Who do YOU say Jesus was and IS? – Matthew 16:13-20

“Who do you say that I AM?” Jesus’ question has been preoccupying me for most of my life. Indeed, my professional life requires me to spend hours and hours, week after week, month after month, year after year, and dare I say it, decade after decade, trying to figure out just who I think Jesus was and is. Your very presence here watching this video, suggests to me that you have also tried to figure out who Jesus was and is. From time to time, I suspect that most of us have believed that we had worked it out; that we know just who Jesus is. But Jesus, just like every person we have ever known, and or ever loved, Jesus keeps changing on us.

The Jesus I knew when I was a child was little more than an imaginary friend. “Jesus loves me this I know!” “Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me!” not because the bible tells me so, but rather as my friend and biblical scholar Harold Remus always insists, “because my Mommy told me so!” When I was a kid, the knowledge that Jesus loved me, earned Jesus the role of my imaginary friend.

Later, when I was a teen-ager looking for more love than my family could give me, I found my way into the Church and discovered, “What a Friend I have in Jesus! All my sins and griefs to bear!”

The idealism of my youth turned my imaginary friend Jesus into my radical friend Jesus, who understood my passion for justice, and led me into deep friendships with folks who were determined to practice what Jesus preached, as we proudly sought to be the kind of people who, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Sadly though, after 25 years in the church, I found myself as a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, with the keys of the kingdom jangling in my pockets, firmly believing that Jesus was and is, the: “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It has taken years for me to get to know Jesus as something other than the sacrificial Lamb of God. I stand in a long line of priests and pastors known as the Apostolic Succession.

According to the story, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew, Jesus handed the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, the “Rock” upon which the Church was founded, and in doing so Jesus handed over the authority to bind and loose in heaven. For generations, this passage has been interpreted by the Church as the establishment of the priesthood. The Apostle Peter is given the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and becomes the first gatekeeper precisely because possession of these keys gives him the power to decide just who will and who won’t be forgiven. Continue reading

“Nasty, Uppity, Woman!” – Matthew 15:21-28

That annoying Canaanite woman is at it again and not even Jesus can catch a break. Every three years that annoying woman comes along to disturb us. The way the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew tells his story, this annoying woman exposes Jesus for the human being that he was and shatters our illusions of Jesus the god-like super-hero. I know we could just look the other way. We could do what people, all too often, do when someone brushes off another human being with a racial slur; we could just pretend that we didn’t hear it. We could do what, according to the story, Jesus’ followers wanted Jesus to do, when they urged him to: “Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us”

It is clear from the way that the story is told that Jesus was trying to ignore this annoying woman’s incessant pleas. But she will not leave him alone. As much as I’d like to ignore her and everything she represents, she just won’t give us a break. Yes, I know that according to the story this woman was worried about her child, but how dare she expose Jesus in this way? Especially now, when we are all trying to cope with a global pandemic. Surely, we have enough on our plates, without rehashing this old story!  This one a hell of a pandemic we are living through. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard more than enough about racism during this pandemic to last me a lifetime. I don’t want to have to think about racism or white privilege, while I’m worrying how to stay healthy and protect my loved ones. I want to get away from all the noise about racism and I certainly don’t want to have to think about the fact that even Jesus is guilty of uttering a racial slur. If I still believed in the kind of god who functions like a puppeteer in the sky, I might suspect that this gospel reading didn’t just appear in the midst of this pandemic by chance. Even though I don’t believe in that kind of god, every once in a while, it would sure be nice to be able to blame this reading on some super guy up there. But like I said, every three years this reading comes up in the lectionary and this annoying woman forces us to see Jesus for who he was and always has been, a man.

Jesus was a man of his time; a man who was raised in an environment where women were to be seen and not heard;  a man who was raised to believe that his people were superior to other people, a man who wasn’t about to be disturbed by the yammering of a woman who was when all was said and done, nothing more than a Canaanite. Jesus was, after all a rabbi, and a busy rabbi at that. According to the story, Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water? He was a rabbi who was in demand, the crowds couldn’t get enough of him, Jesus had places to go and people to see. Just who did this woman think she was? Continue reading

If we are to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we must look beneath the surface!

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.

The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading

Feeding Our Hunger for DIVINE PRESENCE Amid a Pandemic – Matthew 14:13-21

When I was a teenager, I was always in a hurry. I wanted to see and do everything there was to see and do. When I was nineteen, I knew that I just had to get out there and see what the world had to offer. So with nothing more than a backpack, a three-month Euro-rail pass, and eight-hundred dollars in travellers cheques, I boarded an airplane bound for Amsterdam. I was searching for adventure and I was convinced that Europe held the excitement I was looking for. 

Inside my backpack was the book that would make it all possible,  a little book entitled,  “Europe on Ten Dollars a Day.” I was determined to make my eight-hundred dollars stretch the length and breadth of Europe. I was going to see and do it all!  It wasn’t easy. In fact, when I look back on it now, it seems like such a lot of hard work. Up early in the morning sightseeing all day long. Meeting new people. Fighting my way through the crowds of tourists. Searching for cheap places to eat and sleep. 

After two months of traveling from one European city to the next, I just couldn’t face one more castle or museum. I figured that it was time to get away from the cities so I headed for the Alps. After a long train ride from Munich, I arrived in the Swiss town of Interlaken. There I boarded a coggle train that would take me to the Alpine village of Grindelwald. The train was filled with tourists anxious to fill their rolls of film with pictures of the mountains. When I arrived in Grindelwald, I was told that the youth hostel was only about three kilometres from the station, so I and several other young backpackers which I had met on the train decided to walk to the hostel. What we didn’t know was that the hostel was three kilometres straight up the side of a mountain.  As we trudged up the mountain, we were embarrassed by the speed with which villagers three times our age just passed us by. Despite our youth, the senior Swiss locals were much more adept at climbing than we were.   Continue reading

LOVE, which we call God, IS a STRANGE ATTRACTOR!

Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of the Roman Empire, whose death continues to impact the world. His death upon the Empire’s instrument of execution, was relatively unremarkable. Thousands upon thousands of unruly inhabitants of the Empire were executed during Jesus’ lifetime by those charged with the task of establishing and maintaining order by force. To the powers that be, Jesus’ execution was little more than the routine death of a homeless, outcast who spent far too much time creating social unrest. Nothing more than the insignificant death of a troublemaker without influence in the halls of power, who would not or could not moderate his own behavior. An insignificant troublemaker dies, under the rule of law, and yet, the impact continues to reverberate all around the world, nearly 2000 years after it should have been long forgotten.

Late last fall, nobody’s really sure exactly when or to whom it happened, but sometime last fall, a person so obscure that history will fail to name them, someone living in an Empire where order is maintained by force, got sick and died. The impact of that death has kept millions of us all around the world, locked up inside our homes avoiding tiny droplets whose impact upon any one of us could be catastrophic. For months now, I have heard various people, including myself, refer to these strange times which we are living in as “chaotic”.  The very word chaos summons in me visions of Genesis, when the Ruach, the breath of the CREATOR hovered over what in Hebrew is called the tohu va-bohu, the formless void, or the chaos, the RUACH hovers over the tohu va-bohu and calls forth light out of the chaos of darkness. Continue reading

Erotic Playfulness: SOPHIA/WISDOM, a sermon Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In Jesus’ words, we can hear the dim echoes of a time gone by. Long before Jesus came there was a character who called out in the marketplaces. You can read about her in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. What students of the Bible call the “Wisdom literature” is full of stories about a character who so many people have never heard of.

In the book of Proverbs, she claims to have been there when CREATOR was busy creating and she declares:  “When God set the heavens in place, I was present, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God fixed the clouds above, when God fixed fast the wells of the deep, when God assigned the sea its limits…when God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman. Delighting God day after day, ever at play by God’s side, at play everywhere in God’s domain, delighting to be with the children of humanity.”   

So, just who is this master craftswoman? Job insists that, “we have heard reports of her”. But, “God alone has traced her path and found out where she lives.” The writer of Ecclesiasticus admonishes the reader to: “court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go.  For in the end, you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”

In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is described as, “quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of God’s goodness. Although alone, she can do all things; herself unchanging she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.”

You may not know who she is, but Jesus certainly did. Tales of her deeds were popular in Jesus’ day. Jesus, a student of the scriptures who was referred to as a rabbi, would certainly have known who this heroine of the scriptures is. In the ancient Hebrew texts of the Wisdom Literature she is called “CHOKMAH.”  In the ancient Greek translations of these texts she is called “SOPHIA.” In our English translations of these texts she is simply known as “wisdom.” The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages were written without punctuation. Often in Greek, there were no spaces between the words. Until long after Jesus’ day there were only capital letters. Upper- and lower-case letters were not used. Unlike our system where personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Often ancient Greek, the words did not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us.  Continue reading

Celebrate 50 Years of Pride: sermon

June is Pride month; a month set aside to both celebrate how far we have come and advocate for all those who have not and do not enjoy the freedom to express fully who they are regardless of who they love. But this is a June like no other. We are living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and whether we are out and proud or still in the closet, all of us queer or straight, we have all been locked down for the better part of the last three months. Closeted away in our respective homes, our fear of COVID-19 has been matched by the horror of the even more insidious infection of racism, a disease which has for centuries infected the hearts and minds of white privileged people and robbed Black, Indigenous and People of Colour of their liberty, dignity, and all too often their very lives. So, as June 28th, the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride Parade drew closer and closer, I wondered how we can celebrate Pride in the midst of so much suffering. Forget the fact that we can’t celebrate with a party, let alone a parade. How do we say, “Happy Pride!” on a day like today.

I must confess that I was sorely tempted to skip any mention of Pride celebrations this year. That is until, I was struck by an ear-worm.  You know those annoying ear-worms, pieces of songs that pop into your heard, over and over again. This particular ear-worm is a song from my misbegotten youth; a popular song which is actually based upon a piece of scripture. Rather than sing my earworm to you, let me share it with you: …..

there you have Psalm 137,  adapted and interpreted, but Psalm 137 indeed. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion. When the wicked carried us away in captivity Required of us a song Now how shall we sing the LORD’s son in a strange land.”

I know that this is not Babylon, and we haven’t been carried away into captivity by our enemies. But who among us can doubt that so much of what we have taken for granted has changed and right now we are living in a very strange place indeed? So how can we celebrate today of all days, when so many people are suffering? Continue reading

National Indigenous Peoples Day: In this storm, Jesus is not asleep in the back of the boat! We are!

The raging storms are all around us! The tumultuous winds are churning up the waters and tossing us about in treacherous seas. Our small boats are tossed to and fro as massive waves heave us left and right. The roaring winds create upheavals, which leave us cowering in fear, trembling as we struggle to meet each wave which carries with it the potential to destroy the few planks of wood that we have hewn together to carry us upon the ever changing sea, which holds both the promise of sustenance and the threat of oblivion within the darkness of its depths. With each crash upon the hull our fear rises, and the ferocity of the storms intensifies. Frightened, clinging to life as we are tossed from one danger to the next, we cry out into the storm, convinced that only some power more intense, bigger, stronger, beyond our abilities to even imagine, only a power such as this can save us from being swamped in our small boats. We fear that left to our own devices, without the meager security offered by our small boats, we will be overcome by the waves and drown in the very sea that we must rely upon to sustain us.

Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fear. As the storms rage all around us, we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters which lie before us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that drive us ever closer to wrecking our small boats. Boats hastily designed without thought to the perils which threaten to consume us, as monsters from below depths below, surface all around us. Continue reading

“The Great Commission” Birthed White Supremacy! – Trinity Sunday sermon

How did we get here? All over the world people are marching in the streets proclaiming, “Black lives matter.” Millions have defied the fear of the corona virus, and taken their lives into their hands to venture out into the streets to protest the systemic racism that permeates institutions all over this planet. Even in Canada, where it takes a colossal effort to turn people out into the streets, even in Canada hundreds of thousands of people have defied public health orders to march against racism.

By now we are all familiar with the recent murders which ignited the powder keg of outrage which continues to propel people into the streets. As horrific as these current murders are, it is not enough for those of us who benefit daily from our white privilege to simply look to the most horrific consequences of racism in order to understand the inherent depths of systemic racism which infect our world. If we are to begin to untangle ourselves from our own participation in the proliferation of racism, we must begin to understand the role of Christianity in the creation and maintenance of white supremacy.  For the same Christianity which gave us these words from Galatians which I just read as today’s Gospel, also gave us the words which are actually prescribed as the Gospel reading for this Trinity Sunday. Continue reading

“I Can’t Breathe!” – Pentecost sermon

The SPIRIT of Pentecost inflames our worship with images of tongues of fire and shouting excited crowds creating a cacophony of sound. Preachers pontificate about the birth of a movement which became the Church, with talk of rushing wind, and breath, breath of the SPIRIT breathing life into our churches. Breath, wind, and flame. And yet, there are those who cannot breathe, and the only wind that seems to blow are the ill winds that bring angry, desperate, frustrated, and oh so intemperate tongues of fire,  which dance upon our screens as a visual expression of the virus which threatens to suck the life out of all that we hold dear. It is oh so very tempting, to discard the masks designed to protect us from disease so that we can breathe the fresh air which blows just beyond our gasp.

We cannot breathe freely and so we look away. As we cling to our all but useless masks of denial, the tut tutting begins. “It is not happening here.” “The United States is not Canada.” “We are different.” “They had slavery.” “We freed slaves.” “They are a melting pot.” “We are multi-cultural.” “Those poor Americans.” “I’m so glad we live in Canada.” “Let’s put on our masks of denial and look away.  We are not infected by their virus.”

But we cannot breathe freely or deeply behind our masks. Looking away will not cure the virus which infects even us. Even us with our polite Canadian sensibilities, we are infected with a strain of the virus, albeit a strain born out of a different history, still powerful enough to crush the life out of even its healthiest victims. So, God knows what the weak or wounded among us will do to find relief.  He can’t breathe.  She can’t breathe. Come Holy SPIRIT, come.

Like many of you I have watched a wept as over and over again, young black men and women have their breath taken from them as they are murdered in the streets, in their yards, on their porches, and in their beds by the very ones who are sworn to protect and serve them. I too have shaken my head and tut tutted as I caught my own precious breath and turned away convinced that my own liberal, progressive, christian, Lutheran, Canadian attitudes have saved me from the virus. I am not a racist.  You are not racists. We are “nice” polite Canadians. Just look at the numbers. Our death tolls versus their death tolls, surely this proves that our rates of infection are less.

Shall we look at the numbers?  One-in-five Canadians do not think it’s safe to sit next to an Asian or Chinese person on a bus, while a quarter of Canadians “don’t know” if it’s safe. Anti-Asian attacks are on the rise in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. This week anti-semitism was visited upon a synagogue in Montreal. This week, during an encounter with Toronto police, a young black woman fell to her death. The cause of Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death has not been fully explained. Whatever happened, it is telling that her family, friends and neighbours, quickly suspected malpractice by the officers involved. I hope this is not the case. I pray that this was a tragic accident.  But the fact that trust between the black population of Toronto and the police force is so tenuous speaks volumes about the symptoms of the virus which lurks in the hearts and minds of those who fear the systemic nature of the illness and those who are privileged by the systemic nature of the very racism which we deny.

Decades ago, activist and educator Jane Elliot, asked a class of privileged white students to raise their hands if they would be happy to receive the same treatment as black citizens receive. Not surprisingly none of the privileged white students raised their hands. They knew full well the benefits of their own privilege. I remember studying Jane Elliot’s work when I was in university. I also remember feeling rather smug about my own enlightened attitudes, right up until the moment our professor asked us to raise our hands if we would be happy to receive the same education and housing as citizens of First Nations enjoy under the auspices of the administrators of Canada’s Indian Act. Not a single one of us privileged white students and yes, all my classmates except for one was white, and not one of us raised our hands.

The one student of colour in the classroom was a foreign student from the Southside of Chicago, who squirmed nervously in her seat. A fellow student, safely ensconced in his white privilege, asked the black woman who sat amongst a sea of white faces, “Do you think Canadians are racists?” We all presumed we knew what her answer would be. “Of course NOT!  Canadians aren’t like Americans.” To this day, I can still her response continues to ring in my ears. This wise, proud African American Woman bravely took the opportunity to respond with the words of her compatriot Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

Sisters and brothers, from the confines of my own white privilege, I am still only beginning to learn about the powerful virus which infects our Canadian society. I suspect that many of you might think that I’m talking about the virus of racism. Well I’m not. You see, I believe that racism although it may be the most dangerous symptom of the virus, it is not the disease itself. The virus which I am talking about is white privilege. Our Canadian strain of this insidious virus did not thrive in the Petri dish of slavery, like the strain our American cousins have cultivated. But our Canadian white privilege was born of the same sin of colonialism which saw British and European “conquerors” wash up on North American shores to rob the indigenous peoples of North America of their land, their wealth, their freedom, their cultures, and indeed in oh so many cases their very lives.

Our wealth, yours and mine was birthed out of the theft of land and it is maintained by oppression. There will be many who will point to the past and say, “that was then and this is now, we cannot take responsibility for the sins of our ancestors.” Fare enough.  But you and I we continue to drink fresh clean water while so many of our Indigenous sisters and brothers do not have access to fresh, clean, drinking water. I know, we’re working on it. We all want to do better.  We must do better. But we are not racists. We are kind, well-meaning, descent, kind-hearted Canadians.

Yes, we are. But our ability to be kind, well-meaning, descent, kind-hearted Canadians is made possible by our privilege. The very wealth we hungered for, worked for, educated ourselves for, and carefully accumulated is for the most part born out of white privilege. In Canada whiteness, privilege and wealth are all intimately connected.

Lest we fall into the trap of believing that because some white people are not privileged and some people of colour are  privileged, we need to remember that all of us privileged folk, we are playing by culturally white rules. Whiteness is not just a colour, it is also a social construct. Like all social constructs it builds walls to protect the privileges folks inside the walls and creates all sorts of barriers to keep people without privilege from breeching those walls unless and until they conform, change their ways and become just like the people inside the walls.

So, if white privilege is our disease, what is the cure?

I’ve already listened to all sorts of privileged people like myself point to the chaos and the violence in the United States and argue that we need bigger walls and stronger barriers. Order must be maintained because they, them, those, people well they are just getting out of hand. Rioting must not be tolerated. Everybody needs to calm down. Anger won’t get us anywhere. I’m reminded of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who insisted that, “riots are the language of the unheard.”

Yesterday, I listened as Bakari Sellers reminded a white American newsman that “the Boston tea party was no tea party.” It was a riot which gave birth to a rebellion. Anger is not in and of itself a bad thing. Back in the day, when we were struggling for equality for women.  I can’t tell you how many times people tried to put us back in our place by warning us not to be angry feminists. Well that is until we learned of the power of anger in the work of love.

When it comes to the disease of white privilege and the deadly symptoms of racism which are crushing the life out of so many, black and brown sisters and brothers, and the racism which emboldens fellow Canadians to spit on our Asian sisters and brothers, which continues to confine our Indigenous brothers and sisters to living conditions which are deadly, or the symptoms of privilege which confine the poorest among us to lives robbed of dignity, well its long past time to shed our veneer of calm and rise up in anger.

It is time for us to turn over some tables in the temple, in all of the temples where we worship. The rush of the SPIRIT of Pentecost is by its very nature wild and chaotic. The SPIRIT is prone to turn our systems upside down as it blows out the cobwebs from our carefully controlled lives.  It’s time to do more with our anger than simply suppress or deny it. I am NOT talking about violence; violence begets violence. I’m talking about expressing our anger in ways which compel change.It is time to put the power of our anger into the work of LOVE. Which for those of us who are white privileged Canadians means taking risk of being offensive. We might just have to risk saying the wrong thing in order to engage our neighbours in deep conversations about the nature of our dis-ease. We might just have to risk saying nothing at all.  That’s right shut up and listen. It isn’t always about us. We don’t always know what is best. 

We might just have to do more than just complain about injustice. We might actually have to make sacrifices. Instead of complaining about the corporate systemic injustices which ensure our privileges while squeezing the life out of multitudes of people, we might have to begin demanding less profits to feather our retirement nests.  Ushering in the kin-dom of God, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, being swept up by the SPIRIT means not just complaining about corporate greed but working and sacrificing to build a more equitable economic system. Like many cures, it may seem like the cure is worse than the dis-ease.

Angela Davis’ words continue to ring in my ears, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” In the face of such dis-ease, even as the flames still burn and the breath continues to be squeezed out of so many, perhaps it’s time for those of us who have enjoyed our privilege for so long to begin to realize that it is not enough for us to not be showing the symptom of racism, it is time for us to stand up against all the symptoms of white privilege by sacrificing, by taking risks, and maybe even suffering some strong medicine in order to quell the symptoms of racism, violence, poverty, hatred, and  let the SPIRIT blow where SHE wills. Maybe then, the peace, we all long for, will break out all over this land and all people, black, brown, red, yellow, white, Indigenous, settlers, Asian, Arab, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sheik, believers and non-believers can catch our collective breaths and breathe deeply of the SPIRIT in which we live and move and have our being, the ONE who is the MYSTERY which some of us call God. Come Holy SPIRIT. Come. Amen.

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To An UNKNOWN GOD: How Great Thou Art!

SERMON ONLY:  View the full Worship Video below

There is a time for everything, a season for every purpose under heaven: “a season for holding close and a season for holding back,” some translations say, “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” I’ve never fully understood, never deeply felt this season until right now, when we are smack dab in the middle of this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing. And I’ve gotta tell ya, “this sucks!” Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are in lockdown together and we are certainly not refraining from embracing. In fact, were it not for the tender embraces of my darling Carol, I dare say, that I could not cope with this lock-down. I give thanks every day for Carol’s presence with me. Her embraces feed my soul. My heart goes out to those of you who are at home alone. I’d dash over, right now and give you a big hug if I could. But I cannot.

There are so many embraces which are being held back right now. Embraces which I long for. What I wouldn’t give for one of those joy-filled tight, tight, squeezes from my grandchildren. There’s nothing quite like the joy of a child, when they race across a room, and launch themselves into your arms and squeeze for dear life. No wonder, desperate parents are devising those plastic barriers to serve as hug devices so their kids can hug their grandparents! I also miss those friendly, gentle hugs like the ones many of us exchange when you arrive at church and those reverent embraces we exchange during worship when we pass the peace. But the held back embraces, which I desperately long for more than anything else, are the gentle embraces we extend to comfort one another when our hearts are broken. There is no technology, no plastic barrier, no scribbled note, no well-wishing card which can comfort quite the way a gentle, tender, embrace which passes between friends and family who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Grieving our loved ones during these surreal days of physical distancing, accentuates our sadness. In our gospel reading, Jesus is heard to say, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Touching, embracing, and comforting are such an integral part of parenting. Is it any wonder then, that so many of us can resonate with that old spiritual right now, “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.”?  I must confess that, on more than one occasion this week, I’ve actually missed the “old-faraway-father-sky-god” who I used to pray to. You know that old bearded grandfather in the sky who was in charge of everything, ready, willing and able to hear my prayers and respond in an authoritative way. That far-away-father-sky-god who I used to believe in would know just what to do in a pandemic. If I prayed all the right prayers to him, and I do mean him, if enough of us had just enough faith, in him, he would sort us all out.  You know the way our parents used to sort things out for us when we were kids. This covid thing has got me feeling like an orphan; an orphan in search of a saviour, to say, “there, there dear, I’ve got this.”I’m feeling very much like “a motherless/fatherless child,” and so to hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned,” these words are like balm to sooth my soul. Yes please, Jesus. Help me Jesus. Help us Jesus. We want to feel your embrace!

“If you love me and obey the command I give you, I will ask the ONE who sent me to give you another Paraclete, an Advocate, another Helper to be with you always—the SPIRIT of truth, whom the world cannot accept since the world neither sees her nor recognizes her; but you can recognize the SPIRIT because she remains with you and will be within you. I will not leave you orphaned.” The SPIRIT is with you, and will be within you. We are not alone. Jesus insists, “On that day you will know that I AM in God and you are in me, and I AM in you.”

The I AM is in us and we are in the I AM. YAHWEH, the I AM, the SOURCE of all BEING, is in us and we are in YAHWEH. Or as the Apostle Paul says in the Book of Acts:  “the ONE who is not really far from any of us – the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, “We too are God’s children.”

ONE in whom we live, ONE in whom we move, ONE in whom we have our being, ONE the LIFE in ALL. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died proclaiming that we have no need to seek salvation from anything other than the very SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through and beyond us.

In what has been called Jesus’ “Farewell Address” Jesus implores us, “if you love me and obey the command I give you.” In the Gospel according to the storyteller we call John, Jesus gives only one commandment: we are “to love one another as Jesus has loved us.”

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection embody the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who is LOVE. Jesus’ embodiment of the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY we call God, points us not to some lofty throne, but rather to the very breath we breathe; to the SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.

We are ONE in the SPIRIT. If this virus has taught us anything, surely it has taught us that we are ONE, for when one of us is ill or at risk, all of us are all ill and at risk. So, how then shall we comfort one another during this season of holding back, when we are to refrain from embracing. Well ironically, the very breath which carries the droplets we are all avoiding right now, is also the very breath which has the power to comfort us.  I am not an epidemiologist; I am but a lowly pastor. I am not trained in science; I am but a humble theologian. As a pastor and a theologian, I am trained in the art of metaphor – metaphor – the very word actually means “to carry beyond words”.  So, please allow this lowly, humble pastor and theologian to use the virus which is currently plaguing us as a metaphor. We are all perfectly capable of breathing in each and every pathogen which infects Creation today. We only need a few shallow breathes to separate us one from another and we have seen the diss-ease which results from this kind of infection; our planet is groaning, people are dying, refugees are fleeing, the poor are suffering, violence, greed and self-centeredness are rampant.

But if we have the Wisdom, to breathe more deeply, the healing power of the SPIRIT rises in us resurrecting the LOVE in whom we live, and move and have our being and gratitude, generosity, compassion, and peace flow in, with, through, and beyond us. I know metaphors aren’t perfect ways of communicating and there will be those who will see only the holes and the gaps in my metaphor. But metaphors by their very nature are not designed to be words which communicate perfect solutions, metaphors and by design crafted to carry us beyond words, toward a vison of what might be.

So, in this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing, I invite you to step away from the swirling fear which comes with the virus which plagues us, move deeply into your splendid isolation, and take a long deep breath. Breathe deeply of the SPIRIT of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. Feel the SPIRIT as the SPIRIT enters you, and feel the SPIRIT as you exhale the SPIRIT who IS LOVE. Let the SPIRIT whirl and twirl and dance in and around you and feel the gentle, tender, embrace of the ONE who IS, WAS, and evermore SHALL BE, LOVE.

We have not been left orphaned. We are held, embraced, comforted, empowered, by the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Breathe deeply of this embracing SPIRIT and know the power of resurrected LOVE to embrace, to heal, and to comfort us as we are carried beyond words, to the ONE who IS, BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.

Watch the full Worship Service Below,

DOWNLOAD the order of service here:

Five Bags of Sugar – Mothers’ Day Sermon

When I was a child in Northern Ireland, my Mom would often as me a question which would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts which I suspect she learned   when she was a child from her Mother. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me, “How much do you love me?” and I would answer, as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you to bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I love my Mom, “Five bags of sugar!” Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who grew up measuring love in bags of sugar.

As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with rationing during World War II. Sugar’s ability to make all things sweet tied it to people’s perception of a happy life. A “big bag of sugar” was more sugar than most people would ever see. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how people could begin to measure love in bags of sugar. To this day my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders, to measure love in bags of sugar; even though we have all since learned that consuming large quantities of sugar makes us sick. I suspect the wartime custom of  expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosy…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague which saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posy, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few.

This week the world remembered VE Day; the end of war in Europe was commemorated from the confines of our physically isolated planet as we all seek refuge from the pandemic which has brought an end to many of our treasured cultural norms. The combination of Mothers’ Day, the 75 Anniversary of VE Day, a global pandemic was topped off with news of the arrival in North America of some beast called a “murder hornet.” These are strange times in which to live. According to the experts, many of us are experiencing culture shock. Think back to just two months ago. Way back then, we would not be confined to worshipping together over the medium of the internet. Less than two short months ago, we enjoyed the freedom of movement which all of us took for granted and many of us would have been gathered together in our sanctuary, singing, praying, exchanging the peace, sharing communion, and then feasting together over coffee, tea, and conversation. In less than two months, so very many things which we took for granted, are no longer possible and we do not know when or if they shall be returned to us.

Last week I listened as Bill Gates, the kazillionaire behind so much of the technology which characterized the past thirty years, insisted that many of us have had to learn new skills at a rate which has seen us absorb fifteen years’ worth of change in just six weeks. Gates called this phenomenon “cultural compression.” So, if you are struggling to come to terms with your new life, rest assured, you are not alone. Go easy on yourself. Humans were never designed to cope with the rate of change we are experiencing today.

Yes, we are privileged. We came into this crisis as the privileged few. We are certainly wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and grandparents. In addition to our wealth and privilege we also have all sorts of mechanisms in place to cushion the effects of whatever we may still have to endure. We know that there are others who are much worse off than we are, and yet, we can’t quite shake the angst which comes in the middle of the night. No amount of sugar or packets full of posy can obscure the shock waves which are impacting our way of being in the world.

So, reeling from the so many changes, I must confess that today’s Gospel text, makes me feel the way I used to feel when I would turn the tables on my Mom and ask her, “How much do you love me Mom?” As some of you know, my Mom lives on the West Coast, I miss her terribly and there I nothing more I’d rather hear than, “Five big bags of sugar!” There is something about your mother’s voice that has the power to sooth even our deepest upsets. Even if your Mom has long since gone on to “prepare a place for you,” I’m sure that you can still hear her soothing you in times of trouble.

Now, I know full well all the scholarly reasons for insisting that the words of the anonymous gospel-story-teller which we call John has put on the lips of Jesus, very probably come from the community of people who followed the ways of Jesus, rather than Jesus himself. I don’t care much whether or not Jesus actually said these words. However, I do care very much about the truth which these words convey about the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL. I know that love measured in “bags of sugar” and safeguards like  “packets of posy”  are expressions whose meanings have been lost over time. I also know that the words used to express the characteristics of the DIVINE MYSTERY have also lost their power over time. 

We have forgotten so very much about those things we once took for granted. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so! Little ones to him belong! Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.” We are all grown up and in the face of so much suffering, it may indeed be time for us to put away childish things. When our physical isolation is over and we are released to return to our lives, our lives will not be as they once were. Nothing stays the same under normal circumstances.  Life changes over time and the experts may just be correct when they tell us that the effects of cultural compression will have a colossal impact on the ways in which we return to life out there. But whether it’s bags of sugar, pockets of posy, or the sure and certain knowledge that “Jesus loves me!”, this I do know, LOVE remains constant. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me as well.” Our way of speaking about the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the source of ALL REALITY may have changed and will continue to change over time.  But the truth that the DIVINE MYSTERY IS LOVE, this LOVE never changes. God IS, was and evermore shall be LOVE. In Jesus of Nazareth, his followers like the anonymous gospel-storyteller who we call John, in Jesus people for generations have seen the embodiment of the LOVE which IS God. Jesus’ Way of being in the world is LOVE alive in the world.

Jesus insistence that, “I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life.” is not some arbitrary barrier to be crossed or hoop one must jump through in order to know the DIVINE. But rather the followers of Jesus’ attempting to express the reality that for Jesus the Way of LOVE is the only Way of being. The Way of LOVE empowered Jesus to claim unity with LOVE. “I AM in LOVE and LOVE is in me!” “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is LOVE, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of LOVE.” Jesus loves me this I know; just as surely as I know that my Mom loves me. Just as surely that I know that there is nothing in heaven or on earth which can ever separate me from the LOVE that IS God.

It may indeed be scary out there. I suppose it has always been scary out there. But my Mom always pushed me out the door to meet the world, in the sure and certain knowledge that she loved me more than five big bags of sugar. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Trust in the DIVINE ONE who is LOVE. LOVE beyond the ability of mere words to describe. LOVE beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond you. LOVE is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Know that LOVE is in you and you are in LOVE and there is nothing which can separate you from the LOVE which is God. LOVE’s got this! Be LOVE and you will be well. Be LOVE and all manner of things shall be well.

YOU CAN VIEW THE WHOLE WORSHIP SERVICE BELOW

Download the Order of Service here

 

I AM, You ARE, We ARE the Good Shepherd – Psalm 23 and John 10

Sermon Only – Watch the full service below.

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want” or,“A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-side, I want for nothing.”

The translations of this ancient Hebrew hymn may be separated by centuries, but both the English translators of King James and the American Rabbi Jamie Arnold seek to move us deeply into the inner workings of our being.

Like the unknown ancient Hebrew who created this pathway to a realm beyond the surface of our thinking toward our deepest longings, our darkest fears and into our deepest peace, all translators, interpreters, readers, and listeners of this ancient LOVE song, approach the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.

IS , is the word is the present tense of the verb TO BE.

The verb “to be” is unique among all verbs.

The present tense of the verb to be: AM, IS, ARE

The past tense: WAS, WERE

The past participle: BEEN,

And the present participle: BEING.

TO BE a verb which struggles to communicate the very ISNESS of BEING.

 For the ancient ancestors, the very essence of a being is contained in the name of that being. Is it any wonder then, that the verb “to be” in Hebrew was used by the ancients to communicate the name of the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS?  

YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM, or I AM, WHO I AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE

Or as the anonymous gospel-storytellers put it, simply, “I AM.”

JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.

ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY that IS.

 When we turn to this song of the ancients, we see, lush meadows, meandering waters, green pastures, and valleys crowed with figures of death and disgrace, pictures, images, hopes, dreams, and fears, laid out in words designed to lead us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.

Today, each one of us can, without much difficulty, move beyond the distractions of the moment toward our wants and our fears, all around us death is very much a part of life. At our fingertips we have access to images aplenty of the valley of the shadow of death which no amount of hand-washing can erase. In our lives there are losses and griefs which mask our ability to see beyond our fears. We know that the lush meadows are all around us, but the enormity of the world’s pain coupled with the uncertainty of tomorrow’s worries blind us to the WAY beyond. From the isolation of our homes, so many of us lumber through these days, longing for release, while others venture out on our behalf, fearful of what lurks in unseen molecules. If only there were a shepherd to lead us, a saviour to save us, a way to move us beyond, this, whatever this, is, was, or will become. No press conference, no medical expert, no brilliant scientist, bi astute economist, bi canny politician, can move us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. And yet, we long for green pastures and the memory of ONE who insisted that, “I AM”, this ONE continues to inspire possibility beyond words or images. 

“The truth of the matter is, I AM the sheep gate.” “I AM the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe – you’ll go in and out and find pasture.” “I came that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Abundant life, life beyond our wants, beyond our fears, abundant life. The anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John speaks of Jesus as ONE who claims wandering sheep as his own, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God.  For Abba and I are ONE.”  

Therein lies the MYSTERY, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” Therein lies the WAY beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, ONE. “Even when” I, You, We, “descend into valleys crowded with figures of death and disgrace,” I, You, We, “will not succumb to fear, now knowing where” I, You, We, are, “I AM, I AM with YOU,” YAHWEH. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, with YAHWEH, ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY.  

“Ancestral staff of family tree in hand, courage and comfort blossom under the sun, casting shadows revealing time in melodies measure for measure, these and these harmonies lay my frets to rest.”  “When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-your-our-side, I, You, We want for nothing.” For the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, IS LOVE. 

“Patience and perseverance, playing with polarity, stand and say, “Send me. Send me before you; tabling shame and sorrow for tomorrow that you may feast today, head anointed with oil, LOVE’s cup pouring-over the rim with plenty.”

We can move beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. Look around, there are lush green pastures everywhere. Our cups overflow with goodness. “Gratefulness and lovingkindness run me down and up, coursing through my vines to live in all my limbs, words and ways, coming home at last to sit and sabbath. Your ever-presence, here, now embodying, housing, LOVING CONSCIOUSNESS in time-space-and-soul.” 

I, You, We, and the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, who IS, WAS, and every more SHALL BE, LOVE, I, You, We, and this LOVE are ONE. This ONEness into which LOVE draws us moves us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. It is our ONEness which transforms us into the Good Shepherd. You and the Abba are ONE.  In LOVE we live and move and have our BEING. We set the table in the midst of all this, whatever this is, the table is set by LOVE, this, all this IS abundant life, eternal life.  I, You, We ARE the LOVE who IS. We are the shepherds, we are the saviours, we ARE the ONEs. See beyond your wants, beyond your fears and let us dwell in the house of LOVE forever.  Amen.

You can watch the full worship service below – download the Order of Service here

Resurrection: The Joy and Pain of Living! – Luke 24

Clearly, they were grieving. Out there on the road, trying to make their way home to Emmaus. Their beloved friend and leader dead. Taken from them in a hideous act of violence. All their hopes and dreams gone. Everything out of their control. Wandering in their grief, towards a home that is forever changed. The world they once knew taken from them. The confusion of the empty tomb. Rumours and conjecture leaving them bereft with so many questions. Clearly, they were grieving. The contours of their journey seem all too familiar to us now. Here we sit, me in my home and you in yours, longing for our shared home. Journeying through this crisis rumours and conjecture leave us bereft with so many questions. We too are grieving.

This has been a difficult week; a difficult week in the midst of difficult weeks. Last weekend’s violence in Nova Scotia, the rising death tolls, and our inability to gather together to comfort one another, is almost more than we can bear left alone to our own resources. Even naming our grief takes some sorting out. Sometimes, when my tears begin to flow, I have to stop and take a breath and ask myself, “Why am I weeping?”

The violence in Nova Scotia tears at our delicate pandemic coping mechanisms leaving many of us desperately trying to distract ourselves from too many griefs. The pointless loss of lives at the hands of a pathetic calculating villain. The endless corona death tolls. The death of a beloved child. The loss of the world as we once knew it. Griefs too numerous to count. Despite our best efforts, the grief won’t go away. Our grief is compounded by our inability to rush to one another’s side; to embrace, to weep and to begin the long hard journey toward healing and wholeness.

Yesterday, I heard someone in desperation, say, “We are all just virtually trying to hold one another.” During this enforced physical isolation, the meaning of virtual has been made clear to me. Virtual does not mean, online, or mediated over technology, like zoom, or the telephone. Virtual actually means, almost. You cannot almost hold someone, or almost be present, or almost LOVE. We can hold, be present and LOVE one another even if our holding, presence, and LOVE must be mediated over technology. Mediated holding, presence, and LOVE may not be our preferred method, but it is the method we are blessed with on this particular journey we are all on together and mediated or not our we are still holding, being present, and embodying LOVE for one another.

I know that it is tempting to hunker down, withdraw, or busy ourselves with distractions; anything to avoid what we are feeling right now. We all have enough on our plates right now. You take care of your isolation and I will take care of mine. It is no coincidence that in times of grief humans turn to food to seek not only physical nourishment but spiritual nourishment as well. In the midst of their grief Cleopas and his wife recognized the Risen CHRIST in the breaking of the bread. In our physical isolation, we may not be able to gather around a meal to nourish one another, but we can provide nourishment to one another. In the midst of grief, people have always gathered around a meal to share stories and song. Today, in the midst of our many griefs, we can actually hold one another in the same way people have been holding one another since the beginning of time. We can hold one another in story. You tell me your story and I can tell you mine. The sharing of stories continues to provide the nourishment we need for the journey we are now on.

Our current predicament reminds me of the Parable of the Spoons.Many of you will have heard the Parable of the Spoons before. But let me mediate the story for you over this particular visual media. Watch this portrayal of the Parable.

Our stories whether they are told, sung, played, painted, sculpted, dramatized, or simply spoken, our stories are the spoons with which we nourish one another. This is not about pitting one story against another story. This is about sharing stories so that we can not only share the pain of our grief, but also share our need to make meaning out of our loss. Grieving through story is the process of experiencing the joy and pain of living.

It is so very difficult to find ourselves physically isolated in our many griefs. So, we reach out using whatever spoons we can find to feed one another. We don’t have to do this “virtually”. We can actually do this. Pick up the phone, Zoom in, FaceTime, snail-mail, driveway visits; use whatever spoons you are blessed to find to feed people, nourish them in the sharing of your stories and the hearing of their stories. As for those moments when you no longer have the strength to feed another soul, let yourself be fed. Open yourself and your grief to the joy and pain of living. Receive the stories as the nourishment we all need on this peculiar road to Emmaus that we are all on.

Stories will not take away our grief. The stories, like the spoons provide us with the nourishment, the strength, we need to move toward healing and wholeness. Our individual and collective griefs will take many stories, many songs, much music, art and even dance to nourish, ground and sustain us in these challenging times. I am so very grateful to all those who “stay with us” for evening and the darkness is almost upon us – staying with, is what Risen LOVE looks like and feels like.

LOVE is Risen. The darkness cannot separate us from the ONE who IS LOVE. LOVE is Risen. LOVE is Risen in Us. Alleluia. Let us feed, nourish ground and sustain one another in story. What does this look like? In the midst of the horrendous suffering of this week, millions of us were actually held in story. Using words and music a grieving souls held us.

Natalie MacMaster used her voice and her fiddle, while her daughter, Mary Frances played the piano, to accompany a video of 17-year-old Emily Tuck, who along with her parents Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck were brutally killed this past week. Emily Tuck created her video to help bring people together on Facebook. Sadly, Emily had no idea how many of us would be brought together by her music as she fiddled the old story entitled, “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod”.  Watch, listen, and be held in the tender embrace of these gifted storytellers.

There is nothing virtual, nothing almost about that embrace. Natalie, Mary Frances, and Emily held us in LOVE. I know that this story, this embrace will not take our grief away. Stories can only hold us in LOVE as we journey toward healing and wholeness. Remembering that as we journey toward healing and wholeness, we are transformed. Things will never be the same again. There are so many more stories to be told and stories for us to receive. We cannot go back. Becoming whole we will still carry with us our grief and those for whom we grieve, but we do so in the midst of LOVE; LOVE which empower us to embrace all the joy and pain of living. Reaching out, giving and receiving the stories of our lives, we can ACTUALLY recognize Risen LOVE in the virtual breaking of the bread. LOVE is Risen.  LOVE is Risen in us. Alleluia!

( I am indebted to Sherry Coman for her insights about media for alerting me to the actual meaning of the word virtual, and to the work of David Kessler in his new book “Finding Meaning”)

You can view the entire worship video below – download the order of service here

 

Longing for Resurrection! – Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:26-31

“A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.”
Four, Five? How many weeks is it and we have been in our houses?
Their doors were locked for fear of the authorities.
We too are locked down for fear of, well you all know what we are afraid of…
Even in our respective lockdowns we cannot shutdown our fears.
And now Thomas is with us.
Or maybe Thomas has always been with us?
Doubt and fear seem to be old friends.
Hand in hand, doubt and fear, are locked in here with us and there is no amount of sanitizer which will save us from the ability of these particular viruses to haunt the darkness of our isolation.

Outside the sunshine appears so tantalizing, luring us to move beyond the limits of physical distancing, while inside we long for resurrection. Yearning to burst forth from the darkness of these tombs of isolation, we long for resurrection.
Grasping on to any hint that the restrictions will be lifted, we can’t help but hope for a return to our lives as they once were, before, you know, when things were normal. Suddenly, without warning, our stories resonate a little too much with their stories. Like the disciples of old, the ones who followed Jesus, we now huddle in the confines of our darkness. All they had were a few brief stories.
We too have their brief stories, together with our emerging stories. The one about the empty tomb and the one about a vaccine.  Folded grave-cloths. Discarded face masks. Weeping women and fleeing men. Worn out nurses and discouraged doctors. Horrible wounds: the mark of the nails; bruised faces and scarred psyches. Rumors, Confusion, Fear, and Doubt. Is Thomas with us, or are we with Thomas?

Thomas is the one forever known as doubting. So, is believing, trusting what we have not seen, is faith the answer? There are plenty who will tell us that faith is all we need, that this too shall pass, that everything is going to be all right. But like Thomas, I’m not so sure. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in Jesus’ side, I will not believe.”

Longing for resurrection, I want to believe. But we have scarcely even begun to see the marks the virus is making or touch the depths of the wounds inflicted on millions.

Many of us, are tucked up safe and warm, in our isolation.
We are well fed, well entertained, and conveniently distracted,
happily confused about the nature of the very resurrection we now long for.
Dreaming of hugs and handshakes, gatherings and workplaces; trusting that all we need to do is to go back to the way things were.

In the same way that some believe that faith in the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse is all there is to resurrection, there are so many who believe that faith in the status quo is all we need to resurrect our world. Those fear-filled followers of Jesus huddled together immersed in the trauma that crucifixion wrought, they knew that nothing, nothing was ever going to be the same again. Jesus could no more rise up from the dead, free from the wounds of his death, than we can. Their dreams of a messiah who would make everything better died upon the cross.  They could not return to life as they once knew it. Jesus’ life and death changed everything they had ever known or hoped for. They were forever changed by the visible wounds and the not so visible deeper wounds.

Today, the marks of the nails are seen in different ways. New media beam images of death and our fear of death into the isolation of our minds. The crosses of execution have been replaced with images of body bags, temporary morgues, and forlorn care-facilities. Nail marks look more like facial bruising.  Not all wounds can be seen on the surface, some are held deep within the confines of isolation as we worry about our finances, job security, and where we might take a walk. While anxiety and depression consume others, and far too many feel the sting of abuse, poverty and homelessness, others struggle to find food.

While the knowledge that some of these wounds will heal helps us to move from one day to the next, we know that many wounds will never heal.
The pain of those who have lost loved ones must wait to be soothed by the practices we have grown accustomed too. Mourning and grieving must begin in unfamiliar isolation. The balm of shared tears and laughter, the strength gained from long embraces, and the familiar grieving rituals, have been taken from us, leaving far too many gaping wounds on so many mourners.

No belief in the resuscitation of a corpse can heal the inequities of our world which have been revealed by this virus. The poverty of millions has been exposed along with the lack of medical care. The ease with which the privileged are entertained during what has become a nightmare for others rubs salt into the wounds. The frustration of the powerless endangers the safety of everyone.
If the Risen Christ cannot bear these wounds, then the tomb is nothing but empty. Rumors of an empty tomb was not enough to calm the fears of Jesus’ first followers.

In the midst of their fear and grief, in the turmoil of their attempts to figure out what to do next, in the anxiety of their panic about the dangers which surrounded them stood the Risen Christ bearing the wounds of the world. In the absence of Jesus, in whom all their hopes were founded, the Risen Christ appears. This Christ, this Risen One is so much more than a resuscitated corpse – this Risen ONE is the presence of the LOVE that cannot be contained by death.

This Risen ONE is LOVE.
LOVE there in the midst of a rag-tag, fear-filled gathering of hapless individuals confused by the magnitude of their trauma.
This Risen ONE stands wounded, and bids them, “Shalom. Peace be with you.” and drawing attention to the wounds of the world, sends them back into the world to make it whole.
No mere, revived corpse has the power of the ONE who is LOVE.
Surely, if this virus has taught us anything, it is that we are all ONE.
When one of us is suffering we are all suffering.
Our world is suffering, we are all suffering.
But there is nothing, in heaven or on earth, no virus, not even death which can separate us from the LOVE that IS God.

LOVE rises again, and again, and again.
And when LOVE rises, LOVE heals.
LOVE makes us whole.
For in the LOVE that is God we are all ONE.
LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen in us!
And it is that LOVE which will heal our wounds.

But like the wounded in all times and in all places, we will be forever marked.
We cannot go back to life as it once was.
For our wounds to heal, we must allow them to change us.
There is much we can learn while we heal.
So much is being revealed. So much is being exposed.
Not the least of which is the reality that we don’t have to go back to the way things were. LOVE can work in, with, through and beyond us to make all things new. Therein lies the hope of the world.

We can linger in our houses, with the doors shut, confident that LOVE cannot be contained by death. We can breathe deeply of the SPIRIT, trusting that LOVE rises in us, with us, through us, and beyond us. There will be much that needs to be transformed in the weeks and months that lie ahead. But for now, take comfort in the RISEN ONE, who IS the LOVE we call God, who even know stands among us bidding us, “SHALOM, Peace be with you.”

May the peace which comes from the LOVE who is God, continue to work healing
in, with, through and beyond us.
Resurrection is here and now.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

Soon, Risen LOVE will send us back into the world to make all things new.
For we are the hands and feet of the ONE who IS LOVE.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

View the full service below – Download the order of service here

Resurrection: Believing is NOT the point! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

 Anticipating 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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here

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 years for? click here

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Easter Worship: LOVE Is Risen! LOVE Is Risen in Us! Alleluia!

“Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?” That’s where we left our story on Good Friday. On this surreal, Easter Sunday, this compelling image has made the stories handed down to us by our ancestors all too real. Look closely.

“Where you there when they laid him in the tomb? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?”

This year we’ve all been there. Thank all that is HOLY for the front-line health-workers toiling away in the tombs so many hospitals have become! The stories emerging from those tombs have made their marks on all of us. Unlike the women who rushed to the tomb to anoint Jesus for his burial, I’m in not in any rust to revisit the reality death which haunts our media. The bad news is travelling faster than the good news and my trembling heart cannot sustain the darkness of this damned tomb into which our suffering world has been thrust. Yes, we know how the stories our ancestors so faithfully handed down to us end with resurrection. But, like the befuddled disciples, the sight of the linen wrappings on the ground, offer us about as much comfort as images of discarded medical masks. Don’t ask us, “Why we are weeping?” We are weeping because so many lives have been taken away and we do not know when our own lives can begin again. “For whom are we looking?” For a saviour that’s who. Someone, something, anything which will release us from the tombs of isolation in which we are all huddled for fear of what’s out there. 

We have heard the words spoken over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” But even the empty tomb, which has provided such hope for generations, seems darker, too dark to provide the promise of resurrection. Like the followers of Jesus who ran away from the empty tomb, I too want to flee. Alas, there is no place to go. How do we celebrate resurrection on an Easter such as this?

“Suddenly Jesus stood before them and said, ‘Shalom!’ The women came up, embraced Jesus’ feet and worshiped. At this, Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Go tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see me.” And so, I close my eyes searching my mind for Galilee where I shall see the risen ONE. Where is the risen ONE to be found?

Well, just as surely as Galilee remained in the darkness of the persecution of Empire, our world remains in the darkness of the perils of pandemic. And yet, it is into the darkness that the early followers of the Way found the courage to go to Galilee, so that they might meet the Risen ONE.

We cannot linger in the empty tombs of our personal isolation. We too must seek the Risen ONE if we are to find the courageous compassion we need to rise again, and again, and again. Every year we shout CHRIST is risen! Every year, every day we met the RISEN ONE. For just as surely as Jesus embodied the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, that LOVE rises in every act of human kindness, in every act of tender compassion, in every act of mercy, in every selfless act of courage. LOVE rises over and over and over again. LOVE, the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call GOD, rises in, with, through, and beyond us, now and forever! LOVE IS Risen! LOVE IS Risen in us! Alleluia!

Suddenly, Jesus, the Risen ONE, Suddenly, LOVE stands before us all and says, “Shalom!, Salam alakum, Peace.  Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid to celebrate. The Earth is still spinning. The birds are singing again. The flowers are blooming and trees are budding. Soon the grass will be green again. Babies continue to be born. Children continue to laugh and play. We can sing and dance. Lovers continue to embrace.  We are richly blessed. LOVE rises even in the darkness.

On Holy Saturday, when the darkness is darker than dark, I was sent a foretaste of the feast to come. From the darkness of a hospital entombed by the fear of pandemic perils, just down the road from here in Markam Stouffville, some courageous compassionate healthcare workers dance a dance that is surely a dance of resurrection! What them dance their dance celebrating the recovery of one of their COVID patients who is successfully take off a ventilator. Watch closely.

Can you see LOVE Is Risen! LOVE Is risen indeed! LOVE rises, again and again and again. Peace dear ones. CHRIST rises in, with, through and beyond us! Thank all that is HOLY, especially all the frontline workers, nurses, doctors, orderlies, first-responders, retail workers, delivery workers, and yes you, you physical distancers; thank all that is HOLY for being LOVE in the world. 

Shalom! Do not be afraid! Go tell everyone to go beyond our fear, for there we will meet the Risen ONE, who is the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE we call God. May that LOVE rise in you over and over and over again! Shalom.

Download the Order of Service here

Good Friday: Compassion in Sorrow

I must confess that I have never found the image of the cross to be a compelling symbol. Not even an empty cross can disguise the ugliness of this implement of torture and execution. So, Good Friday’s use of the cross to summon up images of Jesus’ passion leave me cold. There’s more than enough horror and sorrow in the stories handed down to us without resorting to the instrument of Jesus’ execution. When I think back upon the executions of compassionate heroes like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, I cannot imagine using the pistols with which they were shot to illustrate their compassion. The forces of Empire used crucifixion to terrorize people. Historians tell us that there would have been hundreds of corpses rotting on trees outside many of the conquered cities of the Empire. That the instrument used to inflict terror should have become the symbol of Jesus who embodied a Way of resisting persecution which refused to take up the sword is a bit like using a suicide vest as the symbol for United Nations Peacekeepers.

The symbol of the cross on Good Friday always reminds me of how I felt the very first time I visited Rome. I remember thinking how odd it was that a non-violent, revolutionary, peasant from Galilee should have inspired the creation of the fortress-like Vatican complex. I was doing the obligatory tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and I was beginning to believe that Rome held no treasures that I wanted to see, when out of the corner of my eye, tucked away to side of the main entrance, I caught a glimpse of a marble statue. At the time, I knew little or nothing about art and if the truth be told, I was growing weary of the endless cathedrals and museums, so it’s no wonder I missed the marble on my way into the Basilica.  There was something about the image that drew me in. I overheard one of the guides tell her group that the sculpture was created by Michelangelo when he was just 24 years old. At the time, I was barely 20 and I could not imagine the skill of the artist who was able to capture an image of everything I had ever imagined about the tragedy of Jesus’ death. 

The Pieta, somehow the English translation, The Pity, just doesn’t capture the passion which is depicted in Mary’s cradling of her tortured son. We’ve devalued the word pity. The word pity means, the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. The Pieta, The Pity, The Compassion, The Commiseration, The Condolence, The Sympathy these are all different ways of saying, the tender act or of sharing the pain of another. Compared to the coldness of the cross, The Pieta’s delicate portrayal of the death of Jesus inspires such compassion in me. The kind of compassion that I can well imagine oozed from Mary’s being as she tenderly held her son.

It is not easy to gaze upon The Pieta, there is nothing easy in that marble likeness of suffering. If you let it, The Pieta will reduce you to tears. Mary’s compassion was not easily given. It took courage to stand at the foot of the cross. It took courage to linger. It took courage to tend to the needs of her fallen child. The kind of compassion that our world needs now. It is not easy to see what is happening in the world. If we let it, it will reduce us to tears. Maybe we do need a cross to symbolize suffering. Maybe the true horror of Jesus something needs to be looked at for what it is, so that we can begin to summon up the courage we need to be LOVE in the world. 

On this Good Friday it is the compassion of a loving mother that gives me hope. When so many people are suffering and dying, it is the tender embrace of one human being of another that gives me hope. All over the world The Pieta is embodied in the compassion of health-care workers, who day after day, don inadequate protective gear to tend the sick and the dying. The passion of Jesus lives and moves and has being in everyone who summons up the compassion that lives in them to tend to the needs of others. On this particularly, dark Good Friday, when we long for the release which resurrection brings may we find hope in the compassion that lives and breathes in with through and beyond every, nurse, doctor, orderly, chaplain, cleaner, cook, first-responder, scientist, and physical-distancer. 

I can well imagine the tears Mary shed over Jesus; before and after his death. I can also imagine the tears that are being shed all over the world on this Good Friday. May the ONE who IS LOVE, continue to live, and breathe, in us, through us, and beyond us, so that together we can nurse our world back to health. Every Good Friday, I make a point of reminding people that Christ dies over and over and over again, each and every day.

Let us not forget that CHRIST rises over and over and over again, each and every day. In every act of compassion, LOVE is born again, and again, and again. May we always remember to look for those Pieta moments, for in those acts of compassion we can be assured that the darkness shall never overcome us. This too shall pass, and when it does, let it be said of us, that in us the passion of CHRIST lives and moves and has being. Now and always. But for now, let us keep watch and wait. Let us reach beyond our fear. Let us be the passion of CHIRST. Amen.

You can download the Order of Service HERE

Easter Sermons: LOVE IS – Risen!

click on the links

Saudade: through the absence we feel the presence. here

Jesus’ Resurrection is Extraordinary Precisely Because Anything At All Made It Out of That Bloody Tomb! – an Easter story here

LOVE Is Risen! here

LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen Indeed! here

Is God Coming Back to Life here

Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh – here 

Easter: The Greatest Story Ever Told – here

I Plead Guilty to Denying the Resurrection – But I aint’ leaving – here

Preparing to Preach on Resurrection: Giving up the notion of a physical resuscitation. here

Approaching Resurrection: What Did Paul Actually Say – here

A Resurrection Story In Memory of Nellie, My Gran – here

Words Will Always Fail Us – here