The Peace of Being ONE – Luke 24:30-48

I don’t know about you, but as we here in Ontario face the third wave of this devastating pandemic, the moments when I’m able to safely get out into CREATION become more and more precious. So, this morning, I went out in the brisk spring air hoping to forget about all the bad news which keeps flashing across our screens. So, let me try to give you a brief glimpse of my morning walk. Indulge me as I take you just down the road from my living-room to the shores of Lake Simcoe, where the wind is blowing, and the spring rain is gently falling.

.  .  . see the video .  .  .

As I walked along the lakeshore this morning, I was reminded of another lakeshore far, far, away, where the wind was just as fierce, and the rain was even more intense as I walked by this other lakeshore. Listening to the gentle waves of Lake Simcoe, I was transported back in time, through the decades and on that distant shore I could still see my twenty-year-old self, my Australian traveling companion, two Swiss women, an American, a German, a Bahamian, and a Japanese guy.

We were a strange lot, gathered together by chance, as each of us backpacked our way through Europe in search of adventure. “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond.” We’d met on the train to Fort William and together, we headed out on foot to the youth hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond. Now, I’m sure it has changed a great deal since we trudged along on a cold, ever so cold August day in 1976. Back then there was only a single cart lane leading to the youth hostel. We didn’t see any people along the way, and we weren’t sure we were going in the right direction. Most of us were caught up in our own thoughts, or too tired from our travels, to make conversation. But not Japanese Guy, who simply wouldn’t shut up.

He was positively annoying. There we were on “yon bonnie banks” leaning into the beauty which surrounded us, longing to be swept away by the majesty of it all, and this guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough for us to escape into the wonder of our surroundings. I kept hoping that he’d “tak’ the high road” so I could tak’ the low road” and we’d “never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” But alas, we were stuck with each other.

I tried lagging behind the others, humming softly to myself. But Japanese Guy, he saw this as some sort of invitation to hang back for a one-on-one conversation. His questions didn’t let up. He wanted to know: Where was I from? How long I’d been backpacking? Why did I choose Scotland?  Was Scotland what I thought it would be? Did I imagine it would be so cold in August? On and on went his questions. My abrupt answers didn’t manage to clue him into the fact that I didn’t feel like talking.

When even my rude, unfriendly behaviour could not silence Japanese Guy, I ran to catch up with our companions, so that they too could share in the burden of unwelcome conversation. When we finally arrived at the hostel, we all spent the evening avoiding Japanese Guy.

The next morning, we were reunited over breakfast and it turned out that we all had the same plan to climb Ben Lomond. For those of you who dinnie kin, a Ben is what the Scots call a mountain. Ben Lomond is just under a 1,000 meters high with about a dozen kilometers of trails to the summit. We were young and the Hostel Manager assured us that we could get to the top in about five hours, have enough time for a quick lunch, and then hike back down to the hostel in time for dinner.

Part of me thought, “Oh great a dozen hours with Japanese Guy,” who we’d only just begun calling by his real name, “Ichiro.”  We’d been on the trail for about an hour when Ichiro asked me about my name. “Is it correct that in English “dawn” can mean beginning or first.” I quite pedantically agreed that as the sun is the first thing to come up in the morning, I suppose you could translate “dawn” as beginning or first. “Were you named “Dawn” because you were the first?” Yes, I was indeed the first-born of my family.” “Then we are going to be good friends” Ichiro declared with a big grin on his face. I had to ask why? “Well because “Ichiro” also means first-born. We two are first-borns. We two are twins.” And so, it began. Hours and hours of a tough climb, filled with conversation with my new friend Ichiro.  As we ascended closer to the heavens, Ichiro’s questions became less annoying and more intriguing.

I don’t know how he got us there, but somewhere upon the slopes of Ben Lomond, we got onto the topic of religion. Ichiro is a Buddhist who is fascinated by Christianity, and I am a Christian who is fascinated by Buddhism. Ichiro’s questions inspired my questions and my questions inspired Ichiro’s questions and as he told me stories about the Gautama the Buddha, I told him stories about Jesus the Christ. By the time, we got to the top of Ben Lomond we were exhausted both physically and mentally. All of us just collapsed where we were and quietly marveled at the beauty of the sky. Surveying the clouds as they floated so closely by, I quickly fell asleep. I was awakened by a hunger in my belly. It seems that my travelling companions had also been napping. One by one we were all awakened by a hunger born of our efforts. We hadn’t planned it, but as we explored the contents of our day-packs we discovered that between us we had the makings of a feast, which we laid out on a blanket and just as we were about to tuck in, Ichiro asked if we would like to give thanks. A heartfelt grace was offered for everything from the beauty of our surroundings to the pain in our calves, which somehow were supposed to get us back down the Ben. And then our American friend, Joe, began to sing. You guessed it, Joe just couldn’t help himself: O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road. And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye, But me and my true love will never meet again, On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomand.” As we sang, I noticed that we all began to fill up with tears. Tears of joy, and tears of recognition. “For me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Looking back on those young people, I continue to be touched by a moment in time which will never come again. I can so clearly remember Ichiro gobbling up the bread we broke together, just like he gobbled up every answer to every question that he asked. I can still taste the various breads we broke up there on the mountain. It was a communion the likes of which makes your heart sing. And sing we did. It was a communion which even in these strange COVID times, when we are bereft of one another’s company; a communion which continues to nourish me.

“After sitting down with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, who immediately vanished from their sight.”

After sitting down with them to eat, we said the blessing and we broke the bread. In the breaking of the bread with Japanese Guy, my twin brother Ichiro was revealed. Ichiro a Buddhist who is fascinated by Christianity who taught me that Gautama the Buddha, like Jesus the Christ, taught his followers about compassion and peace, urging us not to be afraid and insisting that we are all ONE.

In the breaking of bread, two first-borns, recognized ONEness. It was a moment in time which will not come again. But it is also a moment which continues to nourish and sustain me. It is a moment in time that is sacred and eternal, for we are ONE. Like the Buddha, Christ points beyond self to the ONE.

Separated. Isolated. Filled with longing.  Hungry for one another. Wondering when the joy of one another’s company shall once again nourish us… It is so easy to fall into despair… And yet, if we take the time, to breathe, to reflect, to remember, to reconnect, to reach out the Earth in all her beauty in all her wonder, our MOTHER, the SACRED EARTH breathes with us, and moves us to the places and to the people who have fed us with the kind of nourishment which lasts a lifetime, feeding us again, and again, and again, as the wonders of CREATION works resurrection in us!

For LOVE, the LOVE which is DIVINE, rises again, and again, and again, in us, with us, and through us.  May we all know the peace that being ONE reveals. Moments in time which vanish oh so quickly, only to return again, and again, to raise us up. ‘Twas then that we parted, in yon shady glen, On the steep, steep side o’ Ben Lomond, Where in purple hue, the hieland hills we view, And the moon coming out in the gloaming. O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye, But me and my true love will never meet again, On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Moments in time. May all the blessings of your SACRED moments in time, nourish, ground and sustain you, as we journey through the coming days, weeks, and months as we do our best to move toward that grand and glorious day, when the pleasures of being ONE can be lived and breathed together, as we once again feast in the pleasures of ONE-another’s company. Now there’s a resurrection which will make us sing and even dance with joy! But for now, dear ONEs, may we all know the peace which being ONE reveals. Let CREATION stir resurrection in you. May you feast on your SACRED moments. May that peace nourish, ground and sustain you so that even from the confines of our isolation we can find the strength, courage and compassion to reach out to ONE-another and be LOVE in the world.

View the full Worship Video for the Third Sunday in Easter below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

GOD: Dead or Alive?

Traditionally, the Second Sunday of Easter is the day when the church commemorates the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas’ reaction to resurrection. Now, the New Testament is full of parables like the parable of Doubting Thomas. Allow me, if you will, to draw your attention to a different parable, one outside of the Bible: “The Parable of the Mad Man” was first told in 1882. More recently, it appeared in 1969 edition of Time Magazine, which bore the title, “Is God Dead?”  

The Parable of the Mad Man goes like this: “Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”  As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus, they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you.  We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.

But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now?  Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?  Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time?  Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?  Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?  That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?  There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last, he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard.  This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”

Some of you will already know that this Parable of the Mad Man, was written by Friderich Nietzsche. One of the characteristics of a parable is that it surprises us with a truth which we already know. God is dead and we have killed “him!” I think perhaps that Nietzche’s Mad Man was right, “God” the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied, wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god is dead, and it is we who have killed him. This image of god has been sacrificed on the altars of reality. All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god which we once worshipped and adored.

For most of my life the personification of what we call “God” was the only way I had of knowing anything of the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. I can truly empathize with the followers of Jesus who huddled together in the upper room. In my imagination, this parable takes place in a ghostly terrifying darkness. While it is so very tempting to lock the door against the unknowns lurking in the darkness, there is a line in the Parable of Doubting Thomas which makes me wonder. Not “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what this means?” But “wonder” in the sense of “Oh my God!” as in “How wonderful!” or “How inspiring.” The line in the parable which causes me to wonder, wonder, wonder, is on the lips of Jesus, when asks and then insists: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Like Thomas, I suspect many of us continue to long for a vision of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we can see and touch. Say what you will about the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god, this was an image we could certainly wrap our minds around. Peering into the darkness and the sheer vastness of the Cosmos, it is impossible to wrap our minds around the ONE in whom the Cosmos has being. Faced with the enormity of the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, I can certainly understand why our ancestors insisted that no one can look upon the face of God and live. Shut the front door and let me languish here in the darkness of this upper room, with my too small image of a puny god; a god I can mold and shape and worship without fear.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Faced with the vast, awe inspiring darkness of the Cosmos, it can be difficult to catch glimpses of tangible markers to guide us. Squinting into the abyss of unknowing, I can’t help thinking about the women who stared into the darkness of the empty tomb. The darkness of the Cosmos, like the darkness of the empty tomb, can send us racing back to the safety of a familiar room, a hide-out where we can shut the door and nurse our fears. Or the darkness can be for us, a place where resurrection begins, as the birth pangs of a new way of being give way to new life. Peering beyond the wounds inflicted by our personifications of the ONE who is more that we can begin to imagine, can we begin to touch and be touched by the LOVE which is the SOURCE of everything? Can we begin to feel the power of DIVINTY which is so much more than our personifications? Do we have the courage to put ourselves in the embrace of the SPIRIT which pulses, evolves, moves, shakes, and brings into being all that IS? Inspired by this SPIRIT, dare we begin to see DIVINITY finding expression in the likes of Jesus? Might we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus a way of being which is capable of transcending fear, so that we too might become LOVE. For being LOVE is what resurrection is?

The LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God is beyond our ability to imagine or express, but that L LOVE lives in, with, through, and beyond us. Death cannot limit LOVE. For no matter how many times this cruel world tries to destroy LOVE, LOVE will live again, in, with, through, and beyond all of those who embody LOVE. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Our too small personification of God is dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality. But, do not be afraid. Death will not have the final word.

Out of the darkness, LOVE springs to life. LOVE lives even in us, even in our woundedness. LOVE, which is the SOURCE of all, lives and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe, believe the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Resurrection happens when we are that LOVE in the world! LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us!  Alleluia!

View the full Worship Video for the Second Sunday of Easter below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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

 Anticipating 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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here

Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

RESURRECTION: Can This Be Real?

The word resurrection is not a word which gives up its meaning easily. Far too many preachers and theologians have tried to use words to express the meaning of resurrection. But mere words, are incapable of rendering meaning from the word resurrection. The best way I know of wrestling meaning from a word like resurrection is through a story. I know I have told this story before. But as my Irish Nannie would say, “Sure if a story is worth tellin once, then it’s worth telling again.” This story of resurrection dates all the way back to my first year as a pastor, when I naively believed that the right words could save me.

It wasn’t my first visit to Anna’s home, but it was my first visit to the home of someone who had just died. In the driveway, I crossed paths with the doctor who had signed Anna’s death certificate. We recognized one another from the few times which our visits to the house had overlapped. I stared with envy at the doctor’s medical bag, “at least she has some real pain medication in there.” All I had in my bag was a bible and my tiny, little travel communion kit. Just some cheap wine and a few stale wafers. I envied the doctor with her knowledge, her pills, her medicine and her skills. The doctor sighed, “Oh thank-God you’re here! They’re a real mess in there.”

As I stood there, wondering how to respond, I remember wishing the doctor had something in her bag of tricks which could give me the courage to enter the house. I felt like a fool. What was I supposed to do? I felt as useless as I did upon my first visit with Anna. A parishioner had called me just a few months earlier, “Could I go and visit a friend of hers who was dying? Cancer.” she said, “It won’t be long now. She’s being cared for at home; she wants to die at home. She used to go to church and now as the end draws near, she wants to reconnect. Would I please go to see her?” I knew I was out of my depth from the moment I hung up the phone. I thought this is it. This is the real stuff of being a pastor.  This is where they discover that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. Leading worship, preaching, and teaching is one thing, this, this is something entirely different. But my parishioner was insistent, as she described her friend Anna. “Pastor, you’ll never guess, Anna was once a Lutheran.

Yes, she went to Sunday School, Confirmation, and had her kids baptized, and even taught Sunday School. But since they moved to Newmarket, they had fallen out of the habit of going to church.  Anyway Pastor, she really needs to get close to God right now, so I told her you would come. You will go and see her won’t you, I know she’s not a member, but she really needs to get things in order before she goes.”

Standing there in the driveway feeling like a fool, I said good-bye to the doctor and tried to get myself to go inside the house. The black van in the driveway signaled the presence of the funeral home; there to collect the body. Her husband welcomed me at the door, fell into my arms and said only, “It is almost finished; they’ll be gone soon.” He motioned to the stairs and I got the impression that he wanted me to go up. I expected him to follow me. I was wrong. I entered the familiar room. Anna was still lying there. She looked much the same as she had when I’d seen her the day before. I’d like to say she looked at peace, but she didn’t. Her face was frozen in the same tortured expression, I’d seen the day before. The gentlemen from the funeral home stopped what they were doing and quietly stepped out of the room. I guess they thought I needed some privacy, and I was grateful for the moment to think. You see, I love words and I was convinced that words would save me. I’m a preacher and a teacher and words are my friends. Words help me to figure things out. Words help me to make meaning out of events. Words give me the stories which give shape to the meaning which I try to make out of the stuff that happens. But standing there in that room, words failed me. There was only silence. 

After the silence became unbearable, I shot up a prayer to the faraway god, up there in the sky, “You got me into this! Tell me what to do. Tell me how to help. Where are you when I need you?” I went out into the hall were wordlessly the gentlemen from the funeral home were about their business and in just a few moments the body was gone. I was sitting in the living room listening to her husband recount the details of Anna’s final moments, when their daughter burst through the front door. After many, many tears were shed it was decided that I should accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home the next morning so that she could see her mother. Anna’s husband insisted that the body they had taken away was not Anna; Anna had left sometime during the night. Anna’s daughter wanted to kiss her mother good-bye. She was angry that they had not waited for her arrival before taking her mother from her. Before I left, I reached into the bag of tricks which lurk somewhere in the back of my mind and I remembered the words of a wise seminary professor, who taught us that storytelling helped us to make sense out of life, and while there is nothing that can make sense out of death, a few good stories can make the pain bearable. Stories, my professor would say, are a good a way, as she had ever found of beginning the healing process. So, before I left, I made arrangements to accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home, and I encouraged Anna’s husband to invite members of the family to come by for tea, or a meal, or even a few drinks, just a small get together where they could tell me stories about Anna, and we could begin to plan her funeral.

The next afternoon, I accompanied Anna’s daughter to the funeral home. They had done a splendid job of preparing her body. She looked tortured, somehow. Anna’s daughter reached for my hand, squeezed tightly and leaned into me. Her whole body began to tremble as she wailed and sobbed. Over and over again I heard, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”  And I am ashamed to say that I was grateful that it was Anna’s daughter and not me that was echoing these words, over and over again. I had no words, no idea what to do, what to say, how to help. It took some time, but her sobbing began to subside and was replaced by something more daunting as even more questions began to leap out of her. “What will I do without you?” “Where are you Mom?” “How can I go on without you?”  “Why, why did you have to leave me?” For once I was glad, I had no words. No words only silence with which to reply.  Question after question met only with silence until suddenly, Anna’s daughter announced, “That’s not my mother. My mother is not here.” We left together in silence.

When we arrived back at Anna’s home, we heard laughter coming from the living room. Eight, nine, maybe ten people, some of them I’d met on previous visits, all laughing and telling stories, stories about Anna. It wasn’t long before her daughter joined them.  A glass of wine was thrust into my hands; there was bread and cheese on the coffee table, and casseroles in the oven. Apparently, the neighbours didn’t need words, just practical care filled loving actions. As we shared a meal, we remembered Anna. When the meal was over, Anna’s husband said, “I wish Anna was here, she would have loved this!” One of the guests disagreed, she insisted that Anna would have been mortified to be the center of attention, which sent the whole group of us into gales of laughter, at the thought of Anna being mortified on the day of her death. Gallows humour. Before I left, I had collected enough words and stories to do Anna proud at her funeral.

As I said my good-byes Anna’s husband asked me if I had a favorite flower. It had been a long, hard winter, and I told him that at this time of the year, I was longing for spring to finally arrive. So right about now, tulips are my favourite flowers. “Perfect” he said, “Tulips it is.” Then came more stories about how much Anna hated the flowers that professional florists concoct for funerals. Everyone it seems had a story about Anna going on and on, at some funeral or other, about how horrible these contrived funeral bouquets looked. Natural, hand-picked flowers lovingly arranged by friends and family, that’s what was called for. Anna’s husband insisted that, “as the pastor is longing to see some sign of spring, tulips it is!” So, everyone was instructed to bring tulips.

At Anna’s funeral, there were tulips everywhere; more tulips that you can imagine. It was beautiful. Tulips lovingly arranged by those who loved her. The tulips and the stories got us all through the funeral of a woman who died much too young. The tulips and the stories helped us to begin the task of making meaning out of the death of a loved one. The tulips and the stories did not take the pain away, nor did they explain the pain away, and they certainly didn’t change the fact that Anna was dead, or that her family would have to go on without her. The tulips and the stories did help us to begin to make meaning out of her death. Together we wept among the tulips and we wept in the midst of the stories and together we began to find words and to make meaning out of death.

“Woman. Why are you weeping?” “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I do not know where they have put the body.”  “What am I going to do? What will I do without you? Where are you Mom? How can I go on without you? Why, why did you have to leave me?” “Woman. Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?”  She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

If only, all those we have lost and will lose could appear to us and comfort us in our grief. The followers of Jesus were bereft. Their beloved Jesus had been taken from them, tortured, and executed by their enemies. They had placed all their hopes and dreams in Jesus. Jesus had taught them a whole new way of being in the world. Jesus had lived in such a way, taught so challengingly, loved so fully, that in Jesus they had seen an image of God which turned their whole lives upside down. Jesus’ way of seeking peace, not through violence but through justice, opened them to new possibilities. They had dared to dream. They had hope in the face of oppression. They had been willing to follow Jesus into battle. But when Jesus had insisted on living what he preached, most of them had fled in fear, and the horrible truth of their abandoning him, the reality of their failure was more than they could bear. It is almost impossible for us to imagine because we’ve read it in the bible, which reads much like those professional bouquets of flowers at funerals, designed to provide answers to the unanswerable, all tied up with neat little bows. Generations of arrangers have taken the stories which have been told, as followers and lovers of Jesus struggled to make some sense out of his death. Generations of interpretations upon interpretations of those stories make it seem as though everything happened just thus and so, neat and tidy. Resurrection happened just like that, in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus died. He was not there. They didn’t know what they were going to do. They wept. They trembled.  They were consumed by grief. Huddled together in an upper room, terrified that they too would soon be killed. Suddenly, after only three days Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia! Resurrection all tied up in a neat little bow. The perfect bouquet. Smell the flowers and all will be well. I wonder.

I wonder. People do wonder you know. That’s how people are. They wonder. Questions. Questions. Questions. What’s going on? What are we going to do? Words. Words. Words.  Anna’s grieving loved ones wove their stories of Anna in and out of the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die, will live.”  Words familiar words, designed to help us to make meaning. For the followers of Jesus, there were also words, familiar words designed to help them make meaning. In Jesus, his grievers, had experienced God as LOVE. Surely, God would not stand idly by and allow their enemies to take Jesus from them. Surely, LOVE itself could not be destroyed by the powers of evil. Surely, their God, the ONE in whom they live and move and have being,

surely God who Jesus had taught them is LOVE, surely LOVE would not abandon them. Surely LOVE would live on. Questions, questions that have no answers. Questions for which words always fail us. Questions we just can’t help answering with words. Words which are designed to comfort and to satisfy. Words that when all is said and done, fail and leave us with more questions. So, if God is LOVE and we experienced that LOVE in Jesus then, where is Jesus? Will we ever see Jesus again? Will we ever see LOVE again? Will the LOVE that lives in us die? “Woman: Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?” “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

We can’t help ourselves when love dies, we keep hearing and seeing that love all around us. It is as if our beloved is right here, in the midst of us. We hear them call our name. They mean so much to us. In the presence of our beloved, we were transformed into the best of ourselves. To hear them call our name…ah…the sheer beauty of their presence. Perhaps they can tell us. Perhaps they know the answers.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to him and said, “Rabboni! –which means “Teacher.”  Jesus then said, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God.”

Are they here?  Are they real? Am I imagining Jesus? What is happening? I don’t understand. The followers of Jesus could still feel the impact of his being on their lives. When he spoke, Jesus’ words challenged everything they knew or believed they knew. When Jesus acted, his actions turned their world upside down. When Jesus loved them, they knew the power of LOVE. When they saw Jesus’ love others, even their enemies, they saw a power in Jesus which was so much more than they could put into words. It was as if Jesus embodied the very LOVE which lies at the heart of everything. When Jesus spoke, scales fell from their eyes and they saw things which they’d never seen before. And now, now that he was gone, they could still hear him, they could still feel him. And in seeing him and feeling him, all their hopes and all their dreams of a better way of being in the world still seemed possible.

What was happening? Could this be real? It certainly wasn’t neat and tidy. Not with the Romans threatening to annihilate them and the religious authorities demanding that they just shut up and stop causing trouble. But they keep hearing his voice and feeling his presence, and the words, Jesus’ words, continued to challenge everything. Jesus’ presence continued to turn their world upside down. What was happening? Could this be real?

Even Jesus’ enemies were touched by his presence. Even Jesus’ enemies were being challenged by his words. Words designed to help us make meaning. Words which when all is said and done fail us. So, we turn to more words, other words and craft our stories so as to comfort us. And still the words of Jesus challenge us. And still the presence of Jesus continues to turn our world upside down. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of Jesus, can this be real? Our questions echo the questions of the first followers and lovers of Jesus. Our stories build upon their stories, which were built upon the stories of the ones who had gone before them. None of these stories are neat and tidy. None of these stories can tie everything up in a pretty bow so that we can present the perfect bouquet which will heal all our pain and answer all our questions. They are just handpicked, slightly askew, bouquets which contain such beauty that we cannot take our eyes of them. They do not answer all our questions, but the really beautiful ones, the ones like tulips after a long, cold, winter, they can capture our imagination and give us the courage to ask our questions and struggle to make meaning of those things which are beyond words. Things like life and death, and resurrection.

About five years after Anna died, I ran into her daughter in the grocery store. I mean it, I actually ran into her. Our shopping carts collided. We laughed when we realized that each of us had a couple of bunches of tulips in our carts. “Somewhere Mom is smiling,” Anna’s daughter insisted. I agreed and added that it had been a long, cold, difficult winter and the tulips looked so beautiful I just had to take some home. Anna’s daughter nodded and agreed that winter is brutal. She was really looking forward to spring and the tulips would certainly give her hope. Suddenly, the toddler in Anna’s daughter’s cart shouted, “Who’s that?” Her mother said, “This is Pastor Dawn, she is a friend of your Grandma Anna.” “And who are you,” I asked the beautiful little girl. “I’m Anna! I’m free.” Whether it was free or three it was all the same. This beautiful little girl shared her grandmother’s eyes as well as her name. In her eyes I saw the reflection of Anna’s story, her stories, and her love. After we said our goodbyes, I went back to get more tulips. In Anna’s absence, I felt her presence. Anna lives. Anna lives in little Anna, and her daughter and in me, and now she lives in you.

Friends, this has been a long and difficult year. Isolated and fearful, we have felt one another’s absence. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of LOVE. Can this be real? Are these tulips real? You bet they are. As real as the challenges we experience in the stories we tell. As real as the LOVE we feel in even in the absence of one another. As real as the LOVE which lives and breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us. In Jesus absence, his grievers felt LOVE’s presence. LOVE lives. LOVE lives in you and in me.  LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia! Alleluia!

View the Full Easter Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Jesus Is Fully Human: Good Friday Sermon – Mark 15:32-47

I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, together with all the horrendous moments which have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus’ plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Now, maybe that’s because most of the Hollywood films depicting the crucifixion that I have ever seen show Jesus looking up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God, who’s somewhere up there in these movies.

Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries, as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died. Questions about Jesus’ death have left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries. Why did Jesus have to die? Now, I’m sure that in pulpits all over the internet, preachers are struggling to help our listeners and our viewers cope with the realities of the violence which murdered the ONE we seek to follow. I can tell you that I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers which have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can almost recite chapter and verse of the various theories which have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I could tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the doctrines of the fall and original sin and our need for reconciliation. I could recount various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then they proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. 

The atonement theory which we are all probably too familiar with, is western Christianity’s favourite: the penal substitutionary sacrificial atonement theory. How’s that for a moniker? Popularly expressed as: “Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin.” Or “Jesus died for me. ” Or “Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sinfulness.” The theory of the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus lies at the very heart of so much of what you and I have been taught about Jesus. It also lies at the heart of so many of the reasons which people give for rejecting Christianity. And why wouldn’t they? I mean really, who wants to worship a God who sets his, and I do mean his, sets up his creatures up in a beautiful garden and warns them, “you can eat anything you like; only don’t eat this fruit over here, no this is the fruit of knowledge and you mustn’t eat this.”  We all know if you put a child in a room full of toys exactly where that child is going to go. So, Adam eats the forbidden fruit because everyone knows it is the sweetest of all fruit and for the crime of being human, Adam and his lovely wife Eve are cast out from the garden because God is ticked. According to the Apostle Paul, because Adam sinned, we are all tarred with the same brush. We are sinners and the only way we can get back to the garden is

if somebody pays the price for our sin with blood. So, Paul sets Jesus up as the new Adam, and casts the story of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. Paul’s Jewish listeners understood sacrifice. Jewish audiences understood the death in terms of the Passover sacrifice of a lamb, while gentle Romans, schooled in Greek thought, understood the sacrifice of scapegoats who were offered up on behalf of the people to placate the gods. It worked for Paul and later, Augustine would add his ideas and the notion of original sin. The fall, and our need of a sacrifice would lead Anslem to weigh in with his scales of justice and have Jesus tip the scales in our favour by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin. It was the kind of logic which worked for centuries to keep the followers of Jesus in line, convicted by their sinfulness and looking to Jesus to save them from the wrath of God by climbing up there on the cross to die in order to placate an angry God. Sure, Luther came along and challenged the angry God stuff, which the church was using to keep the people in line. Luther’s theology of grace is indeed a thing of beauty. It softens God. For we are indeed wicked sinners in need of forgiveness and so God who is gracious and merciful becomes one of us; takes on flesh in the form of Jesus and dies to set us free from our sin.

We could spend the rest of the day exploring the answers which have been developed over centuries to explain why Jesus died on the cross. But I dare say, no matter how many hours we spend tracing the details of these answers, some questions will remain. We all know what happens when the answers don’t quite answer our questions; that’s where faith comes in.  If it doesn’t make sense, if you don’t quite get it, don’t worry just have faith and believe.

Maybe that’s why Jesus’ question from the cross continues to echo so loudly in me, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Maybe if I just had enough faith, I wouldn’t hear Jesus’ question quite as loudly as it rings in my ears, in my heart and in my mind. My God, My God why have you forsake Jesus? I mean really what kind of god, gets ticked off at children for doing precisely what children do? What kind of god allows their wrath to so overwhelm them that the only way they can be satisfied is if somebody pays the price!!! What kind of god sends their own child to pay that price?

I know, I know, there are those who will try to remind me that maybe just maybe Jesus was God and that Jesus dying on the cross was actually God dying on the cross. They will try to convince me to see that God is so gracious that God, God’s-self is willing to die for us. But why? Why does anyone have to die, let alone God? What is this god trying to convince us of? Does God think that some divine suicide is going to convince the world to join hands and sing kumbya? Well, it’s 21 centuries and counting and I don’t think it’s working.

So, the question remains, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I don’t have an answer to this question. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pat you on your sweet little heads and tell you, “There, there dear ones. Just have faith and God will take care of you. All shall be well.” I can only respond to Jesus’ cry, by making it my own question. My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can’t we end these endless cycles of violence? Why do we keep crucifying you? Over and over again? When I have the courage to allow the echoes of Jesus’ cry permeate my very being it hurts and there is pain, and loneliness, confusion and a distinct feeling of fear. What if we really are abandoned? What if we are all just left here to squirm on our various crosses; wounded by our encounters with the world? My God, My God, Why?

When echoes of Jesus’ plea become our own; when we take up our cross and make that horrible journey to Golgotha and feel the pain as we are wounded by the world and hoisted up upon the cross from which we can see the violence, the poverty, the disease and the madness which surrounds us; when we too cry out, “My God, My God, why?” then and only then can we begin to look beyond the religious platitudes which have protected us from the realities of our humanity. It’s taken some 14 billion years for us to arrive at this moment and it is an amazing moment. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but humanity was not created in an instant. Humanity has been evolving for millions and millions of years. There are no perfect creatures back in there in the past who fell from some perfect garden. We are evolving and part of the reality of our evolution is that it is a messy undertaking. We have evolved into creatures who are capable of such great goodness and creatures who have the capacity to do great evil. Our evolution has involved some of the most horrific evils. All around us we can see the evidence of the destructive power of our human nature. All around us we can see the evidence of the magnificent power of our nature to do good. We have gazed into the farthest reaches of the universe and we have plumbed the depths of depravity. We know that God is not up there in the sky like some grand puppeteer controlling our strings. We have learned so very much about the man Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and died in such a way that humanity has been, and continues to be changed by his teaching, his life, his death and his ability to live on. In this the great information age we are no longer held captive by the powers that be. We can dig and dig, learn and study, question and theorize for ourselves. We are free to explore the wonders of Creation,

free to examine the life and teachings of Jesus, of Moses, Mohamed, Buddha, and Confucius and so many other great humans. The sacred scriptures are open to us and we can read for ourselves the Gitas, the Upanishads, the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Quran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, together with the wisdom of the ages. We are not confined by the logic of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to articulate his own struggles with Jesus’ question. Nor are we bound by the legalisms of Anslem, who balanced Jesus’ questions with the sensibilities of his generation. Even though some of us bear his name, we are not Luther, oppressed by the powers of the church struggling to comfort the afflicted by convincing them of God’s grace by offering God up as a sacrifice. And we are certainly not like so many people today willing to check our brains at the door in order to protect our fragile faith. We have been up and the sky and know that God is not sitting up there on a throne.

So, let us feel the echoes of Jesus’ question resonate in the core of who we are. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Let Jesus’ question move us to a deeper questioning of our own. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn/t until I set myself free from the idols which have been made of God that I began to let Jesus’ question resonate in me. When we allow ourselves to question, then we can begin to know Jesus. Not the theological construct of Jesus, but Jesus the Jewish man who preached the urgent need to establish the kin-dom of God on Earth; the need for Justice for all people; Jesus, the inspiring and courageous man, in whom those he met could see the depth of the DIVINE PRESENCE in human form. Jesus did not believe that he had to die in order to win God’s forgiveness. We only have to read his parables about God’s mercy to know that he did not believe in a vengeful God, or a God who dispensed justice measured against our sin. Jesus would not have told people to walk in relationship of utter trust with God, if Jesus believed that God was withholding forgiveness from people because of Adam’s sin.

Jesus died a shameful death on a cross because that was where his life, his teaching and his preaching took him. It’s where his passion for justice took him. He accepted the consequences of what he stood for. He did not see himself as a grandiose, other-worldly god-figure striding the heavens and the Earth setting everything right between God and a sinful humanity. Jesus was a courageous Jewish man who gave the best possible human expression he could to the gracious, life-giving, compassionate, DIVINE PRESENCE alive within him.

We are told in the gospels that Jesus taught with authority. We can presume that this was not the sort of authority the temple priests and the legal experts from Jerusalem exercised, but the authority of someone who lived what he preached. Jesus was a man who knew the pains and the struggles of the human condition. Jesus demonstrated in his own pain and struggle that it was possible to hold onto belief in the utter goodness and graciousness of God, and to trust the presence of God, whatever the darkness. Jesus lived in integrity to the fullest extent possible. Jesus did what many others have done and continue to do: he stood up for what he believed and accepted the consequences. Jesus final journey to Jerusalem was precisely that. Jesus knew that in the face of such a corrupt, violent regime, he was about to take a stand for justice which would set him at odds with evil and he was willing to take that stand. Jesus was willing to die for what he had lived his life to exemplify. The human condition and human systems of control and governance led Jesus to his death, not a God ruling from the heavens.

Life took Jesus and tested him. Jesus’ struggle to be fully human in the face of all that life dished out can be heard in Jesus’ plea from the cross, when we remember the very nature of the God whom Jesus proclaimed. The Abba to whom Jesus’ teachings point is not some far off distant God up there, or out there; but in here, in you and in me. Jesus declared, “I and Abba are one.”  “If you have seen me, you have seen Abba.” Jesus embodied God and pointed to God who dwells, in, with and through us. Jesus believed and taught that the DIVINE PRESENCE is in all people. Jesus’ insight about the here and now reality of God’s PRESENCE in people is missed when we contemplate Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin.

When we look at Jesus’ human integrity, his courage, and his faithfulness, we can begin to see the SPIRIT of DIVINITY in this human being. When we honour the reality that Jesus was human like us, we can begin to understand that the very same SPIRIT of DIVINITY is active in our lives when we struggle for justice, when we struggle to be good, to be courageous, to take a stand, to bear suffering and disappointments, to be faithful to what we know to be true, to be just, to be loving. Jesus’ way of dying reveals the extraordinary capacity of the human to rise above evil and pain and struggle and fear.

As I said before, when I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined Jesus looking up to the heavens to ask God why? But seeing the face of God in my sisters and brothers of all faiths and of none, I realize that I need to let go of this image of the crucifixion which I have turned into an idol. What happens if we imagine that Jesus, knowing full well that the DIVINE PRESENCE lives and breathes and has its being in all of Creation, in each and every one of us, can we then begin to see that Jesus didn’t look up and cry, but looked out to the people around him and cried? What can we see in the image of Jesus looking out at his executioners, appealing to the SPIRIT in them? Looking out at the jeering crowds and beseeching the SPIRIT in them? Looking to the women who were gathered below, and crying to the DIVINE PRESENCE in them? Shouting to those who abandoned him and fled he knew not where, pleading to the DIVINITY in them: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

When we begin to understand that our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, we can perhaps see Jesus’ plea from the Cross as a cry to the SPIRIT that Jesus knew in himself and his sisters and brothers and yes even in his enemies. When we begin to understand that the SPIRIT lives and breathes in with, through and beyond us, can we begin to hear Jesus’ plea from the cross as a plea to the DIVINE PRESENCE in us. Can we hear the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross as the embodiment of all those who have cried out from far too many crosses, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” hoping against hope to stir the SPIRIT in their fellow human beings?

Can we begin to hear in the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross the utter sadness, desperation and misery at humanity’s failure to give expression to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God? Can we look beyond the idols we have worshipped for so long; see past the theories and conjectures, and actually begin to feel not for ourselves and our own failures, but for Jesus and every other sister and brother in whom DIVINITY lived and breathed and see the suffering and death which has been wrought because of humanity’s failure to give full expression to the LOVE which dwells in, with, through, and beyond us? For the sake of the Jesus, who gave such beautiful expression of DIVINITY, and for all those who in giving expression to LOVE have picked up their crosses, can we listen to their cries and work together to give expression to the God who is LOVE? If we cannot hear Jesus’ cry; if we cannot hear the cries of the countless millions of those who have been forsaken, abandoned, tortured, abused, left to die, then all the sadness of this Good Friday and every day, is for naught.

As we weep for Jesus, let us hear the cries of everyone who looks to us and cries: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Let the awesome responsibility of responding to their cries for justice, peace, mercy and love, stir in us so that the LOVE who dwells among us, can find expression in us. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?

View the full Good Friday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Jesus Saves Us from Our Fear, NOT from Our Sin – Maundy Thursday reflection

At this time of year, I am often asked, “So, if you don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins, then why do you even bother celebrating the events of Holy Week?”  Behind this question lies the assumption that the only way to understand Jesus’ death is to frame it within the context of the theology of “sacrificial atonement”, which is the technical name for the understanding of Jesus’ death which insists that: we are judged to be sinful creatures, punishment is required, and so God, who is imagined as a supernatural being, sends Jesus to pay the price for our sin.  This theory of atonement was not formulated until the 11th century by the Benedictine monk known as St. Anslem. Anslem’s theory continues to hold sway in the minds of far too many followers of Christ.

The success of the theory of sacrificial atonement is a testament to the power of our liturgies and hymns to form our theology; for our liturgies and hymns are filled of sacrificial atonement images.  However, Anslem’s theory is not they only faithful way to understand Jesus’ death.  When one seriously engages the question, “What kind of god would demand a blood sacrifice?” the answers often render God impotent at best and at worst a cruel, and vindictive, a child abuser. The too small god of sacrificial atonement is a far cry from the ONE who is MYSTERY, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also; the ONE some 21st century Christians relate to using the phrase first coined by the 4th century saint Augustine of Hippo, who described the DIVINE MYSTERY as our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.

While atonement theories all too often cast their god as little more than a cosmic perpetrator of filicide, who can only be placated by a blood sacrifice, of a beloved child, we only have to look as far as the Book of Genesis, to discover a vastly different view of DIVINITY, which offered to us by our Hebrew ancestors. The story of Abraham’s flirtation with child sacrifice, ought to have serve as an eternal reminder to the descendants of Sarah and Abraham that YAHWEH, the GREAT I AM, is not ONE to demand child sacrifice. Fortunately, theologians continue to open up different ways of understanding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that empower the followers of the Way to see new ways of understanding the life and the death of Jesus of Nazareth, ways which empower us to practice resurrection here and now. 

On Maundy Thursday Jesus’ followers commemorate not just the events leading up to Jesus’ death.  We celebrate Jesus’ gift of a “mandatum” from which we get the word “maundy” – a mandatum is a commandment and so today we celebrate Jesus’ gift of LOVE. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment:  Love one another. And you are to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.” 

That we should “love one another” is not a new commandment. There were many before Jesus, and many who came after Jesus who commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus’ commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. Which begs the question:  How exactly did Jesus love? 

I believe that Jesus loved in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE which is God; that Jesus was able to live his life fully without fear. I believe that Jesus wanted more than anything else for his followers to be so open to the power of LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY we call “God,” so open, that they too would live their lives fully without fear. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.” I believe that Jesus lived life abundantly and that living life abundantly means that Jesus loved abundantly and without fear. Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE, which is God, that Jesus would not let the powers of darkness stop him from loving and living fully.

The kind of LOVE which Jesus embodied and taught is limitless.  No darkness, no power, no fear, not even death can limit the power of LOVE which IS God. For if LOVE is limited by death, then LOVE will always be qualified and quantified. That Jesus was willing to LOVE without limits, came at great cost to himself. 

But Jesus was willing to pay that price in order to show others the way; the way to LOVE without limit, without fear, without boundaries. Limitless LOVE is abundant life. That Jesus’ LOVE endured the worst that the world could send his way, that Jesus’ LOVE was for all the world, dead and buried, and yet bursts free from the grave, in ways we are still learning to understand, bears witness to the power of LOVE. That Jesus’ LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself, saves us from our need to fear death. Jesus has shown us the way. We can live abundantly, lives which are free from the fear of death and because Jesus has shown us the way, we are free to live fully, to love extravagantly and be all that we are created to be. LOVE shines in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome LOVE. If Jesus, life, death, and resurrection teach us anything, surely, they teach us not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of the darkness. Not to be afraid of living fully. Not to be afraid of loving extravagantly. Not to be afraid of the powers of evil. Not to be afraid of the power of death, because LOVE will endure. LOVE lives on, and on, and on. Jesus cannot save us from life. There is still evil to contend with. There will be darkness and there will be death. Jesus couldn’t save himself and he cannot save us from life. Darkness and death are both part of life. 

Each of us must walk into the darkness which lies before us. We can beg God to take the cup from us! But the darkness will still come. And there will be days when the darkness will triumph. There are Good Fridays too many to mention out there. We can shout all we want for Jesus to save us, but in the end we too will have to take up our cross and find a way to follow Jesus into the darkness and beyond, trusting that even though it feels for all the world that God has forsaken us, we will make it beyond the darkness. The cross will not look the same for each of us. But there will be crosses to bear. But, Jesus has showed us the way. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must love one another the way that Jesus loved. LOVE is the only way beyond the darkness.

Do not be afraid of evil. Do not be afraid of death. Do not be afraid of the darkness. Follow Jesus who by LOVE frees us from the power of darkness to hold us captive to our fears, so that we can live life and live it abundantly. How exactly did Jesus love? Without limit. What did Jesus save us from? Our fears. Jesus saves us to love one another, just as Jesus loved. This is the way of abundant life, to LOVE one another, for LOVE is of God, the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.  Amen.

VIEW the full Maundy Thursday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Maundy Thursday: Once Again We Must Worship Together and Yet Still Apart

How could we have imagined last Maundy Thursday that a year later we would be preparing to commemorate Maundy Thursday in a lockdown which feels like a year-long season of Lent.  But here we are preparing to worship together and yet apart.  Several followers of this blog asked me to repost last year’s Maundy Thursday service. So, I post it now, trusting that soon, and very soon, we are going to be able to worship with real, live, three-dimensional humans!  Check back this Thursday – our Maundy Thursday worship will be posted by 6:30pm. We’ve learned a thing or two about creating worship videos over the course of the year! Stay safe!

From Maundy Thursday 2020:

Tonight, is the night for stories. Tonight, we remember the stories our ancestors handed down to us. Just as Jesus remembered the stories his ancestors told about the exodus from slavery in Egypt, we remember the stories our ancestors told about the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gave us a new mandate, in Latin, a mundatum which becomes Maundy; the night of the commandment. I suspect that in generations to come, our descendants will tell the stories which we hand down to them about the strange way in which we commemorated Holy Week during the pandemic.

Jesus’ ancestors kept the memory of the exodus alive with Passover meals. Our ancestors kept the memory of Jesus’ alive over suppers commemorating Jesus last supper. Our descendants will hear our stories of gatherings without ritual washing, without meals, without communion, without physically gathering together. The familiar stories of slavery in Egypt, and the ravages of life under Roman persecution, will be joined by our stories of life in isolation. Our stories will be but a short chapter in the everlasting story of the children of God. Our stories may pale in comparison. But our stories will also be centered around the steadfast conviction that all of life is lived in the midst of the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE that we call “God.”

So, let me tell you a story about how the pandemic isolation began in our household. Back when the isolation first began, when we were all still learning the rules surrounding what we ought to be doing and what we ought not to be doing, Carol and I were blessed by a visit from our granddaughters and their mother. It was the beginning of what was to be their spring-break from school. We had been looking forward to their visit for weeks. So, we had made all sorts of plans to do all sorts of fun things with our granddaughters. The night before they arrived, we considered the wisdom of their visit. But it was just the beginning of the isolation, back when we were still willing to take risks. 

It was a delightful three-day visit. A splendid distraction from the news. On the first full day of their visit we decided to go up to the lake for a walk. The gates to the provincial park were still open. Little did we know then, that these gates would soon close for the duration of this isolation. It was a cold day, but it was good to be outside.

Our granddaughters enjoyed scavenging on the beach. At one point, Evie the youngest, discovered a prize beyond measure. Evie came dashing over to me and insisted that I take a photograph of her treasure. According to Evie she had found the best of all the rocks in the world. When I asked Evie why this rock was the best, she replied, “Gran, this is the best of all the rocks because LOVE is the best, and this rock is shaped like a heart, and a heart means LOVE and LOVE is the most important thing in the world.  So this is the best rock in the world.” Recalling Evie’s declaration, I can’t help but say, “Amen!”

It occurs to me, that the stories we tell of this strange isolation we are all sharing, together, apart, will nourish generations to come, if they are stories of LOVE. Jesus embodied the LOVE that IS God by LOVING. On his last night, knowing that the powers that be, were out there, plotting against him, knowing that the Way of life that he was urging his followers to embody, this Way of peace through justice, this Way of life threatened the powers that be so much so, that they were out there waiting to do him harm. On what he must have known might be his very last night, Jesus gathered his friends and followers together, for the Passover meal, and at that meal, at that last supper, Jesus gave them the gift of a new commandment.  Jesus told them that the most important thing is LOVE. LOVE one another just as I have loved you. Jesus knew that embodying LOVE is the most important thing.

So, on this strange night, when just like our ancestors, we find ourselves huddled inside because it is dangerous to be out there. Let us remember what is most important. Let us resolve to keep the most important thing, the most important thing. Let us put LOVE where LOVE belongs. Let us be LOVE. Let it be said of us, that during the isolation, we loved as Jesus loved. Let us be LOVE by staying home. Let us be LOVE by reaching out to our families, friends, and neighbours. Let us be LOVE by loving those with whom we are isolated.

There are those among us who are essential workers. Thank-you for doing all the things that we cannot do. Thank-you for being LOVE in the world. When you do venture outside, be LOVE by extending a kind word, or an extra thank-you. Don’t get in the way. Don’t add to the burdens of others. Do whatever you can to help. Reach out with LOVE. Be generous with one another. Be kind to yourself.

If the stories that will be told of this great isolation are to nourish generations to come, LOVE must be at the center. The only way that LOVE will be at the center is if we embody that LOVE in all that we do and all that we are. 

We haven’t seen our granddaughters, indeed any of our family for a long time. But we are among the richly blessed. We have the technology, and if you are watching this video, you too have the technology. So, we are blessed to be able to reach out to one another and speak words of LOVE into this isolation. I can’t wait to hear all the stories that will be told of the ways in which so many people embodied the LOVE that is the MYSTERY we call God.

But for now, it is evening, and there is more darkness before us. There will be more suffering before this long isolation ends. But you and I dear friends, we know that darkness will not overcome us. We know that beyond the darkness, there shall be light, and in that light, we shall all be reunited in the LOVE that IS God. But for now, we must take up our various crosses and journey deeper into the darkness.

Let us journey, trusting that the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, journeys in, with, through and beyond us, empowering each of us to be LOVE in the world. For this is how they will know that we are CHRIST’s by our LOVE. Let it be so. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so. Amen.

Download the Order of Service HERE

 

Jesus Is NOT the Answer to All Our Questions

I remember arriving in high school, at the tender age of thirteen and longing to learn all of the answers. So many of us were trained that way as children, to believe that growing up meant learning more and more answers. Looking back at that eager, young girl, it amazes me how sponge-like I was, soaking up more and more facts in my quest for answers. The essence of that child still lives in me now. But so does the joy of knowing that each answer brings with it dozens and dozens more questions, as I live into the reality of my unknowing. But back then the questions had only one purpose and that was to arrive at an answer. And it wasn’t until I encountered MS Wadell, my grade-seven science teacher, that I began to acquire a taste for the questions themselves. MS Wadell, it was 1970 and I had never met a “MS” before, MS Wadell brought with her a not-so-subtle feminist critique of the answers which were offered by the curriculum and it wasn’t long before we began setting aside our desire to learn the answers to the prescribed questions.

MS Wadell challenged us to ask different questions; questions the established school curriculum, never encouraged us to ask; questions which often went unanswered, questions which took on lives of their own within our very being. I confess that a good many of those unanswered questions I took with me right into my first year of seminary some twenty-three years later; still convinced that if I could only learn the answers, I would finally grow up. Fortunately, a wise seminary professor challenged the quality of my questions, insisting that the set of questions which I was working with, were incapable of helping me to move from my current position.

Alas, as we embark upon our annual Holy Week journey, I hear many of the questions which waylaid me in the wilderness echoed in the pleas which are sent to me from people searching for answers.  In the wilderness of this pandemic Lent, perhaps it is to be expected that there’d be so many more people seeking answers. If my inboxes are anything to go by, many of you are hoping that I might use my Palm Sunday sermon to set you up with more than a few answers to your questions. Some folks have even reached out with answers of their own. And it is tempting to use this opportunity to give you whatever answers I have been able to distil from my own place of unknowing. However, I’ve noticed something about all of the questions which have been sent in to me and all of the answers if I’m honest, they have something in common. They appear to project a theme not well served by the answers I might offer. A theme which challenges the answers of the various institutional teachings of the “Church,” answers which we all learned in various ways, answers which have left so many of us stuck, precisely where we are, feeling neither in nor out of the faith to which we once clung to. Stuck here, clinging to “that old, rugged cross,” unable “to cherish it,” no longer hoping “to exchange it some day for a crown,” because the answer on offer, that we “love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain” doesn’t have the power to move us any closer to the ONE we long for, the ONE who IS BEYOND our once cherished answers. So, our “Hosannas” have a hollow ring to them, a once more for old time’s sake kind of  plea, “hosanna, hosanna, hosanna,” save us, save us, save us, from simply through the motions to placate our sense of nostalgia. I suspect that my beloved teachers were on to something when they encouraged me to abandon the same old questions because the same old questions aren’t up to the task of moving us beyond the wilderness into which we have been banished by our persistent questions; questions, which not even the wisest of answers can move us beyond.

So, as it is Palm Sunday, and Holy Week stretches out before us, let me suggest that we put down all our cherished questions and step aside from the answers which may or may not satisfy us and stick with our Hosannas for just a few moments. Hosanna from the Hebrew which means to save or to rescue. Here in this moment in time, I invite you to take a deep breath and consider for yourself what you long to be saved from. What do you desire to be rescued from? No judgement. This is not a trick question. And there is no “correct” answer. Just an honest inquiry. Is there something you need to be rescued from, right here and right now? Is there a reason for you to shout, “Hosanna!” If nothing comes to mind, how about the people you care about? Is there someone who you would dearly love to see rescued? If no one comes to mind, how about the planet? Is there some part of Creation which you hear crying out to be saved?

Our ancestors gifted us with a story about a reluctant messiah, a saviour who heard the collective cries of his people for salvation from the burdens of violence, greed, poverty, oppression and grief which separated them from their dreams of liberation, freedom, justice and the sheer joy of living. The apparent wisdom of this powerful story lies not in any answers to the peoples’ shouts of “Hosanna,” but in the reluctant messiah’s refusal to provide the particular answers the people thought that they wanted to hear. In our story, the people cry out for a Messiah, a Saviour who will parade into the center of their abuse like the super-heroes of their daydreams, or the conquerors of their nightmares. The people believed that the answer to their longings was a super-hero who would ride to the rescue, conquer their enemies, through violence and carry the day in ways which would put them on top. But our reluctant Messiah refuses to give the cheerers in our story the answers that they are pleading for. Our Saviour offers instead a splendid piece of street theatre which mocks the very answers which were on offer, leaving in their wake not just trampled palm-leaves but a broken pathway to perceived victory. Our reluctant Messiah responds to the cries of “Hosanna” with answers, which inspire a whole new set of questions. The gift of this story is given to us by our ancestors, not to put an end to all our questions, but to set us free from offering up the same old answers to the same old questions, so that liberated from nostalgia, we might shout new questions which have the power to move us beyond our lethargic malaise to find the courage to venture into our unknowing. Remember if you will your own “Hosannas” those you uttered for yourself, those you cried out on behalf of others, and those you shouted out for our planet.

Now, imagine if you will, just for a moment that a messiah has set you free from all your cherished questions and answers. Liberated to a place of your own unknowing, what can you see? What can you do? How can you help? Are there questions to be asked? New answers to be revealed?

Hosanna!  Hosanna! Hosanna! No need to wait for a messiah. For just as Jesus refused to be his people’s messiah and freed them to be all that they needed to be to be LOVE in their world, Jesus is NOT the answer to all of our questions. For LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY lives and moves and has BEING, in, with, through and beyond us and we are free to move beyond our tightly held questions and answers, free to move into our roles as messiahs of one another. Listen for the Hosanna’s being shouted out to you and use your freedom to respond with LOVE. For we are created by LOVE and of LOVE, which is God, to be LOVE, here and now, to one another, indeed to all of Creation. Let us hear today’s “Hosannas” as our call to liberation from all which separates us from ONE another, so that all may know justice, freedom, joy and peace. Let us hear today’s “Hosannas” as our call to resurrection! Let it be so.  Let it be so.  Amen.

VIEW the FULL Palm Sunday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

 

 

 

Time to Vaccinate Ourselves Against the Infection of Atonement Theology

From within this pandemic wilderness of Lent, we must prepare ourselves to enter our second Holy Week in lockdown. At a time, when so much of our focus revolves around the hope generated by the arrival of vaccines, it occurs to me that we would do well to remember to vaccinate ourselves against more than just COVID. Now is the time to vaccinate ourselves against the virus of atonement theology, which threatens to afflict our vision and restrict our ability to see Jesus.  I’m afraid that the various strains of atonement theology are about to infect our journey through Holy Week. So, before we are blinded by proclamations of blood-sacrifice, let us vaccinate ourselves, lest the infection of atonement theology forces us to look away from the realities of Jesus’ life and death, in favour of the blood-soaked wet dream of a god which is unworthy of our worship! Even though you may have already been vaccinated against the various strains of atonement theory, I suspect that the residue of such thoughts about Jesus still lingers and for the sake of our health, we could all use a booster shot to protect us from the very real possibility of rejecting Jesus altogether. Like many vaccines, the inoculation against atonement theory begins with a touch of the disease itself. So, to build up our immunity against atonement theory, let’s begin with a familiar dose of the dis-ease, to prime our own antibodies to resist atonement theory. 

Do you hear it? That familiar tune? “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Absolutely, I was there when they crucified my Lord. For so very many years, my affirmative answer to this quintessential Good Friday hymn was based on what the church taught me about the death of Jesus. I, like many “Christians”, was taught that Jesus died upon the cross to save humanity from sin. I was also taught that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. I was taught that I was born in sin, that sinfulness is part of what it means to be human, and that God so loved the world that “He” and I do mean “He” sent his only son to die, because someone had to pay the price for sin. This quid pro quo portrayal of “God the Father,” led me to the undeniable conclusion that I was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. My guilt, my shame, my sinfulness, compelled me to declare, “Yes! I was there when they crucified my Lord! I was there when they nailed him to the tree! I was there when they pierced him in his side! I was there when the sun refused to shine!  was there when they laid him in the tomb?” The sheer horror of my culpability in Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin, caused me to “tremble, tremble, tremble. I was there when they crucified my Lord.”

The doctrine of atonement permeated my being. So much so, that even though, I have long since stopped believing that Jesus died to save me from sin, the residue of atonement theories continues to cause me to tremble. Even though I have learned to look beyond the stories found in the scriptures in which various followers of the Way portray the crucifixion in ways which spoke to their particular communities, I still tremble. I have learned much about the motives of the various anonymous gospel-storytellers and I know that the weavers of the passion narratives, where not eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. I know that the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John, wrote his interpretation of Jesus’ execution more than 70 years after the event. I know that this anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John, lived in a community which had experienced the wrath of the Roman Empire and lived with the reality that the Romans had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and driven the Jewish people into exile.

Scholars have taught us that the fledgling community of followers of the Way had been driven out of Jewish synagogues and were at odds with the Jewish community. Scholars have taught us that the anonymous gospel-storyteller had all sorts of reasons for telling the story of Jesus’ death in a particular way, casting the Jews and not the Romans as Jesus’ executioners. We now know that crucifixions were carried out in the thousands by the Roman Empire as a means of striking fear into the hearts of occupied peoples. We know only too well, that the idea that the Jews would have shouted “Crucify him” is, in all likelihood, the storyteller’s attempt to shift the blame from the forces of Empire onto the Jewish people, the occupied people of Rome. We certainly know that the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew has done an untold amount of damage by putting into the mouths of the Jewish crowd, the words, “Crucify him. His blood is upon us and upon our children.”

The deaths of millions of Jews, indeed even the Holocaust, can be directly attributed to Christian contempt for Jews malignly accused of being Christ-killers. And so, for years I sang, “I was there. It was I who crucified him. I who denied him.” in a vain attempt to point to a kinder, gentler, historically correct version of Jesus’ execution. And still, I “trembled, trembled, trembled.” Because it was my sin, our sin, from which we needed to be rescued. I could see myself there, watching from the sidelines, knowing full well that Jesus died to save me, and to save you. What my trembling self didn’t know, but now knows is that for centuries the atonement theory which cast Jesus as God’s sacrifice for sin, for centuries, this theory did not exist in the Christian Church. Indeed, the idea that Jesus was some sort of substitutionary sacrifice for sin was not fully developed until the 11th century.

I cannot and will not worship a God who demands a blood sacrifice for sin. Reading the accounts of the anonymous gospel-storytellers with eyes opened wide by biblical scholars, historians, and theologians, we’ve learned to read between the lines and beyond the page and the portrait of Jesus is being remembered in ways which reflect, not the traditions of centuries, but rather the possibilities of Jesus’ time and place. We are beginning to understand Jesus the man and this causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble, because Jesus the human being was a justice-seeker the likes of which the world rarely sees. Jesus steadfastly refused to take up arms against his oppressors. Jesus practiced a non-violent resistance in ways that impacted his people and worried his oppressors. Jesus knew God as LOVE and proclaimed that LOVE, even going so far as to teach people to LOVE their enemies. Jesus challenged the religious authorities of his day to see beyond the scriptures and embody the God which he defined as LOVE. Jesus claimed ONEness with God and called upon his followers to understand their own ONEness with one another. Jesus was anything but a pacifist. Jesus was an activist, an agitator who practiced civil disobedience in ways which got him noticed by the oppressive powers of empire. Jesus refused to avoid confrontation with those very powers. Jesus was political, always speaking out on behalf of the poor and the marginalized. Jesus threatened the status quo. Jesus threatened the economic system because it oppressed the poor and enslaved the wealthy. Jesus threatened the military might of the Roman Empire because of the needless suffering and death which was all around him. Jesus taught a Way of being in the world which encouraged his followers to live life abundantly, and to love extravagantly, pointing to a God who is LOVE.

I tremble just thinking about the kind of trouble Jesus stirred up. I tremble knowing that Jesus loved so fully that he was willing to take the ultimate risk because he believed that death could not conquer LOVE. I believe that Jesus embodied that LOVE, the LOVE which we call “God.” I also believe that death could not conquer the LOVE which Jesus embodied and that in remembering Jesus, we experience the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY which we call “God.” When I remember Jesus’ embodiment of the LOVE which IS DIVINE MYSTERY, I see a full human being who had dreams of what might be; a person who dared to imagine that people could be set free from the ideas and images about God which enslaved them.

I see in Jesus, a person who understood that every act of human kindness connects us with the LOVE which IS DIVINE MYSTERY.  In Jesus, I see a person who loved so greatly and taught so clearly and courageously that people were able to see in Jesus the embodiment of the very God which Jesus and his rag-tag bunch of followers defined as LOVE, and that this LOVE lived on in the LOVE that Jesus’ followers were able to embody beyond Jesus’ death. And so, I tremble, tremble, tremble. I tremble because I know that the crucifixion of the embodiment of LOVE is not over. We are surrounded by crucifixions. Just as surely as Jesus died upon the cross, those who follow the Way of Jesus, the Way of justice and peace, those who embody LOVE, continue to be tortured, battered, abused and hauled up upon crosses and executed by the forces of violence and death, the forces of the empires which continue to enslave us. The crucifixion didn’t happen once and for all, way back when. LOVE is crucified over and over again as the ways of empire, the ways of greed, violence, war, and death exact their punishment on the innocent victims of our world. LOVE is crucified all over again when calls for peace through justice go unanswered.

LOVE is crucified all over again in the countless lives which are destroyed, by our lust for power and our quest for stuff. LOVE is crucified all over again when Creation is scarred, wounded and poisoned by our arrogance and greed. LOVE is crucified again and again, when we fail to see the face of God who is LOVE in our sisters and brothers of every clan and race and tribe. And so, I tremble, tremble, tremble, because I know that I am there when they crucify my LOVE. I am there, all too often, lurking in the background as they nail LOVE to a tree. I am there, all too often, when I fail to embody the LOVE which IS DIVINE MYSTERY, when I do not speak out, or act up, but cling not to the cross, but to the comforts of the status quo. I am there each and every time and it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

How about you? Where you there when they crucified our LOVE?  If you tremble at the truth of the death of LOVE in so many places, in so many ways, over and over again, please try to remember Jesus; a person who steadfastly refused to confront violence with violence, a person who embodied the LOVE which is God and gave his life to setting people free, a person who pointed beyond himself to the ONE who is LOVE itself, a person who trusted that LOVE is eternal, that LOVE lives beyond death. Remember Jesus and look beyond the crucifixions to the power of LOVE to live beyond the grave. Remember Jesus and see the power of LOVE to transform fear into hope and hope into new life. Let us remember that we were there when they crucified our LOVE, and we will be there when LOVE rises from the tomb. Oh, yes this causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. We’ll be there when LOVE rises from the tomb!

View the full Worship service for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Repent! Think New Thoughts! – John 3:16 – Lent 4B

For far too many centuries, the clarion cry to “REPENT!” has echoed through our Lenten liturgies, urging worshippers to remember “that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  Our Lenten practices encourage us to pick up our metaphorical crosses and follow Jesus all the way to his death upon “the cross” and prayer after prayer is uttered to evoke the age old trop of a quid pro quo relationship with the DIVINE MYSTERY known as “the FATHER.” Metaphorical words are placed on the lips of the FATHER, who offers us a deal, “Repent! You wicked sinners! Repent!” And the gravity of your sinfulness is born upon the cross on which the “only begotten Son of the FATHER” is offered as a blood sacrifice for sin. To which my weary soul cries out with the HOLY LOVE which lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond me, “REPENT! REPENT!”

The appointed Gospel reading for this the fourth Sunday in Lent includes the infamous passage known simply as, John 3:16. This verse has been dubbed by many evangelicals as “the gospel in a nut-shell.” So popular is this verse that in certain parts of rural North America you will still find billboards out there in the field, which read simply John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” So many traditional interpretations of this verse have painted a particular picture of who Jesus was and why Jesus died. It is long past time for us to repent of so many of our tightly held beliefs about why Jesus died.

“Repent,” it comes from the Greek word “metanoia” which means “to think new thoughts”. Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts about who Jesus was and why Jesus died. Repent, Metanoia – let us think new thoughts so that we might ask:  What can Jesus teach us? What does Jesus have to say to us?

The way in which the Jesus story has been told has crafted, molded and shaped the idol which masquerades as the MYSTERY which we call God. The stories about Jesus have been told in ways which paint a particular picture of what it means to be human. According to so many traditional interpretations, humans were originally created in a state of perfection to live in a perfect Creation. These perfect humans enjoyed a perfect relationship with their CREATOR. Then one day that perfect relationship was severed when for one reason or another the humans disobeyed the rules established by their CREATOR. 

You all know this story. This story provides the raw material for the idol which we have created to serve as our god. According to the story humans are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Humans were cast out of the perfection of the garden and alienated from their CREATOR. Humans have tried in vain to get ourselves back into the garden, to restore our ONEness with our CREATOR. But try as we might we are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We need a saviour to rescue us from our sinfulness and our CREATOR needs us to pay for our sinfulness. We must be punished. So many interpretations of the life of Jesus insist that Jesus sacrificed himself, or was sacrificed by the Father, and took all our respective punishment onto his shoulders, died for us, upon a cross, so that our relationship to our CREATOR could be restored.

We’ve heard these interpretations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection so many times that they have almost become indistinguishable from the idol which we have created to stand in for the MYSTERY which we call God. The trouble is, we all live in the 21st century, not the first century, and we know that the definition of what it means to be human which these stories rely upon, no longer rings true to anyone.  We know that humans have been evolving over millennia. We know that humans were not created as perfectly formed creatures who fell into sin. We know that humans are continuing to evolve. Humans are incomplete beings. We are not fallen creatures. This knowledge has to change the way in which we see our relationship with the MYSTERY which is the very SOURCE of our being; our CREATOR if you will. This knowledge impacts how we interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we look at the stories which have been told about Jesus, the stories which have contributed so much to the creation of the idol that masquerades as the MYSTERY we call God, we discover a narrative which is preoccupied with Jesus’ death. It occurred to me the other day, that it is quite peculiar that most of what has been written about Jesus in the New Testament and indeed our liturgies, and even in the hymns we sing about Jesus, this stuff shifts our focus away from Jesus’ life, and celebrates Jesus’ death as the lynchpin of our relationship to the DIVINE. Imagine if you will, trying to understand the life of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi simply by focusing upon their death. Imagine trying to understand who Dr. King was and focusing your attention upon his assassination. Imagine knowing everything there is to know about that final day in Memphis, about the motel, about the people who were on that balcony when Dr. King was shot, about the shooter, the gun which was used, about the funeral procession, the grieving, and about the people who tried to go on walking in the ways of Dr. King. Imagine all the information you would miss if you simply focused upon Dr. King’s death. You wouldn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, about Dr. King’s dream, his vision of equality, his struggle for inclusion, his cries for justice for the poor, his vision of economic equality, his passion for peace, or his commitment to non-violent resistance. So, let us repent. Let us metanoia. Let us think new thoughts by taking our focus off of Jesus’ death and all we may have heard or learned about why Jesus died, so that we can see what it was about Jesus’ life which endeared him to his followers. What can Jesus teach us? What can we learn from Jesus’ life about who, or what the MYSTERY we call God is?  What can Jesus teach us about the God Jesus embodied?

The Gospel this morning comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as John. This gospel was written some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The storyteller writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Today, which is the first day of Daylight Savings Time, when each of us is coping with the loss of an hour’s sleep, perhaps it is easier for us to understand that the way in which we describe reality does indeed change over time. Yesterday, when the sun was in the same position in the sky as it is now, we insisted that it was an hour later. Today, thanks to daylight savings time, the earth hasn’t quickened its course around the sun. The sun is in the same place at the same time as it was yesterday, but today all our clocks insist that it is actually 11 o’clock and not 10 o’clock.

When we focus upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth rather than the death of Jesus, we can begin to hear some of the things which Jesus was passionate about. Jesus’ passions reveal to us the image of the YAHWEH which Jesus worshipped. When we set aside the institutional narrative called “atonement,” which the church has relied upon to interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the idol which masquerades as god, the idol whose contours are reinforced in our worship services, by our hymns, our prayers, creeds, choice of scripture readings, and rituals, this idol begins to crumble. When we forgo our obsession with Jesus’ death and open ourselves to the passions of Jesus’ life, we begin to see new ways to understand the new images of the HOLY ONE which Jesus encouraged his followers to see. Jesus’ life reveals images of God which point far beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to the Ultimate MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of all reality.

The apostle Paul who was the first to write about Jesus, portrays Jesus as a doorway into the ULTIMATE. For Paul, Jesus was not God, but a human in which God is revealed. For us, Jesus can be the medium through which the MYSTERY which we call God can be imagined.

For centuries our imaginations have been limited by images created in the 4thcentury when the institution carefully crafted creeds about the nature of God and interpreted the death of Jesus which reflected their limited knowledge of reality. Our ever-expanding knowledge of reality is inconsistent with these 4th century interpretations of the experience of Jesus. Setting aside the doctrines of previous centuries, frees us to explore Jesus’ life from a whole new perspective; a perspective which embraces all that we have learned about what it means to be human; a perspective which is mindful of the vast expanse of the cosmos, a perspective which sheds light on the evolution of our species, a perspective which provides a window into the process of healing the wounds we created NOT by our bondage to sin, but rather by our incompleteness as ever-evolving creatures, a perspective which points beyond itself to a ONEness with the MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call God.

Take for example Jesus’ passion for non-violent resistance to oppression. In a world where tribalism was the only remedy offered as a solution to our quest for survival, the life of Jesus represents a significant evolution in human consciousness. Jesus was able to move beyond tribalism, Jesus was able to evolve beyond the human instinct for survival and give himself to and for others. When we tell the story of Jesus’ life from this perspective, we, like the early followers of Jesus, we are able to see the LOVE which is God lived out in the life of a human being. In Jesus, God did not invade the world, coming down from heaven on high to pay a price for human sinfulness.

In Jesus we see a life in which the DIVINE ONE is revealed. Jesus broke down the boundaries and the barriers by which humans separated themselves from one another. The LOVE, which is God, that is seen in the life of Jesus, is the Way. Jesus insisted that LOVE is the only way of overcoming fear and division. In the presence and through the experience of Jesus’ life, the tribal barriers between Jew and Gentile, Jew and Samaritan, male and female, Jew and Roman, bound and free, rich and poor, life and death, all these divisions, they faded away. In the life of Jesus there was a humanity which included everyone and that dismissed no one. In the life of Jesus, a human community without boundaries could be imagined. In the life of Jesus God is imagined as the power of life, the passion of love, the ground of being which draws all lives into a new way of being human.    In Jesus, we see the LOVE which IS God lived out in the life of a human being.  In Jesus’ life we are able to see a way of being which moves us beyond our tribal instincts and points us toward a way of being which is open to the power of the REALITY which is the LOVE that is God. In the life of Jesus, the passions of Jesus, we are directed beyond the idol we worship as god, beyond the doctrines created by 4th century understandings of reality, beyond the primitive madness of blood sacrifice for sin, beyond the fear of a judgmental god, toward an integration of all that we are learning about what it means to be human in a cosmos far more incredible that our ancestors could ever begin to imagine.

The passions of Jesus are embodied in a life which reveals the LOVE that IS God. As followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, we are called to embody that LOVE here and now, in ways which will continue to move us beyond our tribal quest for survival, beyond our fear of death, beyond the divisions which threaten not only human life, but all life.  As followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, we are called to evolve in ways which will expand human consciousness so that all may know the LOVE which is God.

Our clocks have moved forward. Surely, it is time for us to move forward. Like the sun, up in the sky, Jesus hasn’t changed, what is changing is the way in which we are seeing Jesus, the way we are telling Jesus’ story. The experience of Jesus remains the same, the explanations of that experience are changing. As we evolve, as our consciousness expands, so too do our understandings of what it means to be human. The life of Jesus continues to point beyond craven idols we create to worship, beyond our deepest fears, beyond our tribal urges, beyond our limited vision, BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, to the ONE who is LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.

Repent, Metanoia, think new thoughts!  Discover ways of being human in which we become more fully the medium through which the LOVE which is God can be seen and experienced here and now, in, with, through, and beyond us.  Repent. Metanoia. Think new thoughts! For you are gloriously and wonderfully made to be LOVE in the world!

View the Full Lent 4B Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

How Many Crosses Can I Bear? – Mark 8:31-38

That I should serve as the pastor of a church called, “Holy Cross” is to say the very least, ironic. You see, I have never ever thought of “the cross” you know “the” cross the one the church glorifies, I’ve never thought of “the” cross as particularly holy. Long before I ever dreamed of being a pastor, let alone a pastor of a church named “Holy Cross,” I couldn’t for the life of me understand why crosses ever became so popular. Personally, I’m not particularly fond of crosses! I would even go so far as to say that at one point in my life, I hated crosses. I cannot abide the glorification of an instrument of torture, execution, death. I could never understand why people so blithely wore crosses around their neck as jewelry. People would never dream of wearing an electric chair around their neck. I can’t for the life of me, imagine that any of Jesus’ followers would have ever considered wearing the symbol of Roman tyranny and persecution, torture and death around their necks.

Historians tell us that during Jesus’ lifetime, thousands of crude crosses would have lined the pathways and upon those crosses the rotting corpses of the victims of Roman executions would have served as a warning to the masses not to step out of line, not to engage in revolution. The early followers of the Way; the first Christians used the fish as the symbol of their faith. For a very long time, I used to wear this crude little necklace, with a fish on it. Made for me by a little girl who has since grown up to become a pastor herself. I wore that, rather than wear a cross around my neck.

And before I went to seminary, that little girl’s mother, she gave me a little bit more elaborate necklace to wear in place of a cross which included a few more fish. But I still insisted while at seminary that I wouldn’t wear a cross around my neck, even after I was ordained. But then for an ordination gift, my darling Carol had her son design this cross of fish for me. I must admit that it is difficult to see this particular cross as an instrument of torture. It didn’t look quite like this when I first received it. The circle behind the fish wasn’t there. Just a cross with the fish. But this cross is made of raw silver and raw silver is quite pliable. When I first began wearing this cross, all those hugs which came whenever we passed the peace…remember hugs…remember when we could pass the peace…well back then, those hugs would bend this fish cross until it fell apart. It was all bent out of shape, until eventually it fell apart.  So, back to the designer it went, and our son came up with the idea of putting a circle behind the fish.

Today, as we venture deeper into the wilderness of Lent, this strange Lent when people continue to suffer the ravages of this unending pandemic and some experts are warning us about the very real possibility of a third wave caused by variants of the coronavirus, I don’t have much of an appetite for the words attributed to Jesus by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Mark.  Listen to what Mark tells us. He puts these words into Jesus’ mouth, “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross an follow me.”  All I can say, is whoa, wait just a minute Jesus. Take up my cross and follow you? Wait a minute, I know where you’re going. You’re on your way to Jerusalem and I know exactly what’s going to happen when you get there. You are going to stir things up, get yourself into trouble, upset the powers that be and the next thing you know they are going to nail you to the cross and you are going to suffer and die. If I pick up my cross and follow Jesus, I’m going to end up right there with Jesus, hanging from my own cross, suffering and dying. And for what? What’s it all about Jesus? Why are you so hell-bent on getting yourself crucified and why do you want me to join you?

It happens to me every year. No matter how hard I try, the journey of Lent leads me right back to the cross. And just like Peter, I want to rebuke Jesus. I don’t want a suffering Messiah. I want a saviour who is triumphs without all the suffering. Or at the very least I want a Messiah who doesn’t run the risk of having his followers glorify the violence of the cross. Because from the moment that Jesus hung there on the cross, his followers have been trying to understand, why. And all too often they point to God and they say that the violence of the cross had to happen to satisfy God’s need for justice. They twist and turn things and before you know it, God is reduced to some grand executioner in the sky who demands a blood sacrifice. And then, they’re glorifying suffering as if suffering was somehow God’s will for us. And we all expected to forget that Jesus actually said that he came that we might have life and live it abundantly. And Christianity instead of encouraging people to live, encouraged the followers of Jesus to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Jesus, in such a way as to suggest that suffering is somehow good for us. All too often, Christianity’s cross-eyed perspective has distorted the Good News that God is LOVE and we are left worshiping the cross instead of worshipping the ONE who came proclaiming a reign of LOVE which would see the end of institutionalized torture, violence and death.

So, today in the midst of this covid wilderness of Lent, when I long to wrap myself in the tender embrace of the people I miss, I look at this fish cross of mine and rather than feel bent out of shape by the absence of those embraces, I find myself inspired by the circle which provides the strength which holds these fish together. You see earlier this week, I was caught off guard by a line I read in a book about an earlier pandemic, in which the author, Matthew Fox insisted that: “The coronavirus emergency comes wrapped up inside the climate change emergency, for it is part and parcel of the encroaching of the human population into the habitats of animals.” [i]  The line struck me and for the first time in this pandemic wilderness, I made a connection between the pandemic and the plight of Creation. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye I could see all those crosses lining the roadways, but instead of rotting corpses warning me to behave or else, I saw masks dangling, multicolored masks mocking me as they dangled in the wind. I suspect that first century followers of the Way, got used to all those crosses and all that rotting flesh. I’m sure that they learned to look away and go about their business, just as I have grown used to the endless lists of environmental crises which are torturing our planet.

I’m beginning to understand why the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark might have written his gospel the way he did. Reminding the first followers of the Way not to ignore what was going on all around them, exhorting them to pick up their cross and follow Jesus.

Like our ancestors of the faith, I too would rather look away and be about my business than actually look around to see the magnitude of the torture which is happening all around me. Yes, I can hear the Earth groaning in pain. Yes, I know our planet is in peril. From time to time, I weep for the creatures who will be no more. Yes, I know there isn’t much time left. But there are so very many crosses and I can’t bear to pick one of them up only to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where it all might end in death.

What are we supposed to do when faced with the enormous challenges of climate change, sustainability, and shifting populations fleeing the ravages of rising sea-levels, and, and, and…we could go on and on, and on, there are simply too many crosses to bear? What good will it do for me to pick up a cross? Let me just go about my business!

Then from the echoes of time, comes the voice of our ancestors: “Listen here, mortal: God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YAHWEH needs from you: simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.”  And as the masks continue to flap in the breezes generated in my mind’s eye, the sheer multitude of flapping masks causes me to wonder, which cross do I pick up? Which injustice do I champion? How much kindness can I muster? How many crosses can I bear?

As the temptation to hunker down and block out the long litany of crosses need carriers darkens my vision, I remember the circle which provides the strength for my cross of fish. And I remember the vast network of lovers of justice, providers of kindness and I begin to imagine that I too might have the strength to walk humbly with the LOVE which encircles us all, providing the strength we need. And from the sacred pages of the Talmud, I am reminded not to “be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.” 

I don’t have to carry the whole world on my shoulders. I don’t have to solve the climate crises all by myself. In the words of the Talmud, I hear the LOVE which encircles us all plead: “Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Yes, we have all been confronted by such a lot this past year. And still our beloved Earth continues to groan. We can choose to hunker down and try to go back to business as usual. Or we can look at all those crosses which line our way, and we can pick up our cross. The one we are best suited to carry and encircled by the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being, we can be LOVE in the world. We don’t have to do it all.

Jesus came that we might have life and live it abundantly. Our calling is not to suffering. Our calling is to respond to suffering where we can, how we can, as best we can, as often as we can, and trust that the ONE who IS LOVE will continue to encircle us, providing the strength we need to be LOVE in the world.

So, today, I wear this cross to remind me not to be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief, or the Earth’s groaning, or the tortures of injustice. But rather to encourage me to “do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.” And this circle will assure me that, I am not obligated to complete the work, but neither am I free to abandon it.

MAY the LOVE which encircles us, strengthen us to take up our cross and follow the ONE who came that we might have life and live it abundantly. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so. Amen.

VIEW the Full Worship Service Below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

[i] “Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond” Matthew Fox; iUniverse Books; 2020, page xxiii

A Lentier Lent than the Lentiest Lent ever Lented! – Ash Wednesday reflection

Last year, there was a meme which circulated among those of us who were struggling to navigate our Lenten journey while a pandemic was descending upon us. That Earth-changing Lent was described as the “Lentiest Lent we had ever Lented” and now, almost a year later, I am called to invite you on a Lenten journey which promises to be even more Lentier than the Lentiest Lent we ever Lented. Somehow, the reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return has a more immediate ring to it.

Living here in Canada in the lap of middle-class privilege, there may be relative safety from the ravages which COVID has wrought upon so many people around the world. Locked down in the safety of my home, I am ever so grateful for the many blessings which insolate me from the suffering which continues to be beamed into me via various news screens. Chances are, that if you are wealthy enough to tune into this worship service, you are also wealthy enough to insulate yourself from the suffering which is going on in the world. And still, here we are, together, mediated over technology in order to begin our Lenten journey during what promises to be an even Lentier Lent than the Lentiest Lent ever Lented.

It seems to me that as we embark on our Lenten journey, we would do well to begin by counting our many blessings, not the least of which is the luxury of taking the time to discover what is being revealed to us during these challenging times. Over and over again, during the past year, I have heard or read comments, stories, or sermons, which proclaim that we are living in a Thin Place, a liminal space, where the line between the everyday and the sacred disappears, where much is being revealed about the nature of reality. Locked down, physically isolating, and missing out on many of the events with which we distracted ourselves in the before COVID days, we now have the luxury of time and isolation to explore life in ways we never dreamed of doing BC – before COVID.

With these opportunities in mind, the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return, brings with it a kind of urgent encouragement to journey more deeply into who and what we Earth Creatures born of stardust actually are.  There are wonderous miracles being revealed to us in the liminal space of these challenging days. One of the revelations which I keep returning to came to me from the work of theologian Ryan Meeks, who insists that “Life is a gift and LOVE is the point!” When I echo Meeks’ conviction that, “Life is a gift and LOVE is the point!” I do so with an emphasis on what I have learned from the life of Jesus of Nazareth. For if I have learned anything from the life which Jesus lived, it is that the MYSTERY which we call, “God” is LOVE.

As I begin my own Lenten journey, I do so grateful for this moment in time in which we are uniquely placed to explore what is being revealed to us about life. My hope is that this on this particular Lenten journey, we might find the courage to delve more deeply into our very selves to discover ways in which we might respond to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return; ways which empower us to celebrate, challenge, and embody the revelation that Life is a gift and LOVE is the point! Stripped of our usual distractions, can we open ourselves to rejoicing in the giftedness of this one marvelous life with which we are blessed, even as we journey toward the kind of resurrection which sees us rising to the challenges of being LOVE in the world? Dust to Dust. Earth to Earth. Ashes to Ashes. Stardust to Stardust.

Life is a gift! And LOVE is the point! May we all find the courage to journey more deeply into all that is being revealed to us here and now in these days. May we all rejoice in the miracles of this one beautiful life with which we are blessed. May we encounter revelations in this Thin Place of isolation and revelation. May we discover more and more ways of embodying LOVE in the world. May we explore, the joys, revelations, sadness, wonders, griefs, and blessings of this Lentier Lent than has ever been Lented so that together we might rise again to be LOVE in the world. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so.

VIEW the full Ash Wednesday video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Transforming LOVE: Mark 9:2-9

Today, two days collide into one. For today is both Valentine’s Day and Transfiguration Sunday. Valentine’s Day, a glorious celebration of LOVE and Transfiguration Sunday the church’s celebration of the story of Jesus’ journey to the top of a mountain where he is recognized as the beloved child of the MYSTERY we call, “God,” which is LOVE. The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark creates his story of the mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus by reaching back into the rich traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures to set Elijah and Moses up there on the mountaintop with Jesus and thereby insists that, just like the prophets of old, in Jesus you can actually see a glimpse of the DIVINE.

When the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark sat down to convey who and what this Jesus of Nazareth was, he created a story that resonated with his community. They thought they knew who Jesus was and then the gospel storyteller told them a story which gave them a glimpse of who Jesus really was. At the top of a mountain, Jesus was transformed before them. The story as it has been handed down to us, portrays all sorts of things happening around the disciples, and it is full of symbolism. The mountain is shrouded in cloud, just like Mt. Sinai was when Moses climbed it.

The appearance of Jesus was changed, in ways similar to Moses when he was in the presence of YAHWEH. Moses and Elijah appeared, to fulfill prophecy. A voice from heaven speaks, confirming what was spoken at Jesus baptism, “this is my child, my OWN, this ONE pleases me, listen to this ONE.”  It’s as though the disciples have never really seen just who Jesus is before this moment. In this moment Jesus is transformed right before their eyes and they can never again see him as they once did. Each of us carries with us our own understanding of the reality which we call “God.” 

Each of us has our own way of dealing with the awesome nature of the LOVE we call “God”.  For the most part our images of DIVINITY help us to be in relationship with this awesome LOVE that IS. We need those images.  But unless we are prepared to travel up the odd mountain or two and look beyond our images to the awesome nature of the MYSTERY, which IS God, our images become no more than useless idols. Our ancestors believed that when Moses returned from the mountaintop with the tablets of the law, right up there at the top of the first tablet was a warning which we would do well to heed. “You shall have no gods except me. You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them.”  When we cling too tightly to our images of the DIVINE, we run the risk of holding on to an idol. When we refuse to allow our understanding of the MYSTERY to be transformed by the MYSTERY, on a mountaintop, or by the seashore, or at a friend’s bedside, or in a lover’s embrace, or at a funeral, at the birth of a child, or in any of the million and one places LOVE may choose to reveal LOVE’s self, then we shut ourselves off from LOVE and we become little more than idol worshippers.

Our relationship with MYSTERY, our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, of what LOVE can do is constantly undergoing change. Change is a vital part of what life is. There are transfigurations, and transformations in our understandings which are sometimes dramatic mountaintop experiences, and sometimes just little light-bulb moments. Some of us experience earth-shattering shocks. But more often than not these transformations, they come as little eye openers, aha moments. If we allow ourselves to follow Jesus, then we have to expect that from time to time, we’ll see a side of Jesus which we never knew existed and never in our wildest dreams expected to meet. There’s and Irish expression which warns that, when you stop expecting the unexpected, you might just as well lie down and pull the sod over your head because you’re as good as dead if there are no surprises left in your life.

I can still vividly remember the surprise I had when I discovered who I am. It happened in the arms of my beloved. Wrapped in the LOVE which Carol brought into my life, I was transformed. Together over the years, we have climbed all sorts of mountains, some figuratively, some literally. These days the figurative mountain which confronts us all is the isolation imposed upon us by this pandemic. Sadly, we will continue to be separated from the tender embraces of so many of our loved ones for months to come. But it occurs to me that this particular Valentine’s Day, with its enforced isolation, offers to each of us an opportunity to climb to the top of that figurative mountain of isolation, so that we may catch a glimpse of the DIVINE.

I remember, years ago, a wise teacher inviting his congregation to go home, find a mirror and take the time to gaze upon the DIVINE which finds expression in each one of us. Now, I confess that I wasn’t too impressed at the time and it took many years for me to actually gaze upon myself in a mirror and allow myself to be surprised by the image in the mirror which continues to be transformed by LOVE into a glimpse of the MYSTERY of which we are all ONE.

You are wonderfully made, a living, breathing, miracle. Beloved by the ONE who IS LOVE. May each of you be transformed by the surprises you see in the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Happy Valentine’s Day! May the LOVE which is DIVINE, surprise you. May the delights of Jesus, move you. May the passion of the SPIRIT,  inspire you. For you are made, by LOVE, for LOVE. Happy Valentine’s Day!

View the full Transfiguration/Valentine’s Day Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

 

 

 

Transformative Prayer: Mark 1:29-39

It may seem ludicrous for this “progressive preacher” to find herself tempted to pray for a miracle. But the region in which I live has been under a strict stay-at-home order since Boxing Day. So, right about now I sure could use some sort of miracle to occur which would release us all from this COVID enforced lockdown. As we approach the one-year mark of worshipping online, I find myself dreaming about sharing in-person worship with 3-dimensional humans. My dreams of COVID-free life are magnified by today’s gospel story of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 years old and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever, and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breathe, when the time came, I got myself up out of my bed, and it was as if I had been blessed with a miracle because the power of Elton John’s name cured me and I was able to follow that Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, with my friends, I was hoppin an boppin to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother-in-law, the sheer power of all the rumors which she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother-in-law to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son-in-law away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power which lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons, is not difficult for me to believe. Let’s face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional issues, so Jesus’ ability to cure people who were disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch.

But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways which portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of god. Because after all, our image of God depicts God as some sort of super-human miracle-worker. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. So, we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. 

But, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change as well. When we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” not as some super-hero, some super-human who lives up in the sky, the way in which we see Jesus must change as well.  As our view of the MYSTERY expands, our view of Jesus becomes more human. It is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the super-human-miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us to convince the super-human God to heal someone, or something in our lives. We’ve become so accustomed to dropping Jesus’ name to curry favour with the “Big Guy Upstairs.” So, we scarcely know what else to do when we are faced with the power of illness to drive us to our knees. Far too many Christians, myself included, we have been trained to understand prayer as a transactional enterprise. Trained in the art of transactional prayer, we pray: “I believe, so do this, help me, save me, help them, save them.”  But what if prayer is not transactional but transformative? Continue reading

What the Blankety Blank? A New Authority??? a sermon for Epiphany 4B; Mark 1: 21-28

Blankety blankReadings included: Psalm 111 and Mark 1:25-28, prior to the sermon we viewed the video The Awe Factor of God which can be viewed here

Listen to the sermon here

Years ago, when I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I worked the afternoon shift at the Royal Bank of Canada’s Vancouver Clearing Room. Back then, I’m talking the early nineties here, so not the distant past except if we are talking about technology. Back then, at the end of each banking day, so after 3 o’clock banks used to have people check every single transaction that had been made by hand. Every check, deposit slip, and withdrawal, was recorded on a small piece of paper and at the end of each day all those pieces of paper would be collected and sent to the central clearing room. The room in which I worked housed several hundred machines which looked like big desks, which.  were actually giant calculators. These calculating desks, sat empty during the day, but come 4:00pm they would be staffed with people eagerly waiting for their branch bags to arrive; these operators of which I was one, were called proofers. Each of those operators, knew that the clearing house had until 11 pm to balance the daily transactions of the entire province of British Columbia. 

I didn’t last more than a few months as a proofer. I was plucked from my proofing machine by management and assigned the task of wandering around being useful. Technically I became a runner. It was may job to run around and collect the proofed bundles, and make sure that they appropriate balanced calculation tape was attached. Management also made it very clear to me, that a major part of my job was to be a kind of helper, who would scan the proof floor for confused proofers and quickly offer my help. You see when people are working under pressure to balance transactions and they get stuck because something doesn’t quite balance they can spend an inordinate amount of time stuck on just a handful of transactions trying to force them to balance. Management knew this, and they also knew that sometimes all it takes is a second pair of eyes to spot the mistake and voila, the problem is solved, and the proofer can move on and the giant national proofing machine can be fed, and the books can be closed by mid-night. You see in the grand scheme of things; the bank could not close the national books until the clock stuck mid-night in Vancouver. That’s a lot of pressure. Bonuses were at stake. So, handful of us who functioned as runners, were under a great deal of pressure to make sure than no single transaction slowed down the whole process. We all wanted to be out of there and on our way shortly after midnight, no one could leave until everyone could leave, and bonuses were at stake.  Those of us who were runners wielded a great deal of authority. We could sign off on a forced balance. We could decide that a transaction was simply going to take too long to balance and so with the stroke of our pen, small amounts could be forced to balance. We runners with our red pen wielded a great deal of authority. But we knew that our authority was limited by the number of forced transactions we authorized in a given week. Most of us would rather eat our red pens than force balance a transaction. Reputations were at stake. In the course of a month I would rarely force more than one or two transactions. I was good at my job. And because bonuses were at stake, operators would often call upon me when they got stuck.

I loved that job. After a long day of lectures at the university, that job was such a fun departure from thinking. I was one of the happiest runners in the clearing room. During my last few months on the job, the word got out that I was quitting to go to seminary so that I could study to become a pastor. It kind of freaked people out. The proofers began to watch their language around me. One night when things were going particularly badly, and it looked like we weren’t going to make our deadline, one bad transaction kept leading to another. Problems spread from proofer to proofer like a disease. Proofers were making all sorts of dumb mistakes and we were all losing patience with one another. It was looking like we’d be there until the wee hours of the morning. So, the language got pretty vivid. After solving one particularly difficult branch’s problems, I remember a proofer shouting out, “Hey Hutchings, I don’t what the blanket blank, you think your doing quitting on us to go to seminary. You’re going to hate seminary. There won’t be enough to keep you busy. They have all the answers in that place and all the answers are the same. Jesus is the blankety blank answer to every blankety blank question.” This, somehow lead to most of the proofing floor laughing hysterically, which lead to something I never in my wildest dreams imagined happening in that of all places. Hysterical laugher dissolved into a chorus of “Jesus Loves me this I know for the bible tells me so.” What the blankety blank?

There was nothing left but for me to join in the singing. We didn’t make our deadline that night. But we had the best sing song ever, later in the after-hours nightclub down the street from the bank, and I never did make it to any of my classes the next morning.

Jesus is the answer. Jesus speaks with authority. Let’s all just sing a few choruses of “Jesus loves me” and forget about this sermon. Jesus is the answer.

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another. What is this? A new teaching—with authority! Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread.” What the blankety blank? If Jesus is the answer to every question, what’s the point? Let’s just balance our transactions and get out of here. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by Christ’s authority I declare onto you that Jesus is the answer. I have the collar, I’m wearing the stole. I have the title. I have the call. I am a Master of Divinity! Jesus is the answer to every question. Go home and enjoy the super bowl. I have the authority to declare that all our transactions have been balanced, even if we have to force balance a few of those transactions, 12 noon is approaching, and we want to be out of here shortly, so we can enjoy the afternoon. Continue reading

In the midst of all this . . . I miss the Almighty-sky-god! Psalm 139

In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only LOVE can do that” Our current darkness is deep, thick, and heavy. If the media pundits are to be believed, this darkness is only going to get darker, thicker, and deeper. Whether it is the dire darkness of the climate crisis, the bleak darkness of the tribal uprisings in the United States, the catastrophic darkness of this pandemic, or our very own lockdown grieving darkness, it is going to take a whole lot of LOVE to drive out this historic, epic darkness which the whole world is experiencing. As we peer into this dark abyss, we cannot help but long for a glimpse of the LIGHT. I confess that in the midst of all that, in the midst of all this darkness, I miss the almighty-sky-god. I miss the god I used to pray to.

The god which I trusted to solve all my problems for me, to comfort me in my distress, and calm my fear. I miss the god of my own making, the idol I have long since put away. It was simpler to put my faith in the almighty-sky-god, to whom I once prayed to for deliverance. Even though I know the idol of my creation is far too small a god to deliver enough LIGHT to drive this darkness away, it is so tempting to seek the old familiar methods of praying to a personification of the ONE who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also. I must confess that in the midst this darkness, even this progressive pastor finds it difficult to relate to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “God.” I too, long too long to return to a simpler time.

I remember a long time ago, when I was just a teenager; during those tumultuous years, I was going through a particular dark period. And at that time, I discovered the Psalms. I was new to the church and only just learning my way around the liturgy. Each week a Psalm would be chanted responsively by a leader and the congregation. In my tone-deaf way, I was learning the words of the Psalms, discovering the intimate ways in which the psalmist conversed with the ALMIGHTY. One Psalm touched me deeply. It is the Psalm which is prescribed for this the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Psalm 139. I loved the intimate way in which this Psalm spoke to “the LORD” and I too longed for a similar kind of intimacy with my God. Over and over again, each time Psalm 139 would come up in the lectionary, I delighted in the intimacy of being searched and known by the God which I worshiped. For decades the intimacy proclaimed in Psalm 139 served as a goal to which I aspired. Continue reading

LOVE Story: The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On this the Twelfth Day of Christmas, some of us have already packed up their decorations. But some of us, we are holding off until after tomorrow’s, Feast of Epiphany, when we celebrate the arrival of the wise ones, who came bearing gifts. Now, I’ve heard some express their disappointment that this year our COVID-muted Christmas celebrations haven’t quite satisfied their longings. Sometimes our expectations get in the way of what is.

There’s a story about a little boy who wanted desperately to meet God. The little boy knew it was a very long trip to where God lives, so he packed his suitcase with some tubes of Smarties and some cans of Coke, and he set off on his quest to meet God. When the little boy had gone half a mile or so, he met an old woman.  She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons.  The boy sat down next to the old woman and he opened up his suitcase.  The little boy was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry. So, he offered her some of his smarties. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled at the little boy.  

Her smile lit up her whole face. It was so lovely, the boy wanted to see her smile again, so he offered her a drink of Coke. Once again, the old woman smiled at him and the little boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than just a few steps, he turned around, and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. The old woman, she gave him her biggest smile ever.

When the little boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of pure joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy declared, “I had lunch with God.” And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on his mother’s face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties with God.”  And before her son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected.”

As you pack your decorations away, I hope that they remind you of the many DIVINE encounters you have enjoyed during these twelve days of Christmas. If not, might I suggest, you pack up some smarties and maybe a few cans of coke, don’t forget your mask, and then go out, for I’m sure the DIVINE ONE would be happy to see the DIVINITY which lives in you.

LOVE Story: The Messiah Lives Among Us

There’s an old Jewish story, I can’t remember where I first heard or read it. The story is now deep in my bones. It usually surfaces in me at some point during the Twelve Days of Christmas, reminding me of the hope which springs forth from the manger. Once upon a time, there was a monastery with a long history of commerce and a thriving spiritual community. But as time wore on, fewer and fewer villagers visited the hallowed halls of this monastery. Fewer people turned to the monks, who inhabited the monastery, for advice. Even the sale of their famous wines began to dwindle. The abbot began to despair for his community. “What should they do?” he wondered. They prayed daily for guidance, but the brothers only became more dispirited. The monastery itself reflected their mood, becoming shabby and untidy. At last, the Abbot, hearing that a wise Jewish rabbi was visiting, swallowed his pride and went to visit the rabbi to ask for his advice.

The abbot and the rabbi visited for a long time. They talked of their respective religions, and the fickleness of human nature. The abbot explained his problem to the rabbi and asked him for advice, but the Jewish sage only shook his head and smiled. As the abbot sadly departed, the rabbi suddenly rose and shouted after him, “Ah, but take heart my friend for the Messiah lives amongst you!” 

All the way home the abbot pondered the rabbi’s words, “The Messiah lives amongst you.” What could he mean? Did the Messiah live in the abbey?  The abbot knew all the brothers very well. Could one of them really be the Messiah? Surely, he, the abbot, was not the Messiah?  Was it possible? Upon reaching the monastery the abbot confided the rabbi’s words to another brother, who told another brother, who was overheard telling another brother. Soon the whole abbey had heard the news. “The Messiah lives amongst us!”

“Who do you suppose he could be?” As each brother speculated on who the Messiah could be, his view of his brothers began to change. Brother Louis no longer appeared simple, but rather innocent.

Brother Jacques was no longer uncompromising, but rather striving for spiritual perfection. The brothers began to treat each other with greater respect and courtesy; after all, one never knew when he might be speaking to the Messiah. And, as each brother discovered his own words were taken seriously, the thought that he might become the Messiah would cross his humble mind and he would square his shoulders and attend his work with greater care, and he started acting like a Messiah.

Soon the neighboring villages began to notice the change which had come over the monastery. The brothers seemed so happy. Villagers flocked to the monastery and were energized by the spirit of the Brothers. And so, the SPIRIT grew, and the monastery flourished. As each new brother was welcomed, the question arose, “Could he be the Messiah?” Apparently, this monastery still prospers today, and it is often whispered both within its walls and in the surrounding towns that the Messiah lives amongst them.

The COVID-Grinch Cannot Steal Christmas!

There’s no Christmas tree in our sanctuary this year. We knew that come Christmas, we would not be able to gather in person to celebrate, so we didn’t put up a tree. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss the tree until I recorded last Sunday’s worship video. I was standing in this empty sanctuary, just me and the camera and I couldn’t see the beautiful Advent decorations. All I could see was the empty corner where our tree usually stands. It reminded me of a scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I’m old, so I’m talking about the 1966 cartoon, where the Grinch steals Cindy Lou Who’s Christmas tree. Staring over at that empty corner, it was as if the COVID-Grinch has stolen so much of what we hold dear about Christmas. The COVID-Grinch has stolen our family gatherings, and our crowded Christmas Candlelight Communions and no tree for us this year. So, I’m left standing here like a Who from down in Whoville whose crying “boo hoo.”

Back in the 60’s when the Grinch stepped up his antics, artificial trees were all the rage. Those early artificial trees were about as life-like as the flat animations in that old cartoon. But still people couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I remember our family’s first artificial tree. It may have been our first, but unfortunately, we had it for most of my childhood. That hideous artificial tree is what turned me into a real tree enthusiast. That poor excuse for a tree consisted of a center pole which looked like a broomstick. The pole was painted green and holes had been drilled into it where these metal branches adorned with what I can only describe as short pieces of green tinsel were poked in.

Every year, my parents would haul out this artificial monstrosity and erect it in our living room so that we could decorate it with our treasured bobbles. Needless to say, the trauma of this hideous artificial monstrosity caused me, once I was old enough to pay for them, to insist on always having a real tree. No artificial trees for me! Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a real tree. Except for that one year, when I was broke. I was sharing an apartment with four roommates who were also broke. We simply couldn’t afford a real tree. One of my roommates had the bright idea that we should check out the local charity shop to see if they had any cheap artificial trees which we could afford. Now it was just a few days before Christmas, so the pickings were slim in the charity shop. An exasperated salesclerk explained to us that all they had left were some odds and ends, as she directed us to a bin full of mismatched artificial tree-limbs and told us we could help ourselves to whatever we wanted. Inside that bin were all sorts of fake tree branches representing the various artificial tree fashions of the previous decades. There were fake pine branches made of wires and some made of plastic. There were even branches reminiscent of my family’s hideous green tinsel tree, and a few silver tinsel branches of that same genre. Perhaps the most offensive branches were the ones which were coated with some sort of white crusty stuff, no doubt designed to simulate snow. Very few of the fake branches looked related to one another, let alone looking anything remotely like a Christmas tree. But one of my roommates found a fake tree trunk, which looked suspiciously like a broomstick. He insisted that we could easily attach some branches to it, add a few bobbles, toss some tinsel on it and Bob’s your Uncle, a Christmas tree would be born out of this bin. Thinking that he was joking, we decided to join in the fun and proceed to gather together the most offensive of the branches. We were going for the ridiculous look.

I don’t really think that we actually intended to bring our insane selections home. We just sort of got caught up in the madness. Madness is the only way I can explain the monstrosity of a tree that was erected in our living room. There was nothing beautiful about our creation, except of course the laughter with which we created it and the LOVE which that monstrosity bore witness to as we danced in jubilation around it. At one point, I’m not sure if it was the insanity of our excuse for a tree, or maybe it was the wine we consumed creating it, but we actually attempted to reenact a scene from the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” for in fact the Grinch cannot steal Christmas. I will never in all my days, forget the joy which we had standing around pretended to be a bunch of Whos from down in Whoville chanting: “Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores, Welcome Christmas.”

A couple of days ago, Carol and I came into this sanctuary to change the paraments from Advent to Christmas. For a while all I could see was the empty corner where our tree ought to be. All I could see was what was missing. I know that this Christmas many of us will have difficult seeing beyond what is missing. Who can blame us? This is a Christmas like no other we have ever experienced. So, much of what we love about Christmas, simply will not be here. There will be empty corners, empty places where you usually sit, and worst of all empty chairs at Christmas tables. It isn’t easy to see beyond what’s missing. It is as if there is a wall separating us from the Christmas of our longings. That wall is reinforced by so much of we are hearing and seeing in the media. Our screens are bombarding us with dire news. It is so very tempting for us to stare blankly at our screens. And as the wall gets higher and higher, we sink deeper and deeper into despair.

As Carol and I continued to decorate this sanctuary, my attention was shifted from the empty corner to the creche. It isn’t in its usual place this year. We wanted to make it easier for the camera to capture it as we were recording this service. As I look upon the scene which symbolizes the myths which have sustained generations, a gap appears in the wall and I can begin to see beyond the darkness to the LIGHT which continues to glimmer with hope.

So much of the world’s attention is captured each and every day by stories of scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness. Our focus is captured by images on screens which dominate our conversations, our thoughts, our beliefs and even our way of life. Each story which portrays scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness as the way life is, was, and ever more shall be, generates fear. Our fears re-enforce the wall, which leads to more and more actions based upon the principals of scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness, and the wall just becomes more and more impenetrable as our fears feed upon one another.

As I look upon this nativity scene, it is so very tempting to linger over sentimental trivialities only to forget the subversive nature of the parable which is symbolized by this idyllic scene. For this parable which has sustained generations is the very anthesis of our fear. The parable which sustains us right here and right now denies the very foundational blocks upon which the wall of fear is built. Whereas our wall of fear is founded on the principles that life is all about scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness, the symbols of our foundational parable, point us beyond our fear to the reality that our lives are a gift and LOVE is the point.

Life is a gift born not out scarcity, but out of the abundance of Creation. A simple walk in the woods on a snowy evening is more than enough to shift our focus from notions of scarcity to glimpses of the magnificent abundance with which we are blessed. I’m also pretty sure that the mere fact that there is a vaccine on the horizon, is not the result of competition, but of co-operation. I also know that greed won’t get that vaccine into the arms of enough people to move us beyond this pandemic. In order to vaccinate enough of the world’s population, rich countries like ours are going to need to be extremely generous, outrageously generous.

Tonight, this nativity heralds the birth of LOVE, and points us toward the reality of the passion of a person who understood that scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness create fear. Jesus lived and died to proclaim that beauty, truth, and goodness is in abundance all around us. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and live it abundantly.” Abundant life is characterized by our generosity, our cooperation, and our passion; our passion which gives birth to LOVE.

Abundant life does not mean life without fear, nor does it mean that scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness do not exist. Living life abundantly means not allowing these things to be foundational to our lives. When we live life abundantly, what is beautiful, true and good, nourishes us so that we can be generous, cooperative, and passionate in the way we encounter our fear. Living life abundantly means seeing beyond the wall built by our fear. In practical terms it means noticing that there is no tree in our sanctuary this year and being able to see the blessing of our technology which empowers us to find new ways to be LOVE in the world. It means missing our families and being grateful that we have families to miss. It means being stuck at home and being grateful that we have a home to be stuck in. It does not mean ignoring the realities of evil, or the tragedies which surround us, or even the empty chairs at our dinner table. It does mean grieving, for to grieve is to have LOV-ed. It is that LOVE which will nourish us, so that we can see beyond our pain to the LIGHT which continues to grow; the light which is fueled by beauty, truth, and goodness, guiding us to respond to scarcity not with fear but with the realization of the abundance of blessings which continue to flow all around us, to respond to competition not with a fear of losing, but with cooperative alternatives, and to respond to greed and self-centeredness, not with fear but with generosity and compassion for our neighbours.

Tonight, this nativity points us to the birth of the ONE who lived passionately proclaiming that abundance, generosity, co-operation, flow out of beauty, truth, and goodness, to create LOVE, the LOVE which will comfort and restore us; a LOVE which resurrects our passion for life.

Christmas is a holiday, a HOLY day in which we celebrate what is good about the world. Our celebrations will not deny the suffering which is going on all around us. Our celebrations, if we let them, will empower us to see our suffering in the context of the abundance of blessings which come to us each and every day.

Yes, I do miss our tree. I miss all of you filing this sanctuary with song. I also know that a long dark, difficult winter stretches out before us all. But I trust the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being to give us the strength to meet this winter not motivated by our fears but empowered by the passion inspired in us by the abundance of goodness, truth, and beauty which surrounds us. So that we can see beyond our fears. So that we can discover new ways of being LOVE in the world.

As I look upon that nativity, I can see beyond the sadness, longing, and fear, to the beauty of the candlelight. And even in the silence of this empty sanctuary which is bigger than this building; this sanctuary in which we live and move and have our being, is a LOVE beyond my fear, a LOVE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also.

So, wherever you are watching this, whatever your circumstances may be, do not let the COVID-Grinch steal your Christmas. For not even the COVID-Grinch as despicable as it may be, not even this can steal Christmas, because LOVE is about to be born in us.

May you each of you see beyond the walls built of fear to the LIGHT which continues to glow. May that LIGHT help you to see the abundance of blessing which are all around us. May you rejoice in the gift of your life, so that LOVE may continue to grow in, with, through, and beyond you. “Welcome Christmas, fah who rah-moose. Welcome Christmas, dah who rah-moose.” Let us live this LOVE-given gift of life abundantly. Merry Christmas.

View the full Christmas Eve Worship Video below

Download the Order of Service click here

 

LOVE Story: “The baby that was borned was God!”

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, made the conditions far 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 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, Sophia told Dora how: “Once upon a time, before they had picture books or televisions, 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