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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My GOD, My GOD! When Will the Violence End?

My GOD, My GOD, why? On Good Friday, it is so difficult to know where to begin. My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? The Hebrew Psalmist’s cry ought to be enough. My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? But on Good Friday, which is anything but Good, it is my own selfish cry, “My GOD, My GOD, WHY?” which seems like as good a place as any to begin. But then there is nothing “good” about Good Friday, not even where we begin, which is of course in agony.

So, let us not begin with the “MY” part of this plea for answers, but with the “GOD” part. “GOD” such a little word for the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL this IS, WAS, and EVER MORE SHALL BE. The MYSTERY in which we live, and move, and have our BEING, the MYSTERY which has BEING in, with, through, and beyond us. The MYSTERY responsible for the creation of the Cosmos and therefore the ONE which must BE  BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also;

certainly the ONE beyond any and all words, any of us can utter. This ONE is the ONE to which when all is said and done, when the worst of all possible things happens, this is the ONE to which each of us cry, which in and of itself, make us all ONE. My GOD, My GOD, why?

And so, like his ancestors before him, and those who will follow in his wake, when the worst of all things happens to him, Jesus cries out, “My GOD, My GOD, why?” So, let the reality of the MYSTERY of our GOD, move us beyond the details articulated with mere words, so that we might catch a glimpse of the WHY of it ALL. Why death? Why not just any death, which must come to us all, but why such needless death, at the hands of ourselves, why such violent death? My GOD, My GOD, why? Why violence? Violence the word we use to describe the physical force used to cause injury, damage, or death. Violence we can define.  Violence we can know. Perhaps more importantly, violence we can feel. We can feel it when it is applied to our person and worse yet we can feel it when it rises up in us. Violence is all too familiar for violence too has the power to make us one; one in the perpetration of violence, one as we perish from violence inflicted upon us, and one in our fear of violence. Violence disturbs our peace and violence motivates our desire to become strong enough to resist the violence of others. No wonder our ancient ancestors imagined the MYSTERY responsible for Creation as super-heroes powerful enough to save them from violence. My GOD, My GOD, why?

My GOD is bigger than your GOD. My GOD’s violence can defeat your GOD’s violence. My father can beat your father. My GOD will not forsake me. And if your violence is stronger than my violence, it is not because your god is strong than MY GOD, for surely therein lies the despair which leads only to madness, the kind of madness in which we are consumed by our fears. Within our fear is where violence gestates. Surely, any defeat is not down to the power of our GOD, but rather to some offence or other we have given to our GOD, who because of such an offence our GOD has chosen to forsake us. And there you have it, our need to placate the POWER of the ONE who IS. What can we offer to placate the anger of such a ONE? What will return our god to our side, ensuring our victory? What can we mere mortals offer to make atonement with the HOLY ONE?

Questions, heaped upon questions, as one violent tragedy leads to another. Our historians, our archeologists, and our anthropologists can point to the sacrifice of humans to the gods, here, there, and everywhere. Sacrifice which literally means to make holy, “sacrem facere”. To restore to wholeness our relationship with that which is BEYOND our words. So, it is beyond the words themselves to the stories handed down from one fear-filled generation to another that we must turn with the same old question, My GOD, My GOD, why? Why have you forsaken me? us? In favour of them? Our Hebrew ancestors tell the story told to end the violence born of fear’s attempt to sacrem facere. It is a story told by the WISDOM bearers of old to put an end to human sacrifice.

Abraham the Father of nations, learned the difficult lesson of the ONE who IS BEYOND our fear, YAHWEH, the Great I AM, the ONE who will BE. It is a story which was told to put an end to human sacrifice, in which the son Isaac is spared the violent death, the making holy by the offering of a life, the spilling of blood, to placate a DIVINITY which has no need of sacrifice. But the WISDOM of moving beyond our fear, beyond our primitive attempts to placate the ULTIMATE POWER, which the most precious things we can offer, life itself, upon the altar of our fear, the WISDOM of forsaking violence as the answer, was stillborn, killed in us by the very fears which gave it birth.

So, another story is born. A story designed to turn our ways of thinking upside down. A parable if you will. The parable of Jesus. Not a parable told by Jesus. But rather the parable of Jesus. The story of a life and death, for you can’t have one without the other; the story of a life and death told to put an end to making violence holy, the end of the sacrem facere of violence.

As the story is told, over and over again, the GREAT I AM, the FATHER of FATHERS, is cast as both the recipient and the giver, indeed even as the instigator of an act so horrendous in its violence that surely will put an end to making violence holy. For even if the myth of Abraham and Isaac, a myth designed to carry the truth that violence cannot make our fear holy in order to create peace.

For the ONE who we call GOD cannot by refusing such a sacrifice convince us to put an end to human sacrifice, perhaps in the sacrifice of GOD’s own beloved son, we can see the inability of such violence to make anything HOLY. So, the parable of Jesus is told over and over again. A parable created to put an end to violence. A parable in which Jesus lives within the brutality of violence refusing to become violent while all the while pointing to the I AM as ONE who has no need of our sacrifices. For Jesus came not to participate in violence, but that we might have life and live it abundantly. Life and not death.

The choice is ours and we have made it. We choose not Jesus’ life but his death, glorifying the violence, once again we offered blood to placate our GOD. Despite Jesus’ insistence that violence is not the answer. Despite everything Jesus lived for in every act of non-violent resistance, we refused to see that for Jesus, justice is the only way to make things holy.

Justice and not violence is the only way to peace.

In glorifying the violence which killed Jesus, we cannot see the parable of Jesus; a parable designed to move us away from sacrificing human lives to violence born of fear.

Look beyond the violence to the life of Jesus and you will see a human-being struggling to move beyond the notion that violence can save us from what we fear most in life, only LOVE can do that. For if the life of Jesus teaches us anything it is that LOVE conquers fear. Jesus embodied that LOVE, insisting that, “I and the Abba, the Father, are ONE.” You and I and the LOVE we call GOD we are ONE, nothing can separate us from this LOVE, not even death.

The parable of Jesus is the story of a life which embodies LOVE, the LOVE which continues to allure us beyond our fear, beyond our violence, beyond death itself. Jesus saw a DIVINITY which was more than the sum of our fears. Jesus called us to a vision of the HOLY which invites us to forgo violence as the answer to our fear, a vision of the HOLY which offers justice and not violence as the way beyond our fears into the peace we long for.

Like all parables there is a twist, a moment when our expectations are turned upside down. Along the way, Jesus embodies LOVE, calls for justice as the way to peace, and steadfastly refuses to resort to violence no matter how fearful his oppressors become. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE gives us a glimpse of LOVE’s life in the world. This parable of LOVE in the flesh opens us to the possibility of a new way of being in the world.

The WISDOM is clear, justice must prevail if we are to live beyond our fears. But Jesus’ way of being makes us nervous. For who are we to challenge the power of empire, the biggest baddest perpetrators of violence are all around us? We fear for Jesus’ life. We are afraid that we cannot embrace what Jesus taught us. We long for a superhero to save Jesus from our fear. My GOD, My GOD, why? Jesus the perfect one, why does he have to die? Our fear looms large, and our god becomes small, smaller than the vision of Jesus. Jesus’ vision of the ABBA with which we are ONE, is too much for us to bear. For if we are ONE with the DIVINE then it is we who have forsaken Jesus.

The parable does its work, but we are afraid, so we forsake the parable. We confine the power of the myth so that the truths it reveals can be managed.

We are afraid to embody LOVE, to forgo violence, to seek peace through justice, to be LOVE in the world. So, our fears echo the shouts of those who would “Crucify him. Crucify him” and once again Jesus is sacrificed to placate the gods we have become. The parable of Jesus takes us into the darkness of our very selves, as LOVE dies in us, sacrificed to our fears. The parable of Jesus leaves us with but a glimpse of peace, pointing as Jesus does to a MYSTERY beyond our fear, beyond the power of death itself.

My GOD, My GOD, why? Until we see that we are in GOD and GOD is in us, we will not see that we are the ONES to whom Jesus cries, My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me?  Will death have the final word? Can LOVE rise in us? My GOD, My GOD, when will the violence end? My GOD, My GOD when will we put an end to violence born of fear? My GOD, My GOD, why have we forsaken Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

Imperial Christians, that’s us, we who enjoy privileges established by the domination forces of various empires which have used Christianity as a sort of opiate of the masses, we have been betrayed by generations who have fixed their gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence. Indeed, lest we fall into the trap of scapegoating those who have gone before us, let us also remember our very own betrayal, for we too have fixed our gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence and we taken our focus off the “maundy” of that long ago supper, “maundy” from the Latin word for “commandment.” As the story is told, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: LOVE one another. And you’re to LOVE one another the way I have LOVED you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly LOVE one another.”

That we should “LOVE one another” is not a new commandment. There were many before Jesus, and many who came after Jesus who commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus’ commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us.  Which begs the question:  How exactly did Jesus love? According to the story, which is told on Maundy Thursday, Jesus didn’t just tell those gathered around the meal to “LOVE one another” Jesus embodied LOVE in a way which demonstrated the way LOVE works in the world.  The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John puts it this way: “Jesus realized that the hour had come for him to pass form this world to Abba God. He had always loved his own in this world, but now he showed how perfect this love was.  The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus—knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God—rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with the towel that was around his waist. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Rabbi, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” Jesus answered, “You don’t realize what I AM doing right now, but later you’ll understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We are the messiahs! – Palm Sunday

Earlier this morning, a child was baptized. I do not know all the details of his baptism. But let me tell you what I do know. Little Lev was born on March 10. Little Lev was baptized this morning, on the one-month anniversary of his birth. Little Lev’s baptism took place at Saints Peter & Paul Garrison, Catholic Church in Lviv, Ukraine. Little Lev is our brother in CHRIST, as are the proud members of his family who paused as they were leaving the Church, just long enough to speak to a Canadian reporter, who up to this point had been interviewing Father Stephan Sus about his work in Lviv.  In the midst of the chaos, which is Ukraine, Father Stephan spoke about life. Five funerals yesterday, a wedding and a baptism this morning. Father Stephan is from Kiev, where he hopes to return soon.

But for now, he is busy, tending to the needs of our sisters and brothers in CHRIST. Father Stephan spoke about the ways in which life continues even in the face of what he described as “the evil of our enemies” who “want to destroy the people” who “want to destroy the peace of Ukraine.”

Father Stephan described his work helping to “receive migrants to Lviv” having coffee with mourners, tending the cemetery, providing meals for those in need, comfort to the wounded. Father Stephan spoke about continuing with what he called, “existing life here during the war.” Existing life, like Little Lev’s baptism. He reminded us that “children are being born and couples are getting married.” He said, “we are trying to live because we understand that to be alive is to be strong to fight this evil which wants to destroy life.” Father Stephan is our brother in CHRIST.

This is not the sermon I wrote to preach this morning, not on this particular Palm Sunday. For the past two years, our Holy Week commemorations have seen us locked down inside our homes. We have waited a long time to be able to gather here in this place, to return to “normal” if you will. Much has changed over the past two years. Today, we are living a new kind of normal. We have grown accustomed to the changing realities of COVID and the divisions various public health precautions have inspired among us. Our new normal has been shattered this past month by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the shock of the daily images of destruction and slaughter which invade our screens each and every day, even that is becoming normal. I confess, my own desire to look away from the daily bombardments to shield myself from the images of blurred out bodies lying in the once suburban streets, which look very much like our streets.  This has become routine, a kind of normal for us. So, I try to limit my exposure to the news in order to preserve my own mental health. I check in each morning. It has become a bit of a routine. I turn on the news.  I allow the horror to touch me, just for bit, and then I move on with my day. War in Ukraine has found its way into our normal routines.

Today, marks the beginning of a break in our normal routines as we embark upon the week which we call Holy. For centuries, Christians have marked Holy Week by tracing Jesus of Nazareth’s journey to Jerusalem, bearing witness to the events which lead up to Jesus’ execution. We begin today with the joyous celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, knowing that it will lead his, betrayal, his arrest, torture, his trial, and his execution. So, here we are bearing witness to a parade which happened nearly 2000 years ago. A parade in which our brother in CHRIST, Jesus of Nazareth publicly demonstrated against what New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan calls the incredible “drag of normalcy.” Life in the first century had its own sense of normal. Jerusalem had been occupied by the Romans for decades, and the routine cruelties of Empire were normal. The celebration of the Passover happened against the backdrop of this oppression. The Empire demonstrated its power by exerting additional hardships during a time when pilgrims flocked to the city to commemorate the pass over, where their ancestors were delivered from yet another oppressor.  Rome’s military might was on full display.

It was also normal for some people to rebel against the status quo. So, the religious authorities, they flexed their own muscles in order to keep the people in line. All in all, it was a normal kind of celebration, despite the violence of Empire. Even though in their heart of hearts the people longed for a messiah to save them from their oppression. A messiah the likes of King David, who would ride in with majesty and strength to put down their oppressors and lead them to victory. And along comes Jesus, moseying into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. No military might. Resisting the temptations of violence and yet still turning the heads of the crowd if only for a moment. And we all know how it will end. Rome will do what empires always do, they will crush Jesus, make an example of him. Jesus will become an instrument of their terrorism. The people Jesus longed to awaken to a new way of being will not just turn their heads away, they will join in the crushing because Jesus threatens their own status quo. How dare he expect them to change their ways now! The have spent their lives accommodating the evils of empire. They’ve made their peace with violence; they have put their faith in power, in strength, and in might. Soon, so very soon, they too will cheer on the executioners, the powers that be. Crucify him!  Crucify him! Crucify him!

It’s perfectly normal. Totally expected. Over and over again the strong, the powerful, the violent, stomp all over the weak, the powerless, the idealistic dreamers, who dream of a different way of being in the world. So, why are we here? Why do we choose to bear witness to a parade which demonstrated that resistance to violence is a dead end? Why do we still talk about resisting violence when we know that it leads to death? I expect that we are here for all sorts of reasons, many of them quite normal under the circumstances. Some of us are here looking for company as we navigate our new normal. Some of us are here out of a sense of longing for the way things used to be. Some of us are here just because it’s Sunday and that’s what you do on Sundays.  But I hope that in each of us, deep down, we are also here because we are sick and tired of normal. I hope that somewhere inside each of us there is pent-up desire for a messiah, a saviour, who will hear our Hosannas and save us from the incredible drag of normalcy.

I hope that some of us are here to access hope for a new way of being in the world!  A way that resists that pull into the normalcy of violence. I hope that the reality that even though the powers that be threw everything they had at Jesus, perpetrated the worst kind of violence upon him that is humanly possible, even though Jesus died up there on that bloody cross, death did not have the final word. Jesus’ dream of peace through justice, of a world where everyone has enough, and greed is replaced with generosity, and shalom becomes a reality, Jesus’ dream never died. Death did not and will not have the final word. The hope for resurrection is waiting to burst forth.

This morning, our little baby brother, Lev was baptized into this hope. In the midst of all the violence, our brother Father Stephan, spoke about the support the Ukrainian people feel from the people of Canada, from North America and from Europe. It would be perfectly normal for us to turn our backs, to walk away, to get on with our lives. Especially, when the pundits keep telling us that it is only a matter of time, Russia will win this war. They have the military advantages.

Our brother, Father Stephan spoke this morning about his sadness yesterday at the five funerals for those who did not survive the violence. Father Stephen insisted that, “despite the sadness, we are living as a people who still have hope. We are not hopeless,” he went on, “but those who live with hope, hope in victory, hope that we will continue our life, hope that we will stop the war.  Every funeral for us,” he said, “but also a moment for sadness and also a moment for hope. We are as a faithful people, in providing these funerals, we hope that one day we will meet our friends, our guys, our military, in the heaven we would together be. But now, during the funeral we are feeling responsibility that we have to follow their example and do all these good things which they show by their life, defending our country, defending the people, and dignity of human beings, the people in this war.”

A perfectly normal thing for a priest to say. I felt myself slipping back into the myth of redemptive violence, longing for some of that military might. But then my brother Stephan became the voice of hope, when he insisted, “We never stop to repeat that our hero’s never die. It means that they are living forever. Why because they never stopped to love, they laid down their lives to love this world, to love the people, to love their neighbours, and I think against all this hate, and evil which we see in the faces of our enemies, we are trying to be a people who are ready to love.”

Ready to love against all this hate, and evil. Father Stephan’s words ring out as the answer to our Hossannas. For we are the messiah. The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives and moves and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. As for the faces of our enemies, Jesus’ dream that we can see in the faces of our enemies that they too are our sisters and brothers in CHRIST, this dream is our hope for resurrection.

Today, we can see the cross on the horizon, and there will be many more crosses ahead. There will be more violence, and more death. This is the normal state of affairs in our world. But this morning our little brother Lev was baptized into the Body of Christ. This morning, in Russia little sisters and brothers were also baptized. We do not live as ones without hope. Let the hosannas of our little sisters and brothers, friends and foe alike, let their hosannas ring in our ears and move our hearts to be LOVE in the world.

LOVE is not yet the normal way of being in the world. There are crosses which must be endured.

But death has not and will not have the final word. For we live in hope. Our hope lies in the not yet and already here Reign of LOVE in which justice and not violence is the way to peace. We live in hope by living lives, unafraid to be messiahs, bearing LOVE as we encounter the crosses of this world.

There are many crosses in sight and many more crosses beyond our sight, but there are many, many, many, more resurrections ahead. Resurrection will happen each and every time LOVE is brought to life in the world, in the tending of the sick, harboring of the homeless, healing the wounded, and seeking justice for the oppressed, and most of all in loving our neighbours and most of all in learning to love our enemies. This is the work of messiahs. Responding to hosannas, wherever and whenever we hear people crying out for LOVE. Let us be that LOVE in the world. Here and now. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parables of Loss Through the Lenses of Resistance – Luke 15

So, the thing about stories, really good stories is that they have a life of their own. I suspect that most of us have heard these parables of loss so many times that it is the many and varied of interpretations of these parables, which tend to stick with us, rather than the details and circumstances under which these particular parables were born and raised. I’m guessing that in vast majority of the interpretations of these parables, the shepherd, the woman, and the father are usually identified as a symbol for the MYSTERY which we call GOD.

But if this MYSTERY really is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, and we are in GOD and GOD is in us, then every character in every parable you have ever heard is in GOD and GOD is in every character. Now this doesn’t really present much of a problem with the first two parables of loss. We can wrap our heads around GOD embodied in a shepherd, and even GOD embodied as the woman who losses her coin. We do tend to point to those characters in order to personify the MYSTERY. So that it’s not just the characters’ actions which are pointed to as the workings of DIVINITY, but the characters themselves are viewed as stand ins or symbols of GOD Himself or Herself.  When we do see ourselves in the story we are usually the lost the lost sheep or the lost coin and we take comfort in the reality that no matter how lost we may become GOD the supernatural being, out there, or up there, will find us. But when we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY, the CREATOR of the Cosmos, and try to imagine the ONE WHICH IS the GREAT I AM, WHO I AM, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, YAHWEH as so much more than a person, well the idea of a shepherd, or a woman, or even the father who loses his son, these mere personifications begin to lose their ability to symbolize the MYSTERY.

So, today I’m inviting you to stop trying to identify the DIVINE MYSTERY as an individual person in these parables. I also want you to resist making the story all about you. Don’t try to see yourself as a character in the story. You’re not a lost sheep, or a lost coin, or even a lost child. It’s not all about you. Let’s try to focus on what is actually happening in the story.

If we begin with what is actually happening in these parables, we will have to confess that these parables of the lost and the found are simply outrageous. If we fix our gaze upon the surface, we limit the power of these parables to do what parables are designed to do, to turn worlds and lives upside down and inside out. These parables have an air of foolishness about them, if we see them as simple stories told by Jesus about the way a personified god loves us.

Surely, Jesus can’t be pointing to the GREAT I AM, the MYSTERY which we call GOD and saying that GOD is a fool. For: Only a fool…. Would leave ninety-nine sheep to look for one lost sheep. Only a fool…Would leave the ninety-nine unguarded: to wander aimlessly, to be ravaged by some unknown predator, to fall prey to who knows what. Only a fool would leave to search for the stray who might be wounded, damaged, dying, not interested in being rescued. Only a fool…Would risk a reputation as a wise shepherd, a careful guardian of the known and secure, to seek one lone sheep.

Only a fool…Would find. Would restore, would be a shepherd, foolish enough to care enough to save the lost, the wandering, the lonely, the one outside the bounds of the flock. Only a fool…Would sweep and sweep and sweep, leaving her purse unguarded, to search for one lone coin. Only a fool…Would search and look and scour and puzzle, bend and peer, lift and move everything, to find a single coin. Only a fool… Would resist the contentment, the satisfaction of a purse fat with nine shiny, weighty coins. Only a fool… Would rather be relentlessly looking – for one small, lone coin when nine, known and countable, are all that are really needed. A small but secure fortune in hand. Only a fool… Would fret about the loss of a small insignificant coin. Only a fool…Would know the joy, the absolute delight of finding — what really isn’t needed. Only a fool would rejoice with such extravagance. Only a fool would be such a steward as this.      Only a fool would welcome home with joy and abandon a wayward child who had used, rejected, dishonoured, and then returned only to try to use them again. Only a fool, would run head-long, open armed to kiss such a wayward fool, extravagantly bestow more household treasures, and expect the faithful to join in the rejoicing.Only a fool, would cajole the self-righteous, indignant child to join the celebration.

So, if Jesus isn’t describing the characteristics of a personified deity, is Jesus actually teaching us how to embody the LOVE which is DIVINITY here in the world? These parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons, point us in a direction of a way of being in the world characterized by foolish and passionate abandon. What is the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke trying to tell his community with these parables? Did Jesus really believe that people ought to forsake everything they have in order to find the one thing they have lost?

Is the anonymous gospel-storyteller really saying that Jesus taught his followers to risk everything they have in order to find the one thing they have lost? Remember how many times these parables must have been told before they were written down. Remember the precarious nature of the lives of the people who first heard these parables. Why did they repeat these stories over and over again? Remember those first gatherings of the people who followed Jesus’ teachings met in secret because they feared for their lives. The occupying Roman forces not only publicly executed their teacher as a warning to any of Jesus’ would be followers, The Roman Empire, crucified as many dissenters as they could catch. Historians tell us that those roads which all lead to Rome, those roads were dotted with thousands of crucifixion sites. Thousands of rotting corpses were left nailed to crosses in order to terrify the masses into submission. The magnitude of loss was positively unbearable.

If we take off our rose coloured glasses, and pick up a pair of lenses permeated with the desire to resist persecution, violence, and the forces of Empire, these parables have the potential to inspire the kind of passion necessary to recover the one thing which is lost, justice. Justice without which there can be no peace. We can only begin to imagine the magnitude of what a conquered, oppressed, suffering people has lost.

But I suspect that justice, the kind of justice which ensures that everyone has enough so that everyone can live in peace, is something worth leaving behind everything you have in order to pursue. I suspect that even offering all you have to a wastrel and a scoundrel is worth a shot if it means finding peace.

I suspect that pulling brothers together who have genuine axes to grind is the kind of recklessness that is worth the risk,  if those siblings can learn to work together to pursue justice.

Contemplating the miracle that these parables survived, were told over and over again, written down and preserved by people persecuted by empire, I have to believe that they are more than nice little stories all about how we should live.They have to be more than mere speculation about the character of YAHWEH, casting the CREATOR of ALL that is, was, and ever more shall be as a fool.

Because when you look at the shepherd, the woman, and the father in these parables, they come do come off as reckless fools, unless they are risking all that they have for the sake of something worth risking everything for.

These parables can’t just be about a lamb, or a coin, or even a couple of squabbling children. Nor can I believe that Jesus saw YAHWEH, the GREAT I AM as a fool.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the systems of domination and the pain inflicted by the unjust empires of our world. The reality of the systems in which we are intimately entangled is being played out on our screens. The injustice of it all explodes into our living rooms day after day. My own desire to resist the urge to respond to violence with violence weakens with every report of the injustices perpetrated as innocent lives are lost. I’m in real danger of losing my ability to follow Jesus on what appears to all the world to be the foolish path of non-violent resistance to empire. Not if it means risking all that we have for the sake of Jesus’ vision of peace through justice.

Sometimes, when I manage to muster up my courage and try to view these parables of loss through lenses of resistance, I can begin to feel a kind of reckless abandon welling up in me, inspiring the kind of passion, which tempts me to take leave of my senses, to risk everything for the sake of what is currently being lost. I can also hear the voice of reason condemning me as a fool. None of these parables is the stuff of everyday loss.  I don’t think that Jesus, or his followers, or Luke, told these parables in order to teach their listeners about the character of YAHWEH.

Think about it, Jesus can’t have being trying to teach us that the DIVINE MYSTERY was a reckless fool. Nor were they trying to teach us to live as reckless fools. For none of us can do this kind of relentless, reckless abandon constantly. But I can, even now hear these stories told to inspire resistance to the violence and injustice of empire, for the sake of justice and peace. Living lives of reckless abandon is untenable. Jesus’ vision of the BASILEIA ton THEON, the Empire of DIVINITY, is not the world we live in.

The EMPIRE OF DIVINITY is not yet here. But there are times. There are times when … risks must be taken. Times when we must leave all that we have, all that we know, in order to seek, to find and to restore the lost, the abandoned, the wayward, and yes even the self-righteous religious types.

Yes, the shepherd should have been guarding the 99. Yes, the woman should have been content with her 99 coins. Yes, the father should never have trusted his sons with all that he had, and when his lost son showed himself to be untrustworthy, he shouldn’t have been welcomed with open arms, and as for the faithful, self-righteous son, well sometimes justice demands that we abandon the rules, if we are to achieve peace.  Sometimes boundaries must be crossed in order to achieve justice.Peace-making requires risk-taking, and the reckless abandonment of some things we hold very dear.

When I can bring myself to read these parables through the lenses of resistance, I can begin to tell these stories as a call to resist. Resist making the characters in these parables all about us. Resist looking for a saviour in these parables who will find us and put everything back together for us. Resist reading into the parables a too small personal shepherd, woman, or father to act the part of a too small recklessly, foolish god. Resist the distractions of all that we have, all our treasures, our land, our homes, all the trappings of the empires in which we are entangled. Resist the empires to which we have lost the justice which has the power to create peace. Resist with reckless abandon, our fear of the very passions which flow from the LOVE which is the MYSTERY which allures us onto the pathways of justice and peace. Resist the illusion that finding what we have lost will be a sweet, harmless, story. Recklessly abandoning the status quo, is never sweet, never harmless.

The BASILEIA ton THEON may not yet be the world we live in, but the BASILEIA ton THEON is already here. They not yet but already here EMPIRE of DIVINITY is here in every stranger who welcomes a refugee, in every aid worker, doctor without borders, in every reckless fool who risks it all for the kind of justice which makes peace.

We don’t have to travel to Europe or Afghanistan, or Syria, or Myanmar to catch a glimpse of the EMPIRE of DIVINITY, for the not yet REIGN of LOVE is already here. You can catch glimpses of this LOVE resisting the violence of domination systems, in every champion of the environment, every compassionate advocate for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. You can see it in the reckless passion of justice-seekers fighting for affordable housing, equitable healthcare, and food security.

Jesus’ vision of peace through justice, what he called the BASILEIA ton THEON, the Empire of GOD, is the already but not yet SHALOM we long to find. It is the vison of the foolish who are prepared to risk it all for the sake of what we have lost, the SHALOM we long for. And each and every time we find what has been lost is a time for celebration. Especially when what was lost is restored.

So, when you catch a glimpse of the REIGN of LOVE, celebrate and as you celebrate remember to invite others into the party. What shalom there will be as SHALOM is restored through justice. When the peace which is lost breaks out and the lost, the forsaken, and the forlorn greet one another with open arms and go into the feast to celebrate, for what once was lost is found. Embrace the HOLY foolishness which lives, in, with, through, and beyond you. Risk it all for the sake of LOVE.

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There Is So Very Much We Can Do! – Luke 13:1-9

“I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke places these words on the lips of Jesus, and I have no difficulty believing this story of Jesus’ response to those who were grieving the tragedy of the deaths of the Galileans whose blood had been spilled as the result of political violence. “I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” This is as true now as it was then. We shall all come to the same end unless we change our ways.

“Change our ways.” This phrase is translated from the Greek word metanoia – and I’ve spoken about metanoia many times — it is all too often translated simply as repent. Sadly, our understanding of the English word repent, is scarcely capable of capturing the depth of meaning in the Greek word metanoia. Taken at its most literal, the word metanoia means to turn around, to go another way. In first century Palestine, metanoia was often used to communicate the need to change the way you think, the way you see things, they way you respond to things, the way you act. To do things differently, to change our ways. To go beyond the mind you have, the way you think and respond to life or to change our ways. Unless we change our ways, we will all end up like the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their own sacrifices in the Temple.

Pontius Pilate, the appointee of the Empire which dominated the people in the lands it invaded with an iron fist. Pontius Pilate, so wicked that even his own Roman over-lords couldn’t stomach his abuses. So vile was Pilate, that even the powers that be in Rome were forced in the end to relieve him of his post and summon him back to Rome to face charges, for what today, we would call war crimes.

The Galileans of which Jesus’ spoke are believed to have been, the news of the day, the latest victims of Pilate’s cruelty, pilgrims to Jerusalem murdered on Pilate’s orders, their blood spilled as a public example to obey the Empire. Did they deserve their fate? The oppressed peoples of Palestine certainly didn’t believe so. They were good people, pilgrims fulfilling their religious obligation to visit the Temple, publicly displaying their piety. Then murdered in the public square, in front of the Temple, no less. A violation of everything the people held dear. Such good people, they surely didn’t deserve to die.

Why do bad things have to happen to good people? I don’t know about you, but that question resonates a little too well for me, right now. It rises from deep within my very core, causing my entire body rock back and forth. I’ve recognized this question rocking the bodies of others several times in the past few weeks. Most vividly of late in a young man, a boy really, a boy forced to grow up, far too soon. He’s kneeling before the butchered body of his mother, head in his hands, his whole body rocking back and forth, his mother’s blood running in the bombed-out street of a far-off town in Ukraine. His pain beamed around the world and into our own living-rooms, and it caused me to rock back and forth with him.

Why. It is a question on the lips of countless sisters and brothers all over the world this very morning. A question rocking the bodies of countless millions grieving, those who are grieving  the spilling of blood and the oppression in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Myanmar, in Ukraine and in countless other locations all over the world. “I tell you, we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.” Metanoia. Metanoia. Metanoia. You would think we would have learned by now. How much more innocent blood must be spilled before we learn that we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.

Hypersonic. Hypersonic missiles.  I’d never even heard of hypersonic missiles until just a few days ago. Nor had I thought much about NORAD recently. Remember NORAD? I’m old enough to remember those drills in school where we were taught that in the event of a nuclear attack we should hid under our wooden desks. We laugh at it now. It was as a child in school crouching under my desk, that I learned the acronym NORAD. North American Aerospace Defense Command. This week, the Canadian Commander General of NORAD warned us all about the treat of supersonic missiles something I’d never heard of before. But he warned us of this threat, these missiles which he predicted might lobbed in our direction. Then he came in with his clincher:  the reality that we have no way to stop them. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bad things it seems can happen even to good, upstanding, peace-loving Canadians. Albert Einstein is often credited with having lamented that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. Metanoia! “We’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.”

I know. I tried not to do this. This should be a day of celebration. It’s been two long years of pandemic isolation, and here we are together, in the flesh. It’s the first day of spring. We should be celebrating. We should be jumping for joy! We should be filled with the excitement as we anticipate what the future holds. And all this preacher can offer you is a warning. No wonder, churches can’t attract people back into their buildings. I could sugar-coat all of this. I know colleagues who do.  No talk about what’s happening in the world. Let us pray.  Let us just bow our heads and pray.

Maybe our prayers will stop us from rocking back and forth in despair. I too would like something more to offer Jesus saying, “you’ll all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” That’s the thing about truth, we know it deep within the very core of our being, that place where the rocking back and forth begins. The place where our “Why?” questions are kept. Deep within us. We know that unless we change our ways blood will continue to be spilled.

We also know that there are so very many of our ways which need to be changed in order to end the violence. Justice is a difficult taskmaster. Peace, real peace, the shalom Jesus lived for, demands armies of justice-seekers in order that peace can break out all over the planet. There’s so much to do. We are enmeshed in systems, in ways of being which demand the oppression, the poverty and the inevitable spilling of blood of innocents. What can we possibly do to achieve justice in the kinds of empires of domination in which we continue to live, and move, and have our being? We are but a handful of people. What can we possibly do?

Well, it turns out that there is so very much we can do. For we are wonderfully and beautifully made, capable of such astonishing deeds of compassion. Millions and millions of us have mobilized, armed only with our desire to offer comfort and support. About a million people a week have fled their homes in Ukraine. Their neighbours in Poland, Romania, Moldovia, Hungry, and various other places, they have opened their arms in welcome, offering shelter and comfort. Millions and millions and millions of dollars have been offered to meet humanitarian needs.  They may have escaped the media’s attention but aid agencies, continue to mobilize colossal responses to the needs of those who are suffering in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and countless other places were innocent people are suffering from the oppression and violence perpetrated by the empires in which we are enmeshed.

Yes, the needs are many and the workers are few. But we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We can shrink in despair, or we can roll up our sleeves, join together, pool our wisdom and our resources, and tend the vineyard. That’s what prayer is. Prayer begins with our “why?” moving deep within us. Prayer flows through our tears and rocks our bodies in ways we have the power to ignore and the power to respond to with action.

Yes, the suffering is immense. Yes, the injustice, the oppression, the hatred, and the greed seems insurmountable. Yes, it is tempting to offer up a few prayers, post something positive on social media, wear a ribbon, and then shake it off, move on to the next thing, comforting ourselves with the idea that we are only one person.  What can we possibly do in the face of so much suffering in the world? We can do? What can we do?  We can do what we all too often do; we can allow ourselves the luxury of turning away. We can turn away and we can resign ourselves to the fact that we can’t change and so, yes we too shall perish. Or we can refuse to accept that we are less than splendid creatures. Billions of years of evolution resulted in the creation of our species. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

We can do so much more than we are doing. We can change our ways. The MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of REALTY lives, and moves, and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. We are intimately connected to one another in ways which will take more than our lifetimes to comprehend. We are in the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE and this LOVE which is DIVINITY is in us. Each one of us is a beautiful expression of the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE. The SPIRIT of LOVE has been at work for billions of years finding expression in the wonders of Creation. Right here and right now, this LOVE is expressed in, with, through and beyond us, seeking justice and making peace.

Unless we change our ways, we will perish. So, might I suggest that we begin by changing up our questions a little. How about instead of “why” we begin to ask “what?” What will people learn about the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY when they encounter us? What LOVE will they discover living in, with, and through us? What justice will they see us seeking?  What peace will they see us making? When people encounter us, “What” expression of DIVINITY will they encounter us?

Don’t like the question “what?” Then ask, “HOW?” How can I embody the LOVE which is the SOURCE of all being, right here and right now? How can I become the answer to my prayers? How can I become the answer to their prayers? Maybe now is not the time for our questions. Maybe now is the time for us to change our ways, so that no more blood needs to be spilled. We, together with all those we are intimately connected with, we are the answer to our prayers, to our questions, to our longings for justice and peace.

There is so very much more that we can do, right here and right now. Let us join our efforts to the efforts of the countless millions who are right now, seeking justice, right now making peace. Yes, there is lots of work for us to do. More work than we can even begin to imagine. But when we begin to understand that LOVE finds expression in us, LOVE which is beyond our ability to even begin to imagine, finds expression in us, then we begin to see endless possibilities.

There’s a mishmash of quotes attributed to the Talmud which has been going around these days, which has become for me an answer to, the seemingly endless work which lies before us. It goes like this, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon the work.” The good news is we are fearfully and wonderfully made, capable of changing our ways. So, let us metanoia, now. For we have a whole lot of LOVE in us and a whole lot of LOVing to do. Metanoia, now. Be LOVE in the world. Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full Worship Service below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full Transfiguration Worship Video below

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Truckers and Russians Disturbing Our Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[1] Marcus Borg, Taking Jesus Seriously; 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOD Did Not Send Jesus to Die for Us!

It was the summer of 1978, when twenty-somethings like myself, we couldn’t get enough of the Bee Gees and their Disco tunes. We were Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive all week long, working toward Saturday Night Fever, when we Should Be Dancing, dancing the night away. I had just moved up to Jasper, Alberta, determined to make enough money during that summer, so that I could continue my backing excursions in Europe. I had three jobs, but back in the day, the grocery store, and the Legion Hall, where I worked as a cashier and a waitress, they closed on Sundays. Oh, how I miss those Sunday closings! That left my chamber-maiding at a local lodge where the housekeeper was always kind enough to keep my Sunday mornings free so that I could go to church, while hung-over colleagues struggled to clean up.

Working, dancing, and church, a blessed trinity designed to secure passage back into my travels abroad. Living accommodations were not a priority. I rented a small room in a basement apartment, which I shared young couple who worked in the same grocery store as I did. They were an unusual couple in that we shared the uncommon habit of going to church. There weren’t many of us who made the effort. But Anna and Steve were always at it. Church that is. I was lucky to get myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, while they seemed to be in church almost daily, sometimes several times a day.

Anna and Steve were Pentecostals who were convinced that my slack Lutheran ways simply weren’t serious enough to earn me a coveted spot in the Heaven of their dreams. First of all, I hadn’t been born again, and then there was the dancing, and as for my serving beer to the crowd at the Legion, well, my roommates were concerned. They were concerned for my mortal soul. They thought I was in danger of being tormented in the bowels of Hell for all eternity. Try as I might, I could never convince either of them that I was saved by grace.

At every opportunity that our busy schedules allowed us, Anna and Steve did their level best to save me from my wicked ways. After spending far too long cornered by Steve, who preached a gospel of not very good news, I was desperate to silence him, so, I reluctantly agreed to attend a Tuesday night youth service. I was suspicious of the kind of “youth” I would meet on a Tuesday at a Pentecostal church, I convinced a fellow chambermaid to come along with me, so that if we had to, I’d have company as I hitch-hiked my way back to Jasper. You see the Pentecostal church was located down in the neighboring town of Hinton, about an hour’s drive away. Well, we never did manage to escape. Especially not when the Pastor insisted that there were sinners in need of prayer and headed over to the two of us and gathered us all in a prayer, a like no prayer, I’d ever been part of. I found out later that dozens, I mean dozens of young people were “slain in the Spirit,” that is, struck down onto the floor, writhing and shaking, hootin and a hollering. My friend and I were doing our level best not to laugh, we were too young to be sensitive, and to this day I find it difficult to keep a straight face in the presence of that particular kind of spirited movement. Disco dancing is one thing, but being slain in the SPIRIT, well let’s just say, There’s a reason I’m a Lutheran pastor. Lutheran “good order” can and does ensure that such ecstatic behavior never happens in worship. In the face of the pastor’s shouts, I stood as still as I could muster. When he placed his hand on my forehead, I stiffened my entire being, because there was no way I was going down.

Steve and Anna were very quiet on the ride home. Nothing was said until dinner the next day, by which time Steve and Anna had been back to church twice. Steve carefully explained to me that I was in mortal danger. Their pastor had warned them that my countenance was putting us all in danger. At the time, I didn’t know what the word countenance meant. I assumed that it had something to do with counting myself out of their way of worshipping. Turns out I was close. Apparently, my body language suggested that I was filled not with the SPIRIT but with Satan himself.

Once again, I struggled to keep a straight face. You might say my countenance betrayed me, because it wasn’t long before I took my body and its language out of the apartment to the nearest bar, where among friends, I began to look for a new place to live.

Later, at work, Anna sat down with me in the lunchroom to explain that their pastor had explained to them that he suspected that I didn’t believe that God sent Jesus to die for my sins. Apparently, some Lutherans are in this Pentecostal pastor’s opinion, a bit losey-goosey when it comes to atonement theories. I had to confess right then and there, in my twentieth year of life, I struggled to believe that any GOD who sent His only Child to die, on a cross, is worth getting up on a Sunday morning for.

Anna explained that unless, I was prepared to be born again, under the tutelage of her pastor, I would need to find someplace else to live. My youth and inexperience allowed the more ornery side of my nature to come to the fore. I was prepared to move out on my terms, but not on some jumped up pastor’s terms. What followed was a long, useless argument about the theories of atonement.

Neither Anna nor I knew we were engaged in a long pointless argument which had been going on since round about the fourth century. Neither of us had heard the word atonement before. We just knew what we knew. Anna knew that Jesus was sent by God as a sacrifice for human sin, to pay the price for our evil ways. I just knew that if God really did come up with such a barbaric bargain, then God must be in league with the Devil himself.

After work, I convinced the housekeeper at the lodged where I worked, to rent me a room for a couple of nights at a reduced rate and I headed over to the apartment to pack up my things. When I arrived, the place was empty, and I thought I was going to make a clean get-away. Then I discovered the card placed in the center of my bed. When I opened it, I found several passages of scripture written out in Anna’s immaculate style. Among the passages was the text which is assigned for this very Sunday from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Anna had copied it from the “Good News for Modern Man” paraphrase of New Testament. This particular interpretation is a poor translation, but it was very popular way back in the day.  Above the passage, Anna had written, “The Gospel in a Nutshell”

Paul’s words were interpreted from the King James version of the bible to read like this:

“And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm.  That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it – unless it was for nothing that you believed. I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles.”  (1 Corinthians 15:1-6)

Anna carefully underlined in red the phrase: “Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures”

This piece of Scripture was followed by a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans, all of which was underlined in red:

“God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:21-26)

Below these passages, Anna wrote: “Repent and believe!  CHRIST was sent to die for you!”

I remember flying out of there in a hot rage.  Not because I had been driven out of my home. But because I had been forced to grapple with something I could not at the time reconcile with the person of Jesus whom I loved. God at that moment was transformed into a violent, murderer, willing to put my beloved Jesus to a torturous death. My childlike faith died that day.  Thanks be to all that is HOLY!

If I could, I would comfort the young woman I was by reassuring her that whatever the MYSTERY which we call “God” is, it is not a vengeful murderer whose thirst for a blood sacrifice, compelled Him and I do mean him, to come up with a plan which required violence, torture, and a slow, painful death.

I can only hope that each of you, have endured such moments in your life.  Moments when as Paul would say, “we put away childish things.” Moments in which the Christian short-hand explanation of Jesus’ death has died in you. For the death of what it took me years to learn about, the death of atonement theories has given birth to the resurrection of DIVINITY, a DIVINITY liberated from ancient projections onto the DIVINE of the myth of redemptive violence.

Even our ancient Greek forebearers, they understood that if horses had gods those gods would be horses. So, it should not surprise us that our ancestors in the faith, projected onto the DIVINITY the kind of personality which resonates in a culture where violence is seen as the answer to chaos. The apostle Paul, both a Jew and a Roman citizen, would have known from the perspective of both the conquer and the conquered the Roman motto, vini, vedi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered. For Paul, like Jesus, lived as a Jew in Palestine under the oppression of Roman Empire, which insisted that peace could only be established and maintained through violence. It does not surprise me that Paul may have framed Jesus’ death in the context of both Paul’s own Jewish sacrificial theologies and Rome’s violent philosophies. It does sadden me that succeeding generations have projected their own violent proclivities onto the DEITY and offered up various atonement theories which rely on the DEITY embracing our primitive reliance upon violence. For if we are clever enough see that violence begats violence, why, oh why does the GOD of our design seem incapable of coming up with a better way of winning us over.  It is long past time for the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, to repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia made up of two Greek words: “meta” which means, “beyond” and “noos” which means “mind.”   Metanoia is an invitation to move beyond your current way of thinking. Metanoia is an invitation to think new thoughts.

Surely, today, when troops are again amassing in Europe and the world can’t seem to sake itself loose from the myth of redemptive violence, surely today, it is time for us to move beyond thinking of DIVINITY as the ultimate purveyor of violence and Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. Today, when science confirms that humans did not rise out of the Earth fully formed, but are continuing to evolve, surely today we can metanoia, think beyond the primitive, childish notions of original sin, and begin to see humanity as an incomplete, ever- evolving species which runs the very real risk of extinction if we don’t move beyond the myth of redemptive violence. We have been distracted by violence into compliance with systems which threaten our existence as a species, as we loot our planet of its life-giving resources so that we might increase our abilities to perpetrate violence on grander and grander scales.

In a world driven mad with bloodlust, we peddle as pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the kind of violence which can efficiently torture and kill distant populations at the push of a button. Evolving beyond the myth that violence can solve our problems, or bring us peace, is vital. Jesus knew this. Jesus taught this. Jesus lived for this. Christianity’s morbid preoccupation with Jesus’ violent death will not usher in the Kin-dom of DIVINITY which Jesus lived for.

It is in Jesus’ life, not his death that we will find salvation. Salvation is not about saving us for life after death. Salvation is about making us whole, ONE with one another and ONE with the ONE who is as Jesus taught with his very life is the LOVE we call GOD. Jesus insisted with all that he is, that justice and not violence is the only way to establish and maintain peace. Justice is what LOVE looks like in the world. Our continued evolution relies upon our ability to metanoia, to move beyond primitive ways of thinking. It is time for us to be LOVE in the world. And while we are at it, it is long past time for us to project LOVE onto the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY. For we are ONE with an evolving DEITY.

Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and may live it abundantly!” LIFE and not death.  LOVE and not violence.  Let us be LOVE in our lives here and now so that peace can break out again, and again, and again.

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GOD IS that which can be known of the UNKNOWABLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TODAY! Set free from a Three-Tiered Universe!

Yesterday, I travelled out onto the frozen surface of Lake Simcoe. Somehow, these long busy days working in my office at home, while we all do our best to cope with what we hope will be the last tidal wave of this pandemic, somehow this created a longing in me, strong enough to push me out on the ice despite the -23º which threatened to rob me of my breath. So, longing to escape the confines of my cozy isolation, out onto to the ice I trudged, as the cold air sharpened my vision. It didn’t take very long before the many layers of clothing, with which I had hoped to insulate myself from the dangers of the cold, failed to keep me moving very far into the expanse of white snow drifts which glistened as the Sun’s glorious rays danced incapable of warming much of anything but my heart. Standing beneath a clear blue sky, looking out towards the horizon, I tried to breath in some of the vastness which stretched before me. Alas, such a deep breath choked on the frigid air, as if my lungs rejected their own impulse to breathe, lest they themselves freeze as solidly as the lake beneath my feet. A momentary panic began to surface as my mind questioned the wisdom of standing on ice not knowing what lay below. How deep? How solid? How safe?

A quick glace toward the shoreline confirmed that I was well beyond where I would safely swim on a summer day and a strange sort of vertigo began to take hold over me. It was as if my body was teaming up with my mind to convince my spirit to abandon this peculiar excursion. Such a strange dualism to entertain on the surface of a frozen lake, beneath a clear blue sky, staring out at a horizon, I have all too often entertained. Ice and water below me, the Sun shining before me, and behind me the Moon rising, all holding me in the embrace of a Cosmos the likes of which exceeds the farthest horizon of my ability to comprehend.

Imagining the horizons of my ancient ancestors, I could see in my mind’s eye a familiar worldview, a three-tiered universe, complete with an omnipotent god smiling and then frowning down at me. Heaven above the Earth and Hell below, all depending upon a smile or a frown from the omniscient god, Himself confined to sit in judgement in a celestial realm from which He sent His Son, to save creatures of His own creation from their own depravity. I stomped my feet upon the ice in a vain gesture of defiance until my stomping evolved into a dance of freedom, as I gleefully celebrated our liberation from the captivity of a three-tiered universe.

Suddenly, the Cosmos reminded me that freedom from ancient ways of knowing does not mean freedom from REALITY. Indeed, it can mean freedom to BE in ways which affirm REALITY, the REALITY we long to know, the ONE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, this LOVE which we call “GOD”. No sooner than I felt the freedom of union with the DIVINE, than it was time to seek the confines of my car to warm up.

All week long, I have been emersed in the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke’s account of Jesus’ first sermon, in which Jesus declares that he has been anointed to bring Good News, and it wasn’t until my own frozen epiphany set me to dancing on ice that I actually noticed that part of the Good News of which Jesus speaks involves the proclamation of “liberty to those held captive!” Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller recounts Jesus’ words:

“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. He was teaching in the Galilean synagogues, and all were loud in their praise. Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his habit, Jesus stood up to do the reading. When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “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.” Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus. Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”  (Luke 4:14-21)

We are told by the gospel-storyteller that after his one-line commentary on the words of Isaiah, Jesus’ hometown congregation were so incensed that they decided to hurl him off a cliff. What could possibly compel Jesus’ friends and neighbours to consider homicide? This question has generated more than a few sermons of its own. That’s the thing with stories, one story, if it is even remotely engaging, that one story will inevitably lead to many more stories. So, I will not presume to answer for Jesus’ hometown congregation’s murderous intentions. I will only attempt to take you where this story took me out there on the ice of Lake Simcoe.

Exposed to the vastness of the Cosmos, it was the ancient story of a Three-tiered Universe that inspired not murderous intentions in me, but rather the euphoria of freedom from captivity to the limitations of our ancestors’ imaginations. Limitations which the evolving nature of our understanding of reality compel us to reject. For “GOD” is not safely ensconced in the Heavens and we do not need saving from our own depravity by a human sacrifice because there simply is no Hell below us. We are free from the captivity of a way of thinking which insists that we believe what our own experience confirms is no way to live in the very reality our ancestors were struggling to fathom. For we have been blessed with the ability to grasp so many more details about the Cosmos in which we live and move and have our being, than our ancestors could ever have imagined. Today, we, ourselves and our neighbours, no longer live captive to the contours of the very tiny universe in which our ancestors confined their thoughts.  

Today, like Jesus, we too can proclaim liberty to the captive minds and recovery of sight to those who have been blinded by ancient ways of knowing. The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within us!  The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within all Creation, permeating all of the Cosmos! The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is BEYOND Creation, BEYOND the Cosmos, even as it is in, and with, and through, all of Creation, all of the Cosmos. Infused, inspired, and incarnating as CHRIST’s body, as LOVE here and now in this place and in this time, we are anointed to this bring Good News to the poor and to free the captives! Free from images and idols created by the inhabitants of a universe of misconceptions, we can abandon lives devoted to a god preoccupied with judging our journey’s end, dispatching us to Heaven or Hell. We are free to live in the abundance of life here and now, in a Cosmos permeated by the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE. Free from misguided struggles to appease the idol god of our design, we are free to see beyond our blind self-centered desire for a life beyond this life, free to see the face of DIVINITY in our neighbours’ face, free to see DIVINITY in the majesty of the Cosmos, and in the beauty of the Earth.

Heaven is ours to create out of the hells we have made. We are free to imagine the grace of the MYSTERY capable of exquisite intricacy, unrelenting intimacy, magnanimous generosity, and evolutionary complexity; a MYSTERY which is the very embodiment of LOVE, the LOVE which is eternally becoming. We are free to seek, to know, and to become this LOVE in which we live, and move, and have our being. Our very freedom from ancient ways of knowing and being sets of a chain-reaction of freedom which can, if we let it, become Good News for the poor, as we finally begin to understand what Jesus knew all along, when Jesus insisted, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” For if Jesus and the ABBA are ONE, the Good News is that you and I and our neighbours, we are ONE with ABBA. I can hear them now, those held captive to by our ancestors’ limited understanding, I can hear them. They may not want to hurl me off a cliff, although some have wished me dead, or at the very least judged and punished by their god of eternal torment.

I can hear them tut tutting at the audacity of my taking such liberties with the Gospel. How dare I flirt with new ways of understanding REALITY, new discoveries about the Cosmos, new theories about the nature of human consciousness? How dare I posit a GOD who is LOVE? How dare I claim freedom from the old-man—in the sky-god only to embrace half-baked notions of a MYSTERY which is called LOVE, as if LOVE is the answer? How double-dog dare I? Well, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek let me blame it on a dog.

After warming myself on my car’s heating vent, I caught sight of sundog begin to emerge as the Sun was still setting. I fumbled for my phone and hopped out into the frigid air desperate to capture a photograph which has always eluded me. I failed to capture the sunset. Instead, I was blessed by two, I don’t know if they were my brothers or my sisters or one of each. I only know that they appeared to follow in my footsteps in the snow as they ventured out to the place where the Cosmos had made itself known to me. Our kinship warmed me as I imagined their delight at our Sun’s sensuous self-giving display as it set. They must have seen me gazing at them, or at least I like to imagine they did.  So, I waved and was gifted by their own energetic response.

There we stood, we three kindred creatures, waving together as ONE, held in a vast Cosmos touched by the MYSTERY which is the LOVE which permeates ALL that IS, including us, for we are ONE, ONE with DIVINITY. We are free to embrace this LOVE, to walk in this LOVE, and to be this LOVE. This, dear ones, is Good News indeed! Now, today, let us become Good News for the poor, let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE in the world! Let us be LOVE. Today!

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GOD Is Positively Drunk On SPONDIC LOVE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they filled them up to the brim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rest in the Grace of the Cosmos

Here we are again. Riding the wave of a worldwide spike. Separated from one another by our approaches to the oncoming rush of a variant which has so many of us isolating in our homes while others must venture out into the fray to keep things functioning, while still others are left to fend for themselves, out there, in the cold and cruelness of a world in which this wave is but the latest in a long line of viral injustice.  From behind the hoped-for protection of our masked façade we mumble our weariness. For we are tired. Tired of listening for news of this wave’s impact upon billions of us. Tired of being separated from all but a few of those billions. Tired of wondering, when, or how, or where this latest wave will take us. Who can blame us for trying to distract ourselves from tidal realities? Struggling to home-school, endless Zoom meetings, overdosing on news reports, bingeing endless entertainment, escaping down technology’s rabbit holes, or gorging on festive leftovers, these distractions of privilege are exhausting.

Yesterday, I sat here in the comfort of my living-room clutching a warm cup of tea as the sun sparkled through these windows, tempting me to venture outside into the Artic frigid air, wondering what I might say to offer you comfort, or inspiration as we ride this wave together and apart. The warmth of the teacup in my hands pulled me from my melancholic thoughts to remind me of the vast BEYOND. Upon this cup the imprint of a Starry Starry Night, and it brought words from the past into this moment. In my mind’s ear I heard the artist Vincent Van Gogh’s words urging me to look beyond myself. Van Gogh said, “When I have a terrible need of, dare I say religion, then I go outside at night and paint the stars.” Over and over again, a prayer welled up in me, “The stars, the stars, the stars.” As our Day Star glistened outside my window, sending LIGHT cascading around this room, I traversed galaxies in my mind’s eye squinted to see what lies beyond myself. “The stars, the stars, the stars.”  I prayed again and again, as the swell of the Cosmos caressed me with a tenderness beyond words. Longing to linger in the embrace of the ONE who is revealed in, with, through, and beyond the Cosmos, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, resting in the grace of the Cosmos. When the wet, cold, tea fell into my lap, I was refreshed, no longer feeling the need to gasp for air as the threatened pandemic tsunami continues its approach.  For I AM.  I AM held within the LOVE which is the DIVINE ONE.

Refreshed, restored, and empowered, I climbed the stairs to my office to read once again, the words which will be read in far flung places as christian communities celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Continue reading

Let 2022 Be Your Ode to JOY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You beautiful CHRIST-Child YOU!

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones

The old and the young

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LOVE Comes By Here and Our Weary World Rejoices!

On the Saturday before the Christmas, Anna’s mother called me with the bad news. Seven-year-old Anna was in hospital. Her white blood count was dangerously low, and it didn’t look like Anna was going to make it home in time for Christmas. Anna’s mother asked me if I would help with the hospital visiting. Over the years, a group of us had become all too familiar with this particular routine.  Anna didn’t like to be alone when she was in hospital and so friends of the family used to help out when needed. Because I lived only a few blocks from the children’s hospital and because Anna liked my bedtime stories, I often found myself taking the night shift with Anna. Bedtime at the hospital was quite the routine. Anna loved to be told the same bedtime stories over and over again.  It sometimes took a couple of hours to get her to the point where she would even consider closing her eyes. And when she got to this point Anna always insisted that I sing to her. My abilities as a chanteuse are severely limited. I’m simply not a great singer. The DIVINE CREATOR of ALL that IS clearly didn’t see fit to grant me the ability to carry a tune. But this didn’t seem bother Anna.  For some unknown reason – perhaps she was tone deaf, or maybe she just had a warped sense of humor—but Anna loved to hear me sing. And so, on the Saturday evening before Christmas, I found myself at Anna’s bedside. I had already told her several of her favorite bedtime stories when Anna asked if I would read her a story. She pointed to a brand-new picture book which lay on the cabinet beside her bed.

The book had no words, just pictures. The pictures told the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and the shepherds who were watching their flocks out in the fields. As I turned the pages Anna, and I took turns telling the various parts of the familiar story to one another. When we got to the part where the Angel Gabriel appeared before the shepherds, Anna took over. She knew her part well: “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the CHRIST. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Anna was well practiced in delivering these lines she had played the part of the Angel in several Christmas pageants. She delivered the lines perfectly. And then went on with her story: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying” Anna signalled to me to join her in the angels’ lines: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on Earth peace among those whom God favours!”

As I spoke these all too familiar lines, a huge lump rose up in my throat. I wanted nothing more than to curse God right there and then. What kind of God allows a beautiful little angel to be stuck in hospital? What kind of God allows the dreams of a beautiful little girl to be destroyed by lousy timing? What kind of God, promises peace on Earth and then disappears for 2000 years leaving us to our own devices? I managed to keep my questions to myself as we continued to turn the pages.

When we got to the last scene of the book, Anna declared how wonderful it was that the baby Jesus and the shepherds and the wise guys and Mary and Joseph all got to hear the angels sing. I said that according to the story only the shepherds heard the angels’ song. But Anna told me not to be silly because surely the angels would have started singing again when they saw that everyone had finally arrived at the stable. I asked Anna what she thought the angels might have sung. She got a wicked little grin on her face and insisted that they probably sang her favorite bedtime song. I just laughed at the mere thought of angels singing that particular song to the baby Jesus. You see, over the years of tucking Anna in, I was forced to try to sing quite a few lullabies to her. And with my limited abilities, I can assure you that it wasn’t easy. Not for me and not, I’m sure for the nurses who may have overheard my feeble attempts. But of all my crappy renditions, Anna’s absolute favourite was “You are my sunshine. My only sunshine.” And so, staring down at the picture of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, the shepherds, wise guys and assorted angels, I began to sing Anna’s favourite lullaby for the baby Jesus. Now to spare the other people in the ward, I sang ever so softly. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you please don’t take my Sunshine away.”

When I’d finished singing, Anna sang a lullaby for the baby Jesus. I’ve never heard Away in a Manger sung so sweetly. By the time Anna got to the last verse, a few others had joined in. That’s how it began. A couple of nurses and some of the other children and their parents joined us in an impromptu caroling session. We sang all the Christmas carols we could think of. When we couldn’t think of another carol, Anna asked me to sing her other favorite song. I couldn’t remember what her other favorite song was.  Anna just smiled and said you know the one where I get to pretend to play the drum. I thought she meant The Little Drummer Boy and I said that I was sorry but, I don’t think I ever knew that that was one of her favorites. But I did know that it was a song beyond my ability to sing. But from the expression on Anna’s face, it was clear that I’d guessed the wrong song. Anna began to beat out a rhythm on the table by her bed. It took me awhile and I remembered. Kum by Ah My Lord …Anna’s favorite song. Come by here my Lord. Come by here. Someone’s crying lord come by here. Someone’s fighting Lord come by here. Someone’s hurting Lord, come by here. Someone’s praying Lord, come by here.

In a world gone mad, in a world where we have yet to learn just how to love one another, Christ comes to us. When we are hurting, when we are in pain, when our world is darkest, Christ comes to us. When we are sick and tired. Christ comes to us. When we have given up and can no longer bear to hope.  Christ comes to us. CHRIST is our GOD which is the LOVE taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Christ laughs with us, cries with us, rejoices with us, suffers with us, heals with us, walks with us, shouts with us, struggles with us and loves with us. That beautiful parable of Jesus’ birth in the midst of deep darkness is the story of a child born to liberate people from fear. In that beautiful parable of Jesus’ birth is the Cosmic truth of LOVE’s power to burst forth even in the darkest of times.

For our GOD is the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being. Our GOD lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. LOVE comes to us in each and every person who is working right now to keep us all safe and healthy, the doctors, nurses, orderlies, delivery drivers, retail workers, scientists, lab technicians, politicians, bureaucrats, paramedics, police, public health workers, vaccinated people, people wearing masks, people staying at home, people cancelling events, every single person who is doing their part to take care of their neighbours, is the way our GOD comes to us. As we feast during these Holy Days and when the feasting is done, I pray that LOVE will continue to work in us, through us, and beyond us to heal our weary world, for we are ONE with the LOVE which is DIVINITY and when one of us is suffering, we all suffer. So, let LOVE be born in us over and over again, as often as it takes for all the world to know that LOVE is the SOURCE of ALL, so we need not be afraid.

Have no fear for LOVE is born over and over again, in us, among us, through us, and beyond us. Therein lies the hopes and fears of all the years, met in LOVE tonight. Come by here O LOVE, come by here. Come by here and help us to bring the good news of great joy for all the people. Come by here and help us to sing Glory to God in the highest heaven and on Earth peace good will, and good health to all. Come by here O LOVE.  Come by here. O LOVE come by here.

Do you hear what I hear? It is the sound of the SPIRIT of LOVE breathing in us. LOVE has come by here. LOVE has come by you. LOVE comes into the world day after day after day. Embrace LOVE, so that you can bring Good News of great joy. Joy to the world. For LOVE has come! You are ONE with the LOVE, which IS BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that ALSO, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself! Merry Christmas!  GOD has blessed us everyone! Amen.

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