Now, more than ever, its the time for each one of us to put on LOVE. – a sermon in the midst of a pandemic

We abandoned the regular lectionary our readings were Matthew 11:28-30; Colossians 3:12-17; and Mark 1:29-35 you can read them in our service bulletin, found here

It was almost five years ago now, and I can still see her smile. It was a beautiful smile; a smile which I often return to in my mind’s-eye. I have long-since forgotten her name. But her smile, I will never forget. It was a smile which she brought to me every day for about a week. A smile that calmed me, soothed me, at a time when my fear was at a fevered pitch. I had travelled to Vancouver to be at my Mother’s bedside. Mom was deathly ill, and we weren’t sure that she was going to survive. Standing there, looking down at the woman who nursed me through all my childhood illness, I felt so very helpless. Even though I am a pastor, and I have been trained how to visit the sick, visiting my Mom, I was simply her daughter.

Helpless and afraid, just standing there or sitting there, waiting for the doctors and nurses to heal my Mom. Every morning the smiling woman would come into the room and she would sooth my fear. All it took was her beautiful smile. Yes, she was on the hospital staff and yes it was her job to come in every morning to take my Mom’s food order. But she wasn’t required to be so very kind. Her kindness went beyond her smile. I could hear her kindness in her voice and feel her kindness in the patient way she tried to coax my Mom into ordering something to help her to get stronger. I could hear her kindness when she turned her attention away from my Mom to focus on me. “You should go for a walk. Get some fresh air. You’re no good to your Mom, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Her kindness, was not part of her job, not required of her, but like her smile, her kindness soothed my fevered fear and dove away the demons long enough for me to recognize her as my Sister, and to capture a glimpse of the LOVE she embodied. Our ancestors tell us that Jesus had the same kind of power. I don’t know if he eased fevers or drove away daemons with a smile, but I believe that kindness had a role in Jesus’ ability to bring healing.

On Friday, I found myself in a grocery store. It was as if we all spiked a fever at the same time. Some of us were trying to keep our selfish demons at bay. Yes, there were more than a few who were completely possessed by demon.  But on the whole, our polite Canadian instincts managed to keep us relatively civil. But our civility was sorely tested as we searched for an easy way out of the grocery store. I witnessed a few ugly moments. I also saw many kindnesses. Strangers helping one another. Strangers sharing information. Strangers expressing dire warnings. You could almost feel the fever rising.

Driving home, I remembered the last time she gifted me with a smile. She had very kindly convinced my Mom to try ordering a dinner, when she turned to me and explained that she was going to be off work for a few days. But that I shouldn’t worry about my Mom because she had left a note with the nice young man who would be there for the next few days. She had told him to take good care of us and she had explained that my Mom needed extra help with the menu. Then she placed her hand on my arm and gave me that beautiful smile of hers, and it was as if the fever finally left me. In the kindness of a woman whose name I cannot remember, I was embraced by the LOVE in which we all live and move and have our being.

Over the next few weeks and months we are all going to experience more than our fair share of fevers and we will be visited by fearful demons. This pandemic threatens all of us and it threatens those we love. Our fevers and the fevers of our neighbours will require as much kindness as we can muster. The demons that are lining up to haunt us will only be driven off by LOVE. Now more than ever, is the time for each one of us to, in the words of the Apostle Paul,  “clothe (y)ourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances we have against one another—forgive in the same way God has forgiven us.  Above all else, put on LOVE, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Let CHRIST’s peace reign in (y)our hearts since, as members of one body, we have been called to that peace.  Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness.  Let the WORD of CHRIST, rich as it is, dwell in you. Instruct and admonish one another wisely.”

We don’t have to smile. We don’t have to be kind. We can let our demons run wild. We can infect one another with fear and let the fever continue to rise. Or we can take strength from one another, trusting that the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being IS LOVE.

Dear sisters and brothers, beloved, when all is said and done, and COVID-19 becomes a but a memory, let it be said of us, above all else, we put on LOVE and clothed ourselves with compassion, with kindness, gentleness and patience. Let us embody the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, so that all the world may know the healing power of the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.

Tickled By the Racy Svetlana; Otherwise Known as the Woman Evangelist Who Rocked Jesus’ World! – John 4:1-42 – Lent 3A

TickledThere was a commercial that a while back on the TV and each time it came  on, I couldn’t help myself, it made me smile and if I let myself, it made me laugh. It was a collection of scenes in which lovely little babies laugh. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh and before you know it you’re hooked and you just can’t help yourself you are laughing too. Laughter is a great tonic! Laughter is good for the soul! And yet, for some unknown reason we tend to exclude laughter from our religious life. Religion is serious business and so we don’t laugh much in worship. There’s a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that served as a warning sign for me as I was preparing this sermon. “NOT YET TICKLED” writes St. Teresa, “How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved—hurry.” The thought of being tickled by the DIVINE is delightfully refreshing.

I must confess that I don’t spend much time laughing with God. Listen to this quote from the writings of St. Teresa: “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” “What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did Christ. “Love” which is Teresa’s name for God. “Love once said to me, ‘I know a song would you like to hear it?’ And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy Me.” Enjoy Me. What a different place the world would be if we could only hear God beseeching us, “Enjoy Me.”

We are a serious lot we Christians. Duty, responsibility, guilt, and consternation have left us precious little time to “Enjoy!” We’ve got things to do, stuff to learn, values to instill and standards to uphold, so we’ve put enjoyment on the back-burner. After all, God is far too high and mighty to be trifling with, we daren’t laugh in the presence of our God. And yet, God continues to tickle us. Over and over again, with the most absurd wonders, and we can’t help ourselves, but smile. Creation is so full of laughs. Life is so funny! And church, I mean, whenever I think of the ridiculous things we get up to in church, well its enough to make you laugh until you cry. So to those of you who insist upon personifying our Creator,  don’t you try to tell me that the Creator of all that is or ever shall be, the one who is responsible for creating humour itself, doesn’t just roar with laughter at the stuff that we get up to. So, isn’t it just possible that when it comes to laughing babies, God has plenty of scope for delighting in us? Surely, laughter is one of the most sublime forms of prayer? We ought to lighten up and enjoy our time with God. Cause lord knows, serious people are all well and good but who wants to spend time with a bunch of folks who can’t enjoy a joke.

So with that said, let’s turn to this mornings Gospel reading. This story is a real tickler! But in order to get the jokes, you’ve got to know some of the stuff the insiders knew. It’s a bit like trying to understand British humour, sometimes you don’t quite get the joke, if you don’t know something about life in Britain. The Gospel of John is full of stories that play on the local humour of Palestine in the first century. This story, about the Woman at the Well is full of double en-ton-dras. Indeed, this story is so outrageous that when the powers that be were sitting around deciding which books would make it into the New Testament, The Gospel of John almost didn’t make the cut. This story was far too racy and I mean racy in both senses of the word, this story was about race and it was far too risqué for the likeings of the religious authorities who were functioning as the thought police for the early church. So, sit back and allow yourselves to be tickled as I let you in on the jokes. Continue reading

Social Distancing and the Woman with a Flow of Blood

This is not the sermon which I planned to preach this morning. On this International Women’s Day, I planned to preach about the unnamed women who walk with Jesus. I was going to riff off of the Leviticus text (Lev.15:19-30) which outlines the way in which women have been cast out from the temples of power simply for being women. Shedding blood comes naturally to women. But for millennia men have feared the life-giving abilities of women so much that they have judged the natural functions of our bodies as unclean. I planned to tell you about my own experiences of being cast out from the holy of holies. I was going to use my story as a way of celebrating just how far women have come in my lifetime.

You see when I was just seventeen years old, I was elected to the Church Council of my home parish. It was the late nineteen-seventies and the liturgical renewal movement was beginning to make its way through congregations. In my home parish it was decided that Council members would function as Worship Assistants. For the first time the pastor would have an assistant to help serve communion. For the first time in the life of our church laypeople would serve communion and pronounce the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you.”

I say laypeople, but I should really say laymen. You see, even though I was serving on Church Council, the pastor told me that the time wasn’t quite right for me to be a Worship Assistant. At first, I thought it was because I was too young. But then one afternoon, my beloved pastor told me that women were not permitted behind the altar. I had only been attending church for about two years, and I’d never learned about this particular rule. Imagine my surprise when my pastor explained that I couldn’t go behind the altar because in the Bible women were not allowed into the holy of holies because of our monthly cycles. I could not be a worship assistant because I could not stand behind the altar.

I was going to use that little story to make the point that the church has come a long way. You see, all the while my pastor was telling me that I couldn’t, the church already was. In 1976, Pamela McGee became the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in Canada. Today, I planned to preach a sermon in celebration of all the unnamed women whose faith has propelled them to move beyond societies attempts to limit their participation. I planned to celebrate the women who have been ordained in Canada these past 44 years. Daughters of this church whose faith gave them the courage to reach beyond the limits carved out for them by the taboos and fears which all too often defined them. Daughters who even though they bleed, they saw Jesus out there and decided to follow.

Well that’s what I planned to preach about and then I began receiving communications from York Region’s Public Health department. Listening to York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, I learned a new phrase:  social distancing.           Social distancing, suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation of our reading from Leviticus. In the course of this past week, we have all been learning not to touch one another. Indeed, we are not supposed to touch our own faces. Fear has birthed all sorts of new taboos as we try to navigate our new reality. If only blood were the cause of these taboos. But alas, miniscule droplets have become the basis of so much fear that there isn’t a drop of sanitizer to be found in any of our stores. Continue reading

What term of endearment do you use when you whisper sweet nothings in the ear of this God that you love? a sermon on John 3:1-17 – Lent 2A


Way back when I first began the formal process of becoming a pastor, the church committee responsible for helping people become pastors, recommended that I get a “spiritual director.” Among the many pieces of paper that the candidacy committee gave me, included both a definition of what a “spiritual director” is and who I might approach to be my “spiritual director”.

I remember three things about the church’s recommendation:

  1. A spiritual director walks with, guides, encourages and challenges people to deepen their relationship with the divine.
  2. A spiritual director is someone whose wisdom is derived from their own deep relationship with the divine together coupled with formal theological education.
  3. The spiritual director is someone in whom the candidate for the ministry of Word and Sacrament can place their trust.

Although, I was blessed to know several people that that I trusted who might be able to walk with me, guide, me encourage me, there was only one person who I could trust to challenge me; I mean really challenge me. The problem was, I wasn’t actually sure if Henry’s theological education was quite what the church had in mind. Nevertheless, I decided to ignore that particular detail as I proceeded to invite Henry to serve as my “spiritual director”.

I had met Henry years earlier when we both were working for a package tour operator. Henry was responsible for graphic design and we worked together to produce some pretty snazzy travel brochures. At the time, I thought Henry was a little odd. He was older than everyone in the office. Henry came from Brooklyn and looked very much like the stereo-typical  Jewish rabbi. I’m talking full black beard, black clothes, and a yarmulke. Turned out, Henry looked like a typical Jewish rabbi because he was a Jewish rabbi. Henry was working as a graphic designer to put food on the table for his family while he took a long-deserved break from serving as the director of a Jewish Yeshiva. Henry and I became fast friends.

Ours was a strange sort of friendship. Most of our conversations comprised of a series of questions without answers. I’d ask Henry a question, to which Henry would respond with an even deeper question, which would inspire and even deeper question with which I would be compelled to respond; it was kinda like dancing with ideas. Years later Henry would teach me that our dancing was actually an ancient form of the Jewish art of pilpul used by Talmudic scholars to get to the very heart of the sacred mysteries.  It took me years to realize that Henry had become my spiritual director long before I ever asked him to formerly take on the role.

It turned out that Henry had studied at one of the best rabbinical schools in New York and was an accredited to be a “spiritual director”. Somehow, despite the urging of the church to select from their list of suggestions, I managed to get my candidacy committee to approve Henry as my spiritual director. To this day, I think the committee members over-looked the fact that Henry is Jewish, only because Henry offered to serve as my spiritual director without me having to pay him the going rate, which back then would have cost me way more than I could afford. As it turned out, Henry’s direction was priceless. So, many of the treasures that Henry shared with me continue to shape and direct me to this very day. Continue reading

Facing Our Demons – a sermon on Matthew 4:1-11, Lent 1A

1100A long time ago, when I was just a young woman, I think I was about 22 or 23, still young enough to believe that all the answers to all my questions were out there somewhere, just waiting for me to discover. I was a serious young woman full of serious questions, always pondering the meanings of thins – big things like life and death, goodness and evil, love and hate, sickness and health, sin and forgiveness, God and no-god. I truly believed that if I actually applied myself to my questions, I would be able to discover the answers. It was the pursuit of particular answers that lead me into the wilderness of the desert.

Now, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are real deserts in British Columbia. You will discover one of those deserts as you travel between Ashcroft down to Merritt.  They’ve improved the roads since then, but back in the day that particular route was quite the challenge. Mind you, it didn’t help that I was driving an old beat up 1969 Austin 1100, that had no business being on mountain roads, let alone mountain roads that wound their way through a desert. Now if you don’t know what an Austin 1100 looks like, picture an old Austin Mini; an 1100 is only slightly bigger than an Austin Mini, and my old 1100 was purchased for the grand sum of $300.00. About the only thing this car had going for it was my faith in it to take me places.

 On this trip, I had loaded my little car down with all sorts of camping equipment along with several plastic milk jugs that held a gallon of water each, because the car’s radiator had a nasty habit of overheating. The woman that I am know, looks back on the young woman that I was, and I can’t help wondering what possessed me to head out into the desert in that stupid little car. I can almost see myself sitting on the side of the road waiting for the radiator to cool down, so that I could risk loosening the radiator cap, to fill it up with cool water so that I could travel another hour or so, before it over-heated again.

To say that I was young and foolish, would be an understatement. But I was also, adventurous and inquisitive. I had traveled into the wilderness to do some thinking. I needed to find some answers. I had some decisions to make; decisions, that at the time, felt like life and death. I truly believed that some time away by myself would guarantee me the kind of peace and quiet I needed to discover the answers to my questions.

Sitting there, on a rock, hoping against hope, that the 95 degree heat from the blazing sun would be enough to guarantee that any rattle snacks would remain tucked away in some distant shade, I couldn’t believe that I’d been driving for two hours without seeing another car on the road. I was out there in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where I had intended to be. I had travelled into the wilderness to find a place where there were no distractions, so that I could apply myself to finding an answer that I desperately needed. You see, some stuff had happened in my life; stuff that had lead me to doubt the god that over the years I had come to love.

Looking back, I think that I went out into the wilderness looking for a sign; a sign that God existed. My faith in the God who lives out there somewhere, who from time to time hears my prayer and decides to intervene in my life, my faith in that God, had been fairly strong, right up to the point where some really tough stuff started to happen to some folks I cared a great deal about, and no matter how long or how hard I prayed, the great Sky God that I had been taught to worship, simply refused to show himself. So, I decided to take a page or two out of the bible and follow Jesus right out into the wilderness to see if God would show up. Sitting there on a rock, roasting in the hot sun, as the tumble-weeds tumbled by, I wondered what I would do, if I discovered that God wasn’t really there. What if it was all just wishful thinking? I desperately wanted to meet the god that I’d been taught to believe in to be there in the wilderness. Isn’t that why Jesus wandered out into the wilderness of the desert? Surely, he didn’t go out there to meet the devil? Or did he? Maybe Jesus went out into the wilderness to meet his demons.

Over the years, I’ve learned enough about the anonymous  gospel storytellers to know that their stories are more than just history. I’ve learned to read beyond the words that have been handed down to us, to ponder the multi-layered texture of meanings that lie hidden waiting to be discovered. The storytellers’ careful crafting of their tale of Jesus time in the wilderness uses images and illusions that harken back to earlier stories of Moses leading the people of Israel into the wilderness where they spent not 40 days, but 40 years forming themselves into the nation that would go on to inhabit the promised land. In the wilderness, Jesus encountered his own demons. I can well imagine Jesus contemplating his own future and realizing his own desires for power were actual temptations that would distract him from his overriding desire to embody a new way of being in the world. A quest for power would have seen Jesus giving the people what they wanted a leader who could feed them with bread and everything that bread represents, wealth and power; the kind of power that would enable them to fight their Roman oppressors. The temptation to be the kind of messiah that the people wanted was Jesus’ temptation.

In the wilderness, alone with his desires and temptations Jesus fought his personal demons. According to the gospel storytellers, Jesus didn’t conquer his demons, “The Devil awaited another opportunity.” As the storytellers follow Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond, the temptation to forsake the new way of being in the world that Jesus embodied, in favour of being the kind of messiah that the people wanted continues to haunt Jesus. Jesus steadfastly refuses to take the mantle of power that so many would have handed to him the power to form an army the likes of King David, to rise up and violently resist the tyranny of Rome. As tempting as it may have been for Jesus to become the people’s messiah, Jesus summons up the courage to be a new kind of messiah. Jesus chooses to embody a posture of non-violent resistance to evil even though he knows full well that such a posture against the Romans could get him killed. Jesus refuses to give into his fears, trusting that even death cannot defeat the LOVE that he chooses to embody. Continue reading

More Than Just the Transfiguration of Jesus!

One of the best things about a good story is the way a good story lends itself to all sorts of interpretations. The story itself is quite thin. By that I mean that there are not very many details at all. This story is also quite thin in another way. You see this story reveals a thin place. A thin place is a place where the veil between the everyday mundane things of life and the sacred HOLINESS that is the SOURCE of all life is stretched so thin that we can see the ONE who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. It is the thinness of this little story that allows it to reveal so very much about the nature of our reality. The disciples Peter, James, and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus. In the Hebrew scriptures high mountains are the place to go if you want to experience the ONE who is the MYSTERY which we call “God”.  There are all sorts of interpretations about what transpired on that mountaintop. This is after all Transfiguration Sunday and so many of the interpretations of this story focus on the transfiguration of Jesus. I’d like to suggest another interpretation of this story. When we look closely, it is possible to see that Jesus is not the only one who is transfigured in this story.

I’m pretty sure that Peter, James and John, are also transfigured. If we let ourselves wander into this story, perhaps we too can be transfigured. Most of us are a lot like Peter, James, and John. I mean there’s nothing remarkable about these particular followers of Jesus. They are pretty typical. They are searching for someone to save them. Like most of us, what they really need to be saved from is their fear. Fear is something that each one of us contends with on a daily basis. We are obsessed with our fears. So much so, that it should come as no surprise to us that the phrase

“Do not be afraid,” appears 366 times in the Bible. As they say in Ireland, “366 times that’s once for every day and once for no reason at all.” Do not be afraid, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, we hear first the voice of God, and then Jesus, say over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” In this little story, Peter, James, and John are overcome with fear, so much so that they fall to the ground. Jesus comes to them, touches them and says, “Get up! Do not be afraid!”

There’s a story from India that sheds light upon the darkness of fear. People have told this story for several thousand years. It is about a man who was condemned to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. The man was warned that if he made the slightest movement, the snake would be on top of him and he would die. So, the man stood in the corner of the cell, directly opposite to where the snake was, and he was petrified. He barely dared to breathe for fear of alerting the snake to his presence. The man stood stiff in the corner. He was actually petrified all night long. The next morning, as the first rays of light began to come into the cell, the man was scarcely able to make out the shape of the snake, and he said to himself,   “I am so lucky that I never stirred. But as the sun rose higher, when the full force of the light came into the cell, the man could finally see that the focus of his fear wasn’t a snake at all. It was nothing more than an old rope.[i]

In so many of the rooms in our minds, there are harmless old ropes thrown in corners. When our fear begins to work on us, we convert those old ropes into monsters, who hold us prisoner in the bleakest, most impoverished rooms of our minds. Outside of these rooms there are glories waiting for us, but we remain transfixed and sometimes even paralyzed by our fears.

As a small child I was afraid of the dark. As I grew, I learned to reason away my fear of the dark.  But given the right set of circumstances darkness still has the ability to inspire fear in me. Sometimes, I can convince myself that the deadly snakes lurking underneath my bed are nothing more than old ropes. But there are those dark nights when even nothing more than an old rope can keep me awake, counting my fears instead of sheep.

It is no coincidence that so many of our images of the DIVINE MYSTERY include light. For who among us doesn’t long for a DIVINE superhero who can shed light upon all our fear and chase away all the deadly snakes and the old ropes that threaten to keep us paralyzed. I suspect that this little transfiguration story reveals more than just the transfiguration of Jesus. I suspect that in Jesus his followers saw an image of the DIVINE which transfigured their images of the nature of God, and in that light, they too were transfigured. Peter, James, and John fell to the ground overcome with fear. “Jesus came toward them and touched them saying, “Get up! Do not be afraid.” When they looked up, they did not see anyone but Jesus. Jesus, the one in whom they had seen the image of the DIVINE. In Jesus they saw the REALITY of the MYSTERY revealed. Despite their fear they were able to get up and follow Jesus down the mountainside, into the valley which harbored all the same old ropes which they had always feared.

Yet somehow, Peter, James, and John, were transfigured; no longer cowering on the ground; no longer paralyzed by fear. Inspired, by the LIGHT they were encouraged – quite literally, filled with the courage to follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem; right into the snake-pit of all their fears. “Do not be afraid.” over and over again. “366 times, once for every day and once for no reason at all, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus is no superhero, no magic saviour who can turn snakes into ropes. But in Jesus we catch a glimpse of the LIGHT, a LIGHT which reveals the ONE in whom, we live and move and have our BEING. In the LIGHT, we too are transfigured, set free from the paralysis of fear, so that we can move beyond the various corners in which we cower.  There are no deadly snakes waiting to pounce, just old ropes, the same old ropes that have kept us in our respective corners.

It is long past time for us to let the LIGHT transfigure us. Do not be afraid. For it is fear itself which destroys life. May the LIGHT of CHRIST shine forth in, with, through, and beyond you, so that each of us might be transfigured into the fullness of all that we are created to be. Get up. Do not be afraid. Follow Jesus, BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also into the ONE who is the LOVE we call God.         

[i] I’m indebted to the work of John O’Donohue for helping me to discover new ways of looking at fear. See: “Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World” by John O’Donohue in Conversation with John Quin, New York, 2015

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are? – reflecting on Transfiguration

This week, we find ourselves studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach  about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. But then, I remembered to look beyond my theological perspective and low and behold what I discovered transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.

My own images have been shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, peering beyond myth, has transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of DIVINE MYSTERY beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. What our species has learned about the Cosmos impacts our images of the DIVINE in ways we have scarcely begun to articulate.

A while back, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”

NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…

Struggling to comprehend the reality of what has been discovered, I remembered o leaning over my little two-year-old granddaughter Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler.   After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level.  Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.

Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. 40 light years. That’s how long it would take you to travel to the newly discovered Trappist 1 system.  According to Google, travelling at a speed of 15 miles per second, it would take us just about 12,770 years to travel one light year. 12,770 years, that’s close to the entire history of humans since the dawn of civilization to travel one light year and to travel 40 light years, well it would take us about half a million years. That’s about twice as long as humans have existed on earth. Talk about beyond. Vastness beyond my mind’s ability to comprehend. And yet, staring into the night sky, or peering through the darkness to the outline of my beloved granddaughter’s little face, I can almost touch the face of God. Like all the generations who have gone before us, the energy that permeates all that is, this LOVE that Creates over and over again, this LOVE that brings forth life in all its glorious dimensions, this radiance which pervades all that is, this ISNESS that bursts forth in, with, through, and beyond the cosmos, this IS, that we call God, reveals ITSELF in the splendor that IS all around us. When I think back to our ancient forbearers wandering around in the wilderness, desperate for a sign that they were not alone and forsaken, I can almost hear the confusion of those who demanded to know the presence of the one who lies at the very heart of reality. Continue reading

Living Between the Old Story and the Emergence of the New Story

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On this the 211th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, progressive Christian communities are preparing to celebrate Evolution Sunday

Readings from Thomas Berry and John 10:10 can be found here

I am indebted to the work of Richard Rohr for several insights found in his audio recordings of lectures entitled “The Sermon on the Mount”

 

How many of you remember your very first day at school? When I think back to my very first day at school my memories are disjointed, filled not with words but with images and emotions. The over-riding emotion that floods my memories of my first day at school is excitement. I started school in Belfast, Northern, Ireland when I was only four-and-a-half years old and to this day I can still feel the excitement. So, many things happened that day and I can see flashes and images in my mind’s – eye, but in her in my gut I can feel the excitement. I remember the contours of the schoolroom and I can feel the excitement of wondering which desk would be mine. I don’t know about you, but my memories of the desks are quite vivid. I’d never in my short little life seen anything quite like a desk and to be told that one of them would be mine.    Well I just couldn’t wait to find out which one.

Back then, in Belfast, in the olden days, there was no kindergarten; at the tender age of 4 ½ I was enrolled in P1 – primary one and in primary one we had desks that had chairs attached to them, and a lid that went up and down. When I sat down at my very own desk, I opened and closed that lid over and over again, wondering what on earth I would be given to put inside the desk.   It was so exciting. I began imagining books, maybe they’d give us books. I can still feel the excitement I felt at the very idea of placing a book inside my very own desk; I couldn’t wait.

My desk was absolutely perfect in every way except for one. In the top right-hand corner of my beautiful desk there was a hole. I looked around at the other desks and sure enough each one of them had the same kind of hole. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the holes were for. I wanted to ask the teacher, but I remembered feeling like I should keep quiet, so I waited, and I waited for the teacher to tell us what the holes in our desks were for, but she never said a word. So, the first thing I did when my father picked me up from school was to ask him why all the desks at school had holes in them. My Dad knew absolutely everything there was to know about everything and sure enough he knew exactly what those holes were for. Ink. Inkwells. Every desk in my class had an inkwell built right into them.  So, what’s ink? And, what’s an inkwell? That very afternoon I learned about quills made of feathers, dipped into ink so that you could write letters. Dad was a fountain of knowledge about writing with ink.

That night I went to bed dreaming about quills, and feathers, and ink; lots and lots of lovely ink, and writing, writing lots and lots of words. School was going to be great! I couldn’t wait to get my quill. I dreamed a pretty pink feather. So, you can imagine my disappointment when the next day at school, after being told that we were going to learn how to print, because printing comes before writing, and I simply couldn’t wait, as the teacher announced she was going to give us slates and chalk which we could keep in our desks.  Slates and chalk. I had a slate at home. We even had some chalk. When would we get feathers? At that point I would have settled for a plain old black feather, but slates and chalk, what a disappointment.  I never did get a quill. We never even got the fabled fountain pens that my Dad spoke of with fondness. Eventually, we did get a pencil and some paper. But pens had to wait until P3. My slate was wonderful, and I did learn to print using the little broken pieces of chalk that we shared.

Right now, the image of my two-year-old grand-daughter begging me to lend her my iPad and imagine what wonders her fist day at school might bring. My old slate was about the same size as this iPad, but the wonders that my little granddaughter can access on this device make that old slate seem so very primitive indeed. It has been said that you and I have experienced in our lifetime more changes that any other generations before us and I expect that our grandchildren will experience even more changes that we can begin to imagine. Continue reading

Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with Our God – But Not Too Humbly! a sermon for Epiphany 4a

“In the Far East, the emperor was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”

One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story.  She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully.  Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.  After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.  By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.  Six months went by — still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however.  He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. Continue reading

The Beatitudes and the Power of One: a sermon for Epiphany 4A – Matthew 5:1-12

sad EckhartMost us us have heard the words from Matthew 5, known as the Beatitudes, so many times that we can recite them from memory. Indeed, the Beatitudes are at the very core of our Christian tradition. But there is a danger in our familiarity with these words because it allows us to distance ourselves from them as we relegate them to some idealized notion of some unattainable goal.

I have studied these words many times and I do not believe that Jesus intended these words to become a prescription for how to be a better Christian. So, I won’t be encouraging anyone to be poor in spirit, to mourn, or to be meek in the hope that they might gain the kindom of heaven, or be comforted, or inherit the earth. While hungering and thirsting for righteousness is in and of itself a good thing, along with being merciful, pure of heart, and peace-making, all of which I heartily encourage. However, these attributes or beatitudes are not a prescription for holiness or wholeness.

So, if Jesus wasn’t prescribing the beatitudes from atop the mountain, what was he doing? Well, there’s an old storytellers’ ploy that I’d suggest in order to better understand Jesus words. The ploy doesn’t have a name, but most of us are very familiar with the trick. It’s the one where you tell an unfamiliar story alongside of a very familiar story in the hope that the unfamiliar story will help to shed some new light on the words of the familiar story. The unfamiliar story is taken from Bryce Courtenay’s autobiographical novel “The Power of One.” The Power of One was are into a movie about twenty years ago, so the story may be somewhat familiar. Continue reading

In the Wake of Trumpism, Progressive Christians Must Not Be Nice! – a sermon in response to the Jesus call, “Come Follow me!”

I never in a million years dreamt that I would begin a sermon by quoting not the scriptures but Alice in Wonderland, but…“The time has come” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—of cabbages and kings”

To say that the last couple of years have been unusual, would be an understatement of epic proportions. These days, it is as if we are all following Alice in Wonderland and together the world has gone through the looking glass and we find ourselves in a strange new world, were up is down and down is up, facts no longer matter, the way forward has a strange orange hue about it, and I can’t quite see a path through to reality. Everywhere I look the darkness appears deeper and darker than I ever imagined possible. Just when I think I have seen a glimmer of light to guide me, the orange hue blinds me with its outrageous, narcissistic, bellicose, outpourings of hubris, designed to lead us all up the garden path. For days, I’ve felt strangely uneasy. I don’t know where to turn, how to feel, or what to do and there is nowhere, I mean nowhere, I can flee to; nowhere to escape the darkness of this strange new world.

As my stomach churns at each outrageous upheaval of basic human decency, and I feel in every fiber of my being the impending dangers, as we all bear witness to the abandonment of common sense, as the Mad Hatter tweets his demands that we all believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” It is true dear friends, the leader of the so-called free world is a mad hatter who is going to make America great again. Welcome to wonderland, a strange world where a man in a read baseball hat, a thrice bankrupt, reality tv celebrity, comb-over, lives in a world oblivious to reality and we all now live in a wonderland not of our choosing but rather in his peculiar dream; a nightmare in which, just like Alice’s Wonderland we find ourselves falling, spiraling downward into the rabbit hole to  a world where, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be wat it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

My memories of the story of Alice’s boat ride down the river are distant and vague, I can’t for the life of me remember how when, or how she emerged from her voyage. These past couple of days, I’ve tried to imagine Jesus walking along the shore calling me to abandon my own small boat. I can just about hear Jesus calling me, “Come follow me.” But I can’t quite seem to imagine where Jesus will lead us. I want to abandon my small boat, but today even the shore looks treacherous.

So, bobbing up and down, my queasiness increases as I struggle to hold down the bile that keeps rising up in me. I thought I was doomed to ceaselessly bobbing up and down in this upside down wonderland, and then I through the light of my own white hot anger, I began to see beyond the topsey-turvey madness that threatens to become our new normal. My anger was inspired by a sermon I did not hear but was directed to by a colleague whose anger was whiter and hotter than my own. It was a sermon delivered on Friday morning by the Reverend Robert Jeffress at a very special worship service attended by the mad-hatter himself. It was the sermon that the orange, self-aggrandizing, braggart, heard immediately before taking the oath of office that would give him the football; I’m talking about “the football” the one that launches not a game but the horrendous destruction of all that we hold dear upon this planet; the nuclear codes were in his possession when the mad hatter was treated to a sermon the likes of which cause me to tremble, tremble, tremble….

According to the Washington Post and I quote:

“The sermon was delivered by Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, who compared Trump to the story of the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel.

Israel had been in bondage for decades, Jeffress explained, and the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God did not choose a politician or a priest but chose a builder instead.

The first step of rebuilding the nation, Jeffress said, was the building of a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack.

“You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress said in his sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C.

Nehemiah, according to the biblical account, completed the project in 52 days. Why was Nehemiah so successful in building the wall and rebuilding the nation?

Jeffress said that Nehemiah refused to allow his critics to distract him, noting how some people still don’t believe Trump will succeed in his agenda.

Nehemiah, Jeffress said, had two antagonists named Sanballat and Tobiah. “They were the mainstream media of their day,” he said.

“They continued to hound and heckle Nehemiah and spread false rumors while he and the Israelites were building the wall.”

He noted that Nehemiah answered his critics by saying: “I’m doing a great work. . . . Why should I stop the work and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). Trump’s work, he said, “is a work far too important to stop and answer your critics.”

Nehemiah faced setbacks, Jeffress noted, including an economic recession, terrorist attacks from enemies and discouragement among the citizens.

“The true measure of a leader is what it takes to stop him,” he said.

“And knowing you, I believe it’s going to take a lot to stop you.”

Jeffress said Trump has assembled an “unbelievably talented group of advisers” and has Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, “a great and godly man.”

“Mr. President-elect, I don’t believe we have ever had a president with as many natural gifts as you,” he said.

But, Jeffress said, “we need God’s supernatural power.”

He said Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated with Americans and that “Psalm 33:12 gives us the starting point for making that happen: ‘Blessed — great — is the nation whose God is the Lord.’” Unquote.

JEEZZZES H CHRIST!!! Suddenly, the bile rose in me, only now, I refuse to stifle it. I am angry. I am angry that the scriptures have been transformed into succor for a narcissistic, megalomaniac, whose dreams and visions threaten all that I hold dear. Now I know that there are those among you who might counsel me to calm down. Well that’s just not going to happen. Living in the land of the shadow of death, the light has dawned and I happen to believe that anger, I’m talking about hot, vivid, piercing, anger is the only light that people who are living in darkness have available to them at this moment in time. I ain’t about to calm down. In fact I hope that I can provoke or tap into some of the anger that’s gotta be rising in so many of you right about now. You see, I can hear Jesus call us, and I hope that you too can hear Jesus calling us from the shore to abandon our small boat and follow him. Continue reading

What are you looking for? – John 1:29-42

“What are you looking for?” It takes a special kind of person to venture out on a cold and snowy January morning to come to church. So, let me ask you again,            “What are you looking for?” 

The people of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to come and save them from the injustices perpetrated by the Romans.  Many of them believed that they’d found the kind of saviour that they were looking for in Jesus. But Jesus refused to be the kind of messiah that they were looking for. Jesus refused to lead them in an armed revolt against the Romans.  Jesus called them to a different path; a path that required them to renounce violence, hatred, and greed; a path that demanded not violent resistance, love of enemy, and care for the poor and marginalized among them. Jesus’ way of being in the world was not an easy path to walk.

Already, in the gospel according to John we see those early followers of Jesus, retelling the story of Jesus in ways that recast him into the role of the messiah that they longed for. Over time, the storytellers, the theologians, and the church has pointed to Jesus and declared, “Look, there’s God’s sacrificial lamb, who takes away the world’s sin!” For generations, too many of us have looked to Jesus to take away our sin. Believing that all we need to do is believe and Jesus will save us. Like so many who have gone before us we have wanted Jesus to be the kind of saviour who would save us from our sinfulness.

 Our ancestors defined sin as missing the mark. Who can live a life without missing the mark? Surely, there is someone, who can offer us some way of living a life without missing the mark, for each time we miss the mark, there is sadness, pain, suffering and death.  Surely there is someone who can save us from all this?             But Jesus refuses to be the kind of messiah that we want. Jesus calls us not to believe in him, but follow him, follow him to passionately non-violently resist injustice, follow him by loving our enemies, follow him to care for the poor and the marginalized among us.

Believing in Jesus won’t save us. Becoming a Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, or New Ager won’t save us. Only our shared humanity will save us. Jesus lived and taught a way of being human that spoke directly to our common humanity and called us to walk a path that would lead humanity to a new way of being in the world. But what are we looking for? Are we looking for a different kind of Messiah than one who will not save us from our troubles?

Our friend Pete Rollins tells a story of this kind of longing. Pete speaks of an: “old Buddhist parable that tells the story of a young woman who gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. But after only a few weeks the child dies and the woman is distraught.  She wraps the child’s body in linen and then she wraps the child’s body to her own, and she goes in search of someone, of anyone who could resuscitate her child. She goes to faith healers, and witch-doctors.  She talks to the tribal elders. But nobody can help. Continue reading

Sacrament of Resistance: the Baptism of Jesus

On Monday, Western Christendom celebrated Epiphany as we heralded the arrival of wise folk from the East, from a place we know call Iran. By Wednesday, the world was mourning the crash of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 over the skies of Iran. By Friday, it was clear that the crash was no accident, that 176 people were murdered by some not so wise folk from the East in retaliation for the assassination of the most celebrated of all Iranian Generals. By Saturday, the pundits, the folks who claim to be wise, continued to argue over who is to blame. Was Iran totally responsible or does the orange ruler who sits on the most powerful throne on the planet ultimately to blame for plunging the world into madness? Today, still reeling from the reality that so many of the victims of this insanity were our very own kin, returning to Canada after visiting family and friends. Today, Canadians and Iranians are united in grief; grief at the loss of life, grief at the apparent inevitability of war as systems of domination clash. Today, we gather to do what Christians do on the Sunday after Epiphany, we gather to remember our baptism through the stories told by our ancestors about the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth.

What possible wisdom, comfort, or challenges can this story of a baptism which happened in the Jordan River nearly 2000 years ago offer to us on a day like today? Not much.  Not much that is if we choose to remember this story the way the church all too often remembers this story. For centuries the church has adopted a kind of collective amnesia when it comes to baptism. We have chosen to forget the power of this story to inspire resistance to the very systems which continue to prevent us from living in peace. We have forgotten so very many of the contours of this story which, if remembered drag us out of our preoccupation with our own selfish needs toward a lifestyle of resistance to what has become the status quo. Where once the story of Jesus Baptism inspired his followers to deny allegiances to the powers that be so in order to take upon themselves a new way of being in the world, generations of amnesia have left us marching in lock-step to the drumbeat of violence even as we claim allegiance to the Prince of Peace.

So, what have we 21st century would be followers of Jesus, forgotten about this story of Jesus baptism in the first century? Well, for starters we have forgotten that our first century ancestors risked everything when they chose to be baptized. Jesus contemporaries lived under the oppression of not one but two domination systems. Under the domination of what was the mightiest Empire the world had ever seen, first century people living in Palestine whether they be Jew or Gentile were required on pain of death to swear allegiance to Rome. The act of swearing allegiance was called in Latin a “sacramentum” – that’s right our word sacrament comes from the word sacrementum which means “to vow” or to “swear an oath” or “to pledge allegiance.” Continue reading

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

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Listen to the sermon here

How many of you know what this is? Where I come from it is often referred to as a dog-collar and the folks who wear them are called God-Bothers. Back when I first started seminary, I resolved that I wouldn’t wear a clerical shirt and collar. I didn’t like the idea of being set apart from others. I really didn’t want to be seen as one of those holier-than-thou types, who took themselves so seriously. Learning the history of clerical garb didn’t help me to warm up to the idea of wearing them. Apparently, back in the middle ages fashion dictated that educated professionals wear black. Also, during the middle ages, long before shirts had collars it was all the rage to let your white undergarments show around your neck. This was the precursor to shirt-collars. Apparently during the reformation, this trend fell out of fashion but clergy, who couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion continued to wear black shirts with their white under-garment showing.      

Over time, the church does what the church often does and applied a liturgical meaning to explain what is already happening. So, the church began to explain clerical attire theologically. If you google it, you will discover that, pastors are just like everyone else, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. So, they wear a black shirt to signify their sinfulness, but they wear a white collar to signify that the words they speak are not their own, but God’s words, because you see the collar covers the pastors voice-box to signify that we speak the Word of God. Now the presumption that I or anyone else speaks on behalf of God is rather daunting to say the least and did nothing to encourage me to wear a clerical collar, nor did the obscure explanation of the tab collar, which insists that this little white notch is placed strategically over the Adam’s apple to cover over the reminder of Adam’s sin. Not having an Adam’s apple, myself, I wasn’t much taken with the idea of wearing special clothing to set me apart. But when I first became a pastor, I was insecure and believe it or not I didn’t want to rock the boat. So, I ever so hesitatingly began wearing a clerical collar. I was uncomfortable wearing the collar, so I decided that I would only wear it on Sundays, or to protest marches, and sometimes when I was visiting people in the hospital, because in hospitals, wearing a collar makes it easier to gain access to patients.

Well one day, I needed some candles and so I dashed into the Zellers over the road to quickly grab a couple. I was having difficulty finding just the right candles when a store clerk came up to me and asked me if I would come with her. I figured that I’d been lingering over the candles for so long that she must have mistaken me for a shoplifter, but as we hurried along, she explained to me that there was a man in housewares who was abusing his wife and child. I’d forgotten that I was wearing a collar, but the reality of what this clerk was asking me to do choked me into realizing that the collar had led her to believe that I could actually do something. Not knowing what she expected me to do, I told her to call 911. She assured me that they had already called, but that in the meantime perhaps I could help. We stopped just before the aisle where the abuse was taking place. The store clerk whispered that, “they are just over there.”  As she pointed, I realized that she wanted me to go on alone. So, not knowing what to expect, I took a deep breath and walked in on a scene that was way beyond my abilities. A big burly guy was twisting the arm of a woman while a little girl of about 4 or 5 stood crying. The man was yelling obscenities when I interrupted him. When he looked at me, I saw the fear in his eyes as he immediately let go of the woman who fell to the floor. The little girl ran to her mother. I expected the man to turn on me, but instead he just stared at me, as he began to cry, “I’m sorry pastor, forgive me.” It wasn’t I who stood before him, but the church, his church, the church that had taught him right from wrong. The collar I wore made the church visible to him and made it impossible for him to forget who he was. As a child of God, he couldn’t continue what he was doing. As a child of God, he knew in his bones that he was wrong. He wept until the police arrived. From that day on, I’ve known the power of the collar to make the church visible in the world and so I wear it a lot more often than I’d ever expected I would. Continue reading

Orange Is The New Black – In the beginning of a New Year and a New Decade, What are we to do?

“In the beginning there was the WORD; the WORD was in the presence of the HOLY ONE, and the WORD was the HOLY ONE.” Even the word WORD carries meaning beyond the page. In the context of the prologue of the Gospel according to John.  The word WORD is translated into English using a capitol W or in some translations in all-caps, to alert readers that the word Word is being used in a particular way. Words are powerful symbols which have the ability to capture the meaning of a thing. Or words can be used as symbols to point beyond themselves to something whose meaning cannot be captured by any word. As we have journeyed together exploring new ways of being Christian in this relatively new century, new ways of understanding have required us to find new words to express our images of the MYSTERY that cannot be captured with the word God. Finding words to use when we worship together has become more difficult. But nowhere is the task of finding words to express the inexpressibly more challenging than choosing hymns.

We love to sing together. Music moves us in ways that open us to the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Sadly, some of our favorite old hymns fail to express the freedom we have begun to discover in the LOVE that IS God. But the tunes, ah the tunes, the tunes continue to move us. Fortunately, we have been blessed with a multitude of new words to sing to those beloved old tunes. Sometimes those new words work well and sometimes not so well. Nowhere is that more apparent than during the Christmas season. The words to most Christmas Carols have been married to the tunes in ways that no one shall put asunder.

Take Silent Night for example. Christmas Eve just isn’t Christmas Eve unless we sing Silent Night.  You hear the first few notes and memories come to light as the familiar words come back to us. Now there have been some splendid new verses that have been written to Silent Night which expand our images beyond “round young virgin mother and child” to capture the Cosmic nature of the incarnation.

Silent night, holy night.

All is calm, all is bright.

Palan-ets Grace-full-y

Cir-cle the sun

Star-dust cy-cles through

Ev-er-y One

Life abounds upon Earth

Life abounds upon Earth     (by Keith Mesecher)

I love the imagery these words capture. I love the theology these words open us up to. These words give me a sense of the cosmos far beyond my childhood nativity images. But I can promise you now, that I would never dare to tinker with the words of Silent Night on Christmas Eve. The moment Marney’s fingers touch the keyboard, just the first few notes signify the beginning of a treasured nostalgic experience which cannot be tinkered with. From the very beginning of a tune, assumptions are made; assumptions which are inscribed in our very nature. So, just imagine the audacity of the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John, who dared to tinker with the most iconic beginning of all as far as his audiences were concerned. Remember, unlike 21st century worshippers, first century worshippers didn’t just commit hymns to memory, they committed the Hebrew Scriptures to memory.  So, when our anonymous gospel-storyteller began his story with the words, “In the beginning”  each and every one of his listeners would have been primed to hear what comes next… “In the beginning” Genesis, the very word Genesis translates as beginning. And so begins the prologue of our storytellers gospel of the life and times of the Joshua ben Joseph, you know Mary’s boy! “In the beginning” wait I know you think you know what comes next,  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Ah, but think again. “In the beginning…wait for it…in the beginning there was the LOGOS.” Continue reading

Epiphany Sermons

Epiphany falls on a Monday this year. Traditionally, Epiphany was celebrated in grander fashion than Christmas. But time has seen the Christmas feast eclipse the festival of Epiphany. Here are a few of the Epiphany sermons I have preached over the past few years. 

Shine for the sake of Jakelin, Felipe, and Refugees Everywhere, Shine here

You are the Light of the World here

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening. here 

Don’t Forget the Mystery of Our Faith here

Wisdom Seeks Wisdom here

 

The baby that was “borned” was God! – Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a holy night; a night when the distinctions between the sacred and the ordinary fall away and we are able to see beyond the boundaries which limit our vision. On this holy night, if we look closely, we can see visions of the LOVE which is the Source of All Reality, the LOVE that many of us call God. The best way to see beyond the boundaries which limit our vision is through a story. The fellow whose birth we celebrate tomorrow was particularly fond of revealing truth through stories. Jesus would often tell a new story alongside a familiar sacred story in order to reveal unseen truths within the familiar. So, on this holy night, I’ll tell you a new story, in the hope that it will help us to see once again the truth revealed in the stories that our ancestors used to tell about the birth of Jesus….   

Not so very long ago, a young woman, let’s call her Dora, short for Doreatha, which comes from the Greek phrase “gift from God.” Dora spent most of her childhood dreading Christmas. Christmas in Dora’s family was a volatile affair. Dora’s father never needed much of an excuse to drink too much.  Most of the holidays were consumed by the fallout from his excessive drinking. After far too many devastating Christmas Eves which ended in tears, Dora figured out that the best thing she could do to protect herself from the trauma of her family’s gatherings was to stay away from home on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, Dora was blessed with friends from church who regularly welcomed her into their home each Christmas Eve. Beth and Michael had three small children the youngest of which, little Sophia was Dora’s goddaughter.  

With her family of choice, Dora new exactly what to expect on Christmas Eve. First a trip into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, which they would trim together before sitting down to a traditional feast, followed by Michael’s dramatic reading of the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. When the children were safely tucked into bed with dreams of, well not so much sugarplums dancing in their heads, but rather visions of packages which would magically arrive whilst they slept, Dora and Beth would slip out quietly to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight communion service.

Well, one Christmas Eve, Dora found herself alone in the house trying to amuse her goddaughter Sophia, who was very, very, unhappy. Her parents had decided that the unusually cold weather, together with the deep snow, were too severe for a three-year-old to trudge through. Sophia and Dora were given the task of getting the living room ready to receive the Christmas tree. Sophia was not pleased at all happy about being left behind. But it didn’t take long for the boxes of decorations to catch her attention. All through the Advent season, little Sophia had been learning the Christmas story. As they tackled the sorting out the decorations, Sophia began to regale Dora with her own version of the Christmas story. As they unpacked the shepherds, wise guys and angels, little Sophia told Dora how:  “Once upon a time, before they had picture books or TVs,  there wasn’t anything fun to do, because there was no Santa to bring anybody any presents. And there weren’t any cars, so Mary who was going to have a baby, had to ride on a donkey and Joseph walked because he had longer legs. And they walked and they walked all day long until it was dark and then when they got where they were going, they were very hungry, but there wasn’t any food, so they went into a stable where they talked to the animals until they weren’t hungry anymore. It was dark but they weren’t afraid because there was a big star shining up in the sky so they could see what was happening. And soon it was time for a big surprise, but not the kind of surprise that Santa brings; this was a really big surprise.” Sophia’s eyes lit up as she told Dora about this big surprise. She said, when the animals fell asleep, “then the baby was borned.”  Sophia asked Dora, “Do you know who the baby was?” Dora played along, asking, “Tell me, who was the baby who was borned?”  Sophia climbed up onto her lap and whispered into Dora’s ear: “The baby was God!” With that, Sophia jumped down and began to dance around the room. Rarely is the good news told with such earnest appreciation for the amazing surprise. Continue reading

Mary: Rebel With A Cause – Luke 1:26-56

The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke addresses his depiction of the life of Jesus of Nazareth to a character named Theophilus.  Our storyteller begins with these words:  “Many others have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events which have been fulfilled among us, exactly as those happenings were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. I too have investigated everything, carefully from the beginning and I have decided to set it down in writing for you, noble Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things which you have been instructed.”  As I have told you many times before, pay close attention to the names. Ancient storytellers are well known for selecting the names of their characters with great care. The character Theophilus is a case in point. Theophilus comes from the Greek words which mean “lover or lovers of God”. Our anonymous gospel-storyteller is addressing his account of the life and times of Jesus to everyone who is a lover of God.

In the ancient world, a miraculous birth story was part of being a famous person. Jesus was a famous person and so Jesus needed a birth story. Birth stories were used by storytellers to set their heroes apart from all the others. Luke’s birth story certainly set Jesus apart from all the other would be messiahs of his day. For starters, Luke weaves his story from the perspective of Mary, and there’s something about Mary that we modern readers tend to miss. Today, more often than not, modern depictions of Mary fail to mention the revolutionary character of this ancient protagonist. Mary is no bit player in this story. The role of Mary is revolutionary! Over the years generations of listeners and readers have taken the author’s depiction of Mary and created an image of Mary that is marginal at best. But there is a dark side to our images of Mary. The popular image of Mary paints her as the ideal woman, the ideal woman no woman could ever live up to. The image of Mary is that of both virgin and mother, meek and mild, obedient and perfect. She is impossible as a role model of course and totally unreal.

This idealization of Mary is a major factor in the Santa-fication of Christmas. The ideal popular image of Mary fails to reveal the true nature of the Christ child that she bears. In order to see Jesus, we have to move beyond Mary’s popular image and look at what the author of Luke actually wrote about Mary. It is in the words of the Magnificat that the author reveals the revolutionary character of Mary. The Magnificat is the song Mary sings when she meets Elizabeth. When read in its original Greek it is clear that Mary bursts into song. The text of the song is a revolutionary text full of historical meaning that would have been clear to its first century listeners, but the radical nature of this song has been lost as successive generations have set it to music and prettied it up as best they can. But in the first century, Mary was seen as a revolutionary. Continue reading

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

the first christmasIn 2008, our little congregation played host to John Dominic Crossan who has been acclaimed as world’s most famous New Testament scholar. Crossan’s visit to our congregation began with a public lecture based on his best-selling book The First Christmas in which he and Marcus Borg provide a splendid historical outline of the development of the birth narratives. I had the dubious honour of standing before his enlightened audience on Christmas Eve to preach in the great man’s wake. What follows is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached just three weeks after Dom’s illuminating visit.

Just a few weeks ago, this congregation was privileged to play host to a man who has the reputation of being the greatest New Testament scholar in the whole world. Dom, (we get to call him “Dom” now) wrote The First Christmas with Marcus Borg who is the guy who is heralded as the world’s leading expert on Jesus and Christianity in the 21st century. During his lecture, Dom provided us with all sorts of marvellous ways to understand the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Ever since that visit, there have been folks who listened very carefully to what Dom had to say and who have been positively gleeful when they’ve asked me what I’m going to do about preaching on Christmas Eve.

I mean what could I possibly say to you after so many of you have just finished hearing from the best in the business! And then there are those of you who bought the book and you’ve read what the experts have to say about the first Christmas. Some of you weren’t able to hide the smirks when you wondered out loud just exactly how I’d go about following the eminent Dr. John Dominic Crossan. Continue reading

A Kick Ass Messiah or Jesus??? – a sermon for the second Sunday in Advent

kickass-jesusThis sermon is an adaptation and expansion of a sermon preached way back when by one of my favourite preachers: Glynn Cardy. Glynn’s work continues to inspire me!!! We both source our favourite New Testament scholars John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk. My adaptation is also inspired by John Shelby Spong. It is always a pleasure to work with such great material!!! The Gospel Reading was Matthew 3:1-12. You can listen to the sermonhere

Yesterday, some of us enjoyed ourselves at a carol sing. I had a marvelous time as together with all sorts of people, from various backgrounds we sang our way through most of our favourite Christmas carols and we sounded wonderful. As you might expect, all the music printed for us, so that everyone could participate. It made no difference whether you were a practiced virtuoso or an untalented wanna-be like me, our voices blended as the powerful singers among us carried the weaker singers along. The collection of carols to choose from was extensive and most of our requests were happily accommodated. That is until somebody yelled out a request for the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The Music was not available. But the lack of preparedness didn’t daunt this group of merry carolers.  A  few copies of Handel’s Messiah that lay hidden near the piano, were found, and before too long we were off, singing the Chorus from memory.

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah)

And He shall reign forever and ever

And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)

And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)

And he shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)

King of kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

And lord of lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

King of kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

And lord of lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

King of kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

And lord of lords

King of kings and lord of lords

Yesterday, we sounded like a choir of angels and all but a few of us were singing from memory. From memory. Silent night, or Away in a Manger, these are carols that most of us can sing from memory. But the Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, now that’s impressive, George Frederic himself would have been impressed. Handel’s Messiah conjures up images of a Messiah that I suspect the character that we know as John the Baptist would have loved.

Handel’s Messiah, like the Messiah that John the Baptist longed for, is a real kick ass Messiah. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, forever and ever, and ever, and ever. Handel’s Messiah is the kind of Messiah that underdogs, the oppressed, and the down-trodden have longed for since the beginning of time, forever and ever and ever, give us a kick ass Messiah to go into battle and defeat our enemies. Give us the Lord God omnipotent.

Omnipotent, of all the omnis, omnipotent is by far, over and above the favorite of huddled masses everywhere. You can have your omniscience and omnipresence! But give us omnipotence! What good is omniscience or omnipresence when you’re being downtrodden. All knowing, ever-present are all well and good, but we’ll take the all-powerful messiah, thank-you very much. Given the choice between wisdom and presence and we’ll take power and might when it comes to a Messiah. Give us a savoir who can kick the what’s it out of our enemies and we’ll sing more hallelujah’s than any oppressor can shake a stick at. Good old John the Baptist he knew a messiah when he saw one.

Come to think of it, good old John the Baptist now there’s a man who knew what it meant to be oppressed. Downtrodden, don’t even get the Baptist started. He could tell you about being downtrodden and condemn a brood of vipers while he was at it. That Baptist, he had it all sussed. He had it all figured out. He knew who to blame. Those vipers, those Pharisees and Sadducees sold the people out! They’ll get theirs when the Messiah comes. The Messiah will turn it all upside-down and shake up those high and mighty mucky mucks who are living it up in the Capital, selling the people out. When the Messiah comes, he’s gonna kick some ass. No stone will be left unturned. The Messiah is going to make Jerusalem great again! Mark my words. Continue reading