to Jabneh who reached into the riches of their Jewish tradition and out of the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judiasm and Christianity. Out of this experience we reached into the depths of the best of who we can be, the best in the Jewish tradition and the best that was developing in the Christian tradition and out of that new life was resurrected.

For us, the followers of Jesus, Jesus can bring life where there is death. This Jesus knew nothing of the church’s theologies or doctrines. Jesus knew nothing of the doctrine of the fall, or of original sin, or the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian creeds, or of judgments based on these well-intentioned attempts to sort out who and what Jesus was and is. Jesus was a good Jew who understood that the Creator of all that is and ever shall be loved creation and all its creatures and this being, this Creator, this Source, this YAHWEH this great I AM, the one Jesus called his ABBA,  continues to love creation and all its creatures and so this Jesus understood himself as someone who comes that we might have life and live it abundantly.

And so, on this All Saints Sunday, we should all take a good look in the mirror and see what this Jesus would see in us. Each time we look into a mirror we must remember that in everyone, Jesus saw a beautiful, beloved, child of God. Now, more than ever we need to see ourselves as beautiful, beloved, children of God, saints, sacred, holy, children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must look beyond our mirrors and see everyone as beloved children of the ONE who is LOVE. We must be able to look into the eyes of those we see as enemy, into the eyes of those we fear, into the eyes of the stranger and we need to see in those eyes a beautiful, beloved child of the MOST HOLY, a saint, sacred, holy, child of the ONE who is LOVE.

Friends, Jesus is weeping. Can we hear Jesus calling out from the dead? Can we be called from the dead? Surely, it is time to let the dead bury the dead. Let the worst of our religions die.  Let those things in Christianity that have caused pain and agony in the world, die.  Let us  come out from the tombs we have made and unbind one another from our respective grave clothes so that we can dance and sing? So that we can dance to the life around us! So that we can rejoice in your sainthood! It’s all in the name. And the name is LOVE.

 

Feed the Wolves – a sermon for St. Francis Sunday – Matthew 6:25-30

It has been a very strange week. Many of us, indeed not just us but people all over the world have been transfixed by the goings on with our neighbours to the south. Not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the full array of bombasity dressed up like fair play. Portrayed as a “he said, she said” fight for the truth, judgements are being made, that expose the fearsome truths of human tribalism. From the security of our various cultural silo’s, we have born witness to a wrenching polarization of our culture that threatens to tear us apart one from another. If only the wisdom of Solomon could be trusted to prevent us from ruthlessly tearing in two the tightly woven fabric of what is left of the fair-play that we struggle to raise up.  Emotions have risen to the surface and exposed the rot that permeates our precious hierarchal structures. White privilege and male dominance have been laid bare and the pain of that exposure has triggered more pain.

This week several women have reached out to me to weep again over wounds so deep that they fear the tears will never end. The word “triggered” has taken on a whole new meaning, as vibrant memories seared upon the minds of survivors ricochet with such intensity; an intensity that rips those of us who have experienced the pain first hand. I still can’t believe the power of such memories to tear through us afresh.  

I have listened as women have wept, and their tears have opened the wounds we share. We have seen the angry of the privileged blaze across screens, as powerful men bare their teeth and threaten dire consequences.  Anger has been stirred on both sides, and unlike Solomon, I don’t possess the wisdom to dispassionately judge who should win and who should lose. My anger burns in me like a white-hot fury and I cannot see beyond to the beauty of the lilies in the field. Ah sweet Jesus, if only the memory of the future you envisioned for us, could calm our fears.

To those of you who haven’t been watching, or won’t watch, or cannot watch, and encourage those of us who can’t help but watch to simply turn off and tune out, well you may be right. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is to simply refuse to engage the madness that is transpiring. Just turn it off and walk away, move on and look at the beauty that surrounds us. The leaves are putting on a much better show as they begin their bursting forth into a beauty that is far worthier of our attention than the muck-raking display that constantly demands that we watch.

I was reminded this week of an old native story, a story that brought me some respite from my anger and frustration. I’ve read that it is a story first told by our indigenous sisters and brothers. It’s about a boy and his grandfather:

One day the boy says to his grandfather, “How is it you never seem to get upset?  Don’t you ever feel angry?”His grandfather replies, “I sometimes feel there are two wolves inside me, each of whom fights to tell me what to do.  Whenever something angers me, one of the wolves is full of fire, and wants to attack and act nasty. The other is calmer, thinks clearly, and makes better choices. But they’re both always there.And the boy asks, But if they are always fighting, how do you know which wolf is going to win?”  The grandfather answers, The wolf who wins is the one I choose to feed.”

Our angry wolves have been well-feed this week and there are a few great feasts just waiting to be served up in the weeks to come. But surely that doesn’t mean that I have to feed my angry wolf? There’s a very big part of me that sees the wisdom of this old story and I am sorely tempted to starve my own anger. Indeed, I had resolved to do just that, turn it off, tune it out, pretend it isn’t happening, walk away, enjoy a more beautiful autumn view. But alas, this is St. Francis Sunday, and another wolf has caught my attention; and yes, it is an angry wolf demanding to be fed. Continue reading

Weeds Upon the Altar

As the Season of Creation winds to a close, some of us will take the opportunity to comemmorate St. Francis of Assisi this Sunday.  You can follow the links to previous sermons for this celebration:  A Feminist, the Niquab, St. Francis and the Sultan, The Saint and the Sultan Daring to Dance in the Midst of a March

Weeds Upon the Altar

On this the last Sunday of the Season of Creation we celebrate the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Gospel text is Matthew 6:25-28

Listen to the sermon here

Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once God asked me to join God on a walk

through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed God lingered a bit longer

before any face that was

weeping,

and before any eyes that were

laughing.

And sometimes when we passed

a soul in worship

God too would kneel

down.

I have Come to learn:  God

adores God’s

creation.

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!

Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,

I have Come to learn: 

God adores God’s

creation.

Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers.  Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God. Continue reading

Beyond Christianity’s Imperial Endings – Mark 16 the Long and the Short of It?- a sermon for Mountain Sunday

The Season of Creation was established in 1989 by European Christians and embraced by the Roman Catholic Church as recently as 2015. It is the newest addition to the Church year, designed to respond to the groaning of creation as the Earth suffers at the hands of humanity. We hear at Holy Cross have been observing the Season of Creation since 2011. The Season begins on Sept 1stand ends on October 4, which is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi – the patron saint of animals. Today is the 4thSunday in the Season of Creation – the day for the celebration of Mountain Sunday.

When I began my preparations for this Mountain Sunday I was more than a little perplexed by the prescribed readings for this Sunday. I must confess that I struggled to understand why the powers that be chose to prescribe such strange readings. So, I changed the first 2 readings. I was about to change the gospel reading, from this strange and dubious text to something like a reading from the sermon on the Mount, when I thought, “No” let’s stick with the prescribed reading and see what we can learn from it.

When you go home today, open up your bible to the very end of the Gospel According to Mark and you will discover a biblical chapter unlike any other chapter in the Bible. (click here to see chapter 16) The last chapter of this gospel is chapter 16. When you get to the end of verse 8 you will find a note from the editor of your bible. Some editors tell you that “The gospel ends here.” Others simply put in a note that says two other endings were added by later writers. The Shorter Ending or the Longer Ending. The prescribed reading for Mountain Sunday is the Longer Ending which was added by a later writer. The Gospel of Mark was written by an anonymous storyteller that was given the name Mark by something called “TRADITION” We don’t know who wrote it.  We do know that it is the first of the gospels to be written. We also know that it was written sometime after the year 70. That’s some 40 years after the execution of Jesus by the Romans and about 20 years after the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; Paul’s writings about Jesus that we have.
The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we know as Mark was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. He wrote his story sometime after the Roman Empire destroyed the city of Jerusalem. The Romans leveled the city and sent Jews and followers of the Way running for their lives. His gospel is the shortest of the gospels. There is no Virgin Birth in this gospel; no birth narrative at all. Joseph is never mentioned in this gospel. Jesus is referred to as the “son of Mary” which at the time would have been an insult that implied that Jesus was a bastard. Continue reading

Jesus ain’t no super-hero!

On this the Second Sunday of the Season of Creation, we celebrate Humanity. In Mark 7: 24-37, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark reveals that Jesus ain’t no super-hero! Jesus is a flesh and blood, down to earth, fallible, short-tempered, and sometimes narrow-minded human being, very much like the rest of us.

Listen to the audio only here

The anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark, provides us with the shortest of the four gospels — just 16 brief chapters. But don’t let that fool you. The writer of this account of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth packs more action into his short gospel than any of the racy novels, spy thrillers, mystery novels or tell all biographies that you can find today on Amazon. Today’s reading occurs barely half way through our anonymous storyteller’s account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and already Jesus has: been baptized in the river Jordan and been tempted in the wilderness by the evilest of villains, Satan himself.  Jesus has gathered together a motley crew of disciples, and he has cast out demons, cured lepers, healed the sick, the lame, and the blind. Jesus has preached to the multitudes, appointed apostles, and he has even been restrained from preaching by his own family because they feared that Jesus had gone out of his mind. Jesus has turned away his own mother and brothers in favor of teaching the crowds of people who gather to hear what this itinerate preacher has to say. Jesus has taught the crowds in parables, calmed the stormy sea and if that wasn’t enough he brought a dead girl back to life only to be rejected and scorned in his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus has had to face the death and decapitation of his cousin and fellow evangelist John the Baptist. He has somehow managed to feed five thousand people with just five loaves and two measly fish. To top it all off, Jesus, this walking, talking, healing, miracle working, super-hero has managed to walk on water.

In just six brief chapters, the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Mark has painted the picture of a mythical super-hero. A man of the people who is capable of amazing feats of daring do.  Not even Superman, Superwoman, Spider Man, Wonder-woman, Bat Man, Cat-woman, James Bond or Lara Croft could match the heroic deeds of the anonymous storyteller’s amazing Jesus. Our storyteller’s Jesus is a super hero’s, super hero.

In many ways this picture of Jesus keeps our mind’s eye far away from understanding just who this itinerant preacher, who somehow managed to change the world, really was. According to our anonymous storyteller, Jesus really is some kind super-natural, super-human being. Jesus is a hero beyond all other heroes, whose abilities are beyond the bounds of the natural order of things.  A hero who stands head and shoulders above all the rest. A super-hero whose abilities, sensibilities, wisdom, knowledge and kindness are beyond those of us who are but mere mortals. And if this was all there was to our storyteller’s Jesus, then there really wouldn’t be much of a story here. You see as long as we see Jesus as SUPER – super hero, super natural or super human, then following Jesus is no more demanding than following your favorite super hero in a comic strip. The exploits of these heroes may be interesting, intriguing and maybe even enlightening, but each and every one of us knows that we can’t do what they do. We may be able to follow their exploits and applaud their heroism, but we cannot be like them, any more than we can do what they do. They are after all super heroes; heroes whose abilities are beyond the average mortal. Indeed, I am sure that many of us follow Jesus in much the same way as we follow the exploits of the other heroes we have set for ourselves. We admire Jesus, we trust Jesus, we may even wish we could be more like Jesus, and we are even willing to listen to some of the things that Jesus said. But when it comes to following Jesus, we often let ourselves off the hook, because after all look at what happened to Jesus. They nailed him in the end and if it weren’t for intervention from God on high, Jesus would never have escaped the clutches of death.

Fortunately for us, there is more to our anonymous storyteller’s gospel, than there is to the story of the average comic-strip super hero. You see unlike the average super hero, Jesus is all too human. In today’s story, Jesus is a flesh and blood, down to earth, fallible, short-tempered, and sometimes narrow-minded human being, very much like the rest of us. In this story Jesus’ humanity is revealed.

Jesus has just finished teaching and feeding a huge crowd of five thousand people. After dismissing the crowd, he and a few of his followers climb aboard a small boat and head off to the other side of the sea. Jesus goes ashore alone and retreats to a mountaintop to pray. A storm picks up and Jesus walks across the water, and calms both his followers’ fears and the wind itself. When they get ashore, Jesus is quickly recognized by the waiting multitudes.  Continue reading

A Spirituality of Work – Labour Sunday – a sermon Matthew 5:13-16

Audio only here

It is but a distant memory now. The details are all but forgotten. But I can still feel the emotions as if it were yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than about five or six years old. I desperately wanted to be a big girl. I wanted, so very much, to show my mother that I could help her. Still, I can almost feel the heat and see the steam as it rose from the iron. I knew it was dangerous. I knew that the heat that pressed the cloths could burn me. But I wanted to help.

Either I nagged my mother so much that she finally gave in, or her own loathing of the chore of ironing was so intense that she just couldn’t help herself, and somehow taught her little girl. I can’t remember Mom showing me how it was done. But, I do remember carefully moving the hot steaming iron over the dishtowels and pillow cases and marveling as the creases disappeared. I remember carefully folding the cloth and then magically creating new sharp creases in the folds. I remember the pile of neatly pressed items growing in stature. I can still feel the pride welling up in me as I completed my work. I was a big girl. I was helping my Mom. I was brilliant! I was so proud of myself and proud of the fruits of my labour. I could wait to show my Dad when he got home. I was a good little worker!  And yet, even now as I remember the pride swelling in me, I remember also, the quick rebuke. Don’t be a smart-alec! Who do you think you are?

I don’t think my Mother actually said the words, “Pride goeth before a fall.” but my memory of these events provokes these words in me. The words well up inside me. Indeed, the words are part of my being – “pride goes before a fall” – don’t get too big for your britches.

All too often, I feel the self-rebuke. Who do you think you are? Oh, there are other memories other clichés. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Take pride in your work. I heard these phrases from parents and teachers as I grew up.      But somehow the warnings not to be proud of myself, these warnings undid any pride that I could ever muster.

 On this Labour Day weekend, when we are all encouraged to celebrate our labours, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gift that work is. In the stories handed down to us from the anonymous gospel storytellers we are told that Jesus was a “tekton.” The Greek word tekton is often translated as “carpenter” but a more accurate translation of tekton is worker. Jesus we are told was a worker, but the anonymous gospel storytellers are not clear about what kind of worker Jesus was. They also tell us that Jesus was a rabbi – a teacher. Whatever kind of work that Jesus did, I hope convinced that Jesus took pride in his work. For how else could Jesus teach his followers that they are light of the world, unless Jesus had also known the pride of a job well done? Continue reading

Eternal NOW! – BRUNCHtalks 4

Can a first century understanding of Hell and Heaven free Christianity from its obsession with the next life and our cultural nonsense about heaven and hell? Exploring a progressive approach to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth opens us to a Way of being in the world that is eternal now. Our BRUNCHtalks continue to explore what it means to be “Progressive in Approach: Christ-Like in action!”

I Am Not a Christian! I Aspire to Be a Christian! – BRUNCHtalks 3

In our third BRUNCHtalks, we continue to explore what it means to be “Progressive in Approach: Christ-like in action!” Focusing upon a progressive approach to Christianity, we look to the Way of Jesus to reveal ways of being Christian in the 21st century.

BRUNCHtalks1 – Religion: to re-connect

BRUNCHtalks have begun! We are exploring a new way of gathering, in what will be a kind of progressive Christian laboratory. The video is an edited version of our gathering that was filmed using a stationary camera. We are learning as we go. Have a look and feel free to add a comment. Our goal is to spend summer Sundays learning new ways to articulate what it means to say we are: Progressive in approach: Christ-like in action! Click here to view the notes that form an outline of the gathering.

Religion is above all else an art form. Religion begins with awe and wonder and -and moves into the realm of story as we try to express our experiences of awe and wonder. Some of us tell the stories with words, some with music, some with painting, or sculptor, others tell the story in dance, we humans are creatures who find, interpret and express meaning. Like all artforms religion takes practice
Religion is never quite perfected.Religion evolves as the artform is reinvented over and over again. The root of the word religion is “l i g” lig, which is also in the word “ligament.” It means to connect, to join together, to unite, to bring everything together in one body or one wholeness. The little word “re” simply means “again.” Religion is a word that means to re – connect, to put together again. Religion is about binding us together into ONENESS with the ONE who made us.
Religion is about connecting us to God, to Creation, and most importantly to one another. We re-connect through the various religious artforms that express the who, what, why, and the how of who we are. Imagine what it might mean to practice the art of re-connection from the perspective of Progressive Christian Religion.

Confronting Our Nakedness – Genesis 2-3

My granddaughter Audrey is just four years old. A couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from Audrey’s mother Laurel about a conversation over dinner. Said four-year-old Audrey, “Who made the world?” Her mother Laurel responded, “God made the world.” To which Audrey asked, “Who is God?” Audrey’s Dad, Jeff is a lawyer responded with a marvelous answer, “God is an all-powerful spirit who is everywhere. He made everything including you.” My brilliant granddaughter Audrey took her father’s answer in her stride and just like a four-year-old does, she pushed her parents even further by asking, “Who made God?” Jeff and Laurel answered in unison, “You should really talk to Gran.”

While I chuckled with delight at my granddaughter’s ability to stump her parents, I couldn’t help hoping that they might have spared me the prospect of trying to answer the unanswerable question of the ages. Little Audrey’s line of questioning echoes the questions of all the generations that have gone before her. I suspect that her parents swerved her theological challenge to their answers in much the same way as generations of parents have, by passing the question back to the generation that went before them; perhaps hoping that there might be an inkling of an answer that they might have missed along the way. But even though as Audrey’s Gran, I have spent the better part of my adult life dwelling in Audrey’s questions about the nature of reality, when it comes to questions about who made us, and who made God, all I can really do is look back to the wisdom generated by the generations who have gone before me. Just like my granddaughter, each answer that I discover, only generates a deeper more piercing question that leaves me to cope with the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality, that which is beyond every answer, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also. So, this morning as we peer back beyond the beyond, we turn our attention to a story that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Genesis, the very name of this the first book of the Torah, genesis means the beginning. But don’t let the name of this ancient book fool you into believing that it will reveal the answer to age old questions. For we know that Genesis is but the beginning of a multitude of questions. Most of us have heard the answers that have been wrestled from Genesis so many times that we have already formed opinions about the stories in Genesis based on arguments about whether or not the creation stories are literally true. I have little or no interest in such childish arguments, as our friend Dom Crossan insists, it “is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” Let’s just agree that the mythological stories contained in the book of Genesis were told to symbolize the nature of reality. Continue reading

LOVE Has Died. LOVE Is Risen. LOVE Will Come Again, and Again, and Again! – Pluralism Sunday

to listen to the audio only recording of the sermon here

A little girl held tightly to her grandfather’s hand as together they walked toward the centre of town.  Suddenly a tall, beautiful, woman dressed from head to toe in a long black flowing gown appeared in the street just ahead of them. The woman’s flowing gown gave the impression that she was floating rather than walking. Beneath the black flowing cloth which covered the woman’s head, was an elegant face encased by restricting starched white material. Below the smiling woman’s face, hung a slender silver cross. The little girl tugged on her grandfather’s sleeve and asked, “Who is that, Grand-dad?”  The little girl’s grandfather explained, “That my dear is a witch! Now mind you behave yourself or she will take you away and boil you in her stew pot”.  The little girl squeezed her grandfather’s hand tightly and resolved to stay far away from witches no matter how beautiful they looked.

I couldn’t have been more than about four years old when my grandfather and I encountered that Roman Catholic nun on the road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I can’t tell you how many times as a child in Belfast, I was warned to behave myself or the nuns would come and take me away. Later I would learn that the threat of nuns was often used by protestant families to keep children in line.

For generations, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have spent most of their fighting with their neighbours about how to love God that they’ve barely had time to love God and they’ve never really learned how to love their neighbours. When I was growing up, I was taught that there are good religions and there are bad religions. It wasn’t very complicated; our religion was a good religion and everyone else’s religion was a bad religion. My parents left Northern Ireland to avoid the warring madness between Protestants and Roman Catholics euphemistically known as the “Troubles.” I know all too well the mess we humans can get into when we forget that there is more than one way to live and move and have your being in the MYSTERY that we call God.

For just over ten years now, congregations that identify themselves as “progressive” have been celebrating Pluralism Sunday. Pluralism Sunday was conceived as an opportunity for churches to celebrate religious diversity and affirm that there are so very many pathways into the MYSTERY that we call God. I must confess that nun/witch that I encountered in Belfast all those years ago has haunted my preparations for this Pluralism Sunday. Life seemed so much simpler back then. Continue reading

Stretching Metaphors Beyond their Ability to Carry Us – a sermon for Easter 5B – John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

to listen to the audio only click here

There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God.  Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.

Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the Divine.

The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”.

“Those who live in me and I in them will bear abundant fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Wait, what?   “Those who don’t live in me are like withered, rejected branches, to be picked up and thrown on the fire and burned.”

That’s the thing with metaphors. Metaphors can carry us beyond the words and images to a reality that is beyond words and images. Metaphors can also entrap us because we are prone to stretching metaphors beyond their ability to carry us. Metaphors often fail when they are delivered to folks who do not share the experiences of the creators of those metaphors. Vino veritas works, because we share the experience of seeing truth revealed when the wine is flowing. But when the anonymous-gospel-storyteller stretches his metaphor to say, “If you live on in me, and my words live on in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” the metaphor begins to fail, because not all of us share the experiences of asking and receiving whatever we want. And thus, the storyteller’s conclusion, “My Abba will be glorified if you bear much fruit and thus prove to be my disciples” fails  to convince us.

Today’s first reading from the first letter of John often fails to convince us for a different reason. Scholars believe that the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John were written by the same anonymous-storyteller, we don’t know his name, but the church has traditionally called this anonymous-storyteller John. Scholars tell us that both the gospel of John and the First Letter of John were written sometime between 90-110, some 60 to 80 years after Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. Scholars do not believe that this story-teller was an eyewitness to the life and teachings of Jesus, but rather that he experienced the life and teachings of Jesus through the stories that were handed down through the community in which he lived; a community that was suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire as well as the persecution of their neighbours because they had chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the midst of a very violent, dangerous existence our story-teller writes a letter to his community in which he insists: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. Those who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is Love.”

If only he had stopped there. But he continues, “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: “by sending the Only Begotten into the world, that we might have faith through the Anointed One. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins.”

The life and teachings of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about love; the love that Jesus had for his neighbours and the love that Jesus had for his enemies. Jesus lived a life that embodied neighbour love and extended the definition of neighbour to include those on the margins. Jesus critiqued his own culture and the culture of his people’s oppressors based on the love of neighbour. When the religious authorities and the forces of Empire teamed up to persecute Jesus and his neighbours, Jesus refused to take up arms against his enemies choosing instead to insist that only by loving our enemies can we hope to find peace.  Jesus proclaimed that peace could only be achieved through justice; justice based on love of neighbours and love of enemies.

Violence is a violation of love and will never lead to peace. Jesus chose to embody love precisely because he understood God as love. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE was so powerful, that in Jesus, people were able to see and experience God. The Jesus experience was so powerful, so life-changing that not even the death of Jesus could kill the experience of LOVE that his followers encountered in the life of Jesus.

Writing some 60 to 80 years after the brutal Roman execution of Jesus, the Jesus experience continued to speak powerfully to the followers of Jesus who continued to share that experience with others.  That they chose to tell the story of Jesus life and death in ways that would have resonated with the people of their time should come as no surprise to us. Sacrifice, booth animal and human were part and parcel of the religious traditions of the Hellenistic world in which the followers of Jesus lived.  That the followers of Jesus tried to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is not surprising. That all these centuries later we continue to try to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is astounding.  That we all too often focus on cultic sacrifice at the expense of love, is in and of itself criminal.

Every day we are learning so much about what it means to be human, about the expansive cosmos in which we live, and about the very nature of reality. We are uniquely placed to explore what lies beyond the comprehension of those who have gone before us in faith. The dimensions and the power of love deserve more than the speculations of our past or the sentimental, self-serving notions of our present age.

LOVE, the LOVE that is God, deserves our attention in the here and now. Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. If we have any hope of learning to love our neighbours and our enemies we will need to understand more fully the magnitude of the LOVE that is God so that we might begin to truly embody that LOVE. This will require that we step up and pay attention to how we arrived at a place where love can be wrapped up in guilt and confused with human sacrifice, so that we can shake off our childish notions and grow into all that we are created to be.

LOVE Beyond measure. Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion, beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time, beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond imagining. Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. So, let the metaphor carry us beyond the words and images, let it carry us to the reality that is the LOVE that we call the Divine.

Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Let us be of the vine, for we are intertwined one with another, all wound up in da-vine, for we are ONE with the DIVINE. Let the fruit of the vine flow through us so that we can be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here and now, “to be LOVE in the world”.

LOVE Beyond measure.

Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion,

beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time,

beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason,

beyond emotion, beyond imagining.

Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE.

God the DIVINE who is,

LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

May that LOVE flow through us. Amen.

Easter: 50 Days to Celebrate the Practice of Resurrection! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection!

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection?

Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for?

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas

A Way to Understand the Resurrection – Richard Holloway

Moving on from the Tragedy of Good Friday

When tragedy strikes, we have this innate need to know the facts. What happened? It is as if the facts about what happened can save us from the horrendous impact of the tragedy. Tell us the facts. Tell us what happened: where it happened? when it happened? how it happened? Give us the facts and we will be able to figure out why it happened. If we figure out why it happened we can make sense of the tragedy, we can put the colossal impact of the tragedy into context. Once we put the tragedy into context we can get some perspective on it and begin to manage it, so that we can move on from the tragedy.

So, what are the facts? Well, what happened is, they executed Jesus. When? close to 2000 years ago. How? They nailed him to a tree, trusting that the weight of his body would in time cause his body to shut down in the most horrendous way. These are the barest of facts. In the nearly 2000 years that have passed since the tragedy of one man’s execution at the hands of a cruel Empire, we have been given many more facts about this particular tragedy. Indeed, we have been given facts, stories, legends, myths, conjectures, creeds, rituals, testimonies, and sermons about this particular tragedy. Whole libraries exist full of books written over 20 centuries trying to make sense of this tragedy, trying to put the horrendous details into context, giving us all sorts of perspectives and still we cannot make sense of this tragedy, let alone move on from it. So, we gather together, and we ask ourselves, Why? Continue reading