Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories of all time. The trouble with such a familiar story is that we all know it so well that we hear it on autopilot. We know the characters almost as well as we know how we are expected to respond to this story. We can point to the priest and the Levite and explain why they acted the way they did. We can even explain how shocking it would have been to a first century Jewish audience to hear a Samaritan described as “good.” Most of us have heard this parable interpreted so many times that we already know exactly how we are expected to feel when we hear it and what we are expected to learn from it. “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself” and who is your neighbour, why even the lowly Samaritan, the one you would least expect is your neighbour. We know this story backwards and forwards and yet like any good story, there is always something that we can learn from it or it wouldn’t have been told as often as we have all heard it. But just in case familiarity with the story is getting in our way of hearing the radically outrageous truth to which this story points, let me tell it one more time with a slightly different twist.
Like all parables this didn’t actually happen but then again it is always happening. Last week on my way back from Chautauqua, let’s say somewhere near Buffalo, I was attacked by a band of thieves. They stole my car and left me lying by the side of the road. A bishop happened to be passing on her way to Toronto, she saw me lying there bruised and battered, but she had people waiting for her, meetings to attend, and she could not be late, after all she is a bishop and people are counting on her. So, she put her foot down on the accelerator and hurried past me. Later, a bunch of pastors who were car-pooling home from a spirituality retreat came tooling down the highway. They saw me lying by the side of the road and they considered stopping to lend a hand but they had congregations to return to, members to visit, and sermons to consider. So after much consideration the pastors decided to hurry past lest they be waylaid by my problems. Suddenly, travelling from the opposite direction came a sleek, decked out bus with the words “TRUMP Make America Great Again!” in bold letters along the side. Lo and behold it was the orange fellow himself, Donald J. Trump heading up to Buffalo to appear before a “huuuge crowd” of adoring fans. Without hesitating for a moment, the Donald appears with a first-aid kit and begins to dress my wounds. I recognized him right away, and wanted to crawl away and die, but the Donald just loads me into the back of his bus and off we go to the nearest casino, which he just happens to own. At the casino the Donald puts me up in a room fit for a queen and instructs the staff to take very good care of me. It sure wasn’t easy being helped like that, by such a loathsome, despicable man. You know that I’d have to be in a very vulnerable state to accept help from the likes of Trump and his merry band of nut-bars. Thank goodness that this didn’t actually happen. But I can’t help wondering what I might learn about my own prejudices from such an encounter, or what I might learn about his woundedness, or indeed what we both might learn about our shared humanity. (stop it now!!! I know what you’re thinking…just try to remember the Donald is human)
Over the years, I believe that I have played most of the characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I suspect that most of you have as well. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the lawyer, trying to get Jesus to explain the secrets of life to us. Most of us have at one time or another played the role of the priest when we see a broken down car on the side of the road, with its occupants standing around looking desperate for help, but we pass by, not because we are bad people, but because the rules of our society tell us that only fools would consider stopping on the side of the road to help strangers. After all it might be a trap, and surely they have a cell phone so they can call the police who will surely come soon to help them and all of you have surely played the role of the Levite. Oh, you may want to be a good Samaritan, but there are just too many street people, too many requests for money, too many people sleeping out in the cold, and to many vacant faces staring up at us. It’s so difficult to know how or who to help. So, we strike up uneasy compromises with to salve our consciences. We give away whatever coins we happen to have as if a few coins can really help. We go about our business failing to even bother asking how we might help, for fear that from the vacant face, we might hear a voice that demands more of us. Continue reading →
…the prescribed reading for today (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20) is a little strange because it is chopped up into pieces…and leaves out several verses that to most ears sound more than a little judgmental. Without the omitted verses is a difficult reading that is seeming bereft of “Good News”. So, as is often the case when we deliver bad news, I’m going to ask you to sit down and take a few deep breathes. ….ready?
…the text continues with Jesus saying to the 72: “If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say, “We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near. I tell you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than the fate of such a town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! And woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes! It will go easier on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. As for you, Capernam, will you exalt yourself to the skies? No, you’ll be hurled down to Hades! Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the ONE who sent me.”
Jesus has sent out seventy-two of his followers to proclaim that the reign of God is near. Two by two those who have learned at Jesus’ feet are sent to proclaim a new way of being in the world. Furthermore, Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the world with nothing, no knapsack, no sandals, and perhaps more importantly, with no purse; no money with which to provide the essentials. Like lambs Jesus sends his followers into the midst of wolves.
Lambs in the midst of wolves is a strange metaphor. I know a thing or two about lambs. I helped to tend a flock of sheep for about 8 years. While there were no wolves in the area, there were coyotes, and I can tell you that no self-respecting shepherd would expose vulnerable lambs to wolves. Jesus would make a crappy shepherd. Leaders are supposed to protect the ones they lead. Yet here, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Luke, has crafted a story that casts Jesus in the role of a reckless leader who demands an equally reckless vulnerability from his followers.
What we know about the gospel-storyteller that we call Luke is that he wrote close to the end of the first century. Some 50 to 60 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth; a time when the full force of the mighty Roman Empire was being brought to bear upon the Jewish people and upon the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. During this time both Jews and followers of the Way lived in fear for their lives. The very idea of venturing out into the world would have struck fear into the hearts of all those who knew the ferocious power of the Roman Empire. Wolves would have seemed timid when compared to Rome’s cruelty. Yet, in our story Jesus sends his followers like lambs into the midst of wolves? Totally unprepared. Totally vulnerable. Totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who this story characterizes as wolves.
Now, I will confess that all this week, as I was studying this text, I saw myself as a lamb. But I have to say that this story didn’t make much sense to me until I began to see myself as one of the wolves. It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a lamb. Images of myself as a small child, a wee little lamb, helpless and vulnerable were easy to conjure up. Memories of my own childhood migration from Belfast to Canada reminded me of the ways in which my own family depended upon the kindness of strangers when we arrived in a strange land. I don’t really think my Mum and Dad were very well prepared for the journey that we undertook as a family. But thanks to all the help we received from the people who had gone before us and the strangers we met here in Canada, we did all right.Continue reading →
Meister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar. Happily, I so not have to worry about the Trinity this coming Sunday as we shall celebrate Pride Sunday at Holy Cross. I do not have to wade through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer some previous Trinity sermons to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…
I am indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic and John Philip Newell’s “Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings” for insights beyond my own imaginings.
When I was just a kid, my mother would ask me a question that would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts that comes out of my Mom’s own childhood in Northern Ireland. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me: “How much do you love me?” and I would answer as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which my Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you two bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I loved my Mom, “Five big bags of sugar!”
Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who measure love in bags of sugar. As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with sugar’s ability to make all things sweet and the fact that over the generations sugar was in short supply because most people simply couldn’t afford to buy sugar. I’ve also been told that during and after the two World Wars sugar was rationed, so a big bag of sugar was more sugar than most people ever saw. Sugar was a much sought after satisfying treat, that was essential to a happy life, so measuring love in bags of sugar is something that to this day, my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders. But these days even children know that sugar isn’t what it used to be. We all know too well the dangers of a big bag of sugar. Sugar in large quantities is bad for us! Loving someone today, often means limiting their sugar intake. I suspect that expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosie…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague that saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posey, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few. Given a few generations and our ways of expressing things, like language changes over time. Take for example our way of expressing the DIVINE the SOURCE of ALL that IS and all that Ever Shall BE, the names we give to the ONE who is responsible for our Creation, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE we call “God,” has been known by many names over the centuries. The earliest name for the ONE credited with our Creation is quite simply “El”…”El” is if you will, the generic name for “God” El a word found in both the Ancient Sumerian and Canaanite languages translates as, god. In the ancient manuscripts of what we know call the Hebrew Scriptures, but our parents called the Old Testament, the earliest expression used for the God we were raised to worship is, El Shaddai, which is all too often incorrectly translated into English as “God Almighty,” but which quite literally translates into english as “breasted one” or the more accurate translation, “She Who Has Breasts”.
“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. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” What exactly is this peace that Jesus gives? The his letter to the church at Philippi theApostle Paul described the peace of God as the peace that surpasses all understanding. Is this the same peace that Jesus offers, this peace that surpasses understanding? It reminds me of a story I heard years ago about a little girl who went to Vacation Bible School. Her favourite thing about Vacation Bible School was the singing, and her favourite song was, “I’ve God the Joy in My Heart”. It’s the kind of song that can very easily become an ear worm. “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart Down in my heart to stay.” But for this little girl it was the second verses that stuck with her. When she got home her parents were surprised and amused to hear their little girl, sing the second verse with such gusto. Do you remember the second verse? “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, (where?”) Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart Down in my heart to stay.” Except this little girl kept singing over and over again: “I’ve got a piece of pastor’s understanding down in my heart, down in my heart (where)”
The reason that that particular ear worm won’t leave me alone, is the “where” part of these lyrics. I’ve got the love of Jesus, Love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart, “where” down in my heart, where, down in my heart to stay. When we hear down in my heart we tend to think of emotions, and feelings. But the heart hasn’t always been thought of as the source of feelings and emotions. Way back in the 4th century BCE…the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the heart as the seat of intelligence. Observing that the heart is the first organ formed in the embryo of chick’s eggs, Aristotle surmised that the heart must be vital for life itself and life meant that which makes us human, our ability to think. All the other organs simply existed to serve the heart. Indeed the ancient’s didn’t really know what brains were, except for being the mushy part encased in the skull, which they surmised must have some sort of role akin to the lungs, and served only to cool the heart.
In Jesus day, the brain was viewed as the location of the soul; the place were spirits came together. The heart was where the real thinking happened. It wasn’t until late in the 17th century that the seat of intelligence moved to our brains. So, I find it mildly amusing that Christian children should be taught that they “have the peace that passes understanding down in their hearts, where, down in their hearts to stay.”
Okay, I know I just made an impossible intellectual jump there, but hear me out. This peace that surpasses understanding, this peace that Jesus offers “is not like the world’s peace.” Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” In other words, “Don’t let your mind be troubled, there is nothing to fear.”
These days, the world tells us to be afraid, to be very afraid.For the most part, the logic of the world wins out, and we are sore afraid. We worry about everything. We are afraid of stuff our ancestors never even thought about. Some of us are so afraid that our own images in the mirror make us worry about going outside where others might see us. The advertising industry has convinced us to be afraid of our own humanity, our smells, our oily skin and hair, all ingeniously designed to keep us healthy and happy, have now become something we are so afraid of that we spend billions and billions of dollars each year to keep them at bay.
If our own image isn’t enough to frighten us into staying indoors, then the news media has us so afraid of all the monsters that lie in wait to do the most horrendous things to us. This despite the fact that crime is lower than it has ever been and we are safer than people have ever been in all of history. We are so afraid that we refuse to let children play, even though children are safer than they were back in the bygone days of our very own youth. Child abductions are lower than they were in the 1950s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s ex cetera, ex cetera, you get the picture.
We are obsessed with our own safety. If you don’t believe me just try to open up a bottle of pills, between the childproof caps and the tamperproof packaging you almost need an engineering degree together with a strong pair of hands just to get into the bottle. Every package comes complete with its own set of warnings.
Safety helmets, don’t get me started on safety helmets, we have helmets for all sorts of activities, but don’t worry because most kids never get the chance to use their bicycle helmets, because we are too afraid to let them go outside to play.
And what about the stock market? Back in the day, most people never even knew what the stock market was, nowadays we spend countless hours afraid that the markets will crash and we’ll loose all of our money. Money! We are so afraid that we simply won’t have enough money, this despite the fact that most of us have more money and more stuff than most of our ancestors could have ever dreamed of having. I don’t know about you but I come from hearty peasant stock: workers, miners down in the pits on my fathers side, and industrial workers on my mothers side, poor working folk who rarely enjoyed a luxury in their lives. But at least they didn’t have all the fears that we have. Oh they had fears, don’t get me wrong, but they quelled their fears with the sure and certain faith that it would all come out in the end. All they had to do was read their bibles and pray ever day. They had the peace that passes understanding down in their hearts. Down in their hearts to stay.
We have the news media, reporters telling us each and every day to be afraid, to be very afraid. Terrorists, climate change, child abductors, predators, scammers, floods, wars and rumours of wars. Be afraid, be very afraid. Oh, and by the way, God is dead. Jesus can’t and won’t save you. So be afraid. The Buddha can’t save you either, and forget about Mohammed, and all the rest of those religious folk who promised you the sun, the moon and the stars. And while we’re at it, what about those endless movies that portray the horrors of falling in love, and the pain of loss? We are doomed I tell you doomed. So, be afraid, be very afraid. Use your heads, think about it, there is no hope, hope is an illusion. We are all going to die. Once you are dead, you are dead, that’s it, over done, nada.
So, be afraid, exercise, exercise, get healthy, don’t eat that, be afraid it’s the only way to live longer, be afraid,take this pill and eat this food, and run, run, as fast as you can, be afraid. Use your head, its a big bad world out there and you need to be afraid, oh by the way, try this, buy this, use this, put your money here, build a wall, build a very big wall, keep them out, you know the ones, the big bad scary people who want to come here and take all your stuff, be afraid, be very afraid.
“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. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful. ‘
So what is it that Jesus offers when he says, “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. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” ?
I believe that there can be no peace in the world as long as we are afraid.Fear makes us forget who we are and whose we are. Fear makes us forget that we are richly blessed. Fear makes us forget that we live in relative safety. Fear makes us forget what we believe. Fear makes us forget who and what we love. Fear makes us forget to think. Fear makes us forget to breathe. I also believe that the memory of who we are calms our fear and that this is the only hope we have of ever finding any peace in the world.
When I am afraid, I mean really afraid, I often forget who I am.The person that I am, is not angry, or greedy, or violent. But given enough anxiety, fear or terror, and I will react angrily. Take away the familiar, push me beyond my comfort zone, expose me to strange and foreign ways, and I will become anxious.Threaten me with poverty and my fear of poverty will inspire me to be greedy.Threaten me or the ones I love with violence, and my fear of losing my life or my loved ones will embolden me to resort to violence.
When the ground beneath our feet begins to shift it can cause us to forget who we are and unless we take a deep breath, we might just forget the SPIRIT that dwells in with, through, and beyond us. Jesus believed and taught a new way of being in the world. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Jesus understood himself to be intimately related to the very SOURCE of his BEING. Where others had looked to the source of their being and seen a CREATOR to be feared and obeyed,Jesus looked to the source of his being and saw a CREATOR who takes delight in creation; a CREATOR so intimately connected with creation that it is impossible to see where creation ends and the CREATOR begins. I and the CREATOR are ONE.
Our GOD dwells in the midst of us. If we breathe deeply and feel the rhythm of the ONE who breathes in us we can begin to remember who we are.I am convinced that the peace we so long for in this world will only be realized when we find peace in ourselves. We are wonderfully made. Ever evolving humans in an ever changing cosmos. As conscious beings we are an integral part of a magnificent creation, the source of which flows, in, with, through, and beyond us. Embracing the mysteries of creation need not involve being afraid of the unknown.
Jesus taught a way of being that encompassed the SOURCE of our BEING as part of the ONENESS of all creation, and encouraged us to embrace the peace that this knowledge brings. When we are grounded in who and what we were created to be, it quells our fear and we are better able to respond to the fears of others in ways that will help them to remember who they are.
Fear is the enemy of peace. Jesus knew this. Why else was he constantly telling people not to be afraid? Have no fear is Jesus’ mantra. There’s so much more I could say about our fears.
I could go on and on about the ways in which fear separates us from ourselves, from one another and from our CREATOR.I could tell you all about the definition of sin as that which separates us from ourselves, from one another and from GOD. But I’m afraid that that would take to long and as being afraid is the very thing that I want to avoid, let me just give you a little peace.So, Sit up, take a long slow breath….let it out….
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to take a long slow breath when you are afraid?Panting, gasping, sometimes even holding your breath all have more in common with fear than breathing deeply.Perhaps our bodies really do know best because when we do breathe deeply it has a calming effect.Pay attention to your breathing. Really, I mean it pay attention to your breathing.Take a few moments, right here and right now and just breathe.
In and out. Don’t try to moderate your breath. Don’t try to slow it down and breathe more deeply. Just breathe……. Notice each breathe…. Your body knows exactly what you need. Opening ourselves to the rhythm of our own breathing opens us to the reality of our ONENESS with every creature that has ever breathed, in and out the very same air down through the centuries. In and out, the SPIRIT of the SOURCE of our very BEING, flows in, with, through, and beyond us. We are an intricate part of something bigger than we can even begin to imagine.
So, the next time the anxiety and fear threatens to make you forget who you are, breathe, notice each breath, and slowly you will begin to remember who you are. Slowly, you will feel the presence of the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond you. Knowing who we are, will begin to free us from fear and enable us to free others from fear and before we know it peace will be breaking out in, with, through, and beyond us. Let it be so, dear ones, let it be so. Amen.
I was about 10 years old, when I first encountered the 23rd psalm. I never went to church when I was a kid. Church simply was not part of my family’s life. But one summer, my brother and I were left in the care of my Mother’s aunt who lived down in the Adirondacks, and as a way of filling our days, Aunt Madge sent us to a local Vacation Bible School. I don’t remember much about the five days we spent attending Vacation Bible School. But, I do remember very well the glimpse of God that I encountered that week. To this day, I can still recite word for word just what I learned that week:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I can still hear the minister carefully translating each phrase into language that children could understand. I remember thinking that I had learned some secret knowledge that had been hidden from me all my life. For the first time in my short little life, I caught a glimpse of God and he wasn’t some angry old man who was sitting up on a cloud thinking up ways to punish me.He wasn’t some mean Father who sent his only son to die on a cross.
For the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of God the shepherd, who wanted nothing more than to take care of me, who provided beautiful green meadows with lovely rivers flowing through them, were I could feel the warmth of the sun and know that even if hard times were just around the corner, God would go with me, and take care of me. Best of all, this God would fill me with so many blessings that my life would be just like a chocolate mike-shake that was so full that it would never end. I had absolutely no idea what a shepherd was, or what a shepherd did. I simply knew that God is my shepherd and following God was the greatest, safest, most rewarding thing I would ever do.
The metaphor of God as my shepherd carried me to a place beyond the words of the 23rd psalm, to a paradise more sublime than my ten year old self had ever imagined before. A place of beauty, safety and security, that at the tender age of ten, I was already longing for.
Metaphors are quite literally words strung together to carry us beyond the words themselves, and for me and for millions of people, generation after generation, the words strung together in the 23rd psalm have carried our longing souls far beyond the words themselves to into the midst of our hopes and dreams. As a ten year old, who was always the new kid in town, the nomad, wandering from new school to new school, the mere mention of a being led to a place of safety, where I would find comfort and rest from the shadows that haunted me, was all the goodness and mercy that I needed to know about in order to want to know more about this Shepherd. Those first glimpses of God, still comfort me.
My life has not been particularly difficult. I am blessed, I am loved, I am privileged, I am wealthy, my cup does indeed overflow with goodness. But, like all people, I have my dark valleys were the shadows of death frighten me. There are moments of longing in which I long to be swept up into the arms of a Good Shepherd, who will hold me close in an embrace of LOVE so that I will be able to rest, knowing that I am at home. But I’m not ten years old. The metaphor of a shepherd no matter how good or great that shepherd might be, cannot satisfy my longing to know the One who is at the very core of our existence.Continue reading →
Mothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women. Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:
Christ is Risen!Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! During the Easter season we punctuate our celebration of resurrection by declaring that, “Christ is risen!” and sometimes I wonder if our liturgical utterances of resurrection are in danger of becoming the last gasps of a Church that is all but dead. Are we who gather in churches on a Sunday morning members of a church that is the living body of the risen Christ or are we mourners at the funeral of a religion that died in the last century because it did not have the stamina for 21st century?
As congregations shrink, churches close, and the few mourners who are left insist upon preserving what’s left of the corpse, the season of Easter, designed to celebrate resurrection, is in danger of becoming the church’s final attempt at denying the corpse of Christianity. Generations to come may look back upon this critical time in the church’s life and pronounce that resurrection itself was the cause of the church’s death. While worshipers remained fixated upon the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse determined to defend the doctrines of the church, the life-blood of the body of Christ slipped away, no longer able to congeal around the idea of a deity so small that “HE” could only be worshipped by those who could narrow their thinking so that it could fit into the boxes created by the need to suspend everything they have learned about the nature of reality.
Gathering around the ancient stories of resurrection, those who sought to save the church could not agree on the treatment necessary to save the church. While some insisted that a good dose of biblical literalism was the only way to save Christianity, others advocated for a more radical treatment, one that took on board all that we have learned about the cosmos and what it means to be human. Still others looked to more nuanced forms of treatment and reached into the long traditions of the church which have always worked wonders in the past; traditions that honoured the human need for reason while they still managed to encompass the unfolding mysteries of the cosmos. While the theologians, priests, laypeople, hierarchy’s, would be evangelists, charlatans, worshippers, seekers, and philosophers, tended to the perceived needs of the church, the members of the Body slipped away to seek nourishment and healing elsewhere; leaving the patient to die a slow and laborious death. Oh there are a faithful few, huddling around the corpse doing their damnedest to resuscitate the corpse of Christianity. But life has long since left the patient. All that is left are the mourners who simply cannot believe that their beloved is dead. But like all deaths, life goes on, and the world scarcely notices all that has been lost. Some of us, hang around, finding solace in one another, remembering the good old days, longing for the future we had hoped to see.
When some folk return from the empty tomb that the church became, to tell us that Christ is not there, that Christ is risen. Dare we even begin to imagine that the one place we expected to find Christ is empty? Can it be true? Can Christ have escaped the empty tomb we call the church? Or, is this just one more idle tale?Continue reading →
As the resurrection stories continue, the story Jesus’ encounter on the lakeshore explores forgiveness in ways that open us to our own moments of desperation as we too long to be forgive or to forgive. Richard Holloway, the former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, interprets the story of the resurrection not as an historical tale, but as our own story. Holloway has written of his longing for a humbled and broken church. His own humility and brokenness shines through this video as Holloway embodies his own longing.
Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see
Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here
Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here
Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here
Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here
Years ago, long before I ever became a pastor, I had a friend who was nearing the end of her life. During my last few visits with her, Clara would ask me over and over again, “Am I going to be alright?” I would always answer her with words designed to assure her that all would be well. Unlike some people I have known since, Clara never asked me what was going to happen to her when she died. Instead she would ask, “Am I going to be alright?” At the time, I thought that she was worried about the pain she might encounter or the fear that she might feel. So, I would assure her that the care that she was getting was the best there is and that the doctors and nurses would make sure that she could manage whatever pain came her way. I also assured her that her loved ones would be there with her, and furthermore I believed that the very source of her being, would be there to embrace her. My friend wasn’t particularly religious, so the words that I’d learned in church to offer as comfort, were not words she wanted to hear. So, I spoke of God, in vague and general terms. Even though back then, I still imagined God as some sort of supernatural being.
The last time I saw my friend Clara, I knew that the end was near. I was feeling woefully inadequate I wasn’t sure how long I could bear to be in the same room with my friend. I remember hearing a rattling sound as she struggled with each breath. My own breath slowed and became quite shallow as if my body was trying to mimic hers. It is a moment in time that lives in my memory not because of the intensity of my feelings at that time, but rather because of the way in which our parallel breathing took me to a place of knowing where the wizened dying body in the bed was transformed into a beautiful young woman.Continue reading →
Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. From comments, messages, and emails I hear from fellow preachers who, like me, are daunted by the task of preparing the Good Friday sermon. That task is even more daunting for those of us who serve progressive communities. My fellow progressive-christian-preachers tell me of the dearth of progressive-christian Good Friday sermons to be found on the internet and encourage me to re-post my own attempts to rise to the occasion. So, here are the links to some of the Good Friday sermons I have preached over the years of my journey with the progressive community which I serve. The people Holy Cross Lutheran Church have over the years provided an invigorating space for me to pursue my questions. They have also provided the resources which make this blog possible. So, if you find the work posted here of value to you and your community, please consider supporting this ministry of Holy Cross. I rarely solicit donations. But Holy Cross is a small community that continues to give to others in so many ways and your encouragement is greatly appreciated!!! (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3) Donate via CANADA HELPS click here
Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost
Moving On From the Tragedy of Good Friday click here
2017 I cannot and will not worship a god who demands a blood sacrifice. But the residue of atonement theories still causes me to tremble click here
2016 I’m still working on getting my body out of the tomb in which it was laid all those years ago – reflecting on everyday crucifixions click here
2015 Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation click here
When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t poor. We managed to live from pay-cheque to pay-cheque; there wasn’t much money left towards the end of the week. When the pay-cheques came, sometimes they didn’t quite stretch far enough to pay all the bills. So, unexpected expenses could mean trouble. The kind of trouble where your parents are so worried about how they are going to make ends meet that tensions run pretty high. If something broke, my Dad was the first line of defense. If Dad couldn’t fix it, hopefully he knew a guy who could fix it. The idea of calling a repair man, who would present us with a bill for his services was simply out of the question. When the do-it-your-selfers required a part that required actual money to get, well they’d have to figure out some way of making do. If it couldn’t be fixed for free, it stayed broke, cause we were broke.
When a car broke down, my Dad could fix it with chewing gum and nylons if he had to. There wasn’t much Dad couldn’t fix. But when something came along that Dad couldn’t fix, like a car that simply couldn’t go another mile without several hundred dollars worth of parts, well that could mean that Dad and Mom wouldn’t be able to get to work, to earn the money, to fix the car, or pay the rent. So, each and every time something broke there’d be hell to pay; especially if I happened to be anywhere near it when it broke. Blame was directly related to proximity. Worrying about money and the lack there of, meant that tensions ran high. To this day, Carol will tell you, if something breaks around the house, I get a little crazy. I forget that we have money in the bank and good credit, so calling a repair person is a real possibility. I forget that my car is under warranty, or that we can afford to fix the water heater, and if worse comes to worse we can liquidate some equity to put a new roof on our house. All these situations would have been a major catastrophe when I was growing up, and try as I might, when stuff breaks, I still panic. Some fears die hard.
I remember when I first moved into the parsonage, the dishwasher wasn’t working. Money was tight, I had big student loans that had come do. But I didn’t own the dishwasher, you all did and there was money in the budget for parsonage repairs. But it took me two years to get up the courage to call a repairperson. I’d never called one before and I was afraid that it would cost more than I could afford. Besides there was a perfectly good sink, and I had two good hands, a dishwasher is an extravagance. So, two years passed, and even though I used the parsonage for all sorts of congregational events, I never called a repair person. It wasn’t until our chairperson found out that the dishwasher wasn’t working and told me that not using it could be bad for the dishwasher in the long run that I mustered up the courage to call a repair person. The bill for the repair was just $35.00. I was so delighted that I paid it myself. Not because I should, it wasn’t my dishwasher, it was the church’s bill, I paid it because I could. In the grand scheme of things, a dishwasher is an extravagance, but it was oh so sweet to line those dirty dishes up and push a few buttons, and hey presto, clean dishes! What an extravagance!!!
When I read the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we can John’s story about the anointing of Jesus, the word extravagance comes to mind. Extravagance in the face of danger and poverty. Of all the stories that this anonymous gospel-storyteller could have told about Jesus, why did he tell this one, and why did he tell it the way that he told it? What is the storyteller trying to tell us about the character of Jesus?
I’ve studied this passage for decades and I’m still surprised at how full and lush, how extravagant the details of this story are. I’m also aware that most of those lush and oh so extravagant details are all too often lost on 21st century ears. We are not first century Jews, so the pungency of this particular extravagance can all too easily elude us. There are details that first century Jews would have been overcome by, details that we need to sniff out if we want to smell the pungent aroma of the spikenard that oozes, soothes, and anoints the feet of the one we claim to follow. This story has but a dozen sentences, but each and every sentence positively oozes with details; details that can open us to a kind of extravagance of our own. “Six days before Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whose Jesus had raised from the dead.”Continue reading →
I am indebted to Amy-Jill Levine’s book “short stories by Jesus” and Bernard Brandon Scott’s book “Hear Then the Parable” for challenging me to look beyond the Christian bias of interpreting Jesus’ parables through the lens of the repentance and forgiveness and attempting to hear this story in ways more in keeping with Judaism.
Following the reading of the three parables of the Lost from Luke 15, we watched the video “Prodigal” before the sermon (text below). You can watch the video below and then listen to the sermon here
I love a happy ending.
Who doesn’t love the kind of ending that sees those who are lost found.
Reconciliation is a beautiful thing.
Home, safe in the arms of a loving parent.
Who doesn’t long to be Welcomed.
We recognize the longing because it resides deep inside the darkest places of who we are, who we will always be; children trying to find our way, children longing to be welcomed, embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home.
Is it any wonder that we love a happy ending.
But this is not the happy ending that we long for because this is not the end of the story.
“A man had two sons…”
Our story does not end with the welcome embrace.
The embrace is just the beginning of our story.
All was not forgotten.
It never is.
The pain of past hurts remains.
That hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation is ongoing.
There is more than one child in this story.
This parent has two children.
Imagine for a moment that you are the elder child.
Obviously you are the wise one, the good one, the one who did the right thing, the one who can be counted upon, trusted, looked up to.
Here we are trying to make our way in the world.
Struggling to take care of things, to pay the bills, to ensure that everything is in its proper place, striving to do the right thing.
We too long for happy endings, to be welcomed,embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home.
What separates us from the irresponsible, spendthrifts, who foolishly waste what they have been given, what separates us from them, is that we have the good sense to keep our noses to the grindstone, to always strive to do the right thing.
And yet, no matter how hard we try, how much we forgo in order to be who we know we ought to be, no matter what success we might achieve, we are in the end, just children, longing to be loved.
So, who could blame us for wanting justice?
We just want what is right.
We need to know that all our efforts are worth at least a sense of order to things.
We’ve all felt the pain of betrayal.
A member of our family, a sister, a brother, or a member of our tribe, a loved one, a friend, who disrupts our world with their needs, their wants, who shatters our sense of right and wrong;
a pain so deep we cannot begin to imagine how we can ever recover.
We long for the happy ending.
We wish we could just find a way to forgive and forget.
But it just seems so very wrong to let go.
And the hard work of healing is more than we can begin to contemplate.
So, we set ourselves apart.
We stand outside of events.
And we have every right to do so.
After all, we did what was right, what was just, what was called for, we have nothing to apologize for.
But there they are, the source of our pain, right there as large as life.
What are we to do?
How are we expected to forgive and forget?
It’s too much.
A man had two sons.
A parent had two children.
A woman had two friends.
A man had two loves.
A person had two people needing to be welcomed, cared for, loved, reconciled.
Our story does not end with the welcome embrace, our story begins with the welcome embrace.
The had work of reconciliation is the story’s next chapter, not the final chapter by any means, just the next in a long line of chapters that will include all sorts of gestures, kindnesses, apologies, starting overs, mistakes, offences, delicate negations, concessions, ultimatums, joys, sorrows, tears, laughter, arguments, and make ups.
The hard work of living together and apart, welcoming and good-byes, embraces and refraining from embracing.
It is called life; life in community with people who share our longing to be welcomed, embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home.
So, here we are.
We can almost hear those white sheets of surrender flapping in the wind.
What are we to do?
There they are standing there embracing one another as if nothing had happened.
Here we stand, knowing how well we have behaved, how right we are.
What are we to do?
Do we go into the party?
What are we to make of the one who has wounded us?
How do we respond to the One who is welcoming our betrayer with a loving embrace?
Does it matter that our betrayer hasn’t truly repented?
Does it matter that they don’t appear to have changed their ways?
What about the injustice?
How do we repair the damage?
What will become of everything we have worked for?
Where will it all end?
The scandal of Jesus’ parable is that we don’t get any answers to these questions.
Just a fatted calf, a party, a bbq if you will.
What are we left to do?
Go in and have lunch.
Set aside our need for repentance and forgiveness and simply enter into the party.
When it comes to families, there are factors other than repentance and forgiveness that hold us together.
The sheep and the coin did not nor could they repent.
But the celebration happened nonetheless,
because the man and the woman were able to rejoice at the finding of the lost and the restoring of wholeness.
Sometimes the one we have lost is right under our nose, sometimes we are the ones who are lost.
Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate what has been found and then work to ensure that what has been found will never be lost again.
Don’t wait until you receive an apology, you may never get one.
Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find forgiveness.
Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past.
Instead, go have lunch.
Go celebrate, and invite others to join you.
If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better.
And if not, you still have done what is necessary.
You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation.
You will have opened a second chance for wholeness.
Take advantage of resurrection—it is unlikely to happen often.
What counts for the family also counts for the world.
So let us go into the party and dance, dance the dance of life, dance the dance of love.
It’s a complicated dance, but once you catch on to the rhythms of the music you’ll figure out the steps, and even if you look a little silly, waving and flapping about, your moves will lighten everyone’s load and help the party to be just that much more enjoyable, for everyone.
It was nearly 20 years ago, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday. I was working as the on-call Chaplain at the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. I had been paged to the emergency room to attend to a man who had accompanied a patient to the hospital, VSA, the code for Vital Signs Absent. Someone was waiting for me in the Quiet Room. The Quiet Room was a small ten by twelve room, into which loved ones of really serious patients were asked to wait for the worst possible news. They were kept there in the Quiet Room so that they wouldn’t be disturbed, but I suspect that the real reason is so that they wouldn’t disturb the less seriously ill patients.
Inside the Quiet Room sat one of the largest men I have ever met. He was about six-eight, with big broad shoulders. He wore blue jeans and a black leather jacket. He had long black hair and a bushy beard. He could have passed for the head of a biker gang and under normal circumstances, I probably would have been very afraid of this character. I introduced myself as the Chaplain and he just put his head in his hands. Chaplains are not popular people in hospital emergency rooms. People usually expect the worst when the medical profession calls in a chaplain. I took a seat and together we waited.
Slowly, this big bear of a man began to tell me what had happened. He said, that everything was all his fault; he was to blame. Anne, his partner wouldn’t be in the other room fighting for her life if it wasn’t for him. After years of being on his own, driving truck from one place to another, never really having a home, he had met Anne and she had changed everything. No more long hauls for him. He switched to driving locally. For the first time in a very long time he had a home; a home he and Anne had made together. She’d made him so happy. He loved her so much. Everything was going so well for them.
Why? Why did this have to happen? He knew he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be happy. It was all his fault. If only he hadn’t of stuck around. None of this would have happened.
Quietly, I asked him just what had happened. He explained that he had come home from the store. He’d gone out for a pack of cigarettes. Anne had asked him to quit. He should have quit smoking. When he got back from the corner-store he found Anne lying on the floor. He dialed 911 and started CPR.
They wouldn’t let him stay with her. Could I go and see how she was doing? I headed back to the resuscitation room. They were tidying up. The doctor said she had a massive coronary, she was dead before she got to the hospital, they had just been going through the motions. I waited while the doctor filled in the paperwork and then together, we headed toward the Quiet Room. The doctor didn’t say a word when we arrived, he let his face do all the talking and I watched as a giant of a man fell to pieces.
When he quieted down a little, he told me that Anne was one of the best things in his life and that he should have known better. It was all his fault. If he’d just left her alone she would have been better off. Mutual friends had introduced them just a year ago. He fell for her right away. He should have known it was too good to be true. It was all his fault. It was happening all over again, only this time he should have known better. Through his tears, he asked me, how I could believe in such cruel God. God took his son away from him and now God had taken Anne. He began to moan, over and over again, crying out for his lost son Billy.
It took about an hour for him to tell me what had happened, some 25 years earlier. His son had been playing with some friends down by the river. They’d made a makeshift raft. Somehow, little Billy had drowned. Just five years old and he was taken away. It was all his fault. If he hadn’t been such a lousy father, Billy wouldn’t have been taken away from him. After Billy died, his marriage fell apart. That was all his fault too. If only he’d been a better husband, a better man, God would have helped them to work it out. But clearly, God was punishing him for all the terrible things he had done in his life.
He should have known better than to take the chance. He just should have known better. If he had just stayed on the road. If he hadn’t tried to make some sort of life with Anne, she’d still be alive. God had really stuck it to him this time. This was his punishment for trying to be happy. He cried softly then. Over and over again crying out the names of Anne and Billy.
I quietly told this big bear of a broken man, that I didn’t believe in the kind of God that he was talking about. The God that I know wouldn’t do something like that. God is not that cruel. I told him that I believed that God wept for his son and for Anne, and that God knew the kind of pain that he was feeling. He just kept on sobbing, telling me that I didn’t understand, insisting that it was all his fault. Looking back, I realize that I was probably trying to convince myself at that moment that God was not some sort of monster. At that very moment I suppose that I felt like God was indeed some sort of monster. How could I have expected to help this man to reconcile the death of his son and his partner with the notion of a loving God? Surely that man was better off believing in a punishing God rather than an absent or capricious God who allowed the innocent to suffer? The man himself was willing to blame himself rather than to blame God. God, in that man’s mind, was just doing what had to be done, punishing a guilty man. He knew beyond a doubt that he was to blame. His crimes had caused the deaths of his loved ones, not God. Who was I to destroy his worldview? At least his reasoning allowed him to make some sense out of his life.
Who among us has not done the same when calamity strikes, wondering what we have done wrong to deserve our plight? Who among us at some time or another has not scrutinized our own behaviour, our relationships, our diets, our faith or lack of faith, hunting from some cause to explain our lot in the vain hope that we can find the reason behind our suffering? We are only human after all, less interested in the truth than in the consequences. What we crave above all else is to grasp for control over the chaos of our lives.Continue reading →
Back in November of 2015, my Mom, who lives in Vancouver, fell. The fall was the cumulative effect of years and years of ill health, which for all sorts of reasons my Mom was unable to face; ill health that my family has fretted over and worried about. But no matter how hard we tried, it took a fall to get my Mom into the hospital. Many of you know the pain of living thousands and thousands of kilometers away from loved ones. The telephone rings and suddenly your life is turned upside down as you anxiously try to decide if you should book a flight, pack a bag, and rush to the bedside of someone you love. As I was agonizing over whether I should or shouldn’t rush out to Vancouver, my brother called and said that I needed to come right away. The sound of my brother’s voice cracking in mid-sentence convinced me to move heaven and earth in order to race to Vancouver, in order to sit at what we were now convinced would be my mother’s deathbed.
As a pastor, I have had the privilege of being present with all sorts of people as they sit vigils with their loved ones. Over the years, I have learned the value of a quiet, gentle, presence to accompany us in the darkest of journeys. In my head, I knew that whatever my family was about to experience, all that was really necessary was for me to do was to be present. So, I went to Vancouver, not as a pastor, not as someone who has been trained to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of a crisis, not as a professional who has accompanied many people on this kind of journey, not as Pastor Dawn; no on this journey I was simply, as my Mom calls, me when she wants to talk seriously to me, “Dawn Lesley”, a little girl, terrified of what lay in front of me.
The flight to Vancouver is about five hours long and during that five hours, I imagined what it would be like when I arrived and I tried to steel myself. My family is not what you would call religious, they don’t go to church, they don’t much talk about what they believe in, and they view my involvement in the church as a bit of strange; I’m an oddity in my family. They don’t really know this persona, Pastor Dawn is a mystery and to them I am simply their daughter Dawn, or their sister, or their Auntie Dawn. To the youngest members of the family Carol and I are lovingly referred to as their far-away aunties. We fly in for a visit every once in a while and the history that I share with my family, reminds us of the love we share for one another, and carries us through our all too brief encounters. The history that we share filled my thoughts as the plane carried me and all my baggage home; home so that I could be present for whatever might happen. The seats on either side of me were empty. Normally, empty seats on a plane, meant more room to stretch out and be more comfortable. But this time those empty seats only served to remind me of my own emptiness. I wanted Jesus to be in the seat beside me. I wanted God the “Father” to be in the other seat. And I wanted the Holy Spirit to be outside the plane somewhere holding us all up there in the sky, keeping the plane safely above the clouds. I wanted the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to keep me safe, to comfort me, to take care of my Mother. I wanted the big and powerful, Almighty Sky God, to reach down and interfere in the world, and I wanted it right then and there for me and for mine. I wanted that old-time religion, the kind of religion I signed up for way back when, when life was simpler. The kind of religion where all I need was to have faith and God would answer my prayers. Instead, all I had with me was my iPad full of theological books about the nature of God, the historical Jesus, and progressive Christianity. Cold comfort when your tens of thousands of feet up in the sky, hurtling in a metal tube towards a situation that strikes fear in your heart and could rob you of your Mother. Somehow, the Ground of my Being, the One Who Lies at the very heart of Reality, the God who Is LOVE, was obscured by God the Father, the Almighty Idol who served me so well in the past, was back, and the only problem was that I have long since stopped worshipping idols.Continue reading →
The Epistle Reading (Second Reading) for this coming Sunday is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Most of us have heard this reading over and over again at weddings as if it were some sort of recipe for happiness between lovers. So often we hear it as an impossible recipe and cast it aside as something nice but unattainable. What would happen if we could hear this passage not as a prescriptive recipe but as a descriptive revelation of the LOVE that is God. Couple this revelation with the knowledge that God dwells in, with, through, and beyond us and it becomes a description of the possibilities for each of us being LOVE in the world. The knowledge that LOVE dwells in us might just open us to being the love that the world so desperately needs.
91 year-old, Johnny Barnes is a Bermuda native who embodies the LOVE that dwells in him. How might we embody the LOVE that dwells in us? What does, would, could, will the embodiment of LOVE look like in you?
The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson understands what it means to be threatened because of the Gospel he embodies. While reflecting on the threatening reaction of those who heard Jesus’ first sermon as it is recorded in Luke 4, Bishop Robinson challenges us all to stand on the clifftop with the courage of Jesus. Well worth a listen to all those who are preparing to preach on this text on Sunday.
The last time Luke 4:15-21 came up in the lectionary, we engaged in a reflection on what we know of Jesus’ first sermon…a bible study of sorts. I offer it here for those of you who are preparing to preach on this text.