Bless me, folks, for I have sinned. It has been far too long since my last confession. But what with COVID and all, I haven’t been too eager to look into the mirror. But we have arrived at the end of the church year, and with this comes a parable attributed to Jesus, about the sheep and the goats, and I must confess my goatyness has become all too apparent. It has been sneaking up on me for weeks now. I blame the media. Why not, everyone else does? Over and over again, the news media has delivered reports about various prominent, what shall we call them, Trumpsters? who are testing positive for the coronavirus. The news of raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face right-wing nut-jobs who, are making fun of science one minute only to test positive the next, well, forgive me but I can no longer stop my lips from twitching and breaking out in a self-righteous smile. Not that I wish them harm, but a few weeks on a ventilator might just be the medicine they need to convert them to my way of thinking.
I know. I know it’s wrong. This is after all a confession. But admit it. Go on. Tell me you don’t smirk even a little when “those people,” you know the ones who rant and rave, in that self-righteous way of theirs, ridiculing, or denying, or objecting to all the stuff that we care about. You know the stuff “we” progressive, forward-thinking, smart people, us, the ones who know better, all the stuff “they,” “them,” “those,” “others,” well let’s face it, they just don’t have a clue about.
Forgive me. I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself from judging “them,” those others, whether they’re Trumpsters, or those science-denying, greed-inspired, racist, ignorant, card-carrying nut-jobs. Why shouldn’t we take some delight that when they get what they deserve? After all good christian folk like us, have been judging people for centuries! You’ve got your sheep and you’ve got your goats. And the good shepherd knows enough to separate one from another: sheep to the right, goats to the left. Yay sheep! Boo goats! The parable is clear! Yay us! Boo them!
According to the parable, judgement falls upon the sheep who are praised as “blessed” and rewarded with the promise of inheriting a kin-dom, prepared from them since the creation of the world. As for the goats, well there’s an ever-lasting fire fit for the Devil and the fallen angels, where they will receive “eternal punishment” while the lambs “go off to eternal life.” Blessed are those who wear a mask, for you shall be rewarded with good health. Cursed are those who refuse to wear a mask, for you shall be rewarded with a positive test for COVID! Here endeth the lesson. Or does it.
Now, clearly, I’m over-simplifying to make a point. But parables do have a way of turning our perceptions upside-down and inside-out, and they do so not just to make a point but to radically change our perception of reality. The point of this parable couldn’t be clearer: the basis on which judgement hinges is in the response to “the least of these”. Whether you’re a sheep or a goat, did you reach out to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the prisoner? Did you give to the “least of these” the very thing they needed most? If you did, the paradise of your dreams, well congratulations, you’re in it. If you failed to reach out to the least of these then, woe is me, for the hell of your worst nightmare, well look around for it is yours.
Now if this was simply a moral tale, the point would be clear. But a parable is more than simply a moral tale. Parables are designed to turn everything upside-down and inside-out for the sole purpose (pun intended) for the soul purpose of radically changing our perceptions of reality. The turning point of this parable of the sheep and the goats is when we see who Jesus is. “For I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me; in prison and you came to visit me.”
When? When? When” Ah, there’s the rub. “The truth is, every time you did this for the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it for me.” Jesus not only identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the needy of every kind; Jesus identifies himself as one of “them”.
Now. Not so fast, we’ve turned it upside-down. Now let’s see how it looks when you see it inside-out. Imagine the needy for just a moment. Think about what it would be like to be hungry, thirsty, a stranger, a prisoner, poor and needy. Sounds like hell to me, perhaps even the kind of torment which feels like eternal punishment. The problem with categorizing “them,” “those people,” you know who I mean, the problem with labeling or judging “them” as “other” is that the ONE we profess to follow, this Jesus of Nazareth, not only identifies with “them,” he doesn’t just sympathize with “them,” this Jesus fellow, he sees himself as one of them. We are, all of us, both sheep and goats. We all have the power to give and to withhold.
Now as clear as this parable may have sounded to our ancient ancestors, some of us may not fully hear it, so let me be clear. “Those people,” substitute your particular goat of choice, “those people” they too are just as capable as “us,” substitute your particular sheep of choice; “those people” are just as capable as “our people” of giving and withholding. The question is not whether or not we can identify or sympathize with those we have judged to be “others”. The question is can we see CHRIST in them? And before we go seeing CHRIST as “other than” remember, this CHRIST is the same ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us.
So, what this parable is also asking us to see is ourselves in “the least of these.” For until we can see our own humanity in the humanity of those in need, we will not see eternal life. This parable is not a cautionary tale about how to avoid judgement at the end of it all. This parable invites us to see the CHRIST in, with, through, and beyond, the least of these of whom we are ONE. Our ancient ancestors spoke about the vast realities of the cosmos in language so plain and ordinary that even, “the least of these” could see themselves as part of extra-ordinary reality of a life which has eternal dimensions.
We are indeed all sheep and goats. We are also embodiments, incarnations, of the ONE Jesus embodied; we are the Body of CHRIST; a CHRIST which is so much more than we can begin to imagine, a CHRIST of COSMIC dimensions. As for “them,” you know, “those people” the “others,” well surely, we too have the power to see beyond our labels, beyond our categories, beyond our judgements, to see the HUMAN ONE, the CHRIST who lives, in, with, through, and beyond even “them.”
Let us take no pleasure in the misfortunes of others, whether they be sheep or goats. Let us be CHRISTs to one another, giving and receiving, LOVEing and being LOVEd, so that together we can create the heavens of our dreams and let us live life, in all its eternal glory, here and now. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.
Watch the full COSMIC CHRIST Worship Video below
Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, questioning, queer, pansexual, two-spirited androgynous and asexual lives matter. Asian lives matter. The lives of the poor matter. The lives of the oppressed matter. Now, I’m making a deliberate choice here not to include the phrase, “white lives matter” or the phrase, “All lives matter.” Yes, I know, if you are white, if you are wealthy, if you are successful, if you are heterosexual, your life matters. But I believe that there are moments in time when it is vital that we stand in solidarity with particular lives which are being devalued in particular ways. During these days, when those of us who have benefited all our lives from white privilege, we are beginning to learn the true cost brought to bear on so many lives by systems which by design ensure that some lives in particular matter more than other lives. White, heterosexual, and dare I say it, male lives, for generations have benefited from systems created to preserve their place in the “matters more” column of the way things are, simply because that’s the way it’s always been.
This week two stories collided in my being, leaving me to grapple with my own white privilege. As a preacher, the first story is to be expected. Every three years, the story known as the Parable of the Talents rolls around and I must do my level best to sort through generations of interpretations which often fail to sound anything like Gospel to me. According to the Parable, a slave-master gave talents, which represent a huge amount of money, to his slaves; that’s right we are talking about a slave master and his slaves. This particular slave-master has a reputation for being both harsh and greedy.
Now, at the time, making money at the expense of others was frowned upon, so slaves were often used to extort money on behalf of their masters. The first two slaves managed to more than double the master’s investment and the third slave managed to keep the master’s initial investment intact but couldn’t quite manage to earn any interest at all.
Let’s do the math. A talent represents about 15 years of a good salary. Scholars suggest we use a figure of $50,000 per year, times 15, that’s $750,000.00 per talent; three quarters of a million dollars per talent. So, to the first slave the master gave 5 talents, that would be about three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. To the second slave, the master gave two talents, that’s about a million and a half dollars today. To the third slave, the master gave, one talent. Remember that’s about $750,000.00; three quarters of a million dollars. When all was said and done, the first two slaves managed to give back to the slave-master an additional 7 talents, that’s a whopping great profit of about five and a quarter million dollars. The slave-master doesn’t seem to care just what kind of methods his two slaves needed to employ in order to make a 75% profit on his initial investment.
He complements each of the profit-making slaves with a, “Well don good and faithful slave!” and moves them up on the ladder of success in his carefully crafted system. As for the third slave, who refused to play the masters game and hid the talent for safekeeping and then returned it without having used it to earn further profits for the master, well he might as well have thrown a monkey wrench into the master’s system. True to form the slave-master condemns the third slave, calling him, “evil and lazy slave”, some translations read, “lazy and worthless slave.” Just in case there is any doubt the slave-master declares how the system works: “take the talent from the lazy worthless slave and give it to the ones who know how to work the system. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Ain’t that the truth? But wait there’s more. The slave-master orders his slaves to dish out the consequences the system demands, “throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
As I sifted through interpretation after interpretation of this text, I began to see exactly how for generations this parable has been used to perpetuate the very system, I believe, Jesus was calling out, as corrupt. I can’t tell you how many theologians and preachers were quick to insist that good and faithful “servants” ought to use their talents in the service of the church, or in service to Jesus, or in service to God. They simply swapped out the slave-master and substituted Jesus or God, and suddenly slaves become servants, and ipso facto, work hard, put your talents to good use, don’t worry that it seems like the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, just give some of the profits to the church and the master, whether it be Jesus, or God, will be well pleased and you will earn your reward in heaven. Well done good and faithful servant! You worked the system.
I said that two stories collided in my life this week. I say collided, because it felt like two atoms coming together, or being forced together, life-forces, if you will, were smashed together to create an explosion which will continue to reverberate in my being forever. The second story blows the traditional interpretations of the Parable of the Talents into smithereens. It’s an all-too-common Canadian story which plays itself out in various different ways all over the world. It is the story of those who have very little and even the little they do have is taken away from them. All too often, this is done to benefit those who have more than enough. It is a story about the consequences of an economic system which is designed to profit those who have more than enough, folks who don’t have to get their hands dirty in order to make a profit.
This week members of the Neskantaga First Nation came out in the midst of a pandemic to protest. For 25 years their community, which is 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay has been under a boil water order. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of months ago the source of the water they were boiling before it was safe to use developed an oily sheen, forcing the powers that be to evacuate the Neskantaga Frist Nation’s most vulnerable residents out of their community. To those who have so very little, even that was taken away from them as the elderly, infants, chronically ill, and school age children were forced from their homes. I cannot express the kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth, which I heard in their cries.
But one little boy can. Please watch and listen to young Lyndon Sakanee. (cut to the video) “Children deliver their own message. ‘We’re not animals. We’re not things. We’re human, just like you guys. We, we need your help.'”
Lindon, you and your neighbours are not animals, you are not things, you are human. Your lives matter.
The consequences of systems driven by greed and the hunger for profits are all too often taken for granted by far too many of us who participate in the system and benefit from the system. I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and death bear witness to the cries of the oppressed, the poor, the persecuted and the suffering, told this parable so that we could use it to encourage people to work the system. I believe that Jesus told this story to help us understand the kind of courage it takes to refuse to participate in a system as evil as slavery, a system where greed and profits are more important that people’s lives. I believe that Jesus told this parable to encourage his followers to be as courageous as the third slave, the one who refused to participate in the system to please the powers that be, the one who was prepared to be condemned as lazy, and worthless, who was willing to run the risk of being cast out into the darkness. I believe that it is in the darkness where we will meet Christ amongst those who are wailing, tending those who have been judged worthless. I believe that the third slave, like Jesus, like young Lindon, who is challenging us to examine our own participation in corrupt and abusive economic systems which fail to honour the dignity of human life.
Yes, refusing to participate in systemic injustice, may bring down the judgement of the powers that be.But there are other stories to tell; stories about light, stories about joy, stories about feasts and celebrations; Jesus didn’t earn a reputation as a glutton and drunkard for nothing. Lord knows the Neskantaga Nation longs for the day when they can join the celebrations. But in order for the light to shine in the darkness, we must follow Christ to tend the wounds of those whose lives have been tossed aside for they are not worthless. Their lives matter. Lindon’s life matters. Indigenous lives matter.
We all know there are others who are wailing and many who are gnashing their teeth. Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, questioning, queer, pansexual, two-spirited androgynous and asexual lives matter. Asian lives matter. The lives of the poor matter. The lives of the oppressed matter. Yes, your life matters. Our privilege comes at great cost.
The thing about parables is that they are designed to turn our perceptions upside down and inside out. Do we have the courage to turn our privilege upside down and inside out? Do we have the courage to refuse to participate in systemic corruption? Do we have the courage to be judged, to be cast out, to venture into the darkness where we will hear the cries of lives which matter? Do we have the courage to make our own lives matter, to embody the LOVE which the world so desperately needs? The thing about courage is that it is born out of vulnerability. May the LOVE which is the DIVNE MYSTERY open us all so that we might be vulnerable to the cries of those whose lives matter. Let it be so, dear ones, let it be so.
View the full Worship Service below
The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved so very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, the young woman was living and working in London. She remembers noticing that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with this.
While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people. She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that, for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war, were donning white poppies. You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colours of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who still had vivid memories of war, they tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to create wars. The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice.
She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Gran’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy which adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from her Gran. It wasn’t exactly what you would call a warm welcome. Her Gran was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Gran appeared to be giving her the silent treatment.
Her Grandmother just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London. After dinner, the young woman suggested that they pop down to the pub for a chat with her Gran’s neighbors. Usually, her Gran would have jumped at the chance to show off her granddaughter to her friends. But she seemed more than a little reluctant on this occasion. She so rarely refused her granddaughter anything, but it still took a great deal of cajoling before the young woman managed to talk her Gran into venturing out into the world. As they were putting on their coats to leave, the Grandmother asked her granddaughter to remove the white poppy from her coat. The young woman looked at her Gran’s red poppy and refused. She began to lecture in that pompous way that only young people, who don’t know any better can, about the horrors of war and the need to stand up for peace. Her Grandmother insisted that she could stand up anywhere that she wanted to for peace but not in her local, not in front of her friends, not tonight or all nights.
It was then that their battle began in earnest. They started calmly, but firmly arguing over the damn poppies. Before long, they were shouting and eventually the Grandmother, stormed out of the house and went to the pub without her granddaughter. The young woman discretely went to bed before her Grandmother came home. Each woman slept fitfully, bemoaning the fact that they had declared their own kind of war.
Early the next morning the young woman rose quietly, hoping to dash off to London before her Grandmother awoke. She was just about to make a clean get away, when her Gran came into the living room. She was carrying a uniform; a uniform the young woman had never seen before; a uniform which stopped the young woman cold in her tracks.
Over breakfast, the old woman explained that during the Second World War, she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The men were all off fighting and so the government had consented to letting the women, “do their bit.” Her job in the WAAFs was carried out on the home front. Every evening after she had fed her kid, she would send them off to the air-raid shelter with a neighbour. Then she would put on her uniform and head off to the hills over Birmingham, where she would “man” an anti-aircraft gun.
After telling the young woman stories which she had rarely told anyone before, the old woman invited her granddaughter to come with her to British Legion, later that morning. Stunned by all she had been told, the young woman changed her plans and agreed to meet her Gran down at the Legion hall in about an hour. On her way to the Legion hall, the young woman bought a red poppy and timidly pinned it to her lapel.
When she finally caught up with her Grandmother, the old woman couldn’t help but smile when she saw the red poppy pinned to her beloved granddaughter’s lapel. The young woman couldn’t manage a smile. Not threw her tears. You see, the young woman was overcome by the sight of the white poppy which was pinned to her Gran’s lapel. The two women fell into one another’s arms and for a moment, just a moment, the two held one another other in the presence of a peace beyond words; a peace which surpasses all our understanding. The peace which only LOVE can achieve. The peace which the world is dying to experience.
As the last post was trumpeted on that cold November, the 11th day, of the 11th hour, separated by generations, perspectives, opinions, and commitments, two women stood united in LOVE and remembered. Together, they stood hoping against hope for peace.
Earlier, while on a Zoom meeting, I was complaining about this parable about the “Ten Bridesmaids.” I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with this parable? A friend and colleague who was also on the call, began reminiscing about how this parable always reminds him of church camp songs, and he proceeded to sing a few bars of, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning! Give me oil in my lamp, I pray.” Anyway, he put that into my brain with just those few bars and it’s firmly planted there, this ear-worm, all day long and I’ve been singing it over and over again my head. Only I haven’t been singing the verse which my friend planted in my brain. No “oil in my lamp for me” Oh No! Over and over again, I’ve been singing in my head: Give gas in ford keep trucking for the Lord. Give me gas in my ford I pray!”
I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of gas. I don’t have much oil left and my light is beginning to dim. It’s been more than 9 months since we first began worrying about the coronavirus, and the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. As if a world-wide pandemic isn’t enough to dim the lamps which used to burn bright in our psyches, there’s the endless turmoil of the never-ending election in the United States. If anxiety could fuel a lamp, or fire up a car, not even the prospect of winter’s cold and darkness could stop me from singing. Forget oil, or gas, right about now, I’d settle for another verse of that earworm which better describes my sorry state: Give me umption in my gumption, help me function, function, give me up umption in my gumption, I pray.
The enormity of the anxiety, fear, and genuine hardships which have been inflicted upon us, I’m wondering why should we even try to wrangle some meaning out of this obscure parable? My lovely Nanny used to say, “you gotta laugh, or you’re gonna end up crying.” So, have you heard the one about the “Ten Bridesmaids”? “Ten bridesmaids” were waiting for a bridegroom, they waited so long that they fell asleep! What a joke? But where’s the laugh?
I know I’m not much of a joke-teller. Joke’s require punchlines, and I can never remember punchlines. Besides, if this parable has a punchline, I simply don’t get it. There were these ten bridesmaids waiting for a bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish.
The wise bridesmaids brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids did not. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Yada yada yada! A little detail here, a little detail there and lo and behold we’re at the punch line. Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids, so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Ha, ha, ha, very funny. I’m sorry, I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this particular parable, and leaving people hanging with that punch line. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you just don’t get it. You don’t get to come into the party! Or as the traditional preacher said to the congregation, “Keep awake! Don’t fall asleep! And for heaven’s sake be prepared! Cause if you’re not, CHRIST will bar the door and you won’t get into heaven! So, keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. CHRIST could come back at any moment and if you are not ready! That’s it! Boom! CHRIST will deny you; the door will be shut and you’re not getting in. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to burn in hell for all eternity. So, remember keep awake, be afraid be very afraid. Cause your gonna die! And if you haven’t brought along some extra oil for your lamp, well it ain’t gonna be pretty!” Ha, ha, ha, the joke will be on you.
I don’t know about you, but why don’t we just forget about the ten bridesmaids or as they are sometimes called the ten virgins. I’d much rather hear the joke about the priest and the rabbi who walk into bar! Now I know that I’m a preacher and my job is to take these old jokes and breathe new life into them. But hell, fire, and damnation, some old jokes simply aren’t funny anymore!
Look, I could tell you all the things that I’ve learned about this joke. I could unravel ancient wedding traditions for you. I could tell you that the Greek word “parthenoi,” doesn’t mean bridesmaids or virgins, as so many interpretations are wont to translate it. Like we think of bridesmaids or virgins, I mean the fact that these girls haven’t had sex before is not the point…a “parthenoi” is simply a young woman; well a young girl really probably about 12.
So, there are these 12-year-old girls who are invited to this wedding! I could tell you that a more accurate translation, would divide these girls up as 5 wise girls and 5 naïve girls. I could say that oil is necessary for shedding light and that we are all expected to be the light of the world. But then the story takes a nasty shift and the wise girls won’t share their oil with the naïve girls and that kinda goes against the grain, cause aren’t we supposed to share with those in need? Then there’s the bridegroom; I could do what most preachers do and tell you that the bridegroom is really Jesus, who shows up late to his own wedding, only to discover that half the wedding party is unprepared and so, he simply denies that he even knows them and then shuts the door and leaves them out there in the darkness. But where’s the good news in that? What good does it do to portray Jesus as the kind of jerk who would exclude 5 young girls, children, from the party simply because they are naïve? I suspect that someone somewhere along the way, forgot the punchline of this parable and left us without any hope of finding anything to provide the nourishment we need to: Give us joy in our heart, keep us going. Keep us going till the COVID goes away.
What do say, we just forget about the punchline? What do you say we stop trying to turn Jesus into the bridegroom? Everything we know about the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth ought to prove to us that Jesus was not the type of person who would exclude 5 naïve young girls from the very party, that he was too inconsiderate to show up on time for. Whenever ancient Hebrew storytellers mention oil and lamps, we ought to be able to make the connection our ancestors would have been expecting. I know that there is much to dread about the coming of winter, but there is also much to look forward to. In just about a month from now, December 10th to be exact, Hanukkah begins. Hanukkah, the wonderous celebration of the LIGHT; not just any LIGHT, but the LIGHT which against all odds did not go out. When all was just about lost, during the darkest of times, when there was scarcely any oil left in the lamp, the lamp continued to burn for eight days and nights. For our ancestors, LIGHT represented the presence of the DIVINE ONE, the HOLY MYSTERY who IS the CREATOR not just of light, but the CREATOR of ALL that IS, the ONE who IS present even in the darkness.
The anonymous gospel-storytellers point us to the presence of the DIVINE MYSTERY in the LIGHT which burns brightly in the lamps of our wanna-be party-goers. Metaphors abound in all parables, and we would do well to remember that the anonymous gospel-storytellers were fond of using weddings as metaphors for the ultimate union with the DIVINE. Weddings are symbols celebrating the union of the LOVER with the BELOVED; celebrations of the reality that we are ONE with the DIVINE.
We dear ONEs, we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, so much bigger than our fears and our anxieties, bigger than any pandemic. You and I, we are ONE with the DIVINE MYSTERY, which IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. The good news dear ones, is that our lamps will not be extinguished for we are nourished, grounded and sustained by the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. But we do need to be prepared, for those moments when we feel empty and afraid. And no one else can do this for us. We must prepare ourselves by going back to our SOURCE, being present to the ONE who IS. Opening ourselves to our LOVER.
Listen to what the 13th century, German mystic, Saint Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote about the nature of the LOVE we call God: “God Said to the Soul:
‘I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And where the desires of two come together There LOVE is perfected.
… It is my nature that makes me love you often, For I AM LOVE itself.
It is my longing
that makes me LOVE you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.
It is my eternity that makes me LOVE you long, For I have no end.”
Dear friends, the winter is coming. Anxieties are running high. It may feel like we have precious little oil in our lamps. We will need to prepare ourselves, no one can do this for us. We must stop, and we must breathe deeply of the ONE who is the SOURCE of all light, trusting that in the presence of the DIVINE MYSTERY, we are ONE with the LOVE which will empower us to BE.
As for that ear-worm, well:
Give me peace in my heart, keep me LOVE-in, LOVE-in, LOVE-in
Give me peace in my heart, I pray
Give me peace in my heart, keep me LOVE-in
Keep me LOVE-in I pray,
Keep me LOVE-in till the break of day.
May the LOVE which is our BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, continue to burn brightly in, with, through, and beyond, you. Now and forever. Let it be so, dear ONEs. Let it be so.
Watch the full worship video below
Since this pandemic began, more than 1.2 million people around the world have died from COVID-19. In Canada, the death toll exceeds 10,000 people. In Ontario, more than 3,100, and here in York region 267 people have died from COVID-19. Sadly, millions more people have died alone of the regular stuff which causes our bodies to perish. This year as a result of public health restrictions, death has been a lonely endeavour, for both the dying and for the grieving. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. But how do we mourn and how shall we be comforted in the midst of a pandemic?
So much of what I would call popular, cultural, Christianity imagines the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the SOURCE of ALL that IS, the SOURCE of ALL life as a kindly, old, gentleman in the sky from whom we should seek comfort from the pain of death. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY is readily offered to the dying and to those who mourn as a kind of talisman, who alone can provide the necessary comfort, all we need is just have faith in the various visions offered to us by the faithful of an afterlife. So, it doesn’t surprise me that those of us who have given up worshipping personifications of the MYSTERY which IS the DIVINE LOVE in which we are all ONE, we are left longing for a way to mourn and to comfort which does not require that we worship the idol of the all too small sky-god, which we once worshipped.
Today, as we remember ALL the SAINTS who have gone before us, together with ALL the SAINTS who dwell among us, my heart goes back to the WISDOM imparted to me by a particular saint, who taught me so much about the ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and beyond us to comfort those who mourn. This particular saint had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon, I will call her Sophia; Sophia, the Greek word for WISDOM. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member of the congregation which I serve. When the doctors told her that she was dying she thought that she ought to have a pastor. So, via, a friend of a friend, I was summoned to her bedside.
I was afraid. I had been told that she only had a few weeks before the cancer would, and I quote, “take her,” not die, but that “the cancer would take her.” No one used the word death or said that she was going to die. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task. No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.
I went to Sophia’s bedside every day for weeks. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. Not any pat answers. She didn’t want those. She didn’t want trite platitudes. Just the facts. She would say, “Just give me the facts!” I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts which I possessed, might not sustain us on our journey.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that she’d spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she had grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se, but someplace heavenly. Like Paris in the springtime. She so loved Paris in the springtime. If only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who, like her appreciated the finer things of life. Life? Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.
One morning, I stopped by the bakery and picked up some of the most Parisian looking pastries I could find. Then I swung by a coffee shop and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down to me that I should heat up some milk so that we could have lattes. It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster.
Our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men all fell at her feet. Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried.
After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. London was wet and cold. Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come to be his love. Over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg, where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children.
By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps. It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans. By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and I had gone from being a suspected bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us.
“What will become of me?” Sophia pleaded. I told her that the doctors would see to it that there would be no pain. That wasn’t what she was talking about. “What will become of me? Will there just be darkness? or, Will I see a bright light?”
“I don’t know?” was all I could honestly say. Sophia was patient with me. She asked me if I thought there was more to life or if death was the end. “No religious platitudes, if you please. Just the facts.”
“I don’t know Sophia. I believe that we live and die in God, and that God is LOVE, and in LOVE we have nothing to fear. All will be well? I trust that in death we fall into the LOVE that IS God.”
Sophia took my hand firmly and confessed, “I’m afraid.”
I did not know how to comfort her, so I asked, “What are you afraid of Sophia?”
“Not of dying! Good God no! I’m not afraid of dying.” Sophia insisted, “I’m afraid of being forgotten. Who will remember me?”
Who will remember the hundreds, the thousands, the millions who have died this year?How shall we be comforted. Like most deaths, those who have died from the coronavirus, have done so out of sight, removed from the public eye, and they have been mourned out of sight. In addition to those who have perished of the virus, there have been those countless deaths of loved ones, we have been unable to mourn in our usual ways. No gatherings at all, or if we could manage it, just tiny, physically distant funerals scarcely able to do justice to our grief. Ever so faintly, Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount echo down through the generations: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Some translations say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled. Mourning is scarcely possible during these challenging times. It is as if we have been robbed of mourning’s blessings.
Blessed, “bless-ed,” what does it mean to say “blessed.” The Greek word “makarios” which is often translated as “blessed” is also sometimes translated as “happy”. But “happy are those who are mourning” is not a translation that makes much sense to me. Fortunately, there is another meaning to “makarios” which does make sense, “Makarios” can also mean, “honoured.” “Honoured are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.”
“Honoured are those who mourn.” To mourn is to grieve, to lament, to show sorrow for the death of someone, or the loss of something. And haven’t we all lost so much this year? There is much in this life to mourn, losses of all kinds. For life is change, and in change there are losses. As I look around this beautiful cemetery, there is a chill in the air. Last night, the temperatures dipped below freezing a sure sign that the autumn is almost over, and winter is coming. All the signs, together with the medical experts are telling us that this will be a very dark winter. In the midst of the sadness and grief which this pandemic has spread around the world, my attention is drawn to the leaves which are tenaciously hanging onto these trees.
As I marvel at their tenacity, I can’t help but remember Sophia hanging on for dear life. I remember how I wept each time that I left her bedside. I also remember other griefs. Losses which I have been privileged, honoured to mourn. I say privileged because LOVE is a prerequisite for mourning. We do not mourn unless we have loved or have been loved. Honoured are those who mourn, for we shall be comforted, because every tear is pregnant with new life. Like fallen leaves which will provide the nourishment for new life, all that we are is not lost at our death. What we are forever impacts the WHOLE, in whom we live and move and have our being. Death is a transformation point into the MYSTERY who is, was, and ever more shall be the SOURCE of our being. For those of us who mourn, grief is a narrow passage through which we pass from death to new life. Without tears and dreams there is no healing. Without laughter and singing there is no savoring of what is, and what is to come. LOVE is the tender lifeforce which transcends even death. Honoured are those who mourn for it is LOVE who consoles; the LOVE which IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING.
Over and over again, Sophia’s desperate plea, “Who will remember me?” punctuated our conversations with fear which went beyond belief. No theological words or phrases about believing would suffice or comfort. Only the promise to remember her could bring any comfort at all. But who was I to make such a promise? So, I hesitated. I tried to calm her fears with words. I tried to explain her fear away. And then one afternoon, Sophia took my hand and she asked me about my travels, about my loves, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears. She said she wanted to be able to remember me.
I was reluctant. This wasn’t supposed to be about me. I was after all the pastor, the caregiver, there were lines which the books say should not be crossed. Sophia didn’t care to be cautious; time was of the essence. She wanted to remember me, and to do that she needed to know me. So, I came out from under the protection of my clerical office and together we travelled back to the places which had shaped and molded me. Sophia and I became friends, if only for a brief moment in time, we were kin, each embodying LOVE for the other.
A few days before she died, a panic came over her as she feared what might become of her. Once more, holding tightly to my hand, she begged me, “Who will remember me?”
With all my heart I promised, “I will remember you Sophia. Those men in Paris who fell at your feet all those years ago, the young man who fell in love with you in London, the children in Hamburg and the people in Kentucky, they will remember you. Your friends will remember you.” And then I took a long deep breath and I said, “I will remember you.” Her breathing calmed and her grip loosened, and she began to smile. And then I asked her. “Sophia remember me!” “I will remember you.” Sophia promised.
Over the course of next few days as her death drew ever near, Sophia and I were kin for one another. Embodying the DIVINE for one another. LOVE-ing one another. Remembering one another. I remember you my dear. It is an honour to remember you. You are part of me.
It is in our remembering that the HOLY ONE consoles us. This may indeed be a dark winter, but the light which is the LOVE which we call “God” shines in, with, through, and beyond us, as LOVE empowers us to comfort those who mourn, by being LOVE to one another. Spring will come. The sap will rise. New leaves from buds will transform all our grief into hope. Blessed are we. All that we are is not lost at our death. What we are forever impacts the WHOLE, the ONE who IS LOVE, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.
Blessed are we as we remember those we have loved and who have loved us. Blessed are we as we remember the saints who have walked among us and those who continue to dwell among us. Thanks be to the ONE, who makes us WHOLE, ONE with our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, LOVE. Now and always. Amen.
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Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming! This tired old phrase is trotted out each Reformation Sunday by preachers like myself to encourage our listeners to embrace the need for the reformation of the Church to continue. However, appealing it may sound, Semper Reformanda, to be always reforming, is not a task which is often embraced by the Church. Take for example preachers: we who are called to earnestly exhort our listeners to be about the task of reforming the Church, we preachers, we all too often fail to reform our own preaching, especially when it comes to Reformation Sunday. A quick review of some of my sermons and my colleagues sermons written for this occasion, reveal a tendency to narrow our focus upon the story, or the legend, perhaps dare I say it, myth that on October 31, 1517, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and launched, “THE Reformation.” We proclaim the central thesis of Dr. Luther’s theology, that we are justified not by church rules or doctrine, but rather, we are saved by the grace of God, by faith in Christ, then we all sing a few verses of the good doctor’s “A Mighty Fortress” and give thanks that we have been set free from the errors of the Church’s past and move quickly onto next week’s celebration of All Saints. Alas, our annual, protestant reformation rituals, are in and of themselves designed to free us from the burden of always reforming! So, on this Reformation Sunday, I would like to embrace the Reformation tradition of preaching a loud “semper reformanda” by giving thanks that on this Reformation Sunday, the church’s pandemic predicament makes it impossible for the church to do anything but reform. In the words of the wise Dr. Luther, “Here we stand. For we can do no other.”
Here I stand in an empty sanctuary, for we can do no other! Ten months ago, this sanctuary was effectively shut down and I have been leading worship from my home to your home. Remaining physically distant is what LOVE-ing our neighbour looks like in 2020. So, here I stand! Alone, preaching into the camera on my phone, trusting that the miracles of technology will bring us together. What I wouldn’t give to see this sanctuary filled with your smiling faces. I miss you all and my longing for the traditions of old is only accentuated by the reality that we are headed into what promises to be a long, dark, and difficult winter. There is no end in sight. So, we must content ourselves with our hopes and dreams of a vaccine to cure what ails us. Or do we?
I know that many of us are blessed with the wherewithal to hunker down in our homes and sit this winter out, as we wait for the scientists to do their magic. If you’re watching this on a screen, you like me are among the wealthiest people on the planet and while we are not immune to COVID, we are insulated in ways that the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed, and the homeless can only dream of. So, if we are careful, follow all the rules, and forgo some the pleasures we used to take for granted, we stand a pretty good chance of survival. Well today on this strange Reformation Sunday, I am here as your preacher, to proclaim that survival is not enough. I want us to consider the possibility, indeed the hope that we can do so much more than simply survive this pandemic. I stand here today to encourage us all to consider the hope which comes from semper reformanda; the hope found when we truly engage in the process of always reforming.
I believe that our Lutheran heritage will stand us in good stead if we manage to shift our gaze from the legend of Martin Luther’s mythical nailing of his 95 Theses upon the doors of the Church, to focus our attention upon the all too real events which took place in Luther’s actual life some ten years after his initial challenge to reform. So, let’s shift our gaze some ten years beyond the legendary events of 1517 to the summer of 1527, when the plague came knocking on all the doors of the people of Wittenberg. The black plague, unlike COVID-19, was an epidemic not a pandemic. One of the basic differences between an epidemic and a pandemic is that it is possible to travel your way out of an epidemic to find some place where the plague is not. For even though, the epidemic known as The Black Death, covered most of Europe, killing over 25% of the population, it was possible for people to escape the cities and towns ravaged by the plague. Indeed, Martin Luther’s wealthy patrons urged him to leave Wittenberg for the relative safety of a country estate. Luther refused, insisting that his calling as a pastor, required him to exercise his love for his neighbours by remaining in the city to minister to the needs of the sick and the dying.
As summer turned to autumn, Luther despaired for the safety of his pregnant wife Katy, Luther’s infant son, became ill. Indecently, it is said that Luther’s dire worries about the lives of his wife, son, and unborn child provided the impetus for the words of the reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” Luther could have safely sat out the ravages which the plague visited on Wittenberg, but he chose instead to engage the circumstances in which he and his neighbours found themselves. He did so not just by staying put, Luther used the latest technology available to reach out beyond himself and those he cared about to address and engage the reality in which his whole world was languishing.
Just ten years earlier, Luther’s 95 Thesis had travelled the length and breadth of Europe thanks to the ability of the newly invented printing press to produce new-fangled ways of communicating information, ideas, and even the Bible itself. The world went from scribes hand producing one Bible a year, to printing presses which could produce a Bible in a day. The printing press’ impact on the daily lives of millions was astounding.
The exponential increase of the availability of books radically changed the power dynamic of the Church. But it was the printing of short tracts which radically changed the political impact of theologians in the town square. In addition to changing the Church, Martin Luther’s embrace of this new technology changed the world. During the depths of the plague’s ravaging of Wittenberg, Luther took advantage of the power of the printing press to produce a short tract in the newest format, that was all the rage of the day. It was known in German as “flugschriften” “flying writings” in English we would say, “flyer.” These new-fangled fliers functioned as the “twitter” feeds of the Reformation.
On the subject of the plague Luther wrote this: “Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another … Use medicine; (wrote Luther) take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? … I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.
I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence …
(Luther wrote) If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbour’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die … ” 
While references to the devil may not sit well today, I dare say Luther’s flyer is as prescient today, perhaps even more so than the millions of tweets which we are bombarded with every minute of every day. Back in April, when we were learning to live in lock-down, Bill Gates the creator of Microsoft and one of the world’s gazillionaires, was interviewed about the lasting effects of this pandemic. Gates pointed to the reality that in a matter of weeks the world embraced technologies which under normal circumstances would have taken at least fifteen years for us to embrace. Well I remember April like it was yesterday, and I can tell you that those first few weeks of lock-down saw churches all over Christendom and indeed temples and mosques all over the planet, scrambling to embrace newfangled technologies to get the Word out. I suspect that just like the church, many of you also found yourself on screens and devices, waving at loved ones, meeting with work colleagues, or even raising a glass to toast with a Happy Birthday greeting. Scrambling to get worship services online became the bane of my existence. Martin Luther himself, who was famous for his ability to swear, would have blushed at my language as I struggled to navigate new technology. Faith leaders all over the planet continue to swap stories with one another about of the horrors of trying to render and upload videos. I know we’ll all be able to laugh about this someday, but until then, let me warn you not to expect good pastoral care whilst your pastor is fighting with her computer. My point is, this pandemic as horrendous as it is, has revealed some difficult truths which will forever change the world, particularly the Church. For the foreseeable future, our sanctuaries will remain empty, and we will rely more and more upon technology to enable us to continue to be LOVE in the world. The sad truth is, in-person worship, just like the status quo before COVID, was not working. The Church was dying and those of us who remain in the Church refused to change our ways, believing somehow if we just did it better and flasher, happier and clappier, we might just be able to attract the lost generations who have long since deserted our sanctuaries.
The good news dear friends, is that the current crisis invites us into a liminal space, a thin place if you will; a place where the veil between the everyday status quo and the sacred extra-ordinary falls away and we can see things that we were once hidden from us. Today, the Church stands on the precipice of a new era. Like Luther of old, who inspired centuries of cries for semper reformanda – to always be reforming, we today have the opportunity to reform the church in ways which will speak to generations to come. But just like Luther, who used the printing press as a means to proclaim a reformed theology, we too must embrace the internet, not to proclaim the status quo theology that wasn’t working anyway, but to proclaim a reformed theology.
Tinkering on the surface and learning new technologies will not save the church. The power of the Luther’s call for reformation came from new ways of understanding Creation itself, together with new ways of understanding what it means to be human. If our reformation today is to have any power at all, it will require the church and all who sail in her, not to rely upon Luther’s way of understanding reality. We cannot simply move the deck chairs on this titanic which the church has become and expect the church not to sink.
There are gaping holes in the hull which we ignore at our peril. We must have the courage to build upon Luther’s insights as together, we learn new ways to express new understandings of what it means to be human here and now in Creation today. We must dare to learn to understand reality in ways which would have dumbfounded and possibly even offended Luther himself.
So, here I stand, in 2020, in the midst of a world-wide pandemic, for I can do no other, but to proclaim the need to be always reforming. For the church can do no other. We cannot go back to the way things were, any more than Luther himself could go back to life before he discovered his freedom as a Christian. Whether we like it or not, our world has changed and continues to change. The church has changed, being LOVE in the world has changed too, and it must continue to change. Just imagine the wonders we shall be able to embrace to help us to LOVE our neighbour!
These are exciting times and they are also terrifying times. But each and every day, we are free to embrace possibilities which once seemed unthinkable as we embrace new ways to be LOVE in the world. Now more than ever we need one another, so that together we can empower greater LOVE! We dear friends, we are richly blessed. Let us take courage from the blessings of our great heritage, let us seek wisdom from the blessings of heritages unlike our own, and let us be inspired by the ingenious insights of scientists, philosophers, theologians, poets and artists so that we can learn new ways to embody the LOVE our world so desperately needs so that we can heal the wounds of Creation. Semper Reformanda! Always be reforming! Thanks be to all that is Holy. Amen.
 From Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1968), 43:119-138.)
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Yesterday, I while on my way to preside at a wedding, my mind kept wandering away from the imminent nuptials toward the vivid autumn colours and all that they foretell. I love autumn. I’m fond of saying that autumn is my favorite colour. But as I drew closer to my destination, thoughts of the passing of autumn into winter saddened me as I thought about how this wedding would unfold. Here in this region we are about to go back into lockdown, so this wedding was a wedding like no other wedding, I have ever been part of. As we hastily drew up plans for the event, we joked about our new reality and the challenges which have become all too real during this pandemic. Only a handful of guests would gather outside, in the back yard of the parents of the bride. Masks would be mandatory, and we would be required to keep our distance. The realization that this couple was just one of many couples whose weddings have been postponed or curtailed or carried out under strict social distancing regulations began to lower my mood. So, returned my focus to the vivid autumn vistas which lined my route. As my mind soaked up the beauty, it also began to wander toward the reality that these bursts of colour mean that the leaves are about to die. Soon they will all fall, just as the snow will begin to fall. Winter is coming.
Winter is coming and it shall be a winter like no other we have ever experienced. For in addition to the hardships which winter inevitably brings to this part of the world, the increased presence of the coronavirus will force us into the kind of hibernation which this past spring’s lockdown only hinted at. As my mood began to spiral down into the deeps of the wilderness into which we will soon find ourselves, I couldn’t help wondering, in the words of the psalmist in the old King James version, “from whence cometh our help?” I know the psalmist provides the answer, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” But I have long since given up the notion that the DIVINE MYSTERY which the interpreters of the King James Version of the Bible called, “LORD” was waiting around to magically solve all our problems.
During these intense days filled with the challenges of living and dying during a pandemic, those of us who spend our lives wrestling with questions about the mystery and meaning of life, find ourselves, like most people in a new kind of wilderness. In my line of work, talk of mystery, meaning, and wilderness often sends us scurrying back to the sacred stories which weave their way in and out, over and under, the meaning we try to make about the deepest MYSTERY of life. The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through story, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality.
Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses, these are the stuff of truth. We human creatures, we just can’t help wondering. How did we get here? Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about; speculating on the nature of our CREATOR. Story after story has been told; stories which weave in and out between our experience and our wonderings; what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are we imagining? The best stories, the ones which capture our imagination and stimulate our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories were so profound that they just had to be written down.
They were elevated to the realm of the sacred and these stories, these wonderings, took on the quality of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some of us have sought to defend these stories with our very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identities between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred myths. So afraid have they become, that they have tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the DIVINE ramblings of our GOD, who whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some of us even claim that between their line lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another tribe or nation.
From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. Let me remind you of once such story handed down from one generation to another, which is embedded in our psyche and contributes to our identity?
It’s a story of Moses, Moses who wanted to see GOD in all GOD’s glory. Moses who’d been talking with GOD for years, who’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinfolk, the lives of his people on the conversations he had had with this god of his. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory.
Who could blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost and wandering, hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere, anywhere. Moses had the stone tablets, yes. GOD’s law written in stone a gift for this people who’d followed him out into the wilderness. Imagine: they followed Moses out into the wilderness all because Moses had heard GOD speak to him. Right there from out of the flames of a burning bush GOD called out to Moses. The god of Moses’ ancestors spoke, and a promise was born, the promise of liberation from slavery, of deliverance from oppression. The promise of a land; a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Such a promise required more than just the ramblings of a burning bush; such a promise required a name. Who was this god?
Moses said to Moses’ god, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what shall I say to them?”
From that burning bush came the sacred name GOD said to Moses, “YAHWEH. I AM WHO I AM. YAHWEH. I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE.” YAHWEH the sacred name of GOD, so sacred that Moses and his people would never utter it. So sacred that even after they’d told their stories for generations, they’d proclaim the name of GOD with only a silence; a long pause where people could breathe the name within themselves. So sacred that when it came time to write down the sacred stories, they didn’t write the whole name of GOD. Just the consonants were enough to evoke the sacred name. Over the generations, the people forgot how to breathe the name of GOD, and so the scribes, hinted at the vowels so that the breath of GOD continued to emanate from GOD’s people. But as the tribes fought over the details of the story, the sacred code of silence failed to evoke the breath of God. Even though, from the burning bush GOD was said to have declared, “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations,” the peoples of God forgot the sacred name. So, the scribes replaced the sacred code with bold capital letters which included vowels and once again the name YAHWEH was heard when the sacred stories were told. YAHWEH, I AM WHO, I AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.
That says it all, our GOD IS. GOD WILL BE. NOW and FOREVER. This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you like more? Is it any wonder that Moses asked for just a little more? And so, one day, Moses gave it a whirl: come on, just once show me. “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the MIGHTY ONE said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the HOLY NAME, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” said the MIGHTY ONE, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”
And the MIGHTY ONE continued, “See there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not see.”
And so, Moses caught but a glimpse of YAWEH’s backside. Just a glimpse mind you. But isn’t that how it always is. Just a glimpse, a glimpse of God here and there. For our GOD WILL BE, WHO GOD WILL BE. And we must let the glimpse be enough, but oh those glimpses.
When I arrived at the backyard location, I was greeted by masked faces laughing and joking their way through last minute preparations. My own somber contemplations were dispersed by the task at hand. Proud parents and delighted siblings opened me to their sense of expectation, while beaming sunshine, stirred hope in this happy gathering in ways that only LOVE can. Once the bride and groom took their place in the midst of the LOVE which lives and breathes in every one of us who was gathered to bear witness to their promises, all our worries about the future slipped away as we celebrated LOVE’s triumph. Later, as we raised a glass to the happy couple, the wind rustled, and leaves fell, and I caught a glimpse of the DIVINE MYSTERY.
Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of GOD. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of GOD’s backside. For now, all we’ll see is a glimpse of God’s glory. But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. Remember the glimpses.
There, look can you see a glimpse of the DIVINE ONE? There, in the eyes of your beloved. The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse of the DIVINE. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the very first time, gazing into the wonder which you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse of the DIVINE. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem which told your whole life in just a few lines, there’s the hand of GOD.
Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride it all by herself, she’s growing up so quickly, do you see right there behind her, there in the shadows watching her, if you look closely you see the arms of GOD in your own arms, waiting to catch her. Look at him he thinks he knows it all, there he goes with the keys to your car, in the screech of tires can you hear it, it’s the sound of GOD trying to catch up with him, trying with all your might to keep him safe; for you are the arms of GOD.
Look carefully as you watch the news, see the researchers, the doctors, nurses, and caregivers in all their efforts is the wisdom and the compassion of the LOVE which IS GOD, working in, with, through and beyond the many hands which will see us through.
Listen carefully can you hear it? It’s ever so faint, the rattle of her last breaths makes it hard to hear but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the breath of the ONE breathing alongside her as you breathe with her, as she breathes her last breath; for you are the breath of YAHWEH. And as you struggle to comprehend, wondering how you can ever find a way to say good-bye; good-bye Grandma, good-bye Grandpa, good-bye Mom, good-bye Dad, good-bye my love, if you lean back you will feel them, there, there they the arms of the MYSTERY holding you both in the LOVE which is GOD.
Look there, GOD is in that smile, the smile that says I’ve known you so long and yes I still love you even if you drive me nuts, there in the gleam in your lover’s eyes, you will see the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE? Gaze out into the vivid autumn colours, there dashing by, through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see GOD’s backside passing by even now in this very wilderness of this pandemic.
There’s truth in our stories, sacred truth; truth in our myths, in our wonderings, our musings and our longings. Between the lines, beyond the page, in, with, through and under the words, there’s truth in questions and questions in truth, and through it all dances the DIVINE MYSERY, the LOVE which we call GOD. Even in the midst of these challenging times, if you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of the LOVE which is YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe this wonder, this beauty, this magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are.
So, proclaim GOD’s glory! Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to YAHWEH’s splendor. Trust the MYSTERY of the LOVE which we call GOD, who even now passes in, with, through, and amongst us giving us a glimpse of YAHWEH’s ever so beautiful backside. Amen. Alleluia! Amen!
View the full Worship Service below
This year, an unwelcome presence looms large over all of our Thanksgivings. Oh, how I long for those childhood thanksgivings when the only unwelcome presence at Thanksgiving was the brussels sprouts, which thanks to my Mom, always managed to make their way onto my plate. If only the coronavirus was as easy to deal with as brussels sprouts. As a child, I became quite adept at swallowing those little suckers whole so that I didn’t have to bit into them and have their flavor invade my senses. I’d take one look at the obligatory brussels sprouts on my pate, take a deep breath, and pop them in my mouth and down they went, one at a time. Fortunately, my Mom was a cook from a different generation who always boiled vegetables into mush. So, there was no fear of choking on a whole soggy brussels sprout.
This Thanksgiving, the unwelcome presence of a global pandemic, is keeping us from gathering together in our homes with family and friends. Most of us will sit down with only the people we live with, no invited guests, no visiting family, no large tables, filled to overflowing with loved ones. Small turkeys rather than large turkeys were all the rage in the grocery stores this week. Over Zoom, I have heard people lament the empty spaces which will dominate their Thanksgiving celebrations.
Like the lepers who failed to give thanks for their healing, some of us may even be tempted to give Thanksgiving a miss this year. I know, I know, we do indeed have so very much to be thankful for. A small turkey is better than no turkey. A small gathering is better than no gathering. The lingering presence of COVID is better than having COVID. We are so very richly blessed! We have so very much to be thankful for. We have roofs over our heads, food on our tables, technology to connect us, and most of us are healthy! We have the means to protect ourselves from the lingering presence of COVID and should we find ourselves testing positive, we are blessed to live in a country where our medical needs will be met. In a world-wide pandemic, Canadians are blessed to have the odds in our favour.
We have so very much to be thankful for. We ought to be among the first to offer our thanks and praise. I suspect, if the questions I’ve received from some of you over the course of this week leading up to Thanksgiving are anything to go by, I suspect that some of us may be keeping company with the nine lepers who failed to offer thanks and praise to “God.” This Thanksgiving is much like other Thanksgivings, when folks have asked me a perplexing question: “How or to whom do progressives give their thanks?” Over the years many of us have moved beyond the old images which personified the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call “God” as a person, a super-hero kind of super-person.
Who am I kidding those old images personified “God” as an old-man in the sky who enjoyed various omini super-powers. This omni-god was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent – all powerful, all knowing, always and everywhere present – sky-god is the same god which so many people conjure up when they tell me that they don’t believe in God.To which I usually reply, I don’t believe in the same god which you don’t believe in. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY falls far short of the ONE in whom we live, and move, and have our being, the ONE who in IS BEING ITSELF.
So how or to whom do we give thanks and praise when we no longer think of God as a super-hero, up there, or out there, who functions as a kind of master puppeteer in the sky? I will admit that it is so much easier to say, “Thank-you” to a deity that we have personified than it is to give thanks to a deity which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also! Our thank-yous to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, tend to be expressed in words which are so much more awkward than simply saying, “Thank-you Father” or “Thank-you Lord” or even “Thank God.” Continue reading
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
My oh my, what a toxic week this has been. The bilious rhetoric went off the scale this week when the most-watched debate in history transmitted ignorance and hatred around the world like poison. I know that there may be some of you who did not watch the presidential debate for all sorts of really good reasons, not the least of which may be your desire not to be infected by the toxic politics of our neighbours to the south. However, unlike wearing a mask, which offers the best protection we have in this pandemic, not watching the debate on Tuesday night offered little protection from the fumes of the toxic soup which is being cooked up by our neighbours.
I myself, I breathed far too deeply as the fumes from the bubbling orange cauldron travelled through various media into my home. I am ashamed to confess that the steam from this toxic soup nourished my own dark side. I did not know how dangerously infected I had become until the media brought the news that the most powerful person on the planet had tested positive for the coronavirus. I simply couldn’t help myself. Try as I might, the darker side of my nature positively bubbled up with glee, as smug retorts collided upon the tip of my tongue. “That’ll teach that arrogant, orange, idiot!” This was one of the kinder retorts that I will confess in this context. I shall leave you to imagine the more colourful thoughts, words, images and desires which sprang to mind as I smugly anticipated a fellow human being’s demise and gleefully rejoiced in my “I told you so!s”. I know that I can trust you to come up with more than a few dark thoughts of your own, some harsh words, and some smug images as well, because we’ve been swimming around together in this toxic soup for years now, waiting for the orange fellow who holds the nuclear football to receive his comeuppance.
It took more time than I care to admit for my kinder, gentler self to begin to choke on the bile being generated by my darker self. May all that is HOLY forgive me, but it sure isn’t easy to be LOVE in the world. As we flail about in this hate-filled toxic soup which feeds our baser instincts, it is difficult to remember those things which nourish, ground, and sustain us as the LOVERs we are created to be. Continue reading
This coming Sunday, the Season of Creation concludes with the celebration of the life of St. Francis – Matthew 6:25-29 – this video was recorded in 2019 – when we looked beyond the ubiquitous bird-bath image to uncover the radical Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (1181-1286), who posed a prescient question which continues to resonate with those of us who live lives of privilege? ARE WE BEING LOVING ENOUGH WITH EVERYTHING WE HAVE? As we learn to understand the Gospel as LOVE, then putting the Gospel at the centre of our lives requires us to ask ourselves, over and over again, “I am I loving with everything I have?”
Whenever I sit down by a riverside, memories of other trips to other riversides tend to meander through my mind, flowing here and there, as images of my younger self reveal the long and winding, twists and turns of this river of life, and I can’t help but reach out to pat that little girl, or young woman, that I once was on the head and tell her to relax and go with the flow. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing by a riverside, holding onto a brand new fishing rod, hoping against hope that I would be able to somehow catch a fish. I had come well prepared and yet not prepared at all for what I was about to encounter. Earlier in the week my Father had presented my brother and I with our first fishing rods. Throughout the week, Dad had instructed us in the fine art of casting our lines. Instead of hooks, Dad had tied little rubber weights to the end of our lines. Over and over again we practiced, releasing our thumbs from the levers on our reels at just the right moment so as to send the line way out beyond us onto the grass. I could hardly sleep the night before our first fishing trip. I worried that I wouldn’t have the courage to impale a wiggling worm on my hook. I wondered which one of us, me or my younger brother, which one of us would manage to impale ourselves with a barbed hook. I can almost see the little girl that I once was tossing and turning on the top bunk as she hoped against hope that she would catch a fish, but not just any fish, this little girl longed to hook a really big fish, a fish to impress her Dad. No one told that little girl, that fishing is a waiting game which requires the kind of patience which few children can muster. I can see that little girl staring at a little red and white float, waiting for movement, determined that at any moment a fish, a really big fist was going to come along.
There were many riverbanks, and lots of fish were landed, some were big, some were small. All of them were interesting. Not beautiful really, but interesting. Personally, I liked catching the small fish, or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The small fist could be released back into the river to fight another day. Eventually, other things captured my attention. Dragon flies, darting here and there, birds singing, grasses blowing in the breeze, there was so much to discover down by the riverside. Dad was the purveyor of wisdom, explaining every mystery until that little girl began to tire of life on shore.
Eventually, I gave up fishing in favour of diving in. I can see that little girl splashing about in the water, laughing and giggling as I played for hours and hours in the river. I remember once, trying to stand still as the river’s swift current threatened to topple me over. I wondered where the river might take me if I failed to keep my balance. And just as that little girl is about to topple over, the image of a confident young woman emerges from the depths and she rolls over on her back and begins to float upon the water, and I can remember staring up at the clouds content just to be me, on a summer’s day so long ago. As the summer’s day gives way to evening, I see a less confident image of myself, sitting on a riverbank staring up as the sun sets wondering and wondering, filled with questions about how and why, longing to fish out of the river, or the sky, the answers to my endless questions.
I wonder when I stopped looking to the rivers, or to the sky, or the oceans, or the mountains and all the creatures who live upon the Earth so that I might find the answers to my questions. I can’t quite pinpoint the moment when I stopped fishing for answers in Creation and began fishing in libraries. One after another, each book caught me rather than me catching them, but still fishing none the less for answers. Sometimes the books would give way to the wisdom of teachers, scholars, mentors, and folks whose faith was stronger than mine. Hoping against hope, that this one, or the next one would provide answers to the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality.
Looking back at this long meandering journey, I can’t help but see that I’ve been fishing for answers my whole life long. Whether its fishing or studying, I’m still that little girl, longing to capture the really BIG FISH, the ONE which IS the SOURCE of ALL, the ONE who is MYSTERY. I wish I had tapped myself on the head a long time ago and told myself to relax. There’s no need to catch a fish, or follow the trail of some creature. There’s no need to harvest knowledge from books, or seek wisdom from the wise ones. Just go with the flow, let the river take you.
I remember once a long time ago watching a fish flounder on the shore, desperately trying to stay alive, when the wind drove the current on shore, and suddenly the fish was carried back into the river. The salvation of that fish brought tears to my eyes as I longed to be able to simply be carried away like that. For the fish lived and had its being in water; water flowed in and around and through the fish. The answers to the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality are all around us. For as our ancestor Paul said some 2,000 years ago, the MYSTERY, the ONE Paul called, “God.” is “the ONE in whom we live, and breathe, and move and have our being.”
So, as I pat the little girl, or the young woman, that I once was on the head, I hope that the person I continue to become will have the faith to go with the flow of this RIVER OF LIFE, this MYSTERY in whom we live and move and have our being. And when from time to time, the current runs swiftly, I hope that the person I am continuing to become will have the WISDOM to remember that the RIVER itself flows in, with, through, and beyond me and that I find the courage to drink deeply from this LIVING WATER which is the MYSTERY at the very core of who we are: BELOVED children of the ONE who IS.
The next time you find yourself down by the riverside, splash about a bit. Life in the river is far more exciting and life-giving than any of the answers you might be able to capture. So, splash about and play in the ONE who IS, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, the ONE in, which, we, live, and move and have our being, the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, now and forever. Amen.
View the full Worship Video below
“Who do you say that I AM?” Jesus’ question has been preoccupying me for most of my life. Indeed, my professional life requires me to spend hours and hours, week after week, month after month, year after year, and dare I say it, decade after decade, trying to figure out just who I think Jesus was and is. Your very presence here watching this video, suggests to me that you have also tried to figure out who Jesus was and is. From time to time, I suspect that most of us have believed that we had worked it out; that we know just who Jesus is. But Jesus, just like every person we have ever known, and or ever loved, Jesus keeps changing on us.
The Jesus I knew when I was a child was little more than an imaginary friend. “Jesus loves me this I know!” “Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me!” not because the bible tells me so, but rather as my friend and biblical scholar Harold Remus always insists, “because my Mommy told me so!” When I was a kid, the knowledge that Jesus loved me, earned Jesus the role of my imaginary friend.
Later, when I was a teen-ager looking for more love than my family could give me, I found my way into the Church and discovered, “What a Friend I have in Jesus! All my sins and griefs to bear!”
The idealism of my youth turned my imaginary friend Jesus into my radical friend Jesus, who understood my passion for justice, and led me into deep friendships with folks who were determined to practice what Jesus preached, as we proudly sought to be the kind of people who, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Sadly though, after 25 years in the church, I found myself as a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, with the keys of the kingdom jangling in my pockets, firmly believing that Jesus was and is, the: “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It has taken years for me to get to know Jesus as something other than the sacrificial Lamb of God. I stand in a long line of priests and pastors known as the Apostolic Succession.
According to the story, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew, Jesus handed the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, the “Rock” upon which the Church was founded, and in doing so Jesus handed over the authority to bind and loose in heaven. For generations, this passage has been interpreted by the Church as the establishment of the priesthood. The Apostle Peter is given the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and becomes the first gatekeeper precisely because possession of these keys gives him the power to decide just who will and who won’t be forgiven. Continue reading
That annoying Canaanite woman is at it again and not even Jesus can catch a break. Every three years that annoying woman comes along to disturb us. The way the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew tells his story, this annoying woman exposes Jesus for the human being that he was and shatters our illusions of Jesus the god-like super-hero. I know we could just look the other way. We could do what people, all too often, do when someone brushes off another human being with a racial slur; we could just pretend that we didn’t hear it. We could do what, according to the story, Jesus’ followers wanted Jesus to do, when they urged him to: “Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us”
It is clear from the way that the story is told that Jesus was trying to ignore this annoying woman’s incessant pleas. But she will not leave him alone. As much as I’d like to ignore her and everything she represents, she just won’t give us a break. Yes, I know that according to the story this woman was worried about her child, but how dare she expose Jesus in this way? Especially now, when we are all trying to cope with a global pandemic. Surely, we have enough on our plates, without rehashing this old story! This one a hell of a pandemic we are living through. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard more than enough about racism during this pandemic to last me a lifetime. I don’t want to have to think about racism or white privilege, while I’m worrying how to stay healthy and protect my loved ones. I want to get away from all the noise about racism and I certainly don’t want to have to think about the fact that even Jesus is guilty of uttering a racial slur. If I still believed in the kind of god who functions like a puppeteer in the sky, I might suspect that this gospel reading didn’t just appear in the midst of this pandemic by chance. Even though I don’t believe in that kind of god, every once in a while, it would sure be nice to be able to blame this reading on some super guy up there. But like I said, every three years this reading comes up in the lectionary and this annoying woman forces us to see Jesus for who he was and always has been, a man.
Jesus was a man of his time; a man who was raised in an environment where women were to be seen and not heard; a man who was raised to believe that his people were superior to other people, a man who wasn’t about to be disturbed by the yammering of a woman who was when all was said and done, nothing more than a Canaanite. Jesus was, after all a rabbi, and a busy rabbi at that. According to the story, Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water? He was a rabbi who was in demand, the crowds couldn’t get enough of him, Jesus had places to go and people to see. Just who did this woman think she was? Continue reading
There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.
The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”
Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading
When I was a teenager, I was always in a hurry. I wanted to see and do everything there was to see and do. When I was nineteen, I knew that I just had to get out there and see what the world had to offer. So with nothing more than a backpack, a three-month Euro-rail pass, and eight-hundred dollars in travellers cheques, I boarded an airplane bound for Amsterdam. I was searching for adventure and I was convinced that Europe held the excitement I was looking for.
Inside my backpack was the book that would make it all possible, a little book entitled, “Europe on Ten Dollars a Day.” I was determined to make my eight-hundred dollars stretch the length and breadth of Europe. I was going to see and do it all! It wasn’t easy. In fact, when I look back on it now, it seems like such a lot of hard work. Up early in the morning sightseeing all day long. Meeting new people. Fighting my way through the crowds of tourists. Searching for cheap places to eat and sleep.
After two months of traveling from one European city to the next, I just couldn’t face one more castle or museum. I figured that it was time to get away from the cities so I headed for the Alps. After a long train ride from Munich, I arrived in the Swiss town of Interlaken. There I boarded a coggle train that would take me to the Alpine village of Grindelwald. The train was filled with tourists anxious to fill their rolls of film with pictures of the mountains. When I arrived in Grindelwald, I was told that the youth hostel was only about three kilometres from the station, so I and several other young backpackers which I had met on the train decided to walk to the hostel. What we didn’t know was that the hostel was three kilometres straight up the side of a mountain. As we trudged up the mountain, we were embarrassed by the speed with which villagers three times our age just passed us by. Despite our youth, the senior Swiss locals were much more adept at climbing than we were. Continue reading
Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of the Roman Empire, whose death continues to impact the world. His death upon the Empire’s instrument of execution, was relatively unremarkable. Thousands upon thousands of unruly inhabitants of the Empire were executed during Jesus’ lifetime by those charged with the task of establishing and maintaining order by force. To the powers that be, Jesus’ execution was little more than the routine death of a homeless, outcast who spent far too much time creating social unrest. Nothing more than the insignificant death of a troublemaker without influence in the halls of power, who would not or could not moderate his own behavior. An insignificant troublemaker dies, under the rule of law, and yet, the impact continues to reverberate all around the world, nearly 2000 years after it should have been long forgotten.
Late last fall, nobody’s really sure exactly when or to whom it happened, but sometime last fall, a person so obscure that history will fail to name them, someone living in an Empire where order is maintained by force, got sick and died. The impact of that death has kept millions of us all around the world, locked up inside our homes avoiding tiny droplets whose impact upon any one of us could be catastrophic. For months now, I have heard various people, including myself, refer to these strange times which we are living in as “chaotic”. The very word chaos summons in me visions of Genesis, when the Ruach, the breath of the CREATOR hovered over what in Hebrew is called the tohu va-bohu, the formless void, or the chaos, the RUACH hovers over the tohu va-bohu and calls forth light out of the chaos of darkness. Continue reading
In Jesus’ words, we can hear the dim echoes of a time gone by. Long before Jesus came there was a character who called out in the marketplaces. You can read about her in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. What students of the Bible call the “Wisdom literature” is full of stories about a character who so many people have never heard of.
In the book of Proverbs, she claims to have been there when CREATOR was busy creating and she declares: “When God set the heavens in place, I was present, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God fixed the clouds above, when God fixed fast the wells of the deep, when God assigned the sea its limits…when God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman. Delighting God day after day, ever at play by God’s side, at play everywhere in God’s domain, delighting to be with the children of humanity.”
So, just who is this master craftswoman? Job insists that, “we have heard reports of her”. But, “God alone has traced her path and found out where she lives.” The writer of Ecclesiasticus admonishes the reader to: “court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go. For in the end, you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”
In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is described as, “quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of God’s goodness. Although alone, she can do all things; herself unchanging she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.”
You may not know who she is, but Jesus certainly did. Tales of her deeds were popular in Jesus’ day. Jesus, a student of the scriptures who was referred to as a rabbi, would certainly have known who this heroine of the scriptures is. In the ancient Hebrew texts of the Wisdom Literature she is called “CHOKMAH.” In the ancient Greek translations of these texts she is called “SOPHIA.” In our English translations of these texts she is simply known as “wisdom.” The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages were written without punctuation. Often in Greek, there were no spaces between the words. Until long after Jesus’ day there were only capital letters. Upper- and lower-case letters were not used. Unlike our system where personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Often ancient Greek, the words did not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us. Continue reading