Spinnin’ Wheel Got to Go ‘Round! – Luke 6:17-26 – Epiphany 6C

Once upon a time, in a poor Chinese village, there lived a farmer and his son. The farmer’s only material possession, apart from the land and a small hut, was a horse that he had inherited from his father. One day, the horse ran away, leaving the farmer with no animal with which to work the land. His neighbours, who respected him for his honesty and diligence, went to the farmer’s house to say how much they regretted his loss. The farmer thanked his neighbours for their visit, but asked them: ‘How do you know that what just happened is a misfortune in my life?’
Someone muttered to a friend: ‘He obviously doesn’t want to face facts, but let him think what he likes, after all, this is better than him being sad about it.’  So, his neighbours went away, pretending to agree with what the farmer had said.

A week later, the horse returned to its stable, but it was not alone; the horse brought along a beautiful mare for company. The inhabitants of the village were thrilled when they heard the news, for only then did they understand the reply that the farmer had given them, and they went back to the farmer’s house to congratulate him on his good fortune, ‘Instead of one horse, you’ve got two. Congratulations!’ they said.
‘Many thanks for your visit and for your solidarity,’ replied the farmer. ‘But how do you know that what happened was a blessing in my life?’
The neighbours were rather put out and decided that the farmer must be going mad, and, as they left, one of his neighbours spoke for them all when he said: ‘Doesn’t the farmer realize that the horse is a gift from God?’
A month later, the farmer’s son decided to break the mare in. Unfortunately, the animal bucked wildly and threw the boy off; the boy fell so violently that he broke his leg. The neighbours returned to the farmer’s house, bringing presents for the injured boy. The mayor of the village solemnly presented his condolences to the farmer, saying how sad they all were about what had occurred.

The farmer thanked them for their visit and for their kindness, but he asked: ‘How do you know that what just happened is a misfortune in my life?’

These words left everyone dumbstruck, because they were all quite sure that the boy’s accident was a real tragedy. As they left the farmer’s house, they said to each other: ‘Now he really has gone mad; his only son could be left permanently crippled, and he’s not sure whether the accident was a misfortune or not!’
A few months went by, and Japan declared war on China. The emperor’s emissaries scoured the country for healthy young men to be sent to the front. When they reached the village, they recruited all the young men, except the farmer’s son, whose leg had not yet healed. None of the young men came back alive. The son recovered, and the two horses produced foals that were all sold for a good price. The farmer went to visit his neighbours to console and to help them, since they had always shown him such solidarity. Whenever any of them complained, the farmer would say: ‘How do you know that what just happened is a misfortune?’ If someone was overjoyed about something, he would ask: ‘How do you know that what just happened is a blessing?’ And the people of the village came to understand that life has other meanings that go beyond mere appearance.[i]

Jesus’ comments about blessings and woes are sometimes interpreted as a forecast of what is to come. The poor shall be rewarded, the hungry will be filled, those who weep will laugh, being hated scorned, insulted, and spurned won’t be so bad because this will gain you a great reward. But woe to those who are rich because you’ve had yours now and there won’t be more of that. Woe to you who are full because you are going to be hungry. As for those of you who are laughing now, woe is me you are going to weep in your grief. As for you whom folks speak well of, well we all know what horrors are in store for you because we’ve seen it all before. It’s as if these blessings and woes are a kind of prediction of a reversal of fortunes.

Well if that’s true, I have only one thing to ask of Jesus: Where’s the good news? What’s the point of predicting that things are going to be turned upside down? Is Jesus really pointing toward a Creator who is nothing more than a judge who’s going to punish those who appear to have one life’s lottery, so that the apparent losers can become apparent winners? Well as someone who is blessed beyond measure, I don’t really want to know let alone worship such a Deity.  And I can tell you this, I hope that even if I was poor, I wouldn’t wish poverty on my worst enemy, even if that enemy was a greedy, filthy, stinking, rich so-and-so. After all is said and done, isn’t Jesus the rabbi who lived and died teaching the way of LOVE? Cleary, we need to look beyond interpretations that set up the apparent winners and losers as players in a perverse game of reversal of fortunes. It’s long past time for us to move beyond a quid pro quo philosophy that pits winners and loser against one another as if the only way we can have winners is if someone loses.

So, where is the good news here? Good news for the rich and the poor? Good news for the hungry and the fed? Good news for those who weep and for those who laugh? Good news for the winners and for the losers? Continue reading

No More Fishing for People! – Luke 5:1-11 – Epiphany 5C

I went to high school on the West Coast in a small town called Ladner. Today, Ladner is pretty much a suburban bedroom community from which people commute to their jobs in the city of Vancouver. But back in the early 1970’s, Ladner was a small fishing village. It was a terrific place to go to high school; that is if you were white, middle-class and male. I don’t really know how it was for the handful of folks who weren’t part of the white majority. I remember when I was in grade ten; a new girl showed up in our classes. I’ll call her Shirley for the purposes of this sermon. Shirley, we were told, came from somewhere way up north in British Columbia. Shirley wasn’t part of the majority, back then we called Shirley’s people “Indians.” I remember our homeroom teacher introduced Shirley as an Indian who had travelled south for her education.    We were told that there weren’t any high schools where Shirley came from, so she had to leave her family behind and come down to Ladner all by herself. She was boarding with a family in Ladner.

About all I can remember about Shirley’s first days with us is the unusual way that Shirley dressed. Back then there was a sort of dress code. We all wore the same stuff, blue jeans, not just any blue-jeans, mind you, we wore a brand called Seafarers which had bell-bottoms, that dragged on the ground. Both boys and girls wore white tee-shirts and you just had to have the latest thing in foot wear: leather adidas running shoes. We thought we were so cool, with our anti style, which in our rebellious naiveté we didn’t realize was actually a style in itself. Shirley didn’t fit in, because she wore what we openly mocked as stylish clothes. I remember that all her cloths looked new and expensive as if someone had taken her out and bought her an entire wardrobe of old people’s cloths; and by old people I mean 30 somethings. She just didn’t look like one of us. But that didn’t really matter because Shirley wasn’t one of us and so we never included her in anything we did.

After Shirley had been in our school for a few months, I remember a social studies class in which the teacher asked Shirley to tell us about her life in Northern British Columbia. The tale that Shirley told us about the reservation on which she lived was unbelievable to our young ignorant ears. Shirley claimed that she had been forced against her will to leave her family behind and travel all by herself to live with a family that was only interested in the money that the Indian Affairs department paid them for her room and board. She said that her parents would be thrown into jail if she wasn’t in school even though there was no school anywhere near the reservation. She said she’d run away several times, but that she’d always been caught, and her family was punished because she’d missed so much school. She claimed that her family hated living on the reservation. Shirley told us that it wasn’t safe on the reservation because most of the men drank.

My classmates asked all sorts of questions, but there was something in the way they asked the questions that made it clear that none of us believed a word Shirley was saying. After all, how could any of this be true? Nobody would ever take kids away from their families by force. Back then we cut class all the time. It was a different world and as long as you kept your grades up nobody cared whether or not you went to every class. Cutting classes was part of our culture, so the idea that parent could be thrown into jail because you skipped school was crazy talk.

Why we wondered out loud, would the government send you to a school so far away; why not just send you to a school nearer the reservation so that you could go see your folks on weekends? Well, according to Shirley, the government picked schools that were far away so that the Indian kids wouldn’t just run away from school and head back home. The only way home for Shirley was on an airplane and the government only gave her two tickets a year. When the teacher asked Shirley about conditions on the reservation, Shirley spoke really softly about there not being enough water and food to go around. One of us said, that was because they spent all their money on booze and cigarettes. Shirley got really quiet then and the teacher ended the conversation.

Later in the cafeteria there was a lot of conversation about the lies we were convinced Shirley had told us. We simply didn’t believe a word she said. I mean really, this is Canada after all. Canada is a great country, a good place. My parents brought us to Canada because it’s the land of opportunity. If Shirley’s people were having a tough time it wasn’t the government’s fault. Like my classmates, I believed Shirley’s people had only themselves to blame for their troubles. From our position of privilege, we insisted that all “they” had to do was work hard and to get ahead. We believed that we Canadians are good people, we are not prejudice at all.

I remember an actual conversation about the many ways in which Canadians take care of “our” Indians, because we are not like the Americans. Canadians didn’t declare war on Indians, Canadians took care of Indians. Our ignorance was matched only by our arrogance. I, like my privileged classmates, had a naïve understanding of this country. We had been taught to look at Canadian history through rose-coloured glasses. I believed what I was taught about the honour and gallantry of the early settlers of this land, hard workers one and all;

good honest people who’d left the hardships imposed on them in their homelands to build lives for themselves here in Canada. I knew nothing of the world that Shirley was describing. We weren’t taught anything about broken treaties, or the abuses perpetrated by the Indian Affairs Department and we’d certainly never heard about the travesty of residential schools. The conditions Shirley tried to tell us about and the circumstances in which she found herself sounded ridiculous to us, so we assumed that Shirley must be lying. Ignorance and denial were not just our collective responses to Shirley’s story, in my own heart of hearts I was convinced that it that Shirley’s stories could not be true, and I was comfortable passing judgement upon her.

So, the good people of Ladner marginalized Shirley. We weren’t bad, no not us. We weren’t prejudiced, no not us. We simply could not, nor would we believe that the Canadian system could or would inflict such hardships on Shirley’s people. “They, those Indians” must be doing something to bring down the wrath of the Indian Affairs Department. We convinced ourselves that if “they” would just get themselves together and live more like us, things would go a whole lot better for “them.” Just look at Shirley and you’ll see what I mean. Shirley never finished grade ten, she started taking drugs and hanging out with men; older men. I heard that she tried to kill herself not once but several times. Shirley was messed up. From where I was standing, it sure looked like Shirley brought a whole lot of trouble upon herself.

Looking back on the young girl that I once was, I am ashamed of the self-righteousness that blinded me to Shirley’s pain. Sure, I can tell myself that it was a different time and we just didn’t know any better. I can let myself off the hook with all sorts of rationalizations, but the truth is that not a whole lot has changed, even though we all know better. The truth is that to this very day, I continue to find it difficult to accept the reality of my white privilege.  I grew up with all the privileges of a world where everything was interpreted from the perspective of a paradigm of Empire and make no mistake about it, that Empire was ruled by white people who were mostly male. Every aspect of our culture was controlled by an Empire that bestowed privilege upon the tribe that I just happened to be born into. Continue reading

Spinning Wheel – A Sermon on Luke 4:14-21 for Epiphany 3C

Blood Sweat & Tears

This sermon explores the need to set the captives free. It was inspired by a Globe and Mail article written by David Clayton Thomas, former lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears and dedicated to the memory of an old friend who did not “go naturally” and will never be forgotten! You can listen to the sermon here to get you in the mood, watch the video of Blood, Sweat & Tears below

The year was 1969. I was just twelve years old and my family had only recently moved to Ladner, a small village south of Vancouver. I was the new kid in a tightly knit grade seven class. I remember being angry, a lot. Being twelve is tough, but being twelve and new in town; well that’s a kind of hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There were only two places I felt safe: One was my bedroom where I could escape into my books or listen to music. The other place was music class. We had a really cool, young teacher, she must have been fresh out of teachers’ college, because she had all these new ideas about something she called music appreciation. The songs we sang in Miss Conroy’s class were songs off the radio. Some days she’d let us put our heads down on our desks and she’d just play music and all we had to do was appreciate it. Not all of the music was stuff we’d heard on the radio, sometimes Miss Conroy would sneak in some jazz; not any kind of jazz I’d ever heard before, improvisational jazz; it was so cool to my twelve year-old ears that I gave Miss Conroy a pass when she would slip into teacher mode and put some classical music on the record player.

One day, Miss Conroy announced that we’d been listening to her music long enough; it was time we began to listen to our music. Miss Conroy explained that she was going to divide us into pairs and each pair would have to work together to select a piece of music to bring to class and share it. We would have to explain to the class, why the piece that we choose was worth paying attention to. Now even though there were all sorts of pieces of music that I thought would be great for this assignment, I began to panic. Who on earth would want to work with me on such a project? The thought of being teamed up with anyone of my classmates struck fear into my heart. I didn’t have any real friends in this class and as the new kid I knew that nobody would want to be stuck with me. Vision’s of being left out, all alone without a partner began to overwhelm me, as Mrs. Conroy announced that we would be drawing names out of a hat in order to determine who our partners would be. When my turn came to pull a partner’s name out of the hat, I didn’t even know what to hope for. I didn’t know people well enough to want anyone in particular to be my partner, there was only one person in the whole class that I knew that I knew well enough to know that I didn’t want to be my partner. I, like all my classmates was positively terrified of, for the sake of this sermon I’m going to call him Kenny. Kenney sure wasn’t twelve; he was a few years older than the rest of us. He was a big guy; dark hair, good looking, and unlike the other adolescent boys in the class, Kenny had already started shaving. Once during the lunch hour I witnessed Kenny bullying a younger boy into eating an apple core that had been discarded a few days earlier. The kid ate the rotting core rather than face whatever it was Kenny was threatening him with. Kenny was big, tough and loud. Most of us were frightened of Kenny and because kids are cruel, behind his back we diagnosed him as crazy. But there was something about Kenny, maybe it was his good looks, maybe it was the buckskin fringe jacket that he sported, or maybe it was just his wildness that made him the talk of the jittering boy-crazed girls in the class. So, I was more than a bit upset when of all people, I pulled Kenny’s name out of the hat. What piece of music could the two of us possibly have in common and how was I even going to talk to him? Miss Conroy slipped perilously into my bad books on the day she forced me into the company of the dreaded Kenny.

Ours was an uneasy partnership. There was precious little conversation involved. Kenny picked the piece of music. Kenny told me what I was going to tell the class about our piece of music. Fortunately, I actually knew and liked the piece that Kenny had chosen. It had been a big hit the previous summer and I owned a copy of the record. The only problem was that my copy was a 45. Kenny insisted that we just had to use the version that was on the album; not the version that they played on the radio off the 45. The version on the album included the trumpet solo that never made it onto the 45. It would have made the song too long for the hit parade! And that’s how I ended up in front of my classmates, standing beside a boy, who though handsome and tough had suddenly become monosyllabic as I struggle to explain why our choice of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Spinning Wheel, was music well worth appreciating.

What goes up must come down

spinning wheel got to go round

Talking about your troubles it’s a crying sin

Ride a painted pony

Let the spinning wheel spin

You got no money, and you, you got no home

Spinning wheel, spinning all alone

Talking about your troubles and you,

you never learn

Ride a painted pony

let the spinning wheel turn.

Did you find a directing sign

on the straight and narrow highway?

Would you mind a reflecting sign

Just let it shine within your mind

And show you the colours that are real

Someone is waiting just for you

spinning wheel is spinning true

Drop all your troubles, by the river side

Catch a painted pony

On the spinning wheel ride

Someone is waiting just for you

spinning wheel is spinning true

Drop all your troubles, by the river side

Ride a painted pony

Let the spinning wheel fly.

They just don’t write songs like that anymore. Kenny was right, the trumpet solo, is a must. Blood, Sweat and Tears had the best horn section. They could take a mediocre song and turn it into something special:  “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “God Bless the Child,” “Hidey Ho, Hidey Hi,” “And When I Die.” Thanks to Kenny, I bought every LP that Blood, Sweat and Tears ever recorded.

So, what has any of this got to do with this morning’s Gospel reading? Well the words that the writer of the Gospel of Luke puts into the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth have been spinning round in my head all week long. I keep hearing Jesus quote the words of the prophet Isaiah. “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.” The year of God’s favour is the prophet Isaiah’s way of describing the year of Jubilee. Written into the Jewish law was a provision meant to address the systemic injustices that creep into the law as time goes by. It is said that every 50 years a Jubilee would be declared. Continue reading

NO! I Do NOT Believe IN Jesus! – a sermon on John 2:1-11 – The Wedding at Cana

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend that I was very close to during my seminary days. This friend has long since left the church. My friend asked me, “Dawn do you still believe in Jesus?” I remembered all the long conversations in seminary about believing in Jesus and at that very moment I had an epiphany of sorts. I hesitated to answer, because like all epiphanies, I recognized that if I let myself go to the place where my epiphany was pointing me to, I would be in very unfamiliar territory. My friend would not let me off the hook, “It’s a simple question Dawn.  Do you still believe in Jesus?”

“No.” I said, and my friend smiled, the way she used to smile when she scored a point against me in some theological debate. My epiphany was shedding light on what could prove to be a painful reality. After all, from where my friend now sits, outside of the church and beyond all the church’s teachings, belief in Jesus is kind of a non-negotiable bottom line for a pastor. From her perspective, I ought to be able to give an unequivocal, “YES” to her question.

“No.” I said it again. “I do not believe in Jesus.”

My friend’s smile seemed to shine brighter than my epiphany. It was as if she was already celebrating my departure from the church. Before she could welcome me to the place where she now stands, outside the church, I said it again. “No, I do not believe inJesus. But, ……….I dobelieve Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said .I believe what Jesus taught. I believe that the way Jesus lived embodies a new way of being human. I believe Jesus when he says, “Do not be afraid.” I believe Jesus when he speaks about the MYSTERY that we call God. I believe Jesus when he insists that justice is worth dying for. I believe Jesus when he risks everything for the sake of his conviction that non-violent resistance is the way to achieve justice. I believe Jesus, the way he lived, the way he died, and the way he lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who follow his way of being human. I believe Jesus. I also believe that it doesn’t matter a whole hill of beans whether or not I or anybody else believes inJesus. But it makes all the difference in the world and tothe world that we believe Jesus, because at the core of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught is LOVE. LOVE God with all your heart, with, all your soul, and with all your mind and LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself; this I believe is a way BEYOND the kind of humanity that is always consumed by itself. I believe Jesus’ call to look beyond our selfish needs, desires and wants, to move beyond our fears, to LOVE. Continue reading

Baptism is a Ritual Expression of What IS – a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I have never much cared for John the Baptist. Everything that we read about John the Baptist in the Christian Scriptures makes me think of him as Jesus’ red-necked cousin. You know the kind of family member I mean. We all have one or two in our families. Some of you may have had the pleasure of being visited by one of your fanatical red-necked family members over the holidays. We’ve all been there. Stuck around a dinner table, trying to steer the conversation clear away from anything remotely political; fearing that at any moment our red-necked relative will go on a rant about immigrants coming into this country and threatening our culture, or the government wasting millions on foreign aid, or women with their feminist agenda’s wanting it all, and those lazy poor people who need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop expecting handouts, or heaven forbid, the relative whose neck so flaming red that they, at the drop of a hat, will sing the praises of the likes the orange fellow who lives in the White House, who they think is on to something because he refuses to be politically correct and tells it like it is. You know that relative of yours who keeps reminding you of the good old days and the need to return to them because if we spare the rod, we will spoil the child.

Take a moment and sit back and remember that relative, friend, or co-worker, and if you are blessed enough not to have such a person in your life, think about the folks who we see every day in every sort of media, the folks are calling for a return to the values you no longer share. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of someone whose constant wrangling makes you so uncomfortable that they embarrass you? Hold that image in your mind and listen as I do my best to imitate John the Baptist as he rants on:

“Pay attention people!  You think my raving on and on about repentance is annoying? You think my baptism is demanding? There is somebody coming who makes me look like a wimp. There is somebody coming who has real fire in his belly. Somebody who will take your tools out of your hands, and wipe the floor with you, and toss the lot of you into the fiery pits of hell! You brood of vipers!!! You just wait! Be afraid. Be very afraid!!! You’re all going to get yours!

Repent. Turn from your modern, pinko, new age, progressive, radical ways!!! Return to the good old days!!! Days when men were men and women kept a civil tongue in their heads and kids were seen and not heard. The days when this was a God-fearing country and we rode with our neighbours to the south, to keep the world safe for the likes of us. It’s time to toughen up people and start demanding a little respect from those people, you know the ones I mean, the ones who are different than us.”

I don’t know about you but these days I tend to give rednecks like John the Baptist a wide birth. If I do happen to stumble into a situation where I can’t avoid fanatics like John the Baptist, I tend to just let them ramble on, until they wear themselves out and then I take my leave, shake the dust from my feet and I move on. But the holidays, oh the holidays, it’s difficult to avoid red-necks during the holidays, especially if we are related to them. Well John the Baptist comes around every Advent ranting and raving, shouting at us to Repent, to Prepare, you brood of vipers!  No wonder, we are all very quick to move on to Christmas when we can ignore John and gaze adoringly at the baby Jesus, whose beauty makes us forget that Herod is looming in the background. But no sooner is the baby born, then in the wink of an eye Jesus is a grown man, and his dear cousin John is at it again, going on and on, threatening us by suggesting that Jesus is going to rain down on us bringing the Holy Spirit to baptize us with fire. With a winnowing fork in hand, he will clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. And the way that John tells it, it sounds pretty much like we are the chaff and not the wheat, and so, we are doomed to burn in that unquenchable fire, if we don’t do what John tells us to do. Repent! Repent! Repent I say! Repent! Be afraid! Be very afraid! The Lord is coming! Fire burns!!! Hell is on the horizon!!! Turn back! Turn back!!! Continue reading

Shine for the sake of Jakelin, Felipe, and Refugees Everywhere, Shine! – an Epiphany sermon

Maybe it’s because I’ve directed too many Christmas pageants, but when I hear the story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus, I don’t think of three kings at all. No visions of regal visitors decked out in their finest riding atop camels guided by a star for me. Just memories of little boys, all decked out in colourful shiny robes that threaten to trip them up, giggling and roughhousing, with their cardboard crowns askew.  Of all the little boy kings that I’ve tried to corral, one of them stands out from all the rest.  Perhaps I remember him so well because he was so little that we couldn’t have him kneel at the manger because we were afraid that he would disappear into the hay and our audience would only see two Wise Guys paying homage instead of three, or maybe it was the speed with which he dashed in and out of the gang of shepherds who threatened to trip him up with their crooks.

But I really think it was the ingenious way he solved the problem of his lost gold, that makes little Jay stand out from all the other little boy kings. Little Jay’s mother, like all the mothers of all the kings, was responsible for creating a facsimile of the gift her wise son would bestow on the baby Jesus. Unlike some of the feeble efforts that I’ve seen over the years, Jay’s gift of gold was a cut above the rest. Inside an elaborately carved box that his Dad had picked up on his travels to the Middle East, Jay’s mother had placed upon a bed of statin a carefully created block of wood wrapped in golden gift paper. When the light hit the gift, it sparkled so very splendidly. It must have impressed Jay, because he was forever opening up his box to show his fellow cast-members his sparkling gift. During the dress rehearsal, Jay’s performance was splendid. Jay positively perfected the art of gazing up at the makeshift star that hung above the altar just east of our makeshift manger. When he arrived at the place where the newborn baby Jesus lay in a makeshift manger, who just happened to be a little girl that year, Jay strode right up to her mother Mary and opened the box containing his sparkling offering and proudly announced his gift of gold for the new born king.

“They,” whoever “they” are, say that if the rehearsal does not go well then, the performance will be wonderful. So, I was more than a little worried when our dress rehearsal went off so splendidly because that could mean only one thing, and I wasn’t looking forward to a performance where things went wrong.  Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, on the morning of his big performance, somewhere between his house and the church, Jay lost his golden gift.  All he had was an empty box when he showed up at his father’s pew wailing because all was lost.  Jay had no gold to give to the baby Jesus.

Today, as I reflect on the plight of so very many children, I can’t help thinking about that empty box and like little Jay, I simply want to wail. I think it was Boxing day, the second day of Christmas, when I first heard about the little 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas Eve, in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Felipe Alonzo-Gomez’s death has haunted the twelve days of Christmas. Little Felipe’s death coupled with the knowledge that another child had died earlier in December, is an obscenity that ought to reduce every adult to wailing. Little Jakelin Caal Maquin was just seven years old when U.S. Customs and Border Protection failed in their duty of care. Little Jakelin and Little Felipe’s protection was sacrificed on the altar of a political idea which continues to put the protection of a border over and above the lives of children who are fleeing violence in their homeland. I confess that I’ve been more than a little obsessed this Christmas season by the plight of refugees. I’ve found myself searching for all the information that’s out there, hoping against hope that somebody, anybody has a magic solution that will safeguard the lives of refugees. But alas, like little Jay, I show up to greet the Christ child, with what appears to be nothing more than an empty box. Continue reading

Welcome Home to the MYSTERY that IS LOVE – Christmas Eve sermon

A number of years ago, back when I had only been a pastor for a couple of years, on the Sunday just before Christmas, immediately after our worship service, I travelled over to the hospital to pay a visit to a member of this church. I was all decked out in my Sunday best.

So, I very much looked the part of a pastor. Back then, I was very unsure of myself in my new role as a pastor. Nothing made me more uncomfortable than hospital visits. I felt like I was a bit of impostor. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and even though the collar around my neck often felt like it might choke the life out of me, that collar proclaimed to everyone at the hospital that I was there in my professional capacity.

I enjoyed a very pleasant visit with one of the seasoned members of this congregation, who went out of her way to ensure that we both enjoyed the visit. As I was leaving the floor, a woman beckoned me into a visitors’ lounge, ever so quietly she asked, “Could you please help me?”

I sat down beside her and listened to her story. When you’re wearing a clergy collar people presume all sorts of things about who you are. This distraught young woman presumed from my attire that I was a competent professional who could accomplish what she could not. Tearfully, she told me that her farther, from whom she’d been estranged for many years, was dying and needed a priest. She had called the Roman Catholic churches in town and none of the priests were available to come right away. The young woman explained that she was afraid that there may not be enough time to wait for a Roman Catholic priest. She asked me if I would be able to administer the Last Rites to her father. I hesitated as I considered her request.

I was frantically going over what I had been taught about the Roman Catholic practices commonly known as “the Last Rites:” Confession, Absolution, Communion, Anointing the Sick. I had been trained to do all of these as a Lutheran, but not as a Roman Catholic. The Last Rites always were intended to provide comfort to those who were dying. But for centuries, many Roman Catholics had come to believe that the dying needed to receive the Last Rites in order to assure their place in heaven. This popular misconception created all sorts of anxiety about securing the services of a priest. While I was tossing this over in my mind, the young woman, grabbed my arm and loudly asked: “Protestants do have Last Rites, don’t you?” Continue reading

A Newborn Baby Positively Oozes with the Aura of the MYSTERY that Lies at the Very Core of Reality – a Christmas Eve sermon

Sermon preached on the morning of Christmas Eve – Luke 2:1-20

Listen to the audio only version sermon here

Every Christmas, the parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols that proclaim the birth of God among us do more than recount the birth of a baby in an ancient faraway land. Every Christmas, these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols proclaim the birth of hope in us; hope not just that some far off supernatural being is going to come and save us from the worst of who we are, but hope that the Source of ALL, the Creator of Universes, the ONE Who IS, WAS, and Every More Shall BE, the ONE in Whom we LIVE and MOVE and Have our Being, this ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, is born over and over again to live and breathe in, with, through, and beyond us. The words just don’t do this reality justice, so we resort to the power of these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols, to move us beyond words so that we might approach the truth of our humanity. It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, is it any wonder that we approach this sacred celebration of who and what we are, by telling stories.

Together, at Christmas, we participate in the birth of a child. We see in the image of a new born baby swaddled in our hopes and dreams.  All our longings for LOVE and peace rest in the images that live and breathe in this story that has been handed down to us. It is a story we know so well and yet, it is a story that we have barely begun to understand. Like all stories, we can simply listen to it, or read it, and respond with little more than a nostalgic nod to simpler times when we hoped that someone or something out there, or up there, would come and save us from ourselves, our warring madness, and selfish greed, or we can open ourselves to the transformative power that some stories have and we can boldly dare to participate in the story, engage it, wrestle with it, and make it our own. If we let it, this story can open us to that which lives and breathes beyond the words of the story. The characters in this story can live and breathe and have their being in us.

Sadly, we all too often get bogged down in the words themselves, measuring them and testing them as we try to pinpoint the origins of the words and miss all together the many truths that this story can convey.  Some folks never get past arguing about the history. They just can’t seem to understand the power of myth to convey truth. The ancient scribes, who passed this story on to us, knew well the wisdom using mythology to convey truth. So, on this Christmas Eve, in the presence of one another, let us seek the wisdom of the ages remembering that wisdom is a precarious treasure; a treasure that has the ability to enrich our lives. At the heart of this story is a newborn baby. Each and every one of us is wise enough to know that there is nothing like a newborn baby to help you get to the very heart of reality. For who among us can hold a newborn in our arms and not wonder? Awe and wonder is the place where wisdom begins. A newborn baby positively oozes with the aura of the mystery that lies at the very core of reality. Who is this little creature? Where did it come from? How did get here? Who created it? What is it? What is life? What is it all about? Continue reading

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!”