Follow Me! I’m right behind you! – Matthew 4:12-23

Whenever I come across Jesus’ words, “Follow me”, I can’t help remembering my Nannie. Nannie was from Belfast and whenever we got into a tough spot, Nannie would laugh and say, “Follow me! I’m right behind you!” Like many Irish sayings, on the surface it sounds ridiculous, laughable. How can I follow you if you are behind me? And then the penny drops, and you realize how can I follow you if you aren’t behind me? Good leaders always have your back.

So, fellow followers of the Way, what does it mean for us to respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of people”? For generations this invitation has been interpreted by the church as a mission. Jesus wants you to go out there into the world and fish for people. There’s plenty of fish in the sea! So, let’s go out there and get them, hook, line, and sinker, and then let’s reel ‘em in, in here. Let’s fill up our nets, so that the church will be full to overflowing. As my Nannie would say, “Ah Jesus!”

Ah Jesus, if only it were as simple as that! Some of us are of an age where we can remember hordes of little children standing up in front of congregations, singing their little hearts out, casting imaginary fishing rods, and reeling em in.“I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men.  I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.” If you follow me?

Ah Jesus? What are we doing wrong Jesus? Come on Jesus. How about it? Won’t you lead us back to the good old days? If only we could point Jesus in the right direction? It certainly would make following Jesus easier if only Jesus would lead us where we want to go? Trouble is, Jesus never was much interested in taking people where they want to go. Continue reading

What are you looking for? – John 1:29-42

“What are you looking for?” It takes a special kind of person to venture out on a cold and snowy January morning to come to church. So, let me ask you again,            “What are you looking for?” 

The people of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to come and save them from the injustices perpetrated by the Romans.  Many of them believed that they’d found the kind of saviour that they were looking for in Jesus. But Jesus refused to be the kind of messiah that they were looking for. Jesus refused to lead them in an armed revolt against the Romans.  Jesus called them to a different path; a path that required them to renounce violence, hatred, and greed; a path that demanded not violent resistance, love of enemy, and care for the poor and marginalized among them. Jesus’ way of being in the world was not an easy path to walk.

Already, in the gospel according to John we see those early followers of Jesus, retelling the story of Jesus in ways that recast him into the role of the messiah that they longed for. Over time, the storytellers, the theologians, and the church has pointed to Jesus and declared, “Look, there’s God’s sacrificial lamb, who takes away the world’s sin!” For generations, too many of us have looked to Jesus to take away our sin. Believing that all we need to do is believe and Jesus will save us. Like so many who have gone before us we have wanted Jesus to be the kind of saviour who would save us from our sinfulness.

 Our ancestors defined sin as missing the mark. Who can live a life without missing the mark? Surely, there is someone, who can offer us some way of living a life without missing the mark, for each time we miss the mark, there is sadness, pain, suffering and death.  Surely there is someone who can save us from all this?             But Jesus refuses to be the kind of messiah that we want. Jesus calls us not to believe in him, but follow him, follow him to passionately non-violently resist injustice, follow him by loving our enemies, follow him to care for the poor and the marginalized among us.

Believing in Jesus won’t save us. Becoming a Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, or New Ager won’t save us. Only our shared humanity will save us. Jesus lived and taught a way of being human that spoke directly to our common humanity and called us to walk a path that would lead humanity to a new way of being in the world. But what are we looking for? Are we looking for a different kind of Messiah than one who will not save us from our troubles?

Our friend Pete Rollins tells a story of this kind of longing. Pete speaks of an: “old Buddhist parable that tells the story of a young woman who gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. But after only a few weeks the child dies and the woman is distraught.  She wraps the child’s body in linen and then she wraps the child’s body to her own, and she goes in search of someone, of anyone who could resuscitate her child. She goes to faith healers, and witch-doctors.  She talks to the tribal elders. But nobody can help. Continue reading

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

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

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

Sacrament of Resistance: the Baptism of Jesus

On Monday, Western Christendom celebrated Epiphany as we heralded the arrival of wise folk from the East, from a place we know call Iran. By Wednesday, the world was mourning the crash of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 over the skies of Iran. By Friday, it was clear that the crash was no accident, that 176 people were murdered by some not so wise folk from the East in retaliation for the assassination of the most celebrated of all Iranian Generals. By Saturday, the pundits, the folks who claim to be wise, continued to argue over who is to blame. Was Iran totally responsible or does the orange ruler who sits on the most powerful throne on the planet ultimately to blame for plunging the world into madness? Today, still reeling from the reality that so many of the victims of this insanity were our very own kin, returning to Canada after visiting family and friends. Today, Canadians and Iranians are united in grief; grief at the loss of life, grief at the apparent inevitability of war as systems of domination clash. Today, we gather to do what Christians do on the Sunday after Epiphany, we gather to remember our baptism through the stories told by our ancestors about the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth.

What possible wisdom, comfort, or challenges can this story of a baptism which happened in the Jordan River nearly 2000 years ago offer to us on a day like today? Not much.  Not much that is if we choose to remember this story the way the church all too often remembers this story. For centuries the church has adopted a kind of collective amnesia when it comes to baptism. We have chosen to forget the power of this story to inspire resistance to the very systems which continue to prevent us from living in peace. We have forgotten so very many of the contours of this story which, if remembered drag us out of our preoccupation with our own selfish needs toward a lifestyle of resistance to what has become the status quo. Where once the story of Jesus Baptism inspired his followers to deny allegiances to the powers that be so in order to take upon themselves a new way of being in the world, generations of amnesia have left us marching in lock-step to the drumbeat of violence even as we claim allegiance to the Prince of Peace.

So, what have we 21st century would be followers of Jesus, forgotten about this story of Jesus baptism in the first century? Well, for starters we have forgotten that our first century ancestors risked everything when they chose to be baptized. Jesus contemporaries lived under the oppression of not one but two domination systems. Under the domination of what was the mightiest Empire the world had ever seen, first century people living in Palestine whether they be Jew or Gentile were required on pain of death to swear allegiance to Rome. The act of swearing allegiance was called in Latin a “sacramentum” – that’s right our word sacrament comes from the word sacrementum which means “to vow” or to “swear an oath” or “to pledge allegiance.” Continue reading

Orange Is The New Black – In the beginning of a New Year and a New Decade, What are we to do?

“In the beginning there was the WORD; the WORD was in the presence of the HOLY ONE, and the WORD was the HOLY ONE.” Even the word WORD carries meaning beyond the page. In the context of the prologue of the Gospel according to John.  The word WORD is translated into English using a capitol W or in some translations in all-caps, to alert readers that the word Word is being used in a particular way. Words are powerful symbols which have the ability to capture the meaning of a thing. Or words can be used as symbols to point beyond themselves to something whose meaning cannot be captured by any word. As we have journeyed together exploring new ways of being Christian in this relatively new century, new ways of understanding have required us to find new words to express our images of the MYSTERY that cannot be captured with the word God. Finding words to use when we worship together has become more difficult. But nowhere is the task of finding words to express the inexpressibly more challenging than choosing hymns.

We love to sing together. Music moves us in ways that open us to the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Sadly, some of our favorite old hymns fail to express the freedom we have begun to discover in the LOVE that IS God. But the tunes, ah the tunes, the tunes continue to move us. Fortunately, we have been blessed with a multitude of new words to sing to those beloved old tunes. Sometimes those new words work well and sometimes not so well. Nowhere is that more apparent than during the Christmas season. The words to most Christmas Carols have been married to the tunes in ways that no one shall put asunder.

Take Silent Night for example. Christmas Eve just isn’t Christmas Eve unless we sing Silent Night.  You hear the first few notes and memories come to light as the familiar words come back to us. Now there have been some splendid new verses that have been written to Silent Night which expand our images beyond “round young virgin mother and child” to capture the Cosmic nature of the incarnation.

Silent night, holy night.

All is calm, all is bright.

Palan-ets Grace-full-y

Cir-cle the sun

Star-dust cy-cles through

Ev-er-y One

Life abounds upon Earth

Life abounds upon Earth     (by Keith Mesecher)

I love the imagery these words capture. I love the theology these words open us up to. These words give me a sense of the cosmos far beyond my childhood nativity images. But I can promise you now, that I would never dare to tinker with the words of Silent Night on Christmas Eve. The moment Marney’s fingers touch the keyboard, just the first few notes signify the beginning of a treasured nostalgic experience which cannot be tinkered with. From the very beginning of a tune, assumptions are made; assumptions which are inscribed in our very nature. So, just imagine the audacity of the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John, who dared to tinker with the most iconic beginning of all as far as his audiences were concerned. Remember, unlike 21st century worshippers, first century worshippers didn’t just commit hymns to memory, they committed the Hebrew Scriptures to memory.  So, when our anonymous gospel-storyteller began his story with the words, “In the beginning”  each and every one of his listeners would have been primed to hear what comes next… “In the beginning” Genesis, the very word Genesis translates as beginning. And so begins the prologue of our storytellers gospel of the life and times of the Joshua ben Joseph, you know Mary’s boy! “In the beginning” wait I know you think you know what comes next,  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Ah, but think again. “In the beginning…wait for it…in the beginning there was the LOGOS.” Continue reading

The baby that was “borned” was God! – Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a holy night; a night when the distinctions between the sacred and the ordinary fall away and we are able to see beyond the boundaries which limit our vision. On this holy night, if we look closely, we can see visions of the LOVE which is the Source of All Reality, the LOVE that many of us call God. The best way to see beyond the boundaries which limit our vision is through a story. The fellow whose birth we celebrate tomorrow was particularly fond of revealing truth through stories. Jesus would often tell a new story alongside a familiar sacred story in order to reveal unseen truths within the familiar. So, on this holy night, I’ll tell you a new story, in the hope that it will help us to see once again the truth revealed in the stories that our ancestors used to tell about the birth of Jesus….   

Not so very long ago, a young woman, let’s call her Dora, short for Doreatha, which comes from the Greek phrase “gift from God.” Dora spent most of her childhood dreading Christmas. Christmas in Dora’s family was a volatile affair. Dora’s father never needed much of an excuse to drink too much.  Most of the holidays were consumed by the fallout from his excessive drinking. After far too many devastating Christmas Eves which ended in tears, Dora figured out that the best thing she could do to protect herself from the trauma of her family’s gatherings was to stay away from home on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, Dora was blessed with friends from church who regularly welcomed her into their home each Christmas Eve. Beth and Michael had three small children the youngest of which, little Sophia was Dora’s goddaughter.  

With her family of choice, Dora new exactly what to expect on Christmas Eve. First a trip into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, which they would trim together before sitting down to a traditional feast, followed by Michael’s dramatic reading of the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. When the children were safely tucked into bed with dreams of, well not so much sugarplums dancing in their heads, but rather visions of packages which would magically arrive whilst they slept, Dora and Beth would slip out quietly to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight communion service.

Well, one Christmas Eve, Dora found herself alone in the house trying to amuse her goddaughter Sophia, who was very, very, unhappy. Her parents had decided that the unusually cold weather, together with the deep snow, were too severe for a three-year-old to trudge through. Sophia and Dora were given the task of getting the living room ready to receive the Christmas tree. Sophia was not pleased at all happy about being left behind. But it didn’t take long for the boxes of decorations to catch her attention. All through the Advent season, little Sophia had been learning the Christmas story. As they tackled the sorting out the decorations, Sophia began to regale Dora with her own version of the Christmas story. As they unpacked the shepherds, wise guys and angels, little Sophia told Dora how:  “Once upon a time, before they had picture books or TVs,  there wasn’t anything fun to do, because there was no Santa to bring anybody any presents. And there weren’t any cars, so Mary who was going to have a baby, had to ride on a donkey and Joseph walked because he had longer legs. And they walked and they walked all day long until it was dark and then when they got where they were going, they were very hungry, but there wasn’t any food, so they went into a stable where they talked to the animals until they weren’t hungry anymore. It was dark but they weren’t afraid because there was a big star shining up in the sky so they could see what was happening. And soon it was time for a big surprise, but not the kind of surprise that Santa brings; this was a really big surprise.” Sophia’s eyes lit up as she told Dora about this big surprise. She said, when the animals fell asleep, “then the baby was borned.”  Sophia asked Dora, “Do you know who the baby was?” Dora played along, asking, “Tell me, who was the baby who was borned?”  Sophia climbed up onto her lap and whispered into Dora’s ear: “The baby was God!” With that, Sophia jumped down and began to dance around the room. Rarely is the good news told with such earnest appreciation for the amazing surprise. Continue reading

Mary: Rebel With A Cause – Luke 1:26-56

The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke addresses his depiction of the life of Jesus of Nazareth to a character named Theophilus.  Our storyteller begins with these words:  “Many others have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events which have been fulfilled among us, exactly as those happenings were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. I too have investigated everything, carefully from the beginning and I have decided to set it down in writing for you, noble Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things which you have been instructed.”  As I have told you many times before, pay close attention to the names. Ancient storytellers are well known for selecting the names of their characters with great care. The character Theophilus is a case in point. Theophilus comes from the Greek words which mean “lover or lovers of God”. Our anonymous gospel-storyteller is addressing his account of the life and times of Jesus to everyone who is a lover of God.

In the ancient world, a miraculous birth story was part of being a famous person. Jesus was a famous person and so Jesus needed a birth story. Birth stories were used by storytellers to set their heroes apart from all the others. Luke’s birth story certainly set Jesus apart from all the other would be messiahs of his day. For starters, Luke weaves his story from the perspective of Mary, and there’s something about Mary that we modern readers tend to miss. Today, more often than not, modern depictions of Mary fail to mention the revolutionary character of this ancient protagonist. Mary is no bit player in this story. The role of Mary is revolutionary! Over the years generations of listeners and readers have taken the author’s depiction of Mary and created an image of Mary that is marginal at best. But there is a dark side to our images of Mary. The popular image of Mary paints her as the ideal woman, the ideal woman no woman could ever live up to. The image of Mary is that of both virgin and mother, meek and mild, obedient and perfect. She is impossible as a role model of course and totally unreal.

This idealization of Mary is a major factor in the Santa-fication of Christmas. The ideal popular image of Mary fails to reveal the true nature of the Christ child that she bears. In order to see Jesus, we have to move beyond Mary’s popular image and look at what the author of Luke actually wrote about Mary. It is in the words of the Magnificat that the author reveals the revolutionary character of Mary. The Magnificat is the song Mary sings when she meets Elizabeth. When read in its original Greek it is clear that Mary bursts into song. The text of the song is a revolutionary text full of historical meaning that would have been clear to its first century listeners, but the radical nature of this song has been lost as successive generations have set it to music and prettied it up as best they can. But in the first century, Mary was seen as a revolutionary. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Newborn Baby Positively Oozes with the Aura of the MYSTERY that Lies at the Very Core of Reality

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

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

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

Dreams Inspired by Joseph the Dreamer – Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas music has been playing all over the place for weeks now. So, much so that many of us have been developing earworms; songs we simply can’t get out of our heads. Not surprisingly, this story from the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew has inspired an earworm in my head. But the song is not what most people would consider Christmas music.  It is a song that I remember from my childhood. It is a song my Granda used to sing when he was in his cups.

It’s an old World War II classic made popular by Vera Lynn:

When I grow too old to dream

I’ll have you to remember

When I grow too old to dream

Your love will live in my heart

So kiss me my sweet

And so let us part

And when I grow too old to dream

That kiss will live in my heart

My Granda could make me weep when he sang that song. I was too young back then to understand the myriad of meaning in this song, but the very idea of being too old to dream, brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it was just childish of me to have believed that the ability to dream would last as long as life itself. Somehow the very thought of being too old to dream seemed like an impossibility. As I’ve grown older, I can well imagine life without dreaming. Life in the world can shatter dreams and sometimes even rob us of the desire to dream. Over the years I’ve known more than a few people who have given up on their dreams, and others who refuse to waste their time dreaming, and even some who are too weary to even bother dreaming. Continue reading

“You Brood of Vipers!” How Dare You? – Matthew 3:1-13 – Advent Two

You brood of vipers! How Dare you? How dare you continue to Santa-fy the incarnation of Christ? John the Baptist is our annual reminder of that darkness is all around us. Sadly, despite this annual reminder, we are all too willing to glorify this terrifying messenger as we relegate his apocalyptic warnings about the catastrophic events that are happening all around us. Repent! the very word itself means “turn around.” Repent! Turn around! Stop focusing on your efforts to Santa-fy the coming of Christ. Repent and see that John the Baptist’s warnings continue to cry out to us from the wilderness to warn us of the fires that threaten to burn. You brood of vipers! Behold! A prophet cries in the wilderness!  This is what she looks like…

Watch Greta Thunberg’s warning. (see the video above)

Every Advent, John the Baptist’s warnings are served up on a silver platter as we remember the darkness of his wilderness. After John came the ONE in whom the LOVE that is DIVINITY was embodied. Jesus of Nazareth embodied LOVE. In Jesus we can see a new way of being in the world which promises to user in the Reign of LOVE. Not the heart and flowers kind of love, but rather, the LOVE that is the source of reality itself. The kind of LOVE that is capable of changing the world, the LOVE that is willing to sacrifice and to suffer for the all of Creation. The LOVE that is the ONE we call God.

The Reign of LOVE is calling upon each of us to embody LOVE as Jesus embodied LOVE. John the Baptist described the realities of his day accurately, but John was so wrong about what the Reign of God would look like. John envisioned the wrath of God. But the ONE who IS God did not come dressed in wrath to inflict punishment, doom, and destruction. The ONE who IS God came as LOVE.  In Jesus we can see that LOVE – dressed in human flesh, a baby yes, a baby subject to all the perils and dangers of life in the world; but also, as a fully-grown human being. A human being that embodied the LOVE that IS God in ways that offered us a glimpse of a new way of being in the world. Continue reading

Not Even Jesus of Nazareth Can Contain ALL that Christ IS – Second Sunday of Advent

You can view this sermon as it was preached at Holy Cross in Newmarket here

By now most of us are well on our way to “Preparing the Way.” Unlike John the Baptist’s plaintive cry to clear a straight path, fill every valley, and level every mountain, our preparations find us harkening back to the Christmases of our childhood, so that we might capture the love and joy that we imagine awaits us if only we prepare to do Christmas, the way it was done way back when. Right about now, in gatherings all over the place people are telling stories about how it was “way back when.”  You know, “way back when” people knew just how to prepare the way for Christmas. I remember way back when I was just a little girl, you know long, long, ago, way back when Christmas celebrations were so different. Way back when I was a child, we didn’t hang fancy, specially dedicated stockings on the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. No, way back when, people didn’t have the money to waste on special, fancy, Christmas stockings that were only used once a year.  Way back when, we just went into our sock draw and pulled out the largest sock we could find, and we hung it up, in the hope that if we’d been good, our stockings would be filled with treats, instead of the dreaded lump of coal that our parents had been threatening us with for weeks. Come Christmas morning, way back when, we were happy when our sock was filled not with stocking-stuffers like we have these days, but with the same thing we got every Christmas in our stockings, an apple, an orange, a few toffee’s and a couple of coins.

You see way back when, fruit was seasonal and fresh apples and oranges were a real treat. These days we can haul crates of tiny delectable oranges from the grocery store all year long. But, way back when, oranges at Christmas time, they were a real treat. I never did like oranges very much, so I would always try to trade my orange with my brother so that I could have two apples instead. You see, way back when, children were easier to please and Christmas was different.

Which leads me to another story. I don’t remember when or where I first heard this story about way back when, World War II had just ended, and refugees were loaded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people. Back then, refugee camps were filled to overflowing with children who’d lost their families during the war. Apparently, there was this little boy in a camp in France, we’ll call him Andre. Andre couldn’t have been more than about seven years old and he could barely remember the family he lost almost three years before the war ended. He’d been living in the refugee camp, more of an orphanage really, for almost a year.

The camp was run by a few nuns who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly. But they did their best, and the children were, after all was said and done, lucky to be alive. The children hardly noticed that Christmas was approaching until one of the nuns announced that a neighbour had promised to come by on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the three tiny sections of his share of the orange that oozed precious juice down his half-starved throat. Andre spent the days leading up to Christmas Eve dreaming of having a whole orange of his very own. He thought about the smell of the orange, dreamed of peeling the orange, and carefully considered whether or not to devour each and every section of the orange all at once or whether he should divide it and save a section or two for Christmas morning. Continue reading

Four ForeMothers: A Transformational Parable – Matthew 1:1-17

Reading:                    Matthew 1:1-17

This is the family record of Jesus the Christ, descendant of David, descendant of Abraham; Abraham begot Isaac; Isaac begot Jacob; Jacob begot Judah and his sisters and brothers; Tamar and Judah begot Perez and Zerah; Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begon Ram; Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon; Nahshon begot Salmon;  Rahab and Salmon begot Boaz;  Ruth and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse; and Jesse begot David, the ruler. Bathsheba—who had been the wife of Uriah—and David begot Solomon; Solomon begot Rehoboam; Rehoboam begot Abijah; Abijah begot Asa; Asa begot Jehoshaphat; Jehoshaphat begot Joram; Joram begot Uzziah; Uzziah begot Jotham; Jotham begot Ahaz; Ahaz begot Hezekiah; Hezekiah begot Manasseh; Manasseh begot Amon; Amon begot Josiah; Josiah begot Jeconiah and his sisters and brothers at the time of the Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonian captivity, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel; Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel; Zerubbabel begot Abiud; Abiud begot Eliakim; Eliakim begot Azor; Azor begot Zadok; Zadok begot Achim; Achim begot Eliud; Eliud begot Eleazar; Eleazar begot Mattan; Mattan begot Jacob: Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary. And from her Jesus was born. thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian captivity, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian captivity to the Messiah.

Reflection:     Transformational Parables Gestating Within:

Wow! That was a whole lot of begetting to get through! Fourteen generations plus fourteen generations, plus fourteen generations plus that makes 42 generations. Now you might just think that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew has provided us with a genealogy of Jesus. But I really don’t think so. If these first 17 verses are anything to go by the storyteller either doesn’t care very much about providing an accurate record or he is simply a very poor genealogist. The stories in the Hebrew Scriptures provide us with the names from the generations that Matthew left out. Either Matthew missed them by mistake or Matthew didn’t see the value of recording all the names. I suspect these seventeen verses are something more significant than a mere genealogy.

I suspect these seventeen verses are in and of themselves a parable. A parable is a story which communicates meaning. I believe that the first 17 verses of the Gospel according to Matthew is but the first of a series of parables which the storyteller uses to communicate the meaning of Jesus birth.

All too often we ignore the first 17 verses of Matthew, because we see them as little more than a boring recitation of a bunch of names, a genealogy to be gotten through (pardon the pun); a long intro if you will, before the real action begins. If we look closely, we will see the skillful way in which the storyteller prepares us for the scandal of Jesus’ birth. Quite unusually, this ancient genealogy contains the names of four women. There were lots and lots of women in the course of 42 generations, that the storyteller could have mentioned. But the anonymous gospel storyteller who we call Matthew choose to mention only five women. Five very particular women.

The first of the forefathers mentioned is not, surprisingly, Abraham. Our storyteller could have mentioned Abraham’s wife Sarah but instead choose to ignore Sarah, and tell us instead about Isaac, Jacob, and Judah before mentioning the first of the four foremothers. Our storyteller never mentions Sarah, or Rebekah, or Rachel, or Shelah, before he offers up Tamar for our consideration. Our storyteller declines to mention several more of Jesus’ foremothers before offering us Jesus’ foremother Rahab. And you guessed it, our storyteller fails to mention other foremothers before offing us Ruth, and then again Bathsheba.

What meaning is our storyteller trying to convey with this parable designed to prepare us for the story of Jesus birth? Like all good parables we must delve deeply into the stories behind the story, to discover the power of the parable to transform our understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ birth.

            Sung Response:  Prepare the Way of God

           Reading from Genesis 38:6-11

Judah found a spouse named Tamar for Er, his firstborn.  However, Judah’s firstborn Er was corrupt in YAHWEH’s sight, so YAHWEH caused Er’s death. Then Judah told Onan, “You must sleep with your brother’s wife to fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.  You must raise the offspring of your brother.” Onan knew the offspring would not be his, so whenever he would lie with her, he would ejaculate on the ground to avoid begetting an offspring for his dead brother.  But Onan did was bad in YAHWAH’s sight, so YAHWEH took away Onan’s life too.

  Reflection:     Tamar

The mention of the name Tamar to a Jewish audience at the end of the first century, would have had the effect, I believe our storyteller was after. Tamar is a widow, who must sleep with her dead husband’s brother in order to produce a male heir. Tamar is widowed again when her brother-in-law refuses to play along and dumps his seed on the floor so that Tamar will not become pregnant. This story is rarely told on a Sunday morning. Continue reading

Our Temples Lie in Ruins: Luke 21:5-19

“O God we call, O God we call, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn for you.” The first time I sang Linnea Good’s plaintive song, was back in my seminary days back in the late 90’s. It is difficult to believe that I’ve been singing that song in various settings for almost a quarter of a century. A lot has changed since the longing of that tune first matched my own deep longing for God. I have changed, the world has changed, even my own longing has changed. Yes, I still long for God, but the god I long for is so much more than the god of my yesterdays. The intensity of my longing has deepened as the immensity of my own unknowing has been revealed.

The god of my childhood fell away long ago. I stopped longing long ago for the benevolent Father-god. He was replaced with longings for the theological images of a church struggling to survive in the modern world with a more sophisticated and gracious version of a super-hero; a shero if you will. My cravings to see feminine images of the DIVINE have deepened into longings that seem to transcend images altogether as my questions about the nature of the REALITY that lies at the very core of ALL that IS tear at the very fabric of my ability to comprehend the MYSTERY who is the LOVE that for millennia we have called “God.”

O God we call, from deep inside we yearn to capture you in words and images so that we can pin you down, explain you, and contain you in temples we erect to worship you without ever knowing the sheer magnitude of our unknowing. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of my questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.

The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us? What happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins. What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.

They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…

What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint.

There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the far-away-god in the sky and have him solve all our woes. And then I remember Jesus.

It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus, I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are ONE. Jesus who put people ahead of the law. Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship. Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see the face of God the source of ALL that IS and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.

The Temple was too small, God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the ONE who IS the very SOURCE of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the DIVINE ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay, or we can look for the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, and through us in the faces of those around us; the ONE who lies beyond us in universes that stretch beyond our comprehension. We can let the dead bury the dead, or we can seek the DIVINE One in the LOVE that is God embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us. Continue reading

Peace Sunday Sermon: Micah 4:1-4; Luke 6:27-37; John 14:23-27

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a very large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting that portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings. One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner.

However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains too, but they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is a state of mind, a way of being that breaks out in the midst of turmoil. A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace.  Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the danger, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places.

Peace is a way of being in a world that appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” If you listen to the news or tune into the media you will hear of wars and rumours of wars.

Tomorrow, we will commemorate Remembrance Day and although our tone may be somber, our laments quickly fade into images of glory and celebration not of peace but of violence. Our moments of silence will linger for but a moment before the violence begins to move our hearts and minds towards what our chaotic world makes us believe is the inevitable and once again, the violence will rage. Continue reading

Always Reforming: Freedom and Loss

Jesus said: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples: and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Semper Reformanda – always reforming! Reformation has a great deal in common with freedom.  Whenever I hear that word “freedom” the lyrics of an old folk song pop into my head: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

I suppose there is always a price to pay for freedom. A church that holds up the value of always reforming, is a church that will choose freedom over tradition.     Sometimes, choosing freedom over tradition can feel like losing; losing traditions that once seemed precious to us.  When it comes to worship the truth has set us free from all sorts of traditions that we once valued. Sometimes we discover that the traditions we once believed were so very important fall away.

What follows is a reflection on what we have lost and what we have found.

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

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

Reflection: Luke 18:1-8

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

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

Reflection:  Genesis 32:22-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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