Preparing to encounter eternity – a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

The memories described in this sermon were provoked by the writings of Thomas Moore. I am indebted to Moore’s chapter on “The Christmas Tree” in his book “The Soul of Christmas” for opening me to some of the realities of our tree rituals. Dr. Seuss provided the Whos from down in Whoville.  you can listen to the audio here or watch the video below

Islam 101 – session 3

Adult Education at Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Before we begin the Living the Questions series “The Jesus Fatwah” we are familiarizing ourselves with the basics of Islam.  Join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15am. 

 

The Jesus Fatwah: Love Your (Muslim) Neighbour as Yourself – Adult Education Classes

Join us at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket as we begin our exploration of Islam. Using the Living the Questions video series: “The Jesus Fatwah” we will delve into a study of Islam on Sunday mornings beginning Sept. 24th at 9:15am

PrideFest sermon – Rid Me of God

IMG_2298Once again, Holy Cross will the honour of hosting York Region’s Pride Fest worship. Last year’s service took place the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, and so we did our best to be both sanctuary and celebration. You can read the sermon below. Join us this Sunday for PrideFest Worship!

Listen to the sermon here

I have a vague memory of wandering into a large sandpit. Four or five children were playing in the dirt with Tonka toys. I couldn’t have been more than five years old. I was enthralled by this big yellow grader. A kid younger than me, was using the grader to make roads so that these big yellow Tonka dump-trucks could make their way to a small kid-made hill, where another kid had a big Tonka machine that I would later learn was a front-end-loader.  This kid was moving the earth. I knew then and there that these boys were having way more fun than the little girls pushing dolls in toy strollers. I wanted a Tonka toy!

The outrage created by such a harmless desire is writ large in my memories. I learned from a very young age not to express my desires. The fear of expressing myself kept me locked inside of myself. The first time I nearly managed to free myself happened in a gay-bar in Vancouver. Now of course, I didn’t go a gay-bar because I was gay. I went to a gay-bar because my friend John is Gay and he’d never been able to must up the courage to go to a gay-bar. So, I went to a gay-bar to support my friend. The name of the club was “Faces” and I was scared to death that my face might be recognized and someone might get the wrong idea about me. I mean, heaven-forbid someone might think that I am gay. I loved Faces. I hated the music—it was the Disco era. But the atmosphere. Guys I knew, just being themselves. People dancing. Lots of freedom. And no fear.  I danced with women. I danced with men. They didn’t care if I was straight or gay. They only really cared if I was smiling. They cared about my happiness and they cared about my safety. That club was a sanctuary. Unless you’ve ever had to be careful about who you love, unless you’ve ever had to refrain from holding your lover’s hand because you are afraid, not of what people might think, but what people might do, unless you’ve ever lived in fear because of who you are and who you desire, or who you love, it is difficult to understand the sanctuary of the clubs. Gay-bars, gay-clubs, are sanctuaries. Safe havens. Sanctuary from the fears of a hostile world. Safe from oppression or persecution. Sanctuaries where Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning people can freely be who they are created to be. Sacred places.

Long before I knew who I was gay, the queer community that I met in the clubs, embraced me with the kind of welcome I never experienced in the sanctuaries of any church. The violation of the sanctity of Pulse in Orlando is an attack on a community of people who thought that they were safe. Tragically, 103 people were shot. 49 murdered, 53 wounded, 6 of the wounded are in critical condition fighting for their lives.  We’ve all heard the horror stories of young people enjoying the sanctity of the Pulse club, only to have their lives shattered by hails of bullets. Barely did we have time to grieve before the pundits began haggling over what label to apply to the perpetrator of such carnage. Hate-crime or terrorism, homophobe or repressed homo-sexual, mental illness or radical jihadist, any way you slice this unholy mess, the dead and wounded paid with their blood and their lives for the world’s inability to move beyond our tribal instincts.

The rhetoric has penetrated our tears. As we grieve, we are assaulted with words and images that move us to despair the reality that even as homophobia wanes Islamophobia is on the rise. In the midst of our grieving, the lunatic running for the highest office on the planet, as he rants about visions of what might have been if only Pulse patrons had taken advantage of their second amendment rights and pulled out guns of their own and fired back at their deranged assailant. Describing his vision of carnage as and I quote, “a beautiful thing”, it is difficult to distinguish his words from the ravings of the evangelical nut-jobs who have the audacity to voice their own brand of hate-speech as they insist that these horrendous deaths may indeed be a blessing; because Lord knows that such lives are an abomination.

Just when the stench of such rhetoric becomes unbearable we are reminded of the gunman’s father who suggests that his son should have left the punishment of gays to God. If only, one religious nut-job could cancel out the other. But they cannot. The distinction between deranged religious ravings and hate-speech has all but disappeared. And just when you think the pundits have done their worst, the reality that one persecuted minority is being asked to take up the task of persecuting another persecuted community, as the victims of homophobia are encouraged to practice Islamophobia.

Rid me of the idiots who forget that neither the Bible nor the Qur’an is free from hate-speech. Yes, Islam has prevented interpretations that encourage hatred and murder, but so does the bible. When it comes to hating the members of LGBTQ communities Jews, Christians, and Muslims have a great deal to answer for. When we shake our heads as religious fanatics quote the Quran we must not forget that we too have our fanatics. We must not forget to put the fanatics into context.

In 2015, a Pew Research poll found that 42 percent of Muslim Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared with 55 percent for the overall population. To put this in context, in the U.S. Muslim support for gay marriage today is roughly equivalent to the level of support expressed by the total population as recently as 2010. Islamophobia clouds our vision of our Muslim sisters and brothers who are struggling to move beyond the constraints of our history. We can encourage our sisters and brothers or we can give into our fears and embrace policies and practices that will wall us of, separate and divide us. Sadly, the politics of division and hatred sells and so the media is drawn, toward politicians who are all too willing to cater to our darkest fears and religious mouth-pieces that give voice to our worst selves.

As hatred begets hatred, our tears well up and I find myself haunted by the images of God created by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions that have given birth to doctrines that have demonized, stigmatized, ostracized, and inspired hatred, violence, and the slaughter of LGBTQ people for centuries. My heart aches so much so that in the words of the sixteenth century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart: “I pray God, rid me of God.”

Our images of the ONE who IS the Source of All That IS must change. That angry, manipulative, vengeful, violent, super-natural, God up there in the sky is not the Sacred Reality that we experience as LOVE. “God is LOVE.” Even the three monotheistic religions that have shaped the Western world share this insight. God IS LOVE. Almost every religion shares a version of the great commandment to LOVE our neighbours as we love ourselves. So prevalent is this religious edict that it known the world over by the religious and non-religious as “the Golden Rule.” God is LOVE. The one of whom we are all made is LOVE. We live and move and have our being in LOVE. And still the influence of that old Sky God continues to haunt us as we stumble around in this latest nightmare. The LOVE that we call God is Beyond our ability to capture with words or images. This LOVE that we call God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. That old sky-god is at its best just an educational tool to help us begin to understand that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. At his, and I do mean his, worst that old sky-god is nothing more than an idol whose worship leaves us isolated in our various tribes — calling upon the power of our idol to ensure the safety and supremacy of our tribe and let all the other tribes be damned.

I pray God, rid me of God. Let me move beyond images and ideas that fall short of the LOVE that called us into being.   As we learn more and more about what it means to be human, as we understand and express our humanity in new and diverse ways, it is time for us to look toward the source of our humanity in ways that honour all of who we are. Can the Creator of all this really be as small and petty as we have been lead to believe by those who cannot even begin to deal with the reality of all this? Our images of our Creator have been severely limited by what we once thought it meant to be human. Our ideas about God have been severely limited by what we once thought was true about the universe. As we move beyond simplistic notions of what it means to be human, can we not also move beyond simplistic notions about the Creator of all that IS.

No religion can continue to claim that it has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The word religion literally means, reconnection. Religion by definition is about the very things that reconnect us. How can something that is supposed to be about our connections to that which is so much more than we are, together with our connections to one another and our connections to creation, have locked us in to such separation from ourselves?

What if we began to take seriously our human urges for connection; to explore our desire to connect with something bigger than ourselves, to explore our connections as human beings, connections to our Creator, connections to one another, connections to creation herself? I pray God, rid me of God.  Rid me of images of god that fail to express the LOVE that IS God. Rid me of images of god that are too small, too petty, too tribal, too violent, too judgmental, to infantile, to encompass the reality of the LOVE that IS God. Rid me of the jealous god of our ancestors. Rid me of the old man up there in heaven who likes nothing better than to listen to my pleas for mercy. Rid me of the bearded bloke who sits upon the thrown of judgement. Rid me of the vengeful, nightmarish Father who is portrayed as demanding a blood-sacrifice. Rid me of God. So that I might begin to discover the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. The ONE generations of Jews, Christians, Muslims and a whole host of other religious peoples, together with people who claim no religion have experienced as the LOVE that lies at the very heart of reality. This ONE that we call God, who is beyond, the beyond and beyond that also.

Let us discover anew, this LOVE that we call God, so that we can fall in love all over again, with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind; and for the love of God, please don’t leave our minds out of this equation. Let us fall in love with this LOVE that we call god, so that we can discover our all over again how to love ourselves and begin to love our neighbours in the same way. Let us begin to create images of this LOVE that we call God that will provide sanctuary for all the beautifully diverse expressions of humanity, so that the dancing and celebration over what it means to be human can begin again. Let all our words about the God create images of God in which all God’s children can find sanctuary, knowing that they are beautiful expressions of their Creator, created by LOVE for love. Let our images of God empower us to be LOVE in the world. Amen.

Every Bush Is Burning: Earth Sunday Sermon

earth-day-2013Four years ago, 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.  We here at Holy Cross have been celebrating Earth Sunday since 2007. This week I went back over my sermons for the past six Earth Sundays and discovered that 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 want to talk to you about today because let’s face it, I’d only be preaching to the choir. All of you 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

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? – an interactive sermon (Easter 2)

Leap of Doubt pastorDawnThis sermon is an interactive exploration which was recorded last year. It provides a timely reminder of the journey we have been on in our progressive Christian community. Below, you will find the text of my introduction to this powerful conversation which took place in the midst of an internet furor that erupted on the internet following several posts in which I denied the resurrection of the body.  Many thanks to the people of Holy Cross for their participation and to Peter Rollins for his beautiful words from his book Insurrection. Readings:  John 20:1-18, Philippians 3:10-14, John 20:19-31

Listen to the sermon here 

“They gathered in an upper room and the doors were locked because they were afraid of the religious authorities.” While I struggled to write this morning’s sermon, I was tempted not to lock the doors but rather to make sure that the recording device was turned off when I preached on the resurrection. I thought that I might just have a bit of a lock in, just you and me, no recording for our followers on the internet, so that together we could explore the ways in which some of us are beginning to understand the meaning of resurrection. Whenever I have posted anything on the resurrection, traffic on the blog goes up. Some visitors are just like us, trying to find ways to understand resurrection in light of all that we are learning about the nature of the cosmos There are some visitors who stop by the site to confirm their suspicions that I am a heretic and they take great delight in reporting my heresy to the religious authorities.

When letters are written in which charges are made and discipline is demanded those letters usually make reference to something I’ve posted on the subject of resurrection.So, rather than incur the wrath of those who know for sure that Jesus physically rose from the dead, I thought why not just turn off the recorder and have a private conversation among ourselves about the nature of the resurrection, not because we are afraid of the religious authorities, but just because we’d be able to go much further if we didn’t have to worry about the people who know exactly what happened But then I remembered an email that I received during last year’s Easter season. The email came from a life-long Lutheran who had been struggling to believe in the resurrection; let’s call him FRED…

Fred lives in Alberta of all places. Fred is tempted to leave his congregation, because every time Easter rolled around and he heard the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, he knew that if he’d been Thomas he would have stuck his fingers in those wounds just to make sure that they were real. Fred wrote that during the Easter season he feels like a hypocrite because for the life of him he cannot bring himself to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Fred’s pretty sure that the people sitting in the pews with him each Sunday are also struggling to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse but none of them are willing to take the risk of saying anything about their struggles for fear of the religious authorities. So, even though it’s tempting to turn off the recording and lock our doors, so to speak, let’s throw caution to the wind, trusting that the wind; the breath, the Ruach, the Spirit will live and breath in, with, through and beyond us. So, I hope that you are willing to engage in as open a conversation as we can have together about the nature of the resurrection, knowing that people will be listening in to our conversation.

Now we have been blessed in this congregation by having enjoyed multiple visits from two of the world’s leading progressive Christian thinkers; John Shelby Spong has been here three times and John Dominic Crossan has been here twice and we have learned a great deal from both of them. But despite all the work we’ve done studying the historical and theological materials that have been generated about the resurrection, I suspect that just like Fred, some of us, myself included, are left wondering exactly how a 21st Century Christian can reconcile our expanding knowledge of the cosmos with the church’s teachings about resurrection

So, I’m going to stop talking for a bit and take a big risk here and ask you to be brave and share your thoughts about the resurrection…..Now I realize that this is a big subject, so let me help you with a question: Do you think it necessary to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead in order to call yourself a Christian?  What do you think happened? Is resurrection physical, or more than physical?

Conversation. At the end of our conversation I reminded the congregation of Peter Rollins powerful words on Resurrection

 Peter Rollins: “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think… I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out,  I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.”

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again and again. This is the mystery of our faith. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen in you and in me and beyond you and I. In the words of Martin Luther:  “This is most certainly true!” Can I get an Amen?

Other sermons for the Second Sunday in Easter: 

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas click here

Practicing Resurrection click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection – John 20:19-31 – Easter 2A

humpty dumptyChrist is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Here we are still in the early days of the fifty daylong celebration of Easter and I’m already wondering how long we should keep chanting that Christ is risen! Sometimes, it seems that after the first flush of Easter Sunday’s excitement, our shouting that Christ is Risen sounds a little like we doth protest too much. The crowds of Easter are pretty much gone and churches all over Christendom are trying to keep up the excitement with the remnant of believers who turn up at church more often than Christmas and Easters. Our shouts of Christ is risen seem a little feeble; almost as if we are trying to convince ourselves that the celebrations of last Sunday actually mean something. After all it’s pretty safe to shout that Christ is risen in church. Nobody is going to challenge us in here about what we mean by that. But what if we were shouting that Christ is risen on the street corners or at work? Would we be comfortable telling people what we mean?

Christ is risen! Are we really willing to shout when it comes to declaring our belief in the resurrection? And if we are willing to shout about the resurrection, what is it that we would be shouting about? After all people have been arguing about the resurrection ever since the rumors about the empty tomb first began and after 21 centuries we still can’t agree what happened to Jesus after he died. Over the centuries the word resurrection has taken on so much baggage that it is difficult for many of us to talk about resurrection because we all bring so much to the conversation whenever we try to discuss it. Most of us grew up believing that we needed to believe in physical resurrection in order to belong. So we have learned to accept that resurrection means the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Yet even the stories that we tell in church don’t necessarily insist that Jesus physically rose from the dead.

The Irish novelist who wrote the famous book about his childhood in Ireland called Angela’s Ashes, also wrote a less famous book about his early years as a teacher in the United States. The book was called T’is and even though it didn’t sell quite as well as his first novel, McCourt’s I love it because it lends some keen insights into a teaching and teaching is one of the things I love about being a pastor. McCourt tells a story about Humpty Dumpty that illustrates some of the difficulties we face when we begin a discussion of the resurrection. McCourt tells his class the story of Humpty Dumpty to his class and for a whole class period there’s a heated discussion of “Humpty Dumpty” itself. (I’m using the term “itself” because no where in this English nursery Rhyme does it indicate what gender Humpty Dumpty is) In McCourt’s class Humpty Dumpty’s gender was automatically assumed to be male. But it was the sixties and so nobody argued about Humpty’s gender when McCourt recited the well known rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the kings horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Then Frank asked his class what is going on in the nursery rhyme and all the hands shot up to say things like: This egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know that you can never put an egg back together again. I mean it’s common sense really. That’s when Frank asked the question that set the class at odds with him. “Who says it’s an egg? Of course it’s an egg! Everyone knows that! Where does it say that it’s an egg? The class is thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They just won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never any doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis. McCourt insists that he’s not destroying. He just wants to know where they got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Because the class insists, it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture must have known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg. So Frank says, All right. If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be but I know the future lawyers in this class will never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg. And so by tacit agreement Humpty Dumpty becomes now and always an egg. (I am indebted to Bernard Brandon Scott’s reminder of the story about Humpty Dumpty in  Frank McCourt’s novel “T’is”)

For me the subject of the resurrection of Jesus has a great deal in common with Humpty Dumpty because by some sort of tacit agreement it was decided long ago that the resurrection of Jesus just has to be a physical resuscitation of a corpse; this despite the fact that the earliest writer on the subject of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul denies that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resuscitation of a corpse. Continue reading

LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! – an Easter sermon

embodied LOVE: Omran Daqneesh and embodied LOVE: Alex

Listen to the sermon here

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is risen indeed – SO WHAT! Today, we gather to proclaim that the LOVE that we call God is more powerful than death. On Good Friday, we gathered here in this sanctuary surround by images of death. I had posted all sorts of photographic images of the kind of human failures that proclaim the power of death; images collected from the news of the day. On these walls, hung examples of human failure – graphic representations of the reality that the embodiment of LOVE, which is what we call Christ, continues to be crucified. The crucifixion did not happen once and for all when Jesus, the embodiment of the LOVE that we call God, was executed by the powers that be.

Today, over and over again, the embodiment of LOVE dies at the hands of the powers that be. The embodiment of LOVE, which is what we can the Christ, continues to be crucified each time LOVE is impoverish, starved, bombed, executed, imperiled, tortured, neglected, murdered, or forsaken, by the powers of death; powers that put selfishness, greed, indifference, and lust for power above LOVE. And so, on this Good Friday you would have seen examples of modern crucifixions in which the Earth was being ravaged and abused by our greed and indifference, animals driven out and killed by pollution and climate change, children starving in parts of the world we would prefer not to think about, First Nations people suffering without adequate housing or drinking water, homeless people neglected on our streets, war-torn ravaged villages, and a collection of modern martyrs who like Jesus, have been crucified as a result of their passion for justice. These disturbing images formed our Stations of the Cross as we lamented so many crucifixions. 

 After our Maundy Thursday service when we’d finished remembering Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another, I hung the evidence of the death of embodied LOVE upon these walls. One of the images, reduced me to tears. I suspect that the image that undid me, lies in each of your minds because this image was beamed all over the world. Continue reading

Is God Coming Back to Life? – an Easter Sermon – with links to previous sermons

time god coversThis sermon is the second of a two parter which began on Good Friday (you can find that sermon here). It is the fruit of conversations that have been going on at Holy Cross Lutheran Church for a number of months. I am indebted to the members of the congregation for their courage, wisdom and curiosity which they so graciously share. I am indebted to Dom Crossan, Jack Spong, Barbara Brown Taylor, Michael Morwood, and Dick Rauscher whose work has inspired and emboldened me in my preaching. You can listen to the sermon below and I have also provided the manuscript (which is never quite the same as what comes out from the pulpit) Shalom. 

Links to previous sermons:  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

On Good Friday we gathered here to grieve the death of God. I began my Good Friday sermon with the Parable of the Mad Man that was written by Frederich Nietzsche back in 1882. The mad man in the parable goes around announcing that God is dead. The parable gained notoriety 1966 when an issue of Time Magazine asked the question: Is God Dead? The question appeared on the cover of the magazine and created quite a stir. It referenced Nietzsche’s parable as the inspiration behind the “God is dead movement” which insisted that “man” has killed God because “man” has evolved beyond our need for gods.

So, on Good Friday my sermon took a long hard look at the god who is indeed dead. In my sermon, I grieved the death of The Father-god, the Sky-god, God the grand puppeteer, who watches over us like a kindly shepherd, and listens to us, and interferes on our behalf, and judges us and longs to welcome us into heaven, but is willing to let us languish in hell if need be.

I pointed out that parables like the parable of the mad man are stories that tell us what we already know and Nietzsche’s Mad Man was right, this god that so many of us have loved and worshipped for so many years is indeed dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality.All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god that we once worshipped and adored.

I looked upon the cross and I wept because the death of the personified god is not easy to bear and I miss the Father-god because I really did love him, and he really did save me. For most of my life the personification of God was the only way I had of knowing anything of the Force that lies at the very heart of reality. God is dead; the Father God, the Sky God, the kindly Shepherd that I was counting on to make me lie down in green pastures, is dead. Our science, technology, philosophy, history, and our theologies have killed this personified deity that we both feared and adored.  God is dead and we have killed him.  Continue reading

Can These Bones Live? – a sermon for Lent 5A: John 11:1-45

can these bones liveI am indebted to John Dominic Crossan and Gretta Vosper for the content and the challenges of this sermon.

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

In churches all over the world, preachers are hauling Lazarus out of his well-worn tomb. Some preachers will go over the details of this story in an effort to persuade their congregations that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Some preachers will deconstruct the details of this story in an effort to relieve their listeners of the responsibility of believing that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Other preachers will dazzle their congregations with their knowledge of the biblical details, the history of the community that produced the text, the traditional doctrines and dogmas that the church has used to interpret this text and once dazzled by the preacher’s intellect congregations will be set up to prepare themselves for the forth-coming Holy Week. Other preachers will zero in on a particular detail in the text and relate it to something that is going on in the world. I must confess that over the years I have used all of these approaches. Earlier this week, I traveled back to Lazarus’ tomb to sniff around for a sermon that would make some sense of this text in light of what many of us have been studying in the Sunday Morning Adult Education Class and the Wednesday Morning Lenten Study. I had hoped that somewhere between “Painting the Stars’” evolutionary approach and “Atheism for Lent’s” intellectual critique, I would discover a way to dazzle you with a new way of understanding Lazarus, but all I really came up with was, “He stinketh!” So, I pulled out my best sermon on the raising of Lazarus and began to rework it using some of the details I have learned since I last preached on this text. I produced quite an entertaining scholarly sermon with just the right amount of humour to keep you smiling, as I dazzled you with fascinating details about the story and deconstructed what some believe is a miracle so that the story could be of some use to us as we journey through Lent in the 21st century. It’s a pretty good sermon, but I left it on my hard-drive and maybe I’ll preach it some day. But not today. You see, a few of us spent the last few days listening to John Dominic Crossan as he dazzled us with his brilliance which shed such a bright light on the history of the life and times of Jesus that left us all sighing so appreciatively as we realized that what we thought we knew is just peering through a class darkly and there is a totally clear way of approaching this story; a way that will not offend our 21st century intelligence. Continue reading

Jesus, the Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World? It ain’t necessarily so! (a sermon for Epiphany 2A – John 1:29-42)

Lamb of GodI am indebted to John Shelby Spong for giving me the words to articulate my own objections to the label attached to Jesus by a late first century writer also known as John. Most if not all of this sermon is derived from Jack Spong’s work. For more details I would refer you to Jesus for the Non-Religious and The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. We at Holy Cross were privileged to have Jack speak to us about both of these books. In fact a year before it was published, Holy Cross was the test audience for the material in The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. This sermon ought to have all sorts of footnotes, but I trust you will forgive me for simply confessing that I can no longer tell were Jack leaves off and I begin. Suffice it to say that this sermon is my feeble attempt to put Jack’s work into the form of a sermon.

When I turn the gospel according to John and read about John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, saying:  “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I want to scream,  “NO!” I have come to believe that our images of God are far too narrow. As far as I’m concerned most of our ideas about God fall far short of every even beginning to describe who God might be. One thing I’m absolutely certain of is if we can imagine ourselves being more loving, more gracious, or more merciful that our theology suggests that God is, then we had better go back to the drawing-board and think again. The ways in which we have traditionally interpreted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, paint a picture of a God who is far less loving, gracious or merciful than you or I. Nobody in this room, would demand a blood sacrifice of a lamb, let alone the blood sacrifice of their own child. So, the image of God that is based on this kind of theology must be judged as inadequate to the task of evening beginning to provide us with a glimpse of who our God is.

As we go back to the drawing-board, we ought to take a long hard look at how we arrived at this image in the first place. Thank goodness for the work of our friend Jack Spong who has enabled us to see beyond the literal to the more-than-literal meanings of the various ways in which the followers of Jesus have understood the life and teachings of Jesus. During the years that followed the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers were left wondering what it was all about. How could someone in whom they had seen the fullness of God, be taken from them in such a horrendous way? How could their God allow it?   What were they to do? Over the years that followed, Jesus’ followers looked back at the life, death, and resurrection of Christ through the lens of their own religious experiences. Jesus’ followers were primarily Jewish and so it didn’t take long for the familiar Jewish symbol of the Lamb of God to be applied to Jesus as a way of making some sense out of his death.  Today most Christians associate the symbol of the Lamb of God with the Jewish celebration of Passover.  While the Gospel narratives do indeed locate the time of Jesus death during the celebration of the Passover, and there is indeed a sacrificial lamb involved in the Passover, the actual phrase “the Lamb of God” comes not from the religious rites of Passover, but rather the religious rites of Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement.  Phrases like “the Lamb of God”, “died for our sins” and “washed in the blood of the lamb” can all be found in the religious rites of Yom Kippur.  Continue reading

Jesus Was and Is an Absolute Fool – a sermon on Luke 15 for Pentecost 17C

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

Sanctuary for LOVE and LIFE – in the wake of Orlando

York Pride Fest SanctuaryIn the wake of Orlando, we at Holy Cross have the honour of hosting this year’s York Region Pride Fest Worship. As we struggle to find ways to respond to this horrific tragedy, the word “sanctuary” keeps me grounded. While the word sanctuary has its origins in the word for holy and was used to designate a sacred place for worship. As a result of the tradition of sanctuaries providing safe harbour for fugitives of all kinds, the word has come to mean safe haven or place of safety. “Sanctuary” how sadly appropriate for those of us seeking safe haven from the harsh realities so often inspired by perversions masquerading as religion that we shall shall gather together to create a sacred space of sanctuary, in the words of our hymn for the day, “For All the Children.” As I prepare to create sanctuary for others, I keep listening to this rendition which creates sanctuary in me. Shalom….

A 69 Chevy Nova, Tea and the ONE In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being – a sermon for Pentecost 5C

chevy novaA sermon on Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39

I am indebted to John Philip Newell and his book: A New Harmony for the insights that lie at the heart of this sermon.   Listen to the sermon here

It was a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova, I bought it for $640 in the hope that it would last long enough for me to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia. At the age of 32, I had enrolled at UBC in the hopes of obtaining an honours degree in Religious Studies. I couldn’t really afford a car. But nor could I afford the time it would take to travel on public transit between the university and the bank clearing house where I needed to work the evening shifts in order to pay for my education. I was living in a shabby basement suit, where the rent was cheap and the parking non-existent. When I was lucky, I found a spot in the alley behind the house, when I was unlucky, I’d have to park a few blocks away. Walking in the dark alley at night was frightening to say the least. Often, I would encounter an old woman, who as near as I could figure out was living rough.The back alley had a number of old sheds and garages against which this old woman would sometimes create a sort of tent out of old clothes and cardboard. We never spoke to one another, but we did recognize 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 was almost a comfort to run into one another, rather than an unrecognized stranger. One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I quickly unlocked my car and drove off to the University to study the religions of the world. My first class was Ancient Near Eastern Mythology, the Prof gave a 2 hour lecture on the development of Mono-Theism. I then had a 3 hour seminar in the methodology of Religious Studies. The seminar was made up of the my fellow honours students. The nine of us were receiving private instruction from the professor of Jewish Studies. Among my fellow students was a young man who would become one of my best teachers. Sannidhi was a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed a wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. Sannidhi 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 God that I have come to love above all other descriptions of God.  I’ve shared it with you many times: God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Continue reading

Wolf Blitzer Learned that there are Indeed Atheists in Fox-holes! – a sermon for Trinity Sunday

Eckhart rid me of GodThis Trinity Sunday sermon owes much to John Shelby Spong’s book a “New Christianity for a New World” You can listen to the sermon here then watch the tail end of the Wolf Blitzer interview mentioned in the sermon.   

In the midst to the devastation and debris that was left of the town of More, Oklahoma, it was all to clear that the power of the tornado that whipped through such a heavily populated area had left behind the kind of destruction that tears not only the foundations of buildings but also of lives. In living rooms around the world millions of people watched as the news media descended on what was left in the wake of nature’s wrath. One particular news report is still reverberating around the Internet. I had just come from my office where I had spent the afternoon, reviewing the Doctrine of the Trinity in order to write this sermon. My wife Carol was in the kitchen cooking supper and I sat down to catch up on the news events of the day. I tuned into CNN and there amidst the rubble of More Oklahoma was the familiar face of Wolf Blitzer. It was the day after the tornado and the big name newscasters had been rushed to the scene in time to provide color-commentary on the evening news. Wolf was interviewing a young mother named Rebecca Vitsmun who was holding a squirming her 19 month old, toddler Anders in her arms. The young mother gave a blow-by-blow account of her narrow escape from. All afternoon Rebecca was paying attention to the weather reports. Rebecca was not from More, but rather from New Orleans and so she was not used to tornado warnings. She’d grown up with Hurricane warnings and so her first instinct was to evacuate the area. But her husband and neighbours had told her that the safest thing to do would be to take shelter. Six-teen minutes before the tornado struck the weather service issued a warning to take shelter. As Rebecca’s husband raced home from work, this young mother grabbed her laptop, a mattress and her toddler and took shelter in the bathtub. Huddled in the tub covered by a mattress she anxiously watched the reports on her laptop. Tracing the path of the tornado, Rebecca realized that the tornado was headed straight for her street. Rebecca’s New Orleans’ instinct kicked in and with her baby in her arms she jumped into her car and without taking time to put her baby in the car seat, she drove as fast as she could out on to the freeway where she pulled over and put Anders into his car seat and then drove some more. After the tornado, Rebecca reunited with her husband, and they headed back to what was left of their home. The bathtub was so full of debris that it was clear to them that Rebecca’s instincts had saved her life.

After telling her harrowing tale, Wolf Blitzer congratulated Rebecca for saving her baby’s life and then said to this young woman, “You gotta thank the Lord.” Rebecca was clearly taken aback by the comment and hesitated. I held my breath, annoyed as hell at Blitzer for asking such a stupid question. Rebecca’s hesitation gave Blitzer the opportunity to move on, but no he just had to have an answer, and so he persisted. “Do you thank the Lord?” Rebecca gave Blitzer the kind of look that says, “Are you kidding me?” Then Rebecca gave Blitzer an answer that he sure wasn’t expecting from an American from the heartland of Oklahoma; Rebecca smiled as she answered, “I’m actually an atheist.”

As Rebecca laughed awkwardly, I cheered so loudly that Carol came into the room to see what was going on. I was so proud of that young woman for not going along with Blitzer’s nonsense. Who in their right minds would believe in a Lord who would pluck one family out of a bathtub and let seven children die in an elementary school? I mean, if this Lord that Bilitzer is so willing to give credit too is such a great rescuer, why didn’t this Lord change the twister’s path and send it out over the cornfields where the only damage it could do would be to crops?

I know they say there are no atheists in fox-holes, but I for one think that that bathtub Rebecca was hunkered down in was indeed a fox-hole and I’m delighted that when all was said and done, she and little Anders were saved by her instinct for survival. As for this Lord of Blitzer’s, well, judging by the awkwardness that Blitzer exhibited after Rebecca stood her ground, I can only guess that this reporter misjudged the situation. Blitzer a city-slicker from New York, assumed that all the local yokels must be bible-thumping Christians, and he probably thought that his question would have received a mindless ra, ra, yeah God, kind of response from all Oklahomans. I trust he won’t make that mistake again. I kind of feel sorry for him, because after all it only took a few hours before some televangelist’s were suggesting that God did indeed send the tornado to teach people a lesson. According to some bible-thumpers, if people prayed hard enough they would have been saved. Some even went so far as to suggest that the tornado was punishment for gay marriage. 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

Every Bush Is Burning: Earth Sunday Sermon

earth-day-2013Three years ago, 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

On April 22nd this planet will celebrate 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.  We here at Holy Cross have been celebrating Earth Sunday since 2007. This week I went back over my sermons for the past six Earth Sundays and discovered that 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 want to talk to you about today because let’s face it, I’d only be preaching to the choir. All of you 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

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

“A Revelation of Darkness” – Peter Rollins sermon on Acts 9:1-20 – Paul’s Revelation

peter rollins_thumb[1]On the third Sunday of Easter 2013, Peter Rollins was our guest preacher and took us beyond the surface of the story of Paul’s revelation toward the darkness from which we all too often hide.

The scripture readings can be found here – The Worship Bulletin here

You can listen to Peter sermon here

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? – an interactive sermon (Easter 2)

Leap of Doubt pastorDawnThis sermon is an interactive exploration which was recorded last year. It provides a timely reminder of the journey we have been on in our progressive Christian community. Below, you will find the text of my introduction to this powerful conversation which took place in the midst of an internet furor that erupted on the internet following several posts in which I denied the resurrection of the body.  Many thanks to the people of Holy Cross for their participation and to Peter Rollins for his beautiful words from his book Insurrection. Readings:  John 20:1-18, Philippians 3:10-14, John 20:19-31

Listen to the sermon here 

“They gathered in an upper room and the doors were locked because they were afraid of the religious authorities.” While I struggled to write this morning’s sermon, I was tempted not to lock the doors but rather to make sure that the recording device was turned off when I preached on the resurrection. I thought that I might just have a bit of a lock in, just you and me, no recording for our followers on the internet, so that together we could explore the ways in which some of us are beginning to understand the meaning of resurrection. Whenever I have posted anything on the resurrection, traffic on the blog goes up. Some visitors are just like us, trying to find ways to understand resurrection in light of all that we are learning about the nature of the cosmos There are some visitors who stop by the site to confirm their suspicions that I am a heretic and they take great delight in reporting my heresy to the religious authorities.

When letters are written in which charges are made and discipline is demanded those letters usually make reference to something I’ve posted on the subject of resurrection.So, rather than incur the wrath of those who know for sure that Jesus physically rose from the dead, I thought why not just turn off the recorder and have a private conversation among ourselves about the nature of the resurrection, not because we are afraid of the religious authorities, but just because we’d be able to go much further if we didn’t have to worry about the people who know exactly what happened But then I remembered an email that I received during last year’s Easter season. The email came from a life-long Lutheran who had been struggling to believe in the resurrection; let’s call him FRED…

Fred lives in Alberta of all places. Fred is tempted to leave his congregation, because every time Easter rolled around and he heard the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, he knew that if he’d been Thomas he would have stuck his fingers in those wounds just to make sure that they were real. Fred wrote that during the Easter season he feels like a hypocrite because for the life of him he cannot bring himself to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Fred’s pretty sure that the people sitting in the pews with him each Sunday are also struggling to believe in the physical resuscitation of a corpse but none of them are willing to take the risk of saying anything about their struggles for fear of the religious authorities. So, even though it’s tempting to turn off the recording and lock our doors, so to speak, let’s throw caution to the wind, trusting that the wind; the breath, the Ruach, the Spirit will live and breath in, with, through and beyond us. So, I hope that you are willing to engage in as open a conversation as we can have together about the nature of the resurrection, knowing that people will be listening in to our conversation.

Now we have been blessed in this congregation by having enjoyed multiple visits from two of the world’s leading progressive Christian thinkers; John Shelby Spong has been here three times and John Dominic Crossan has been here twice and we have learned a great deal from both of them. But despite all the work we’ve done studying the historical and theological materials that have been generated about the resurrection, I suspect that just like Fred, some of us, myself included, are left wondering exactly how a 21st Century Christian can reconcile our expanding knowledge of the cosmos with the church’s teachings about resurrection

So, I’m going to stop talking for a bit and take a big risk here and ask you to be brave and share your thoughts about the resurrection…..Now I realize that this is a big subject, so let me help you with a question: Do you think it necessary to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead in order to call yourself a Christian?  What do you think happened? Is resurrection physical, or more than physical?

Conversation. At the end of our conversation I reminded the congregation of Peter Rollins powerful words on Resurrection

 Peter Rollins: “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think… I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out,  I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.”

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again and again. This is the mystery of our faith. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen in you and in me and beyond you and I. In the words of Martin Luther:  “This is most certainly true!” Can I get an Amen?

Other sermons for the Second Sunday in Easter: 

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas click here

Practicing Resurrection click here