Persistent Woman: Mother Earth – Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32:22-31

Our worship took a different form as we listened to the cries of Mother Earth using some clips from the documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. Turns out that Mother Earth is a persistent woman which we discovered when we wrestled with the SACRED ONE.  Two reflections instead of a sermon. You can follow along with the bulletin found here

Reflection: Luke 18:1-8

When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.

Jesus told a parable that has become known as the “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. The parable is actually about a “Persistent Woman.” As we listen to the parable I’d like you to imagine this persistent women is the personification of our Mother the Earth and the unjust judge, well that’s you and I, we are the unjust judge.

Reflection:  Genesis 32:22-31

When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.

Some say that Jacob wrestled with an angel; an angel is the word that means a messenger from God. Some say that Jacob wrestled not with an angel, a mere messenger from God, but with God herself. Some say, the Earth is in God and God is in the Earth. Some say, that the Earth is God’s body. Surely, we can all agree that the Earth is sacred.

The sacred Earth is crying out to us. Each one of us must wrestle with this sacred messenger; with the DIVINE ONE of which we are also a part. Wrestling with the sacred is never easy. Not everyone is up to the task. Many will simply roll over in the night, hoping that the sacred messengers, or the DIVINE ONE herself, will simply go away and leave us alone. Some will no doubt find themselves overwhelmed by the messenger, overwhelmed by the immensity of the task of wrestling with such an infinite complexity. Others will resign themselves to their apparent insignificance and accept the paralysis which comes in the darkness.

I’m reminded of a story about Martin Luther who when asked what he would do if word came from an angel, a messenger from God that the world was about to end. Legend has it that Luther insisted that if he was convinced that the world was about to come to an end that he would plant a tree.

Plant a tree. Such defiance, such hope, such faith in the future, gifts such as these are what every wrestler needs so that they may engage the DIVINE.

Wrestling with the sacred will exhaust us, frustrate us, wear us out and maybe even leave us wounded. The reality of this sacred wrestling is that it will forever change us.

May you be blessed in the darkness by Messengers to wrestle with.

May the wounds of the struggle change you in ways you can scarcely begin to imagine.

Like our ancestor Jacob, may you see the face of God and live.

May we all see the DIVINE ONE, in the sacredness of the Earth, and live together in the shalom, the peace that comes when all God’s creatures hobble away from their careless ways of being, forever changed by the blessing of our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.

Gratitude for the Great Fullness of Life Is Only the Beginning – Thanksgiving

A couple of years ago, I began experiencing chest pains, nausea, and cold sweats. As these are signs of a heart-attack, I went up to the local walk-in clinic and soon there-after I found myself sitting in the emergency room. The doctors and nurses were convinced that I was in the midst of what they now refer to as a “heart event”. While awaiting some further tests, my mind raced to all the worst possible scenarios that I could imagine. Fear was my over-riding emotion. Fear that my heart was failing. Fear that decades of not putting my health first was catching up with me. Fear of what my future might hold. Fear of impending medical procedures. Fear of not being able to work, to pay our bills, especially our mortgage. Fear of turning into some sort of invalid. Fear that my future was being taken out of my control. Fear that I was getting old long before I expected to.

There is nothing like an emergency room to strike fear into your heart, especially when the pain that drove you there is throbbing in your chest. So, by the time I’d spent several hours enduring various tests, I thought I was ready for anything. That is until a young doctor who looked like he was about twelve years old walked into my cubicle. A part of me wanted to ask this child-doctor to go find a grown-up doctor, because this was serious business and I wanted to talk to an adult. Fortunately, I managed to suppress my ageism.  You cannot even begin to imagine my delight when the child-doctor pronounced his diagnosis. Gallbladder. No heart-attack. A severe gallbladder attack. These kinds of attacks are quite common in people who have recently managed to lose weight.  My reward for loosing 50 pounds was an afternoon in the emergency room.

I couldn’t believe my luck. I begin thanking everyone and everything for my extremely good fortune. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to medical science. Thanks be to my heart. Thanks be to the child-doctor! Thanks be for the opportunity to do better in the future. Thanks be for a future! I wept with joy! A gallbladder attack is a wonderful thing. A gallbladder attack is not a heart attack. I could go home. I could go back to work. I could pay the mortgage.

All my worst fears were gone. I would take this as a warning to never ever take anything for granted. When I went outside, everything looked so beautiful. It was as if I had awakened from a nightmare. I was so very grateful that I promised myself never again to take my health for granted, never again to take life for granted, never again to forget what a precious gift life is. From now on, I was going to pay attention to the wonders of this amazing gift of life. Continue reading

Faith: A little dab’ll do ya! – Luke 17:5-10 – World Communion Sunday

Today all over the world, churches of all sorts of denominations will gather to celebrate communion. World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to embrace the embodiment of the infinite variety that exists in within the communities of our fellow Followers of the Way.  Today, we uphold the reality that no matter how communion is celebrated we Followers of the Way are all companions. For to be a companion is to literally share bread together. The word companion is made up of two Latin words, “com which means “with or together” and “panis” which means “bread”. To break bread together is to be a companion.

Humans began engaging in the sacred act of breaking bread together generations before Jesus embraced the sacred act of sharing a meal together to strengthen the bonds of companionship among his followers.

How many of you remember the very first time you participated in the companionship of communion? I suspect that for many of us are of an age where we can remember when are communion practices were less inclusive than they are today.  For several generations many mainline denominations tried to limit communion to those who had been “properly” instructed in the “meaning” of communion. In Lutheran churches children often had to wait until after they were Confirmed in order to be welcomed at the table. Back then, Communion wasn’t so much celebrated as it was endured as a sort of ritual reward for penance. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the somber communion rites of the past. But, I suspect that many of us still carry the residue of less than life-affirming theologies that taught us to view Communion as a sort of ritual that needs to be endured as a way to remember a “blood sacrifice”, a kind of quid pro quo for our sinfulness.

I can still remember my very first communion. It was, for all sorts of reasons, a life changing experience. Fortunately, for me my first Communion was free from the trappings of penitence. There was little or no thought of a blood sacrifice for sin. You see, my first Communion happened by way of what some would call an oversite or an accident, but I think of as a grace-filled DIVINE blessing.

As I’ve told you before, I did not grow up in the Church. My family’s experiences in Belfast had shown us the worst that the Church can offer and so, my brother and I were never encouraged to go anywhere near a Church of any kind. We were baptized as infants as a kind of insurance policy and I never darkened the doorway of a church until I was fifteen years old. I was an incredibly lonely teenager. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, country to country, school to school; always on the move. I learned very early not to make friends with people because if you make friends it is so much more painful when you have to move away.

Longing and loneliness were predominant emotions that characterized the deep homesickness of my younger self.  Looking back to my younger self, I can see a little girl who was homesick for a home she never really knew because when you move about as much as we did, no place ever feels like home. Eventually all you can feel is this deep longing for something you cannot quite name. So, one day, at the tender age of fifteen, a new acquaintance that I was tempted to turn into a friendship, invited me to come to church with her. Continue reading

You Are More Powerful Than You Think – Cosmos Sunday – Psalm 139

In our ongoing celebration of the Season of Creation, today we shift our focus to the Cosmos. Usually, the word “cosmos” conjures up starry images of far distant constellations. Staring out into space can make us feel small and insignificant. But on this Cosmos Sunday, I’d like us to move us from our usual perspective of the cosmos. Perspective is a powerful tool, especially when we contemplate our place in the cosmos. You see the word “cosmos” refers to the entire universe, every dimension of time and space, spiritual and material. The cosmos includes the glittering galaxies that are so distant that we must peer at them through sophisticated giant telescopes as well as the deep domains within each minute molecule which we can only peer at through the lenses of sophisticated giant microscopes.

In addition to the material dimension of universes, the cosmos also includes the dimensions of time, our imaginations and of the spirit. Take a cube of sugar for example. Scientists tell us that you could fit the entire human race into the volume of single sugar cube; that’s right all 7 billion of us in a single tiny sugar cube. Something about the emptiness of matter that is beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend.

The cosmos is both infinitely large and infinity small. None of our telescopes and none of our microscopes can actually capture the vastness of the infinitely large nor the infinitely small, we must rely on our imaginations for this perspective on the cosmos. Staring out in the night sky can make you feel very small. Looking around the Earth, which is in and of itself a small planet can make you feel small and insignificant. But as the psalmist insists, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Hebrew word that is translated as fearfully can also be translated as awesome. Your very being is so very wonderful that it inspires awe. Awe and wonder are the very first religious impulses. Congratulations, for you are awesome, tremendous, wonderful. And yet, so often we can only see ourselves as small in relation to the cosmos; small and insignificant, small and powerless.

I remember, once long ago, when I was feeling so very small, insignificant and powerless. I was only ten years old. My Grandfather had a way of belittling people that was crushing. Granda had been taunting me over something I had said. The adults had been talking about war in the Middle East. The year was 1967, the year of the Six-Day War. I was just ten and didn’t understand the details of what was happening. But I did understand the drills we went through at school. Those of you of a certain age may remember hiding under your desk as we practiced what we would need to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Somehow our wooden desks were supposed to offer us some sort of protection. It was madness. A kind of madness that all of us, even the adults in the room all bought into. Continue reading

LOST: Done That! Been There! – Homecoming Sunday – Luke 15

They say, whoever they are, that “you can’t go home again.” You can’t go back to a place you once called home because in your absence that place will have changed. I remember, travelling across the world and needing desperately to return home. I’d been travelling for several months and I had intended to stay away for many more months. I was in England when doctors informed me that there was a tumor lodged between two of the bones in my foot that needed to be removed. I can still remember the doctor telling me that there was a distinct possibility that the tumor was a malignant cancer. Suddenly, home seemed like the only place in the world I wanted to be. Even though I was already in the city of my birth, I knew without a doubt that Birmingham was not my home. The only trouble was, that during my travels my parents had moved from the one town to another. Even though the place where my family was living was familiar to me, it was not the home which I had left behind. So, when I arrived at my parents’ new home, everything felt very different. Perhaps the most important change was in me. I was not the starry-eyed young woman that I once was. The future was suddenly very uncertain. Fears that I had never ever had to deal with, were suddenly part of who I had become. But I was home and even though home was the last place I expected to be, home was the only place I wanted to be. So, I set about trying to feel at home in what was for all intents and purposes a very different home than I had hoped to come home to.

When I think about Jesus’ parable of the lost on this Homecoming Sunday, I can’t help wondering how many of us here at Holy Cross feel like we have come home to a different church. Now, I know that many of us haven’t really been away but bear with me for a moment so that we can explore the contours of the metaphor of coming home. All of us carry with us, all sorts of images of what we want and need the church to be. Some of us long to return to an image of the church as it was at a particular time in our lives when we felt at home in the church. Some of us long to come home to a church that was full of particular people, or to a church that sang certain songs, or worshipped in certain ways, or comforted us with particular ideas, or inspired us with certain hopes. Others of us, long to come home to the church of our dreams, a church that never really was, but a church that we are convinced we would feel very at home in. You know the kind of church home I’m talking about, a place full of people who are exceptional, a place filled with inspirational activities, a church that accomplishes stuff, important stuff, vital stuff, a church that has absolutely no financial worries at all.

There’s an old gospel song that comes to mind:

There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood

No lovelier spot in the dale

No place is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the vale

Whatever the contours of the church of your longing, I suspect that the most important ingredients that make up the church of your longing revolve around the people.  A church is not a church without the people and one thing I’ve learned about people, is that people are complex creatures. Take that lost child, the one who is known as the prodigal, no matter how you look at this parable, one thing is clear, the child that returned to his home, was not the same child that left his home.

Think about the other lost child, the one who can’t quite seem to share his father’s enthusiasm for his brother’s return. That lost child, is not the same person as the one who went out into the fields in the morning, the child who thought his future was secure, is no longer the same child as the one who returned to find his Dad throwing a lavish party for his wastrel of a brother, whom he believed he’d never have to contend with again.

Then there’s the Dad, who certainly isn’t the same person that he was before his youngest child left him behind. He’s not even the same person that his older child left that very morning. Nothing stays the same. We are all changing, all the time. Is it any wonder that it is so very easy to get lost? Looking in on this parable, I can see myself in each of these three lost souls. I’ve certainly messed up in ways that make me want to tell the younger child, “Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt.”

I’ve also lost people, for all sorts of reasons that have left me miserably longing for their return. So, I can see exactly why the lost father, who let’s face it played a pivotal role in both his children’s angst. I mean, that child would have never left if the Father hadn’t acted the way he did and as for the older child, well how could the Father forget about him? Why didn’t he even bother to invite his eldest child to the party? We’ve all messed up in our dealings with people, enough to cause us to lose them. We can all relate to the kind of longing for the lost that would cause us to throw a party if they ever returned. Continue reading

Jesus Was and Is an Absolute Fool – Luke 15

lost-and-foundI am indebted to two beloved seminary professors for the formation of this sermon: Dr. Donna L. Seamone and Dr. Ed Riegert. All preachers stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us!!!

Jesus was and is an absolute fool! An absolute fool, I tell you! Among the teachings of Jesus, the parables of the lost and found are so well known, so familiar that we are in peril of failing to hear the foolishness they advocate.

Although only a few of us have had the opportunity to tend a flock of sheep, most of us at one time or another have been responsible for the welfare of a flock. Whether that flock be sheep or co-workers, clients, customers, students, friends, or children none but the foolish among us would leave 99 to the perils and dangers of the wilderness in order to go looking for one idiot who’d been stupid enough to get themselves lost.

We may not keep our coins at home, but I daresay that most of us have felt the sting of loosing a drachma or two or three in this recession. Only a fool would waste a moment searching for our losses when our portfolio’s are so full. I dare say that if we managed to find or recoup our loss, we’re hardly likely to invite the neighbourhood to a party that would in all likelihood eat up more than we had found. Continue reading

Lighten Up! – Luke 12:22-31

“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body. Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?”   Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! When we try to understand a biblical text, it is helpful if we keep in mind three particular contexts. The first context to keep in mind is the context of the story itself. What is happening in and around the characters in the story itself. The second context to keep in mind is the context in which the storyteller tells the story. What is happening in and around the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke. The third context to keep in mind is our own context. What is going on in our lives and in the lives of the communities in which we live?

So, let’s begin by looking at the context of the story itself.  Jesus is speaking to his disciples. The year is somewhere between 30 and 33 of the Common Era. The place is Palestine, a far-flung province of the Roman Empire. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are a conquered people, living under the oppression of a foreign power. The people to whom Jesus is speaking have no power. They are being persecuted, oppressed, and terrorized.    Life is difficult. There’s a very thin line between life and death and the people to whom Jesus is speaking understand that by listen to this rebel Jesus they are risking death. All Jesus’ listeners really have is hope, hope that one day their Messiah will rescue them from their cruel taskmasters.

Fast forward about 60 years or more to the context in which the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke tells this story. Conditions have deteriorated. The Jewish people have rebelled against their Roman oppressors and they have been crushed. The Temple, the very heart of who they are as a people, has been destroyed and much of Jerusalem along with it. Both Jews and the followers of the Way have been driven out into the wilderness as outlaws. Historians tell us that after the rebellion Rome inflicted abominable terrorism upon the people of the once proud Jewish nation. The smell of rotting flesh was very familiar, thousands upon thousands were crucified as enemies of Rome, their corpses left to rot upon makeshift crosses. For the Followers of the Way life was worse. Excommunicated from the synagogues they met in secret fearing not only the Romans but their Jewish neighbours as well.

Fast forward to today. What is going on around us as we hear this story? Well, there’s a crazy orange megalomaniac sitting in the most powerful office the world has ever known. We are told that this powerful buffoon has seriously contemplated exercising his power to nuke hurricanes. All around us the dangers of climate change are being felt as winds blow, and sea-levels rise.  Money, money, money is the order of the day as we all scramble to ensure that we get what is ours.

So, we are busy people. We are well informed people and we know more about what is going on in the world than any other generation before us. We are stressed out and we don’t know what to do first.  And so, we come to church, seeking what? guidance? solidarity? comfort? inspiration? or maybe just a little distraction from the stress of it all. But even here we can’t relax because here too we are met with stress inducing challenges. Churches are closing all over the place. The once mighty flagships of our own Lutheran church have already closed, and our beloved little Holy Cross is struggling to survive. There are just a few of us left and we are finding it more and more difficult to meet our challenges. In all three contexts to which this story speaks, there is so much for people to worry about.

Indeed, in all three contexts the temptation to despair is immense. To all three contexts, Jesus says the same thing: LIGHTEN UP!  “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.  Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!  Lighten up!

Look around. Look at the beautiful people who are here. Look at where we are. We live in one of the best places on earth! We are richer than the vast majority of people on this planet. We have wealth beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. We have this building! We have each other. There are no oppressors on our doorstep waiting to torture us. The first followers of the Way would have loved the opportunity to worship in such a fine place as this.

We are all relatively healthy. Most of us live very comfortably. So why is it so difficult for us to hear Jesus say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!

I know, I know, it is easier said than done. It is so very difficult not to worry when we are so stressed out. Stressed out. Think about that phrase for a moment. I don’t remember my parents ever complaining about stress. Being “stressed out” is a condition of our age. We have become masters of the art of catastrophizing. We can awefulize a situation faster than a Roman centurion could grab his sword.

I know I’ve said this many times but think about the way we greet one another. “Hi how are you?”  What is the most common response to this simple question? “I’m busy.” We have become obsessed with our own business and it brings us precious little pleasure. When we tell someone we’re busy, they usually respond with something like, “you think you’re busy. let me tell you how busy I am.” We no longer human beings we are human doers, obsessed and stressed out by all the stuff we need to do and all the stuff that we aren’t doing. It’s no wonder that we catastrophize and awefulize all day long. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy this life of ours.

Take the weather for example. We are entering a spectacularly beautiful autumn. The weather has been fabulous around here.  And yet, all this week instead of remarking on how lovely it is outside, people insist on awefulizing the weather. “Winter’s coming.”

“Yeah it may be lovely now. But winter is coming.”  It’s as bad as Game of Thrones, “Winter’s coming.”  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Doesn’t matter that winter can be beautiful. Doesn’t matter that we all enjoy the luxury of beautiful centrally heated homes. Most of our cars have heated seats. I even have a car that will heat my steering wheel. Heck we have cars. We won’t have to trudge here on snowshoes. Nevertheless, we moan winter is coming.

There are lunatics running the world. Churches simply can’t survive in our modern world.           We are fighting a losing battle. People these days are spiritual but not religious. So, we huddle together and we do what everyone else is doing these days, we catastrophize and we awefuize because winter is coming. These days seems as though worrying is the only way we connect with one another. So many of our speech patterns revolve around our stress. Take a moment to step out of yourselves and pay attention to how and what we are saying to one another. The experts say that the average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day. How many of your 60,000 thoughts are negative? How many of the conversations we have with one another lean into your fears? Think about social media? How many posts or articles do you read that strike fear into your hearts?  Global warming may not be as big a problem as global whining.

To all of this catastrophizing and awefulizing Jesus insists:  “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.”  “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up! To which I’m sure you may be thinking, “Easier said than done.”

Don’t get me wrong our problems are real. But can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single hour to your life?   Lighten up. Let’s try to be spiritual but not religious. One of the best definitions of spirituality that I have come across recently comes from the social researcher Bene Brown, who writes, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us,

and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”   To which I say, in the spirit of Jesus “Lighten up dear friends.”

If we can connect to one another in ways that do not begin with catastrophizing and awefulizing, perhaps we can begin to gain a sense of perspective that will not only bring meaning to our lives together but may just remind us of the many things we love about one another. I know we have all sorts of challenges in our little church. It is difficult not to worry. I stay up nights worrying about our life together as a community.

One of the things that I have come to believe is that if the only level at which we can connect with one another is through our worries, we will lose any desire that we may have to connect in the first place. We need to connect in ways that remind us of our many blessings and inspire us to share our blessings.I’m hoping that we can begin by stepping out of ourselves and looking at how we talk to one another. If we try to become witnesses of our own behavior. Think about what we are thinking. Are we leaning into fear? Are we connecting through negative language? Are we connecting through misery?

The best way I know how to step outside of myself is with humor. When I hear Jesus say, “Do not worry!” I hear him say it with an Irish lilt. “Sure, what da want to be worrying about. Have ya taken leave of yer senses? What good is worrying going to do ya? Look at the birds – sure they’re not worried. Look at the flowers – they can’t worry. Look around the birds can fly. The flowers are lovely. How stupid you to be worrying in such a place as this? Stop worrying.”

Now as lovely as an Irish lit is, I can still find something to worry about. And it doesn’t quite make me laugh. And laughter is what is called for because laughter is one of the deepest surest ways that humans connect. So, the other day, I was wondering how we get from worrying to laughter. Now I’m not a comedian. So, I’m not going to try to joke us out of our troubles. But I am a student of human behavior and apparently, it’s almost impossible to take someone seriously if their wearing one of these.  (put on a Red nose).

“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!

Okay, this might work better if we all wear a read nose. (distribute red noses)

As your go through the week and you find yourself slipping into catastrophizing or awefulizing or even just complaining, put on your read nose.  And say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.”   “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!

We have all sorts of challenges to deal with. If we can put our challenges into perspective and connect with one another without catastrophizing or awefulizing, together we can meet whatever challenges come our way in the LOVE that IS the ONE who nourishes grounds and sustains us in the beautiful life, in this beautiful place, in these wonderful times.  For we are after all is said and done, a spiritual people.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”   Therein lies our hope. Lighten up! Look at the birds. Look at the flowers. Remember the CREATOR of ALL that IS created the duck-billed platypus. So, laugh a little.

 

 

 

 

 

What if Prayer is NOT Transactional But IS Transformational? – Luke 11:1-13

Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells the story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journal looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall.  How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”  The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home and have a cup of tea and I come back, and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.” The journalist is intrigued, and she asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”[1]

The old man’s frustration is one that I think we can all relate to when it comes to prayer. Sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall. And yet, we pray. Marcus Borg insisted that there are two things that most humans have in common. Borg wrote that, “Most humans have a deep longing for connection; a deeper connection to the DIVINE, to the sacred, to one another, to creation.” and “Most humans have a deep longing to make the world a better place.” Perhaps it is our longing for connection together with our longing to make the world a better place that provide our impetus to pray. So, is it any wonder that our desire to connect to the DIVINE MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS, should leave us frustrated?

Today’s gospel text has frustrated me for years. Over and over again, in my prayers I have asked and felt no connection. I have looked and not found. I have knocked and the door hasn’t been opened. It is as if I am up against the wall penned in by a multitude of snakes and scorpions, and there is no door anywhere in sight.

Author Anne Lamott insists that the two best prayers that she knows are: The first: “help me, help me, help me” and the second “thank-you, thank-you, thank-you”. Prayers of gratitude, most of us can handle. I suspect that for many of us the source of our greatest frustration comes from the “help me, help me, help me” kinds of prayer. For who amongst us has not prayed fervently and persistently only to experience the frustration of what seems like a vast, unresponsive, emptiness?

So many of us learned to pray to an image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that fails to capture the magnitude of the CREATOR of all that IS. We were trained to look up to the heavens as we beseeched a God whom we cast in the role of a cosmic superhero, ready, willing, and able to intervene on our behalf. Our prayers were crafted with a transactional mindset that perceived life from a dualistic perspective: either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, answered or unanswered prayer. You either believe in God or you don’t. Slowly, as we have learned more and more about the nature of reality, our longing to connect with the Source of All reality has caused us to expand our images of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As the CREATOR OF UNIVERSES shakes off our way too small superhero costume, we are left standing among the snakes and scorpions wondering:  to whom shall we go? how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray?

As I wrestled with today’s gospel text, I despaired of ever finding answers to my own questions about prayer. I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE and yet still long for a connection to the ONE who IS the GROUND of ALL BEING, then how, what, or why do we pray? I found myself wishing that my vacation started this week instead of next week, then I wouldn’t have to deal with this text. It wasn’t until I realized that my questions were blinding me to the words of the text. As I read the text over and over again, some might say as a kind of prayer, seeking to find, longing for connection, there it was in the words on the page.

Jesus said, “That is why I tell you, keep asking and you will receive, keep looking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted. What parents among you will give a snake to their child when the child askes for a fish, or a scorpion when the child asks for an egg?”

My dualistic mind was forming questions that were transactional. Ask/receive, seek/find, knock/open. My questions about prayer were born out of a view of prayer that I thought I’d long since moved away from. I was trapped in an either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, believe or not believe, God or no-God, dualistic mindset and so my questions about prayer served only to build the kind of wall that caused my prayers to fail to provide even the remotest possibility of connection. My questions had become the very snakes and scorpions that I had hoped to avoid. Continue reading

lambs among wolves – Luke 10:1-16

…the prescribed reading for today (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)  is a little strange because it is chopped up into pieces…and leaves out several verses that to most ears sound more than a little judgmental. Without the omitted verses is a difficult reading that is seeming bereft of “Good News”. So, as is often the case when we deliver bad news, I’m going to ask you to sit down and take a few deep breathes. ….ready?

…the text continues with Jesus saying to the 72:  “If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say,  “We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near. I tell you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than the fate of such a town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! And woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes! It will go easier on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. As for you, Capernam, will you exalt yourself to the skies? No, you’ll be hurled down to Hades! Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the ONE who sent me.”

Jesus has sent out seventy-two of his followers to proclaim that the reign of God is near. Two by two those who have learned at Jesus’ feet are sent to proclaim a new way of being in the world. Furthermore, Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the world with nothing, no knapsack, no sandals, and perhaps more importantly, with no purse; no money with which to provide the essentials. Like lambs Jesus sends his followers into the midst of wolves.

Lambs in the midst of wolves is a strange metaphor. I know a thing or two about lambs. I helped to tend a flock of sheep for about 8 years. While there were no wolves in the area, there were coyotes, and I can tell you that no self-respecting shepherd would expose vulnerable lambs to wolves. Jesus would make a crappy shepherd. Leaders are supposed to protect the ones they lead. Yet here, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Luke, has crafted a story that casts Jesus in the role of a reckless leader who demands an equally reckless vulnerability from his followers.

What we know about the gospel-storyteller that we call Luke is that he wrote close to the end of the first century. Some 50 to 60 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth; a time when the full force of the mighty Roman Empire was being brought to bear upon the Jewish people and upon the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. During this time both Jews and followers of the Way lived in fear for their lives. The very idea of venturing out into the world would have struck fear into the hearts of all those who knew the ferocious power of the Roman Empire. Wolves would have seemed timid when compared to Rome’s cruelty. Yet, in our story Jesus sends his followers like lambs into the midst of wolves? Totally unprepared. Totally vulnerable. Totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who this story characterizes as wolves.

Now, I will confess that all this week, as I was studying this text, I saw myself as a lamb. But I have to say that this story didn’t make much sense to me until I began to see myself as one of the wolves.  It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a lamb. Images of myself as a small child, a wee little lamb, helpless and vulnerable were easy to conjure up. Memories of my own childhood migration from Belfast to Canada reminded me of the ways in which my own family depended upon the kindness of strangers when we arrived in a strange land. I don’t really think my Mum and Dad were very well prepared for the journey that we undertook as a family. But thanks to all the help we received from the people who had gone before us and the strangers we met here in Canada, we did all right. Continue reading

Jesus was wrong! Can I Get an Amen? – a sermon for Easter 7C – John 17:20-26

window4Before I could go to seminary I had to obtain an undergraduate degree.  So I enrolled at the University of British Columbia in their religious studies program. In order to obtain a degree in religious studies, we were required to study the religions of the world. My professors and classmates were Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, and together we explored all sorts of religions, both ancient and modern.  I remember registering in a course on ecumenism where I expected that we would study the various movements to restore unity to Christianity.  We did that, but we also did so much more.  We learned that ecumenism is not just about Christian unity.  Ecumenism includes inter-faith dialogue.

During the course I was required to write papers on Hindu-Christian dialogue, as well as a paper concerning what was written about Jesus in the Islamic Qur’an.  This course introduced me to the reality that unity does not mean uniformity. In his book entitled Who Needs God, Rabbi Harold Kushner writes: “Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers, or a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a real difference.”

Sadly, over the centuries the religions of the world have shaped the way we see people whose religious practices are different than our own in ways that have made it possible for us to pre-judge our neighbours. Studying the religions of the world broadened my horizons and I actually began to believe that at long last I had escaped the prejudices that were bred into me. Continue reading

Lonely, Yet Not Alone – John 14:23-29, Easter 6C

This morning, I want to talk to you about an epidemic that is rampant in our world. This epidemic is growing at such an alarming rate that governments all over the world are scrambling to address the pervasive suffering that this epidemic is causing in people of all ages, all races, all classes, all faiths; this epidemic does not discriminate, every one of us is susceptible to the devastating consequences of this epidemic. Any ideas about what governments are calling this quickly growing epidemic? Loneliness. Loneliness or as some experts refer to it, social isolation is growing in leaps and bounds all over the place.

All of us have known the pain of loneliness. Some of us also know that loneliness can have a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health. Loneliness causes increased rates of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Research now shows that loneliness can also be physically harmful. Loneliness is linked to potentially life-shortening health issues like, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Some experts have gone as far as to argue that being lonely for a prolonged period of time is more harmful to a person’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. One of the most socially isolating aspects of loneliness comes from the social stigma that surrounds loneliness. We simply don’t talk about our loneliness. This social stigma often prevents people from seeking help. “People think if they admit they are lonely it means people don’t want to be with them.” People just don’t want to admit that they are lonely.

Loneliness is a global problem. In the United Kingdom the situation has become so serious that the government has appointed a loneliness minister to address the issue. In Canada, studies have found that one in five Canadians identify as being lonely. One in five of us suffer from the shame and the fear that come from being lonely.

Watch the Lonely Bench

I can’t help but marvel at Sukhkaran’s courage. I know that I would not have had the courage to sit down on the Lonely Bench. At his age I would have been too afraid that if I sat down on that bench, nobody would have come to sit beside me. We moved around so much when I was a kid. I was always the new kid in class. Every year a new school. Sometimes more than one new school in a year. As a child, I had intimate knowledge of loneliness. All too often I felt the pain of social isolation, of not belonging. I cried so many tears because of the pain that consumed me because I had little or no connection to the strangers into whose midst I stumbled in and out of.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally found my people. I was fifteen, when I found my tribe when I happened upon a Lutheran youth group which lead me into the church. Finding my people, my tribe and finding a place to belong in church, made my life a lot better. But even a sense that I actually belonged somewhere didn’t end my loneliness. Even the church can be an incredibly lonely place. Continue reading

Progressive In Approach: Christlike In Action

Politically Speaking host Dave Szollosy interviewed me and our conversation revolved around the issues relating to how our religion informs our politics. How does a small congregation like Holy Cross do the things it does? “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6) has become a favourite verse of Progressive Christians. Living into this quote education, advocacy, and action provide opportunities for people engage in the work of seeking justice. What do we mean when we call ourselves progressive? What did John Shelby Spong mean when he called Holy Cross, “a jewel in the frozen north?”

Nanny’s Mugs: The Agony of Dementia – A Sermon for Easter 5C

NANNY'S MUGSIn my kitchen there are some teacups that we call Nanny’s mugs. They are smaller and more delicate than all the other mugs in the cupboard. Whenever I drink tea from them, I think of my Grandmother. That first summer, I moved to Newmarket; some 3,000 miles from my home, my Grandmother decided that she was going to move in with me.  She lived with me in the parsonage for about 3 months.  It was an impulse decision on her part; a decision that I had very little say in. Nanny decided that I was the only one in the family she could trust and so she would move in with me. She was in her late eighties at the time. I didn’t fully understand her lack of faith in the other members of the family. I never dreamed that her suspicions about the relative trustworthiness of our relatives was the beginning of the end.  I loved my Nanny and I was determined to provide a home for her. I was delighted when she arrived. I was always delighted when my Nanny arrived. I remember as a child, I would long for Nanny to arrive.

Nanny was always full of fun and I have all sorts of wonderful memories of usImage 19 getting into trouble together.  Nanny was all of 5 feet tall, she was just a wee little woman, but there was more power and strength in that wee little woman from Belfast than in most of the women I’ve ever met in my life. She was kindness and fierceness all rolled up into a woman who loved nothing better than a good laugh. Nanny was born in Belfast the oldest of 14 children. When all three of her children ended up living in Canada, even though they were well into their sixties she and my Grandda immigrated to Canada to begin a new life in a new country. Immigrating at any age is an incredible undertaking, but immigrating in your 60’s takes guts. I was twelve years old when my Grandparents arrived in Vancouver. I watched my Grandda begin a new job and my Nanny try to make the best of life far away from everything that was familiar to her. Nanny’s homesickness was palpable. Continue reading

Embracing Our FULL HUMANITY – The Gospel of Mary

Readings from the Gospel of Mary here

The year was 1998. I was in my final year of seminary. I took a course from a visiting New Testament Scholar, who shall remain nameless, to protect not his innocence, but because it is bad form to speak ill of our elders. Suffice it to say that this professor had achieved some renown as a New Testament Scholar, so I was eager to learn from his wisdom. This professor lived up to his reputation. He was brilliant and he was demanding. I learned a great deal from him. During a class on the women of the New Testament, I recorded a conversation between the professor and myself. The conversation impressed me so much that I included it in my Master’s Thesis. It went like this…

He just said it for the third time!  “Harlots!”

He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot.  Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says,

“she is a “prostitute!”

My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed.   “Where?  Where?  Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”

As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”, I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger.  I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice, and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”

He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”

“A sinner not a prostitute.”  I respond.

He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”

“Where?” I ask.

Again, he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”

I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”

He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”

I lose control, “How do you know?  What words does the author use to say that this woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”

He still doesn’t get it,“What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”

Once again, I push, “Show me.  Show me where?”

He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”

I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”

He replies, “amartolos”.

I push, “Does that mean prostitute?”

We both know that it does not.

 He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”

Still pushing I ask him to “Show me. Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual. Show me where it says so in the narrative.”

He says, “It’s clear.”

Clearly, we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you.  Show me. Show me!”

As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay.  Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute.  For Christ’s sake! Show me!”

He couldn’t show me.  It’s simply not there.

Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek, or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute. But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute. In the years that have transpired since that day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I have delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of that I like to call, the resurrection of Mary the Migdal as the first Apostle. Migdal is a Hebrew word for tower and some scholars suggest that this was actually Mary’s title. Mary the Tower – perhaps because she was tall, but more likely because her authority as an Apostle “towered” above the authority of the apostles who abandoned Jesus. Continue reading

We Are All ONE – Pluralism Sunday – John 21:15-17

A long time ago, I owned a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova that I paid less than $700 for in the hope that that old car would last long enough to get me through my undergraduate years at the University of British Columbia. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t get around to doing my undergraduate degree until I was 32 years old, when I enrolled in the Religious Studies program at UBC. I was living in a shabby basement apartment, where the rent was cheap, but the parking was non-existent. If I was lucky, I’d find a parking spot in the alley behind my apartment. Walking in that dark alley at night was more than a little scary. Often, as I was hurrying through that dark alley, I would see this old woman who was living rough in a makeshift tent. It wasn’t much of a shelter, just some cardboard held together by old clothes and torn grocery bags.

The old woman and I never spoke to one another. After several weeks of seeing one another in that back-alley, we would quietly nod in recognition of one another. I knew that she belonged in the neighbourhood and she knew that I belonged in the neighbourhood. Neither of us was comfortable in the back alley at night and it seemed almost comforting to see a familiar face, rather than running into some totally unknown stranger.

One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I am ashamed to say that her moans frightened me, and I dashed to my car, unlocked it as quickly as I could, and drove off to the university so that I could continue my study of the religions of the world. The irony was not lost on my and I was ashamed.

I had some brilliant professors at UBC who taught me all sorts of things, but none of those wise professors ever taught me as much as one of my fellow students taught me. My classmate Sannidhi taught me more about religion than any professor. Sannidhi is a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. To this day, some of what I learned from Sannidhi, I continue to try to teach others. It was Sannidhi who taught me the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale imitations of the ONE God who lies at the very heart of all that IS. It was from Sannidhi that I first learned the Hindu description of the MYSTERY that we call God, that I have come to love above all other descriptions of the DIVINE ONE. I’ve shared this description with you many times:  “God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”

Despite the difference in our ages and backgrounds or maybe because of them, Sannidhi and I became study partners. Together, we navigated the murky waters of Religious Methodology as we tried our best to move beyond our own religious practices so that we could learn from the religious practices of others. Sannidhi often spoke about his home in India and how he couldn’t wait to show me what India was really like.

One evening I offered Sannidhi a ride home in my car. To this day, I’m not sure whether or not he was teasing me or if he actually was seriously impressed with my old Chevy. I remember him running his hand over its white vinyl roofand making a sort of tutting sound as his head bobbed from side to side and he expressed his admiration for such a fine mode of transport. Driving along, our conversation about the nature and reality of God was so engrossing that I invited Sannidhi to stop off at my place for a cup of tea so that we could continue our conversation. That’s how we ended up talking to the old woman who live lived in the back-alley behind my basement apartment. turns out her name was Joanna. In just a few moments, Sannidhi had learned that she liked milk and just a touch of sugar in her tea. I myself had never dreamed of offering the old woman a cup of tea. Sannidhi never dreamed of not offering her a cup of my tea. Continue reading

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

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

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

Earth Day: Every Bush Is Burning

On the heels of Peter Rollins visit to our congregation, I preached this Earth Sunday sermon which flows out of Peter’s work. You can listen to Peter’s sermon which is the jumping off point for this Earth Day sermon here

Listen to the Earth Day sermon here

Worship Bulletin here

The readings are here

The video of the excerpt from Chief Seattle’s Response is below

Today, this planet celebrates Earth Day; a time to pause and celebrate the wonders of this planet and to consider the fate of this planet. The church has no day on its calendar to either celebrate the Earth or to pray for the survival of the Earth. Indeed, there are churches in Christendom that actively pray for the demise of the planet, so as to hasten the arrival of Christ.  When I preach about the plight of the Earth, I usually point out some ecological disaster and encourage us all to take better care of the planet.  While there are plenty of ecological disasters that I could point to that’s not what I’m interested in today,  because let’s face it, if you’ve read this far, I’d only be preaching to the choir.  We all know that the planet is in grave danger and that we all have a role to play in saving the planet. Today, I want to talk to you about something that lies at the very heart of our abuse not only of the planet but of one another. You see all week; I’ve been haunted by a line from Pete Rollins sermon last week.

Peter was talking about the gift that Christianity has to offer the world a gift that has the potential to move us beyond religion toward a more connected holistic way of being in the world. The line that has been haunting me all week came near the end of Peter’s sermon. It was almost a throwaway line and with Belfast Peter’s accent and the speed with which he speaks, I almost missed it. Peter said that all too often what we see in religion is our desire to have some sort of holy experience; a burning bush experience like Moses. We want to find this place where the Holy is and there always seems to be things getting in the way of our having this holy experience.

There are people getting in the way and structures getting in the way of this burning bush experience. Pete insisted that in the what he described as the Apostle Paul’s conversion of bedazzlement, in this incomprehensible blinding revelation that seems so incomprehensible, so transformative has the power to transform us so that we can see inside of ourselves and we can begin to see that every bush is burning. We can begin to see that the sacred are everywhere; that the persecuted ones are the place of our transformation and our conversion. Continue reading