If we are to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we must look beneath the surface!

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.

The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come.

One of the monks who has helped me to find some of  the stones are, is the ancient theologian known simply as Origen of Alexandria who lived from about 185 to 254. Origen left behind a body of work which provided the Church with a way of approaching the texts of Scripture which nourished the lives of believers for generations. Indeed, Origen’s approach to scripture only fell out of fashion among protestants in the last 200 years or so. To make a long story short, Origen believed and taught, as have generations of theologians since Origen, that the stories in Scripture have various layers of meaning. The first layer is the literal meaning, or surface meaning which is designed by the writers to reach those who are uninitiated or uneducated about the ways in which the sacred texts function. Beyond the literal meaning lies a deeper meaning, indeed Origen taught that beyond the simple literal meaning of the biblical texts, the seeker of wisdom would find layers of deeper meaning.

For centuries, the Church followed Origen’s views of scripture, teaching the simple literal meaning to the masses while reserving the deeper layers of meaning for the initiated, often referring to these deeper layers of meaning as “The Mysteries.” While the masses were busy getting on with life, the religious professionals dug deeper and deeper into the mysteries, eventually creating a Church hierarchy that firmly divided the uninitiated from the enlightened. Obviously, I’m giving you the abbreviated version of this long and complicated story which goes much deeper; I am if you will simply pointing you toward a stone that lies below the surface of the water upon which we seek to walk. Hidden beneath is a method of exploring scripture which relies on symbols, myth, and illusion to reveal hidden meaning or meanings within the text. A story with a hidden meaning is often referred to as an allegory. Origen, and generations of theologians, who came after him understood that the stories of scripture had many, many layers and so they relied on symbolic and allegoric methods to touch our imagination and inspire in us a way of being in the world.

Sadly, perhaps in the beginning for expediency’s sake, but eventually to preserve its own power over the masses, the Church began to rely more and more on the simple literal meaning of the text. Indeed, the Church reserved the mysteries to such an extent that it can be said that, the hierarchy by and large hid the deeper layers of the text so well that even some members of the hierarchy forgot about the symbolic and allegorical methods of interpreting the scriptures.

The hidden mysteries might well have remained hidden if it had not been for the fact that so many other mysteries have been uncovered by human reasoning regarding the nature reality, especially when it comes to the nature of Creation. Human knowledge has expanded by leaps and bounds and you and I live in a world where information is at our finger tips; most of us carry devices in our pockets which can unlock more mysteries that we can keep track of in the recesses of our memories. The reality is that these little devices, these phones, can now unlock the deeper mysteries which the church once kept hidden. The insights gleamed from historians, theologians, and clergy which once remained tucked away in the halls of academic institutions or in seminary libraries, are now available to one and all. Every line of scripture, every jot and tittle, has been carefully examined and re-examined and we now have so many interpretations that no single one of us can claim to be an expert in the field. We are all, once again, simply seekers of meaning.

But there are a few of us who have dedicated our lives to the study of the deeper meanings and we at Holy Cross have had the privilege of one who has come to be known as one of the leading New Testament Scholars in the world. We have been blessed twice, to have John Dominic Crossan teach in our sanctuary. So, it is  Dom to whom I’d like to point to as our second monk on the bank who has the power to point us toward a stone beneath the surface, which might just enable us to find our way upon the sea, so that we too, might walk on water toward this character Jesus. Dom is a wise revealer of mysteries, who insists that we must bring all our faculties of reason to bear upon our interpretations of scripture, while he warns against the dangers of relying upon literal interpretations.

Dom insists that, when it comes to reading scripture the important thing to remember is that, “It is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” So, when it comes to the story about Jesus walking upon the water and of Peter’s lack of faith impeding his ability to follow Jesus, we do not have to check our brains at the door and believe that Jesus literally walked upon the water in order to follow Jesus. Indeed, in order to follow Jesus, we must look beyond the literal toward the symbolic and the allegorical if we are to begin to grasp the mysteries which the anonymous gospel-storyteller, which we call Matthew, was trying to reveal.

We must begin with reason, and reason tells us that humans cannot walk upon water unless that water is frozen and we know that the Sea of Galilee does not freeze. So, on the surface the story may appear to be about a miracle, but hidden beneath the surface are stones which can enable us to follow Jesus. The anonymous gospel-storyteller was writing some 50 to 70 years after Jesus walked the earth. The author whose name we don’t know, but whom tradition calls Matthew was writing to a fledging community which was struggling to follow the teachings of Jesus; a fledging community which lived in the midst of chaos. The Romans had only just destroyed their world and in addition to living under a brutal military occupation, this fledging little community was singled out by their oppressors for special persecution because many of them were Jewish and they aspired to follow the teachings of a Jew, who had been executed by the Romans, as an enemy of Rome. Chaos was all around them, their leaders where being pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions. Peter and Paul had long since been executed by the Roman authorities. In the ancient world chaos was represented by the sea. Storms on the sea represented a particularly fatal kind of chaos which threatened to destroy the fledgling little community known as followers of The Way.

The anonymous gospel-storyteller works with the symbols his readers would have had no difficulty recognizing. The story is written to encourage a battered and abused little community so that they might have the courage to continue to follow The Way, which Jesus taught, lived, and died for. The listeners of this particular allegory would have understood well that even in the midst of chaos, no storm could defeat them if only they kept their eyes firmly on Jesus. Have faith continue in The Way and the storm will cease and even you of meagre means, you will not sink.

So, with those stones revealed, mindful of the symbolic meaning of the story, what depth of understanding can we come to on our own particular journey across our stormy seas? What difference does it make how we interpret this little story? Well as long as we continue to argue over whether or not it is possible for a human to walk upon the surface of the water or to calm a storm, Jesus remains but a mythical character. Either Jesus remains a mythical character or we suspend our understanding of reality. What a choice? As a mythical character, we can admire Jesus, but can we actually emulate Jesus?  Can we embody Jesus? I mean we are after all only human. So, if Jesus remains some sort of super-human, how are we supposed to embody Jesus? Without super-powers, how do we live into the teachings of a super-hero? It is impossible to live as Jesus lived as long as our image of Jesus is one which insists that Jesus had super-powers.

If we are to take Jesus teachings seriously, we must look beyond the literal to the deeper symbolic meaning. You and I, we are living in the midst of storms of biblical proportions. The current pandemic has blown away so many ways of being in the world. We have all had to cope with new ways of being. In the midst of this pandemic, many other storms continue to rage. There are still far too many wars and rumours of wars. Our planet continues to suffer the ravages of climate change.Refugees continue to search for safe havens. The hungry continue to perish. No super-hero is going to save us from the rolling waves of greed and selfishness which continue to overwhelm us.

How can we embody the peace to which Jesus points, if we don’t even believe that Jesus was fully human? How is it possible for we mere mortals to aspire to be all that we are created to be, if we actually believe that it takes abilities beyond the natural order to save us from ourselves? The storms which are raging, war, poverty, disease can only be quelled by a concerted effort from those who earnestly seek healing, justice and peace in this world. If we are to do this as followers of the Way we are going to need to know where the stones are so that we can point them out to others yes, but more importantly so that we can lay them alongside the stones which followers of other ways have found.

If humanity has any hope of evolving into a species which can sustain life on this planet we need to look deeper into the sea, and begin to reflect what we see hidden beneath the surface of our seas. Let the chaos reveal what is there.

Creation is sufficient to all our needs, we have the resources and the means to walk upon the waters of this life in the midst of any storm which comes our way. It is time for us to learn from our elders, it is time for us to look into the riches of all our traditions and to learn from our mistakes, as well as our triumphs. It is time for us to have the courage to trust the wisdom which has been handed down to us and, and this is equally important, it is also long past time, for us to reject the nonsense which has also been handed down to us.

It is time for us to dig deeper into the meaning of everything. It is time for us to stop looking to the heavens for salvation. It is time for us to have the courage of Elijah, who in the story handed down to us by our ancestors; a story rife with deeper meaning than we have yet to discover, a story in which Elijah a mere mortal dared to hope that the chaos of his time might be navigated. A story in which the ancient symbol of a mountaintop was used to reveal the place where Divine presence might appear. A story in which it is revealed that God comes not in the rush of a mighty wind, not in the power of an earth-quake, not in the devastation of a fire, but in the sound of a gentle whisper. The ancient Hebrew words Bath Qol, which can be translated as gentle whisper, or still small voice, or literally as “the daughter of a sound.”

As much as we long to hear the mighty sound of a super-hero come to save us from ourselves. The truth is that the DIVINE ONE, the ONE we call God, the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, that ONE:  lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond us, and speaks as a gentle whisper, a still small voice, the daughter of a sound. So, standing upon our stones, we must begin to listen as we look to the ONE who lives in with, through, and beyond us.

When I was a child, I remember being handed a large seashell. I was told that if I put the seashell up against my ear, I would hear the sound of the ocean. As I grew up, I learned that the sound which I was hearing was not actually the ocean. I learned this the day that I cupped my hand over my ear and heard the very same sound. I learned that it was a sound which emanated from deep inside of me. 

While I still love the notion that I might be able to hear the ocean, I am even  more intrigued that I can hear a sound which emanates from deep within. Sometimes when the seas of chaos threaten to sink me and I can’t for the life of me, hear the Bath Qol, when the still small, the daughter of a sound eludes me, no matter how hard I’ve been trying to listen, and like Peter I too have little faith, I will cup my hands over my ears, and then that sound which emanates from deep within will help me to hear the Bath Qol, the ONE who lives, in, with, through and beyond me.

Standing upon the stones which have been revealed just beneath the surface, I encourage you to cup your hands over your ears if you need to be reminded of the sound which emanates from deep within you. Listen to your life. Listen to the deeper meanings which lie beneath the surface the stones which will enable you to walk upon the waters, to face the storms which rage around you, following The Way which has been revealed to us by our brother Jesus, so that together we can lay our stones alongside those who follow other Ways of Wisdom. Listen, to the Daughter of a Sound.

Listen to the wisdom that lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond us, so that together we can walk upon the water, and quell the raging storms. So, that all may live in the peace which heals, nourishes, grounds, and sustains all life. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

(Zen story: Walking On Water:  Website: http://www.buddhagrove.com – author: Unknown)

See the full WORSHIP Video below – Download the Order of Service here

Feeding Our Hunger for DIVINE PRESENCE Amid a Pandemic – Matthew 14:13-21

When I was a teenager, I was always in a hurry. I wanted to see and do everything there was to see and do. When I was nineteen, I knew that I just had to get out there and see what the world had to offer. So with nothing more than a backpack, a three-month Euro-rail pass, and eight-hundred dollars in travellers cheques, I boarded an airplane bound for Amsterdam. I was searching for adventure and I was convinced that Europe held the excitement I was looking for. 

Inside my backpack was the book that would make it all possible,  a little book entitled,  “Europe on Ten Dollars a Day.” I was determined to make my eight-hundred dollars stretch the length and breadth of Europe. I was going to see and do it all!  It wasn’t easy. In fact, when I look back on it now, it seems like such a lot of hard work. Up early in the morning sightseeing all day long. Meeting new people. Fighting my way through the crowds of tourists. Searching for cheap places to eat and sleep. 

After two months of traveling from one European city to the next, I just couldn’t face one more castle or museum. I figured that it was time to get away from the cities so I headed for the Alps. After a long train ride from Munich, I arrived in the Swiss town of Interlaken. There I boarded a coggle train that would take me to the Alpine village of Grindelwald. The train was filled with tourists anxious to fill their rolls of film with pictures of the mountains. When I arrived in Grindelwald, I was told that the youth hostel was only about three kilometres from the station, so I and several other young backpackers which I had met on the train decided to walk to the hostel. What we didn’t know was that the hostel was three kilometres straight up the side of a mountain.  As we trudged up the mountain, we were embarrassed by the speed with which villagers three times our age just passed us by. Despite our youth, the senior Swiss locals were much more adept at climbing than we were.  

When we finally arrived at the hostel there was a lot of complaining about how tired we were.  We were exhausted.  Tired of the demands of traveling. Too tired to be impressed by the fact that here we were, in a Swiss chalet in the middle of the magnificent Alps. It was only two o’clock in the afternoon, but we collapsed onto our beds in the dormitory and promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake up until morning. 

Breakfast tastes incredibly good when you eat it in a Swiss chalet surrounded by friends you have only just met. People from all over the world with just two things in common: youth and an incredible thirst for adventure. There was only one thing for us to do. We had to get a closer look at the mountains. So about a dozen of us decided to climb to the top of what was called the Glacier Gorge  so that we could get a better look at the famous Eiger. We had been assured by the hostel manager that we could easily walk to the top of the glacier that lay adjacent to the Eiger and from there the view would be magnificent. Right after breakfast we set off, newfound fiends from the farthest reaches of the earth.  

Canada, South Africa, Tokyo, England, Finland, Australia, New York and California, and there wasn’t a real climber in the bunch. The first part of the journey was pleasant enough.  

The alpine meadows were delightful, and the conversation was playful. The switch back trail was a bit more of a challenge as our calf muscles began to feel the strain. But when we reached the cliffs, I wondered if we were up to the challenge. Before us lay a series of cliffs into which the Swiss had embedded a series of wooden ladders. My fear of heights began to surface. But I was determined to give the first cliff a try. So, one by one we began to climb. Each rung of the ladder was a challenge and I resolved never to look down. As I climbed hand over fist, step by step, I kept my vision firmly fixed on the butt that was up ahead of me willing myself up the cliff, one rung at a time.  

When all of us had safely negotiated the first ladder, several people, myself included, suggested that perhaps we were overreaching ourselves. Maybe the glacier gorge was more of a climb than we could handle. But the keeners in the group encouraged us to go on. After we had slowly made our way up about half a dozen ladders, there was more dissension in the ranks, but we had come this far and so we headed towards the next ladder. It was a doozy.  We moved ever so slowly.  I resolved that I had had enough and once I got to the top of this particular ladder, I wasn’t going to go any higher.  

As I scrambled to the top, I was relieved that my climb at least was over. My legs were a little shaky as I straightened up and took a look around. It took my breath away. There we were on top of a plateau opposite the Eiger.  We had made it to the foot of the glacier gorge. The view was magnificent. I was awe-struck. Our once talkative little group, was silent as each of us tried to take it all in.

I found a spot of grass and sat down. The air was fresh and clear, the sun burned bright, and the snow glistened as though it were a sea of diamonds. Over-whelmed by the beauty, no one spoke a word. I wish I could share the wonder of that moment with you. It was a glimpse of the CREATOR’s  power and majesty. Everywhere I looked I saw the evidence of DIVINE splendour.  

It was truly a once in a life-time mountaintop experience. One of those rare moments when you are totally conscious of the presence of something so much bigger than yourself; something DIVINE, something that has been described for generations as “God.” One of those moments that has the power to transform you.

Eventually our silence gave way to slumber as we rested our weary selves. When the warmth the afternoon sun woke me from my slumber, my eyes tried desperately to adjust to the vivid colours. Before me stood the Eiger.  I looked out across picture post-card Switzerland and I marvelled at the glory and majesty of CREATION. Slowly I became aware of my traveling companions. We had gathered together just a few hours earlier.  We came from the farthest reaches of the earth and together each of us felt the wonder of the experience.  

There on the top of a mountain a rag tag group of travellers was transformed by a glimpse of DIVINE Creation. Without words we began to dig around in our daypacks for something to eat.  With little or no preparation, we created a feast from what we were able to scrounge together.  Out of one pack came two apples, out of another a crust of bread, some salami, lots of cheese, an orange, a banana, a few Swiss chocolate bars and even the remains of a bottle of red wine. In silence we passed around the ingredients of our feast. I was conscious of the reality that we were in the presence of something much larger than we could possibly imagine; a DIVINE presence, as we enjoyed this holy communion. It was just an impromptu meal shared without much forethought, but it was as holy a communion as I have ever partaken of.

These past few months, we have not been able to gather together in our sanctuaries to share communion with one another. The journey back to worshipping in-person, seems even more insurmountable than climbing a mountain. Public health protocols surrounding in-person gatherings mean, that for the foreseeable future, the rituals we have developed over two millennia must be set aside. Even when we do go back to our sanctuaries, much of what so many of us have come to love about worshipping together will not be possible, no warm welcoming embraces, no singing, no passing the peace with hugs and kisses, probably no communion, or at the very least no wine at communion, and definitely no sharing all those goodies that we normally share after the formal worship is over, no coffee, no sandwiches, no cookies or cakes and sadly still no more farewell embraces. As I contemplate staring out at a masked congregation from behind my own mask, those Zoom squares which for months now have been my only view of my beloved congregation, well those screen images don’t seem so bad.

During our lock-down we have found new ways of being the Church, new ways of seeing the DIVINE in one another, new ways of communing with one another. They may not exactly be the mountaintop experiences that we long for, but then I suspect that whatever the meal that Jesus and his first followers shared by the lakeshore so long ago, came as an unexpected surprise.

But it was indeed as sacred an experience as any ritual partaken of in the Temple. It was just an impromptu meal shared without much forethought, and yet all those who partook of that feast did so in the presence of the DIVINE. What made that experience SACRED was the reality that they were in the presence of something much larger than any of us can possibly imagine; a DIVINE PRESENCE.

Becoming conscious of the DIVINE PRESENCE which is the source of all that IS, nourished, grounded and sustained Jesus’ first followers who were able to meet the challenges of living under circumstances far harsher than we privileged North Americans can even begin to understand. 

I’m sure that each of us can recall sacred moments spent in the splendour of Creation in which we were conscious of the PRESENCE of something much greater than we can imagine. Some of us are blessed to have experienced such sacred moments aided by the rituals which have nourished generations of seekers of such DIVINE encounters. Many of us have missed our familiar rituals and practices. We have been forced to find new ways of being the Church and new ways of encountering the DIVINE.

For months now, seekers of the DIVINE have flocked in numbers not seen for decades to worship services that are being offered over the internet. Screens of all sorts have been utilized as worship leaders have attempted to open seekers to the SACRED MYSTERY which many of us call “God”. Churches everywhere are reporting unprecedented numbers of viewers. Our own congregation’s online offerings are engaging between 20 and sometimes 50 times more people than we were engaging before we had to close down our sanctuary. Church leaders of every denomination are asking all sorts of questions about what this means for the future of the Church. The truth is none of us really know.

I can’t help wondering what those 5,000 well fed followers of Jesus actually knew about what was happening in and around them. The truth is none of us really know any more than they did, what the experience of the DIVINE PRESENCE can lead to. We know that the rag-tag bunch of Jesus’ followers managed to change the world and their impact continues to provide hope to millions and millions of people generations upon generations after they ate their fill. My own life was forever changed after an impromptu meal on a mountaintop; to this very day I am nourished by that long-ago experience.

So, as I contemplate what the coming months and indeed years may bring to our shared hunger for the DIVINE PRESENCE, I realize that even though so very much of what we have relied on over the years to nourish us, may not be available to us and so each and every one of us will need to reach into our back-packs to discover what we have to offer to provide nourishment to one another. Just last week, as new public health policies allowed for socially distant visiting, I was blessed to share not one but two meals with two sets of dear friends.

Figuring out the logistics of how to safely prepare and serve food to one another was complicated and I’m sure we made a few mistakes. We certainly missed the warm embraces. But oh, how nourishing those gatherings were. Despite the challenges we were fed. The LOVE we shared nourished, grounded and sustained me in ways beyond measure.

As we look ahead to what may be, let us embrace the challenges. Let us dig deep into ourselves to discover what gifts we have to offer to nourish one another. Let us have the courage to grieve what may be lost without letting our grief keep us from discovering new ways to nourish, ground, and sustain one another in the presence of the DIVINE. Everywhere we look there is evidence of DIVINE SPLENDOUR. Let us prepare the feast for one another and let us partake together however, wherever, and whenever we can, trusting that the ONE we seek is ever ready to welcome us into the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call “God.”

View the full Worship Video below

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Erotic Playfulness: SOPHIA/WISDOM, a sermon Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In Jesus’ words, we can hear the dim echoes of a time gone by. Long before Jesus came there was a character who called out in the marketplaces. You can read about her in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. What students of the Bible call the “Wisdom literature” is full of stories about a character who so many people have never heard of.

In the book of Proverbs, she claims to have been there when CREATOR was busy creating and she declares:  “When God set the heavens in place, I was present, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God fixed the clouds above, when God fixed fast the wells of the deep, when God assigned the sea its limits…when God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman. Delighting God day after day, ever at play by God’s side, at play everywhere in God’s domain, delighting to be with the children of humanity.”   

So, just who is this master craftswoman? Job insists that, “we have heard reports of her”. But, “God alone has traced her path and found out where she lives.” The writer of Ecclesiasticus admonishes the reader to: “court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go.  For in the end, you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”

In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is described as, “quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of God’s goodness. Although alone, she can do all things; herself unchanging she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.”

You may not know who she is, but Jesus certainly did. Tales of her deeds were popular in Jesus’ day. Jesus, a student of the scriptures who was referred to as a rabbi, would certainly have known who this heroine of the scriptures is. In the ancient Hebrew texts of the Wisdom Literature she is called “CHOKMAH.”  In the ancient Greek translations of these texts she is called “SOPHIA.” In our English translations of these texts she is simply known as “wisdom.” The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages were written without punctuation. Often in Greek, there were no spaces between the words. Until long after Jesus’ day there were only capital letters. Upper- and lower-case letters were not used. Unlike our system where personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Often ancient Greek, the words did not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us. 

When you read the texts that describe “wisdom,” it is clear that they are, at the very least, speaking about Wisdom as though Wisdom is a person. SOPHIA is wisdom personified. SOPHIA is spoken of as being around from the beginning–before Creation. She was with YAHWEH at the time of creation; creation couldn’t happen without her presence. Other biblical passages show her coming to be with humanity, reaching out to people to be in relationship with them. She walks through the streets, calling out to people, trying to get them to listen–to follow her. She’s also a welcoming hostess inviting people to her table, a bountiful provider of food, the source of all good things.  She is the way to abundant life.

She is also a trickster and play is one of the ways she gets things done. You may not have heard of her, but when Jesus speaks to the people about children calling to one another in the marketplaces, the people would have remembered SOPHIA standing in the marketplaces and calling the people out to dance. But the people refused to join in SOPHIA’s playful dance. SOPHIA’s reputation for playfulness led the people to refuse her invitation.  In the same way, Jesus who came eating and drinking, called out to the people and his reputation led the people to label him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Jesus declares:  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance”.  Jesus harkens back to the images of SOPHIA in the Scriptures and insists that, “SOPHIA/WISDOM will be vindicated by her deeds.” SOPHIA’s reputation as a trickster who accomplishes great deeds through play and Jesus’ reputation as a glutton and a drunkard who comes to the world eating and drinking aren’t usually emphasized these days, by those who tout their religion in the public square, or on social media. I can honestly say, I have never heard people who call themselves, “Bible believing Christians,” taking to social media to encourage friends and followers to eat, drink, and be merry. And yet, this stuff is in the Bible.

The Bible describes playfulness as an important part of the God in whose image we are created.  All too often those of us who profess to follow Jesus, refuse to hear Jesus’ cry: ‘We piped you a tune, but you wouldn’t dance.” Jesus is calling us out to play. Yes, I know this is a summer like no other summer we have ever experienced. I would love to just go out to the lake and splash and play in the water. But the beaches remain closed, so let Jesus’ words take us back to the words of Sophia, so that we can play together in the words of the scriptures.

In the Bible, it is Sophia who is first given the task of calling God’s people out to play, and that playfulness goes way beyond dancing. Despite the church’s history of attempts to contain and or constrain our playfulness, Jesus continues to call us out to play!

On this glorious summer Sunday, on a weekend when it is meet right and salutary to celebrate, we can listen to the tune Jesus is piping and we can dance for joy for we are wondrously and gloriously made. Weekends are not the only things designed for play; we are. In the biblical books which are known as Wisdom Literature, it is made very clear that our bodies are blessings given by God so that we might delight in them.

Playfulness includes exploring the pleasures that one body can give to another body. There’s a little book in the Bible which we call the Song of Solomon, which for centuries was simply known as the Song of Songs and there you will find words that can make self-righteous Christians blush and televangelists positively apoplectic. “Look, there my love stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:  ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; and come away; for now, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. Let my love kiss me with kisses on the mouth!”  How did this get into the Bible?

The Song of Solomon, or as it is sometimes called, the Song of Songs is surely the most erotic book of the Bible. This erotic song of songs is a long poem in which a woman, “Black and beautiful,” woman and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and every taste. The radiant young man declares to his lover, “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.”  And she tells anyone who will listen that, “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” He responds by exclaiming that her, “two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. I am my beloved’s” she exults, “and his desire is for me.”

The Song of Songs is a song about desire, and so it is also a song about the pain of separation, of missed meetings, and of absence. “O that his left hand were under my head,” the woman sings with palpable yearning, “and that his right hand embraced me!”  When this passionate woman’s lover knocks on her door, she hesitates for a moment to open it. And when she begins to speak, this ancient biblical woman speaks some of the sexist lines in any literature. “My beloved thrust his hand into the opening and my inmost being yearned for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.”

When she opens the door, he is gone, and she heads out into the city to search for him, crying,  “I implore you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.” 

How did this erotic love poem make it into the Bible?  No one knows for sure. But scores of interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, have found in it the song of human yearning for the DIVINE ONE and the DIVINE ONE’s desire to be in intimate relationship with humanity.

The Song of Songs is read at the festival of the Passover as a reminder that YAHWEH delivered Israel from slavery not only because the DIVINE ONE was bound by the covenant to do so, but also because the HOLY ONE loved the people of Israel and desired goodness for them.

The ancient Christian writer Bernard of Clarvaux wrote more than eighty sermons on the Song of Songs without even making it past the third chapter. According to Clarvaux the poem provided a means by which the individual believer could come into intimate relationship with God. Like all great poetry, the Song of Songs can easily sustain a wide range of interpretations. But it resists being read only as a spiritual text about human beings devoid of bodies. Clairvaux warned young monks and nuns not to read it until their faith matured, because of the sexual feelings it is able to inspire.

The song is so erotic, that to this day, orthodox Jews are cautioned not to read it until they reach the age of forty. For to read the Song of Solomon without the wisdom that comes from age could cause the reader to unwisely give in to their own passionate desires.

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire and the power of love. The Song proclaims that “Love is as strong as death, and passion fierce as the grave.” “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.”

And we’re not talking about agape here.   No this is not the agape love shared between friends or members of a faith community. We’re talking about eros.  Eros, the love that is expressed in the passionate embrace of bodies. In the Song of Songs, we find no anxiety about erotic desire’s power.

In the Song of Songs, passionate desire is portrayed as the force that binds us to one another.  The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire.  They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by one another; they are equally determined to give and to receive pleasure. For centuries, the church has selected particular pieces of scripture in order to say, “no” to the pleasures of sex in any way shape or form.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus declared that “WISDOM/ SOPHIA will be vindicated by wise deeds.” Surely WISDOM/SOPHIA is vindicated in relationships so intimate and satisfying that they draw us out of ourselves and more deeply into the passions of life in Creation? Relationships in which pleasure is given and received with joy. Relationships in which knowledge of the body is sought with care and gentleness, in which the body is pronounced beautiful over and over again.

As we come to experience the erotic as sacred, we can begin to know ourselves as holy and to imagine ourselves sharing in Creation with one another for our common well-being. When we recognize the face of the HOLY ONE in the face of our lover as well as in our own face, we can begin to feel at ease in our bodies.  The DIVINE ONE moves among us. In, with, through, and beyond our bodies the DIVINE ONE lives and breathes and plays.   

Jesus implores us: “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yolk is easy, and my burden is light.” In these strange times, we may not be able to enjoy our regular summer pleasures. So, as our beaches remain closed, why not open up the Song of Solomon and rejoice and be glad, as you read: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s desire is for me. Come, my beloved let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early into the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened, and the pomegranates are in bloom. Then I will give you my love.”  According to the Scriptures, SOPHIA stood out in the streets and invited the people to come and play–to tell jokes–to laugh at our blunders. 

In today’s gospel Jesus compares his generation to children who sit and refuse to play. Do NOT let it be said of this generation that we refused to play, that the delights and pleasures which come to us as gifts from our CREATOR were shunned or wasted. Our bodies are sacred instruments designed to play. In the sacred dance of desire, we are opened to the transforming power of LOVE. So, remember to give and take delight in your play. Let yourselves be transformed. Let your bodies open you to the wonders of life and for God’s sake dance! Dance, and rejoice for you are wonderfully made; designed to play. Amen.

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Celebrate 50 Years of Pride: sermon

June is Pride month; a month set aside to both celebrate how far we have come and advocate for all those who have not and do not enjoy the freedom to express fully who they are regardless of who they love. But this is a June like no other. We are living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and whether we are out and proud or still in the closet, all of us queer or straight, we have all been locked down for the better part of the last three months. Closeted away in our respective homes, our fear of COVID-19 has been matched by the horror of the even more insidious infection of racism, a disease which has for centuries infected the hearts and minds of white privileged people and robbed Black, Indigenous and People of Colour of their liberty, dignity, and all too often their very lives. So, as June 28th, the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride Parade drew closer and closer, I wondered how we can celebrate Pride in the midst of so much suffering. Forget the fact that we can’t celebrate with a party, let alone a parade. How do we say, “Happy Pride!” on a day like today.

I must confess that I was sorely tempted to skip any mention of Pride celebrations this year. That is until, I was struck by an ear-worm.  You know those annoying ear-worms, pieces of songs that pop into your heard, over and over again. This particular ear-worm is a song from my misbegotten youth; a popular song which is actually based upon a piece of scripture. Rather than sing my earworm to you, let me share it with you: …..

there you have Psalm 137,  adapted and interpreted, but Psalm 137 indeed. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion. When the wicked carried us away in captivity Required of us a song Now how shall we sing the LORD’s son in a strange land.”

I know that this is not Babylon, and we haven’t been carried away into captivity by our enemies. But who among us can doubt that so much of what we have taken for granted has changed and right now we are living in a very strange place indeed? So how can we celebrate today of all days, when so many people are suffering?

Perhaps we should go down by the river, or the lake and just sit and weep. Alas, here where I live, the beaches remain closed, because we are afraid of what might happen should too many people rush to the shore. So, how do we celebrate Pride in these strange times? I’m not sure that we can begin our celebrations without weeping. The duelling pandemics of the virus and racism have caused so very much pain. Strange thing about weeping, as we weep, we remember. Weeping can be such a catharsis. As we weep for the victims of the pandemic and for the ravages of racism, memories of other pains often join our tears. 

Memory is a marvellous, miraculous gift which can bring with it pain even while it sooths our pain. As I weep, I can’t help but marvel at how very much has changed since I first began to become aware of who I am. I was only ten years old in 1967, when Pierre Trudeau declared that, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I was too young to understand the news in 1968, when Canada decriminalized homosexual acts. I don’t remember being aware of the Stonewall riots which erupted in 1969. As a teen-ager in the 1970’s, what went on between consenting adults was something seldom talked about. It wasn’t until the early 80’s when the reality of the AID’s epidemic drove conversations about homosexuality into the public square, that I began to pay attention to the cause of gay rights. Living in Vancouver and working in the travel industry, I lost friends, good friends, to a disease which devastated the gay community.

Later as I began to allow myself to understand who I am, I remember trying and failing to find the courage to march in Vancouver’s Gay Pride parade. I don’t know what frightened me more, being seen at the parade or seeing myself for who I am. Fear is a long, long way, from pride. So, it took me longer than I care to admit, to summon up the courage to participate in the pride parade in 1986.

Later as I was preparing myself to become a pastor, I had the very good fortune to fall in love. Falling in LOVE is a very empowering experience. But falling in LOVE in 1997, when your church says things like “love the sinner, hate the sin”, well let’s just say, that when I was called here to Holy Cross in 1999, it wasn’t just fear that kept Carol and I quiet on the subject of our relationship, it was the reality that if I said anything at all, I wouldn’t survive as a pastor for very long.  “Don’t ask don’t tell,” was the unofficial policy of the ELCIC. So, you didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. 

Newmarket, I was told was a conservative town. Well a lot has changed over the years. Many of us worked for a very long time at considerable cost to change the policies of our government and of our church. The benefits of equal marriage in Canada, and full inclusion in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are life changing and I confess that there are days when I still feel like pinching myself. “Can it actually be true? Can I actually be married to the woman I love and still be a pastor?”

The relief and the joy of being who I am without fear of persecution, makes me proud not only of who I am, but of who you are as a church, who we are as a community and who we are as a country. My pride runs deep and so it is a joy to see how very far we have come. This week as I continued to wonder how to celebrate in these strange times, I couldn’t help but marvel at the courage of so many people who paved the way for us. As I recall their stories filled with struggle and pain, my tears give way to resolve. Today, my question has become:  How can we NOT celebrate? So many people struggled for so very long. Surely, they deserve our thanks and praise as we celebrate how far we have come, even as we contemplate how much farther we still need to go? 

Today, I dry my tears and I give thanks to all those brave folks who marched these past 50 years.  Today, I celebrate all the brave pride-goers who risked so much, so that we can be all that we are created to be without fear. It has been a long and difficult struggle, and our pride celebrations inspire such joy. So, we sing, we dance, we make noise and yeah, we flaunt our sexuality when we can in public!  As the saying goes, “Next year in Jerusalem.” or “Next year in the promised land!” But for now, let us celebrate, how we can, where we can.  Next year in public! Because we know that the gay rights movement has liberated more than just the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous, and asexual communities. I know that our straight sisters and brothers have learned a great deal about who they are. I’m pretty sure that liberation and freedom from sexual repression is indeed a blessing that more than just a few of us are grateful for.

The reality that we a wonderfully and beautifully made creatures of mysterious and sublime wonder is a blessing of unfathomable joy. So today, we celebrate who we are! But with each and every utterance of, the words “Happy Pride!” we cannot forget that our joy is tinged with sadness for all our sisters and brothers around the world who continue to live and die in fear. The Pride movement is still in its infancy. We have come a long way. We are blessed to live in a place where we can be who we are and love one another without fear of the state. Sadly, there are still places here where some of us are afraid to hold hands. There are places where some of us fear to go. We will need to do a whole lot more marching. We will also need to make a great deal of noise so that our communities become safe havens for all people, regardless of how they identify themselves or how they are identified by others because of the colour of their skin. We will need to make a great deal more noise so that the lives of Black, Indigenous. and People of Colour MATTER.

Those of us who remain in the Church must continue to make a whole lot of noise so that our institutions repent of the abuses of our past and stop the abuses which continue to be perpetrated in the name of Jesus.  We have been richly blessed.  We follow ONE who continues to teach us the importance of offering and receiving even what seems the smallest of kindnesses.  So, let our celebrations refresh us and let us offer welcome refreshment in the LOVE we share with our neighbours. 

Happy Pride EVERYONE! May this time of celebration feel like a cool drink of water, which refreshes you, so that you can refresh all who are thirsty for the freedom to love and to be loved. May the LOVE which is DIVINITY continue to empower all of us to be all that we are created to be. Sing LOVE’s song in these strange times! Happy Pride EVERYONE!

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National Indigenous Peoples Day: In this storm, Jesus is not asleep in the back of the boat! We are!

The raging storms are all around us! The tumultuous winds are churning up the waters and tossing us about in treacherous seas. Our small boats are tossed to and fro as massive waves heave us left and right. The roaring winds create upheavals, which leave us cowering in fear, trembling as we struggle to meet each wave which carries with it the potential to destroy the few planks of wood that we have hewn together to carry us upon the ever changing sea, which holds both the promise of sustenance and the threat of oblivion within the darkness of its depths. With each crash upon the hull our fear rises, and the ferocity of the storms intensifies. Frightened, clinging to life as we are tossed from one danger to the next, we cry out into the storm, convinced that only some power more intense, bigger, stronger, beyond our abilities to even imagine, only a power such as this can save us from being swamped in our small boats. We fear that left to our own devices, without the meager security offered by our small boats, we will be overcome by the waves and drown in the very sea that we must rely upon to sustain us.

Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fear. As the storms rage all around us, we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters which lie before us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that drive us ever closer to wrecking our small boats. Boats hastily designed without thought to the perils which threaten to consume us, as monsters from below depths below, surface all around us.

The weather forecast looks bleak as one storm after another rolls our way.  We are so very tired. Tired of the winds of racism, which continue to blow despite our efforts to quell their intensity. We have seen the power of racism which over and over again rises up in our midst. Some of us have learned to live in the almost silent breezes which are generated by our fear of the “other.”  We have figured out mechanisms to quell the intensity of racism’s loathsome impacts. We built lifeboats to carry us beyond the pain of the hatred which wafts in and around us, blown about by racism’s destructive currents. We are afraid that there aren’t enough lifeboats to save us all, so we jettison lives and simply turn away as “others” drown.  We’ve grown accustomed to systems designed to allow us to deny the suffering of “others” as they flail about. We trust the designs of our lifeboats to protect us. Different seas have different “others.” But the lifeboats are crafted from the same materials.

As racist breezes churn up the waters, poverty, disease and violence continue to howl, while we are tossed upon the waves, trusting that sleeping in the back of our lifeboat lies a power who IF roused will protect us, save us, carry us safely to better shores. Today, many of us are feeling more than just a little seasick. Many of us believed that we’d managed to quell the racism that once again howls in our midst. It’s Fathers’ Day after all and we were looking forward to calm waters so that we could celebrate the love of fathers for their children and children for their fathers. Our treasured memories were to be hauled up on deck, so that we could all admire the virtues of loving fathers and loving children, treasured memories, hopes for the future, gentle embraces, good wishes, and happy families. Surely, the ill winds can be quelled long enough for us to celebrate Father’s Day in peace. But the winds of racism and violence have joined forces and blown about the pain of too many atrocities which threaten the stability of our lifeboats. Our boats are weighed down with the pain of First Nations martyrs, Inuit martyrs, Metis martyrs, black, brown, and Asian martyrs; the pain of those “othered” by white privilege, slaughtered in the places we believed the winds could not, and did not penetrate.

Not even our beloved Canada, all dressed up in the history of the underground railway and multiculturalism, not even the mythical Canada, can protect us from the harsh winds of racism and violence. We recognize the power of racism and violence to stir up the waters and so we comfort ourselves with the thought that the destructive winds blow only in the south, as if we here in the north are immune to the dangers which are blowing in the wind. We point to our American cousins as if they alone, with their lifeboats weighed down by their shoot-em-up culture, are at risk of sinking. But we have our own baggage stowed deep within our holds which has the power to sink us.

National Indigenous Peoples Day: a day scarcely etched in our calendars for the sake of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. Not even a day set aside to reveal what lies in the bowels of our own lifeboats can convince us to jettison the baggage of imperialism or forgo legacies of colonialism, which we are hell-bent upon preserving even if it means that Indigenous women and girls are thrown overboard, indigenous men beaten and incarcerated, while families and indeed whole nations are denied safe drinking water; water: water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink.

We breathe deeply of the winds of racism, while denying that the very air we breathe is polluted by systems designed to ensure that the white privileged few continue to enjoy the benefits so many of us have grown to love and to horde, convinced that if the first inhabitants of these shores would only learn from us how to swim, all would be well. The winds of racism carry with them abuse, while poverty howls, dis-ease wipes out family after family, and violence destroys, and we turn away, continuing to deny that we have the power to save them all. So, we don’t save anyone of “them,” because they are “them” and not us. Let them, those people, the “others,” save themselves, there is only so much that we can do. Besides, they don’t want our help anyway. They would rather be left to their own ways. So, we narrow our gaze, trim our sails and hope for calmer seas. Relieved whenever we hear one of them, one of the “others,” condemn us for our delusions of grandeur, which allow us to imagine ourselves as “their” saviours.

Friends, the powerful metaphor offered to us by the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Mark is designed to open us to the reality of the relentless storms which rage all around us. Using familiar symbols designed to conjure up images of the fears we all harbour deep inside the very fibers of our being, the gospel storyteller wants us to feel the lashing winds which threaten to separate us from one another, as we desperately seek to survive. We have been distracted for too long now, arguing about whether or not this miracle story actually happened exactly the way it was written. It simply doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus of Nazareth preformed miracles.In fact, a miracle worker living 2000 years ago doesn’t matter at all when people are dying and being killed here and now. What matters to those who are threatened by storms or who are perishing in storms, or who are mourning the death of victims of storms, is not whether or not some guy living 2000 years ago had the power to change the course of nature. What matters to those in peril on the sea is what you and I and they are going to do in the face of the howling winds of racism, disease, poverty and violence. For this miraculous story to be worth anything at all, it needs to be able to carry us away from the realities of the ordinary into the dream of a future where miracles are actually possible.

It has always annoyed me that Jesus lies sleeping in the back of the boat, lying on a cushion no less, while his followers are in fear for their lives. I know that according to the story, Jesus was tired. He’d spent the whole day, saving those around him. The crowds had gathered and were pressing in on him and the only way to get away from their incessant demands was to get in a boat and sail away. Who among us hasn’t needed to get away from the incessant demands of others? We get it. Jesus was tired. We’re tired. I don’t want to hear about one more killing. I’m sick of hearing about racism. I’m smart enough to know that I’m one of the privileged. I know that the systems of power and control favour me and mine. What can I do about? Besides, I don’t hate black people or indigenous people. I wasn’t raised to think I’m better than anybody else. Yeah, I know the system ensures that I remain one of the privileged. But I didn’t ask to be born white and powerful, any more than they asked to be born poor and powerless. I can’t save them all. Besides they don’t want a white saviour. We keep hearing that white privileged people need to shut-up, listen, and learn because our solutions are not “their” solutions. So, I just sail on, sparing only a prayer and some small change for those who are flailing about in stormy waters.

It sure would be nice if Jesus was the answer to every question. If not Jesus then that big something more than me, that God fella, the old bearded white man in the sky, sure has a lot to answer for, leaving us alone to flail about, letting untold millions sink to the bottom. No wonder, I read this story and I want to scream at the god of my dreams, “Wake up. Don’t you care that so many people are drowning?” Wake up we need you to do something.    Help us!    Save us! I’d really like to believe that if we shout loudly enough that God will hear us and that God is powerful enough to make a difference, to save us, and to save “them.” I’d sure like to believe that there’s a master mariner powerful enough to still the winds and calm the seas. Peace! Be still!

Like many people, I am reeling from the onslaught of the news and I too, am trying to make sense out of what I do and don’t believe. Over and over again the familiar words we at Holy Cross, use to close our worship services each Sunday ring in my ears: “Go in peace. Be LOVE in the world.” Be LOVE in the world! It would be so much easier to rely on a force more powerful that I to quell this storm. And yet, we profess to follow a saviour who taught that God is LOVE; a saviour who embodied the LOVE that IS God.

Be LOVE in the world? Be God in the world? God in the world? We are part of a church which teaches that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the ONE in whom the LOVE that IS God was embodied. I smile every time I remember, Dom Crossan saying, “Do you want to know what God looks like in the first century?  Well, Jesus is what God looks like in sandals.”  Jesus is what LOVE looked like in the first century. Jesus is the Christ precisely because he was LOVE in the world. Christ is God in the world. The Church teaches us that we are the body of Christ. In the words of Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now but yours.” “Christ has no hands now but yours.” Being Christ in the world means being LOVE in the world.

Being LOVE in the world means to stop seeing ourselves as disciples cowering in fear, terrified that the storm is going to cause the seas to rise up and drown us. It is time for us to see ourselves sleeping in the back of the boat, resting on a cushion. For all those who are afraid shouting for a saviour to wake up, we, you and I the followers of Jesus, we are the body of Christ. It is time for us to wake up, speak-up, and calm the storm which is raging. We have the power together as the body of Christ to command the winds of racism, disease, poverty, and violence to cease. Together we are the Body of Christ and together we are so much more powerful than any storm. If it really does matter to us that our sisters and brothers are going to drown, if we really do care, then it is time to wake up and speak up. It is time to put an end to the power of white privilege to in-spire or to give breath to the winds of racism, disease, poverty and violence. There is work for each one of us to speak up. We all know the power of racism. We have all, at one time or another remained silent in the face of racism so as not to rock the boat. We all have relatives and friends who are trapped in delusions of superiority and have spouted racist comments and we have let them pass. We all know or have been those people who deny that our systems are rigged so that one race, the white race, maintains its power. It is time for each of us to speak up and to take some risks, we have to rock the boat even in the midst of a storm. If our particular part of the sea appears quiet, we have to have the courage to see our reflection in those calm waters and take a long hard look at the way we live our lives. We need to examine the systems that we are engaged in to seek out injustice and to do our part to create peace through justice. Together, we are a power which is stronger than the raging storms or the treacherous waters. In the past we have used, or allowed our power to be used, to save ourselves along with those few we have deemed worthy of our rescue.

Slowly, some of us are learning that the ways in which we have exercised power from positions of privilege have only increased the ferocity of the winds of racism, poverty, disease, and violence. It is long past time for white privilege to remember the ONE so many of us profess to follow. Jesus may have rocked that boat when he spoke up, but he very quickly turned his attention to calming the seas. Together we, the Body of Christ must use our power to calm the seas. In the open letter to Canadians, the Chiefs of Ontario asked Canadians to: “Make a personal commitment to change the narrative by listening, challenging racism, educating yourself and sharing your power, space and platforms.”

The storms raging around us will not end until the winds of racism, poverty, disease, and violence are deprived of breath. So, what might being LOVE in the world look like for those of us who are privileged? Well, we may not need to put on sandals, but we will surely need to take off the trappings of wanna-be-saviours. To be LOVE in the world will mean taking off our capes of privilege, by listening to those who are drowning outside the boats we have crafted. We can begin by taking onboard the Chiefs wisdom:  listen, challenge racism, educate ourselves, and share our power, space and platforms. It’s time for us to wake up to the power of LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond us; the power which is the LOVE we call God.

Peace…be still….peace….be still…..peace….be still.

It all begins when we are awakened to the power which lies sleeping within us all. Together we can command the winds to cease, so that as the seas are stilled, peace can be restored.   It is long past time for us to wake up, speak-up, to risk rocking the boat, and begin the difficult work of stilling the storms raging around us, by listening to those who are drowning in the turbulent waters of white privilege, challenging racism whenever and wherever we find it, educating ourselves, and sharing our power, space and platforms.

It is time for us to be LOVE in the world. The seas will only be calmed when we work with and for one another to put an end to racism, an end to disease, an end to poverty, and an end to violence. Wake up, there is no miraculous saviour who is going to do this for us. We are the body of Christ. We are in God, and God is in us! God is not a caped crusader. God IS LOVE. In the LOVE which we call God, we live and move and have our being.” Wake up, speak up, rock the boat and be LOVE in the world. Be LOVE in the world so that peace may begin to break out on these turbulent of seas. Peace…be still….peace….be still…..peace….be still. Let it be so, dear ones. Let it be so here and now, be LOVE in the world.  Amen.

View the full service below.  DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

“I Pray God, Rid Me of God” – sermons for Trinity Sunday

Eckhart rid me of GodMeister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar.  I offer some previous Trinity sermons to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom…

click on the sermon title

If I Could Explain the Trinity to you, I would, but I cannot.

I’m not that good a preacher!

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity,

Our Congregations Shrink???

“Trinity: Image of the Community that is God” Desmond Tutu

The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity

Wolf Blitzer Learned that there are Indeed Atheists in Fox-holes

Poor Old Nicodemus – Doomed to Play the Fool – John 3:1-17

Like Nicodemus we have blinders on! Our focus upon preserving the church gets in the way of our rebirth!

Pentecost Sunday Sermons

Is the Church dead? or Can these Bones Live?

Not Yet Christians: Pentecost/Confirmation

Dream Dreams

God In Between

The Spirit in Our Midst

Pentecost: a Human Phenomenon

Beyond Tribalism – Preaching a 21st Century Pentecost

Celebrating Pentecost in the 21st Century

Pentecost Tongues Aflame with the Prayer attributed to Jesus

Global Engagement, Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect and a New Pentecost

The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening

Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus

The celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is a church festival that I have always chosen to ignore. The ancient tradition that has Jesus floating up into the clouds stretches the credibility of the church to such an extent that I’ve always assumed that the less said about the Ascension the better. But I was challenged by a parishioner to try to make some sense out of the Ascension story so that 21st century Christians would not have to check their brains at the door should they happen upon a congregation that still celebrated the day. What follows is a transcript of my attempt to leave behind the miraculous Jesus in order to be better able to welcome the human Jesus down from the clouds. I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong together with Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-city for their liberating insights.  

Traditionally, on the 40th day after Easter, the church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. But because so few people in the 21st century are willing to come to church during the week, the Ascension is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Ascension. Since I have been your pastor we have not celebrated Ascension Sunday. But as this particular Ascension Sunday follows so closely after Jack Spong’s visit with us, I thought that it was about time that rather than avoid the Ascension, I’d like to try to confront it.

Jack has been telling his anti-Ascension story for quite a few years now. Just in case you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, let me remind you. It seems that Jack was speaking with Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. Jack says that Carl Sagan once told him  “if Jesus literally ascended into the sky and traveled at the speed of light, then he hasn’t yet escaped our galaxy.”

With that said, let me just say, that the Ascension never actually happened. It is not an historical event. If a tourist with a video camera had been there in Bethany they would have recorded absolutely nothing. 

I know what the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” But like the members of the early church, I do not have a literal understanding of the scriptures. And so, as I do not understand the Bible literally, neither do I understand the Nicene Creed to be a literal interpretation of the faith. Like all creeds the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian creeds are snapshots of theology as it was at a particular time in history.

We would do well to remember that the Creeds were developed to answer questions about the faith in a time when people understood the cosmos to be comprised of a flat earth, where God resides above in the heavens and located beneath the earth were the pits of hell. I know that the universe is infinite.  I also know about gravity. I also know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus had helium flowing through his veins.  I’ve flown around the world, and I can tell you that there is no heaven above the clouds. So, I can say with confidence that:  The very present Jesus of resurrection faith did not literally elevate into heaven while his disciples looked on. Continue reading

Five Bags of Sugar – Mothers’ Day Sermon

When I was a child in Northern Ireland, my Mom would often as me a question which would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts which I suspect she learned   when she was a child from her Mother. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me, “How much do you love me?” and I would answer, as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you to bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I love my Mom, “Five bags of sugar!” Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who grew up measuring love in bags of sugar.

As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with rationing during World War II. Sugar’s ability to make all things sweet tied it to people’s perception of a happy life. A “big bag of sugar” was more sugar than most people would ever see. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how people could begin to measure love in bags of sugar. To this day my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders, to measure love in bags of sugar; even though we have all since learned that consuming large quantities of sugar makes us sick. I suspect the wartime custom of  expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosy…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague which saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posy, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few.

This week the world remembered VE Day; the end of war in Europe was commemorated from the confines of our physically isolated planet as we all seek refuge from the pandemic which has brought an end to many of our treasured cultural norms. The combination of Mothers’ Day, the 75 Anniversary of VE Day, a global pandemic was topped off with news of the arrival in North America of some beast called a “murder hornet.” These are strange times in which to live. According to the experts, many of us are experiencing culture shock. Think back to just two months ago. Way back then, we would not be confined to worshipping together over the medium of the internet. Less than two short months ago, we enjoyed the freedom of movement which all of us took for granted and many of us would have been gathered together in our sanctuary, singing, praying, exchanging the peace, sharing communion, and then feasting together over coffee, tea, and conversation. In less than two months, so very many things which we took for granted, are no longer possible and we do not know when or if they shall be returned to us.

Last week I listened as Bill Gates, the kazillionaire behind so much of the technology which characterized the past thirty years, insisted that many of us have had to learn new skills at a rate which has seen us absorb fifteen years’ worth of change in just six weeks. Gates called this phenomenon “cultural compression.” So, if you are struggling to come to terms with your new life, rest assured, you are not alone. Go easy on yourself. Humans were never designed to cope with the rate of change we are experiencing today.

Yes, we are privileged. We came into this crisis as the privileged few. We are certainly wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and grandparents. In addition to our wealth and privilege we also have all sorts of mechanisms in place to cushion the effects of whatever we may still have to endure. We know that there are others who are much worse off than we are, and yet, we can’t quite shake the angst which comes in the middle of the night. No amount of sugar or packets full of posy can obscure the shock waves which are impacting our way of being in the world.

So, reeling from the so many changes, I must confess that today’s Gospel text, makes me feel the way I used to feel when I would turn the tables on my Mom and ask her, “How much do you love me Mom?” As some of you know, my Mom lives on the West Coast, I miss her terribly and there I nothing more I’d rather hear than, “Five big bags of sugar!” There is something about your mother’s voice that has the power to sooth even our deepest upsets. Even if your Mom has long since gone on to “prepare a place for you,” I’m sure that you can still hear her soothing you in times of trouble.

Now, I know full well all the scholarly reasons for insisting that the words of the anonymous gospel-story-teller which we call John has put on the lips of Jesus, very probably come from the community of people who followed the ways of Jesus, rather than Jesus himself. I don’t care much whether or not Jesus actually said these words. However, I do care very much about the truth which these words convey about the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL. I know that love measured in “bags of sugar” and safeguards like  “packets of posy”  are expressions whose meanings have been lost over time. I also know that the words used to express the characteristics of the DIVINE MYSTERY have also lost their power over time. 

We have forgotten so very much about those things we once took for granted. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so! Little ones to him belong! Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.” We are all grown up and in the face of so much suffering, it may indeed be time for us to put away childish things. When our physical isolation is over and we are released to return to our lives, our lives will not be as they once were. Nothing stays the same under normal circumstances.  Life changes over time and the experts may just be correct when they tell us that the effects of cultural compression will have a colossal impact on the ways in which we return to life out there. But whether it’s bags of sugar, pockets of posy, or the sure and certain knowledge that “Jesus loves me!”, this I do know, LOVE remains constant. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me as well.” Our way of speaking about the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the source of ALL REALITY may have changed and will continue to change over time.  But the truth that the DIVINE MYSTERY IS LOVE, this LOVE never changes. God IS, was and evermore shall be LOVE. In Jesus of Nazareth, his followers like the anonymous gospel-storyteller who we call John, in Jesus people for generations have seen the embodiment of the LOVE which IS God. Jesus’ Way of being in the world is LOVE alive in the world.

Jesus insistence that, “I myself AM the Way—I AM Truth, and I AM Life.” is not some arbitrary barrier to be crossed or hoop one must jump through in order to know the DIVINE. But rather the followers of Jesus’ attempting to express the reality that for Jesus the Way of LOVE is the only Way of being. The Way of LOVE empowered Jesus to claim unity with LOVE. “I AM in LOVE and LOVE is in me!” “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is LOVE, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of LOVE.” Jesus loves me this I know; just as surely as I know that my Mom loves me. Just as surely that I know that there is nothing in heaven or on earth which can ever separate me from the LOVE that IS God.

It may indeed be scary out there. I suppose it has always been scary out there. But my Mom always pushed me out the door to meet the world, in the sure and certain knowledge that she loved me more than five big bags of sugar. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Trust in the DIVINE ONE who is LOVE. LOVE beyond the ability of mere words to describe. LOVE beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond you. LOVE is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Know that LOVE is in you and you are in LOVE and there is nothing which can separate you from the LOVE which is God. LOVE’s got this! Be LOVE and you will be well. Be LOVE and all manner of things shall be well.

YOU CAN VIEW THE WHOLE WORSHIP SERVICE BELOW

Download the Order of Service here

 

Resurrection: The Joy and Pain of Living! – Luke 24

Clearly, they were grieving. Out there on the road, trying to make their way home to Emmaus. Their beloved friend and leader dead. Taken from them in a hideous act of violence. All their hopes and dreams gone. Everything out of their control. Wandering in their grief, towards a home that is forever changed. The world they once knew taken from them. The confusion of the empty tomb. Rumours and conjecture leaving them bereft with so many questions. Clearly, they were grieving. The contours of their journey seem all too familiar to us now. Here we sit, me in my home and you in yours, longing for our shared home. Journeying through this crisis rumours and conjecture leave us bereft with so many questions. We too are grieving.

This has been a difficult week; a difficult week in the midst of difficult weeks. Last weekend’s violence in Nova Scotia, the rising death tolls, and our inability to gather together to comfort one another, is almost more than we can bear left alone to our own resources. Even naming our grief takes some sorting out. Sometimes, when my tears begin to flow, I have to stop and take a breath and ask myself, “Why am I weeping?”

The violence in Nova Scotia tears at our delicate pandemic coping mechanisms leaving many of us desperately trying to distract ourselves from too many griefs. The pointless loss of lives at the hands of a pathetic calculating villain. The endless corona death tolls. The death of a beloved child. The loss of the world as we once knew it. Griefs too numerous to count. Despite our best efforts, the grief won’t go away. Our grief is compounded by our inability to rush to one another’s side; to embrace, to weep and to begin the long hard journey toward healing and wholeness.

Yesterday, I heard someone in desperation, say, “We are all just virtually trying to hold one another.” During this enforced physical isolation, the meaning of virtual has been made clear to me. Virtual does not mean, online, or mediated over technology, like zoom, or the telephone. Virtual actually means, almost. You cannot almost hold someone, or almost be present, or almost LOVE. We can hold, be present and LOVE one another even if our holding, presence, and LOVE must be mediated over technology. Mediated holding, presence, and LOVE may not be our preferred method, but it is the method we are blessed with on this particular journey we are all on together and mediated or not our we are still holding, being present, and embodying LOVE for one another.

I know that it is tempting to hunker down, withdraw, or busy ourselves with distractions; anything to avoid what we are feeling right now. We all have enough on our plates right now. You take care of your isolation and I will take care of mine. It is no coincidence that in times of grief humans turn to food to seek not only physical nourishment but spiritual nourishment as well. In the midst of their grief Cleopas and his wife recognized the Risen CHRIST in the breaking of the bread. In our physical isolation, we may not be able to gather around a meal to nourish one another, but we can provide nourishment to one another. In the midst of grief, people have always gathered around a meal to share stories and song. Today, in the midst of our many griefs, we can actually hold one another in the same way people have been holding one another since the beginning of time. We can hold one another in story. You tell me your story and I can tell you mine. The sharing of stories continues to provide the nourishment we need for the journey we are now on.

Our current predicament reminds me of the Parable of the Spoons.Many of you will have heard the Parable of the Spoons before. But let me mediate the story for you over this particular visual media. Watch this portrayal of the Parable.

Our stories whether they are told, sung, played, painted, sculpted, dramatized, or simply spoken, our stories are the spoons with which we nourish one another. This is not about pitting one story against another story. This is about sharing stories so that we can not only share the pain of our grief, but also share our need to make meaning out of our loss. Grieving through story is the process of experiencing the joy and pain of living.

It is so very difficult to find ourselves physically isolated in our many griefs. So, we reach out using whatever spoons we can find to feed one another. We don’t have to do this “virtually”. We can actually do this. Pick up the phone, Zoom in, FaceTime, snail-mail, driveway visits; use whatever spoons you are blessed to find to feed people, nourish them in the sharing of your stories and the hearing of their stories. As for those moments when you no longer have the strength to feed another soul, let yourself be fed. Open yourself and your grief to the joy and pain of living. Receive the stories as the nourishment we all need on this peculiar road to Emmaus that we are all on.

Stories will not take away our grief. The stories, like the spoons provide us with the nourishment, the strength, we need to move toward healing and wholeness. Our individual and collective griefs will take many stories, many songs, much music, art and even dance to nourish, ground and sustain us in these challenging times. I am so very grateful to all those who “stay with us” for evening and the darkness is almost upon us – staying with, is what Risen LOVE looks like and feels like.

LOVE is Risen. The darkness cannot separate us from the ONE who IS LOVE. LOVE is Risen. LOVE is Risen in Us. Alleluia. Let us feed, nourish ground and sustain one another in story. What does this look like? In the midst of the horrendous suffering of this week, millions of us were actually held in story. Using words and music a grieving souls held us.

Natalie MacMaster used her voice and her fiddle, while her daughter, Mary Frances played the piano, to accompany a video of 17-year-old Emily Tuck, who along with her parents Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck were brutally killed this past week. Emily Tuck created her video to help bring people together on Facebook. Sadly, Emily had no idea how many of us would be brought together by her music as she fiddled the old story entitled, “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod”.  Watch, listen, and be held in the tender embrace of these gifted storytellers.

There is nothing virtual, nothing almost about that embrace. Natalie, Mary Frances, and Emily held us in LOVE. I know that this story, this embrace will not take our grief away. Stories can only hold us in LOVE as we journey toward healing and wholeness. Remembering that as we journey toward healing and wholeness, we are transformed. Things will never be the same again. There are so many more stories to be told and stories for us to receive. We cannot go back. Becoming whole we will still carry with us our grief and those for whom we grieve, but we do so in the midst of LOVE; LOVE which empower us to embrace all the joy and pain of living. Reaching out, giving and receiving the stories of our lives, we can ACTUALLY recognize Risen LOVE in the virtual breaking of the bread. LOVE is Risen.  LOVE is Risen in us. Alleluia!

( I am indebted to Sherry Coman for her insights about media for alerting me to the actual meaning of the word virtual, and to the work of David Kessler in his new book “Finding Meaning”)

You can view the entire worship video below – download the order of service here

 

Longing for Resurrection! – Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:26-31

“A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.”
Four, Five? How many weeks is it and we have been in our houses?
Their doors were locked for fear of the authorities.
We too are locked down for fear of, well you all know what we are afraid of…
Even in our respective lockdowns we cannot shutdown our fears.
And now Thomas is with us.
Or maybe Thomas has always been with us?
Doubt and fear seem to be old friends.
Hand in hand, doubt and fear, are locked in here with us and there is no amount of sanitizer which will save us from the ability of these particular viruses to haunt the darkness of our isolation.

Outside the sunshine appears so tantalizing, luring us to move beyond the limits of physical distancing, while inside we long for resurrection. Yearning to burst forth from the darkness of these tombs of isolation, we long for resurrection.
Grasping on to any hint that the restrictions will be lifted, we can’t help but hope for a return to our lives as they once were, before, you know, when things were normal. Suddenly, without warning, our stories resonate a little too much with their stories. Like the disciples of old, the ones who followed Jesus, we now huddle in the confines of our darkness. All they had were a few brief stories.
We too have their brief stories, together with our emerging stories. The one about the empty tomb and the one about a vaccine.  Folded grave-cloths. Discarded face masks. Weeping women and fleeing men. Worn out nurses and discouraged doctors. Horrible wounds: the mark of the nails; bruised faces and scarred psyches. Rumors, Confusion, Fear, and Doubt. Is Thomas with us, or are we with Thomas?

Thomas is the one forever known as doubting. So, is believing, trusting what we have not seen, is faith the answer? There are plenty who will tell us that faith is all we need, that this too shall pass, that everything is going to be all right. But like Thomas, I’m not so sure. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in Jesus’ side, I will not believe.”

Longing for resurrection, I want to believe. But we have scarcely even begun to see the marks the virus is making or touch the depths of the wounds inflicted on millions.

Many of us, are tucked up safe and warm, in our isolation.
We are well fed, well entertained, and conveniently distracted,
happily confused about the nature of the very resurrection we now long for.
Dreaming of hugs and handshakes, gatherings and workplaces; trusting that all we need to do is to go back to the way things were.

In the same way that some believe that faith in the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse is all there is to resurrection, there are so many who believe that faith in the status quo is all we need to resurrect our world. Those fear-filled followers of Jesus huddled together immersed in the trauma that crucifixion wrought, they knew that nothing, nothing was ever going to be the same again. Jesus could no more rise up from the dead, free from the wounds of his death, than we can. Their dreams of a messiah who would make everything better died upon the cross.  They could not return to life as they once knew it. Jesus’ life and death changed everything they had ever known or hoped for. They were forever changed by the visible wounds and the not so visible deeper wounds.

Today, the marks of the nails are seen in different ways. New media beam images of death and our fear of death into the isolation of our minds. The crosses of execution have been replaced with images of body bags, temporary morgues, and forlorn care-facilities. Nail marks look more like facial bruising.  Not all wounds can be seen on the surface, some are held deep within the confines of isolation as we worry about our finances, job security, and where we might take a walk. While anxiety and depression consume others, and far too many feel the sting of abuse, poverty and homelessness, others struggle to find food.

While the knowledge that some of these wounds will heal helps us to move from one day to the next, we know that many wounds will never heal.
The pain of those who have lost loved ones must wait to be soothed by the practices we have grown accustomed too. Mourning and grieving must begin in unfamiliar isolation. The balm of shared tears and laughter, the strength gained from long embraces, and the familiar grieving rituals, have been taken from us, leaving far too many gaping wounds on so many mourners.

No belief in the resuscitation of a corpse can heal the inequities of our world which have been revealed by this virus. The poverty of millions has been exposed along with the lack of medical care. The ease with which the privileged are entertained during what has become a nightmare for others rubs salt into the wounds. The frustration of the powerless endangers the safety of everyone.
If the Risen Christ cannot bear these wounds, then the tomb is nothing but empty. Rumors of an empty tomb was not enough to calm the fears of Jesus’ first followers.

In the midst of their fear and grief, in the turmoil of their attempts to figure out what to do next, in the anxiety of their panic about the dangers which surrounded them stood the Risen Christ bearing the wounds of the world. In the absence of Jesus, in whom all their hopes were founded, the Risen Christ appears. This Christ, this Risen One is so much more than a resuscitated corpse – this Risen ONE is the presence of the LOVE that cannot be contained by death.

This Risen ONE is LOVE.
LOVE there in the midst of a rag-tag, fear-filled gathering of hapless individuals confused by the magnitude of their trauma.
This Risen ONE stands wounded, and bids them, “Shalom. Peace be with you.” and drawing attention to the wounds of the world, sends them back into the world to make it whole.
No mere, revived corpse has the power of the ONE who is LOVE.
Surely, if this virus has taught us anything, it is that we are all ONE.
When one of us is suffering we are all suffering.
Our world is suffering, we are all suffering.
But there is nothing, in heaven or on earth, no virus, not even death which can separate us from the LOVE that IS God.

LOVE rises again, and again, and again.
And when LOVE rises, LOVE heals.
LOVE makes us whole.
For in the LOVE that is God we are all ONE.
LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen in us!
And it is that LOVE which will heal our wounds.

But like the wounded in all times and in all places, we will be forever marked.
We cannot go back to life as it once was.
For our wounds to heal, we must allow them to change us.
There is much we can learn while we heal.
So much is being revealed. So much is being exposed.
Not the least of which is the reality that we don’t have to go back to the way things were. LOVE can work in, with, through and beyond us to make all things new. Therein lies the hope of the world.

We can linger in our houses, with the doors shut, confident that LOVE cannot be contained by death. We can breathe deeply of the SPIRIT, trusting that LOVE rises in us, with us, through us, and beyond us. There will be much that needs to be transformed in the weeks and months that lie ahead. But for now, take comfort in the RISEN ONE, who IS the LOVE we call God, who even know stands among us bidding us, “SHALOM, Peace be with you.”

May the peace which comes from the LOVE who is God, continue to work healing
in, with, through and beyond us.
Resurrection is here and now.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

Soon, Risen LOVE will send us back into the world to make all things new.
For we are the hands and feet of the ONE who IS LOVE.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

View the full service below – Download the order of service here

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

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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

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

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Easter Worship: LOVE Is Risen! LOVE Is Risen in Us! Alleluia!

“Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?” That’s where we left our story on Good Friday. On this surreal, Easter Sunday, this compelling image has made the stories handed down to us by our ancestors all too real. Look closely.

“Where you there when they laid him in the tomb? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?”

This year we’ve all been there. Thank all that is HOLY for the front-line health-workers toiling away in the tombs so many hospitals have become! The stories emerging from those tombs have made their marks on all of us. Unlike the women who rushed to the tomb to anoint Jesus for his burial, I’m in not in any rust to revisit the reality death which haunts our media. The bad news is travelling faster than the good news and my trembling heart cannot sustain the darkness of this damned tomb into which our suffering world has been thrust. Yes, we know how the stories our ancestors so faithfully handed down to us end with resurrection. But, like the befuddled disciples, the sight of the linen wrappings on the ground, offer us about as much comfort as images of discarded medical masks. Don’t ask us, “Why we are weeping?” We are weeping because so many lives have been taken away and we do not know when our own lives can begin again. “For whom are we looking?” For a saviour that’s who. Someone, something, anything which will release us from the tombs of isolation in which we are all huddled for fear of what’s out there. 

We have heard the words spoken over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” But even the empty tomb, which has provided such hope for generations, seems darker, too dark to provide the promise of resurrection. Like the followers of Jesus who ran away from the empty tomb, I too want to flee. Alas, there is no place to go. How do we celebrate resurrection on an Easter such as this?

“Suddenly Jesus stood before them and said, ‘Shalom!’ The women came up, embraced Jesus’ feet and worshiped. At this, Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Go tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see me.” And so, I close my eyes searching my mind for Galilee where I shall see the risen ONE. Where is the risen ONE to be found?

Well, just as surely as Galilee remained in the darkness of the persecution of Empire, our world remains in the darkness of the perils of pandemic. And yet, it is into the darkness that the early followers of the Way found the courage to go to Galilee, so that they might meet the Risen ONE.

We cannot linger in the empty tombs of our personal isolation. We too must seek the Risen ONE if we are to find the courageous compassion we need to rise again, and again, and again. Every year we shout CHRIST is risen! Every year, every day we met the RISEN ONE. For just as surely as Jesus embodied the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, that LOVE rises in every act of human kindness, in every act of tender compassion, in every act of mercy, in every selfless act of courage. LOVE rises over and over and over again. LOVE, the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call GOD, rises in, with, through, and beyond us, now and forever! LOVE IS Risen! LOVE IS Risen in us! Alleluia!

Suddenly, Jesus, the Risen ONE, Suddenly, LOVE stands before us all and says, “Shalom!, Salam alakum, Peace.  Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid to celebrate. The Earth is still spinning. The birds are singing again. The flowers are blooming and trees are budding. Soon the grass will be green again. Babies continue to be born. Children continue to laugh and play. We can sing and dance. Lovers continue to embrace.  We are richly blessed. LOVE rises even in the darkness.

On Holy Saturday, when the darkness is darker than dark, I was sent a foretaste of the feast to come. From the darkness of a hospital entombed by the fear of pandemic perils, just down the road from here in Markam Stouffville, some courageous compassionate healthcare workers dance a dance that is surely a dance of resurrection! What them dance their dance celebrating the recovery of one of their COVID patients who is successfully take off a ventilator. Watch closely.

Can you see LOVE Is Risen! LOVE Is risen indeed! LOVE rises, again and again and again. Peace dear ones. CHRIST rises in, with, through and beyond us! Thank all that is HOLY, especially all the frontline workers, nurses, doctors, orderlies, first-responders, retail workers, delivery workers, and yes you, you physical distancers; thank all that is HOLY for being LOVE in the world. 

Shalom! Do not be afraid! Go tell everyone to go beyond our fear, for there we will meet the Risen ONE, who is the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE we call God. May that LOVE rise in you over and over and over again! Shalom.

Download the Order of Service here

Good Friday: Compassion in Sorrow

I must confess that I have never found the image of the cross to be a compelling symbol. Not even an empty cross can disguise the ugliness of this implement of torture and execution. So, Good Friday’s use of the cross to summon up images of Jesus’ passion leave me cold. There’s more than enough horror and sorrow in the stories handed down to us without resorting to the instrument of Jesus’ execution. When I think back upon the executions of compassionate heroes like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, I cannot imagine using the pistols with which they were shot to illustrate their compassion. The forces of Empire used crucifixion to terrorize people. Historians tell us that there would have been hundreds of corpses rotting on trees outside many of the conquered cities of the Empire. That the instrument used to inflict terror should have become the symbol of Jesus who embodied a Way of resisting persecution which refused to take up the sword is a bit like using a suicide vest as the symbol for United Nations Peacekeepers.

The symbol of the cross on Good Friday always reminds me of how I felt the very first time I visited Rome. I remember thinking how odd it was that a non-violent, revolutionary, peasant from Galilee should have inspired the creation of the fortress-like Vatican complex. I was doing the obligatory tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and I was beginning to believe that Rome held no treasures that I wanted to see, when out of the corner of my eye, tucked away to side of the main entrance, I caught a glimpse of a marble statue. At the time, I knew little or nothing about art and if the truth be told, I was growing weary of the endless cathedrals and museums, so it’s no wonder I missed the marble on my way into the Basilica.  There was something about the image that drew me in. I overheard one of the guides tell her group that the sculpture was created by Michelangelo when he was just 24 years old. At the time, I was barely 20 and I could not imagine the skill of the artist who was able to capture an image of everything I had ever imagined about the tragedy of Jesus’ death. 

The Pieta, somehow the English translation, The Pity, just doesn’t capture the passion which is depicted in Mary’s cradling of her tortured son. We’ve devalued the word pity. The word pity means, the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. The Pieta, The Pity, The Compassion, The Commiseration, The Condolence, The Sympathy these are all different ways of saying, the tender act or of sharing the pain of another. Compared to the coldness of the cross, The Pieta’s delicate portrayal of the death of Jesus inspires such compassion in me. The kind of compassion that I can well imagine oozed from Mary’s being as she tenderly held her son.

It is not easy to gaze upon The Pieta, there is nothing easy in that marble likeness of suffering. If you let it, The Pieta will reduce you to tears. Mary’s compassion was not easily given. It took courage to stand at the foot of the cross. It took courage to linger. It took courage to tend to the needs of her fallen child. The kind of compassion that our world needs now. It is not easy to see what is happening in the world. If we let it, it will reduce us to tears. Maybe we do need a cross to symbolize suffering. Maybe the true horror of Jesus something needs to be looked at for what it is, so that we can begin to summon up the courage we need to be LOVE in the world. 

On this Good Friday it is the compassion of a loving mother that gives me hope. When so many people are suffering and dying, it is the tender embrace of one human being of another that gives me hope. All over the world The Pieta is embodied in the compassion of health-care workers, who day after day, don inadequate protective gear to tend the sick and the dying. The passion of Jesus lives and moves and has being in everyone who summons up the compassion that lives in them to tend to the needs of others. On this particularly, dark Good Friday, when we long for the release which resurrection brings may we find hope in the compassion that lives and breathes in with through and beyond every, nurse, doctor, orderly, chaplain, cleaner, cook, first-responder, scientist, and physical-distancer. 

I can well imagine the tears Mary shed over Jesus; before and after his death. I can also imagine the tears that are being shed all over the world on this Good Friday. May the ONE who IS LOVE, continue to live, and breathe, in us, through us, and beyond us, so that together we can nurse our world back to health. Every Good Friday, I make a point of reminding people that Christ dies over and over and over again, each and every day.

Let us not forget that CHRIST rises over and over and over again, each and every day. In every act of compassion, LOVE is born again, and again, and again. May we always remember to look for those Pieta moments, for in those acts of compassion we can be assured that the darkness shall never overcome us. This too shall pass, and when it does, let it be said of us, that in us the passion of CHRIST lives and moves and has being. Now and always. But for now, let us keep watch and wait. Let us reach beyond our fear. Let us be the passion of CHIRST. Amen.

You can download the Order of Service HERE

Maundy Thursday: Worship Together Apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Order of Service HERE

 

Easter Sermons: LOVE IS – Risen!

click on the links

Saudade: through the absence we feel the presence. here

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

LOVE Is Risen! here

LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen Indeed! here

Is God Coming Back to Life here

Easter: Yes, Yes, Yes, Laugh – here 

Easter: The Greatest Story Ever Told – here

I Plead Guilty to Denying the Resurrection – But I aint’ leaving – here

Preparing to Preach on Resurrection: Giving up the notion of a physical resuscitation. here

Approaching Resurrection: What Did Paul Actually Say – here

A Resurrection Story In Memory of Nellie, My Gran – here

Words Will Always Fail Us – here

 

Maundy Thursday Sermons

MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMONS

Two Suppers – Maundy Thursday – A Strange Night

Scuffed Up Reddish Pumps

MAUNDY THURSDAY – When you don’t believe that Jesus was a sacrifice for sin!

We must peer beyond Passover lambs and scapegoats if we are to understand the LOVE that we call God

Palm Sunday Sermons

I had all but decided not to post my regular sermon resources for Holy Week.  It seemed somehow inappropriate, in these surreal days, to look to previous sermons for inspiration.   However, after various followers of this blog got in touch to inquire as to when they might expect to find posts for Holy Week, I have relented.  Blessings upon your Holy Week preparations.  

Jesus and the Black Hole of Our MissRemembering

Marching to our Jerusalems – Palm Sunday and Our Passions

Trading Our Palm Branches for Tomahawk Missiles or White Helmets?

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

Jesus: Human or Divine?

Marching in the Wrong Parades

On Palm Sunday, An Inconvenient Messiah Parades Into our Midst

Jesus Sets Us Free to Save Ourselves

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

Jesus Wept. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears!

Download the worship bulletin here

Join our realtime Premier on our facebook page – 10:45am Sun. Mar 29 – here

“Can these bones live?” It’s a bit of a stretch to compare physical distancing and self-isolation to the valley of dry bones. If you are watching this, chances are you are safe and warm. The ability to shelter in place, or to self-isolate is a blessing afforded to the privileged. Mindful of our many blessings, we still cannot ignore how we are feeling right now. Our bones may not be dry, our hope may not be gone, and we are not doomed. But many of us are longing to return to our lives. In many ways if feels like we are in a  Valley of Dry Bones, and I long to return to the life l knew. 

For many of us it has been about two weeks since we began to seriously distance ourselves from one another. Stay at home orders have physically separated us from our families, friends, neighbours, work, our congregations and in many ways our lives. I don’t know about you, but his enforced separation has brought with it all sorts of emotions. In the scrambling to discover new ways of staying connected, I neglected to allow myself the opportunity to do the very thing that as a pastor, I often counsel others to do. I wasn’t paying attention to how and what I was feeling. I confess that there was a big part of me that was afraid to feel; afraid that given half the chance, my feelings would cause me to curl up in a ball, assume the fetal position and weep.

Weep for all that we have lost.

Weep for those who are suffering.

Weep for those who are dying.

Weep for the dead.

Weep for the healthcare workers.

Weep for the children.

Weep for the people of my congregation.

Weep for my loved ones.

Weep for myself.

I was doing a pretty good job of keeping busy, tending to what needs doing and then I sat down to write this reflection. The words, “Jesus wept.” unbound me and my tears began to flow. As I wept, I tried to figure out, why? I know that this, whatever this is, this too shall pass, and I know that all shall be well. So, what do I have to cry about?

It wasn’t until the tears subsided that I began to recognize that what I am feeling is grief. In all sorts of online conversations this week, people have mentioned “that uneasy feeling that I can’t quite figure out.” People have described having a “foggy brain” or the inability to focus or to concentrate.” I particularly resonate with those who have mentioned a “low-grade, stress headache.” I now suspect that these are the tell-tale symptoms of grief.

Grief comes in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Our world has changed so rapidly, and we all know that there will be many more changes before this is over. We may not know what is coming, but we know it’s coming. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to fall. We know that this too shall pass. But we also realize that things have changed, and many things will never be the same again. The loss of the everyday stuff that we all took for granted, our economic fears, the loss of connection, all these things are hitting us all at once and we are grieving. As we imagine what our future holds, we experience what is known as anticipatory grief. There is more to come and even our primitive minds know that something bad is happening, something we may not be able to see. Our sense of security is under threat.

Waves of grief can overwhelm us. Grief can cause us to deny our reality: the virus won’t affect us, it’s just like the flue, don’t worry. Grief can make us angry: how long do we have to stay home? Grief can make us strike bargain: If I stay home, follow the rules, me and mine, we’ll be ok. Grief can make us sad. Grief can also help us to accept what is happening, feel our feelings and help us to hope. It has been said, by the grief experts that:  acceptance is where the power lies. But the thing about grief is that it comes in all sorts of waves, following no specific rhyme or reason. One minute we are able to accept what is happening and the next moment we are in denial, or sad, or striking bargains.

Underlying all our grief is fear. Fear constricts us, binds us up in ways that make life impossible. Bound by fear, feels to me like being trapped in a tomb. Jesus says, “Lazarus come out!”

Lazarus is the Greek for the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means: “the one who God helps. In this parable of the raising of Lazarus, Lazarus is us, for each one of us is “the one who God helps.” By God I don’t mean a personified, super-hero, out there, or up there. By God I mean the ONE in whom we live, and move and have our being; the ONE who lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us. By God I mean the one who is in here, and the ONE who IS beyond here; BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

One name for this God of whom I speak is CHRIST. When I read or hear the words “Jesus wept”, I know that CHRIST wept, just as surely as I weep, for our tears are CHRIST’s tears. In the words of St. Paul, we do not grieve as ones without hope.

I keep hearing “Stay home! Stay safe!” Yes, this is good advice. But please be kind to yourselves. Be gentle with yourself. Take time to grieve. Feel what you feel.  Weep when weeping comes.

We grieve as ONE, for there is nothing in heaven or on earth, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God, no virus, no isolation, nothing in life or in death, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. This too shall pass. All shall be well. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears.

Soon, we shall hear Jesus’ call, “Lazarus come out!” and we shall emerge unbound free to live and be LOVE in the world. For now, our hands are CHRIST’s hands. So let, us be CHRIST in our care for one another. Resurrection, just as surely as springtime, resurrection is coming. Let it be so. Let it come soon.

In Need of Prayer? How Do We Pray In This Crisis?

You can download the worship bulletin here

Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells a story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journalist looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist, she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”

The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home, and I have a cup of tea, and I come back and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from all the earth.”

The journalist is intrigued and asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”

For many of us, social distancing, has created a wall between us and separated us from our lives. Bumping up against this wall over and over again, our noses can almost smell the fear filled mortar which oozes from the newly laid brickwork.

This week people have asked me to pray for them. But many more people have asked me, “to whom shall we pray? Most of us learned to pray to a faraway-sky-god and we were taught that faith meant believing that the faraway-sky-god was waiting around to answer our prayers.

As the news gets bleaker and bleaker and the danger draws closer and closer, our loved ones, our livelihoods, and our lives are threatened. So, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing for a personified-parent-god to be the super-hero who come to our rescue? And so, we pray and sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall.

Earlier this week, a well-intentioned priest sent some of my colleagues and I an urgent message urging us to combat COVID-19 by praying without ceasing and then he quoted the words of Jesus:  “That is why I tell you, keep asking and you will receive; keep looking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted.”

If asking and knocking could save even one person from this virus, I would not get off my knees. And, I suspect that I would have a great deal of company down there on my knees. The problem with telling people to pray, or promising people that you will pray for them is that so many of us learned to pray to an image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that fails to capture the magnitude of the CREATOR of all that IS. We were trained to look up to the heavens as we beseeched a god who we cast in the role of a cosmic superhero, ready, willing, and able to intervene on our behalf. Our prayers were crafted with a transactional mindset which perceived life from a dualistic perspective: either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, answered or unanswered prayer. You either believe in God or you don’t.

Slowly, as we have learned more and more about the nature of reality, our longing to connect with the Source of All reality has caused us to expand our images of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As the CREATOR OF UNIVERSES shakes off our way too small superhero costume, we are left standing among the snakes and scorpions, and yes, the virus, wondering: to whom shall we go?  how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray? I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE, to whom, or how do you pray in a crisis such as this?

We were trained in the art of transactional prayer, I believe, so do this, help me, save me, help them, save them.  But what if prayer is not transactional but transformative? If prayer is transformative and not transactional, then we don’t need the super-hero god to reward our prayers by giving us whatever we ask for. If you, with all your short comings, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the MYSTERY, who is the DIVINE, give. How much more, well how about the transformative power of the HOLY SPIRIT?

Jesus does not promise a successful transaction as our reward for persistent prayer, but rather the HOLY SPIRIT herself. The transforming power of the SPIRIT is ours. For the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, breathes, the very breath of the DIVINE, the SPIRIT, the RUACH breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us.

What if the transformative power of prayer opens us to the presence of the ONE in whom we have our BEING? What if prayer is a way for us to open ourselves to the persisting presence of the DIVINE which permeates the universe; a way to be open to a universe that is saturated with the sacred? What if prayer is a doorway to consciousness; a practice to strengthen our intention to work toward the answers to our prayers? What if prayer doesn’t change a thing? What if the power of prayer is its potential to change us? What if prayer opens us, breaks down our walls, opens doorways, points us toward the connections we so long for? What if prayer helps us to see clearly, to pay attention, to connect, to care about our neighbours, to welcome the stranger, to seek justice, to be merciful, and to love extravagantly?  What if prayer is the way to recognize the ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us?

What if our intentional, traditional, formal prayers are not the main event but rather a spiritual practice, an educational tool designed to prepare us by reminding us who we are and what is important about each moment. So that we can live more deeply and compassionately connected to the DIVINE, to Creation and to one another? In other words what if what we have always thought of as prayer is just the beginning, an opening up, into being the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God? What if prayer is transformative? Our lives have changed so very much in the past week. We can only imagine what is going to happen next week or next month. We can respond to these changes with fear and try to find a super-hero to save us. Or we can let our prayers open us to transformation.

Let us pray without ceasing. That is to say, let our prayer be our striving to live these moments in loving relationship to the HOLY ONE, in loving relationship to our neighbours, all our sisters and brothers, and in loving relationship to ourselves. Transformative prayer is our living, loving, and being in which, we relate to one another giving and receiving the LOVE that is the MYSTERY that we call God.

Jesus we are told was fond of telling one story to shed light on another story. So, in the SPIRIT of Jesus, let me tell you a story that sheds light on our Gospel story.

Once upon a time there was a wise old woman who lived in a small village. The children of the village were puzzled by the woman’s great wisdom, her gentleness, and her strength. One day a few of the children decided to test the old woman. They just couldn’t believe that anyone could be as wise as everyone claimed this old woman was. They were determined to prove that the old woman wasn’t very wise at all.

One day the children found a baby bird and one of the boys cupped the bird in his hands and said to the other children, “All we need to do is ask the old woman whether the bird I have in my hands is dead or alive. If she says the bird is dead.  I will open my hands and let the bird fly away. If she says the bird is alive, I’ll crush it in my hands, and she’ll see that the bird is dead. So, the children, went to the old woman and presented her with this challenge. “Old woman,” the boy demanded, “Is this bird in my hands dead or alive?”

The woman became very still, studied the boy’s hands, then she looked carefully into his eyes. “It is in your hands whether the bird will live or will die.” The wise old woman smiled, and repeated the wisdom from within, “It is in your hands.”

Each one of us holds within our hands the transformative power of the SPIRIT. It’s in our hands! So, as you wash or sanitize those powerful hands of yours, pray without ceasing. As you practice physical distancing, pray without ceasing. For with every act of compassion, you are praying. Pray without ceasing so that we might be opened up to a way of being in these challenging days, a way of being that opens us up to the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God! Today, and in the coming weeks and months may all our fears be transformed into compassion so that we may be LOVE in these ever-changing moments. Let it be so. Amen.

[1]Clay Nelson, Auckland Unitarian Church July 23, 2017

[2]My questions are adapted from and  inspired by John Shelby Spong’s exploration of prayer in A New Christianity For a New World (chapter 11)

[3]Versions of this story appear in “NON_THEISTIC LITURGY RESOURCES”St. Stephen’s College – follow the link for the full PDF – an excellent resource for progressive liturgists.