This sermon is set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the congregation who respond with song and observations. Some technical difficulties – so the video does not begin until Part III – a rough transcript is provided of the missing video sections. I am indebted to the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, especially his new book “Unbelievable”
Part 1 We worship as we live
in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,
a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.
May the Spirit of LOVE
breathe wisdom and passion
into this gathering.
On this the fifth Sunday in Lent, let us continue to repent: repent from the Greek metanoia – think new thoughts. Let us think new thoughts about prayer. Let our repentance begin with a story from the anonymous gospel-story-teller we know as Luke:
“One day Jesus was praying, and when he had finished, one of the disciples asked, “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba God, hallowed be your Name! May your reign come. Give us today tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the test.’”
Not much of a prayer. No flowery words. Not much passion. Very plain. Very simple. There’s a part of me that wants to say to Jesus, “Is that all there is?” “Is that the best you can come up with?” What kind of teacher are you? What kind of prayer is this? Come on Jesus put a little ump in your work! Show us some razzle-dazzle!
Of all the questions I am asked as a pastor, questions about prayer are the most common. People what to know how it is done. As unsatisfactory as I have always found Jesus’ teaching about prayer, I’m pretty sure that the answers I have offered have been even more unsatisfactory. I remember once, a wise teacher asked a room full of eager prospective pastors to try to imagine this story about Jesus in a new way. Imagine Jesus, John the Baptist’s younger and cousin, always competing with his older cousin for followers. John was pretty good as fire and brimstone preachers go. People would flock out to the desert to hear John call people to “Repent!” to think new thoughts! Imagine how miffed you would be if some potential parishioners showed up on a Sunday morning touting the preaching of your colleague down the street. Pastor so and so, she sure can preach up a storm and her prayers, wow, if only you could teach us to pray like she prays. Come on, Pastor, teach us to pray.
Our wise professor asked us to consider the possibility that Jesus reluctantly taught his disciples how to pray. Like any good teacher, Jesus would have known that if you teach your students something you run the risk of them believing that they always have to do that something just the way you taught them. There is always the risk that people will mistake an example for a template. Our wise teacher cautioned us not to read just the words that were on the page but to imagine the story behind and between the words on the page. “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” “All right!” Jesus said, “All right if you insist.” Try this, Abba God, hallowed be your name! May your reign come. Give us today Tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the Test.”
It was just an example. Sadly, the example became a template. Then one follower, told another follower, who told another, who wrote it down. Trouble was it wasn’t much, so the church types, they added some fancy words to the end, “for thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.” and suddenly, it is a template for all time. Repent! Metanoia – think new thoughts! Teach us to pray!
Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts.” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. Let our repentance, our new thoughts flow from a story told decades after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; a story written down sometime around the turn of the first century by an anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John. This John is quite the storyteller and paints quite the picture of Jesus as the kind of teacher who can draw a crowd and annoy the authorities. This John, wrote it this way:
“Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Many of his disciples remarked, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk! How can anyone take it seriously?” Jesus was fully aware that the disciples were murmuring in protest at what he had said. “Is this a stumbling block for you?” Jesus asked them. “What, the, if you were to see the Chosen One ascend to where the Chosen One came from? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh in itself is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet among you there are some who don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the start, of course, those who would refuse to believe and the one who would betray him. Jesus went on to say: “this is why I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by Abba God.”
From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and wouldn’t remain in the company of Jesus. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Are you going to leave me, too?” Simon Peter answered, “Rabbi, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
“To whom shall we go?” During this season of Lent we have been engaged in the practice of “Giving up God for Lent.” We have tried to give up all the images of God that we once treasured so much that we can to worship those images as idols. We have embraced the truth about the ways in which our evolving knowledge of the cosmos together with our evolving understanding of what it means to be human…all this evolving knowledge and understanding have shown the idols that we had become so comfortable worshipping as but pale imitations of the ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very core of reality.
We have tried to unpack some of the ways in which the god we created is too small, too limited, and far too capricious to ever fully encompass the MYSTERY that we call God. We have tried attempted to peer beyond our personifications of the Divine so that we can begin to give up our desire to mold and shape the MYSTERY into our own image. To those of us who have peered beyond the beyond, for hints of the MYSTERY there comes more than a little grief. Like the disciples in the gospel-story-teller’s story, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk!” Bereft of the personified, far away, sky-god we’d come to know, to love, and to worship, is it any wonder that we now cry out, “To whom shall we go?”
The reality that once you give up the notion that God is some far-away sky-god, willing to respond to our prayers, to do our bidding, or not to do our bidding as this sky-god wills, then, “to whom shall we go?” You can talk and teach all you want about progressive Christianity, but, “to who shall we go?” “Now, how are we supposed to pray?” “Now, to whom shall we pray?” “What is prayer anyway?” “To whom shall we go?” “Now, teach us to pray!” Repent. Metanoia. Think new thoughts!
Repent:Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. Giving Up God for Lent, we began our Lenten repentance way back on the First Sunday of Lent, by turning our attention to the first religious response. The response of awe and wonder at the nature of reality. That awe humbles us, opens us to the truth that we are part of something so much bigger than we can even begin to imagine. So, to bring us back to the first religious response, I offer you all of these lovelies. I can’t tell you the names of all these lovelies, so let me just begin by drawing your attention to the astonishing array of yellow. There is an old Hebrew expression: deanu which translates as “enough”. It would have been enough just to have a daffodil. Daffodils in and of themselves are quite simply, awesome!
Sacred Conversation on the beauty of Nature
Now, we could offer up…and I do mean up…we could resort to the old ways…and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for the awesome beauty before us…or we could take a deep breath and repent…metanoia…think new thoughts and realize that this conversation in and of itself is prayer. It is in this conversation that the meaning of God was shared between us; it was in this conversation that the boundaries we humans erect to keep ourselves safe from the threat of another were transgressed and we shared our common humanity. It is in the sacred conversations where we are able to cross the boundaries and be vulnerable to one another that prayer emerges in our midst.
I chose these lovelies as an example, because nature provides us with a non-threatening example of our common humanity; for who among us is not awestruck by such loveliness. But I could have chosen any aspect of our common humanity – a pain we all share, a fear that haunts us, a joy that inspires us, a passion that delights us, or a longing that drives us. It is in the sacred conversation in which we share our experiences of our common humanity that prayer emerges; the conversation is holy, for in our common humanity our shared divinity is revealed.
Our friend Jack Spong insists that, “To be able to live the meaning of prayer, rather than just to “pray”’ ought to be our goal. Jack writes that, “Prayer is the sharing of being, the sharing of life and the sharing of love.” For, prayer is, “far more about “being” than it is about “doing.” Repent….metanoia…think new thoughts.
Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. In the decades that followed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, somewhere around the year 52, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the community of people known as followers of the Way that gathered in Thessaloniki. Our gospel today is found in the first letter of Thessalonians, St. Paul writes: “ We ask you, sisters and brothers, to respect hose who labour among you, who have charge over you in Christ as your teachers. Esteem them highly, with a special love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, and be patient with everyone. Make sure that no one repays one evil with another. Always, seek what is good for each other—and for all people. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for everything—for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Spirit; do not despise the prophetic gift.
But test everything and accept only what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil. May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May you be preserved whole and complete—spirit, soul, and body—irreproachable at the coming of our Saviour Jesus the Christ. The One who calls us is trustworthy: God will make sure it comes to pass. Sisters and brothers, pray for us.
Greet all the sisters and brothers with a holy kiss. My orders, in the name of Christ, are that this letter is to be read to all the sisters and brothers. The grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ be with you.” The Gospel of Christ…
Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul. Now, let us hear the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong. Our friend Jack writes: “Before prayer can be made real, our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. Before prayer can have meaning, it must be built on an honest sharing of life. Before prayer can be discussed in the age in which we live, it must be drained of its presumed manipulative magic. It must find expression in the reality of who we are, not in the details of what we do… Prayer is not and cannot be a petition from the weak to the all-powerful One to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Prayer does not bend God’s will to a new conclusion. Prayer does not bring a cure where there is no possibility of a cure. Prayer does not create miracles to which we can testify publicly.”
I hear you Jack, but I cannot help but respond, “To whom shall we go?” I miss the far-away-sky-god! I want my comforter. Like every other human who has come before me, I long to reach out and connect in some way with the MYSTERY, that something that is so much bigger than I can begin to imagine, that something bigger that we are part of. How do I experience that? How do I share in the MYSTERY?
Our friend Jack writes: “Is prayer, as we have traditionally defined it, a holy activity, or is prayer the preparation for a time of engaging in a holy activity? “Increasingly,” writes Jack, “I am moving to the latter conclusion.” Prayer is the preparation for a time of engaging in holy activity. “It is life that is holy. It is love that is life-giving. Having the courage to be all that I can be is the place where God and life come together for me. If that is so, are not living, loving, and being the essence of prayer and the meaning of worship? When Paul enjoined us to “pray without ceasing”, did he mean to engage in the activity of praying unceasingly? Or did he mean that we are to see all of life as a prayer, calling the world to enter that place where life, love and being reveal the meaning of God? Is Christianity not coming to the place where my “I” meets another’s “Thou,” and in that moment God is present?”
Jack’s questions, our questions, move us beyond our child-like notions of prayer to a deeper, more mature awareness of the reality that the MYSTERY is revealed in the prayers that emerge when we move beyond the boundaries of decorum, to traverse the landscape of our common humanity. When we share the wonders of life and love with another, we are engaged in prayer so sacred that the MYSTERY is revealed. For it is in our shared humanity that our own Divinity is revealed and the LOVE that is God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us. I no longer pray expecting miracles to occur, or lives to be changed, or for reality to bend to my will. I do pray expecting that I will be changed, made a little more whole perhaps, set free to share my life more deeply with others, empowered to love beyond the boundaries erected by my fears. I pray trusting that in the sharing of our humanity our divinity is revealed as the MYSTERY that we call God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us.
As our friend Jack puts it, “Prayer to me is the practice of the presence of God, the act of embracing transcendence and the discipline of sharing with another the gifts of living, loving, and being.”
Let us pray without ceasing!
Let us see all of life as a prayer!
Let us repent…metanoia…think new thoughts …Let us live trusting that the Mystery is revealed in living, loving, and being. Let all the people say: AMEN!
Part I We worship as we live
in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,
a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.
May the Spirit of LOVE
breathe wisdom and passion
into this gathering.
The appointed Gospel reading for this the fourth Sunday in Lent includes the passage from John 3:16. This verse has been dubbed by many evangelicals as “the gospel in a nut-shell.” So popular is this verse that in certain parts of rural North America you will still find billboards that read simply John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Traditional interpretations of this verse have painted a particular picture of who Jesus was and why Jesus died.
Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance. So, let us repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia “to think new thoughts”. Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts about who Jesus was and why Jesus died. Repent Metanoia – let us think new thoughts so that we might ask: What can Jesus teach us?
The way that the Jesus story has been told has crafted, molded and shaped the idol that masquerades as the MYSTERY we call God. The stories about Jesus have been told in ways that paint a particular picture of what it means to be human. According to these traditional interpretations humans were originally created in a state of perfection to live in a perfect creation. These perfect humans enjoyed a perfect relationship with their Creator. Then one day that perfect relationship was severed when for one reason or another the humans disobeyed the rules established by the creator.
You all know this story. This story provides the raw material for the idol that we have created to serve as our god. According to the story humans are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Humans were cast out of the perfection of the garden and alienated for their creator. Humans have tried in vain to get themselves back into the garden, to restore our oneness with our creator. But try as we might we are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We need a saviour to rescue us from our sinfulness. And our Creator needs us to pay for our sinfulness. We must be punished.
Traditional interpretations of the life of Jesus insist that Jesus sacrificed himself, took all our respective punishment onto his shoulders, died for us, upon a cross, so that our relationship to our creator could be restored. We’ve heard these interpretations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection so many times that they have almost become indistinguishable from the idol that we have created to stand in for the Mystery that we call God. The trouble is, we all live in the 21st century and we know that the definition of what it means to be human that these stories rely upon no longer rings true. We know that humans have been evolving over millennia. We know that humans were not created as perfectly formed creatures who fell into sin. We know that humans are continuing to evolve. Humans are incomplete beings.
We are not fallen creatures. This knowledge has to change the way in which we see our relationship with the MYSTERY that lies at the very source of our being; our Creator if you will. This knowledge has an impact on how we interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
If we look at the stories that have been told about Jesus, the stories that have contributed so much to the creation of the idol that masquerades as the Mystery we call God, we discover a narrative that seems preoccupied with Jesus’ death. It occurred to me the other day, that it is quite peculiar that most of what has been written about Jesus in the New Testament and indeed our liturgies, even the hymns we sing about Jesus they tend to shift our focus to Jesus’ death.
Imagine if you will, trying to understand the life of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi simply by focusing upon their death. Imagine trying to understand who Dr. King was and focusing your attention upon his assassination. Imagine knowing everything there is to know about that final day in Memphis, about the motel, about the people who were on that balcony when Dr. King was shot, about the shooter, the gun that was used, about the funeral procession, the grieving, and about the people who tried to go on walking in the ways of Dr. King. Imagine all the information you would miss if you simply focused upon Dr. King’s death.
You wouldn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, about Dr. King’s dream, his vision of equality, his struggle for inclusion, his cries for justice for the poor, his vision economic equality, or his passion for peace, and his commitment to non-violent resistance.
So, this morning I’d like us to take our focus off Jesus’ death and all we may have heard, or learned about why Jesus died so that we can see what it was about Jesus life that endeared him to his followers. What can Jesus teach us? What can we learn from Jesus life about who, or what the MYSTERY we call God is? What can Jesus teach us about God?
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
Take a few moments to walk across the sanctuary and have a word with someone about who Jesus was? What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
Share as a whole group some responses: What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts”. Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. The Gospel this morning comes to us from the anonymous Gospel storyteller that we know as John. This gospel was written some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The storyteller writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Today, when each of us is coping with the loss of an hour’s sleep, perhaps it is easier for us to understand that the way in which we describe reality does indeed change over time. Yesterday, when the sun was in the same position in the sky as it is now, we insisted that it was an hour later. Today, thanks to daylight savings time, the earth hasn’t quickened its course around the sun. The sun is in the same place at the same time as it was yesterday, but today all our clocks insist that it is actually 11:00 and not 10:00.
When we focus upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth rather than the death of Jesus, we can begin to hear some of the things that Jesus was passionate about. Jesus’ passions reveal to us the image of the Mystery that we call God that Jesus worshipped. When we set aside the institutional narrative of atonement that the church has relied upon to interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the idol that masquerades as god, the idol whose contours are reinforced in our worship services, by our hymns, prayers, creeds, choice of scriptures, and rituals, this idol begins to crumble. When we forgo our obsession with Jesus death and open ourselves to the passions of Jesus life, we begin to see new ways to understand the new images of the HOLY ONE that Jesus encouraged his followers to see. Jesus’ life reveals images of God that point far beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to the Ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all reality. The apostle Paul who was the first to write about Jesus, portrays Jesus as a doorway into the ultimate. For Paul, Jesus was not God but a human in which God was revealed. For us, Jesus can be the medium through which the Mystery we call God can be imagined. Continue reading
These reflections are part of our Lenten journey in which we are Giving Up God for Lent. They are set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the songs. The work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, most particularly his latest book: Unbelievable, permeates my thought process. I hear Jack pushing me farther and farther. What followers are the reflections and copies of the songs:
We worship as we live
in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,
a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.
May the Spirit of LOVE
breathe wisdom and passion
into this gathering.
Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance.
So, let us repent.
Repent from the Greek word metanoia
“to think new thoughts”
Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
A reading from 1st Corinthians chapter 13: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old. It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.
“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered.
“Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?”
“So, he would die?”
“You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?”
At this point my mother had had enough! So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”
“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”
“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”
By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there. I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?
I remember watching the guy up at the front. I didn’t even want to ask why he was wearing a dress. And he kept doing this X (crossing himself). And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.
Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this X. “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!”
Now for those of you who don’t recognize it, I stole that routine from the great Irish comedian Dave Allen. I hoped it would make you laugh. But I also hoped that it would help you to think how ridiculous Christianity can be. Most of us have been hanging around Christianity for so long that we can’t or won’t see the humour in it.
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
- Opening Song God Within Our Deepest Thought – Shirley Erena Murray Words © 2004 Hope Publishing Company; LiscenSing 1975
REPENT God Loses His Home
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
The Bible was written by men who believed that they lived in a three-tiered universe. The Earth was flat. The flat Earth was surrounded by the waters. The flat earth was supported over the waters on pillars. Above the sky were the Heavens. One of the authors of the Book of Genesis described creation like this : “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.”
The Earth, the Heavens, and the seas.Now even though the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the Earth was round in the 6th century before the common era. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the flatness of the Earth was seriously challenged by the likes of Columbus.
I don’t know about you but for most of my life I have been taught that the place to learn about God is the Bible. Certainly, in the church the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority of the nature of God. For the most part, the Bible points to the Heavens above the firmament as the home of God.
In his new book, Unbelievable, our friend, Jack Spong writes: “The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history.” Jack has a way of reminding us of the obvious. None of us believe that we live in a three-tiered universe. Unlike our ancestors who succeeded the writers of the bible and went on to develop the theology of the church, we don’t believe that the round earth is the center of the universe. The writers of our creeds firmly established that God lived in heaven. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven…”
Most of us have travelled far above the Earth, we have sailed through the clouds and we know that there is no heaven up there. As far back as the sixteenth century, a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus calculated that the Earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei a personal friend of the Pope, published a paper demonstrating that the sun could not possible revolve around the earth. This despite the fact that the biblical author of the book of Joshua wrote that God stopped the rotation of the sun around the earth in order to provide Joshua with an extended period of daylight in which to kill his enemies. It took the Church until 1991 to concede that Galileo and not the writer of Joshua was right and that the Earth did indeed revolve around the Sun. Continue reading
Thursday March 8, 2018 is International Women’s Day. The appointed gospel reading for the third Sunday of Lent is from John 2:13-22 which recounts the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. My hope is that in this the year of Me Too, preachers might be inclined to tune their sermons to reflect Jesus’ liberating power! This sermon was first preached in 2012; fortunately the government in Canada has changed since then and great strides have been made. But there is much more work to be done!!! I was inspired to write this by the work of Beverly Wildung Harrison and the prophetic witness of Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911. It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Women have come a long way since 1911. Sadly, we must all confess that women have a long way to go before we achieve our vision of a world in which all people have equal access to opportunity. There is much for us to celebrate on this particular International Women’s Day and there is also much to lament. In our world the phrase “war on women” is bandied about by the media and each time I hear it anger rises in me and it is all I can do to stop myself from screaming. In our own country we have watched the steady erosion of hard one gains as our federal government continues to cut funding to women’s organizations and continues to refuse to launch a federal inquiry into the disappearance of far too many of our aboriginal sisters. Any serious reflection on the plight of women in the world makes my blood boil and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just follow Jesus’ example because maybe if we turn over a few more tables in the halls of power we might be able to draw some serious attention to the abuses perpetrated upon women for the sake of maintaining the status quo.
The story of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple has always intrigued me. The idea that Jesus could have become so angry with religious authorities for cooperating with the violent and oppressive, Roman Imperial system that he would create such a scene in the Temple is so far from the image of Jesus as the meek and mild long-haired peace-nick that we’ve all come to take for granted.
For generations, biblical commentators have gone to great pains to ensure that any hint of Jesus humanity is scrubbed clean from interpretations of this story. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. Jesus was a human being and therefore he was subject to normal human emotions. But the institutional church frowns upon anger. Indeed, in many places one can still find anger listed as one of the seven deadly sins. “ira” which can be translated as anger or wrath made the list of seven deadly sins. This list is often attributed to the early Christians. Indeed, there are those who would argue that these sins are biblical. However, they are actually the work of a 4th century monk named Evagirus Ponticus, whose nickname was Evagrius the Solitary. He spent most of his adult life living as a hermit in the desert. I suspect that if a modern psychologist were to take a brief look of Evagrius’ personal biography they could very quickly make a diagnosis of clinical depression. Evagrius himself prescribed tears as the pathway to God and was known to have spent days at a time alone and weeping profusely. He is best known for his writings on the various forms of temptation, which the institutional church latched onto with a vengeance. His original list included eight deadly sins. But the church erased “sadness” from the list and elevated the seven deadly sins to the category of mortal sins. Mortal sins were those sins that actually placed one’s soul in danger of eternal damnation. Continue reading
This year, we at Holy Cross are giving up God for Lent. Letting go of our carefully crafted and tightly held images of the ONE who IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING is a daunting task. To aid us on our journey, we have decided to radically alter the way we worship together. It is a scary proposition for a pastor to venture out on a journey without the familiar trappings of familiar liturgy. Gone are the vestments, the prescribed lectionary readings, and the familiar words. The sermon is broken up into three short homilies. There are flowers in the sanctuary during Lent! The congregation is encouraged to move around the sanctuary. You can peruse my notes for the service in the pdf of my missal here. You can also watch the videos of the homilies – our videorgrapher is enjoying the Family Day weekend – so my head is missing from the first parts but thanks to a volunteer’s intervention my head is restored in the third video. It was quite a beginning to what promises to be an exciting journey.
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck. And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen. Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase. The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.
Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.
Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck. It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.
When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee.
Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago. She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart. Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy. Is that right?”
Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”. Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gently, but firmly said: “Let it go, child. Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)
In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament. Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure. My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness. Continue reading
The gospel reading that is assigned for Ash Wednesday troubles me. Every year, when I sit down to prepare the Ash Wednesday service, I can’t help but wonder why the powers that be chose this particular reading for Ash Wednesday. There’s something odd about hearing the words ascribed to Jesus, telling us to pray secretly in our rooms and to brush our hair and wash our face so that no one will know what we are up too on a day when we gather together to pray and mark ourselves smack dab on the middle of our foreheads with ashen crosses so that everyone who sees us will know that we’ve just been worshiping. The juxtaposition of Jesus’ calling us to secrecy and this public display of piety is more than a little peculiar.
Like most preachers, I usually ignore the obvious tension between the gospel reading and our traditional Ash Wednesday worship practices. I usually do what I’ve been taught to do which is to focus our attention on our mortality. Ash Wednesday is the moment in the church year where we remember that none of us gets out of this life alive. From dust we came to dust we shall return. But after 19 years of digging around in the ashes, I thought I would shift my focus and wander around in the gospel reading to see if I could begin to understand something of what it might offer us as we embark on our Lenten journey.
My initial impressions of this text made me uncomfortable. As someone whose job requires that I pray in public, the idea that I share this activity with hypocrites who “love to pray standing in synagogues and on street corners for people to see them,” well this alone gives me pause to wonder. But that’s not what troubles me most about this reading: “when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to God who is in the secret place, and your Abba God—who sees all that is done in secret—will reward you.” I hear a call to intimacy in these words. This call to intimacy stirs my own desires for intimacy with our ABBA God. I long to spend time in this “secret place” where God IS.
I must confess that travelling to this secret place is not something that I do often enough. And so, this call to go to my room, shut the door, and pray, inspires more than a little guilt in me. I know that prayer is time spent in the presence of the Divine. In my mind, it is easy to rationalize by saying that prayer is a way of living, conscious that we live, and move, and have our being in God. But in my heart, there’s a desire for the kind of intimacy that I have experienced at various times in my life; the kind of intimacy that even just remembering it, nourishes, grounds, and sustains me in ways that are beyond words. This intimacy with the Divine is alluring but life itself is demanding and so there never seems to be enough time to go there to that secret place. Continue reading
Readings include 2 Kings 2:1-14; Mark 9:2-10
Listen to the sermon here
When I was a kid the scepter of nuclear annihilation hung over the world’s psyche. Children were not immune to the images of mushroom clouds rising in the distance that held the power to destroy entire populations. I can still remember classroom drills in which we were instructed in the fine art of what to do if a nuclear missile was on its way. We practiced hiding under our desks. Our desks were supposed to protect us from a nuclear blast. It sounds funny now. But I remember the day that I put two and two together. We were watching a film of a nuclear test out in the desert of Nevada which showed dummies being blown away by the nuclear blast; dummies that were miles away from ground zero. It was then that I realized that our teachers were lying to us and that if the big one came our way we would all be blown to smithereens. If we got lucky and ground zero was just far enough away, we would all suffer the effects of radiation sickness. Images of rotting flesh on the bodies of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki haunted me and my fear spawned cries of outrage which developed into anger; anger that was embodied in my politics.
I was a very angry teenager. At the time, I believed that my anger was the result of the state of the world and I resolved to change the world. Ah the innocence of youth. It has taken decades and a whole lot of therapy for me to understand that my anger came from a deeper and darker place that rivaled the world’s warring madness. I was in fact a very lonely teenager. We moved around a lot. Every year of my life there had been a new school to contend with. Friendships were fleeting at best. The pain of moving from place to place left me longing for something I didn’t even know how to describe, and that pain came out as anger; anger which I directed at every adult who crossed my path, especially if that adult was in a position of authority. It didn’t take me very long to learn that anger isn’t exactly socially acceptable. So, I tried my best to bottle it all up. Until the day, I discovered what a lot of young people discover: the love affair between anger and politics. So, I took up the cause of my day and became an angry protester who actively fought the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
I was 13 in 1970 when Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver and I was there in the Pacific Coliseum at their very first fundraiser. My parents knew nothing about it. My friends and I hitchhiked into the big city to join all those who were protesting the nuclear tests that the Americans were carrying out on the Island of Amchitka. Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs headlined the concert that launched Greenpeace onto the world stage. So, inspired were we that we spent most of the following year organizing a student strike.
In 1971 at the tender age of 14, I was on the organizing committee of the very first High School strike in Canadian history. We managed to convince over 9,000 high school kids from all over the Greater Vancouver Area to walk out of their classrooms and march down to the American Consulate and demand that they put an end to the nuclear testing on Amchitka.
Those were the days my friends. We were going to change the world. Stop the bomb and put an end to the war in Vietnam. Feed the hungry, end racism. What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!
Peace now! Was our rallying cry. Looking back, I realize that I wouldn’t have recognized peace if it broke out in front of me. There was so little peace in my life at home. As for the life inside of me, well that was so full of turmoil that peace would probably have driven me to madness. The only thing stopping me from going insane was my focused anger at the injustices in the world. As long as I could rage against the world, I didn’t have to listen to the demons that were raging inside of me.
Then one day, I started hanging out with a gang. I haven’t got time to go into the details of my involvement with this gang; suffice it to say, if I knew what this gang was all about I would never have gotten involved with them. The kids in this particular gang all had one thing in common; the Lutheran church. These kids were part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’ve never heard of before; a retreat. A weekend at a place called Camp Luther. Somehow, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. Continue reading
Listen to the sermon here
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, I found myself studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done here on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach to you about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. Then two things happened on Thursday that transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.
Where once my images were shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the experiences I had on Thursday have transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of God beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. The first thing that happened on Thursday, happened not just to me but to the whole world.
You see on Thursday, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”
NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…
As I struggled to wrap my brain around the reality of what has been discovered, our little grand-daughters came for a sleepover.Audrey is three and Evelyn is two and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I’d almost forgotten all about Trappist 1 when I found myself leaning over little Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler. After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.
Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. Continue reading
AUDIO ONLY VERSION HERE
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” In the morning, while it is still very dark, I can often be found sitting in my home office clutching a warm mug of coffee. Some of my most creative hours occur just before dawn, as do some of me least creative hours. Staring at a blank computer screen, hoping against hope that the Spirit will inspire me with new insights, my vision is often distracted by the rising sun. My computer sits in front of huge bank of windows that face the eastern sky. I have seen some spectacular sunrises beyond my computer’s screen. No matter what task I am feverishly trying to complete, the blinding light of the sun always causes me to stop what I’m doing, reach for my coffee and pray. More often than not, I pray for this congregation. I pray for each and every one of you. I pray for the work we do together. I pray about the challenges we face together. I pray for the concerns you have expressed for the people in your lives. I pray about the various afflictions that trouble you. I often pray for the wisdom to respond to your needs. I also pray for healing and I pray that the demons that haunt us will be driven out. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
I know, right, I’m a progressive Christian pastor. I have long since stopped believing in a God who intervenes in our lives like some kind of grand puppeteer in the sky. So, why do I pray? To whom do I pray? And, what do I expect my prayers to accomplish? If there’s no Big Guy upstairs or out there who is waiting to hear and answer my prayers, and if Jesus isn’t some sort of super-human miracle-worker, who intervenes on my behalf, then why bother praying at all?
Let me say this very clearly, because sometimes I think that people get the wrong idea about what it means to be a progressive Christian: just because our ideas about who God is are changing and we no longer see Jesus as some sort of super-human healer, that does not mean that progressive Christians no longer believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer! I believe that prayer has worked and continues to work miracles! I pray fully expecting that prayer can make a difference. My prayers do not address a personified being. My prayers take the form of contemplation of the needs and concerns that rise up in me.
I would be the first person to sympathize with anyone who finds it difficult to understand how prayer fits into the ways in which we are just beginning to speak about who and what God might be. As our notions about God change, so do our notions about Jesus. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. But when we begin to see God as something other than a grand-puppeteer in the sky, who pulls all our strings, the way in which we see Jesus changes as well. This is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us convince the grand-puppeteer to heal someone, or something in our lives. Sometimes, usually when I’m up against something that frightens me, I really miss that old sky-god, and I long to walk in the garden alone with Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what we are supposed to do once we begin to move beyond personifying the LOVE that we call God, how and why do we pray?
So, as a progressive Christian, how do I think prayer works? The truth is, I simply don’t know how prayer works. Prayer remains a mystery to me. I cannot do anything more than speculate and like all speculation, I am fully aware that I may have it all wrong.
I may not know how prayer works, but I suspect that prayer works because the power to heal one another is ours. I have come to believe that part of being human, is the power to heal one another, to heal the planet, and to heal the world. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth loved so fully that he was able to access the power of his humanity to heal others.
I also know that healing takes many forms. There is a tremendous, largely unheralded power in the bonds between people, in the gentle touch we can offer one another, in the hospitable presence of the LOVE we can extend to both our friends and even to our enemies. I believe that the power that lies in the bonds that exist between us, is the power we access when we pray. I believe that whatever God is, exists in, with, through, and beyond the bonds that connect us to one another.
There’s a story that has always intrigued me that illustrates this reality. You can find the story in a book called “Outliers,” written by Malcolm Gladwell, who also wrote “The Tipping Point.” It’s the story of a modern-day miracle that takes place in a small American town.
Roseto, is a small working-class town in Pennsylvania that was founded back in the late 19th century. From its founding to the late 1950’s it was populated by Italian immigrants from a town also called Roseto in Italy. Roseto would have remained a relatively obscure little town had it not been for the work of a medical school professor called Steward Wolf. While attending a medical conference Professor Wolf met a GP from a town very near Roseto who told him that he’d been practicing medicine for 17 years and in all that time very few patients ever came to see him from Roseto who were under the age of 65 and were suffering from heart disease. Professor Wolf was very surprised by this, because in the 1950’s heart attacks were epidemic in the United States. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in men under 65. So, Professor Wolf decided to investigate. Colleagues and students from his medical school were recruited and they analyzed the medical records of the inhabitants of Roseto.
The entire population was tested and re-tested. The results were astonishing. No one under 55 had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. Indeed, the death rate from all causes in Roseto was 30 to 35% lower than the national average. Wolf’s team broadened their research and brought in sociologists and members of other academic disciplines. They found there were no suicides, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. Continue reading
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“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are the Holy One of God.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark, puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, and now we have to deal with them; or do we? I’ve been struggling all week with today’s assigned gospel reading. I was sorely tempted to change the reading. I usually only put our Contemporary readings in the service bulletins. But, let me confess, the only reason I put the full text of today’s reading in the bulletin, was to ensure that I didn’t cop out and change the readings. If it’s in the bulletin for everyone to see, we have to use it and I can’t just ignore it.
I remember, a few years ago, running into an old friend from high school, who was surprised to discover that I had become a pastor. He said to me something like, “you always seemed to have your head screwed on back in the day. How can you stand all that hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo?” His words have haunted me as I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with this text.
Hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo indeed! The dictionary defines hocus pocus as “meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening. Hocus pocus actually came into usage in English from a Latin phrase that would have been familiar to everyone who has ever heard the Mass in Latin: Hoc est corpus meum which means “This is my body.”
According to the dictionary, mumbo jumbo is defined as: “language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment.” Or: “words or activities that are unnecessarily complicated or mysterious and seem meaningless”
The anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of Jesus preforming what sounds very much like an exorcism certainly seem meaningless to our 21st century minds. Last week, after I we did a bible study instead of a sermon, one of you commented that they never see any of the stuff I pointed out, when they read the bible by themselves, that’s why they don’t read the bible anymore. “It’s too complicated! I don’t know the history, so it just confuses me.” So, when I started preparing today’s sermon, I thought here we go again, more complicate and misleading words. What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the body of Christ? What am I supposed to do with this unclean spirit? I was so tempted to just exorcise this demon from our worship. Sure, I could find all sorts of commentaries and sermons that went on and on explaining away this unclean spirit as some sort of victim of “mental illness.” Which when you think about, this is one way to deal with the reality that most of us, dare I say all of us, don’t really believe in demonic possession and don’t want to have anything much to do with someone who goes around the country preforming exorcisms. Twenty-first century, Canadian followers of Jesus tend to ignore the first century stories about demons and exorcisms.
As tempting as it is to explain the demon in this exorcism away as a suffer of mental illness, I’m not convinced that that helps us any. Because if the “unclean spirit” is mentally ill, then, the story asks us to believe that Jesus had the power to heal the mentally ill simply by commanding the illness to “Be silent and come out.” OK, we all know that that can’t happen, right?
So, in the spirit of the great New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, “why did the writer of this text tell this story the way he told this story.” What was the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark trying to say to his first century audience? We all know by now that there’s usually lots going on between the lines of the gospel texts. The stuff between the lines is what keeps people like me employed. It is after all my job to read between the lines. So, let’s move beyond the words on the page and venture beyond the literal to see what we can discover in the more-than-literal interpretation of this text. Continue reading
In place of a sermon, we engaged in a bible-study of our Gospel text Mark 1:14 not from the perspective of The Church, but from the perspectives of history and justice. I’m indebted to the work of Ched Myers whose book – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, provides a perspective that turned my own understanding of this text upside-down! We are all indebted to the excellent teaching of New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, whose visits to Holy Cross have empowered us to be more fervent followers of the Way! Below you will find my notes for the bible-study.
You can listen to the audio version of the study here
- New windows – New perspectives
- Very familiar Gospel text
- My first memory of this text – “fishers of men” listening to a children’s choir
- Solicit memories of the text – interpretations
- What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
- From the perspective of the church
- For years we have been looking at this morning’s gospel reading from the perspective of the church
- “I will make you fishers of men.”
- Go out there and teach people about Jesus ð convert people and grow the church
- We have seen the call to follow Jesus as call to become fishers of “men” the church has sent us out to spread the word and to call others into the church
- Photographs of Cherilyn – on the Sea of Galilee
- Reminding me of all that we learned from John Dominic Crossan about the Sea of Galilee
- Fishing industry – first century Galilee
- Pax Romana – Roman Empire
- Fishing leases sold by the Empire through tax collectors
- First century fishers were disenfranchised workers
- What is the Anonymous Gospel Storyteller that we call Mark trying to tell us?
- Follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind.”
- This is one place where I happen to believe that it is a mistake to use inclusive language.
- I have learned that Jesus used this language for a reason and I believe that in this instance Jesus is targeting “men”
- “I will make you fishers of men.”
- In order to understand this passage we must change our perspective
- We need to look through new windows
- Peering through the windows of history
- What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
- When we look at this text from the lenses provided by the church, we interpret this Gospel as an instruction to go out and catch the church some fish
- But looking back through the lenses of history we see a different story
- Jesus never meant to create a church
- Gift from Pastor Jon Fogleman: Ched Myers – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus”
- Gospel of Mark written after 70 – the Empire has destroyed the Temple – the disenfranchised are suffering at the hands of the Empire
- How are the persecuted to respond
- According to the Gospel – Jesus invites them to become “fishers of men.”
- If this means what we have learned from the perspective of the church, we are supposed to covert people – to grow the church
- But what if it means something else?
- What if fishing for men means more than we know?
- Ched Myers suggests that we look back into the Hebrew Scriptures and look at how this phrase has been used by the Jewish prophets
- When we peer through the lenses of history we discover that key to unlocking the revolutionary code of the Gospel account
- The prophets Jeremiah (16:6), Amos (4:2) and Ezekiel (29:4) used the metaphor of “hooking a fish” as a euphemism for judgement upon the rich
- Jesus is inviting the disenfranchised fishers to follow him to learn how to “hook fish “ and as good, observant, Jews, these fishers as well as those early hearers of this story would have understood the phrase to mean:
- As Ched Myers puts it:“Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”
- Looking through this new window on the text how might we hear this text today in our context?
- “Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!”
- “the reign of God is at hand.”
- The basilea of God ð the “kingdom” the “empire” or as our modern translation puts it “the realm of God”
- What might this “realm of God” look like?
- Who are we in this metaphor? – the fishers or the rich?
- What does the realm of God look like to us?
- “basilea theou” Basilea – the Greek feminine noun for “sovereignty” traditionally translated as “kingdom” – dominion, empire
- “basilea ouranou” – ouranos means sky or heaven but it is also the name of the father god of the Greeks – in Latin Uranus – “Ouranos was one of the primary realities, who, with his wife, Gaia, or Earth, brought forth all creatures. The creative father spirit imagined to exist in the fine ether of the sky, somewhat remote from earthly life yet very much involved in it. The cosmos began with these two realities, earth and sky, mother and father to all beings.” (Moore – Walking on Sand)
- Realm of God – is at hand – the Empire of Rome cannot stand.
- Peering through the windows of history we can see: Jesus is about to lead a movement that seeks justice for the disenfranchised.
- “Follow me to usher in the Realm of God”
- “follow me to seek justice for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the persecuted, the poor; follow me and turn the world upside down.”
- To follow Jesus is to join a revolutionary movement to turn the existing structures upside down.
- What fishes need to be hooked today?
- Are we prepared to hook a fish or two? Are we prepared to be hooked?
- The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to be part of a radical quest for justice.
- Are we prepared to usher in God’s realm of justice and peace.
Monday is Martin Luther King Day, today “a very stable genius” occupies the most powerful office on the planet. In many ways, this emperor, who has no clothes, represents so much of what Dr. King struggled to overcome. So this year, it seems more important than ever to lift every voice and sing the praise of all those who bear witness to the kind of justice that Jesus of Nazareth embodied. What follows is the transcript of a sermon preached in 2014 to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I offer it here in the hopes that it will encourage fellow preachers to turn to the writings of Dr. King as they prepare their sermons for this coming Sunday. Let freedom ring!
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” During the struggle to open the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, there were some very dark days. As many of you know, during my first years in ministry, it was a struggle that I did not want any part of. I was for all intents and purposes living in the closet, even if it was the most transparent of closets, the walls of that closet made it very clear to me that my job would be at risk if I spoke publicly about who I am. So, in the early years, I was determined to keep my mouth shut about my own sexuality and fight the good fight from the relative safety of the background. Then, by virtue of my office, I was asked to speak publicly at a forum being held by York region, mental health professionals who were gathering resources to support GLBT youth. The organizers of the forum knew that many young people suffered because of their family’s involvement in churches that propagated hatred toward gays and lesbians and they wanted me to speak directly to these issues so that mental health professionals might be equipped to begin to counter some of the religious propaganda that was damaging so many young people. A few days after I spoke at this public forum a note was hand delivered to the mailbox at the parsonage. The note contained two quotes from the book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind it is abomination” and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
I was shaken by the quotes and even more shaken by the fact that they were hand delivered to my home. I tried to shake off my fear by telling myself that the note represented the ravings of a fool. But when I shared the note with members of the church council, I was reminded that in my world these words represented Bible quotes but in the real world they constituted a death threat.
I confess that at the moment, I realized that violence might actually be a consequence of my speech, I beat a hasty retreat back into my closet. I was determined to stay within the relative safety of the cozy, obscure little world in which Lutheran pastors usually live out our ministries. But calls kept coming in for help. So, I ventured out of the closet and mail continued to come in spouting hatred and suggesting violence as a very real possibility. There were some very dark days and even darker nights and from time to time I was sorely tempted to return in kind some of the hatred that was coming my way. One of you, I don’t know who, although I do have my suspicions placed a note in my church mailbox, right over there. The note contained these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let me just tell you, that those words stopped me on more than one occasion from lashing out in anger and on several occasions those words helped me to remember that I am called to love; love not only when it is easy or convenient, but to love in the face of hatred.
Now our struggle was not nearly as difficult as the struggles of others. I would not for a moment even begin to suggest that we have tasted the kind of hatred or been subjected to the kind of violence that was faced by the freedom fighters who achieved so much under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. I do however know very clearly that we drew our inspiration from their struggles. The life and witness of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and continues to inspire millions of people to seek justice, to stand up for freedom and to love in the face of hate. Dr. King is more than just an inspiration to justice seekers and peacemakers, he is an example of what it means to impact the evolution of our species. Humans are better beings as a result of the many ways in which Dr. King changed the way we interact with one another. Creation is not the same as a result of the life and witness of Dr. King. Continue reading
Baptism of Jesus – Mark 1:4-11 audio only
Welcome to a new beginning. The celebration of the Baptism of Jesus begins the church lectionary’s focus upon the Gospel according to the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark. For the balance of the church year most of our gospel readings will come from the oldest gospel in the New Testament, from storyteller that we call Mark. Written before the development of the nativity myths, this gospel begins with the story of Jesus baptism by the prophet known as John the Baptist. As the oldest account of Jesus’ baptism, written sometime after the year 70, some 40 plus years after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, this story gives us particular insights into the ways in which the legacy of Jesus was experienced by the early followers of the teachings of Jesus. In those early years of the followers of the Way, Jesus’ life and teachings not only ushered in a new way of being in the world, they also provided a new way of understanding the Divine.
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. Raised in the ways of first century Jewish people, Jesus would have been taught to relate to the Source of All Being, the One we call God, as a far off distant, super-natural being. This is the kind of understanding of Divinity that is reflected in John the Baptizer’s proclamation of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. However, this is not the understanding of Divinity that the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark portrays in his depiction of Jesus’ baptism. Most of us have heard the stories of Jesus’ baptism so many times that we tend to miss the radical nature of Jesus’ baptism. Once we let go of the notion that this is some sort of historical account of Jesus baptism, we can begin to understand how the gospel-storyteller understands the significance of Jesus’ life and teachings.
“Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests.” The intimacy portrayed in this story, defies what would have been, for the story-teller and the story-teller’s community, the accepted understanding of the nature of the Divine. The God depicted in this story is radically intimate. Jesus’ relationship to the Source of All Being, is one of intimacy. You can almost hear the Creator of All that Is, declare, lovingly, “That’s my boy! He brings me such pleasure.” At that time, the prevailing understanding of God, of YAHWEH, as KING of KINGS, LORD of LORDS, is expanded to what will eventually be taught by Jesus as Abba, or Daddy. Jesus’ teachings move beyond the hoped for super-natural, super-hero God, that the persecuted Hebrew people longed for and point instead to a God who is known in the intimacy of LOVE. Within the Jewish tradition there was and is a great diversity of depictions of the Creator of All that IS. Sadly, so many of those depictions of Divinity had been reduced to an understanding of God as a super-natural-male-being. The feminine attributes of the Divine that are depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures were largely forgotten. Gone too were the depictions of the Divine as something other than a super-natural being. It was as if, over time, the understandings of the Power that lies at the very heart of reality were reduced to the projections of human desires to be saved from the trials and tribulations of this life. Continue reading
Listen to the sermon here
How many of you know what this is? Where I come from it is often referred to as a dog-collar and the folks who wear them are called God-Bothers. Back when I first started seminary, I resolved that I wouldn’t wear a clerical shirt and collar. I didn’t like the idea of being set apart from others. I really didn’t want to be seen as one of those holier-than-thou types, who took themselves so seriously. Learning the history of clerical garb didn’t help me to warm up to the idea of wearing them. Apparently, back in the middle ages fashion dictated that educated professionals wear black. Also, during the middle ages, long before shirts had collars it was all the rage to let your white undergarments show around your neck. This was the precursor to shirt-collars. Apparently during the reformation, this trend fell out of fashion but clergy, who couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion continued to wear black shirts with their white under-garment showing.
Over time, the church does what the church often does and applied a liturgical meaning to explain what is already happening. So, the church began to explain clerical attire theologically. If you google it, you will discover that, pastors are just like everyone else, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. So, they wear a black shirt to signify their sinfulness, but they wear a white collar to signify that the words they speak are not their own, but God’s words, because you see the collar covers the pastors voice-box to signify that we speak the Word of God. Now the presumption that I or anyone else speaks on behalf of God is rather daunting to say the least and did nothing to encourage me to wear a clerical collar, nor did the obscure explanation of the tab collar, which insists that this little white notch is placed strategically over the Adam’s apple to cover over the reminder of Adam’s sin. Not having an Adam’s apple, myself, I wasn’t much taken with the idea of wearing special clothing to set me apart. But when I first became a pastor, I was insecure and believe it or not I didn’t want to rock the boat. So, I ever so hesitatingly began wearing a clerical collar. I was uncomfortable wearing the collar, so I decided that I would only wear it on Sundays, or to protest marches, and sometimes when I was visiting people in the hospital, because in hospitals, wearing a collar makes it easier to gain access to patients.
Well one day, I needed some candles and so I dashed into the Zellers over the road to quickly grab a couple. I was having difficulty finding just the right candles when a store clerk came up to me and asked me if I would come with her. I figured that I’d been lingering over the candles for so long that she must have mistaken me for a shoplifter, but as we hurried along, she explained to me that there was a man in housewares who was abusing his wife and child. I’d forgotten that I was wearing a collar, but the reality of what this clerk was asking me to do choked me into realizing that the collar had led her to believe that I could actually do something. Not knowing what she expected me to do, I told her to call 911. She assured me that they had already called, but that in the meantime perhaps I could help. We stopped just before the aisle where the abuse was taking place. The store clerk whispered that, “they are just over there.” As she pointed, I realized that she wanted me to go on alone. So, not knowing what to expect, I took a deep breath and walked in on a scene that was way beyond my abilities. A big burly guy was twisting the arm of a woman while a little girl of about 4 or 5 stood crying. The man was yelling obscenities when I interrupted him. When he looked at me, I saw the fear in his eyes as he immediately let go of the woman who fell to the floor. The little girl ran to her mother. I expected the man to turn on me, but instead he just stared at me, as he began to cry, “I’m sorry pastor, forgive me.” It wasn’t I who stood before him, but the church, his church, the church that had taught him right from wrong. The collar I wore made the church visible to him and made it impossible for him to forget who he was. As a child of God, he couldn’t continue what he was doing. As a child of God, he knew in his bones that he was wrong. He wept until the police arrived. From that day on, I’ve known the power of the collar to make the church visible in the world and so I wear it a lot more often than I’d ever expected I would. Continue reading
Well, congratulations we made it! When 2017 began, there were a great many people who wondered if the man who was waiting to be sworn in to the most powerful office in the world would take us down a path of mutual self-destruction. While it has been an amazing year, our worst fears have not come to fruition. 2017 may go down in history as the year that a narcissist drove us all to distraction, but the doomsayers’ predictions that, “the end is nigh” have not come to pass. I suspect that pessimists of all sorts have been predicting the end of the world since the world began. So, on this the last day of this very strange year, we greet one another in the same way as our ancestors greeted one another: “Happy New Year!” and even as we bid one another a Happy New Year, we know that the forecast for the coming year looks bleak.
There is little doubt that 2018 will see the continuation of the abuse of our planet. We humans will go on burning the stuff that we know full well is causing climate change that will have catastrophic effects on the environment. Species will continue to become extinct. Peace in the Middle East is more elusive than ever. Most of us aren’t expecting a lull in terrorism anytime soon. The mess in Syria will continue to be a mess from which refugees will continue to flee. The flow of refugees will continue to expose the racist underbelly of far too many cultures.
The madman in North Korea and the narcissist in Washington will continue to taunt and threaten one another, while the world wrings its hands. Nationalism and tribalism isn’t going away in the New Year. Indeed, we all know that the most powerful office on the planet is in the hands of a man whose ignorance knows no bounds. The prognosticators, the talking heads, the prophets of our day are warning of a new and frightening Cold War that will continue to threaten our way of life. The poor are still with us. Despite all our technological advances, despite our proven ability to feed everyone on the planet three times over, men, women, and children continue to starve to death in all sorts of places all over the planet. We also know that basic human rights that we take for granted like clean drinking water are denied to far too many communities in this country, a land that actually contains one quarter of the world’s fresh water. We know that the rich keep getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle-class is disappearing, and we know that money can’t buy us happiness. Yet, in the midst of all these obstacles we continue to bid one another a Happy New Year. Even though we know that the folks we are wishing a Happy New Year will continue to face not only these obstacles but the realities that illness and death will no doubt touch their lives in some way or another, precisely because illness and death are part of life. Continue reading