On Sunday, in churches all over Christendom, worshippers will hear the gospel story of Doubting Thomas. The story of Doubting Thomas is prescribed gospel reading every year for the Sunday after Easter. I’ve never understood why Thomas should hold such a prominent place in our lectionary: I mean, as the stories have been handed down to us, when the chips were down, and Jesus could have used their support, Thomas and the guys deserted Jesus; they left him alone and spread out across the city to hide from the Romans and the religious authorities. According to the anonymous-gospel-story-tellers, it was the two Marys, together with the other women who had financially supported Jesus’ ministry, and who stuck by him to the bitter end. Also according to the anonymous-gospel-story-teller, we know as John, it was Mary, the one they call Magdala who brought back the news that Jesus was not dead, but had risen. Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene was the one chosen to be the Apostle to the Apostles, (the word apostle comes from the Greek for “the one sent”) our lectionary quickly moves on from the empty tomb to the upper room so that we can all once again explore the story of good old, doubting Thomas.
So here, let me honour Mary the Apostle to the Apostles with this my imaginary account of Mary’s story. Remember the power of our imaginations to breathe life into what appears to all the world to be dead.
Shalom. I greet you in the name of our risen Christ. My name is Mary. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. I am not from around here. I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing. But I was not happy. I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair.
Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation. From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus. He was teaching outside of the synagogue. At first, I just stood back in the crowd and listened as he spoke about a new world which God intended to create. It would be a world where the sick are healed and prisoners are set free. I wanted to taste this freedom which Jesus spoke about. I wanted to ask him so many questions. But the crowd pressed in upon him demanding that he tell them more and I was pushed farther away from him. In despair, I turned to leave. Continue reading →
On this St. Patrick’s Day it is fitting to receive a blessing from a grand Irishman whose writing reaches into my soul. Followers of this blog know that John O’Donohue is one of my favourite sages. I am indebted to a follower of the blog for sending me this podcast of Krista Tripett’s interview of John O’Donohue recorded shortly before his death in 2008. O’Donohue’s words continue to open my soul.
These reflections are part of our Lenten journey in which we are Giving Up God for Lent. They are set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the songs. The work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, most particularly his latest book: Unbelievable, permeates my thought process. I hear Jack pushing me farther and farther. What followers are the reflections and copies of the songs:
We worship as we live
in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,
a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.
May the Spirit of LOVE
breathe wisdom and passion
into this gathering.
Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance.
So, let us repent.
Repent from the Greek word metanoia
“to think new thoughts”
Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
A reading from 1st Corinthians chapter 13: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old. It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.
“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered. “Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?” “So, he would die?” “What? “You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?” At this point my mother had had enough! So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”
“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”
“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”
By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there. I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?
I remember watching the guy up at the front. I didn’t even want to ask why he was wearing a dress. And he kept doing this X (crossing himself). And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.
Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this X. “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!”
Now for those of you who don’t recognize it, I stole that routine from the great Irish comedian Dave Allen. I hoped it would make you laugh. But I also hoped that it would help you to think how ridiculous Christianity can be. Most of us have been hanging around Christianity for so long that we can’t or won’t see the humour in it.
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
The Bible was written by men who believed that they lived in a three-tiered universe. The Earth was flat. The flat Earth was surrounded by the waters. The flat earth was supported over the waters on pillars. Above the sky were the Heavens. One of the authors of the Book of Genesis described creation like this : “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.”
The Earth, the Heavens, and the seas.Now even though the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the Earth was round in the 6th century before the common era. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the flatness of the Earth was seriously challenged by the likes of Columbus.
I don’t know about you but for most of my life I have been taught that the place to learn about God is the Bible. Certainly, in the church the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority of the nature of God. For the most part, the Bible points to the Heavens above the firmament as the home of God.
In his new book, Unbelievable, our friend, Jack Spong writes: “The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history.” Jack has a way of reminding us of the obvious. None of us believe that we live in a three-tiered universe. Unlike our ancestors who succeeded the writers of the bible and went on to develop the theology of the church, we don’t believe that the round earth is the center of the universe. The writers of our creeds firmly established that God lived in heaven. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven…”
Most of us have travelled far above the Earth, we have sailed through the clouds and we know that there is no heaven up there. As far back as the sixteenth century, a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus calculated that the Earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei a personal friend of the Pope, published a paper demonstrating that the sun could not possible revolve around the earth. This despite the fact that the biblical author of the book of Joshua wrote that God stopped the rotation of the sun around the earth in order to provide Joshua with an extended period of daylight in which to kill his enemies. It took the Church until 1991 to concede that Galileo and not the writer of Joshua was right and that the Earth did indeed revolve around the Sun.Continue reading →
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck.And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen. Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase. The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.
Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.
Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck. It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.
When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee.
Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago. She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart. Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy. Is that right?”
Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”. Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gently, but firmly said: “Let it go, child. Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)
In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament. Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure. My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness. Continue reading →
The gospel reading that is assigned for Ash Wednesday troubles me. Every year, when I sit down to prepare the Ash Wednesday service, I can’t help but wonder why the powers that be chose this particular reading for Ash Wednesday. There’s something odd about hearing the words ascribed to Jesus, telling us to pray secretly in our rooms and to brush our hair and wash our face so that no one will know what we are up too on a day when we gather together to pray and mark ourselves smack dab on the middle of our foreheads with ashen crosses so that everyone who sees us will know that we’ve just been worshiping. The juxtaposition of Jesus’ calling us to secrecy and this public display of piety is more than a little peculiar.
Like most preachers, I usually ignore the obvious tension between the gospel reading and our traditional Ash Wednesday worship practices. I usually do what I’ve been taught to do which is to focus our attention on our mortality. Ash Wednesday is the moment in the church year where we remember that none of us gets out of this life alive. From dust we came to dust we shall return. But after 19 years of digging around in the ashes, I thought I would shift my focus and wander around in the gospel reading to see if I could begin to understand something of what it might offer us as we embark on our Lenten journey.
My initial impressions of this text made me uncomfortable. As someone whose job requires that I pray in public, the idea that I share this activity with hypocrites who “love to pray standing in synagogues and on street corners for people to see them,” well this alone gives me pause to wonder. But that’s not what troubles me most about this reading: “when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to God who is in the secret place, and your Abba God—who sees all that is done in secret—will reward you.” I hear a call to intimacy in these words. This call to intimacy stirs my own desires for intimacy with our ABBA God. I long to spend time in this “secret place” where God IS.
I must confess that travelling to this secret place is not something that I do often enough. And so, this call to go to my room, shut the door, and pray, inspires more than a little guilt in me. I know that prayer is time spent in the presence of the Divine. In my mind, it is easy to rationalize by saying that prayer is a way of living, conscious that we live, and move, and have our being in God. But in my heart, there’s a desire for the kind of intimacy that I have experienced at various times in my life; the kind of intimacy that even just remembering it, nourishes, grounds, and sustains me in ways that are beyond words. This intimacy with the Divine is alluring but life itself is demanding and so there never seems to be enough time to go there to that secret place.Continue reading →
Welcome to a new beginning. The celebration of the Baptism of Jesus begins the church lectionary’s focus upon the Gospel according to the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark. For the balance of the church year most of our gospel readings will come from the oldest gospel in the New Testament, from storyteller that we call Mark. Written before the development of the nativity myths, this gospel begins with the story of Jesus baptism by the prophet known as John the Baptist. As the oldest account of Jesus’ baptism, written sometime after the year 70, some 40 plus years after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, this story gives us particular insights into the ways in which the legacy of Jesus was experienced by the early followers of the teachings of Jesus. In those early years of the followers of the Way, Jesus’ life and teachings not only ushered in a new way of being in the world, they also provided a new way of understanding the Divine.
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. Raised in the ways of first century Jewish people, Jesus would have been taught to relate to the Source of All Being, the One we call God, as a far off distant, super-natural being. This is the kind of understanding of Divinity that is reflected in John the Baptizer’s proclamation of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. However, this is not the understanding of Divinity that the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark portrays in his depiction of Jesus’ baptism. Most of us have heard the stories of Jesus’ baptism so many times that we tend to miss the radical nature of Jesus’ baptism. Once we let go of the notion that this is some sort of historical account of Jesus baptism, we can begin to understand how the gospel-storyteller understands the significance of Jesus’ life and teachings.
“Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests.” The intimacy portrayed in this story, defies what would have been, for the story-teller and the story-teller’s community, the accepted understanding of the nature of the Divine. The God depicted in this story is radically intimate. Jesus’ relationship to the Source of All Being, is one of intimacy. You can almost hear the Creator of All that Is, declare, lovingly, “That’s my boy! He brings me such pleasure.” At that time, the prevailing understanding of God, of YAHWEH, as KING of KINGS, LORD of LORDS, is expanded to what will eventually be taught by Jesus as Abba, or Daddy. Jesus’ teachings move beyond the hoped for super-natural, super-hero God, that the persecuted Hebrew people longed for and point instead to a God who is known in the intimacy of LOVE. Within the Jewish tradition there was and is a great diversity of depictions of the Creator of All that IS. Sadly, so many of those depictions of Divinity had been reduced to an understanding of God as a super-natural-male-being. The feminine attributes of the Divine that are depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures were largely forgotten. Gone too were the depictions of the Divine as something other than a super-natural being. It was as if, over time, the understandings of the Power that lies at the very heart of reality were reduced to the projections of human desires to be saved from the trials and tribulations of this life.Continue reading →
During these twelve days of Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Messiah, is a word the ancient Hebrews used to describe the anointed one. The one whom God would send to change the world. In Greek the word for Messiah is Christ.
My thoughts swirl around a poem written by the unknown writer of the Gospel of John in which the birth of the Christ is describe as the WORD. It’s a mysterious cosmic poem that moves our minds away from the mundane everyday ordinary stuff of life to the extra-ordinary mysteries of creation, which when you think about it is what every birth does.
Just holding a newborn in your arms and before long you’ll find yourself pondering the mysteries of this life. Who are we and where do we come from? Why are we here? What does it all mean? These are all perfectly wonderful questions and speculating upon the many possible answers to those questions is a fascinating process. But in the end, our words will always fail us when it comes to answers. As we are speculating about the birth of this beautiful little baby, the baby is alive and among us, and needs to be fed and changed, nurtured, guided and protected.Continue reading →
Christmas, every Christmas is a Thin Place. According to the Irish, a Thin Place is a place where the boundaries between heaven and earth fall away. Every Christmas is a Thin Place where the boundaries between our everyday existence and the reality that we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves, well these boundaries fade away at Christmas. Thin Places are those precious moments in time when the sacred can be seen in the everyday stuff of life. Christmas with its powerful parables, myths, metaphors, and symbols acts as a giant welcoming Thin Place were the boundaries and veils fall away and we are able to recognize the sacred in ourselves, in one another, and in the world around us. I could go on and on about the power of Thin Places to open us to the reality of the LOVE that we call God. But rather than try to explain how the Christmas stories, parables, myths, metaphors, and symbols create thin places, let me tell you a story designed to create a thin place where together we can see the veil between the scared and the everyday fade away.
It was the day before the day before Christmas and Angela had just about finished decorating her band new swanky apartment on the West-side. Everything was just perfect; each of the decorations had been chosen with such care. Just like all the furniture in her apartment each and every one of the Christmas decorations was brand spanking new. In a couple of hours Angela expected that her apartment would be full of guests. Her guests had been as carefully chosen as each of the items that adorned her apartment. It was all designed to show everyone how very well Angela was doing.
This Christmas, unlike so many other Christmases that Angela had endured, this Christmas everything was going to be perfect. Angela planned to lavishly entertain her guests. The evening’s entertainment was guaranteed to get Angela’s Christmas off to the best of starts. At least here in her lovely new home, Angela would be in control. Unlike the chaos of her family’s Christmas gatherings. All her life, Angela had endured the trials and tribulations of her family’s dysfunctional yuletide gatherings; gatherings that always ended up with various family members arguing over some perceived slight. Tonight, things would be different. Tonight, Angela hadn’t invited a single member of her outrageous family to come and dine. Tonight, Angela’s guests were made up of the great and the good, new friends and work colleagues; people Angela could count on to behave admirably. Tonight, everything would be perfect. All she needed to do to finish off the room, was to assemble the new nativity set that she had just purchased upon her beautiful fireplace mantle. She hadn’t planned to purchase a nativity set, but when she saw the hand-carved, olive- wood nativity set in the window of the swanky gift shop, she just knew that it was perfect. Continue reading →
In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:
“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”
As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading →
The memories described in this sermon were provoked by the writings of Thomas Moore. I am indebted to Moore’s chapter on “The Christmas Tree” in his book “The Soul of Christmas” for opening me to some of the realities of our tree rituals. Dr. Seuss provided the Whos from down in Whoville. you can listen to the audio here or watch the video below
I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted. The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things, I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet. All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.
I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months. I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot. My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as they supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other. I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure.
Anyway, we were driving along the road. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia, just a few clouds. You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said, “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening?
Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird. Happy, glowing, smiling people make me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear. What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it. It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing. The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent, a work of art, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!
If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there. Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach. At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home. I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence. That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone. In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.
I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.
You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.
I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.
Take a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland. You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror. Continue reading →
There was a young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood. It was the east end of a very large city. Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could. The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish. She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.
Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters. The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys. Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.
Ed had been living on the streets for years. He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot. Ed was a wild man. He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather. Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.
Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived. He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee. They never talked much, though. Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world. The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets. She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading →
When we leave behind our personifications of the Deity, we can’t help but rekindle our love of God in whom all of creation rests. Recognizing the Earth as sacred and moving toward an understanding of the Earth as a beautiful part of the Body of God is vital to our being in God. Peter Mayer’s hymn to our Blue Boat Home puts a whole new hue in my perception of Advent Blue! I suspect the Welsh tune HYFRYDOL might also have something to do with my appreciation of this splendid addition to my Advent tradition! Enjoy
I went to bed early last night with only a rough outline for today’s sermon. I usually struggle with Thanksgiving sermons. It’s not easy to come up with something new to say about Thanksgiving. So, I spent most of yesterday digging deeply into what other people have written about the power of gratitude so that I might be better able to encourage you to express your gratitude on this Thanksgiving Sunday. But no matter how deeply I dug into the wisdom of gratitude, I couldn’t quite pull this sermon together. So, I went to bed early, hoping that something would come to me in the night and I would arise early in the morning and somehow pull it all together.
I was awakened in the wee hours of this morning by a howling wind and the sound of rainfall. The sounds reminded me of winter in Vancouver and my mind wandered off into a dream about the doldrums Februarys in Vancouver. February can be the most challenging month that the weather in Vancouver can throw at you. Usually by about the middle of February it has been so wet, damp, and grey for so long, that most Vancouverites cannot remember what the sun looks like. There’s a kind of malaise that rolls in over the city like a fog, that seems as if it will never lift. There are days when it seems as though the entire population is suffering from seasonal affected disorder. People don’t smile very much and depression is the order of the day. During February in Vancouver, the suicide rate is higher than at any other time of the year; and this in a city that has the highest suicide rate in North America.
I remember one damp and dreary day in Vancouver that stands out from all the other damp and dreary days. It had been a particular damp, grey February. It had been overcast or raining for weeks and weeks and weeks. I was riding on the busy to work. It was the same bus that I had been riding on for two years. Every weekday morning, I would commute by bus from the suburbs into the heart of the city. At six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus, that carried all the same people to their same jobs. On a good day, the trip would usually take 45 minutes. Nobody ever spoke on that bus. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of their daily travelling companions, but conversation would be reserved for sunny days, when people could only manage a word or two. It was like there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day, and yet, we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it. On this particular dull, depressing, February morning, in addition to being tired, I was also wet. The wind was really blowing so I carried my umbrella in vain. Unable to open my umbrella, I had to rely on my hooded jacket to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water was just beginning to seep through my jacket. When I finally climbed aboard, the windows of the bus were totally steamed, obscuring the view of the darkened wet world. I was determined to ignore the damp and settled in for what I hoped would be a short nap before we reached the city. I was just managing to doze off when the bust screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of the passengers were recognizable. I’d seen them a hundred times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a “Hello”, him I’d never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me, and proceed to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.Continue reading →
Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once God asked me to join God on a walk
through this world,
and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed God lingered a bit longer
before any face that was
and before any eyes that were
And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship
God too would kneel
I have Come to learn: God
In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!
Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,
I have Come to learn:
God adores God’s
Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers. Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God.
Francis was born into a wealthy merchant family and spent his young life striving to become a knight by actively participating in the completion between Italian cities to dominate the emerging capitalist system. Francis learned like each one of us must learn that acquiring things, amassing wealth, competing for power, these things cannot ever bring us peace. And so, Francis renounced things, gave up his wealth and powerful position in Italian society, and walked away from the competitive capitalist system.
Francis even went so far as to challenge the Church’s teachings about how to be a Christian. For centuries, the Church taught that the best way, the truest way to be a Christian in the world was to follow the example of the early followers of the Way that we find in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.Continue reading →
Mary Pregnant? St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, NZ)
Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus or as it is still called in the Roman Catholic Church The Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary into Heaven. This enigmatic woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. So on this festival day I this re-post this sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.
Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago. For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading →
On this quiet summer morning, I arise to find the airwaves clamouring with the sound of Tweets. As news of war and rumours of war penetrates my consciousness and awaken me to the surreal clamouring of madmen who hold the power of life and death in the grasp of their tiny hands, it is so very tempting to give in to the cynicism of the talking heads. While our hearts grieve for our broken world, let us remember that while we cannot control the actions of others, we can, however, control the way we react to the actions of others. Let us not fall into temptation. Let us live in hope. Let us pause in the gentleness of this summer morning to turn our being toward the dream of peace. Shalom, Salam, Santi, Pax, Udo, Santi, Axsti, Salmu, Sith, Paix, Peace….Let us open ourselves to the sound of the still, small voice, the Daughter of a Sound, the Bat Qol who calls us Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that also toward the Deep Peace….
Two videos which present John Philip Newell’s interpretation of the Celtic prayer for Deep Peace
So, today is Picnic Sunday and Trinity Sunday all rolled into one. As your preacher, on Trinity Sunday my job, is to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to you. As a Lutheran preacher, I have been trained to go to our creeds in order to explore what our forbearers have traditionally confessed to be true about the nature of the Trinity. And on Picnic Sunday, my job on is to preach a short sermon so that we can move on to enjoying our picnic. I wish for all our sakes that I was that good a preacher. If I could explain the Trinity to you, I would but I cannot, so I will do my best to keep it short. As for the creeds confessed by the Lutheran Church, well I haven’t been able to profess my faith using our traditional creeds for a long time now. I can say however, that: Martin Luther himself wasn’t able to explain the Trinity even though he wrote volumes and volumes on the subject. The concept of the Trinity is an ancient tradition that attempts to make sense of the Mystery that we call God. God is a Mystery, and mysteries by definition, are in and of themselves unexplainable.
So, let me tell you a story. It’s a story right out of the last chapter of John Shelby Spong’s book “A New Christianity for a New World.” The chapter is entitled: “The Courage to Move Into the Future”. In it Jack tells the story of a student he had at Harvard, who was pursuing a Master of Divinity Degree; that’s the degree you need to be a pastor in a mainline denomination like ours. Kathrin Ford, like many women who have taken on the task of preparing themselves for a career in the church, was struggling with the constraints of a patriarchal institution that the church has become and was wondering if the church, as she had experienced it, would ever be open to the direction she felt compelled to travel.
Jack describes the experience of being in class listening to her preach a sermon like this: “She stood before us quite still, quite silent, then she began. Slowly at first, she painted with words the picture of a town facing a major flood. The rains came with such relentlessness and over such a long period of time that the river rose dangerously. The people formed sandbag brigades to protect the things they valued. The sandbag walls rose, but the floodwaters rose faster. Soon water covered their fields, drowning first the wheat, then the canola, then the onions. The people, seeking safety inside their homes, watched with a sense of helplessness as their livelihoods were destroyed before their eyes. They wanted to flee, but their roots were too deeply planted; they were so totally attached to the values enshrined in their farms and town that they felt they could not leave. Still the river kept rising. It now covered the first floor of their homes. As they watched their family photographs—symbols of their past—curl up and float away on the water, they felt they were losing the very meaning of their lives. Soon their physical sustenance was so endangered: the floodwaters covering their town began to seep into the ground, contaminating their ground-water.
Their homes were becoming unlivable. If they stayed in this place, they would surely die. Yet something powerful and relentless inside themselves continued to urge them to remain where they were. Rationally they knew they had to leave, but emotionally they were immobilized.
Katie Ford described this scene with evocative images that kept her classmates raptly attentive. Yet they had no idea where she was going with the image or this theme, nor did Jack. Then with all of them caught up in her symbolic description of a killing flood, she began to speak the words of the Christian creed, beginning with the phrase, “I believe in God, the Father almighty.” This creed, she said, like that flooded town, “has become for me an unlivable place.” She then described the history of creedal formation. The creeds were “a response to debate,” she said, “designed to tell who was an insider in the Christian faith and who was not. A creed is a border-maker,” she added, fashioning her developing definition.
No Christian creed is “a full statement of faith,” she continued. It is only the Christian community’s ecclesiastical “response to arguments.” All the undebated issues, she said, have been left out. That is why in the creeds “there is no mention of love, no mention of the teachings of Jesus, no mention of the kingdom of God being present in our bodies and souls, no mention of God as the ground of life.”
The creeds have fallen on us, she asserted, like the rain over the centuries. They have been repeated endlessly, shaping our minds and our souls to the point where we cannot think of God outside the forms they affirm, or the boxes they create. They have permeated our land, shaped our values and yes, even entered the intimate assumptions of our living space. “Drop by Drop,” she said, our religion, as it come to be embodied in our creeds, has given us “a profoundly dangerous doctrine of God.” It has covered our fields, she said, and destroyed the very crops that Christians are supposed to harvest as their livelihood. It has contaminated our groundwater. “We have been drinking in the Father God our whole life.” “This creed,” she argued, “has, like that flood, rendered our traditional religious dwelling places no longer habitable.”
Yet this creed, and the definitions that arise from it, are so powerfully present in our emotions that even when we judge it to be a destructive document that is killing our very souls, still it whispers, “You cannot leave. You will be lost if you wander. You must stay where you are.” But we cannot stay. The price is too high. These creeds have given us a God, she said, “Who caused the death of his son, the damnation of disbelievers, the subordination of women, the bloody massacre of the crusades, the terror of judgment, the wrath toward homosexuals, the justification of slavery.”
She went on to delineate that God of history: “The Father almighty God embodied in the creeds is a deity who chooses some of the world’s children while rejecting others. He is the father who needs a blood sacrifice, the father of wrath, the father of patriarchal marriage, the father of male ordination and female submission, the father of heterosexual privilege, the father of literal and spiritual slavery.”
She examined and dismissed the ways various church people have tried to address the “unlivability” of the creeds, the no-longer-belivable quality of the Father God as traditionally defined. Some do it, she said, by nibbling or tinkering around the edges of reform. Making God-language less masculine and more inclusive is a positive step, she conceded, but it does not go deep enough.
The real issue, she continued, “is that God is not a person. God is not a being. God is Being itself.” There was stunned silence in the room as Katie drove her conclusion home. This God, who is “Being itself, is not the father of life,” she countered. “This god is life.” Our creeds, she concluded, have now made it impossible for us Christians to continue to live in the place to which these creeds have taken us.”
This story mirrors my own dilemma. These are exciting times in which to live in the church. I believe that we are living smack dab in the middle of a reformation. I’m not alone in that belief. Reformations may be exciting but they are not the most comfortable places to be. I confess that there are days when I long for the Blessed Assurance of a bygone era. But the rains began to fall a long time ago and the waters have been rising and it’s time to go. The Church, this old boat might have sprung a leak or two, and there are quite a few souls who’ve felt the need to abandon ship. But she can still float and I believe that it’s up to those of us who are still aboard not to scuttle her, but to begin to bail her out. Fortunately, there’s still enough of us left and if we start bailing know we just might be able to through enough water over-board to get us where we need to go.Continue reading →
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.
Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!
On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.
Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”
I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains. Continue reading →
May 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim. Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped. So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent. I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.
Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago. For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading →