RESPECT! – Learning from the Seven Grandfathers

I can hear them, even now, their voices wash over me like a gentle breeze. My Grandad’s stern, crisp, Belfast accent. My Nannie’s sweet playful, almost wistful Northern Irish lilt. My Gran’s sing-songie Welsh tones. The three Grandparents I knew, and I adored, whose voices echo even now across the years, over the miles, across many waters, along this shore, prompting me with the values which were instilled in them by their grandparents. Not the least of which was the insistence that I, we, you, all of us must respect our elders. Back then, in the exuberance of my youth, I didn’t think much of the values my own elders tried to impart to me. I do remember thinking that their warnings about respecting my elders, was just their way, as my elders, of making themselves heard. Now, with my own youth and exuberance spent, the reality that I am now older than they were when my Grandparents claimed for themselves their right to be respected, I wonder if I’ve done enough to instill the values my Grandparents instilled in me, in my own grandchildren. When they stand on the shores of this majestic lake, will my voice float across the waters and if it does will the values of my elders, still be heard, so that they too will one day be able to claim for themselves the right to be respected?

This beautiful water which carries the echoes of my elder’s wisdom to me, was named by the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, Ouentironk. Ouentironk is the Anishinaabe language, and it means Beautiful Water. From the Anishinaabe elders, generation after generation have heard the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers waft across the waters of Ouentironk; teachings imparted to ensure that each generation could discover for themselves the ways to live in peace; peace with the land, peace with the waters, peace with their neighbours, peace in themselves. The teaching of the elders which insists that, “To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. To know Love is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have Respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation.  Truth is to know all of these things.” Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, seven sacred teachings imparted from one generation to the next, values carefully chosen to remind each generation to judge their own actions by considering how their actions will impact the harmony of generations to come.

Standing here on the shore of Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water, I cannot help wondering if generations to come will know the beauty of this water or will the ways of those of us who are settlers in this land, and the ways of our elders, will they continue to destroy the harmony of generations to come. I know that my elders held little respect for the elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. I know that the values of my own elders failed to instill in me much, if any concern for the harmony of generations to come. It is oh so telling that our own congregation’s celebration of National Indigenous Sunday does not include a single Indigenous person. While I’d like to blame the corona-virus lockdown for this, I cannot. A very big part of settler privilege is the shameful reality that most settlers, we live our lives isolated from Indigenous Peoples. The harmony of our own generation remains unrealized as a discordant cacophony rages in storm after storm. We settlers have grown weary of the discord as each storm rages: pandemic fears, accentuated by the news of systemic racism, followed by waves of nauseating grief revealed by the discovery of 215 tiny bodies, callously tossed into an unmarked grave, and the haunting reality of untold numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women. There was no time to hunker down in our small socially distant boats, before the storm of Islamophobia raged once again, sweeping away members of three generations of a family.

What will the generations to come hear from us, their elders, when they stand on this shore? What harmonies will echo down from our generation to the next, and the next, and the next? Can we settlers sift through the sins, the crimes, the abuses perpetrated by our elders and underscored by our indifference. Can we sift through these to discover some wisdom in the teachings of our past? Can we settlers listen and learn from the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers? Can we move from the discord of our white, settler privilege to harmonies which will ring true to those who suffer the pain we have wrought?

From our ancestors, we proclaim a gospel which tells the tale of a teacher and his students caught in the waves raging storm. The confident teacher, lies sleeping upon a cushion in their small boat, his students terrified that they are about to drown, wake their teacher, demanding of him, “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re going to drown?” Their teacher awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the raging waters, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind dropped, and everything was perfectly calm.

This sacred story, told down through the generations of our ancestors, now rings in our ears. Sadly, in our socially distant boats, with storms of the pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, raging all around us, we see ourselves as the demanding followers of the Teacher, left with no other choice but to wait for some sleeping teacher to wake up and save us, by magically commanding the raging waters to “Be still.” It is as if we have failed to learn anything at all from the very Teacher, we expect to save us. We settlers who profess to follow our Teacher, refuse to learn from our most revered elder, who insisted that he and the CREATOR of storms are ONE. We have forgotten the language of story itself and failed to embrace the power of metaphor to carry us beyond the storm. Jesus lived and died proclaiming the Wisdom of his own elders, which insisted that we are created in the image of our MAKER, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, empowered with such wonderous creativity and capable of unfathomable destruction. Jesus, our Teacher, insisted the only way to achieve peace was through the harmony which comes when we LOVE one another, for we are created in the image of the ONE who is LOVE and that same LOVE lives, and moves and has being in the world in, with, through, and beyond us. Yes, Jesus calmed the storm, and everything was perfectly calm. But Jesus didn’t let his students rest. Disturbed by their failure to do anything to save themselves, Jesus demanded to know, why they were so frightened?  “Have you no faith?”

Have we no faith? Tossed about by the raging storms of pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, have we no faith in the creative powers which live in, with, through and beyond us? Are we content to confine the powers of LOVE to a long-ago Teacher, even if that Teacher tried with his very life to teach us that the LOVE which created us, lives in us? Our Teacher, Jesus lived to  show us how to use the power of LOVE to save ourselves? Our saviour is not out there, or up there, or back there in the past. Our saviour is the ONE who IS LOVE, and that ONE, that LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Calming the raging storms, creating the harmonies of justice which in turn creates the very peace we long for. This is our work. We are called to embody the very LOVE which created us to be LOVE in the world.

But in the turmoil of so many raging storms, where do we begin? I hear my own Grandparents’ voices encouraging me to respect my elders and I wonder if perhaps, respecting my own elders means seeing them in the fullness of their humanity and recognizing that all too often the choices which they made leaned heavily into humanity’s destructive powers and not into humanity’s creative powers. As each generation evolves, we need to learn from our elders, even as we learn from our own experiences. So that, we can develop wisdom which we might impart to the generations which follow us.

Jesus, our beloved Teacher, insisted that the most important rules he learned from his elders were to LOVE our CREATOR and to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves, Jesus then went on to insist that even our enemies are in fact our neighbours, and went so far as to insist that we learn to love our enemies. So, let us respect our elders by seeking ways to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves. Surely, our LOVE for our neighbour must include learning to LOVE our neighbours’ elders as well.

So, let us look, on this Fathers’ Day to the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, who as the sacred story goes, gifted the generations which followed them with seven Teachings which even now echo across this Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water. Listen to the sacred teachings of the elders of our sisters and brothers: “To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom. To know LOVE is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. Truth is to know all of these things.”

Seven teachings may seem like a tall order for those of us who are only beginning to embrace our calling to be LOVE in the world, especially when so many storms are raging all around us.

Where do we begin? Like the students in Jesus’ boat, I want to know which teaching of the elders is the most important. Alas, to our shame, in our congregation there is no Indigenous teacher of any generation among us to instruct us on how to begin. So, let us begin with something we hold in common with our Indigenous neighbours, respect for our elders. Let us begin with Respect: as the Indigenous Elders insist: “One of the teachings around resect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. When we meet someone for the first time, we form an impression of them. That first impression is not based on respect. Respect develops when one takes the time to establish a deeper relationship with the other. This concept of respect extends to all of Creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal –in order to receive respect, one must give respect.”

We must get to know our Indigenous sisters and brothers so that together we can develop respect for one another. Sadly, far too many of us settlers have entered into relationships with Indigenous neighbours only to use them to try to assuage our guilt, or to teach us how to do better, or to solve our problems for us. This is not respect. We settlers, we have homework to do. Knowing requires learning, learning requires careful study, humble listening, discipline, taking risks, the courage to make mistakes, looking foolish, owning our guilt, and acknowledging the pain we encounter in the people we are longing to know. Only when we learn the respect which comes from really knowing the other will we be ready for the difficult work of reconciliation.  As the Indigenous Elders insist, the truth is, Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth these are teachings which go hand in hand. To have wisdom” they insist, “to have wisdom one must demonstrate love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.”

The Grandfathers’ warning to each successive generation insists that, “You are not being honest with yourself if you use only one or two of these teachings. Leaving out even one of these teachings means that one is not embracing the teachings. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive ourselves or others.”

My hope, my prayer for my own generation is that each of us might wake up in our socially distant boats to embody the power of LOVE which lives and moves and has being in, with, through, and beyond us, and rise up to command the storms raging around us, by the power of our LOVE  to “Be Still. Peace.” Then we can set out onto the shores of this new emerging future which stretches before us, resolved to respect our elders, all of our elders by getting to know our neighbours in ways which foster respect for the gifts of our CREATOR. So that together, we might learn from one another to LOVE our CREATOR with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. For, in loving our Indigenous neighbours we will come to know the wisdom passed down to them from their elders, who knew the wisdom of judging their own actions by trying to imagine the impact their actions might have on the generations which follow them. Surely, in our shared, common humanity, our concern for those who follow us will give us the courage to work with one another to foster the harmonies of justice, so that peace may break out among us and for generations to come the beautiful water of this Ouentironk might carry the echoes of our cries, “Peace, Be Still!” to the generations who follow us. Let it be so. Let it be so now and always. Let it be so.  Amen.  

View the full National Indigenous Peoples Sunday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Putting away our Trinity toys!

I have a Hindu friend, who I once had the audacity to ask, how he managed to keep track of all the 330 million gods of Hinduism. I have a difficult enough time with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I can’t imagine how I would cope with 330 million gods. My friend just laughed and said, “You christians with your three gods, have forgotten that all gods are just educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE god, who is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”

Many of you know that BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, has now become my own way of expressing the Trinity. I suspect that my friend may be right. We christians have indeed forgotten that even the Trinity of CREATOR, CHILD, and SPIRIT are merely educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

We christians certainly aren’t very good at putting our toys away. I suspect that Jesus, who knew nothing about the church’s doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus who insisted that we must be born again in order to see the basileia ton theon basileia is a Greek word for the kin-dom or household, or family of God. I must confess that Jesus’ idea of being born again, carries with it all sorts of baggage which I have been carrying around for so very long, it makes me weary. In the words of Nicodemus, who like me longs to see the ONE who is DIVINITY, Nicodemus who asked Jesus: “How can an adult be born a second time?” Well, it’s Trinity Sunday after all. So, we might as well put our toys away, or set them aside, all the words designed to teach us something about the Trinity, let’s put those toys away and imagine for just a moment, that we are born again into a new life, a life without our treasured toys. A life with but a few words: Mama, Mama, Mama, Dada, Dada, Dada. Have you ever noticed how breathy our first words were? Ma, Ma, Da, Da . . .

As infants that ah sound, is breathed into our world as an offering which delights the object of our desire. Ma, Da, Ma – ahhh ahhh, ahhh, our very breath offered to the object of our desire, the ONE who gave us breath. Surely, it is no mere coincidence that the ancient Hebrew word for breath is ruach and the ancient Greek word is nooma ? Even less of a coincidence is the very name of the MYSTERY we call “GOD.” The name so sacred that our ancestors did not speak it. A name better breathed than spoken, YHWH – YAWEH – I AM, WHO AM or I SHALL BE, WHO I SHALL BE . . . YAHWEH, RUACH, RUACH. The ONE that IS. The ONE we desire to know. The ONE expressed by Jesus, with breath ABBA – AAABBAA, AAABAA – Jesus understood that this ABBA, with which Jesus was ONE, is the breath which emanates from his own flesh. Jesus taught us that we are all ONE with ABBA, the ONE that breathes in, with, through, and beyond each of us. YAHWEH, RUACH, ABBA.

We followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, are not alone in expressing the DIVINE ONE with our very breath, ALLAH, BUDDAH, BRAHMAN, DHARMA. With our toys put away, we can breathe more deeply of the RUACH as the breath of the NOOMA in-spires our ex-pressions, of the ONE Jesus’ life and death proclaim is LOVE. With our toys tucked away on the shelf, our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit tucked away on the shelf, we can breathe more deeply our offerings of LOVE to the ONE that IS our desire, the MYSTERY, which is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

RUACH, YAHWEH, ABBA, ALLAH, BUDDAH, BRAHMAN, DHARMA …Freed from the distraction of our toys, let us breathe deeply of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. So that together as ONE with might exhale the LOVE which nourishes, grounds, and sustains, everything and everyone that is, was, and ever more shall be. Our world is crying out for LOVE born of the RUACH …

There will be time enough to play with our toys, when LOVE is born again… May that LOVE, the AGAPE, breathe in, with, through, and beyond, you. AGAPE, now and always…may our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself be born in you again, and again, and again …

Breathe deeply, dear ONEs, so the world may see in you, the baselia ton theon, the family of the ONE that is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also…YAHWEH the LOVE which is DIVINE MYSTERY…our AAAAHHHH . . .

View the full Trinity Sunday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Back to NORMAL! – a Pentecost reflection

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a year?

In daylights,
In sunsets,
In midnights,
In cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in a life?

I wish I could sing this for you. However, I’m not a singer and we can’t afford the copyright license. Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? Here’s another question, which ought to be put into song: Six hundred twelve thousand minutes. Six hundred twelve thousand minutes. How do you measure fourteen months of lockdown? Fourteen long months worshipping via the internet. Fourteen long months locked away from one another.

Fourteen long months and only now, the end is in sight. With jabs in our arms, we approach the second summer of this pandemic with hope in our hearts, because the end is in sight. Here in Canada, our government is promising that all of us will have received our second shot before the end of September. See you in September. See you when the summer’s through. It’s gonna be a long lonely summer…Sorry, no more song lyrics. Instead let me offer you a refrain which we’ve been hearing, in all sorts of forms, whether it’s over Zoom or facetime or even in news reports, over and over again we hear people expressing our longing to return to “normal.” Young people are seeing visions, old people are dreaming dreams, of what our lives will be like, soon and very soon…sorry, sorry, I can’t seem help myself. It is as if a SPIRIT of freedom was injected into my arm with that first vaccine and I can’t help myself, I feel like singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. You have no idea how lucky you are that the songs which keeping popping into my head are covered by copyright.

As we begin to peer into our future, it is impossible not to look longingly back over our shoulder to life BC, Before COVID and hope against hope that soon, soon, we will be able to get back to “normal.” Now, I am well aware of the current trend of correcting those of us who are longing for normal life to return, by declaring, “Normal wasn’t working before, we can’t simply go back to normal.” I’ve said this myself on more than one occasion, but bear with me as I attempt to make an argument for our return to normal life!

To explore what a return to normal might look like, we will have to go back beyond Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, beyond the BCs, Before COVID and Before CHIRST, some 13 point 8 billion years ago to about 3 minutes after the big bang, when the Cosmos itself was but a newborn. In those early minutes of Cosmic existence, science tells us that the only things which existed were particles. When suddenly, like only 380,000 years, a mere blink Cosmic in history, suddenly, like the rushing winds, particles began to bond with other particles to form atoms. Now, one of the astonishing things about atoms is that the atoms possessed qualities which the individual particles which bonded to form the atoms did not possess. Particles bonded to make something completely new. Particles bonding to other particles doesn’t simply create a pile of particles but something new. Imagine the vast Cosmos made up of particles coming together to create atoms, which eventually begin to coalesce to become molecules.

Fast forward, incredibly fast, to 3.8 billion years ago approximately 750 million years after the Earth was formed, when molecules come together to make something new, as the first cells appear on this beautiful verdant planet, we call home. Particles beget atoms, atoms beget molecules, molecules beget cells, and cells beget, well you name it! Like comes together with like to create something altogether unlikely, something altogether new. 13.783 billion years of making all things new and humans finally begin to evolve.  We are a new thing. After 13.783 billion years of newness, a mere 5 – 7 million years ago, some apelike creatures began to evolve and just 200,000 years ago, something completely new emerges, something which possesses qualities not present in earlier models, for we homo sapiens are so very new; brand spanking new things.

Now fast forward, very fast to about to just about 5,000 years ago when recorded history begins and we can hear tell of one new thing after another new thing being, imagined, envisioned, and created, for newness is baked into our DNA. The Cosmos itself is all about creating the new! There is a FORCE in the Cosmos which continuously allures in order to create something new. Some of our ancestors named this FORCE, RUACH, WIND, BREATH, SPIRIT. This SPIRIT continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, creatures of the Cosmos together to create something new. In all these 13.8 billion years the Cosmos has not gone back to the way things were in the past. History may repeat itself, but the Cosmos moves on into the newness of reality. Over and over again, in face after face, creature after diverse creature is born, unlike any creature born before it, no two creatures possessing exactly the same qualities. We cannot go back because everything old becomes new, again, and again, and again. Newness is an eternal quality of REALITY. Newness is, if you will “normal.”[1]

There is no going back. Yes, sometimes newness involves reaching back and reintegrating, something which was good that was left behind, which newness needs in order to keep becoming. Please notice I said reaching back and reintegrating. I did not say replicating. Reintegrating something good which was lost, creates something new. At other times, new involves letting go of things which aren’t helpful or are destructive so as not to recreate something which cannot evolve into goodness. Newness both includes and transcends what was. But newness is always part of our REALITY, I’ll say it again, newness is normal. Even these past fourteen months, which have felt for many of us like suspended animation, a time when everything we had come to accept as normal life was set aside to avoid the pandemic, even these past fourteen months have seen the creation of something new, as this enforced time out has caused us to rethink how to move into the future.

Ways of life have been challenged as new ways of living have emerged. Just as surely as the FORCE, the RUACH, the BREATH, the SPIRIT continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and creatures of the Cosmos together to create something new, we who are longing for freedom, cannot resist the motion of the Cosmos, a new thing is born. Lifestyles, systems and organizations which insist upon returning to the way things were are not in the Cosmic sense of things “normal.” For new is normal.

So, where does that leave us, here as we begin to envision emerging from these six hundred twelve thousand minutes of lockdown? On this Pentecost Sunday when the church celebrates the birth of a new Way of being in the world, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul which on this very day will be read in churches all over the world: Listen to how Paul described the nature of REALITY to the church in Rome: “We know that from the beginning until now, all of Creation has been growing, groaning in one great act of giving birth. And not only Creation, but all of us who possess the first fruits of the SPIRIT we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.” (Rom.8:22-23)

That inward groaning as we await the birth of the new is an expression of our own future’s birth pangs as our fears and hopes to coalesce into dreams and visions of new ways of being in the world. Something new is about to be born. Let us dream dreams of life, not like life was, this wouldn’t be normal, for it goes against everything that the Cosmos is was or ever more shall be. Let us dream dreams of life as it is emerging, new life, life beyond our fears, beyond the limitations of our histories, life measured not in minutes, or years, life as the song says, measured in LOVE. How about LOVE? Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a life of a woman or a man? Remember the LOVE…Sing out, give out, measure your life
In LOVE…Seasons of
LOVE…Seasons of LOVE…ah I wish I could sing it! LOVE which continues to allure, compel, inspire, attract, the intricate particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and creatures, that’s you and me dear friends, LOVE is calling us to create something new. LOVE which even now is swirling in and around us, inflaming us, exciting us, always inviting us into something new. THANKS be to ALL that IS HOLY! Amen.

VIEW the full PENTECOST WORSHIP VIDEO below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

[1] I am indebted to Rob Bell for his insight about “new” being normal which I either heard or read during this long lock down. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate exactly where, I only remember that it was Rob Bell. So credit where credit is due. Rob Bell’s insights begat this sermon!

Mothers’ Day Angst – sermons for a day not included in the liturgical calendar!

True Mother Julian of NorwichMothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril which compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fail to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women.  Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:

Five Bags of Sugar

Enough for Everyone

Breasted ONE

Sophia/Wisdom

MOTHERS’ DAY – Peace is the Way

Preaching on Mothers’ Day – Don’t Compromise

Another Option for Mothers’ Day: Bring Many Names

SHE Who Dwells Among Us – A Mothers’ Day Sermon

Arise on this Mothers’ Day: a sermon

ONE in GOD – a sermon

Stretching Metaphors Beyond their Ability to Carry Us – a sermon for Easter 5B – John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

Tomorrow at Holy Cross, we will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. For those of you looking for a sermon following the Revised Common Lectionary, this sermon from 2018, explores those readings.

to listen to the audio only click here

There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God.  Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.

Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the DIVINE.

The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”. Continue reading

Reflections on Psalm 23: Words Revealing MYSTERY

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I am delighted to be joined by the members of Holy Cross’ Worship Team as we reflect together upon our experiences with the 23rd Psalm. We begin with a familiar translation of the Psalm. Our own reflections are punctuated by Rabbi Jamie Arnold’s translation from the original Hebrew.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

For most of my life, the words of the 23rd Psalm, as they were translated and interpreted by the authors of the King James Version of the Bible, have been with me, here and here. When I was just ten years old, we moved to Newmarket and lived here less than a year. It was a lonely year.

My brother and I were what we called back then, latch-key kids, which meant that we pretty much took care of ourselves while Mum and Dad had to work. I vaguely remember a brief friendship with a girl who lived down the street, who had the audacity to invite me to join her for a week of Vacation Bible School. Never having attended church, I had no idea what to Vacation Bible School was. Nevertheless, my parents’ discouragement about church, was all the encouragement I needed to want to attend. There was something exciting about the independence of striking out on my own, without parental encouragement, to explore the goings on at this place my parents avoided; indeed disparaged. I remember very little about that week except for the ongoing lessons of a gifted teacher who taught us the 23rd Psalm. I say taught us, but it would be more accurate to say, that he imprinted the 23rd psalm on our memory-banks, where it remains to this very day. I remember a sense of confusion about the meaning of these strange words. I remember feeling their weight, their importance, as if they were to be treasured and remembered because of their power. Power which my ten-year-old mind equated to the only other thing I had ever memorized, my twelve-times-table. If I could only capture those words, the way I’d captured the twelve-times-table, the power of numbers stored in my memory, would pale in comparison to the power of these magic words. I remember the teacher carefully explaining that these words together are poetry and that it is important to memorize poetry because poems are alive; they are sacred living words.  At the time I had no idea what the word “sacred” means, but like the strange and mysterious words of the poetry of the psalm, the word “sacred” sounded mysterious and so filled with wonder.  So, I stored the word “sacred” away as a precious gift. Over the years the sacred gift of Psalm 23, graciously given by wise teacher, has over and over again, filled me with wonder and opened me to the power of MYSTERY.

The King James Version of the 23rd Psalm, lends itself well to the mysterious power of poetry. Recently, I discovered another version of the 23rd Psalm translated from its ancient Hebrew origins by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Rabbi Arnold’s translation adheres to the original Hebrew and like the King James Version captures the mysterious power of poetry to reveal the SACRED. Earlier, I invited the members of our Worship Team to briefly reflect upon their most vivid SACRED encounters with the poetry of the 23rd Psalm. What follows is a reading of Rabbi Arnold’s translation wrapped around some of our Worship Team’s reflections. Rabbi Arnold’s translation of the 23rd Psalm, which he calls:

Six Verses of Refuge (Equanimity) begins, “A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the Guide by-my-side, I want for nothing… Continue reading

I AM, You ARE, We ARE the Good Shepherd – Psalm 23 and John 10

Reposting this by request for all those celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday and looking for an approach to the metaphor of shepherd born out of a Jewish translation of Psalm 23. This sermon was preached last year during the early weeks of lockdown.

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want” or,“A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-side, I want for nothing.”

The translations of this ancient Hebrew hymn may be separated by centuries, but both the English translators of King James and the American Rabbi Jamie Arnold seek to move us deeply into the inner workings of our being.

Like the unknown ancient Hebrew who created this pathway to a realm beyond the surface of our thinking toward our deepest longings, our darkest fears and into our deepest peace, all translators, interpreters, readers, and listeners of this ancient LOVE song, approach the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE.

IS , is the word is the present tense of the verb TO BE.

The verb “to be” is unique among all verbs.

The present tense of the verb to be: AM, IS, ARE

The past tense: WAS, WERE

The past participle: BEEN,

And the present participle: BEING.

TO BE a verb which struggles to communicate the very ISNESS of BEING.

 For the ancient ancestors, the very essence of a being is contained in the name of that being. Is it any wonder then, that the verb “to be” in Hebrew was used by the ancients to communicate the name of the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE?  

YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM, or I AM, WHO I AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE

Or as the anonymous gospel-storytellers put it, simply, “I AM.”

JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.

ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE.

 When we turn to this song of the ancients, we see, lush meadows, meandering waters, green pastures, and valleys crowed with figures of death and disgrace, pictures, images, hopes, dreams, and fears, laid out in words designed to lead us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.

Today, each one of us can, without much difficulty, move beyond the distractions of the moment toward our wants and our fears, all around us death is very much a part of life. At our fingertips we have access to images aplenty of the valley of the shadow of death which no amount of hand-washing can erase. In our lives there are losses and griefs which mask our ability to see beyond our fears. We know that the lush meadows are all around us, but the enormity of the world’s pain coupled with the uncertainty of tomorrow’s worries blind us to the WAY beyond. From the isolation of our homes, so many of us lumber through these days, longing for release, while others venture out on our behalf, fearful of what lurks in unseen molecules. If only there were a shepherd to lead us, a saviour to save us, a way to move us beyond, this, whatever this, is, was, or will become. No press conference, no medical expert, no brilliant scientist, no astute economist, no canny politician, can move us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. And yet, we long for green pastures and the memory of ONE who insisted that, “I AM”, this ONE continues to inspire possibility beyond words or images. 

“The truth of the matter is, I AM the sheep gate.” “I AM the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe – you’ll go in and out and find pasture.” “I came that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Abundant life, life beyond our wants, beyond our fears, abundant life. The anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John speaks of Jesus as ONE who claims wandering sheep as his own, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God.  For Abba and I are ONE.”  

Therein lies the MYSTERY, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” Therein lies the WAY beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, ONE. “Even when” I, You, We, “descend into valleys crowded with figures of death and disgrace,” I, You, We, “will not succumb to fear, now knowing where” I, You, We, are, “I AM, I AM with YOU,” YAHWEH. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, with YAHWEH, ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY.  

“Ancestral staff of family tree in hand, courage and comfort blossom under the sun, casting shadows revealing time in melodies measure for measure, these and these harmonies lay my frets to rest.”  “When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-your-our-side, I, You, We want for nothing.” For the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, IS LOVE. 

“Patience and perseverance, playing with polarity, stand and say, “Send me. Send me before you; tabling shame and sorrow for tomorrow that you may feast today, head anointed with oil, LOVE’s cup pouring-over the rim with plenty.”

We can move beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. Look around, there are lush green pastures everywhere. Our cups overflow with goodness. “Gratefulness and lovingkindness run me down and up, coursing through my vines to live in all my limbs, words and ways, coming home at last to sit and sabbath. Your ever-presence, here, now embodying, housing, LOVING CONSCIOUSNESS in time-space-and-soul.” 

I, You, We, and the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, who IS, WAS, and every more SHALL BE, LOVE, I, You, We, and this LOVE are ONE. This ONEness into which LOVE draws us moves us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. It is our ONEness which transforms us into the Good Shepherd. You and the Abba are ONE.  In LOVE we live and move and have our BEING. We set the table in the midst of all this, whatever this is, the table is set by LOVE, this, all this IS abundant life, eternal life.  I, You, We ARE the LOVE who IS. We are the shepherds, we are the saviours, we ARE the ONEs. See beyond your wants, beyond your fears and let us dwell in the house of LOVE forever.  Amen.

You can watch the full worship service below – download the Order of Service here

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

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

.  .  . see the video .  .  .

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOD: Dead or Alive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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

 Anticipating Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

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

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

RESURRECTION: Can This Be Real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the Full Easter Worship Video below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full Good Friday Worship Video below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIEW the full Maundy Thursday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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

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

From Maundy Thursday 2020:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Order of Service HERE

 

Jesus Is NOT the Answer to All Our Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIEW the FULL Palm Sunday Worship Video below

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Time to Vaccinate Ourselves Against the Infection of Atonement Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full Worship service for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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