Jesus, How Long are You Going to Keep Us in Suspense? – Easter 4C, Good Shepherd Sunday

Beyond the Beyond - Dawn Hutchings

Readings Psalm 23 and John 10:22-30

Listen to the sermon here

I was about 10 years old, when I first encountered the 23rd psalm. I never went to church when I was a kid. Church simply was not part of my family’s life. But one summer, my brother and I were left in the care of my Mother’s aunt who lived down in the Adirondacks, and as a way of filling our days, Aunt Madge sent us to a local Vacation Bible School. I don’t remember much about the five days we spent attending Vacation Bible School. But, I do remember very well the glimpse of God that I encountered that week. To this day, I can still recite word for word just what I learned that week:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  

He restoreth my soul:  

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: 

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I can still hear the minister carefully translating each phrase into language that children could understand. I remember thinking that I had learned some secret knowledge that had been hidden from me all my life. For the first time in my short little life, I caught a glimpse of God and he wasn’t some angry old man who was sitting up on a cloud thinking up ways to punish me.  He wasn’t some mean Father who sent his only son to die on a cross.  

For the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of God the shepherd, who wanted nothing more than to take care of me, who provided beautiful green meadows with lovely rivers flowing through them, were I could feel the warmth of the sun and know that even if hard times were just around the corner, God would go with me, and take care of me. Best of all, this God would fill me with so many blessings that my life would be just like a chocolate mike-shake that was so full that it would never end. I had absolutely no idea what a shepherd was, or what a shepherd did. I simply knew that God is my shepherd and following God was the greatest, safest, most rewarding thing I would ever do.

The metaphor of God as my shepherd carried me to a place beyond the words of the 23rd psalm, to a paradise more sublime than my ten year old self had ever imagined before. A place of beauty, safety and security, that at the tender age of ten, I was already longing for.

Metaphors are quite literally words strung together to carry us beyond the words themselves, and for me and for millions of people, generation after generation, the words strung together in the 23rd psalm have carried our longing souls far beyond the words themselves to into the midst of our hopes and dreams.  As a ten year old, who was always the new kid in town, the nomad, wandering from new school to new school, the mere mention of a being led to a place of safety, where I would find comfort and rest from the shadows that haunted me, was all the goodness and mercy that I needed to know about in order to want to know more about this Shepherd. Those first glimpses of God, still comfort me.

My life has not been particularly difficult. I am blessed, I am loved, I am privileged, I am wealthy, my cup does indeed overflow with goodness. But, like all people, I have my dark valleys were the shadows of death frighten me. There are moments of longing in which I long to be swept up into the arms of a Good Shepherd, who will hold me close in an embrace of LOVE so that I will be able to rest, knowing that I am at home. But I’m not ten years old. The metaphor of a shepherd no matter how good or great that shepherd might be, cannot satisfy my longing to know the One who is at the very core of our existence. Continue reading

Mothers’ Day 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 that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women.  Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:

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

 

Sometimes I wonder if our liturgical utterances of resurrection are in danger of becoming the last gasps of a Church that is all but dead. – Easter 3C sermon

grave-clothes

Christ is Risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! During the Easter season we punctuate our celebration of resurrection by declaring that, “Christ is risen!” and sometimes I wonder if our liturgical utterances of resurrection are in danger of becoming the last gasps of a Church that is all but dead. Are we who gather in churches on a Sunday morning members of a church that is the living body of the risen Christ or are we mourners at the funeral of a religion that died in the last century because it did not have the stamina for 21st century?

As congregations shrink, churches close, and the few mourners who are left insist upon preserving what’s left of the corpse, the season of Easter, designed to celebrate resurrection, is in danger of becoming the church’s final attempt at denying the corpse of Christianity. Generations to come may look back upon this critical time in the church’s life and pronounce that resurrection itself was the cause of the church’s death. While worshipers remained fixated upon the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse determined to defend the doctrines of the church, the life-blood of the body of Christ slipped away, no longer able to congeal around the idea of a deity so small that “HE” could only be worshipped by those who could narrow their thinking so that it could fit into the boxes created by the need to suspend everything they have learned about the nature of reality.

Gathering around the ancient stories of resurrection, those who sought to save the church could not agree on the treatment necessary to save the church. While some insisted that a good dose of biblical literalism was the only way to save Christianity, others advocated for a more radical treatment, one that took on board all that we have learned about the cosmos and what it means to be human. Still others looked to more nuanced forms of treatment and reached into the long traditions of the church which have always worked wonders in the past; traditions that honoured the human need for reason while they still managed to encompass the unfolding mysteries of the cosmos. While the theologians, priests, laypeople, hierarchy’s, would be evangelists, charlatans, worshippers, seekers, and philosophers, tended to the perceived needs of the church, the members of the Body slipped away to seek nourishment and healing elsewhere; leaving the patient to die a slow and laborious death. Oh there are a faithful few, huddling around the corpse doing their damnedest to resuscitate the corpse of Christianity. But life has long since left the patient. All that is left are the mourners who simply cannot believe that their beloved is dead. But like all deaths, life goes on, and the world scarcely notices all that has been lost. Some of us, hang around, finding solace in one another, remembering the good old days, longing for the future we had hoped to see.

When some folk return from the empty tomb that the church became, to tell us that Christ is not there, that Christ is risen. Dare we even begin to imagine that the one place we expected to find Christ is empty? Can it be true? Can Christ have escaped the empty tomb we call the church? Or, is this just one more idle tale? Continue reading

Jesus forgives Peter: a Way to Understand the Resurrection – Richard Holloway

Peter Callesen's Papercut Resurrection

Peter Callesen’s Papercut Resurrection

As the resurrection stories continue, the story Jesus’ encounter on the lakeshore explores forgiveness in ways that open us to our own   moments of desperation as we too long to be forgive or to forgive. Richard Holloway, the former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, interprets the story of the resurrection not as an historical tale, but as our own story. Holloway has written of his longing for a humbled and broken church. His own humility and brokenness shines through this video as Holloway embodies his own longing.

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

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

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

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

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Jesus’ Resurrection is Extraordinary Precisely Because Anything At All Made It Out of That Bloody Tomb! – an Easter story

Years ago, long before I ever became a pastor, I had a friend who was nearing the end of her life. During my last few visits with her, Clara would ask me over and over again, “Am I going to be alright?” I would always answer her with words designed to assure her that all would be well. Unlike some people I have known since, Clara never asked me what was going to happen to her when she died. Instead she would ask, “Am I going to be alright?” At the time, I thought that she was worried about the pain she might encounter or the fear that she might feel. So, I would assure her that the care that she was getting was the best there is and that the doctors and nurses would make sure that she could manage whatever pain came her way. I also assured her that her loved ones would be there with her, and furthermore I believed that the very source of her being, would be there to embrace her. My friend wasn’t particularly religious, so the words that I’d learned in church to offer as comfort, were not words she wanted to hear. So, I spoke of God, in vague and general terms. Even though back then, I still imagined God as some sort of supernatural being.

The last time I saw my friend Clara, I knew that the end was near. I was feeling woefully inadequate I wasn’t sure how long I could bear to be in the same room with my friend. I remember hearing a rattling sound as she struggled with each breath. My own breath slowed and became quite shallow as if my body was trying to mimic hers. It is a moment in time that lives in my memory not because of the intensity of my feelings at that time, but rather because of the way in which our parallel breathing took me to a place of knowing where the wizened dying body in the bed was transformed into a beautiful young woman. Continue reading

Good Friday Sermons

Holy Week marks a sharp uptick in visitors to this blog. From comments, messages, and emails I hear from fellow preachers who, like me, are daunted by the task of preparing the Good Friday sermon. That task is even more daunting for those of us who serve progressive communities. My fellow progressive-christian-preachers tell me of the dearth of progressive-christian Good Friday sermons to be found on the internet and encourage me to re-post my own attempts to rise to the occasion. So, here are the links to some of the Good Friday sermons I have preached over the years of my journey with the progressive community which I serve. The people Holy Cross Lutheran Church have over the years provided an invigorating space for me to pursue my questions. They have also provided the resources which make this blog possible. So, if you find the work posted here  of value to you and your community, please consider supporting this ministry of Holy Cross. I rarely solicit donations. But Holy Cross is a small community that continues to give to others in so many ways and your encouragement is greatly appreciated!!! (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 1035 Wayne Dr., Newmarket, On. L3Y 1N3) Donate via CANADA HELPS click here

Follow the links to Good Friday sermons and feel free to use/adapt/repost

Moving On From the Tragedy of Good Friday click here

2017 I cannot and will not worship a god who demands a blood sacrifice. But the residue of atonement theories still causes me to tremble click here

2016 I’m still working on getting my body out of the tomb in which it was laid all those years ago – reflecting on everyday crucifixions click here

2015 Not Salvation! Solidarity and Transformation click here

2014 God Is Dead? click here

2013 Giving Up the Theories of Atonement in Order to Move Toward an Evolutionary Understanding of Jesus. click here

2012 Good Friday Rituals or Crimes Against Divinity? click here

Preparing to Preach on Good Friday click here

Palm Sunday Sermons

Marching to our Jerusalems – Palm Sunday and Our Passions

Trading Our Palm Branches for Tomahawk Missiles or White Helmets?

Hosanna! Hosana! Hosana! Yada, Yada, we’ve heard it all before…

Jesus: Human or Divine?

Marching in the Wrong Parades

On Palm Sunday, An Inconvenient Messiah Parades Into our Midst

Jesus Sets Us Free to Save Ourselves

Jesus is still up there on that ass making a mockery of our hopes for a Messiah! 

Extravagant for Christ’s Sake! – John 12:1-8 – Lent 5C

When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t poor. We managed to live from pay-cheque to pay-cheque; there wasn’t much money left towards the end of the week. When the pay-cheques came, sometimes they didn’t quite stretch far enough to pay all the bills. So, unexpected expenses could mean trouble. The kind of trouble where your parents are so worried about how they are going to make ends meet that tensions run pretty high. If something broke, my Dad was the first line of defense. If Dad couldn’t fix it, hopefully he knew a guy who could fix it. The idea of calling a repair man, who would present us with a bill for his services was simply out of the question. When the do-it-your-selfers required a part that required actual money to get, well they’d have to figure out some way of making do. If it couldn’t be fixed for free, it stayed broke, cause we were broke.

When a car broke down, my Dad could fix it with chewing gum and nylons if he had to. There wasn’t much Dad couldn’t fix. But when something came along that Dad couldn’t fix, like a car that simply couldn’t go another mile without several hundred dollars worth of parts, well that could mean that Dad and Mom wouldn’t be able to get to work, to earn the money, to fix the car, or pay the rent. So, each and every time something broke there’d be hell to pay; especially if I happened to be anywhere near it when it broke. Blame was directly related to proximity. Worrying about money and the lack there of, meant that tensions ran high. To this day, Carol will tell you, if something breaks around the house, I get a little crazy. I forget that we have money in the bank and good credit, so calling a repair person is a real possibility. I forget that my car is under warranty, or that we can afford to fix the water heater, and if worse comes to worse we can liquidate some equity to put a new roof on our house. All these situations would have been a major catastrophe when I was growing up, and try as I might, when stuff breaks, I still panic. Some fears die hard.

I remember when I first moved into the parsonage, the dishwasher wasn’t working. Money was tight, I had big student loans that had come do. But I didn’t own the dishwasher, you all did and there was money in the budget for parsonage repairs. But it took me two years to get up the courage to call a repairperson. I’d never called one before and I was afraid that it would cost more than I could afford. Besides there was a perfectly good sink, and I had two good hands, a dishwasher is an extravagance. So, two years passed, and even though I used the parsonage for all sorts of congregational events, I never called a repair person. It wasn’t until our chairperson found out that the dishwasher wasn’t working and told me that not using it could be bad for the dishwasher in the long run that I mustered up the courage to call a repair person. The bill for the repair was just $35.00. I was so delighted that I paid it myself. Not because I should, it wasn’t my dishwasher, it was the church’s bill, I paid it because I could. In the grand scheme of things, a dishwasher is an extravagance, but it was oh so sweet to line those dirty dishes up and push a few buttons, and hey presto, clean dishes! What an extravagance!!!

When I read the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we can John’s story about the anointing of Jesus, the word extravagance comes to mind. Extravagance in the face of danger and poverty. Of all the stories that this anonymous gospel-storyteller could have told about Jesus, why did he tell this one, and why did he tell it the way that he told it? What is the storyteller trying to tell us about the character of Jesus?

I’ve studied this passage for decades and I’m still surprised at how full and lush, how extravagant the details of this story are. I’m also aware that most of those lush and oh so extravagant details are all too often lost on 21st century ears. We are not first century Jews, so the pungency of this particular extravagance can all too easily elude us. There are details that first century Jews would have been overcome by, details that we need to sniff out if we want to smell the pungent aroma of the spikenard that oozes, soothes, and anoints the feet of the one we claim to follow. This story has but a dozen sentences, but each and every sentence positively oozes with details; details that can open us to a kind of extravagance of our own. “Six days before Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whose Jesus had raised from the dead.” Continue reading

Just Wave the White Flag of Surrender and Go Into the Party: a Sermon for the Lost – Luke 15 – Lent 4C

prodigalI am indebted to Amy-Jill Levine’s book “short stories by Jesus” and Bernard Brandon Scott’s book “Hear Then the Parable” for challenging me to look beyond the Christian bias of interpreting Jesus’ parables through the lens of the repentance and forgiveness and attempting to hear this story in ways more in keeping with Judaism. 

Following the reading of the three parables of the Lost from Luke 15, we watched the video “Prodigal” before the sermon (text below). You can watch the video below and then listen to the sermon here 

Beautiful.

I love a happy ending.

Who doesn’t love the kind of ending that sees those who are lost found.

Reconciliation is a beautiful thing.

Home, safe in the arms of a loving parent.

Who doesn’t long to be Welcomed.

Embraced.

Held.

Loved.

Reconciled.

Celebrated.

Home. 

We recognize the longing because it resides deep inside the darkest places of who we are, who we will always be; children trying to find our way, children longing to be welcomed, embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home. 

Is it any wonder that we love a happy ending.

But this is not the happy ending that we long for because this is not the end of the story.

“A man had two sons…”

Our story does not end with the welcome embrace.

The embrace is just the beginning of our story.

All was not forgotten.

It never is.

The pain of past hurts remains.

That hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation is ongoing.

There is more than one child in this story.

This parent has two children.

Imagine for a moment that you are the elder child.

Obviously you are the wise one, the good one, the one who did the right thing, the one who can be counted upon, trusted, looked up to.

Here we are trying to make our way in the world.

Struggling to take care of things, to pay the bills, to ensure that everything is in its proper place, striving to do the right thing.

We too long for happy endings, to be welcomed,embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home. 

What separates us from the irresponsible, spendthrifts, who foolishly waste what they have been given, what separates us from them, is that we have the good sense to keep our noses to the grindstone, to always strive to do the right thing.

And yet, no matter how hard we try, how much we forgo in order to be who we know we ought to be, no matter what success we might achieve, we are in the end, just children, longing to be loved.

So, who could blame us for wanting justice?

We just want what is right.

We need to know that all our efforts are worth at least a sense of order to things.

We’ve all felt the pain of betrayal.

A member of our family, a sister, a brother, or a member of our tribe, a loved one, a friend, who disrupts our world with their needs, their wants, who shatters our sense of right and wrong;

a pain so deep we cannot begin to imagine how we can ever recover.

We long for the happy ending.

We wish we could just find a way to forgive and forget.

But it just seems so very wrong to let go.

And the hard work of healing is more than we can begin to contemplate.

So, we set ourselves apart.

We stand outside of events.

And we have every right to do so.

After all, we did what was right, what was just, what was called for, we have nothing to apologize for.

But there they are, the source of our pain, right there as large as life.

What are we to do?

How are we expected to forgive and forget?

It’s too much.

A man had two sons.

A parent had two children.

A woman had two friends.

A man had two loves.

A person had two people needing to be welcomed, cared for, loved, reconciled.

Our story does not end with the welcome embrace, our story begins with the welcome embrace.

The had work of reconciliation is the story’s next chapter, not the final chapter by any means, just the next in a long line of chapters that will include all sorts of gestures, kindnesses, apologies, starting overs, mistakes, offences, delicate negations, concessions, ultimatums, joys, sorrows, tears, laughter, arguments, and make ups.

The hard work of living together and apart, welcoming and good-byes, embraces and refraining from embracing.

It is called life; life in community with people who share our longing to be welcomed, embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home. 

So, here we are.

We can almost hear those white sheets of surrender flapping in the wind.

What are we to do?

There they are standing there embracing one another as if nothing had happened.

Here we stand, knowing how well we have behaved, how right we are.

What are we to do?

Do we go into the party?

What are we to make of the one who has wounded us?

How do we respond to the One who is welcoming our betrayer with a loving embrace?

Does it matter that our betrayer hasn’t truly repented?

Does it matter that they don’t appear to have changed their ways?

What about the injustice?

How do we repair the damage?

What will become of everything we have worked for?

Where will it all end?

The scandal of Jesus’ parable is that we don’t get any answers to these questions.

Just a fatted calf, a party, a bbq if you will.

What are we left to do?

Go in and have lunch.

Set aside our need for repentance and forgiveness and simply enter into the party.

When it comes to families, there are factors other than repentance and forgiveness that hold us together.

The sheep and the coin did not nor could they repent.

But the celebration happened nonetheless,

because the man and the woman were able to rejoice at the finding of the lost and the restoring of wholeness.

Sometimes the one we have lost is right under our nose, sometimes we are the ones who are lost.

Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate what has been found and then work to ensure that what has been found will never be lost again.

Don’t wait until you receive an apology, you may never get one.

Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find forgiveness.

Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past.

Instead, go have lunch.

Go celebrate, and invite others to join you.

If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better.

And if not, you still have done what is necessary.

You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation.

You will have opened a second chance for wholeness.

Take advantage of resurrection—it is unlikely to happen often. 

What counts for the family also counts for the world.

So let us go into the party and dance, dance the dance of life, dance the dance of love.

It’s a complicated dance, but once you catch on to the rhythms of the music you’ll figure out the steps, and even if you look a little silly, waving and flapping about, your moves will lighten everyone’s load and help the party to be just that much more enjoyable, for everyone.

The DIVINE Finds Expression In, With, Through, and Beyond Us – a sermon for Lent 3C

It was nearly 20 years ago, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday. I was working as the on-call Chaplain at the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. I had been paged to the emergency room to attend to a man who had accompanied a patient to the hospital, VSA, the code for Vital Signs Absent. Someone was waiting for me in the Quiet Room. The Quiet Room was a small ten by twelve room, into which loved ones of really serious patients were asked to wait for the worst possible news. They were kept there in the Quiet Room so that they wouldn’t be disturbed, but I suspect that the real reason is so that they wouldn’t disturb the less seriously ill patients.

Inside the Quiet Room sat one of the largest men I have ever met. He was about six-eight, with big broad shoulders. He wore blue jeans and a black leather jacket. He had long black hair and a bushy beard. He could have passed for the head of a biker gang and under normal circumstances, I probably would have been very afraid of this character. I introduced myself as the Chaplain and he just put his head in his hands. Chaplains are not popular people in hospital emergency rooms. People usually expect the worst when the medical profession calls in a chaplain. I took a seat and together we waited. 

Slowly, this big bear of a man began to tell me what had happened. He said, that everything was all his fault; he was to blame. Anne, his partner wouldn’t be in the other room fighting for her life if it wasn’t for him. After years of being on his own, driving truck from one place to another, never really having a home, he had met Anne and she had changed everything. No more long hauls for him. He switched to driving locally. For the first time in a very long time he had a home; a home he and Anne had made together. She’d made him so happy. He loved her so much. Everything was going so well for them.

Why? Why did this have to happen? He knew he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be happy. It was all his fault. If only he hadn’t of stuck around. None of this would have happened.

Quietly, I asked him just what had happened. He explained that he had come home from the store. He’d gone out for a pack of cigarettes. Anne had asked him to quit. He should have quit smoking. When he got back from the corner-store he found Anne lying on the floor. He dialed 911 and started CPR.

They wouldn’t let him stay with her. Could I go and see how she was doing? I headed back to the resuscitation room. They were tidying up. The doctor said she had a massive coronary, she was dead before she got to the hospital, they had just been going through the motions. I waited while the doctor filled in the paperwork and then together, we headed toward the Quiet Room. The doctor didn’t say a word when we arrived, he let his face do all the talking and I watched as a giant of a man fell to pieces.

When he quieted down a little, he told me that Anne was one of the best things in his life and that he should have known better. It was all his fault. If he’d just left her alone she would have been better off. Mutual friends had introduced them just a year ago. He fell for her right away. He should have known it was too good to be true. It was all his fault. It was happening all over again, only this time he should have known better. Through his tears, he asked me, how I could believe in such cruel God. God took his son away from him and now God had taken Anne.       He began to moan, over and over again, crying out for his lost son Billy.

It took about an hour for him to tell me what had happened, some 25 years earlier. His son had been playing with some friends down by the river. They’d made a makeshift raft. Somehow, little Billy had drowned. Just five years old and he was taken away. It was all his fault. If he hadn’t been such a lousy father, Billy wouldn’t have been taken away from him. After Billy died, his marriage fell apart. That was all his fault too. If only he’d been a better husband, a better man, God would have helped them to work it out. But clearly, God was punishing him for all the terrible things he had done in his life.

He should have known better than to take the chance. He just should have known better. If he had just stayed on the road. If he hadn’t tried to make some sort of life with Anne, she’d still be alive. God had really stuck it to him this time. This was his punishment for trying to be happy. He cried softly then. Over and over again crying out the names of Anne and Billy.

I quietly told this big bear of a broken man, that I didn’t believe in the kind of God that he was talking about. The God that I know wouldn’t do something like that. God is not that cruel. I told him that I believed that God wept for his son and for Anne, and that God knew the kind of pain that he was feeling. He just kept on sobbing, telling me that I didn’t understand, insisting that it was all his fault. Looking back, I realize that I was probably trying to convince myself at that moment that God was not some sort of monster. At that very moment I suppose that I felt like God was indeed some sort of monster. How could I have expected to help this man to reconcile the death of his son and his partner with the notion of a loving God? Surely that man was better off believing in a punishing God rather than an absent or capricious God who allowed the innocent to suffer?  The man himself was willing to blame himself rather than to blame God. God, in that man’s mind, was just doing what had to be done, punishing a guilty man. He knew beyond a doubt that he was to blame. His crimes had caused the deaths of his loved ones, not God. Who was I to destroy his worldview? At least his reasoning allowed him to make some sense out of his life.

Who among us has not done the same when calamity strikes, wondering what we have done wrong to deserve our plight?   Who among us at some time or another has not scrutinized our own behaviour, our relationships, our diets, our faith or lack of faith, hunting from some cause to explain our lot in the vain hope that we can find the reason behind our suffering?  We are only human after all, less interested in the truth than in the consequences. What we crave above all else is to grasp for control over the chaos of our lives. Continue reading

Beyond the Veil – a story for Transfiguration Sunday

buterfliesListen to the sermon here

Back in November of 2015, my Mom, who lives in Vancouver, fell. The fall was the cumulative effect of years and years of ill health, which for all sorts of reasons my Mom was unable to face; ill health that my family has fretted over and worried about. But no matter how hard we tried, it took a fall to get my Mom into the hospital. Many of you know the pain of living thousands and thousands of kilometers away from loved ones. The telephone rings and suddenly your life is turned upside down as you anxiously try to decide if you should book a flight, pack a bag, and rush to the bedside of someone you love. As I was agonizing over whether I should or shouldn’t rush out to Vancouver, my brother called and said that I needed to come right away. The sound of my brother’s voice cracking in mid-sentence convinced me to move heaven and earth in order to race to Vancouver, in order to sit at what we were now convinced would be my mother’s deathbed.

As a pastor, I have had the privilege of being present with all sorts of people as they sit vigils with their loved ones. Over the years, I have learned the value of a quiet, gentle, presence to accompany us in the darkest of journeys.  In my head, I knew that whatever my family was about to experience, all that was really necessary was for me to do was to be present. So, I went to Vancouver, not as a pastor, not as someone who has been trained to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of a crisis, not as a professional who has accompanied many people on this kind of journey, not as Pastor Dawn; no on this journey I was simply, as my Mom calls, me when she wants to talk seriously to me, “Dawn Lesley”, a little girl, terrified of what lay in front of me.

The flight to Vancouver is about five hours long and during that five hours, I imagined what it would be like when I arrived and I tried to steel myself. My family is not what you would call religious, they don’t go to church, they don’t much talk about what they believe in, and they view my involvement in the church as a bit of strange; I’m an oddity in my family. They don’t really know this persona, Pastor Dawn is a mystery and to them I am simply their daughter Dawn, or their sister, or their Auntie Dawn. To the youngest members of the family Carol and I are lovingly referred to as their far-away aunties. We fly in for a visit every once in a while and the history that I share with my family, reminds us of the love we share for one another, and carries us through our all too brief encounters. The history that we share filled my thoughts as the plane carried me and all my baggage home; home so that I could be present for whatever might happen. The seats on either side of me were empty. Normally, empty seats on a plane, meant more room to stretch out and be more comfortable. But this time those empty seats only served to remind me of my own emptiness. I wanted Jesus to be in the seat beside me. I wanted God the “Father” to be in the other seat. And I wanted the Holy Spirit to be outside the plane somewhere holding us all up there in the sky, keeping the plane safely above the clouds. I wanted the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to keep me safe, to comfort me, to take care of my Mother. I wanted the big and powerful, Almighty Sky God, to reach down and interfere in the world, and I wanted it right then and there for me and for mine. I wanted that old-time religion, the kind of religion I signed up for way back when, when life was simpler.  The kind of religion where all I need was to have faith and God would answer my prayers. Instead, all I had with me was my iPad full of theological books about the nature of God, the historical Jesus, and progressive Christianity. Cold comfort when your tens of thousands of feet up in the sky, hurtling in a metal tube towards a situation that strikes fear in your heart and could rob you of your Mother. Somehow, the Ground of my Being, the One Who Lies at the very heart of Reality, the God who Is LOVE, was obscured by God the Father, the Almighty Idol who served me so well in the past, was back, and the only problem was that I have long since stopped worshipping idols. Continue reading

What the World Needs Now is Love! 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – Epiphany 4C

Mr Happy ManThe Epistle Reading (Second Reading) for this coming Sunday is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Most of us have heard this reading over and over again at weddings as if it were some sort of recipe for happiness between lovers. So often we hear it as an impossible recipe and cast it aside as something nice but unattainable. What would happen if we could hear this passage not as a prescriptive recipe but as a descriptive revelation of the LOVE that is God. Couple this revelation with the knowledge that God dwells in, with, through, and beyond us and it becomes a description of the possibilities for each of us being LOVE in the world. The knowledge that LOVE dwells in us might just open us to being the love that the world so desperately needs. 

91 year-old, Johnny Barnes is a Bermuda native who embodies the LOVE that dwells in him. How might we embody the LOVE that dwells in us? What does, would, could, will the embodiment of LOVE look like in you?

Act As If… a sermon on Luke 4 by Bishop Gene Robinson

eye of the stormThe Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson understands what it means to be threatened because of the Gospel he embodies. While reflecting on the threatening reaction of those who heard Jesus’ first sermon as it is recorded in Luke 4, Bishop Robinson challenges us all to stand on the clifftop with the courage of Jesus. Well worth a listen to all those who are preparing to preach on this text on Sunday.

TODAY!!! – reflecting on Luke 4:14-21

Luke 4The last time Luke 4:15-21 came up in the lectionary, we engaged in a reflection on what we know of  Jesus’ first sermon…a bible study of sorts. I offer it here for those of you who are preparing to preach on this text.

 

The Acclamation sung before the reading is “God of My Childhood” by Miriam Therese Winter Listen to the reflection here

Spinning Wheel – A Sermon on Luke 4:14-21 for Epiphany 3C

Blood Sweat & Tears

This sermon explores the need to set the captives free. It was inspired by a Globe and Mail article written by David Clayton Thomas, former lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears and dedicated to the memory of an old friend who did not “go naturally” and will never be forgotten! You can listen to the sermon here to get you in the mood, watch the video of Blood, Sweat & Tears below

The year was 1969. I was just twelve years old and my family had only recently moved to Ladner, a small village south of Vancouver. I was the new kid in a tightly knit grade seven class. I remember being angry, a lot. Being twelve is tough, but being twelve and new in town; well that’s a kind of hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There were only two places I felt safe: One was my bedroom where I could escape into my books or listen to music. The other place was music class. We had a really cool, young teacher, she must have been fresh out of teachers’ college, because she had all these new ideas about something she called music appreciation. The songs we sang in Miss Conroy’s class were songs off the radio. Some days she’d let us put our heads down on our desks and she’d just play music and all we had to do was appreciate it. Not all of the music was stuff we’d heard on the radio, sometimes Miss Conroy would sneak in some jazz; not any kind of jazz I’d ever heard before, improvisational jazz; it was so cool to my twelve year-old ears that I gave Miss Conroy a pass when she would slip into teacher mode and put some classical music on the record player.

One day, Miss Conroy announced that we’d been listening to her music long enough; it was time we began to listen to our music. Miss Conroy explained that she was going to divide us into pairs and each pair would have to work together to select a piece of music to bring to class and share it. We would have to explain to the class, why the piece that we choose was worth paying attention to. Now even though there were all sorts of pieces of music that I thought would be great for this assignment, I began to panic. Who on earth would want to work with me on such a project? The thought of being teamed up with anyone of my classmates struck fear into my heart. I didn’t have any real friends in this class and as the new kid I knew that nobody would want to be stuck with me. Vision’s of being left out, all alone without a partner began to overwhelm me, as Mrs. Conroy announced that we would be drawing names out of a hat in order to determine who our partners would be. When my turn came to pull a partner’s name out of the hat, I didn’t even know what to hope for. I didn’t know people well enough to want anyone in particular to be my partner, there was only one person in the whole class that I knew that I knew well enough to know that I didn’t want to be my partner. I, like all my classmates was positively terrified of, for the sake of this sermon I’m going to call him Kenny. Kenney sure wasn’t twelve; he was a few years older than the rest of us. He was a big guy; dark hair, good looking, and unlike the other adolescent boys in the class, Kenny had already started shaving. Once during the lunch hour I witnessed Kenny bullying a younger boy into eating an apple core that had been discarded a few days earlier. The kid ate the rotting core rather than face whatever it was Kenny was threatening him with. Kenny was big, tough and loud. Most of us were frightened of Kenny and because kids are cruel, behind his back we diagnosed him as crazy. But there was something about Kenny, maybe it was his good looks, maybe it was the buckskin fringe jacket that he sported, or maybe it was just his wildness that made him the talk of the jittering boy-crazed girls in the class. So, I was more than a bit upset when of all people, I pulled Kenny’s name out of the hat. What piece of music could the two of us possibly have in common and how was I even going to talk to him? Miss Conroy slipped perilously into my bad books on the day she forced me into the company of the dreaded Kenny.

Ours was an uneasy partnership. There was precious little conversation involved. Kenny picked the piece of music. Kenny told me what I was going to tell the class about our piece of music. Fortunately, I actually knew and liked the piece that Kenny had chosen. It had been a big hit the previous summer and I owned a copy of the record. The only problem was that my copy was a 45. Kenny insisted that we just had to use the version that was on the album; not the version that they played on the radio off the 45. The version on the album included the trumpet solo that never made it onto the 45. It would have made the song too long for the hit parade! And that’s how I ended up in front of my classmates, standing beside a boy, who though handsome and tough had suddenly become monosyllabic as I struggle to explain why our choice of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Spinning Wheel, was music well worth appreciating.

What goes up must come down

spinning wheel got to go round

Talking about your troubles it’s a crying sin

Ride a painted pony

Let the spinning wheel spin

You got no money, and you, you got no home

Spinning wheel, spinning all alone

Talking about your troubles and you,

you never learn

Ride a painted pony

let the spinning wheel turn.

Did you find a directing sign

on the straight and narrow highway?

Would you mind a reflecting sign

Just let it shine within your mind

And show you the colours that are real

Someone is waiting just for you

spinning wheel is spinning true

Drop all your troubles, by the river side

Catch a painted pony

On the spinning wheel ride

Someone is waiting just for you

spinning wheel is spinning true

Drop all your troubles, by the river side

Ride a painted pony

Let the spinning wheel fly.

They just don’t write songs like that anymore. Kenny was right, the trumpet solo, is a must. Blood, Sweat and Tears had the best horn section. They could take a mediocre song and turn it into something special:  “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “God Bless the Child,” “Hidey Ho, Hidey Hi,” “And When I Die.” Thanks to Kenny, I bought every LP that Blood, Sweat and Tears ever recorded.

So, what has any of this got to do with this morning’s Gospel reading? Well the words that the writer of the Gospel of Luke puts into the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth have been spinning round in my head all week long. I keep hearing Jesus quote the words of the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison—to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” The year of God’s favour is the prophet Isaiah’s way of describing the year of Jubilee. Written into the Jewish law was a provision meant to address the systemic injustices that creep into the law as time goes by. It is said that every 50 years a Jubilee would be declared. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

Sermons on the Baptism of Jesus

Surely, we can learn to tell our stories, to enact our rituals, and to be LOVE to one another in ways that transcend, religions, cultures, and old hatreds?

Wear Your Baptism in Ways that Others Might See a Visible Means of Grace in You

Recognizing the Sacred In and Beyond the Stories We Tell: the Baptism of Jesus 

The Things We Do For Jesus! 

A Progressive Christian Wades Into the Waters of Baptism

Baptism: A Mystery of the Faith

Beloved, Lover, and LOVE Itself

The Things We Do For Jesus! – a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus

waters 4Baptism of Jesus Sermon — Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Originally preached: Sunday January 13, 2013    Listen to the sermon here

There’s a definition of what it means to be a priest that has always daunted me. A priest it has been said is “a keeper of the mysteries; a keeper of the sacred mysteries of our faith. People often confuse the idea of mystery with the idea of secret. But I can assure you that as a keeper of the mysteries of the faith it is neither my job nor any other priest’s job to keep the mysteries of our faith a secret. Yes, as an ordained pastor, one of my responsibilities is to be a keeper of the mysteries of our faith by ensuring that the communities that I serve hold those mysteries sacred. It is my job to hold the mysteries in such reverence that we all remember that the reality that we call God works in with and through those mysteries. Baptism is considered to be one of the mysteries of our faith. Baptism is a sacrament of the church and by definition a sacrament takes ordinary stuff – water – mixes that ordinary stuff with the Word and in the combination of water and the Word you have a tangible means of God’s grace. God’s grace is revealed in the sacrament of Baptism by the act of our gathering together and mixing the stuff of the earth with the Word. We have only two sacraments in the Lutheran church Baptism and Eucharist, and both of those things are sacraments because we gather together take ordinary stuff – bread and wine, or water and mix it with the Word of Jesus the Christ, and in the water, the bread, and the wine the means of God’s grace is made visible to us.

So, there you have it the technical definition of the sacraments, the mysteries of Baptism and Communion, in which the reality that we call God works in, with, through and under. But like all technical definitions of mysteries, these definitions fail to capture the essence of the MYSTERY that likes at their very heart, the MYSTERY of the reality that we call God. As a keeper of the mysteries, one would think that a priest, a pastor ought to be able to reveal, by way of definition something of the nature of the reality of the DIVINE.

The truth is I have no real definition to offer you of this reality that we call God. I read once, I wish I could remember where, the wisdom of a priest far more skilled than I who declared that he’d given up trying to explain God to anyone because in the end, he said, “I cannot lead you to God, anymore than anyone can lead a fish to water.” The most important thing I learned in seminary is that “I don’t know is an answer.” The truth is the more we learn the more we know that we don’t know. But this unknowing can be so unsatisfying, precisely because we believe that God is the one in whom we live and breath and have our being, we want to know the very nature of the One who is the ultimate Reality. Now, if these words haven’t already become so vague that the veil of unknowing has begun to make any tangible means of God’s grace seem invisible, and so beyond our grasp, let me leave the theology behind and tell you a story. Because one thing I do know for sure is that the shortest distance between the questions of what it means to be human and understanding our humanity is a story.

It happened on Thursday night. All week long I’ve been thinking about what I would say about the Baptism of Jesus and I wasn’t getting very far. It’s been a busy week, with lots of things to do as programs around here gear up again after the lull of the holidays. After teaching Confirmation on Thursday, I got home at about 9:30. The house was empty because Carol was off visiting the grandchildren for a few days. It had been a long day, and I quickly got into my pajamas, switched on the fireplace, and settled into my recliner in front of the television. The PVR was full of shows for me to watch and the opening scenes of Gray’s Anatomy dragged me into the complications of lives I would never have to minister to and I began to relax. The drama of medical emergencies mixed with the complications of various love affairs pulled me into a world where there was absolutely nothing expected of me and I was loving it right up until the moment that the telephone rang. Modern technology means that the name of the person calling usually appears on right there on the TV screen so that I can decide whether or not I’m going to answer the call. When the phone rang I expected it to be Carol calling to say goodnight, so I’d already pushed the pause button, expecting that after a quick goodnight I could get back to my shows. Buy the time I realized that there was no name on the TV screen but only a phone number, it was too late and I was already saying hello.

The caller was someone I’d heard from only once before. They were already halfway through a very nasty tale of woe when I realized that they were asking me to come out. It was a call for help. It was a call that I had every right not to respond to. I mean the caller wasn’t even a member of this congregation. It was late. I was already in my pajamas. It was dark outside.

I was annoyed. I mean really. Couldn’t this person have called me before I left Newmarket? What gave them the right to think that I would come out so late, in the dark, for someone I’d only met once before? The audacity. The sheer audacity of such a request was enough to make you scream. Give me a break. I listened to the caller’s plight with precious little sympathy. I asked her to hold on for a moment so that I could try to think of a way to help. What I really meant was: is there anyone in Newmarket that I can disturb at this time of night and ask them to go over and help. Some of you have offered to help in this way in the past. You know who you are and you can be sure that your names went through my mind as I tried to avoid leaving the comfort of my warm snug. It was only the thought of how annoyed I was to be disturbed at such a late hour that kept me from disturbing one of you. So I told the caller to hold on and I would be there in about half an hour.

I was cursing to bet the band as I went upstairs to get dressed. The air was positively blue. I was angry. I was going out, on what in my mind was the middle of the night, it was ridiculous. Hell, it was dangerous. It was dark. Yeah we were going to meet in a public place. But why the expletive, curse, fill in the blank your self, why the ………blanket blank, should I? I certainly wasn’t going out of love for my neighbour. I was ticked. I was going because it’s my job to go. Sure I knew that I had every right to refuse to go. But if I didn’t go, my shows would be ruined. How could I possible sit there and enjoy my shows when I knew that someone needed my help? Forget the shows, if I didn’t go, I knew darn well I wouldn’t get any sleep. Continue reading