Yes please Jesus! I’ll have some of that peace you’re offering!

This past week I attended the Festival of Homiletics. Like so many events, this year’s Festival of Homiletics was a hybrid event, so rather than travel to Denver, I was able to attend the Festival online and wallow in the wisdom of some renowned preachers. I must confess that I registered for the event, out of a sense of loyalty to my profession. COVID has dealt a huge blow to so many organizations, and every registration helps, besides an old preacher like me, can always use some new ideas. Unfortunately, the theme of the festival did not bode well for my enthusiasm for the event. But come Monday morning, coffee in hand, I tuned in from the comfort of my home-office, even if my expectations were lowered by the festival’s theme, “After the Storm: Preaching and Trauma”

I remember scoffing to myself, “those Americans sure do love the drama of a trauma,” as I steeled myself for the inevitable sensationalizing of the multitude of traumas, we’ve all experienced over the past year. I was unmoved by the idea of spending a week going back over the turmoil created by COVID, antivaxxers, white supremacy, climate change, war in the Ukraine, economic woes, and the impending demise of Roe versus Wade.

But preachers, we are trained to approach our homiletical task, with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. So, even though these days it is the bible in one hand and our device of choice in the other hand, the news of the day is part of our stock and trade. So, I expected the endless list of the world’s traumas to dominate the dozen or so sermons and lectures, because life’s traumas loom large in our business, and Lord knows this year has been a doozy. What I didn’t expect was the wallop which hit me as preacher after preacher pierced the armor which I’ve been wearing since COVID first showed us its ugliness. What I didn’t expect were the endless floods of tears, as I heaved my way from one ugly cry to the next.

In between the sermons, the lectures, and the workshops, I found myself adding my own Canadian traumas to the colossal list of trauma: the unmarked graves of indigenous children, the hatred and division inspired by the truck convoy, the floods, and melting ice-cap, and our own brand of political divisions, not to mention the reality of church closings of congregations whose demise was hastened by endless lockdowns, together with my own concerns about the future of this beloved congregation.

I knew if I let myself, I would dissolve in the puddle of tears my own trauma was creating. So, I added more and more armor to my weary soul and resolved to cut it out. For after all I had work to do. So, with my shield in hand, I girded my loins, dried my tears, steadied my breath and read this week’s assigned gospel so that I could begin my own preparations to preach today. Trauma be damned, I’m not going there!

So, hear the words of our gospel as it is recorded by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John: “Judas—not Judas Iscariot—said, “Rabbi, why is it that you’ll reveal yourself to us, and not to the whole world?”                    Jesus answered, “Those who love me will be true to my word, and Abba God will love them; and we will come to them and make our dwelling place with them. Those who don’t love me don’t keep my words. Yet the message you hear is not mine; it comes from Abba God who sent me. This much have I said to you while still with you; but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom Abba God will send in my name, will instruct you in everything and she will remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful. You’ve heard me say, “I AM going away but I will return.” If you really loved me, you would rejoice because I AM going to Abba God, for Abba is greater than I. I tell you this now, before it happens so that when it happens you will believe.” (John 14:23-29)

The gospel of our God, thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY. It was all I could do to hold on to myself through one of the ugliest cries I’ve allowed myself in a very long time. When my heaving was done, all that was left was my own “Yes please…” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Yes, please Jesus, I’ll take a big dollop of peace, right now if you please.

I know, I know, I’m the preacher and my job, my calling, my vocation, is all about proclaiming the very peace which Jesus promises. But just like you, just like our fellow humans all over the globe, we have been traumatized and traumatized people, don’t find it easy to discover the peace they long for. How can we? No amount of platitudes, or pretty words, or charming sentiments, or skillful articulations, or even powerful sermons, can heal the wounds of the traumatized.

I did learn something new about trauma from a festival workshop lead by a preacher I admire. From Nadia Boltz-Weber I learned the phrase “complex trauma”. Complex trauma describes the condition of those who have been exposed to multiple traumatic events over the course of a long period of time. For more than two years now, we have all been exposed to multiple traumatic events, which have allowed us precious little peace in the midst of our world’s turmoil. People suffering from complex trauma can experience what some call “emotional flashback” in which you have intense feelings that you original felt during the initial trauma, such as fear, sadness, despair, guilt, or shame.

Some of the symptoms of complex trauma include difficulty controlling your emotions, periods of losing attention and concentration, physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness chest pains, and stomach aches. Prolonged exposure to multiple traumatic events leading to complex trauma, if left untreated can lead to complex traumatic stress disorder.

Now I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I a trained psychologist. I am but a lowly preacher who is tasked with helping the afflicted find a little peace. That’s peace period, not peace of mind.  Alas, the peace which I am tasked with proclaiming is the peace which Jesus promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace.”

As I said before, “yes please Jesus!  I’ll take a double dose of that peace. If you please!” But the news didn’t get any better this week. There are more unmarked indigenous graves, war rages on in the Ukraine, our political divisions continue as our own right-wingers mimic our American neighbours, the floods and fires of climate change are eclipsed by yesterday’s storm damage, not to mention the vivid images of monkey-pox on our own doorstep. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace.” Where Jesus? Where? Where can we find this peace you speak of? Where is this peace which is not like the worlds peace.”  We’ll take it. We need it. Please where and how can we find this peace.

Late last night, I despaired of ever finding this peace. The bulletins were already printed, so it was too late to change the gospel reading. So, I did what a preacher is trained to do, I looked at the other readings assigned for this day. There in the 16th chapter of the book of Acts, I was reunited with an old friend, Lydia. Lydia is one of the many Mothers of Christianity. Lydia is the first European convert to Christianity. Lydia is the founder of the church at Philippi. Lydia is described as a “God fearer, a worshiper of God and a dealer in purple. According to the story in Acts, two men Paul and Silias, meet a woman and end up going home with her. Scandalous thou this may be, Lydia a professional businesswoman, of considerable means, is discovered down by the riverside. You see Paul and Silas had traveled to Philippi to proclaim the gospel. As self-respecting Jews they looked first for a synagogue. But in order to have a synagogue you need 10 men to gather for prayer.

Alas, without ten men, the synagogue would be closed. So, the woman who wanted to gather for prayer would meet down by the riverside. After Paul and Silas proclaim the gospel, Lydia invites them to her home. Imagine two strange men invited to a woman’s home? Out of such a scandalous event the church at Philippi is born.

As I reacquainted myself with Lydia’s story, two things jumped out at me. The riverside and the colour purple. Visions of Celie and Shug from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, come to mind, and I hear Shug quietly declare, I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” To which Celie asks, “It (God) just wanna be loved like it say in the Bible?” To which Shug responds, “Yeah Celie, everything just wanna be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”

The riverside and the colour purple. The beauty of the Earth and LOVE. Therein lies the peace which the world with all its trauma cannot give.  The peace which surpasses all understanding. Down by the riverside, in the meadows, the forests, the fields, the mountains, the beauty of the earth and in the LOVE we have for one another it is there where we shall find the peace to heal our wounded souls.

In the friendship, in the companionship, in the LOVE we have for the Earth and for one another, its LOVE itself which provides the peace we long for.

Early this morning, as the Sun was beginning to rise, I sat down to write this sermon, and I could hear the birds singing. The doves were coo cooing as I remembered the peace which comes as pure gift from Creation herself, together with all the peace which has been created by the LOVE of friends, family, neighbours, and LOVERS. And I remembered that peace is not just a noun describing a state of being which we long for. Peace is also a verb, a way of being in the world which moves us to be LOVE in the midst of whatever trauma the world dishes up. LOVE is the peace we long for.

LOVE is our peace. Yes please and thank-you very much for being the LOVE which is the peace our world longs for. Let us be that LOVE. Let us be the LOVE which heals all trauma. Let us be that peace. Shalom, dear ones. Shalom.

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Adaptation Is NOT Enough! We Must Be Transformed! John 13:31-35

During these past two years, we have had to adapt to an awful lot. If you’d have asked us just three years ago, how we would cope if we had to lockdown in our homes for months and months on end, we couldn’t have imagined how we would cope. But somehow, we all managed to adapt to the isolation, working from home, the masks, the technology, the fears and the disappointments.We found ways to cope with a life-threatening pandemic by adapting to changing circumstances.

Humans are blessed with the ability to adapt to our surroundings. We are blessed and we are also cursed. Adaptation allows us to make adjustments to our behaviour in order to cope with changing realities. But adaption can also allow us to continue relatively unchanged. For those of us who live as the wealthiest Christians who have ever walked this planet, the privileges we claim for ourselves, allow us to continue our lives in relative security provided we adapt ever so slightly to our changing circumstances. And therein lies the curse of adaptation. Adaptation allows for the maintenance of the status quo. In the grand scheme of things, the fundamental realities of our lives haven’t been transformed by the monumental challenges of a life-threatening pandemic. Sure, we may have tweaked a few things, but we are still the privileged few on this planet and our planet, the only home we have is still careening toward becoming largely uninhabitable. We are clever enough to understand that the status quo cannot hold, and we are adaptable enough to carry on without being transformed by the reality that our behaviour is threatening the survival of billions of people. We have largely adapted to the terrifying realities of climate change without letting the facts transform us.

I used to put my faith in the intelligence of our species to adapt. These days, I’m beginning to see that the intelligence of our species may only be able to help us adapt, when what we need in order to survive is to be transformed. Transformation of the way in which we live threatens the status quo, and without threatening the status quo, we won’t be able to adapt quickly enough to survive. To date human intelligence is failing us. The facts, we are all well versed in the facts, and we have all, myself included, chosen to tinker with a few minor adaptations, rather than seriously engaging our need for radical transformation of the status quo. So, I have to ask what it will take for us to open ourselves to the possibility of the radical transformation necessary to meet the challenges which are raining down upon us.

Status quo – the existing state of affairs – has been good to those of us who live privileged lives here in Canada, and if you are watching on a screen somewhere other than Canada, then believe me you too are privileged. Our wealth makes it possible to take time out in our day, to come here, or to turn on a screen, and spend some time contemplating that which is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. The luxuries we enjoy, afford us the time, the space, the tools, and the company of like-minded individuals to explore the MYSTERY with. We are all richly blessed.

Blessed enough to have the wear-with-all to maintain the status quo longer than the vast majority of our siblings on this planet will be able to. Today, lots of privileged people, just like us, all over the world, will gather like us to listen to the Gospel reading which is proclaimed on this the Fifth Sunday of Easter, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John, who writes:

“Once Judas left, Jesus said, “Now is the Chosen One glorified and God is glorified as well. If God has been glorified, God will in turn glorify the Chosen One and will do so very soon. My little children, I won’t be with you much longer. You’ll look for me, but what I said to the Temple authorities, I say to you: where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment:   Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples:  that you truly love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, Judas has just left the room, and we all know what that means, Jesus is about to be betrayed, the status quo will not hold. Jesus is about to be executed by the forces of empire. Jesus is a smart guy. He knows full well that the status quo will not hold. Jesus knows he is going to die. He tells the people he loves, “where I am going, you cannot come.”No amount of tinkering with adaptations will suffice. Jesus proposes total transformation. “I give you a new commandment:   Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples:  that you truly love one another.”

Love one another. It sounds too simple to our ears. Love one another. We have prettied love up, with hearts and flowers, for so long that we have forgotten the power of LOVE to transform everything. In the recesses of our imagination, we piece together the story of what LOVE looked like for the followers of Jesus, as if it were some fluffy-cloud world in which they lived. We imagine that it was easy for them. In our mind’s eye we see those happy-clappy christians, smiling as if they haven’t a care in the world, welcoming strangers, and being LOVE and it is all so peaceful, so beautiful, so groovy, with all those hearts and flowers, who wouldn’t be able to just peace out, man. “LOVE one another” doesn’t seem to measure up somehow at least not the hearts and flowers kind of love, the impotent, easy, lovin of we privileged few; the kind of love which demands adaption without transformation.

This cannot be what a man on his way to his execution was calling for. Jesus spent his life teaching people about the kind of LOVE which is beyond the hearts and flowers pretty love, we privileged few are fond of. Cornel West describes this kind of LOVE as JUSTICE, when he says that, “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public.” Justice is what makes the LOVE which Jesus commands transformative. Justice transforms and without justice we cannot be the LOVE humanity needs us to be in order to transform the status quo into a Way of being which is life-giving.

Now for those of you, who aren’t convinced that talk of LOVE can save us, who’d rather fight facts with facts, well let’s take a long hard look at the status quo: This week, I’ve been devouring a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called, The Ministry for the Future. The novel takes its name from an international agency set up by the Paris Agreement to concern itself with the people of the future.

The book is laced with facts about the status quo. Stanley Robinson writes this:“Possibly some of the richest two percent of the world’s population have decided to give up on the pretense that “progress” or “development” or “prosperity” can be achieved for all eight billion of the world’s people. For quite a long time, a century or two, this “prosperity for all” goal had been the line taken; that although there was inequality now, if everyone just stuck to the program and did not rock the boat, the rising tide would eventually float even the most high-and-dry among them.

But early in the twenty-first century it became clear that the planet was incapable of sustaining everyone alive at Western levels, and at that point the richest pulled away into their fortress mansions, bought the governments or disabled them from action against them, and bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized better time, which really came down to just the remainder of their lives, and perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling optimistic—beyond that, après moi le deluge.

A rational response to an intractable problem. But not really. There was scientifically supported evidence to show that if the Earth’s available resources were divided up equally among all eight billion humans, everyone would be fine. They would all be at adequacy, and the scientific evidence very robustly supported the contention that people living at adequacy, and confident they would stay there (a crucial point), were healthier and thus happier than rich people. So the upshot of that equal division would be an improvement for all.

Rich people would often snort at this last study, then go off and lose sleep over their bodyguards, tax lawyers, legal risks—children crazy with arrogance, love not at all fungible—over-eating and over-indulgence generally, resulting health problems, ennui and existential angst—in short, an insomniac face plant into the realization that science was once again right, that money couldn’t buy health or love or happiness.

Although it has to be added that a reliable sufficiency of money is indeed necessary to scaffold the possibility of those good things. The happy medium, the Goldilocks zone in terms of personal income, according to sociological analyses, seemed to rest at around 100,000 US dollars a year, or about the same amount of money that most working scientists made, which was a little suspicious in several senses, but there it stood: data. And one can run the math.

The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 wats of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. The society’s members then tried living on that amount of electricity to see what it was like: they found it was by no means a form of suffering; it was even reported to feel more stylish and meaningful to those who undertook the experiment.

So, is there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training peopled and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough and everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education.

Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things (I just listed) and your children will have them too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security.If one percent of the humans alive controlled everyone’s work, and took far more than their share of the benefits of that work, while also blocking the project of equality and sustainability however they could, that project would become more difficult. This would go without saying, except it needs to be said. To be clear, concluding in brief: there is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which on one can rise. Enough is as good as a feast—or better. Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader.”

I am struck by the way in which Stanley Robinson lays out the facts, transforming our perceptions of the status quo, into a vision of reality which sounds so much like, the basileia ton theon, the kin-dom of GOD which Jesus taught a new kind of status quo in which everyone has enough. This basilea of DIVINITY, this way of being LOVE in the world, is not the kind of justice which can be achieved by merely adapting, this kind of justice requires transformation. We have been richly blessed. By we, I do not mean, we privileged few. The Earth’s blessings are more than enough for everyone.Today, here and now, LOVing one another, requires the kind of justice which is transformative.

Listen again to the transformative cry for justice: “I give you a new commandment:  Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples:  that you truly love one another.” We, my friends, we have been richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Let us be transformed. Let us be justice, so that all may know in us, the LOVE which transformative.

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Tabitha! Arise! LOVE DIVINELY Intertwined!

Sure, when you are blessed to have a Mom who is from Belfast, it is almost impossible to be a literalist…so it t’is. Like people everywhere, people who’re from Belfast, have their own way of speaking the Queen’s English…so they do. An the way they talk’s enough ta make ya think twice before you’d ever make the mistake of takin the written word literally. Sure it twas m’ Belfast Mommy, who prepared me well to make a living searching for the more than literal meaning of a story…so it was.  For if I was to take the words in the story of the resurrection of Tabitha literally, I can hear my Mom saying, “Ach away and give your head a shake, catch yourself on, you wee melter.”

Let me break that down for you. “Ach away.”  Now you might guess that “ach away” means “go away”, or you might confuse “ach away” with the American “get otta here” and ye’d be close, but no cigar, for “ach away” means just the same as another Belfast phrase, “come here, wait’ll a tell ya. That’s right in Belfast, “come here wait’ll a tell ya” and “ach away” mean the same thing.

“Ach away and give your head a shake, catch yourself on you wee melter.” Well now, why don’t we give the second part of this a go, literally:  “give your head a shake.”  Go on. I mean it, “give your head a shake.” Well, all you who actually gave your head a shake, you might actually be a literalist because you see when my Belfast Mom, says, “give your head a shake” what she actually means is, well how shall I put this, 

Canadian’s might use a very common Anglo-Saxon curse word in front of the word off, in this case, one of those words that would have prompted me Mom to send me for a bar of soap. I’ll just have to trust that you get my meaning, cause I’m not going to use the Canadian equivalent, not in church…and so. So, what about the next one, “catch yourself on”. Anybody know how to take that one literally? No you can’t actually catch yourself on, so even if you wanted to you can’t take that one literally… so ya can’t. Catch yourself on simply means, wise up…so it does.

Ok we’re almost there, “Ach away and give your head a shake, catch yourself on you wee melter.”Come ere, and blankety blank yourself, wise up, “you wee melter” any ideas? I’ll give you a hint “wee” in Belfast can mean anything at all, and nothing in particular. But “melter”, well you don’t wanna be called a “melter”. Melter simply means that you are annoying…so it does.  So, when I tell you that words, especially words which people have bothered to put down on the page, believe me when I tell ya, words have a more-than-literal meaning… so they do.

Sadly, there are more than a few we melters who insist upon scundering me to no end…so the do. Scunder, scundering, one of my favourite Belfast ways of saying that to take the words of any story literally is just plain scundering…so it tis. That is to say depressing. Sure tis so depressing when people settle for the literal meaning of the words, so, ach away and give your heads a shake, catch yourselves on and don’t be wee melters, because I’m about to read you a Gospel story, in which we are about to discover, the more-than-literal meaning of the story of the Resurrection of Tabitha or is it Dorcas?

Our Gospel comes to us from the ninth chapter of  Book of Acts, which scholars tell us was written by the same anonymous gospel-story-teller who wrote the book we know as Luke. 

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple, a woman named Tabitha—“Dorcas,” in Greek—who never tired of doing kind things or giving to charity. About this time she grew ill and died. They washed her body and laid her out in an upstairs room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter with the urgent request, “Please come over to us without delay.”  Peter set out with them as they asked. Upon his arrival, they took him upstairs to the room. All the townswomen who had been widowed stood beside him weeping, and showed him the various garments Dorcas had made when she was still with them. Peter first made every on go outside, then knelt down and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, stand up.” She opened her eyes, then looked at Peter and sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her to her feet. The next thing he did was to call in those who were believers—including the widows—to show them that she was alive. This became known all over Joppa and, because of it, many came to believe in Jesus Christ. Peter remained awhile in Joppa, staying with Simon, a leather tanner.” (Acts 9:36-43)

An so, there you have it, the Gospel according to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The miraculous story of how the Apostle Peter raised a disciple named Tabitha from the dead. You all know that when someone is dead, that’s it, they are dead. Well in Belfast dead doesn’t mean what you think it means. If my Mommy were to say something is “dead on” she’d be telling me that “it’s not a problem.” And being dead isn’t a problem in this story because Tabitha is about to stand up. Ah, but give your head a shake because this story was written in Greek and the word for stand up, sit up, rise up, is the very same as the word we translate as “resurrection.”

And you can catch yourself on, if you’re saying to yourself, “there’s about as much chance of a person standing up after they’ve actually been dead as there is of little green men from outer space landing on Wayne Drive. Or, maybe you’re the generous type and so you say, “don’t be too hasty, it could happen if the person wasn’t really dead. I mean maybe Tabitha’s friends got it wrong and she just appeared to be dead.” Catch yourself on, the story says that Tabitha died, then her friends washed her body and laid her out in an upper room. Then since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter who was in Lydda and they asked Peter to head back to Lydda which was about 10 miles away.

That’s a 20-mile round trip on foot with a walking speed of about 3 miles per hour, it would take at least 7 hours. She was definitely dead the situation was anything but dead on. According to the story Peter sends everyone out of the room, knelt down and prayed and then said, “Tabitha, stand up.” And she did just that. The story of the raising of Tabitha is one of those stories which we wouldn’t believe for a second if it wasn’t in the Bible. I suspect that when it comes to stories from the Bible, most of us don’t really believe that they happened exactly the way the Bible says they happened. Or do we? Stories like the raising of Tabitha make many of us uncomfortable. Because it’s stories like this which make the bible so difficult to deal with.

According to New Testament scholar Marcus Borg: “In the last half century, more Christians have left the church because of the Bible than for any other single reason.” Biblical literalism which despite popular opinion is actually a modern and not an ancient approach to scripture, has boxed many 21st century minds into a proverbial corner from which the only escape is to reject the Bible as a source of wisdom. From the very beginning of Christianity, the Scriptures have been understood as a complex mix of historical, metaphorical, allegorical, and symbolic writings which reflect the relationship between the CREATOR and Creation. It is only in about the past 200 years or so that people begin insisting that the bible must be accepted as the literal factual historical truth.

The stories about Creation found in the book of Genesis are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sinking the beliefs of the faithful. Unable to check their brains at the door, many Christians have simply refused to cross the threshold of the church and disengaged from even trying to relate to texts that appear locked in a mindset that is trapped in a bygone age. The predominance of Biblical literalism has left so many Christians desperately clinging to the Bible fearing that if one single portion of the text is determined not to be the literal factual truth then the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and their faith will be lost. 

And so, the arguments about the truth of the Bible have come to overshadow the wisdom which is to be found in the sacred texts and in some stories positively bulges between the lines of the scared pages. Sadly, the preoccupation with the literal factual truth of scripture has become a distraction which has kept too many people from exploring the more-than-literal truth and the wonders of metaphor, allegory, and symbol have been lost to all but the brave few who dare to challenge the lopsided literal approach to truth. So, let’s just give our heads a shake, wise up and start from the beginning.

This story begins in Joppa, which today is known as the cosmopolitan city of Jaffa. Jaffa is a city on the coast of the Mediterranean and when the Acts of the Apostles was written at the turn of the first century, Joppa was every bit as cosmopolitan as Jaffa is today. A first century audience would have heard in the name Joppa a clue to alert them to the fact that the followers of Jesus were venturing beyond the predominately Jewish area of the Roman Empire. In Joppa, the followers of the way would encounter a very gentile society where questions about mixing with non-jews were similar to the questions Catholics and Protestants used to raise in Belfast.

Joppa was the city from which the prophet Jonah set out for Tarshish on his ill-fated journey to escape the will of the ALMIGHTY. And for this reason alone the name Joppa conjured up images of a city on the outer edge or the boundary of the Jewish faith. But I’ll return to the notion of boundaries in a moment.  

Now, I’ve told you before that whenever you are dealing with an ancient text, names matter. Just as surely as the name Adam literally means Earth, or Abraham literally means father of nations, or Jesus which comes from Joshua literally means YAHWEH, names are important. YAHWEH which literally means I AM WHO I AM. Everything is in the name. And just in case you forget to pay attention to names,  the writer of Acts spells it out for you in both Aramaic and in Greek when he introduces the woman named Tabitha which he tells us is Dorcas in Greek— so let me tell you that Dorcas literally means gazelle.

Gazelle a word that literally comes from an older Arabic word for “LOVE” is the name given to that splendid creature we sometimes call an antelope. Gazelles are very common in the Middle East especially the variety which has become known as the dorcas antelope, which literally means “the love, love.” But wait it gets even better. Because the writer of the book of Acts would have known just as well as his listeners that the mere mention of a dorcas antelope would have conjured up images of religious controversy. 

Gazelles you see inhabited a strange sort of boundary when it came to Jewish dietary laws. A gazelle is four-footed cloven-hoofed animal which chews its cud. This puts the gazelle in a category known as “clean” which means that it could be eaten. But because the gazelle is not a domesticated animal, it could be hunted and eaten, but it could not be sacrificed in the temple. Wild animals could not be eaten in connection with any religious rite. The gazelle which inhabits the land on the boundaries of the cities and towns, living on the fringes of civilization was hunted for its meat, and although it was deemed clean and therefore it was permissible to eat a gazelle, a gazelle is also wild and so it needed to be kept well away from any religious ceremony, because a gazelle could not be consecrated. 

Now, I realize that I’m running the risk of losing some of you with too much detail, so let me give you a clue here. The early followers of the Jesus were in a quandary as to how to deal with gentile converts. Could they sit down to a meal and eat with the uncircumcised and risk ritual impurity? Could they let the uncircumcised come to the table? In addition to bringing up issues of ritual purity the gazelle would have also provoked images of something, or should I say someone far more crucial to the Jewish listener. I told you before that the word gazelle literally means LOVE.

So, who else was called LOVE? GOD is LOVE right? Well in Jewish art the gazelle is used as a symbol for YAHWEH. But even more interesting than that, the gazelle was also used to illustrate the life-giving aspect of YAHWEH. In a culture where the majority could not read, pictures were used to represent the details of the faith and the life-giving aspect of YAHWEH which is LOVE were depicted by images of the gazelle. Now there’s so much more that I could tell you about the symbol of the Gazelle, but I simply don’t have time and yees’d be tell me to catch me-self on, or worse to give my head a shake.

Suffice it to say that the writer of Acts was determined that his listeners did not fail to see that, and I quote, that “Tabitha—that is Dorcas in Greek” is named for YAWHEH who also inhabits the boundaries, the margins of the Jewish faith. By giving the name in both Aramaic and in Greek the author practically hits us over the head with the fact that this woman symbolizes something far greater than we can even begin to imagine, for she bears the name of YAHWEH who is LOVE.

So, if you need to limit her to being an actual living breathing human being who, if you traveled back in time you could take a picture of her and say “here she is,” then you are going to limit yourself to the literal truth, and you will fail to see the more-than-literal truth that this story is trying to tell us and that my friends is scundering. The author has set his listeners up for a story which expresses more than words can tell. Need I remind you that the literal meaning of metaphor is that which is “beyond words”. Meta means beyond and phor means word, metaphor means to carry beyond the words.

So listen up, you are about to hear a metaphor about Joppa a town on the boundaries of Judaism where Jews and Gentiles mix and the lead character in the story is Tabitha—Dorcas in Greek who is by her very name both Aramaic and Greek the product of the mixing of races and religions, whose very name represents a creature which inhabits the fringes of civilization, and is by nature both clean and unclean, acceptable and yet not acceptable, and whose very name symbolizes YAHWEH who is LOVE.

Clearly this story is so much more-than-literal. So let me give you one more fact to throw into the mix. The antelope has horns and in the Middle East the Dorcas Antelope uses its horns to dig for water. Water is the stuff of life. Indeed, the early followers of Jesus referred to Jesus himself as the Living Water.

Tabitha—Dorcas in Greek is described as a disciple who never tired of doing kind things or giving to charity. She represents the gentile convert to faith in the Jesus’ Way of being, who at the time inhabited the fringes of the early communities of Followers of the Way. At the very time when Jesus’ Jewish followers were debating the inclusion of the gentiles, Peter is called upon to raise this gentile convert from the dead. To demonstrate her value to the community the townswomen showed Peter (whose name literally means rock, indicating that he is the rock who will serve as the foundation of the community). The women, show Peter, the fruits of Tabitha’s faith. In the various garments which she wove together, Peter sees all the evidence he needs, to weave gentiles and Jews, women and me, slaves and free together.

And so, he tells everyone to go outside, then Peter kneels down and prays. Turning to the body, Peter said, “Tabitha, stand up.” And here the first hearers of this story would have heard the echo of an earlier story in which Jesus uttered the words, “Tilitha cum”. Which actually means “little girl stand up.” And just in case you missed it, the literal meaning of the word which gets translated into English as resurrection also quite literally means “stand up”.

And low and behold Tabitha opens her eyes. Opening her eyes, they would have been catching themselves back in the day, because they all knew that gazelles with eyes open…mean life!  DIVINE life! With her eyes open, our text says Tabitha “sat up” but in the Greek the word is the same for as the word for “stand up” or resurrect. DIVINE life is restored to a gentile convert. This story is not about the resurrection of an individual. It is about much more than that. It is about the gift of DIVINE life being extended beyond the boundaries of Jewish religious life.

And just in case you still don’t get it, the writer of Acts tells you in the last line of today’s lesson that, “Peter remained awhile in Joppa, staying with Simon, a leather tanner.” Now in case you missed it, Simon was Peter’s name before Jesus gave him the name Peter. And if you still don’t get it, this Simon is described as a leather tanner. Now every self-respecting Jew would have known that contact with a leather tanner makes you ritually impure because tanning leather requires contact with corpses which is a definite no no if you’re an observant Jew.

And so, the writer of Acts sets up his listeners for the next story in Acts, which describes Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and Peter’s dilemma about what the followers of Jesus can and cannot eat, and who they can and cannot eat with. And just in case you’ve forgotten Peter’s vision, suffice it to say that LOVE wins out in the end. LOVE, antelope, gazelle, Tabitha, Dorcas, YAHWEH are all intimately and DIVINELY intertwined to reveal the very nature of our CREATOR who breaks all our boundaries so that we can dwell in LOVE with all our neighbours.

That dear friends is the more-than-literal truth about the raising of Tabitha. As for me, I don’t know if this story actually happened this way, but I do know that this story is absolutely true! God is LOVE and LOVE traverses and triumphs over boundaries. So, catch yourself on, wise up, you wee loves and be the LOVE your mothers raised you up to be.

I am indebted to Rick Strelan’s excellent essay “Tabitha: The GAZELL of Joppa” published in 2019 in the Biblical Theology Bulletin: Journal of Bible and Culture – follow this link for more details:  here

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Of all the things I have missed these past two years, Communion didn’t even make the list.

These past two years have been challenging in many ways. Today, I’d like to focus on a challenge which in the grand scheme of things, may seem insignificant. For some of us who have chosen to gather in community to celebrate the MYSTERY of the LOVE we call GOD around Word and Sacrament, the challenge of participating in the Sacraments has brought with it some interesting revelations. Technology helped us with the Word part of worship.
Indeed, congregations all over the planet have managed in various ways to traverse the steep learning curve of technology which has empowered them to proclaim the WORD in worship in new and innovative ways. And while two years of worshipping primarily online has provided some interesting revelations about the way in which we experience the WORD in worship,

I’d like us to turn our attention both here in this sanctuary and indeed, out there among those of you participating online, to some of the disturbing revelations about the Sacrament of the Eucharist which have come to light after two long years of abstaining from the Eucharist. I say abstaining because for two years during which we were only able to worship in-person for a brief period last fall, we didn’t celebrate Communion. Even when we returned to in-person gatherings, on March 20th, we didn’t resume the celebration until just 3 weeks ago on Easter Sunday. So, in two years, we, here at Holy Cross have only celebrated Holy Communion twice.

Speaking only for myself, I have to confess that while I desperately missed gathering in-person to worship with this congregation in the flesh, I really didn’t miss celebrating Communion. I know that many worship leaders made different decisions during lockdown and discovered various ways to celebrate Communion over the internet. While we briefly considered using those individual plastic sealed containers of a sip of wine and a thin wafer, the idea of all that packaging, left much to be desired.

And yes, I have absolutely no difficulty understanding that the SPIRIT is not bound to the physicality of our sanctuaries and indeed can work wonders over the internet, I must confess that I just wasn’t feeling the need to give it a try. It wasn’t until Easter Sunday and the challenges of celebrating Communion safely with all the COVID protocols in place, that my own faith in the power of Communion was severely challenged. So, as word reached me this week, of several of our members testing positive for COVID, even though I know that they were infected elsewhere, and that over time we are all going to be infected by OMICRON, I had to ask myself and eventually our Worship Team, should we continue to take the risk of celebrating Communion.

It wasn’t until I allowed myself, to actually listen and hear the words repeated in the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s story of Jesus celebrating breakfast with some of his followers. Writing some seventy years after the life of Jesus, our gospel-storyteller sets a scene in which Jesus, repeats words which speak to me, challenging me to actually taste and see the goodness of the LOVE we call GOD. When speaking to Peter, you remember Peter the friend of Jesus who, when push came to shove, when it really mattered, Peter is the one who betrayed Jesus not once but three times, Jesus sits Peter down by the lake, and not once, not twice, but three times, Jesus puts Peter in his place. In my sacred imagination, I can see the two friends sitting on the lakeshore, and I like to think that Jesus invited the friend he called his Rock to sit upon a rock, and ask not once, not twice, but three times, “Peter, I thought you were my rock, but all things considered, I have to ask, do you love me?” I can see Peter visibly shrivel sitting there remembering what he did and didn’t do or say. “Yes Rabbi, you know I’m your friend.”

It is Jesus’ response which speaks to me now, “Then feed my lambs.” In my sacred imagination, I’m right there on the adjacent rock shrivelling along with Peter, when Jesus asks again, “Do you love me.” I hear the words, “Care for my sheep.” and again I hear Jesus insist, “Feed my sheep.” Yes, I know it’s my imagination speaking to me. Yes, I know I’ve entered the realm of metaphor. You are neither lambs nor sheep and I’m certainly not Peter, and all the New Testament scholars I love and respect, insist that the historical Jesus didn’t actually say these words. Like Peter, I have all sorts of reasons for denying Jesus. Not the least of which is the fact that this world-wide pandemic ain’t over just yet, and I, we together, we have a duty of care, and feeding people remains a risky endeavour.

So, on Friday, I met with our Worship Team and we talked about the challenges of safely celebrating Communion. It was a good conversation, a conversation when I learned that I am not alone in wondering why? So, we tweaked our protocols, and I was encouraged to consider celebrating Communion in one kind, that is to say distributing the bread but not the wine, because passing wine around brings with it safety challenges, and after all, breaking bread together ought to be enough for us to experience the visible tangible means of GOD’s grace. So, we decided, loosely that we would remind one another that the word companionship comes from the French pan for bread, com means with, companions are those who break bread with one another. I confess that I was prepared to leave it at that.

But in my sacred imagination, I kept hearing Jesus say, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Not just once, not just twice, not just three times, on and on it went, until finally I crumbled.
As the solid rock of my avoidance crumbled, I finally began to see what I didn’t want it to be revealed.
So, let me confess to you my beloved community, both here in the room and online, the truth is of all the things I have missed these past two years, Communion doesn’t even make the list. Once the truth was revealed to me, after I dried my tears, I had to ask myself, “Why?”. Why haven’t I missed Communion?

Over the course of my life in the Church, the Sacrament of Communion has fed and nourished me in ways I can’t even begin to count. Yes, my understanding of the Sacraments has changed over the years.
Long gone are the notions of Communion as a sombre penitential act of remembering Jesus as a sacrifice for sin. Over the years, I came to understand our Lutheran theology about celebrating the sacrament as a visible, tangible means of GOD’s grace. Not a blood sacrifice but a celebration of the gifts of bread and wine with the understanding that the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and under the visible and the tangible elements so that we can taste and see that our GOD is good.

Over the decades, of celebrating the Eucharist, which literally means “thanksgiving”, I have been nourished, grounded, and sustained by the companionship created over this meal. Yes, as my theology changed, and I gave up the notion that Jesus was a human sacrifice for sin, rejected the idea that humans were once perfect and fell from grace, and indeed fixed my gaze beyond the notion of a personified deity, the words of the sacrament challenged me to find new ways to express our place in the Cosmos. The reality of the DIVINE MYSTERY responsible for setting the Cosmos into being, juxtaposed to a little piece of bread and a tiny taste of wine, did indeed challenge my sacred imagination as I struggled to enter ancient metaphors so that I could taste and see that the MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, is indeed good. Let’s just say, our little ritual Communions began to feel all too puny a celebration to carry all that.

The last two weeks of trying to celebrate communion with COVID protocols have left me hungry for better ways to taste and see that the MYSTERY is indeed good. So, with Jesus’ words ringing in my sacred imagination, I did what I usually do when faced with a problem which I cannot resolve. I tried to read my way out of the reality that I haven’t really missed communion. Surely, I’m not the only one, who is struggling with Communion. Surely, somebody wiser than I am, has seen something which I cannot see. So, I scoured my bookshelves, until I came upon a book which actually arrived there just before the first lockdown. At the time, Communion was the last thing on my mind, we had bigger problems to be unravelled. The book is entitled, “Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century” – by R. Alan Street. It sounds very dry. But Jesus kept going on and on in my head, so for the love of Jesus, I began to read, if only to drown out my doubts, screaming in my head, in the guise of Jesus. I reminded myself that those first century followers of Jesus had so much more to worry about and they managed to be nourished by Communion. I might as well learn how they fed one another.

Well, right here on page one, in the very first sentence, I was hooked, when I read this: “…the Lord’s Supper of the first-century CE was an anti-imperial praxis. Whenever early Christians met for a communal meal they saw themselves as participating in subversive non-violent acts against the Roman Empire.” What! Holy Communion, the Eucharist as a subversive non-violent act against the Roman Empire? Well, let me tell you I have devoured this book and it has fed me, even as it has created a hunger in me for more. Pass the bread. More wine please, and while you’re at it send the fish my way, I’m starving, starving I say, famished for some of that old-time religion. But don’t give me any of your comfort food. Just some basic bread, wine, and if you happen to have it some fish would be fine too.

Those first century followers of the Way certainly knew how to throw a supper. Not even our church potlucks come close to the resistance they served up back in the day. Do me a favour, open your historical imaginations, and travel back in time with me to the first century. We only have time for a brief visit. But trust me we will be going back for more and more in the weeks ahead.

So, here we are let’s say at the end of the first century. Jesus was executed by the state as a criminal almost 70 years ago, that’s about 3 and a half generations ago. Much has been said about Jesus. Not much has been written, besides you probably can’t read anyway. The Romans have been making your life a misery and you liked what you’ve heard about Jesus. You’ve joined the struggle and you’re a part of the resistance to the domination of the Empire. It isn’t easy to risk your life but you can’t see any other way to resist than to through your lot in with the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. To keep your strength up you get together, a crime in itself, but you get together with the members of the resistance to participate in a subversive non-violent act against Rome. Rome dominated and kept its citizens in line by any means possible. Those didn’t just include tyranny, brutality, terrorism, and civic events designed to mold their citizens into acquiescence.

One of these civic events was the Roman banquet. Roman banquets were designed to do more than feed the body, they followed a formula which enforced patronage, together with a strict hierarchy. They would begin with a meal, at which only those invited could attend, and were seated according to their place in the Roman power structure. Slaves and women had no place around the table. The meal lasted about ninety minutes, followed by a libation. A libation was a kind of toasting. Wine was poured out for the gods, of which CAESAR was supreme. With raised chalices those in attendance would proclaim, CAESAR IS GOD! The toasting was followed by a three hour symposium. The symposium included storytelling, mostly about the triumphs of Rome, entertainment, music, sport, magic, and jokes. All designed to uphold the values of Rome and solidify one’s place in the Empire.

Now follow me to the home of a prominent follower of the Way, where we are getting together to encourage one another to resist the forces of the Empire. We’re going to take that Roman banquet idea and turn it upside down. First, we shall eat our fill. Remember food insecurity was rampant at this time, people were starving. We are going to pool our resources and everyone regardless of class or wealth is going to eat their fill. Forget about whether you are a slave or free, Jew or a Gentile, man or woman, you have a place at the table, we are all equal at this mean.

Oh, and there will be a libation. But you don’t have to worry about toasting CAESAR! We will raise our chalice and proclaim that Jesus and not Caesar is our GOD! And yes there will be a symposium. Stories will be told. We will sing songs of protest. We will hear from our WISDOMKEEPERS and we will dream together, strategize together, and we will be nourished for the struggle which lies before us.

Now, move from your historical imagination and come with me into your prophetic imagination, the place where we dream dreams about what can be. Imagine if you will, a banquet in which we gather to resist the forces of the empire in which we are hopelessly entwined. A banquet where everyone is equal, everyone has a place at the table. A banquet where the hungry are fed with good food. Yes there will be a libation. We will raise our glasses to proclaim that LOVE is our GOD. We will drink a toast to justice as the way to peace! We will declare that the Earth is our home and not our property. We will toast justice seekers and peace makers and not powerbrokers and warriors. We will declare that generosity and not greed is our way. We will toast all that makes us ONE.

And then the symposium will begin. Stories will be told of resisting our lesser angels, songs of protest will be sung, our WISDOMKEEPERS will reveal truth as they teach us to reverence Creation, care for the Earth and feed everyone who hungers. There will be music. There will be dancing. There will be art and beauty and wonder. We shall all taste and see that the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being is GOOD.

Suddenly, my desire to resist is creating hunger-pains, and once again I need to taste and see. I hope that as we continue to follow Jesus Way of being in the world, we can once again learn to taste and see, for life is so very GOOD. I pray that our feasting together will nourish us in our struggle to resist, so that all may know the LOVE which is DIVINITY.

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LOVE is dead but it won’t lie down! – Easter Sunday

What I remember most about Malcolm is that he did not suffer fools gladly. He couldn’t have been much older than I am now when we first began working together. By day, Malcolm was an astounding problem solver. But on evenings and weekends, Malcolm was a super-hero!  A justice-seeker, peacemaker and the personification of LOVE itself. Malcolm was a brilliant co-worker. But, if you needed his help at work, you had to catch Malcolm during working hours, because as soon as the clock struck 5, Malcolm would be out the door. He always had places to go and people to see, mountains to move, wrongs to make right, people to save, injustices to oppose, and people to feed. Malcolm, no matter how much you tried to resist his charms, would sweep up any able-bodied person to help him on his epic his quests to right whatever wrongs he encountered. I don’t remember much of what I learned from Malcolm at work, but I can still feel the intensity of his passion, sweeping me up like a whirlwind as he embodied a vision of justice which always took my breath away.

Malcolm and I shared a kind of bleak gallows sense of humour which we put down to our shared British birthplace. When he discovered that as a child, I had been subjected to my father’s collection of recordings of Goon Show, our gallows humour went into overdrive. Malcolm would insist that I play Eccles to his Seagoon. For those of you who were never blessed to hear the Goons, suffice it to say, the Goons taught the Monty Python crew how to do comedy, the way comedy needs to be done. Says I, using the voice of  Eccles, to Malcolm who hailed from Aberdeen:          “All you hairy Scotsmen, today we’re gonna march north to England!” To which Malcolm would responded with the voice of Neddie Seagoon   “But England’s to the south!”                  “Aye” says I, “We’re gonna march right round the world and sneak up on them!”

Our co-workers thought we were mad, but I loved that old guy, right up until the moment he left us. I remember sitting by his hospital bed as he lay dying, we’d exhausted all the Goon bits we could remember, and the rattle of Malcolm’s breathing warned me that it wouldn’t be long. When all of a sudden, he sat right up in bed and demanded to know what Jesus was all about. Never once, in all the time I’d known him had we ever mentioned Jesus to one another. I’d kept my mouth shut on anything remotely connected with religion simply because every single time anyone else mentioned religion, Malcolm would become incensed. Malcolm was positively vulgar on the subject of religion and I for one didn’t want to risk our friendship by saying anything remotely religious.

“Come on tell me, what was Jesus all about? Quickly, I don’t have much time!” Malcolm pointed to the Easter cards which the nurses had lined up on the windowsill.  “There look at them” he’d taken on the voice of Seagoon,  “If those cards are anything to go by, then Jesus must have been a  bunny rabbit, hopping through a field of daffodils.” Trying with my best Eccles voice, I could only muster the classic Eccles conundrum, “He’s goon but he’s not forgotten.”

Sorry, you’ll just have to Google it because it is Easter after all, and my task here is  Malcolm’s question,  “What is Jesus all about?”

I believe that Jesus is all about the story; a parable to be exact. I’m not just talking about the parables which Jesus told. I’m talking about the Parable of Jesus. The Parable of Jesus is not about his death, although Jesus does die, but then again, in the Parable,  he is dead, but he won’t lie down. The Parable of Jesus is not all about Jesus’ death, nor is it about life after death. The Parable of Jesus is about so much more than individual salvation from some vengeful god. The Parable of Jesus is about the context in which Jesus was born, the oppression under which Jesus lived, and the passion with which Jesus embodied non-violent resistance to the powers of domination, a commitment which Jesus was willing to die in order to teach the world that justice and not violence is the way to the peace we long for.

The Parable of Jesus is a Parable of Resistance. The Parable of Jesus is about resistance to a way of being that is based upon selfishness and greed. The Parable of Jesus is about a vision of a new way of being in which the abundance of Creation is shared by all, so that everyone has enough in order to live their lives. Jesus insisted, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Jesus’ understanding that the MYSTERY responsible for creating life is so much more than a tribal deity who favours one tribe over the other.  Jesus spoke of this MYSTERY as an ABBA, a PARENT, with which we are ONE. Jesus’ understood this ABBA’s primary concern for the people of the world, all the people of the world, is that we LOVE ONEanother. Jesus took the best of the teachings of his people when he highlighted as the most important rule of their religious teaching that we LOVE one another and added a new twist, spelling out exactly how we are to LOVE one another. In the Parable of Jesus, on the night before Jesus is executed, he gives his followers a New Commandment that we LOVE ONE another in the same way as Jesus’ loved them.

We don’t have to look very far into the Parable of Jesus to see exactly how Jesus loved. The Parable of Jesus contains all sorts of little parables about the way in which Jesus loved without discrimination, the lowest and the least, the outcasts and the sinners, and the powerless, comforting, feeding, healing, eating and drinking with them. As for enemies, the powerful, the self-centered, the wealthy, Jesus called his followers NOT to take up the sword against them, but to lay down their arms, to love them.   Jesus urged his followers to live self-less-ly, giving extravagantly, as they learned new ways to LOVE one another.

In the Parable of Jesus, we meet a person willing to sacrifice, to make holy every aspect of his being in order to resist the forces of empire. Jesus steadfastly he resisted violence as a way to resist. Jesus’ whole life proclaims that peace cannot be achieved through violence, peace is born of justice,

justice not just for the rich and powerful, but justice for all. Jesus resisted violence. He resisted the trappings of his fame. Jesus even resisted the temptations of his own power, even in the face of the one thing we humans fear most of all, death.

According to the Parable of Jesus, not even death can kill Jesus’ vision of the Reign of GOD, what Jesus called the basileia ton theon, the Reign of the MYSTERY which Jesus understood as the ABBA, the LOVing Parent. Not even death at the hands of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, could kill Jesus’ vision of the Reign of ABBA, in which justice prevails.

Jesus’ idea of justice did not include revenge. Jesus understood justice to be distributive. Distributive justice ensures that everyone has enough to live life abundantly.  After the empire had done its worst, after Jesus was executed for resisting the powers of the Empire, his followers came to understand Jesus teachings,  and they too became non-violent resisters who looked to the Parable of Jesus’ resistance to encourage their quest for peace through justice.

But the temptations of empire are powerful, and over time, the all too human fear of death softened Jesus’ followers commitment to  resistance. Over time, the followers of Jesus were co-opted by the very temptations Jesus resisted all his life, even unto death. Eventually, Jesus’ resistance was softened, as people returned to the old ways of trying to establish peace through the empire’s violence.  As Jesus’ resistance was softened, the people’s vision of Jesus’ ABBA was hardened, indeed the Father became known as a vengeful, punishing parent, who employed threats not unlike the Empire’s torture.

Sadly, the Parable of Jesus’ Resistance, became a quid pro quo with the powers that be.  Resist the empire which the church had become and be damned to eternal punishment. NO wonder resistance was forsaken in favour of bunnies and chocolate, as Jesus himself became an opiate which if swallowed produced a kind of euphoria which promised heavenly rewards in some other life-time, allowing the people to forget the creation of heaven here on Earth. Resistance was set aside in favour of acquiescence in the service of the empires created by wealth. The forces of the empires of Rome and the religious authorities may have killed Jesus, but according to the Parable of Jesus, not even death could kill Jesus’ vision of the basileia ton theon. We catch glimpses of Jesus’ vison, here and there, wherever and whenever people resist the temptations of empire. You’ve all seen glimpses of the basileia ton theon, whenever peace breaks out not because of violence,  for this is no peace at all, but mearly a lull in the violence. You’ve seen the basilea ton theon when peace is established because justice prevails,  when justice and not violence creates the kind of peace where LOVE flourishes.

That’s the Easter part of the Parable of Jesus, the time and place when resurrection happens. When and where the LOVE which Jesus embodied resists the temptations to selfishness, greed, and violence. Those moments when LOVE rises up and people are empowered by their LOVE for one another, to resist injustice, to champion justice for people everywhere. The Parable of Jesus is just a story told by idealistic, religious, fools, when it is fed by those who intoxicated by the temptations of empire. But the Parable of Jesus still holds the power of resurrection within the transforming LOVE which is embodied in the life, the teachings, the death, and the powerful legacy of Jesus’ resistance.

For it is Jesus’ vision of the basileia ton theon, the Reign of ABBA in which the power to be LOVE in the world is resurrected each and every time LOVE is embodied in the world. For the REIGN of the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call GOD, is already here, in the life of each and every person who resists selfishness, resists greed, resists the hunger for power, resists complacency, resists hatred born of fear, resists me first, resists not with violence but with the quest for justice, not the punitive justice born of our self-centred desire to punish, but the distributive justice of Jesus vision of a world in which everyone has enough to live fully, love extravagantly and be all that we are created to be.

The Parable of Jesus is a powerful parable of resistance which does not end with Jesus’ death. Death does not have the final world in this powerful parable of resistance, because death cannot destroy the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being, precisely because LOVE has being in, with, through, and beyond us. LOVE lives, LOVE dies,  and LOVE comes again and again and again.

As the rattle in Malcolm’s chest weakened, his grip on my hand tightened. I could almost see the young man he once was, leaning in close to the wireless so that he could hear every silly word the Goons broadcast. I couldn’t help but smile, which when Malcolm noticed, he asked me what I was smiling about. I told him that the folks in the afterlife weren’t going to know what hit them once he arrived. “So, you think I’m going to Heaven then?” “You don’t believe in Heaven.” I reminded him.

“That’s because I’m not there yet. It will be heaven once I get there.” That’s our Malcolm, “There’s always something that needs doing to make things better for everyone!”

It was standing room only at Malcolm’s funeral. Dozens of people stood up to remind us of Malcolm’s super-powers. Last night as I was remembering my old friend Malcolm, I couldn’t help laughing when I thought of an old line from a long-ago Goon Show. I think it was the character of Bluebottle, who was played by Peter Sellers, who was always being killed off, or as the Goons would have it Bluebottle was always being “deaded”. Each time Bluebottle would be “deaded” he would rise up and go on talking. I can still remember Malcolm saying in his Seagoon voice, “He’s deaded, but he won’t lie down.” Laughing in the face of death is an old Easter tradition because at Easter, death is always the butt of the joke. “He’s “deaded” but he won’t lie down.”

Malcolm’s passion for justice, his visions of making heaven here on Earth, they live on in each and every person that Malcolm ever loved. Jesus’ passion for peace through justice, this LOVE which people encountered in the life and teachings of Jesus could not be conquered by death. LOVE rises again and again and again.  On this Easter morning it may appear as if LOVE has died and is buried in the tomb of our stupidity. But I assure you that not even death will have the final word; not death in the Ukraine, or South Africa, or Myanmar, or in the violent streets of corporate greed, or the lonely hovels in which people die unjustly from hunger and disease.

LOVE may indeed be deaded  but LOVE won’t lie down for long. LOVE is risen. LOVE is risen indeed. In every act of resistance inspired by the vison of the already and not yet Reign of LOVE. Resistance is the only kind of resurrection we need in order to create the peace we long for.

Death cannot conquer LOVE. Not as long as LOVE is embodied in the world. Every act of LOVE resurrects our hunger for justice and inspires our desire to be LOVE in the world. LOVE even if it is deaded won’t lie down. LOVE never lies down for long. ay we all know the power of LOVE rising in us!

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Here’s a taste of the GOONS

Our Focus and NOT Judas Betrays Jesus As We Tell the Story on Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday marks a turning point, not only for Holy Week, but also for the way in which Christianity functions in the world. For quite some time now, I have been struggling to pinpoint just where Christianity went wrong. I confess that for years now, I’ve conveniently pointed to the year 312, when the emperor Constantine formally adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is a convenient scapegoat, partly because we can point our fingers and say, There, right there the followers of a passionate, non-violent, radical resister, to the domination of empires, right there by imperial fiat, these rag tag communities of non-violent resisters were transformed into a new kind of empire; an empire that would go on to create the Doctrine of Discovery, justify violence, and plunder the planet so that it could dominate the power structures of countries, nations and lands all over the globe. Right there, with Constantine, that’s where it all went wrong.

If only this were that simple, then all we’d need to do is dress Constantine up as a scapegoat and drive him from our midst. After all, Holy Week, of all the days in the Church year, Holy Week provides so many opportunities for scapegoating. However, despite the reality that Christianity was indeed joined in unholy matrimony with the forces of empire by Constantine, the impetus for this coupling can be seen in the betrayal of LOVE which occurred on the very night which Christians commemorate each and every Maundy Thursday.

Now, before you pounce upon another scapegoat, let me assure you that I’m not pointing to the betrayal of Judas Iscariot as the one responsible for Christianity’s getting into bed with the domination forces of his day. Sadly, there are more betrayers on Maundy Thursday than we can ever begin to count. For it is our focus which betrays us. It is our focus which betrays the teaching and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We who call ourselves Christian, and so many who went before us, touting their love for Jesus, we took our eyes off the “maundy” and there began our betrayal of everything Jesus lived his life to teach us.

When I ask people what Maundy Thursday is all about, the majority of good, faithful, followers of Jesus respond with sentences which include the phrase “last supper.” Which is of course correct. The anonymous gospel storytellers we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have provided the followers of Jesus with various accounts of the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his followers shortly before he was executed by the Empire for disturbing the Pax Romana. Out of those different accounts, the followers of Jesus adopted ways of remembering which were ritualized. Sadly, only one of these Last Supper rituals developed into a sacrament. Even more tragically, all too often this particular sacrament is “celebrated” as a sacrifice, complete with a scapegoat, or should I say a sacrificial lamb, whose blood is spilled in the minds and hearts of worshippers again and again and again.

Imperial Christians, that’s us, we who enjoy privileges established by the domination forces of various empires which have used Christianity as a sort of opiate of the masses, we have been betrayed by generations who have fixed their gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence. Indeed, lest we fall into the trap of scapegoating those who have gone before us, let us also remember our very own betrayal, for we too have fixed our gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence and we taken our focus off the “maundy” of that long ago supper, “maundy” from the Latin word for “commandment.” As the story is told, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: LOVE one another. And you’re 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? According to the story, which is told on Maundy Thursday, Jesus didn’t just tell those gathered around the meal to “LOVE one another” Jesus embodied LOVE in a way which demonstrated the way LOVE works in the world.  The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John puts it this way: “Jesus realized that the hour had come for him to pass form this world to Abba God. He had always loved his own in this world, but now he showed how perfect this love was.  The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus—knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God—rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with the towel that was around his waist. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Rabbi, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” Jesus answered, “You don’t realize what I AM doing right now, but later you’ll understand.”

By washing the feet of followers, Jesus humbles himself and provides an example of service that exemplifies how we are to carry out his new commandment that we love one another. And so, on Maundy Thursday, some churches participate in the ritual of washing one another’s feet as a way of embodying Jesus’ new commandment. But let’s face it, a ritual only sporadically embodied once a year doesn’t really have the same power as a ritual which became a sacrament and is now embodied again, and again, and again. There are very few people in the world who would identify Christians as foot washers. Christians are however identified as consumers of the body and blood of the Lamb of God.

Two rituals were born at Jesus’ last supper, but only one became a sacrament. Our focus upon ritual sacrifice would not be such a betrayal of Jesus’ new commandment if it were not for the way in which doctrines of atonement have cast the sacrament of the meal, the eucharist, Holy Communion as a sort of commemoration of a violent bargain struck with a violent god. I am well aware, that Communion can be and is often celebrated as a thanksgiving, or celebration of LOVE, but far too many of us have focussed our gaze on the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as the ultimate scapegoat, the divinely ordained blood sacrifice. I can’t but help asking what ought to be an obvious question: What might christianity have become with a focus on foot washing? Could foot washers have embodied Jesus’ new commandment in such a way as to create a more humble christianity; a christianity less palatable to empire?

We will never know the answer to this question. But we can ask it anew. What if we 21st century followers of Jesus, shifted our focus away from the myth of redemptive violence and toward the embodiment of LOVE? Imagine if you will, a community humble enough to wash one another’s feet, sitting down to a holy meal. What might we become if we allow the story of the last supper help us to understand that it is our focus and not Judas that betrays Jesus? As foot-washers instead of scapegoaters, might we learn new ways of embodying Jesus’ new commandment to LOVE one another? Might shifting our focus help us to see new ways of being LOVE in the world?

All things considered; I can’t see the ritual of foot washing becoming a sacrament any time soon. Not unless we are prepared to imagine what foot washing might look like here and now, in our day, in our time. Imagine all the opportunities a shift in our focus might reveal. What might Jesus’ new commandment look like in the face of the empires in which we are entwined? Can you see yourself embodying LOVE as you do whatever you can, whenever you can to tend to the needs of your neighbour, to care for even the betrayers you encounter, or to humbly open yourself to ridicule for the sake of LOVE?

We know all too well, that the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well. Our world is rife with the impacts of violence. But it is not just out there in the world that violence lives. It is in here (within me). For I too am compelled by the alure of violence as a solution. Violence is alive in me, and it lives in you.

So, as we anticipate the events we will commemorate tomorrow, Good Friday, I hope we can see that it is violence which will kill LOVE, and more importantly, it is LOVE which dies not just on Good Friday, but each and every time that violence triumphs. Whether LOVE is crucified on a cross, or in the streets of Ukraine, or the jungles of Myanmar, or in the darkest reaches of corporate empires, or in the palatial homes of the rich and powerful, LOVE is crucified over and over again.  LOVE dies, and it is LOVE which lies in the grave of our being, in need of resurrection.

But death will not have the final word. For we do not live as ones without hope. LOVE dies. LOVE will rise. LOVE will live again. So, let us remember Jesus’ last supper.  Let us remember, trusting that there nothing in heaven or on Earth which can separate us from the LOVE which is DIVINITY. May the power of the ONE which allures us into LOVE, shift our focus so that we can see beyond the violence, beyond the death of LOVE, to the resurrection of LOVE as we learn to embody Jesus’ new commandment to LOVE one another.

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EXTRAVAGANCE! Enjoy It ALL! – John 12:1-8

I think her name was Anna. It’s difficult for me to remember her name because most people simply referred to her by her nickname. Of course, we never actually called her by that to her face because it was a nickname based upon the way she smelled. I knew her back in the 80s. We ran into each other  at various different protest rallies or in meetings of advocacy groups. She part of many of the groups that I belonged to. Anna was an old hippie long before there were old hippies. She always wore sandals, a colourful peasant dress, and her long grey hair tied up in a bun on the very top of her head. Despite her funky attire, Anna wore a kind of elegance which allowed her to waft into any room and immediately command everyone’s attention. She was an absolute powerhouse, determined to seek justice for the oppressed whether they be members of First Nations, or women struggling for equal pay, the homeless seeking shelter, or banning the bomb. I remember going to my very first Earth Day rally, not because I was concerned about the environment back then in the 80s, but simply because Anna badgered a bunch of us into going with her. Anna never shut up about her many causes. So, much so that people would scatter when they knew was Anna coming into a room, lest she shame us into working for justice for this or that group of people who needed our advocacy.

To this day, I’m guessing that like me, everyone else who knew her was as afraid of Anna. Fortunately, we always knew when Anna was coming simply because her smell arrived long before she did. It also lingered long after she had left. Hence Anna’s nickname. As I say, I never did call her by her nickname to her face, nor did I ever hear anyone else use that name in her presence. But when her smell indicated that she was about to sweep into the room, or after we were left basking in her scent long after she had departed, that is when we used Anna’s nickname. To us, Anna was not so affectionately known as Coco. When I first heard “Coco”, I didn’t understand. Until, an old gentleman quietly explained, “Coco as in Coco Chanel.” My blank uncomprehending stare encouraged him to go on to explain that Anna’s unmistakable smell came from her liberal application of Chanel No.5. I didn’t know much about perfume back then. I still don’t know much about perfume.  But one thing I did know is that Chanel No5 was and still is expensive. The only reason I knew this is because of all those cheap perfume bottles, I would buy to give to my mother and to my aunties. Chanel No.5 was way out of my price-range. I usually went for the larger bottles, The less expensive perfumes. You know the gift sets where you got bang for your buck – a big bottle of Yardley, with some dusting power thrown in for good measure. Those small bottles of Chanel No.5 couldn’t fool me.

I remember thinking at the time how odd it was for the ever-frugal Anna to buy such an expensive perfume. I’m mean, Anna was into recycling things long-before recycling was a thing. She never bought anything new. Everything was always on the cheap. For Anna to be wasting her money on expensive little bottles of perfume which she liberally splashed all over herself, well it just didn’t make sense. Especially, when she was always complaining about how she couldn’t afford to get her hair cut. And what about all those causes she was always collecting money for? Surely, her money would be better spent fighting for justice, all those she could never shut up about. “Coco” was our way of making fun of Anna’s extravagance.

Coco’s extravagance is one of the reasons I love the Parable of Jesus’ Anointing as it is recorded by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John. The way John tells this parable, it takes place six days before Jesus’ last celebration of the Passover.  John puts it like this,  “Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they gave a banquet in Jesus’ honour, at which Martha served. Lazarus was one of those at the table. Mary brought a pound of costly ointment, pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, piping them with her hair. The house was full of the scent of the ointment. Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples—the one who was to betray Jesus—protested. “Why wasn’t this ointment sold? It could have brought nearly a year’s wages, and the money been given to poor people!” Judas didn’t say this because he was concerned for poor people, but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the common fund and would help himself to it.  So Jesus replied, “Leave her alone.  She did this in preparation for my burial. You have poor people with you always. But you won’t always have me.””

Thanks to Coco, this parable and the word extravagance are intimately entwined.  Extravagance in the face of danger and poverty.  Of all the stories that this anonymous gospel-storyteller could have told about Jesus, why did he tell this one, and why did he tell it the way that he told it?  What is the storyteller trying to tell us about the character of Jesus?  I’ve studied this passage for decades and I’m still surprised at how full and lush, how extravagant the details of this story are.  I’m also aware that most of those lush and oh so extravagant details are all too often lost on 21st century ears.

We are not first century Jews, so the pungency of this particular extravagance can all too easily elude us. There are details that first century Jews would have been overcome by. Details that we need to sniff out if we want to smell the pungent aroma of the spikenard that oozes, soothes, and anoints the feet of the one we claim to follow.  This story has but a dozen sentences, but each and every sentence positively oozes with details; details which can open us to a kind of extravagance of our own.

Six days before the Passover. Every first century Jew would have understood that six days before the Passover, the biggest festival of the year, the roads and pathways would have been crowded with people heading to Jerusalem to celebrate. Jesus too would have been on his way to Jerusalem; Jerusalem, each and every one of the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s listeners would have known all too well what happened in Jerusalem. They like us, knew exactly what kind of execution awaited the political troublemaker, the justice seeking radical Jesus. Bethany, a small town just outside of Jerusalem, six days before the Passover and we all know that Jesus will not be passed over. Jesus will be just like a lamb to the slaughter when the Romans are done with him. There will be no Exodus for Jesus, no blood upon the lintels to save him. Six days before Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

Lazarus, with his sisters Martha and Mary are the only three people in the bible who earn the distinction of being named as people,  “Jesus loved.” Lazarus, the rumors where ripe about Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb. “There they gave a banquet in Jesus’ honour, at which Martha served.”
 Martha served; they would have heard of Martha’s service before.  But do not think of housework here, the Greek word, dioconia is used here. At the end of the first century, the Greek word dioconia is a technical term used to refer to church leadership. Martha at the end of the first century would have been a name that the storyteller’s listeners would have been familiar with because Martha was a leader among the followers of the Way. Martha presided at the Passover, the Passover Meal the most important Jewish religious ritual of the first century. Mary brought a pound of costly ointment, pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. Mary one of the three people in named in the bible as being loved by Jesus.  Mary of Bethany, Jesus’ beloved, the woman the gospel-storyteller’s listeners would have remembered because Jesus praised her for concerning herself with Jesus’ teaching.  Mary a student, a disciple of Jesus, interrupts the most important Jewish ritual of the year with a pound of costly ointment; a point of pure nard; spikenard, incredibly expensive, a whole year’s wages in the first century.  Pungent, the smell would have been over-powering. All eyes on Mary; a woman, her hair down, first-century listeners would have had something to say about a woman in the company of men, with her hair down.  She lets her hair down, no honourable woman would do such a thing, and with the pungent smell of expensive spikenard permeating the room, Mary proceeds to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair. His feet, she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet. His feet, that would have sent tongues to waggin. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word for a man’s feet is often used as a euphemism for another, part of a man’s anatomy which, even now, modesty prevents me from mentioning in church. Those first century listeners would have been wondering, his feet, does this storyteller mean Jesus’ feet, or does he mean his feet? You know what I’m talking about??? “Feet.”  A woman who Jesus loves, pours a year’s worth of wages, over Jesus’ feet, and then has the audacity to wipe the oil with her hair. Wait a just a minute, you mean to tell us, that she anointed Jesus’ feet with oil, his feet, in the middle of a religious ritual, his head maybe, people do that for kings, but not the feet. Only the dead have their feet anointed with oil.

What is this gospel-storyteller trying to tell us about Jesus? “The house was full of the scent of the ointment.” Nard is not the only thing which smells here. Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples—the one who was to betray Jesus—Judas protested. Judas Iscariot, by the end of the first century the very mention of Judas Iscariot would have raised the hackles of any audience who knew of the execution of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, the Romans who had by the end of the first century, executed tens of thousands in Palestine, destroyed the Temple, burnt Jerusalem to the ground, and sent each and every Jew into exile. The name Judas Iscariot had in just a few sort decades become synonymous with the word “betrayer.”

Whether or not Judas Iscariot ever existed, or was simply, as our fiend Jack Spong taught me, simply a literary character designed to stand in for every betrayer who has every betrayed, you can be sure that the gospel-storyteller’s audience would have perked up at the mere mention of the name Judas.  Just imagine the audacity of this character, selling Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver, and here he is protesting the use of a costly ointment as if he cares about the poor.

“Why wasn’t this ointment sold? It could have brought nearly a year’s wages, and the money given to the poor.” Even the gospel-storyteller can’t keep up the pretense when he adds: “Judas didn’t say this because he was concerned for poor people, but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the common fund and would help himself to it.” All these centuries later, we can hear them sniggering, Judas worried about the poor; indeed, pull the other one.

It is at this point that the anonymous gospel-storyteller, shows just what kind of storyteller he or she was when she/or he has Jesus say, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.”

We know that Jesus is about to die, and Mary is doing what needs to be done, the problem is not the ritual, the problem is the extravagance of the ritual. “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.” Here’s the rub, pardon the pun. The gospel storyteller has Jesus, Jesus of all people say:

“You have the poor people with you always. But you won’t have me.” Jesus, the champion of the poor, can he really be saying don’t worry about the poor because the poor aren’t going away. Of course not!!!

Jesus was, is, and forever shall be a Jew. The anonymous gospel-storyteller was Jewish. The first-century audiences would have been Jewish, or God-fearers, who were Jew’s in all but circumcision; the few Gentiles in the group would have been schooled in the Hebrew scriptures. What our 21st century ears rarely hear is the echo of the scriptures which would have sounded loudly and clearly in the minds of our first century ancestors. Remember, Jews learned their scriptures by heart. They could recite the words of Deuteronomy in the same way we can recite the words of commercial jingles.

So, hear what they would have heard, when the heard the words, “You have the poor with you always.” Hear the words of the 15th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy:

“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that YAHWEH is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.  Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near.” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing: your neighbor might cry to YAHWEH against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account YAHWEH will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.      Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Now hear again, the words of Jesus the Jewish rabbi: “The poor you will have with you always, but you will not have me with you always.” Surely, we all know exactly what to do about the poor, enough said, take care of the poor. We know what we need to do about the poor. But do we know what to do with Jesus? There’s the rub. How do we deal with Jesus?

What are we to do about Jesus? Poverty and extravagance, two realities. What are we who claim to follow Jesus to do about poverty and extravagance?Injustice and extravagance? War and extravagance? Resistance and extravagance?Justice seeking and peace making and extravagance?

Well, I can tell you what were not supposed to do. We are not supposed to deal with the poor as if we don’t have enough to help the poor. All too often, we act as if we are poor ourselves, as if we can’t afford to help. We are among the wealthiest people on the planet and still we worry about whether or not we can afford to help the poor. We earn more than our ancestors could ever dream of earning, we have more than our forebears ever had, and still we want to pay less tax, and spend less money for the common good. We live as if we scarcely have enough to get by let alone to help a neighbour or to follow Jesus into the streets to feed the hungry, and to heal the sick.  We have all been trained to worry and to be conservative, and to act like tomorrow it will all be taken from us. It is not in us to be extravagant. And yet, just look at the extravagance in Creation. Every single time I see a flower, I’m blown away by Creation’s extravagance, just one variety of flower would have been amazing, half a dozen varieties of flowers would have been wondrous, but the sheer number of varieties and colours is positively extravagant.

We are surrounded by such beautiful pungent extravagant examples of the wealth of nature. Yes, we are called to be good stewards of all our many blessings. But we are also called to breathe deeply and feel the soothing healing balm which our blessings are. Yes, the poor will always be with us. But we know what we are supposed to do about the poor. So, let’s take care of the poor. We have more than enough to take care of everyone’s needs. We can well afford to welcome the refugees.

We also have more than enough to breathe deeply of our blessings and be extravagant. Extravagant with the poor and extravagant with all those, who like Jesus won’t always be with us. Life is not only precious. Life is short.

I remember a potluck picnic on the beach. It was after a long protest march, for a cause I have long since forgotten. Anna and I were sitting on a log, staring out at the sun which was just beginning to set. We had just finished an extravagant meal, people were milling around sipping wine and strategizing about how to achieve justice for whoever or whatever cause urgently needed our attention next. Anna leaned over to me as she pointed to the others, “They think I don’t know what they say about me”

I didn’t have the courage to respond. Anna stood up, smiled down at me, untied her long grey hair, and proceed to take off her clothes. Standing there, stark naked, Anna the wise old hippie, shook her head. “Remember” she said to me, and to me alone, “life is too short to worry about what people think of you! I may just be Coco to them. But I am also Anna bathed in the scent of a woman who understands what it means to be alive. So, Coco I am, and Coco I shall be!”

Anna began to twirl around and around, a kind of dance which she accompanied with a beautiful litany of thanksgiving for: “the beauty of the sun, the majesty of the ocean, the sweet smell of salt in the air, the gentle breezes kissing our skin, the shortness of our life, the splendor of wisdom, and the freedom to enjoy it all!”

Anna’s twirling stopped and she leaned down, kissed my cheek, and gently said, “Enjoy it all. Enjoy it all. Life is very short. Remember, we don’t have much time and that’s as good a reason as any to enjoy it all!” Then she straightened up, offered her naked breasts to the gentle breezes, and shouted to the others: “This Coco is going for a swim. Who’s with me?” With that, Coco turned toward the setting sun and led us all into the embrace of Creation.

Enjoy it all. Enjoy it all. Life is very short.  We don’t have much time and that’s as good a reason as any to enjoy it all! All the extravagant blessings showered upon us! Enjoy!  Then be about the work of justice-seeking and peace-making. Then give as extravagantly as you have been given. Enjoy!

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As war rages on, the racism we do not want to see in ourselves continues to flow out of our tribalism.

The images of the horrific war in Ukraine together with the prescribed readings for this second Sunday in LENT have me thinking about tribalism. My first temptation was to ignore the first reading from Genesis. I was not planning to include it in our worship because we have all born witness to far too much bloodshed as our sisters and brothers of Ukraine are relentlessly attacked, killed, and wounded by our sisters and brothers of Russia. This week, I have heard the word unimaginable uttered by pundits and friends alike and each time it is expressed I want to scream, “this bloodshed is all too imaginable! Indeed, this bloodshed is part of the foundational imaginings of our very own tribes.  We need not look farther than the Book of Genesis to soak ourselves in our own bloodthirsty imaginings!”

The story which will be read in worship services of most mainline Christian church this very Sunday is a foundational myth about the patriarch of the world’s three powerful religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Our foundational myth from the 15th chapter of the Book of Genesis, goes like this: the word of YAHWEH came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram!   I AM your shield; I will make your reward very great.” Abram said, “But my Sovereign, My God, what good are these blessings to me, so long as Sarai and I will die in disgrace? My only heir is a foreigner who lives in my household, Eliezer of Damascus. Since you have given me no offspring,”  Abram continued, “An attendant in my house will be my heir.” Then the word of YAHWEH came to Abram and said, “This person will not be your heir. Your heir will be of your own flesh and blood.” Then God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can! As many as that, you will have for descendants.” Abram believed YAHWEH and God accounted it to Abram as righteousness. YAHWEH the said to Abram, “I AM YAHWEH who brought you from UR of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” Abram asked, “Sovereign God, how am I to know that I will possess it?” God answered Abram, Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”Abram brought all of these, cut them in half, and place each half opposite the other—except the birds, which he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell over Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram:  “To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadomonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Aorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18)

Here ends the reading. This is not the Gospel. Not because it is the first reading. But because it is not good news for anyone at all. There’s something about those bloodied, split, rotting carcasses which sealed the deal between God and Abraham  that makes me wonder about the nature of the god we have projected into the heavens and ask: “Have we evolved at all?”

This foundational myth portrays the MYSTERY which we call “GOD” as a god who promises to “His” “Chosen People” a deal which reduces this god to little more than a churlish player in humanity’s game of tribal rivalry. I am aware that in the evolution of humanity tribalism has often served us well.  I would even go so far as to agree that tribalism continues to serve us well.

New people to meet can be exciting or it can be frightening. Taking comfort with your own people is wonderful. But taking too much pride in your own kind is dangerous. One minute you’re cheering for your team the next minute you’re hurling insults at the other guy and one too many insults and the next thing you know you’re at war.  A little tribalism is a good thing, but how much tribalism is too much? Tribalism is a basic human survival instinct. Tribalism is lodged deep within our psyches. It has been from the very beginning of time. Tribalism is part of our primordial selves. Tapping into this basic human instinct can mean the difference between survival and death. Tribal thinking exists on almost every level of human life, from the international to the local, from the congregation to the denomination, from the denomination to the religion. Attack a human on any level and that human will resort to instinctive behaviour. When threatened humans have two basic instincts, fight or flight and the choice between the two often comes down to tribalism. If you have enough people to back you, you’ll probably choose to fight. Not enough people and you’ll probably choose flight.

Humankind has evolved a great deal over the centuries, but we haven’t evolved very far from our basic instincts. You don’t have to scratch a fan too deeply to find the primitive tribal mentality. Tribalism is seen in the way we portray our rivals. Sporting competition is all well and good, but when tribalism is carried to its worst possible conclusion, wars beak out. Tribal feeling is then exacerbated in times of war, and tribal propaganda is used to dehumanize our enemies to make it easier to hate or to kill without any qualms of conscience. We don’t kill human beings in war; our victims are not someone’s child, spouse, or parent. No one kills either, the Huns, the Krauts, the Japs, the Nips, the VC, the insurgents, the fanatics, the fascists, or the terrorists. Of late, we have begun to hear our Russian sisters and brothers described as monsters.

There is within us all a basic, dominant, intrinsic fear of those tribes different from our own, a predisposition to be on guard against them, to reject them, to attack and even to kill them. This tribal tradition arises out of our deep-seated survival mentality, and it feeds something at the heart of our insecure humanity. We are tribal people to our core.

Far more than we will consciously admit, the religions of the world including Christianity rise out of and sustain our tribal thinking.Religions are all too often, very deep expressions of a tribal mentality which worships a tribal god. Our foundational myth, is the story of Abram a wandering Aramaean, who is about to become the father of many nations.

Abram has a vision; a vision in which his god promises to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky if Abram only promises to worship YAHWEH as his only god. To seal the promise YAHWEH enacts an ancient tribal custom, common in Mesopotamia. Centuries ago, in the days of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, custom dictated the appropriate manner in which a bargain was to be sealed. When two parties entered into an agreement, a covenant, they would take a bunch of good-sized animals, slaughter them, sever them into halves, clear a path between the pieces, and require that each partner to the agreement walk between them as a sort of self-curse. Kind of like: “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” By passing through the severed bodies of the animals, each partner says, in effect, “May the same thing happen to me if I do not keep my word.”

The whole thing sounds so very barbaric to our modern ears. But this story is part of the foundation of the narrative which begins the narrative of YAHWEH’s covenant with the self-described “chosen people.” The last two verses of this story are not usually read in church.        The crafters of our lectionary leave them out; perhaps because they are so very offensive. But I would argue that we must include them because it is important for us to remember that tribalism permeates our foundation myths.

“When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram: To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

The Promised Land, the land which this image of the DIVINE promised to the chosen people was not some vacant lot somewhere, waiting for inhabitants to come and enjoy the bounty of milk and honey which flowed there. The Promised Land was inhabited by many tribes; tribes who worshipped other gods. And there have been wars and rumours of wars in the Promised Land from that day to this. The image of YAHWEH painted by this story is not a particularly glorious one if you are anything other than the Chosen People. The Kenizzites the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephiam, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites, rue the day YAHWEH chose the descendants of Abram over them.

This image of a tribal god is offensive to our modern ears. We much prefer the more evolved image of God which Jesus paints in the gospel text for this Sunday. “Jerusalem,  O, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings—yet you refuse me! “ (Luke 13:13-35)

This MOTHER-HEN-GOD is a far cry from the YAHWEH of Genesis.  Sadly, this MOTHER-HEN-GOD is rarely imagined, let alone embodied by Christianity. Except perhaps when Christians, resort to a kind of “my tribe is better than your tribe” kind of one-upmanship which points to Jesus’ portrayal of the ABBA as a kinder gentler version of Judaism’s violent GOD. Forgetting all the while that Jesus is, was, and ever more shall be Jewish. Not to mention the fact that this Jewish Jesus is hailed by the vast majority of Christians to be the blood sacrifice sent to appease their very own image of the DIVINITY, as a scapegoating, Father willing to send his own beloved son to be murdered. Not to mention the part about this particular tribal image of the DIVINE goes on to insist that every tribe must believe in their version of events, or their very own Father God will toss them into the fires of Hell where they will be burn in torment for all eternity. This all out rejection of the MOTHER-HEN-GOD must be maintained at all costs in order to ensure obedience to the tribal hierarchy, the domination system which so many churches embody.

Don’t.  I know that right about now, you are tempted to point to some other tribe of Christians and condemn them. Those ones not us are the churches which cling to primitive theologies while absolving your very own tribe’s theology of any error. The temptation to see only the best in ourselves while condemning the worst in others is in and of itself indicative of a kind of tribal mentality which does not serve humanity well.Tribalism may well have been an asset in the human struggle to survive during our early evolutionary development. But there is a primitive dark side of tribalism which feeds on our fear and stunts our evolution. Unless these destructive aspects of tribalism are transcended, a deeper more compassionate, peaceful, humanity cannot be realized. We cannot transcend what we fail to recognize.

At this moment in our collective history, it is possible to recognize the role of tribalism in the war Russia is inflicting upon the people of Ukraine. Even as Putin insists that Kiev is the birthplace of Russia, he can also insist that Russia acts with impunity because the Ukrainians have deviated from his own Russian tribal narrative which sees Ukraine moving toward western notions of democracy. This threat to Putin’s tribal insistence upon compliance is further acerbated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s perceived defiance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s claim of authority.

Religious, political, economic, ethnic, cultural, and military expressions of one tribe verses the religious, political, economic, ethnic, cultural, and military expressions of another tribe propel the whole world toward the possibility of the kind of violence which is propagated on the threat of mutual inhalation. As our worst fears escalate our desire for peace, we in the West are quick to recognize an affinity with the religious, political, economic, ethnic, and cultural expressions of the Ukrainian people. So, we quickly mobilize everything we deem to be safe for us to mobilize in order to offer comfort and support to Ukraine, while never once recognizing the ways in which our own tribal instincts have been aroused.

While I’d like to believe that we, you know our tribe, we Westerners, especially we Western Christians, and most especially we progressive christians, we have risen above our tribal instincts. But then I remember the reality of the plight of the woman of Afghanistan which has slipped from our radar, and it causes me to tremble. My trembling increases when I realize my very own failure to express any tangible aid or comfort to the starving millions, who face even more dire consequences as the result of this war.

What is it about those tribes which fails to compel me to weep in the way the fleeing Ukrainians can? I must confess that I am racist. I do not want to be racist. But I can find no other explanation to our current reality than the racism which inevitably flows out of tribalism. And so I tremble. Just like the words of that old American spiritual, which we sing every Good Friday. I tremble, because once again, over and over again, LOVE is crucified by tribalism.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should not be consumed by the plight of our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. We should celebrate the tribalism in us which evokes kinship and compassion. We should do everything in our power to provide aid and comfort to our Ukrainian sisters and brothers.

What I am saying is that we should also do everything in our power to provide aid and comfort to our Afghani, our African, our Syrian, our sisters and brothers in Myanmar, and yes everything we can to provide aid and comfort to our Russian sisters and brothers. I’m not there yet. I still hesitate at the thought of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. I have much to learn about what LOVE for our enemies looks like. But if humanity has any hope at all of becoming all that we are created to be, we must learn that it is not either this tribe or the other tribe.

Escaping our destructive tribal mentalities and the inherent racism which flows from tribalism is not an either-or equation. Being LOVE in the world calls us into a both-and equation as we struggle to LOVE our enemies in ways which benefit this tribe as well as that tribe. Transcending the destructive racism which flows from tribalism cannot begin until we confront the racism which we do not want to see in ourselves.Once recognized we can begin to transform our behaviours and be about the task of being LOVE in the world.

The three world religions which look to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as the founders of our faith, bear a special responsibility to transcend our tribalism; for Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic religions undergird the very tribalisms which rely on the acquiesce of our religious institutions. Our primitive images of the CREATOR continue pose an imminent danger to our planet as tribes and nations parade around the world proclaiming with their lives that our god is bigger than your god. Sadly, our collective images of the MYSTERY we call GOD have failed to represent the CREATOR of all we hold dear in ways which foster peace. Recognition of our failures is the only way we can begin to transcend the destructive aspects of our various tribal practices. Each of us must begin where we are, in our own tribe, embodying what our tribal allegiances proclaim: that the CREATOR of all that is and ever shall be, the MYSTERY we call GOD, according to the revelations we hold dear, is BEAUTY, JUSTICE, and LOVE.

So, if you feel a particular kinship affinity for the people of Ukraine, you must embody the BEAUTY, JUSTICE, and LOVE which has been revealed to you in the life, teachings, and death of Jesus by doing whatever you can to provide aid and comfort to the people of Ukraine. Celebrate the aspects of tribalism which contributes to our evolution as humans, the tribalism which allures us into UNITY. Empathize with the victims of this war and then do something, anything, and everything you can, for we are richly blessed. As our Jewish sisters and brothers believe, teach, and embody, we are blessed to be a blessing.

As you embody LOVE for those who have evoked this strong tribal affinity in you, challenge yourself. Ask yourself, why these and not those. Recognize the destructive aspects of tribalism which motivate you.Challenge yourself to see and then transcend the racism which flows out of our tribalism. I’m learning that the only thing worse than a racist is a person who fails or refuses to see the racism which lives in them. The destructive aspects of tribalism which foster racism in us do not serve humanity. They only serve our fear while creating even more indifference and violence.

We who are privileged to live in safety must challenge ourselves to transcend the racism which motivates both our indifference and our compassion by challenging ourselves to also provide aid and comfort to a tribe we feel no affinity for. We must empathize with the victims of war, all wars, and then we must do something, anything, everything we are able for them, those others, the ones we feel little or no affinity for. For we are richly blessed and as our Islamic sisters and brothers proclaim with their almsgiving, charity is pleasing to the DIVINE, for the DIVINE is charitable. Charity comes from the word which means LOVE.

LOVE is of the DIVINE, so be LOVE, for you are made of the DIVINE. You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to do something. We are called to be LOVE in the world, LOVE to the members of every tribe, every nation, clan, and people. We are blessed to evolve into the embodiment of the MOTHER-HEN-GOD embracing, enfolding, tut tutting, cluck clucking, as we gather together the of the children of the DIVINE to provide aid and comfort to every tribe and nation.

So, you LOVEly chickadees, grow a pair.  Wings that is. The HOLY Wings which will embrace every tribe and nation in LOVE. Be that LOVE in the world.

View the full Worship Service for the Second Sunday in Lent below

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As War Rages, this Lent is NOT the time for Fasting! – Spring Forth

In the wilderness of these days, I find myself tempted to retreat from the world around me. The pandemic has trained me too well in the arts of isolation. Hunkering down in the safety of my home, venturing out into the world only when it is absolutely necessary, is a skill we have learned all too well. These past two years, so many of us have been privileged enough to enroll in a sort of master class in avoidance. Home-schooling in the protection afforded to us by accident of our birth. Even when we do venture out into the world we are protected by masks, vaccines, and the sure and certain knowledge that if the worst happens there will be doctors, nurses, medicines, and medical systems to restore us to our splendid isolation. A few weeks ago, we were filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation about lifting of the restrictions which have for the most part protected us from this virus. Then as if we needed reminding, angry truckers, together with some other really, really, angry people choose to vent their collective anger for all the world to see. Hootin and a hollering for weeks on end, not even the frigid cold of our nation’s capital could disperse them from the media which only seemed to feed their anger and inspire our weary citizenry to shrug in a collective sort of “meeeh,” as we did little more than will them to go home. And then, in typical Canadian style, we moaned only a little when our liberties were suspended as collective police forces joined together to shoo the angry people from the streets so that so that the rest of us could, as we are wont to say, “Have a nice day.” We thought, at last, we can get back to the business of returning to normal life. Spring became the object of our longing, as we anticipated our return to the way things used to be. And then, as if on que, the drums began to beat. Louder and louder the drumbeat of war reverberated strongly enough to disturb our foray back into the world.

As news of a madman’s quest for more invaded our splendid isolation, we began frantically doomscrolling. A habit we have picked up during the worst of the pandemic, when we scrolled and surfed our way through the endless bad news of infections and death. Consumed by this wilderness of war’s ability to excite while eroding our mental health, the temptation to fast from the news rises in me, threatening to send me scurrying into a retreat from life in the world. The bombs continue to explode. Women and children are fleeing for their lives while partners, fathers and sons are called up to resist. Buildings shatter. Children die. World leaders stumble and mumble their way across our screens offering little hope and even less wisdom. Nobody knows what to do, except hunker down for a long, protracted war.

It took the arrival of Ash Wednesday, with its annual reminder of our mortality, to move me beyond my longing for life to return to normal with the realization that life has never been normal. Human life is always lived in the shadow of death. So, tempted as I am to retreat into the all too familiar comfort of splendid isolation to fast from life in the world, the knowledge that I am dust and to dust I shall return confirms in me that, as WAR rages, this LENT is NOT the time for fasting!  Life is far too precious to be squandered by giving into the temptation to retreat from life.

There is a hibiscus in my kitchen bursting forth into bloom, reminding me that spring will come. Spring will come even to Ukraine. For now, we must bear witness in this wartime wilderness to the reality that spring will come. So, it is fitting that on this First Sunday of Lent, the gospel which is offered to us is the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke’s version of Jesus sojourn in the wilderness. As always, the gospel is found beyond the words on the page, for the story is a metaphor – meta meaning beyond and phor meaning words. This story of Jesus sojourn in the wilderness, where he encounters his own temptations, is a metaphor, in which the gospel, the good news is revealed beyond the words.

“Jesus returned from the Jordan filled with the HOLY SPIRIT, and she led him into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil. Jesus ate nothing during that time, at the end of which he was famished. The devil said to Jesus, “If you are GOD’s OWN, command this stone to turn into bread.”

Jesus answered, “Scripture has it, “We don’t live on bread alone.’”

Then the devil took Jesus up higher and showed him all the nations of the world in a single instant.

The devil said, “I’ll give you all the power and the glory of these nations; the power has be given to me and I can give it to whomever I wish. Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it will all be yours.”

In reply, Jesus said, “Scripture has it: ‘You will worship the MOST HIGH GOD; GOD alone will you adore.’”

Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem, set him up on the parapet of the Temple and said, “If you are GOD’s OWN, throw yourself down from here, for scripture has it, ‘GOD will tell the angels to take care of you; with their hands they’ll support you, that you may never stumble on a stone.’”

Jesus said to the devil in reply, “It also says, ‘Do not put GOD to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, Jesus was left alone. The devil awaited another opportunity. Luke 4:1-13

This is the Gospel we are given with which to contend with our wilderness on this the first Sunday in Lent, the eleventh day of war in Europe.  I am tempted to see the personification of evil in this story, not as the devil, but as Putin. Even though I know that the Devil, or Satan, they are mere personifications of the evil which lives with in me, within all of us. I long to point to those who are inflicting war on our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and to point to their actions as satanic, so that I don’t have to contend with the evil which lives in me. The evil which inspires me to return violence with violence.

Lately, I have come to understand evil not as some external force, but rather as the product of my own innate instinct for survival; an instinct which has served our species well in the process of evolution. When I reflect upon the teachings of Jesus, I can see his revolutionary understanding that our instinct for survival has taken us about as far is it can. Jesus understood that violence begets even more violence. Even though he himself was tempted by his own demons to given in to his baser instincts in order to acquire riches, power, and glory, Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness revealed to him that such sacrilege was not the way to achieve what he understood to be the basilea ton theon, the kin-dom of DIVINITY, the Realm of the DIVINE, the place where justice and not violence is the means to achieve peace. Tempted to sacrilege. Now, by sacrilege I mean sacrilege as it is defined by John Philip Newell, “to try to take possession of the sacred to us it for one’s own ends rather than to reverence the sacred.”Our temptation to sacrilege is an evil which will fail to bring in the basilea ton theon, the Realm of the DIVINE, where justice is the way to peace. Our evolution is contingent upon our ability to co-operate, to come together for the good of the whole. Without cooperation our species cannot survive. The kin-dom of DIVINITY will only be ushered in when we resist our desire to possess the sacred for ourselves and learn to reverence the sacred, which is a fancy way of saying that justice for all is the only way to peace.

I confess that the sacrilege upon sacrilege which is being heaped upon the people of Ukraine tempts me to despair. I despair for the lives being wasted. I despair for the unnecessary suffering. I despair that this violence will lead to a massive escalation of violence. And when I finish despairing for others, I despair for myself. For what can I possibility do to resist this violence? How can I possibly enjoy the easing of pandemic restrictions when my sisters and brothers are facing such peril? How can I even entertain the joys of Spring when children are suffering so? How can I begin to taste the feast that life is, when so many lives are being lost? My despair tempts me to retreat from the world, return to my splendid isolation, pull the covers over my head and just weep. It is all I can do to remember that human life is always lived in the shadow of death. From dust we can and to dust we shall return.

In that dusty desert all those centuries ago, I wonder if Jesus’ was tempted to despair. Then I remember what Jesus did when he confronted his own demons. Jesus resisted the temptation to take what was sacred, his one beautiful life and use it for himself. Jesus resisted the temptation to sacrilege and reverenced his life by living. Living a life of resistance during the first century, under the oppressive violence of the Roman Empire was not easy. The challenges of ushering in the basilea ton theon, the Ki-ndom of DIVINITY, the life of embodying justice by being LOVE in the world, by resisting violence and reverencing life, these are the challenges of evolving into the peace we long for. Co-operation, coming together for the sake of the whole has never been easy and I suspect that in our lifetimes it may become even more difficult. But if peace truly is what we long for, there is no way to peace except the kind of justice which fosters co-operation among, people, tribes, and nations. It is a daunting task. A task that no single one of us can achieve. That’s the point. There is work which needs doing and we are the only ones who can do it and we can only do it together.

Peace is our life’s work! As WAR rages, this LENT is NOT the time for fasting! We must feast on LIFE! We have been hunkering down long enough.  Spring is coming. We must leave the isolation of our despair. We must feast on life! Here and now, in this moment in time, we are called to spring forth into the fullness of life. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. In the meantime, there is LIFE to be LIVED. Each and every glorious day living moment by moment, not spiraling off into despair for our future. Living in this moment, this is our daily bread. We cannot hide away from the world any more than Jesus could hide away in the desert. We must bear witness to this war and to the suffering of our world. But we must not give in to despair’s temptations. This is no time to fast from LIFE. This is the time to resist the temptations of the evil which exists in us and in our neighbours.  We must resist, each one of us must do what we can, whenever we can, as often as we can, in all the ways we are able. We can begin by resisting the temptation to hide from what is happening in the world. We need to strike a balance between doomscrolling and bearing witness to our neighbours suffering. This is the least that we can do. But there is more, so much more that we can do. We can embody the LOVE which is DIVINITY by living fully, LOVing extravagantly, and being all that we were created to be.

I remember years ago, when I was first learning about Lent, our pastor encouraged us to, “Fast, Pray, Give.” Fast Pray Give! So, if you must fast, fast from despair. If you pray, pray with your whole self, roll up your sleeves and let your actions be your prayer. And for the sake of our world LIVE. LIVE fully, LOVing extravagantly, being all that you were created to be. Life has never been normal. We always have and we always will live our lives in the shadow of death. This makes LIFE all lives SACRED, and we reverence our lives by embodying LOVE with all of who we are. This means living each and every precious moment which is offered as pure gift to us, for this is our daily bread, given to nourish us for the work, the challenges, the joys and the sorrows of being LOVE in the world.

Spring is about to burst forth in all its glory, here and in Ukraine. Let us reverence the sacredness of our Ukrainian sisters’ and brothers’ suffering by bearing witness, and resisting sacrilege wherever, however, and whenever we can. It will not be easy to follow Jesus to our Jerusalem.  Living fully is never easy. But along the way even Jesus feasted, rejoiced, as he lived fully. I have no idea what springtime looked like in first-century Palestine. But I am absolutely convinced that Jesus would have embraced the beauty of the lilies of the field as they burst forth in splendour. Just as surely as I am convinced that we must not fast from the splendour of this one beautiful life with which each of us is blessed with.

Now more than ever we must feast, pray, and give. Feast on life, Pray with your lives, and Give extravagantly. As war rages, do not fast from life. Now is the time to resist our temptation to despair. Now is the time to Spring Forth into our one blessed, glorious, gift of LIFE, as we do what we can, when we can, however we can, as often as we can, let us do the things which make for peace in our world.  Spring Forth to embrace the beauty of the lilies of the field,  or the splendour of a blooming hibiscus as it springs forth to remind us to: Live fully, LOVE extravagantly. And be all that we were created to be. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

View the full Worship Service below

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Too many Hollywood movies tempt me to flirt with violence, as I yearn for some secret agents to just take him out!

This week, I have been transfigured by the face of CHRIST, not glowing on a mountaintop, but weeping. It is an image which will not leave me. This weeping CHRIST plays on an endless loop in my mind unravelling my carefully constructed images of the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the LOVE we have the audacity to call “GOD”. The endless loop projects many faces of CHRIST. The first face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Father who is struggling to say good-bye to his young daughter. The second face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Child rubbing her eyes in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of her own tears. The third face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Mother holding back her tears as she embraces her little family. My words are not up to the task of describing CHRIST weeping in this way. So, I invite you to see for yourselves. If you cannot bear to look upon the face of CHRIST, that’s ok. Just stop this video and take a moment or two to pray. Pray deeply, reverently, and then fast-forward to the music. view on video

It wasn’t until that young Dad buried his face in his daughter’s chest that I recognized the face of CHRIST. I had been watching the media reports for days, not really believing that war was imminent. I confess, I was in denial. After two long years of isolation, I have learned how to block out the world. Whenever the news became more than I thought I could bear, I just switched it off. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all must take care of ourselves. But lately, the news has encouraged us all to begin to emerge from our pandemic protocols. Bit by bit, hope has begun to build upon hope as we look forward to Spring when we call launch forth into fuller more robust living. Sure, we know there are still problems in the world. We know we still have work to do. But for a brief time, our longing for Spring stirred expectations in us which heralded better times ahead. There was no room in my wildest imaginings for thoughts of war. In my bleakest moments, I could imagine the worst. But I refused to believe that it would go as far as war. It was just politicians doing what politicians do, rattling sabers like little boys, stomping their feet, and insisting on their own way. Surly, even Putin will come to his senses. Concessions will be made, and war averted.

As tensions escalated and our world held our collective breath, the fragility of the peace we cling to, the peace built through military might, and threats of violence and mutual annihilation, this illusion of peace was threatened by the ambitions of a powerful oligarch obsessed with delusions of restoring tribal supremacy for his once mighty nation. And then, just like that, we were back there, back in the unthinkable darkness our parents spoke about, the darkness of war in Europe. I could feel the temptations to violence rising in me. Surely, the Americans have an agency for this. Too, many Hollywood movies, inspired me to flirt with violence as I yearned for some secret agents to take him out. One clear shot and Putin would be gone. Sacrifice one for the sake of the many. I thought, or hoped, sometimes even believed that the myth of redemptive violence could no longer tempt me. Alas, if only.

I’m a child of my times. I expect people to act. I expect things to be resolved. I expect solutions. I expect that whatever needs to be done will be done quickly, so that I can get back to normal. If that means violence, well maybe I’m not the pacifist I claim to be. If a few well-placed bullets could reunite and restore that little Ukrainian family, maybe Jesus was wrong about non-violent resistance. Maybe Jesus was wrong about justice as the only way to peace. Maybe if we are unwilling to fight, all we can do is join our tears to the tears of that little Ukrainian family. That’s the loop which has been playing round and round in me, all week long. I don’t know how to stop this loop from playing. I don’t have any solutions to offer you. I share these tears with you knowing full well that tears won’t put an end to war, nor will they end our constant reliance upon violence to maintain a fragile peace.

It wasn’t until this endless loop exposed the presence of yet another face of CHRIST that I begin to be transfigured. Suddenly, in the tears of that little Ukrainian family, I began to see the tears of generations of weepers. In my mind, I saw old black and white faded images of other little families. But there were no tears to be seen. Perhaps photographers of old avoided them, maybe people back then were better had holding those tears back. In those sepia images of sad, forlorn, frightened faces. Some walking away to become refugees, joining the endless flow of the displaced. Some were staring vacantly through time, like the tens of millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death during the Holodomor by yet another brutal Russian dictator. Others, they looked confused and terrified as they are loaded on board trains. Generations beyond any camera’s reach, each with their own pain. Pain and suffering perpetrated by our species’ vain conviction that violence is the way to peace. In the tears of that little Ukrainian family, I began to see yet another face of CHRIST, a face I had refused to see before. The face of CHRIST which must be seen if we are to end this madness. I confess, that I can’t quite see CHRIST in that face yet. Hell, I don’t want to see it. His eyes are too beady. His expression too smug. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I must learn to see the face of CHRIST in my enemy. Vladimir Putin created in the image of the DIVINE.

Can we ever learn to see the face of CHRIST in one such as him? I don’t know. I do know that the followers of Jesus held dear their vison of Jesus, in whom they saw the CHRIST. In Jesus they saw CHRIST. So much so that they confessed their desire to stay with Jesus in the splendor of that mountaintop. There far away from their world, they were could safely worship Jesus. With visions of a grand and glorious past they were free from the dangers of the violence being wrought upon their world by the forces of the Roman Empire. The ravages inflicted by Rome were as horrendous as any barbaric acts of war the world has ever seen. I can see on that endless loop little families in Jerusalem, fleeing to the safety of the countryside, passing endless crucifixion sites.

The safety of the mountaintop must have been glorious. No wonder Jesus took Peter, John, and James up there to pray. They all knew the dangers of traveling to Jerusalem. It was so good to be there, where they could see in Jesus the face of CHRIST. But Jesus did not let them linger for very long. There was work to do. Jesus’ way did not include taking up the sword to achieve peace.

Jesus was steadfastly committed to non-violent resistance to the abusive powers of empire. Jesus’ Way of being in the world rejects the myth of redemptive violence. Followers of the Way are called to reject the myth of redemptive violence. Jesus’ Way of being insists that justice for everyone is the only way to peace.

Justice will exact our tears. But they will not be tears cried in vain. These tears will wash away our illusions of a quick fix and wipe away our delusions that by violently enforcing the status quo we can create peace. Peace is created by through the difficult work of LOVE, LOVE which is embodied when justice and not violence becomes our way of being in the world. Peace begins with non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance is dangerous. It can be deadly. Jesus experienced that. Not all of us are up to the challenges. So, let us begin with our own lives, our own daily challenges, let us strip ourselves of our own entanglements with violence. As for seeing the face of CHRIST in our enemies, let us try. Let us do everything we can possibly do to challenge our own assumptions, to see beyond our own violent tendencies, our own selfish desires, and slowly, painfully slowly learn to love our enemies.

I’m not talking about some Pollyanna notion of passivity in the face of violence, and I know that we are not going to solve our addiction to violence anytime soon. I know that we won’t solve it in time to save Ukraine. But we must honour the suffering of generations, by doing something now, so that generations from now little families won’t have to cry all over again. We must put aside our expectations of a quick and easy fix and settle in for the difficult generational evolution of our species.

As for that little Ukrainian family, what do we do in the wake of their tears? Well, for now, we weep. We join our tears to theirs and when we have no more tears to cry, we roll up our sleeves and we do what we can to help them. We are smart. We are privileged. We are blessed with riches beyond the wildest dreams of the generations who have gone before us. We have technology and access to wisdom. We must put all our many blessings to use, to seek justice where-ever we can whenever we can.We can’t do it all and we can’t do it alone. But we can do something, and we can work together.

We can be transfigured by the face of CHRIST which is revealed to us through the tears of all who suffer the ravages of injustice. Sure, it would be nice to just sit here in the relative comfort and safety of all that violence has built and maintained for us. But we have seen the face of CHRIST, and CHRIST compels us, through CHRIST’s tears, to go out from the safety of our lofty positions, down into the violent world to be the LOVE which creates peace through justice.

There is one more face of CHRIST which I would like you to see. It is not a lofty mountaintop vision. But it does have the power to transfigure. It was recorded Saturday morning, after a rocket exploded in an apartment block in Kiev. I’m convinced that it will not be difficult to see the glorious face of CHRIST in this:  view on video

That beautiful, glorious embodiment of CHRIST is singing these words: “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom,” She has courageously begun the difficult, painstaking, slow work which lies before her. May we be transfigured by her courage to do our part to turn her mourning into dancing. Let us begin the difficult, painstaking slow, work of wiping away every tear from the eyes of our sisters and brothers. Let us be LOVE in the world. Amen.

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Truckers and Russians Disturbing Our Peace

Snow is gently falling outside my window.  I can just make out the Sun’s glow through the clouds. It is beautiful. Quieting. Silent. Every now and again a gust of wind sweeps up the fallen snow into a whirlwind reminding me that this morning’s weather forecast warns that in addition to the snow squalls blowing in off the lake, we can expect wind gusts approaching 70 to 80 km per hour. With this winter storm in mind, I can’t help thinking about the goings on farther to the north, in our nation’s capital. When I turn my attention from my front window to my television set, I can see the winds fiercely blowing in Ottawa, as police and protestors alike stomp their feet in that familiar dance designed to keep the blood flowing in the numbness of this cold of winter. For three long weeks, we have watched as a few frustrated, misinformed, angry truckers together with some others who have found community with them, as they occupy a city and render those we have entrusted with the job of maintaining social norms impotent.

If I look beyond the blockade of trucks, I can make out our parliament buildings and remember summer walks and smiling faces as strangers together took delight in the solid structure in which we gladly and yes often cynically place our trust. Suddenly the roar of the wind commands my attention and outside my window all is whiteness. I can’t see through the swirling snow, as the whiteout robs me of any desire to venture outside. I can just make out the impression of a young maple tree standing firm, as the gusts of wind blow so much snow into the air, that I fear the tree might snap or be torn from its roots.

I hear the news announcer as she shifts her focus from Ottawa to Kiev to warn that war seems inevitable. Footage of Russian troops positioned along Ukraine’s boarder followed by the American Vice-President Kamala Harris addressing leaders from around the world who have gathered in Munich, to respond to threats from Russia with threats of economic sanctions and military reinforcements designed to deter with strength and all the might the world cares to muster any incursion into Ukraine. In the cut-out screen below, there’s a view of Ottawa where lines of police are methodically pushing the protestors back, ever so slowly.

I turn off the set and return my focus to my task, a sermon which proclaims good news extracted from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain as it is written by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke. Before we even get to the Gospel assigned for this Sunday, Jesus gives us the beatitudes: “You who are poor are blessed, for the reign of God is yours. You who hunger now are blessed, for you will be filled. You who weep now are blessed, for you will laugh. You are blessed when people hate you, when they scorn and insult you and spurn your name as evil because of the Chosen One. On the day they do so, rejoice and be glad: your reward will be great in heaven, for their ancestors treated the prophets the same way. But woe to you rich, for you are now receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are full, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will weep in your grief. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in the same way.” (Luke 6:17-26)

I can still hear the winds howling outside. And there’s a churning now inside of me as the woes of the world outside will not subside. I want to scream at Jesus:  Is that all you’ve got blessings and woes? The memory of an angry Canadian, “Christian nationalist” screaming on behalf of the so-called “Freedom Convey” stifles my own scream. I remember reading about her ranting and raving, as she echoed words she must have learned from those pro-Trump rallies after the 2020 US election. They sounded so familiar. She threatened to blow her truck horn till the walls come tumbling down, promising a daily “Jericho march” around Parliament Hill. Out of my own righteous indignation, I disown that woman. I disown the woman, as a christian, and as a Canadian. With every fiber of my being, I disavow her as my sister. I can hardly bring myself to read the Gospel assigned for this Sunday because I know exactly how it begins and Jesus’ words don’t feel like Good News right now, at this particular moment.

Jesus said: “To you who hear me, I say: love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. When they slap you on one cheek, turn and give them the other; when they take your coat, let them have your shirt as well. Give to all who beg from you. When someone takes what is yours, don’t demand it back. Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. If you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ do as much. If you lend to those you expect to repay you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to other ‘sinners’ expecting to be repaid in full. Love your enemies and do good to them. Lend without expecting repayment, and your reward will be great. You will rightly be called children of the Most Holy, since God is good even to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Do not condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you: a full measure—packed down, shaken together and running over—will be poured into your lap. For the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”  (Luke 6:27-38)

Earlier this week, I had highlighted one verse and written in the margins, “the Gospel in a nutshell.” That verse reads: “Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate.” I can feel myself resisting. I don’t want to be compassionate. I do want peace.  But I want peace without having to love my enemies. Just clear out the streets of Ottawa and restore order. Threaten Putin with whatever it takes so we don’t have to go to war. But please don’t ask me to LOVE my enemies or be compassionate as my LOVing GOD is compassionate, for I have no idea what compassion looks like in the face of the overwhelming woes of our world. I do know what woe’s look like, and woe betide those who disturb our peace.

There’s another note in the margins, right under the one which reads, “the Gospel in a nutshell,” is the phrase “womb-like”. Womb-like is a very literal translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic words which are translated as “compassionate.” Marcus Borg reminded us that to be compassionate is to be womb-like, to be like a womb.“GOD is like a womb, Jesus says, therefore, you be womb-like.”  Borg asks, “What does it mean to be womb-like?  and then he answers, “It means to be life-giving, nourishing.  It means to feel what a mother feels for the children of her womb: tenderness, willing their well-being, finding her children precious and beautiful.  It can also mean a fierceness, for a mother can be fierce when she sees the children of her womb being threatened or treated destructively. Compassion is not just a soft, woozy virtue. It can have passion and fierceness to it as well.”[1]

Borg’s compelling description convicts me. I suspect it may also convict you as well. I wonder what our lives would be like if we who claim to follow Jesus’ Way felt compassion for those we disagree with, for those who make us angry, for our enemies, for all those who disturb our peace. What if we felt the kind of compassion which embodies our WOMB-LIKE GOD’s desire for their wellbeing?  Marcus Borg’s words go a long way to reminding me of my own tribal tendencies to settle for the kind of peace which benefits my people. If I am to participate in the evolution of humanity, I must learn not to seek or to settle for this pale imitation of peace. Peace without compassion is no peace at all. Compassionate peace provides the space for all of us to learn to grow into womb-like LOVers of our enemies. In Jesus, we see a life which is the incarnation of this SACRED WOMB-LIKE LOVE.

Jesus understood that peace is achieved by seeking justice, not just for those of our own tribe, but justice for all. Justice is the social dynamic of LOVE. Justice for all tribes, all nations, all races, all genders, justice for those on the left and justice for those on the right.Justice-seeking, peace-making is a Way of being in the world which has the power to transform enemies into LOVers. It is not for the faint of heart, but for the fierce. Not ferocity, which is born of self-interest, but the ferocity born of LOVE, of compassion. The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis defines fierce love this way: “Sometimes love gets a bad rap for being tepid and squishy and co-dependent. Fierce love is the kind of love that acknowledges that we’re inextricably connected to each other. It’s the kind of love that made people wade into the water during Katrina and risk their own bodies to save other people’s lives. It is the kind of love that made a man run into the fire on 9/11 knowing he might not come out.”  “I believe” says Jacqui, “ I believe fierce love is hardwired into our DNA. If we can remember it, I think we can heal the world.”[2]  Jacqui Lewis understands this fierce LOVE as the kind of motivation which compels us to seek justice for everyone.

Sometimes, when the storms outside are raging, I retreat into the safety which I have built around me, my home, my loved ones, my people, and I content myself with counting my blessings. For I am richly blessed. This brings me to the third note which appears in the margins of my copy of Jesus’ sermon on the plain. The note appears beside Jesus’ blessings and woes. It reads, “not passive”.  It comes from the wisdom of theologian Megan McKenna whose exploration of the word “Blessed” disturbs my complacent peace. McKenna points out that “Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. When we look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, we find that the original word was ashray. Ashray does not have a passive quality to it at all.Instead, Ashray means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, to repent.”

McKenna goes on to translate the Aramaic into an interpretation of the beatitudes like no other I have ever heard: From the Aramaic Jesus says, “Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.” To McKenna this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. She hears Jesus saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.”  Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair. ‘Get up, go ahead, do something, move,’ Jesus said to his disciples.”[3]

So while the wind blows outside, we can warm ourselves in the safety we have built around us. In the womb-like environments of our homes we can take time to reflect upon our many blessings. But woe to us if we fail to reflect upon those who are being blown about and ravaged by the storms. For they are our sisters and brothers, children of the ONE WOMB in which we live, and move, and have our being. They too are our sisters and brothers, our people, our kin. What pain, what alienation, what frustrations, drives them out to do battle. Can we hear in their anger the source of their pain? Can we begin to see the contours of their wounds? Can we be compassionate as our LOVing GOD is compassionate? What will that compassion look like? Are we wise enough to seek more than the restoration of order?  Are we only interested in selfishly settling for a return to the status quo? Do we have the courage to confront our sisters and brothers, our kin, with the fierce LOVE of someone who seeks not to win the battle but as someone who seeks peace, the kind of peace which recognizes the woes of our sisters and brothers and compassionately works to reconcile with our kin by seeking justice? “Get up, go ahead, do something, move.”  Jesus said to his disciples. “Be compassionate, as your LOVing GOD is compassionate.”

It is cold out there. The wind is still howling, and that poor little tree out looks like it might just snap. Our kinfolk are suffering, they are alienated, misinformed, and angry. But just as surely as I know that beneath the snow, spring lies waiting to be born, I also know that our suffering kinfolk will not heal without us doing something, without us being compassionate.

May the fierce LOVE of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, generate warmth in each of us so that the COMPASSIONATE WISDOM which lived and breathed in Jesus, can live in us as the SPIRIT inspires us to venture out into the world, as justice seeking peace makers. Let us not just huddle together to keep warm.  Let us, “Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples.” Be compassionate, as our LOVing GOD is compassionate. LOVE with the kind of ferocity which acknowledges that we are all intricately connected to one another. For we are ONE, ONE with the LOVE which is DIVINITY, and ONE with the DIVINITY which lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us all. Thanks be to All that Is HOLY!

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[1] Marcus Borg, Taking Jesus Seriously; 2001

[2] Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Hel the World, (Harmony Books, 2021)

[3] Megan McKenna, Blessings and Woes: The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke (Orbis Books: 1999)

Yes! I Do Deny the Resurrection! I Suspect that You Do Too! – 1 Corinthians 15

I can’t begin to tell you how often well-meaning and not so well-meaning “Christians” quote to me the 15thchapter of Paul’s first letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth.  I say quote to be polite, which is generally not the way these “Christians” impart these words of Scripture to me. Some will hurl the text at me in ways which communicate their anger, their disgust, and in some cases their hatred of me. While others deliver the words in boldface type punctuated with lots of exclamation points. So, when I was preparing for this worship service, I confess I was tempted to leave out the reading from 1st Corinthians 15 which is prescribed for this particular Sunday by the Revised Common Lectionary. But then I looked at the readings assigned for next Sunday and discovered that, yet another section of 1st Corinthians 15 is included. So, rather than side-step the subject of resurrection, I decided to include both readings today. Even though I know full well that by doing so, I will undoubtedly open myself up to the wrath of those who would have me confess and repent the error of my ways.

So, let me get to the point, so that those who like nothing better than to use the Bible to bludgeon anyone who dares to stray from their narrow understanding of the text, they can simply hit ALL CAPS in their keyboards, without having to read any further. Let me say it right up front: “Yes, I do deny the resurrection!” I deny the resurrection.  Furthermore, I suspect that you do to.

In my sacred imagination, I can see the Apostle Paul smiling and nodding. You see Paul was skilled in the ancient art of rhetoric and would recognize my own rhetoric for what it is. Inflammatory rhetoric is a method of speaking designed to capture the attention of those upon whom it is inflicted. Listen for yourself to the skilled rhetorician Paul, who employs the tactic well in the reading assigned for this Sunday, by the powers behind the Church’s Revised Common Lectionary. Paul addresses the squabbling Followers of the Way in Corinth this way: “Tell me, if we proclaim that CHRIST was raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead then not even CHRIST has been raised.  And if CHRIST has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless—and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless. Indeed, we are shown to be false witnesses of God, for we solemnly swore that God raised Christ from the dead—which did not happen if in fact the dead are not raised.  Because if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiful of all the human race. But as it is, Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Ah Paul, you sure know what you’re doing! Rile em up!  Get their attention and then, deliver your point! Your rhetoric is sublime! I take my hat off to the master. Alas Paul, if you’d been there when the Church was cutting up your letters to be delivered in snippets on Sunday mornings, I can only imagine what you might have said, when they decided to cut you off in mid-stream. Why they decided to cut your off before you made your point, well that’s a sermon for another day. My point is Paul was just warming up. But if all you hear is, this reading, then surely, my denial of the resurrection numbers me among, as Paul would say, “the most pitiful of all the human race.”

So, let’s skip ahead to next weeks reading, when Paul makes his point. Listen carefully. You don’t want to miss Paul when he’s worked himself up to his point. Ready: “Perhaps some will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question! The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. When you sow, you do not sow the full-blown plant but a kernel of wheat or some other grain. Then it is given the body designed for it—with each kind of seed getting its own kind of body. Not all flesh is the same. Human beings have one kind, animals have another, birds another, and fish another. Then there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Heavenly bodies have a beauty of their own, and earthly bodies have a beauty of their own. The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.”

There’s more, lots more, but let’s just stop and catch ou breath. “Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question!”  My oh, my, oh my… In my sacred imagination, I can see Paul sitting up from his letter writing and nodding as if to say, “there that out to stop those endless arguments about the resuscitation of a corpse.”

Alas, the power of Paul’s rhetoric has waned over the centuries. The irony of having Paul’s rhetoric used as a bludgeon by those who insist on a physical resuscitation of Jesus corpse, well the irony is lost on most Bible thumping fundamentalists who have engaged me with their own brand of humourless rhetoric.

Let me attempt to be kinder than the Apostle, whose willingness to call his opponents “stupid”, I do not share. The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Scholars tell us that the letter was written between the years 53 and 57. That’s at least 20 years before the Gospel according to Mark, 30 to 40 years before the gospels according to Matthew and Luke and probably nearly 50 years before the Gospel according to John. The writings of the Apostle Paul contain the earliest writings that we have on the subject of the Resurrection. Paul’s understanding of resurrection was good enough for those early followers of Jesus’ way.  Paul’s description of resurrection does not conflict with our 21st century inability to accept the suspension of the natural order of the Cosmos.

The Apostle Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection. As a Pharisee, Paul believed in the resurrection of the dead and certainly he believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But as for our question about an actual physical body, Paul insists that this is simply a stupid question.  For heaven’s sake, when you sow a seed into the ground and it bursts forth into new life, that new life doesn’t come in the form of a seed, it comes to life as a plant! Not all bodies are the same! The Apostle Paul did not need there to be an actual physical resuscitation of a corpse in order to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. To ask the question of whether the resurrection is true, and to mean by this that only a resurrected corpse constitutes such proof, is to impose the standards of the modern mind upon a pre-scientific culture of myth and magic.

The dualism of body and soul was a Greek idea, for the Jews there could be no resurrection without a resurrection of the body. After all, could one rise without a body to rise in? What we refer to as the soul was a foreign concept to first century Jews.  So the question about the kind of body the risen Jesus had was, as Paul puts it, quite simply, stupid. “There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies.” Not all bodies are the same. The question of a physical body makes no sense to the ancients. Christ was alive to those early followers.

Paul insists that there are natural bodies, which he equates with earthly bodies what we would call physical bodies and there are spiritual bodies which Paul equates with heavenly bodies. According to Paul, the earthly body; the physical body must die in order for the heavenly or the spiritual body to be born.  “A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up.” The spiritual resurrection which Paul describes gave birth to Christianity, within the Jewish context. It wasn’t until Christianity moved beyond Judaism that it came into direct conflict with the Greek understanding of reality, which insisted upon the dualism of body and soul. Faced with the task of communicating the gospel, the early followers of the risen Christ, began to articulate experiences of the risen Christ in ways that the Greek influenced Roman Empire could understand giving rise (pardon the pun), giving rise to the question of a physical resurrection.

At this point, we would do well to remember that CHRIST is not Jesus last name. Jesus existed within time whereas the CHRIST exists in and beyond time. Theologian Richard Rohr reminds us that “the CHRIST is the Christian code word for REALITY. Jesus reveals CHRIST. Resurrection is a statement of how reality works. Physics teaches us that nothing dies, everything is transformed. Jesus, the archetypal human, in which DIVINITY is embodied, confirms that human life, does not die, but is resurrected, transformed.

OK, if you’ve stuck with me this far, you are probably beginning to wonder how exactly you, or I deny the resurrection. You would be correct to conclude that I do believe in resurrection. I like the Apostle Paul, do not believe in the resuscitation of a corpse. So, how is it that I deny the resurrection. Well, I deny the resurrection in the very same way as I suspect you deny the resurrection. My friend and radical theologian Peter Rollin says it much better than I ever could. Pete said it this way, and I couldn’t agree with him more: “I deny the resurrection of CHRIST every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of CHRIST when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.  However,” Pete goes on, “there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of CHRIST.”

Pete’s words remind me over and over, and over again that Jesus lived and died embodying the CHRIST which is the DIVINE LOVE which rises in with through and beyond you and I, again, and again, and again.

Yes! I do deny the resurrection and I’m guessing that you do too! So, I’m trusting that it doesn’t much matter whether or not you or I or anyone believes or doesn’t believe in the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. What a stupid argument. What matters is that LOVE rises. The LOVE which is the SACRED MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call “GOD”.

By the way, there’s much more in Chapter 15 of Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth. I proclaim these words from Paul’s conclusion to the chapter at every funeral I have ever presided over. When all the rhetoric is said, and done, I lean in close to the beloved ones who have gathered,  and I proclaim the same truth which Paul proclaimed, and the science of REALITY confirms to us: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?””

Let us affirm the resurrection by living as Jesus lived, embodying the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY. Let LOVE live in, us, through us, and beyond us, for now as always, LOVE lives, LOVE dies, and LOVE rises, again, and again, and again. Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY! Amen.

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GOD IS that which can be known of the UNKNOWABLE

This week, while trying to figure out why so many scientists are so excited about the James Webb Telescope, I tried to learn some basic facts about the Cosmos, which my tiny brain continues to struggle to understand. My quest for understanding begins with light, which as a theologian struggling to write a sermon in this Season of Epiphany, when Christians are busy celebrating the LIGHT which came into the world at Christmas, is as good a place as any to begin. Apparently, there are different  kinds of light. Light which is not visible and light which is not visible. I was only dimly aware that there are different kinds of light, so you may already know how difficult it is for me to comprehend the intricacies of science. So, let’s take it slowly, there’s light that is invisible to the human eye and there’s light that is visible to the human eye. The invisible light is known as infrared and ultraviolet light. It turns out that even as we worship here and now, both visible and invisible light emitted shortly after the big bang this, light is finally arriving in the form of invisible light.

I know science is hard for some of us. So, let me put it in words you may be more familiar with, In the beginning, the CREATOR said, let there be LIGHT and LIGHT was. Boom, they call it the Big Bang, and then LIGHT in all its glorious forms, a spectrum, some of it we can see and some of which, until recently we couldn’t see. But soon and very soon, thanks to a telescope which was launched on Christmas Day. I know, scientists with a sense of irony gathered in French Guiana to watch the James Webb Space Telescope launched into space. The Webb Telescope has been dubbed the successor to the Hubble Telescope. Where the Hubble Telescope could only view visible light, the Webb Telescope will capture information through infrared light.

Now here’s the part where my ability to comprehend wanes, the Webb Telescope will be able to sear farther back into time, capturing information from “ultraviolet and visible light emitted during the epoch when the very first galaxies formed is now arriving in the form of infrared light, after being stretched or ‘redshifted” by the expansion of the universe.” Suffice it to say, the largest, most powerful, telescope in history is about to blow our minds, revealing information which will shed light on the origins of the Cosmos. Scientists will be unraveling information from a device capable of enabling our species to look back in time to the genesis of our Cosmos.

The fabulous thing about the scientific method is that it is a way of thinking which enables us to confirm, deny, or revise our theories about the nature of reality. In this ever-evolving Cosmos our theories about what is and isn’t true, these theories evolve based on a theory’s ability to hold up in the face of observable evidence.

A wordsmith like myself takes great delight in the origin of the word “theory” which comes from the same Greek words from which we get the world “theology” – theo is Greek for the MYSTERY we have come to call, “GOD” and “logos” is Greek for “word” or “reason”. The combination of these Greek words came together over time to evolve into the verb “theoria”  to watch and contemplate or speculate ideas and reasons about the nature of what we see. We humans are ever so fond of theorizing about the nature of the REALITY in which we live, and move, and have our being.

According to scientists we need to prepare ourselves for the epiphanies which are about to require us to confirm, deny, revise, and even develop new of theories about the origins of the Cosmos. Theologians, those of us who are fond of speculating on the nature of the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being are also about to have our minds blown.

This amazing new telescope has me thinking of an old telescope I once helped a wise theologian set up in a field almost thirty years ago. Friends and I, living, working, and dreaming on a hobby-farm come retreat center, invited a wise old man to spend some time expounding on theology which he had developed during his decades of being a pastor, chaplain, theologian, educator, and amateur astronomer.  Fritz Norstad arrived ready to share his wisdom with us wearing a t-shirt with the words, “Old Age and Cunning, beats youth and exuberance every time!” and it was love at first sight!

The plan was for Fritz to deliver a lecture after dinner and then when darkness arrived Fritz would guide our attempts to star-gaze through his old telescope. In the afternoon some of the children and I were swept up by Fritz’s joyous presence. The children couldn’t get enough of Fritz as he mesmerized them with stories which always ended with children rolling in the grass with laughter. But it wasn’t all fun and games, Fritz employed the children to help him cart his telescope out into the field to get it ready for the evening’s activities. A deal was being negotiated that would see the children stay up long past their bedtime in exchange for some silence during Fritz’s impending lecture. But before the deal could be sealed, one of the youngest of the children managed to push his way up close to Fritz, as if on a mission to secure some understanding of what was going to happen, long after he should be in bed. Little three-year-old Justin, his eyes wide open, pointed to the telescope, and in a voice filled with wonder asked, “Do stars come out of there?” When the other children’s laughter died down, Fritz took Justin’s hand and placed it on the telescope and said, that if Justin could stay awake long past his bedtime, not only would he see stars, but through the telescope he would see the very face of GOD. Needless to say, all of the children were quiet during the lecture, except for the parts where Fritz elicited gales of laughter form all of us. And when the time came, little Justin was the first among us to see stars come out of the telescope as we stared into the very face of GOD.

Over the decades which have transpired since that spectacular summer’s night, I have often peered into the Cosmos rejoicing in the memory of the awe and wonder of an enthusiastic child who, thanks to the wisdom of a wise, old, theologian, began to see the face of GOD in the beauty and the majesty of the Cosmos. It wasn’t just wisdom which Fritz shared with us; it was LOVE. Not the hearts and flowers kind of love, but the LOVE, which is cosmic, so deep and vast that it not only permeates all that is; it is also the SOURCE and SUSTAINER of all that is. The kind of LOVE we see all around us as we live and move and have our being in the ONE Jesus life and teachings taught us is LOVE.

The LOVE which the Apostle Paul describes in the First Letter to the followers of the Way in Corinth where he writes:  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

How many of us have the courage to seek the face of DIVINITY, the ONE which is LOVE? As for our theories and theologies, they too will come to an end, for we know only in part, and the partial will come to an end.

In her latest book, “The Primacy of Love” scientist and theologian Ilia Delio quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who insisted that: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces.” Writes Delio, “By declaring love a cosmological force, Teilhard indicated that love is an energy ‘present from the Big Bang onwards, though indistinguishable from molecular forces.  In his poem ‘The Eternal Feminine,” Teilhard speaks of cosmic love in the voice of wisdom,” WISDOM SOPHIA: “‘I am embedded in the force field that is driving the cosmos towards greater novelty, towards greater integrity, and eventually towards greater consciousness.’”

Like little Justin, I can’t help wondering, not “Do stars come out of there?” but rather, “From where does LOVE come?” Like the scientists who created the Webb Telescope, I what to know where it all began. Like the theologians who dared to question Who, What, Where, Why, How, I have questions of my own. Looking up to the wonders of the Cosmos, out there at the beauty of the Earth, yes of course, I see the face of LOVE in the REALITY of which we are a dynamic part. I see the face of LOVE in the faces of sisters and brothers whose presence has touched me, molded me, shaped me, and in the faces of those I’ve yet to meet, I pray I’m wise enough to see the face of LOVE. I have plenty of evidence upon which to base my theories and theologies when it comes to the dignity and grace of my fellow humans to know that every one of them bears the face of LOVE when they love one another. What I all too often fail to know is that I too am the face of LOVE when I love.

For LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond me just as surely as LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond you. We are made of the stuff of stars, cosmic bursts of the LIGHT which is LOVE. We were created by LOVE, out of LOVE to be LOVE. Only when we can feel the face of LOVE shining out from us can we be all that we are created to be, the living embodiment of LOVE in the world.

Remembering the child, I was way back then, in a field far away watching stars come out of a telescope as the face of DIVINITY shone in, with, through, and beyond children gathered around an old telescope, I can hardly wait to see the epiphanies which will come out of our human desire to know the unknowable. I can’t remember who said it, but it rings true in me, “GOD is what is known of that which is unknowable.” What I know of the DIVINE MYSTERY we call GOD is that GOD is the LOVE in which the Cosmos continues to evolve, and I for one don’t mind a bit that to know this LOVE, I will inevitably have to put away some treasured theologies and theories as I continue to grow into the ONE in which, I live, and move, and have my being, the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED and BREATH of LOVE.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is LOVE.”

So, peer though the light no matter how invisible it may seem. Look and see that you are the face of LOVE, here and now, in this time, in this place, you are the incarnation of LOVE. Embody the LIGHT and let it shine! LOVE comes out of you! LOVE which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, BREATHE of LOVE, now and always, Amen. Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY!

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GOD Is Positively Drunk On SPONDIC LOVE!

Standing on a hilltop in a cemetery, equipped only with words carefully selected to comfort the bereaved, shivering so fiercely that I feared our collective shivering was powerful enough to set off a chain-reaction which might topple the tombstones which flanked us, I paused to catch my breath and wondered what force could have enticed us out into the frigid air. Minus 25º Celsius and I have no idea what the windchill factor was. I only knew the layers of clothing I’d wrapped myself in were not going to save my scalp from frostbite, not now that I had removed my hat out of respect for the deceased. The tiny frail widow, wrapped in a blanket shivered with such force that I began to fear for her life. The casket before us twinkled as the Sun brightly shone and I wondered if it might be warmer inside its highly polished veneer. It wasn’t until my carefully chosen, mostly familiar words, ceased and I invited the gentle, kind, bereaved woman to speak that I fully understood the power of the force which compelled us onto that frigid hilltop cemetery. With one sentence, the grieving widow said it all when she spoke haltingly to her beloved, “I just want to thank you for loving me.”

LOVE. Only the power of LOVE could have brought us together on that glorious hill to stand shivering in epic cold, to proclaim LOVE’s effervescence. As each ray of the Sun’s light danced across the casket’s veneer, I could see LOVE’s power in all its splendid glory. For not even the coldness of death can defuse LOVE’s ability to sparkle. I confess that words like effervescence and sparkle were inspired by the time I have spent this week studying today’s Gospel reading which is the story given to us by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John. Listen to the story which is often called the Wedding at Cana:

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”

And they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

So, they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

I love this story! Indeed, in the BC days, you know the before covid days, when we could gather in person, whenever this reading came along, I would bring champagne to serve at communion.

The celebration of the wedding at Cana positively calls out for the popping of corks, and lots of bubbles to tickle your nose. Oh, how I miss those champagne communions. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to pop those corks! I can tell you how very much I look forward to the day when we can gather and celebrate over wine and bread the LOVE which is the MYSTERY, we have come to call God. If you listen with your mind’s ear, I’m sure you can hear the corks a poppin!

What a wonderful way to celebrate what philosopher Beatrice Bruteau calls spondic LOVE. Spondic comes from the Greek word which means “libation” and spondic LOVE is the LOVE which flows in and through the Cosmos pouring into each and every nook and cranny of Creation. Spondic what a splendid word, positively effervescent, sparkly, in the way it depicts LOVE’s ability to bubble up all over the place.

Years ago, I discovered a phrase used by St. Augustine of Hippo when he was attempting to describe the nature of the Trinity.  Augustine described the DIVINE MYSTERY as LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE Itself. This age old trinitarian formula captures the effervescent MYSTERY in ways which begin to capture for me the ONE which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. At the very core of REALITY is Spondic LOVE which flows and flows and flows. The fifth-century writer Pseudo-Dionysius insisted that, “God is like a sober drunk falling over Godself in a desire to share divine life.”

God is positively drunk with LOVE! Is it any wonder then that when asked what he believed was the meaning of love, Martin Luther King wrote: “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”?

Sadly, far too many of us limit our understanding of the word love to the imperfect love which is all too often settled for in this life, the love which says, “I’ll love you as long as you love me.”  Which simply put means my love is contingent on you doing and being exactly the way, I want you to do and be or the kind of love which sees a couple turning inward in their devotion to one another, shutting off the world. This kind of love, this malpractice is then projected onto the MYSTERY we call God as we design a god in our own image, one whose love is based upon our behavior or who leads us to abandon the world. Spondic LOVE is palpable. It flows in, around, and beyond us drawing us into floods of mutuality, drawing us ever closer to the ONE who is in the words of Ilia Delio, the LOVER, BELOVED, and BREATH of LOVE. For we live and move and have our being in the LOVE which is DIVINITY! The kind of LOVE which insists, “I want you to have everything!” It is this kind of LOVE which unites us in our desires for our neighbours! We want them to have everything! Everything they need to be this LOVE in the world. For to be LOVE in the world is to be fully alive, effervescent, bubbling, rising up again and again, to life, to libate. Libation which comes from a beautiful Latin verb which means “to pour as an offering.” LOVE’s spondicity bubbles in us when we embody the LOVE which permeates the Cosmos, when we become LOVE in the world.

Just like the bubbles in champagne, being LOVE in the world is not a linear thing. It doesn’t suddenly happen and then you become LOVE in the world from now on. Like the bubbles this LOVE flows in, with, through, and beyond us, rising here, there, and everywhere. Ours is the task of joining LOVE’s flow. We begin by noticing, recognizing, and naming LOVE where, when, and in whom we see it. Then we trust LOVE’s flow to carry us beyond ourselves and into the lives of our neighbours, ready, willing, and able to be LOVE in their lives, simply because we just can’t help ourselves, we want them to have everything.

Jesus said, “I have come to give you life; life in all its abundance.” or as some translations put it, “I have come that you may have life and live it abundantly!” Live it to the full! Live life until you are drunk on LOVE falling all over yourself with a desire to share DIVINE life.

 “I just want to thank you for loving me.” That’s all she had to say. Somehow, the Sun shone more brightly, and standing shivering before the power of LOVE, I could see beyond the casket’s veneer to the life which had been lived so well. Setting aside my carefully chosen words, I spoke from my heart about the LOVE which brought us into the beauty which surrounds us to herald a man whose embodiment of LOVE will never die. When the familiar words had been spoken all our eyes turned to the widow, who summoned all her strength to kneel before the casket just long enough to bestow one last kiss to her BeLOVed. May this LOVE, which is positively SPONDIC bubble and flow in, with, through, and beyond you, filling up every nook and cranny of your days, here in this splendid Creation which is absolutely soaked by the flow of the ONE who is our BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also! Remember this ONE is drunk, falling all over LOVEself in a desire to share DIVINE life! Enjoy the bubbles! Then be that LOVE in the world! LOVE in the name and for the sake of our LOVER, BELOVED, and the BREATH of LOVE. Amen.

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NO! I Do NOT Believe IN Jesus! – a sermon on John 2:1-11 – The Wedding at Cana

recorded on Jan. 20, 2019

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend that I was very close to during my seminary days. This friend has long since left the church. My friend asked me, “Dawn do you still believe in Jesus?” I remembered all the long conversations in seminary about believing in Jesus and at that very moment I had an epiphany of sorts. I hesitated to answer, because like all epiphanies, I recognized that if I let myself go to the place where my epiphany was pointing me to, I would be in very unfamiliar territory. My friend would not let me off the hook, “It’s a simple question Dawn.  Do you still believe in Jesus?”

“No.” I said, and my friend smiled, the way she used to smile when she scored a point against me in some theological debate. My epiphany was shedding light on what could prove to be a painful reality. After all, from where my friend now sits, outside of the church and beyond all the church’s teachings, belief in Jesus is kind of a non-negotiable bottom line for a pastor. From her perspective, I ought to be able to give an unequivocal, “YES” to her question.

“No.” I said it again. “I do not believe in Jesus.”

My friend’s smile seemed to shine brighter than my epiphany. It was as if she was already celebrating my departure from the church. Before she could welcome me to the place where she now stands, outside the church, I said it again. “No, I do not believe in Jesus.  But, ……….I do believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said .I believe what Jesus taught. I believe that the way Jesus lived embodies a new way of being human. I believe Jesus when he says, “Do not be afraid.” I believe Jesus when he speaks about the MYSTERY that we call God. I believe Jesus when he insists that justice is worth dying for. I believe Jesus when he risks everything for the sake of his conviction that non-violent resistance is the way to achieve justice. I believe Jesus, the way he lived, the way he died, and the way he lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who follow his way of being human. I believe Jesus. I also believe that it doesn’t matter a whole hill of beans whether or not I or anybody else believes in Jesus. But it makes all the difference in the world and to the world that we believe Jesus, because at the core of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught is LOVE. LOVE God with all your heart, with, all your soul, and with all your mind and LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself; this I believe is a way BEYOND the kind of humanity that is always being consumed by itself. This LOVE moves us in to a new way of being. I believe Jesus’ call to look beyond our selfish needs, our selfish desires, our self-self-centeredness, and to move beyond our fears, to LOVE.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge between believing in Jesus and simply believing Jesus. Now I realize that some people would say that they don’t see much difference between believing in and simply believing.  Well that’s where the story of the Wedding at Cana is helpful. You see, so many people see the story about the Wedding at Cana as a miracle story; a story that proves Jesus is who people say he is. You either believe in Jesus or you don’t. You either believe in the fact that Jesus turned actual water into wine, or you don’t. You either believe in miracles or you don’t. Well, I believe the story of the Wedding at Cana, but I do not believe in miracles; at least not the kind of miracles that defy reality. I believe the story about Jesus turning water into wine. But I don’t believe that any water actually turned into wine. I believe the story, but I don’t believe that Jesus was some sort of super-natural being who  instantaneously changed water into wine. I believe the story, because the story points to the truth. Continue reading

Let 2022 Be Your Ode to JOY!

The myths recorded at the end of the first century about the birth of Jesus are a series of parables designed by their creators to challenge the oppressed followers of the teachings of Jesus to free themselves from the bondage of empire. One of the parables which make up this nativity befitting a great human, is the Parable of the Wise Ones. Wise Ones, sages from the East followed the star of their dreams seeking the one who would fulfill the hopes and dreams of many for leader who would embody the WISDOM necessary to lead the people out of bondage. Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Matthew recorded the Parable of the Wise Ones: “Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod; suddenly sages from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the one born ruler of the Judeans? For we have seen his star at its ascent and have come to reverence him.’  When King Herod heard this, he was shaken, and all Jerusalem with him; then calling together the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah would be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, by no means are the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod secretly called for the sages and learned from them the time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go, search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word so that I may also go and reverence him.” When they had heard the king, they left, and there suddenly was the star that they had seen at is ascent going before them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they rejoiced; their joy was exuberant. On entering the house, they say the child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and reverenced him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The gospel-storyteller weaves a parable for generations which draws us into the miracle of birth in the midst of challenging of times. The Parable of the Wise Ones is carefully designed to inspire communities of listeners who knew all too well the trials and tribulations which threaten every baby born into the turmoil of oppression and violence. In the parable, Jesus is portrayed as a child who will grow into a great liberator who challenges not only his own generation, but generations to come to live fully, no matter what the obstacles to freedom may be. The Parable of the Wise Ones, like all parables if we let them, when liberated from the misperceptions of history, has the uncanny ability to challenge us to embrace new ways of seeing reality. Ways which will liberate us from our fears, liberate us from oppression, and empower us to resist violence. The power of a parable’s ability to liberate generations comes from the hope which parables inspire.

The Parable of the Sages manages to challenge even the wisest among us to see beyond the challenges, beyond the threats of violence, beyond even the end of the gospel-storyteller’s story, which we all know is coming, for not even death can diminish the joy of new birth. For who among us, when the star stops over the place where the baby lay, does not feel the hope rising in us, when the sages, knowing full well the dangers surrounding the birth, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they rejoiced and their joy was exuberant.”

Their joy was exuberant! Joy the very emotion which inspires hope!  Considering the many challenges, the dangers, toils, and snares through which we have come these past two years, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing to feel some joy? Joy to the world! Yes please!  We need a little joy in order to hope for liberation in this new year! What I wouldn’t give for a star to stop over the place where all the answers lie waiting to be discovered, waiting to free us, so that we can abandon our fear and live life abundantly, here, and now. That’s the thing about parables, you can’t take them too literally. Staring up into the heavens searching for a star to lead us, won’t bring us the joy we need to inspire the hope we need to free us from our fear, so that the promise of abundant life can be born again and again, and again.

I had almost given up hope of experiencing joy this Christmas until I was reminded of the gift of joy given by an unlikely creator of hope. I was watching one of those endless end of the year news programs. You know the kind of show that tries to sum it all up with a few segments which remind us of the momentous, almost forgotten, happenings of the year gone by. (click here to view the news segment) Well, it turns out that 2020, in addition to being an “annus horribilis” that’s the Queen’s Latin for “disastrous or unfortunate year,” 2020 was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. Needless to say, the planned celebrations were put on hold, and they remained on hold all of last year. Nevertheless, the news program decided to run their tribute to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as part of their year-end windup. Over the years, I’ve learned very little about Beethoven’s life other than the fact that this epic creator of music, lost his hearing and continued to compose music which is beyond compare. What I learned in the ever-so brief snippet, which is characteristic of so much news programming, is that in addition to losing his hearing in his late-twenties, Beethoven suffered from chronic lead poisoning, he may have had colitis, he suffered fevers and headaches which lasted for months. His health challenges became so unbearable that Beethoven entertained the idea of suicide. Choosing instead to live for his art, Beethoven contended with the political oppression, wars, and rumors of wars of his time. Living in Vienna, which was primarily a police state at the time, Beethoven chose to set to music the Friedrich Schiller poem Ode to Joy. As the final movement of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy may be the most famous revolutionary call to freedom ever created. Says conductor Marin Alsop, “it’s about coming to terms with challenge, strife, and struggle and deciding it is worth it.”

Beethoven tapped into the dejection of his fellow citizens to create a gift designed to keep the idea of freedom alive. The writing of the Ninth Symphony by a man who was deaf may just be the greatest act of faith in the reality of life’s worth! For Beethoven gave birth to the Ninth Symphony using his mind’s ear. Listen with your own mind’s ear and I suspect the power of Beethoven’s creation will still be able to stir joy in you. Marin Alsop insists that Beethoven’s loss of hearing may have liberated him from self-censorship. “He kept moving forward in terms of experimentation, in terms of taking risks.” With the Ode to Joy, Beethoven reminded his world, and continues to remind our world, that “even in the darkest of times there is potential for joy.”

I wonder what the numerus losses our world has experienced in the past two years may have liberated us from. What joys may we discover in this liberation? In the freedom from the way things were? In the discovery of stars to guide us? In the joy we allow ourselves to take in each new birth.

These 2020s may not be the roaring twenties of a bygone age but consider for a moment the enormity of the blessings we enjoy in this century. All around us there is potential for joy. The kind of joy which inspires hope, the kind of hope that creates abundant life. If we let it, 2022 has the potential to be our ode to joy, for we have all we need to create abundant life here and now. Not just for ourselves, but for all our neighbours. Yes, we do need to come to terms with our challenges, we need to understand the oppressive nature of the empires we serve, for only then will we be able to fully see life’s tremendous worth.

Friends, at your birth a star shone brightly in the sky and the sages who visited you, they rejoiced, and indeed their joy was exuberant. The wise ones in your life have given you many gifts. May their joy and your giftedness work wonders in you. For we have challenges to meet. Now is the time to claim the freedom of life without fear which is the joy of abundant life. May this new year bring you great joy! May this new year be the beginning of your ode to joy!  Your gift to the world! Happy New Year! Happy New Year!  Amen!

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You beautiful CHRIST-Child YOU!

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones

The old and the young

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear.

John Lennon’s almost mournful Christmas wish resonates in my very being this Christmas.  A few weeks ago, we were all looking forward to making up for last Christmas and hoping that this year Christmas would be Merry and that our New Year would be a good one without any fear. And here we are on this the Second Day of Christmas looking toward a New Year being told that we should be afraid, very afraid. So far the 20s haven’t exactly been the roaring 20’s which our grandparents enjoyed. 2020 and 2021 have challenged all, if not to be afraid, then at least be careful, very, very, careful. Celebrating in the midst of a pandemic which keeps rushing at us in ever increasing waves isn’t easy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled to feel all the feelings we long to feel at Christmas.Anticipation, Excitement, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love . . .

The other day, as I waited in a long line up to get my booster shot, I heard someone say, “This sure doesn’t feel like Christmas.” To which his companion said, “No matter how hard I try I just can’t get into the Christmas Spirit.” I almost wept as the woman in front of me shook her head and yelled, “Don’t worry Christmas will soon be over.” I managed to restrain myself from saying, “Ba Humbug!” But I certainly thought it.

Driving home with a sore arm, I remembered another Christmas long ago. That’s the thing about Christmas if functions as a kind of time machine to Christmases past. Way back then, I was struggling to feel all the feels of Christmas. I was young and very serious about my faith, and I wanted to feel something more than I was. I remember on Christmas Eve felling so melancholy that I cornered my Pastor in his office. I sat right down and told him that I was having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas. The poor man. To his credit he just smiled, closed the door, sat down, and listened as I poured my heart out about how nothing was really the same and how difficult I was finding it to get into the spirit of Christmas. I told him that this year it was as if something was missing, and I asked him if he thought I might be losing my faith.

He just smiled, and said that, “someday I would look back on this Christmas with the same kind of longing that I was looking back on previous Christmases.” He said that each of us has an emptiness deep inside which cannot be filled by the past. He went on to say that the emptiness couldn’t be filled by looking to the future either. He insisted that, our emptiness can only be filled in the present moment. He said that our emptiness is filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.

I honestly, didn’t understand a word Pastor Ernst was saying. I was very dissatisfied with the quality of his advice. It sounded to me that he was telling me to pray, to pray now in this very moment. Probably because back then I thought prayer was the answer to every question, so why wouldn’t I interpret his words as a call to prayer. But I’d already tried to pray, and it hadn’t made a bit of difference. If anything, trying to pray only made me feel worse. So, I thanked Pastor Ernst for his time and wished him a Merry Christmas.

As I left his office, I couldn’t imagine ever longing for this particular Christmas. Looking back on it now, what I wouldn’t give for a few more moments with old Pastor Ernst, for the passing years have proven him to be a very wise man, indeed. “Someday, you will look back at this Christmas with longing.” Each of us has an emptiness deep inside that cannot be filled by longing for the past or for the future. Our emptiness can only be filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.”

It has taken me years to understand the wisdom that Pastor Ernst shared with me. My understanding began that very afternoon. The preparations for the Christmas Eve Sunday School Pageant were in a state of pure bedlam. The madness wasn’t helped by the presence of the baby Jesus. Tradition dictated that the youngest member of the congregation be given the honour of playing the role of the baby Jesus. This particular baby Jesus was just eight weeks old, and according to her mother she suffered with colic. I had absolutely no idea what colic was, but there was something about the look in her mother’s eyes which compelled me to take the baby from her. I’d always been good with babies, and I was sure that I could calm her down, if I just got her away from the madness that was going on around us. The church had a little nursery attached to the sanctuary, so off I went with the baby Jesus in my arms. It took some doing but after some furious rocking in a rocking chair baby Jesus lay quietly looking up at me.  She was a strange little Jesus. She had the most striking red hair, and the most amazing green eyes. She frowned up at me as if to say, “Who are you?” Not wanting her to start screaming all over again, I rocked a little faster, it seemed the faster I rocked her the more content she became, ah colic. It took some doing, but finally the scowling baby Jesus smiled up at me. It was overwhelming. 

With the sounds of duelling shepherds and excited angels out in the narthex, I sat rocking this lovely little CHRIST child. And suddenly I was filled with the glory of God. Filled to over-flowing. Connected in some mysterious way to something so much bigger than myself. It was as if, in that little child all the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lay. At that very moment I held eternity in my arms.

I’m sure most of you are convinced that you will never look back with longing at this Christmas. Not unless you allow yourself to see the DIVINE MYSTERY in the faces of those you see here and now in these moments. There are CHRIST Childs everywhere, even in your very own mirror. For you are a beloved Child of the DIVINE MYSTERY.  In you the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lie. If you’ve been longing for loved ones, long gone, or far away, if you’ve been missing all the feels you were longing to feel, if you’ve been pre-occupied by what the future may hold, if you know an emptiness deep inside… It is time to stop and take a good look around you. 

Christmas time is a time to be present here and now. Christmas time is eternal time.  And it is true, the empty place inside cannot be filled by longing for what was or for what is to come. The empty place inside can only be filled here and now in this moment, by our God who inhabits eternity. The good news is that this is only the Second Day of Christmas, you have ten more days to be fully present to each moment you are blessed to be you. If you like, do a little dance, you know a dance like Ebenezer Scrooge did when he woke up and realized he hadn’t missed Christmas at all. Wake up to this moment and keep Christmas well. Rejoice for we are richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Born into the ONE who is the LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond us, CHRIST-Children everyone. And so, this is Christmas, time to live in this moment, you beautiful CHRIST-Child you.  Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY for life here and now!

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