“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. Once again, I have failed to have the foresight to book my holidays so as to avoid the task of preaching on this festival of the church. So, I find myself plumbing previous sermons in search of a way through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer them here 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

Is the Church dead? or Can these Bones Live? – Pentecost sermon – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:22-27; Acts 2:1-21

Listen to the audio only here

Well here we are in church on celebrating Pentecost! For generations Pentecost was one of the great high feast days of the church; right up there with Easter and Epiphany. That’s right, for generations, the three great high feast days of the church year were Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost; not Christmas.  Pentecost the day when the church celebrates the birth of the church. But in our life-times the festival of Pentecost has pretty much slipped off the radar of our culture. This year, well here in Canada at least, Pentecost is eclipsed by the first long-weekend of the summer season and most of our sisters and brothers are out there enjoying this rainy Victoria Day weekend. As for the rest of the world, this weekend’s Royal Wedding has garnered far more attention than the church’s birthday.

I remember, back in the olden days, when I first joined the church as a mere teenager, even then, Pentecost’s attraction was waning. I remember being taught all about the meaning of Pentecost. I can still hear our pastor, doing his best to get us excited about those tongues of fire resting upon the first followers of the Way. I remember the worship and music committee encouraging us to wear red to church. I remember the Sunday school coordinator releasing 7 red balloons into the congregation.

I was a bit of a dork back then. Unlike my fellow teenagers, who were mostly leaving the church, I joined the church when I was fifteen. I became enthralled with my guy Jesus. I immersed myself in the church. On Pentecost Sunday, 1972, just a few weeks before my 15thbirthday, I affirmed my baptism and joined Benediction Lutheran Church. So, even though the flames of Pentecost are continue to wain in our culture, Pentecost will always hold a special place in my heart.  Back in 1972, I began a long journey of discovery; a journey that would see me study not only the birth of the church but the long history of the church; a journey that took be into the story of Jesus in ways that I could never have understood back then.

I can still remember how earnest I was back then; how diligently I studied, how deeply I believed! I took it all in. I breathed deeply of the Spirit. I was a true believer. Yes, I always had my doubts.But my doubts only drove me deeper into the MYSTERY. 

I can still remember devouring every one of those red-letter words in the bible. You know the way those old bibles used to have the words of Jesus printed in red.  I can still remember the trauma of discovering that Jesus didn’t actually say all those red-letter words! I was so very certain in the beginning that if I just studied harder, I would discover the answers. Over the years, I have studied harder, but my studies have not given me the answers; my studies have driven me to deeper and deeper questions. So many certainties, have evolved into deeper questions.  So, today on this, the festival of Pentecost, when most of the world is out there, and there are but a few of us in here, I wonder, “Can these bones live?”

As handfuls of us, all over the world, celebrate the birthday of the Church, it is tempting to ask: Are our  bones too dry? Is our hope gone? Is the Church doomed? Or, can these bones live? I’d love to be able to answer each of these questions with more than a hint of my youthful certainty. Maybe, just maybe we are in the valley of dry bones. Over the years, I’ve often grieved the loss of my youthful certainty. Over the years, I’ve shed many a tear as tightly held beliefs have been challenged. Over the years, I’ve often missed that young woman that I once was, who was so sure of herself, so confident, so steadfast in her faith, so secure in the knowledge that God was in his heaven and all would be right with the world if we would only learn to do things properly.  Over the years, I have often been laid low by the pain of discovery and locked myself away to mourn the loss of that which I held so dear.

I suspect that the followers of Jesus tasted the pain of loss. They had loved Jesus and placed all their hopes and dreams for the future in him, only to have those hopes and dreams die a horrible death. Their grief is incalculable. Still pungent some 50 or 60 years later when the anonymous gospel writer that we call Luke wrote the in the Book of Acts and created the story of Pentecost.

Upon entering the city of Jerusalem for during the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Mathew: James  ben-Alpheaus: Simon, a member of the Zealot sect: and Judah ben-Jacob. Also, with them were some of the women who followed Jesus, his mother Mary and some of Jesus’ sisters and brothers.  With one mind they devoted themselves to constant prayer.”

I can see them in my mind’s eye all huddled together in an upper room united in their grief. All their hopes and dreams shattered, their lives in disarray as what they had believed so strongly so passionately was gone.  What were they to do? How could they go on?  What was the point of it all? If Jesus was gone, why bother?  Maybe he wasn’t all that they had hoped for?  

I can hear them, up there in that room arguing, weeping, searching for answers, longing for the security of the way it had been when Jesus was there with them; when they were certain about what needed to be done. I can hear them talking about Jesus, remembering the stories listening to the tales of his courage, marveling at his audacious courage, second guessing his teaching, longing for his touch, feeling the hope stir in their bellies, hope for justice, anger at the oppression they were left to deal with, confused about what to do next, not knowing what to think or believe now. Continue reading

Dream Dreams – a Pentecost sermon – Acts 1 and 2

Listen to the sermon here

I cannot begin to explain to you what happened on that day in Jerusalem, without explaining to you who I am.  My name is Mary and I come from the village of Magdala. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. But you have no idea who I am. There are many stories that have been told about me. Some of the things that have been said about me make my head spin.  Over the years, thanks to the twisted interpretations of the men in the church that I helped to give birth to, I have gained quite a reputation for being a prostitute, a whore, an adulterer. Now I will lay claim to being a sinner and God knows I have had my share of demons, but prostitution, adultery, whore, where do people get these ideas? It seems that all you need to do is use the words sinner and woman in the same sentence and all some people can think about is sex. 

Read your bibles and you will discover that, people have made me out to be something that I am not. It does not say anywhere in the New Testament that I, Mary of Magdala was ever a prostitute, the New Testament doesn’t say that, the men of the Church did that. The New Testament simply says I was a sinner who just happened to come from the city. If you insist on calling me a prostitute based on this evidence, that says more about you than it does about me.

You see, I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing.  But I was not happy.  I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often, I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair. Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation.  From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus.  Continue reading

God In Between – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday is a day for stories about the nearness of God. So we begin with the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9, then make our way to the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s story of the early followers of Jesus’ encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21, and then the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John’s story of Jesus’ insistence that he and God are one, before rounding off with Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s excellent children’s book God In Between. 

Listen to the sermon here

           There’s a children’s Book that I love. I won’t tell you the name of the book because the book’s title is also the book’s ultimate meaning. I will tell you that the book is written by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who just happens to be the second woman to be ordained as a rabbi back in 1974. She is also the first rabbi to become a mother.  Sandy Eisenberg Sasso brings the wisdom she has learned as a rabbi to her children’s books.  As the Christian celebration of Pentecost is intimately tied to the Jewish festival of Shavout, when the Jewish people read the Book of Ruth, it seems fitting to read to you from the book of a Jewish Rabbi. Shandy Eisenberg Sasso’s story begins:

“Once there was a town at the foot of a hill with no roads and almost no windows.  
Without roads the people of the town had nowhere to go, and they wondered what was on the other side of the hill.
Whenever they tried to leave their homes, they would sneeze through tall tangled weeds, tumble into deep holes and trip over rocks as large as watermelons.
Without windows they would sleep late into the day, and they often wondered when the sun turned night into morning.
Their houses were closed up like boxes sealed with tape.
They could never look out and their neighbours could never look in.

Continue reading

Enough for Everyone – Mother’s Day sermon – Easter 7B – John 17:6-11

 

Her name was Julia Ward Howe. She was born in 1819, in New York City. Her parents died when she was very young. She barely even knew her own mother.           She was raised by her aunt and uncle.  Her uncle was known as a bit of a radical.  He saw to it that his niece received a good liberal arts education; something very rare for a young woman of Julia’s day.When she was 21 years old, Julia married Samuel Gridley Howe.Howe had made a name for himself as a reformer who took quite a strong stand against slavery.Samuel often told people that he admired Julia’s ideas, her quick mind, her wit and above all her commitment to causes he supported.But Samuel, like many men of his day, believed that women should not take an active part in the causes of the day, nor should they speak in public.For her part, Julia did her best to respect her husband’s wishes. Julia had six children.Two of her children died when they were very young. In her diaries, Julia describes her life during the early part of her marriage as one of isolation.

In deference to her husband she had no life outside of her home except for Sundays when she attended church.Julia wrote of her husband’s violent outbursts as he attempted to control his wife’s activities. Julia’s only out-let was her writing. She began to gain quite a name for poetry. It is not clear just how she managed to get her poems published, but the success of her poetry led to invitations for Julia to speak at various gatherings. Apparently, Julia had quite a mouth on her. A friend of hers wrote that, “Bright things always came readily to Julia’s lips, and second thoughts often came too late to prevent her words from stinging.”

Samuel resented his wife’s success and after he managed to lose most of Julia’s inheritance from her father, he became more and more violent. Julia raised the issue of divorce, but Samuel threatened  to take the children from her, so instead Julia decided to try to fill her days of confinement to her home by educating herself.  Julia began to study philosophy. In time she even managed to teach herself several languges.Her diaries speak of her husband’s concern that Julia’s attempts at self-education were outrageous for a woman in her position in society.It was not until Julia discovered that Samuel had been unfaithful to her that she was able to negotiate a more active public life for herself. Continue reading

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

LOVE Has Died. LOVE Is Risen. LOVE Will Come Again, and Again, and Again! – Pluralism Sunday

to listen to the audio only recording of the sermon here

A little girl held tightly to her grandfather’s hand as together they walked toward the centre of town.  Suddenly a tall, beautiful, woman dressed from head to toe in a long black flowing gown appeared in the street just ahead of them. The woman’s flowing gown gave the impression that she was floating rather than walking. Beneath the black flowing cloth which covered the woman’s head, was an elegant face encased by restricting starched white material. Below the smiling woman’s face, hung a slender silver cross. The little girl tugged on her grandfather’s sleeve and asked, “Who is that, Grand-dad?”  The little girl’s grandfather explained, “That my dear is a witch! Now mind you behave yourself or she will take you away and boil you in her stew pot”.  The little girl squeezed her grandfather’s hand tightly and resolved to stay far away from witches no matter how beautiful they looked.

I couldn’t have been more than about four years old when my grandfather and I encountered that Roman Catholic nun on the road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I can’t tell you how many times as a child in Belfast, I was warned to behave myself or the nuns would come and take me away. Later I would learn that the threat of nuns was often used by protestant families to keep children in line.

For generations, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have spent most of their fighting with their neighbours about how to love God that they’ve barely had time to love God and they’ve never really learned how to love their neighbours. When I was growing up, I was taught that there are good religions and there are bad religions. It wasn’t very complicated; our religion was a good religion and everyone else’s religion was a bad religion. My parents left Northern Ireland to avoid the warring madness between Protestants and Roman Catholics euphemistically known as the “Troubles.” I know all too well the mess we humans can get into when we forget that there is more than one way to live and move and have your being in the MYSTERY that we call God.

For just over ten years now, congregations that identify themselves as “progressive” have been celebrating Pluralism Sunday. Pluralism Sunday was conceived as an opportunity for churches to celebrate religious diversity and affirm that there are so very many pathways into the MYSTERY that we call God. I must confess that nun/witch that I encountered in Belfast all those years ago has haunted my preparations for this Pluralism Sunday. Life seemed so much simpler back then. Continue reading

Stretching Metaphors Beyond their Ability to Carry Us – a sermon for Easter 5B – John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

to listen to the audio only click here

There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God.  Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.

Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the Divine.

The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”.

“Those who live in me and I in them will bear abundant fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Wait, what?   “Those who don’t live in me are like withered, rejected branches, to be picked up and thrown on the fire and burned.”

That’s the thing with metaphors. Metaphors can carry us beyond the words and images to a reality that is beyond words and images. Metaphors can also entrap us because we are prone to stretching metaphors beyond their ability to carry us. Metaphors often fail when they are delivered to folks who do not share the experiences of the creators of those metaphors. Vino veritas works, because we share the experience of seeing truth revealed when the wine is flowing. But when the anonymous-gospel-storyteller stretches his metaphor to say, “If you live on in me, and my words live on in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” the metaphor begins to fail, because not all of us share the experiences of asking and receiving whatever we want. And thus, the storyteller’s conclusion, “My Abba will be glorified if you bear much fruit and thus prove to be my disciples” fails  to convince us.

Today’s first reading from the first letter of John often fails to convince us for a different reason. Scholars believe that the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John were written by the same anonymous-storyteller, we don’t know his name, but the church has traditionally called this anonymous-storyteller John. Scholars tell us that both the gospel of John and the First Letter of John were written sometime between 90-110, some 60 to 80 years after Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. Scholars do not believe that this story-teller was an eyewitness to the life and teachings of Jesus, but rather that he experienced the life and teachings of Jesus through the stories that were handed down through the community in which he lived; a community that was suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire as well as the persecution of their neighbours because they had chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the midst of a very violent, dangerous existence our story-teller writes a letter to his community in which he insists: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. Those who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is Love.”

If only he had stopped there. But he continues, “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: “by sending the Only Begotten into the world, that we might have faith through the Anointed One. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins.”

The life and teachings of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about love; the love that Jesus had for his neighbours and the love that Jesus had for his enemies. Jesus lived a life that embodied neighbour love and extended the definition of neighbour to include those on the margins. Jesus critiqued his own culture and the culture of his people’s oppressors based on the love of neighbour. When the religious authorities and the forces of Empire teamed up to persecute Jesus and his neighbours, Jesus refused to take up arms against his enemies choosing instead to insist that only by loving our enemies can we hope to find peace.  Jesus proclaimed that peace could only be achieved through justice; justice based on love of neighbours and love of enemies.

Violence is a violation of love and will never lead to peace. Jesus chose to embody love precisely because he understood God as love. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE was so powerful, that in Jesus, people were able to see and experience God. The Jesus experience was so powerful, so life-changing that not even the death of Jesus could kill the experience of LOVE that his followers encountered in the life of Jesus.

Writing some 60 to 80 years after the brutal Roman execution of Jesus, the Jesus experience continued to speak powerfully to the followers of Jesus who continued to share that experience with others.  That they chose to tell the story of Jesus life and death in ways that would have resonated with the people of their time should come as no surprise to us. Sacrifice, booth animal and human were part and parcel of the religious traditions of the Hellenistic world in which the followers of Jesus lived.  That the followers of Jesus tried to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is not surprising. That all these centuries later we continue to try to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is astounding.  That we all too often focus on cultic sacrifice at the expense of love, is in and of itself criminal.

Every day we are learning so much about what it means to be human, about the expansive cosmos in which we live, and about the very nature of reality. We are uniquely placed to explore what lies beyond the comprehension of those who have gone before us in faith. The dimensions and the power of love deserve more than the speculations of our past or the sentimental, self-serving notions of our present age.

LOVE, the LOVE that is God, deserves our attention in the here and now. Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. If we have any hope of learning to love our neighbours and our enemies we will need to understand more fully the magnitude of the LOVE that is God so that we might begin to truly embody that LOVE. This will require that we step up and pay attention to how we arrived at a place where love can be wrapped up in guilt and confused with human sacrifice, so that we can shake off our childish notions and grow into all that we are created to be.

LOVE Beyond measure. Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion, beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time, beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond imagining. Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. So, let the metaphor carry us beyond the words and images, let it carry us to the reality that is the LOVE that we call the Divine.

Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Let us be of the vine, for we are intertwined one with another, all wound up in da-vine, for we are ONE with the DIVINE. Let the fruit of the vine flow through us so that we can be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here and now, “to be LOVE in the world”.

LOVE Beyond measure.

Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion,

beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time,

beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason,

beyond emotion, beyond imagining.

Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE.

God the DIVINE who is,

LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

May that LOVE flow through us. Amen.

Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome! – Easter 5B – Acts 8:26-40

Ethiopian EunuchWhat follows is a sermon I preached on the 5th Sunday of Easter 2003. In the 18 years since I preached this sermon, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has come a long way. The debate about the full inclusion of LGBTQ folk in the full life of the church has been resolved and we can truly say: “All are welcome!” But rule changes don’t always change practices. Sadly, there are still places in our church were not everyone is welcome.  So, I offer this sermon to cybersapce as both a reminder of where we have been and how far we need to travel. Shalom. 

Sunday May 18th 2003   Holy Cross Lutheran

Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome!  Acts 8:26-40

Earlier this week, I was talking with a few of my colleagues and as Lutheran Pastors are wont to do, our conversation drifted toward the lessons prescribed for this Sunday.  As we kicked around ideas, most of us agreed that it is difficult to preach on familiar passages.           

Most of you have heard a great many sermons on today’s gospel lesson, and so the challenge for preachers to bring some new insights is made all the more difficult.  So, we joked about just how many ways a preacher can twist and turn those vines until they finally snap off, dry up and rot.

Today’s epistle lesson isn’t much easier.  Preachers are always preaching about love; often we’re preaching to the choir, because most of you already know that God is LOVE and that in loving we encounter God.  Coming up with a new and interesting angle on the second lesson isn’t easy.  So, I suggested to my colleagues that this Sunday rather than preaching one more time about love, why not preach on the first lesson. Why not preach on the story of the Apostle Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza? Well it might surprise you to know that no matter how challenging they thought it would be to come up with one more sermon about love, not one of my colleagues thought that it would be a good idea to preach about the goings on in the desert between Philip and that Ethiopian. One of my colleagues even went so far as to say that you would have to be either very brave or very foolish to even try it.

Now I have a confession to make, at the time I had no idea what it was in this particular passage that would make my colleagues so averse to preaching on it. I have to admit that I don’t really remember ever paying all that much attention to this particular story. I have certainly never before studied it in any great detail, but my colleagues’ aversion to this text, made me curious enough to hit the books just as soon as I got home. Despite the fact that this text shows up every three years in our lectionary, try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a reference to a single published sermon on this particular text. It seems that many of the great preachers left this one alone.

It didn’t take me long to figure out just why this text is so daunting and why my colleagues are not alone in giving it such a wide berth. Now I don’t claim to be particularly brave, but I’ve already preached on today’s other readings. Besides it’s a long weekend and I figured that a lot of people would be away and I could sneak this one in. So this fool is about to rush in, where many have feared to tread.

Our story begins when an angel directs the apostle Philip to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On this road in the desert Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch. Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a really odd way to introduce someone; no name, just an Ethiopian eunuch. The author must have thought it was important because he tells us not once but five times that the Ethiopian was a eunuch. I know what an Ethiopian is.  Philip has encountered a black African man in the desert. Now that in and of it’s self is pretty remarkable. You will see later that this black man was the first missionary to Africa. But surely this can’t be the reason why so many preachers shy away from this text. So what exactly is a eunuch? According to the most current scholarship, in the first century a eunuch is one of two things. A eunuch could have been a man who had been castrated.  Now for those of you who didn’t grow up on a farm to castrate means to remove a male’s testicles. So, this particular Ethiopian could have been a castrated male, or he could have been a male who wasn’t like most males. According to the scholars, men who showed a preference for other men or displayed little or no interest in women, or who were in anyway effeminate, in the first century these men were called eunuchs. Continue reading

The Sheepskin Baggage We Bring to the Text: sermon for Easter 4B – John 10

Traditionally the fourth Sunday in Easter is celebrated as Good Shepherd Sunday so it should not surprise us that a pesky lamb shows up. Readings:  Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

Listen to the sermon here

I am currently enjoying a continuing education leave in Belfast, Northern Ireland and so, it seems only right that I should begin by telling an Irish story. This particular story comes from the Irish author Frank McCourt. Some of you will be familiar with his most famous book, Angela’s Ashes. But this story comes from his autobiographical book entitled “Tis” McCourt was a school teacher and he tells this story about a particular class in which he was challenging the assumptions of his young students.

The story begins with a familiar nursery rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the king’s horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

McCourt asks his young students to tell him what’s going on in this nursery rhymed. The hands are up like a shot. “Well, like, this egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know you can never put an egg back together again. I mean, like, it’s common sense.

McCourt asks: “Who says it’s an egg?”

“Of course, it’s an egg. Everyone knows that.

Where does it say it’s an egg?

They’re thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never a doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis.

“I’m not destroying,” insists McCourt, “I just want to know where you got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg?”

“Because,” Mr. McCourt, “it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture musta known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg.”

“All right.” Says McCourt: “If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be, but I know the future lawyers in this class with never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg.”

The story of Humpty Dumpty and the missing egg has a great deal in common with the story of Jesus and the missing sacrifice for sin. When it comes to the written word, we tend to see what we’ve been conditioned to see. Today’s gospel text is a good example of our seeing and reading into the text things that are not there. The gospel of John was written at the end of the first century; at least one possibly two generations after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We know that the gospel of John is not what we 21stcentury dwellers would call history. We know the story-teller that we call John wrote his interpretations of the Jesus experience to address the needs of his community who were struggling under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. We know that the gospel storyteller that we call John relied heavily upon the stories, myths and history of the Hebrews to convey the magnitude of the impact Jesus life, death, and resurrection had on the small band of followers of Jesus, who were struggling to survive in very troubled times. Continue reading

Christ Appeared on the Road to Emmaus and I Almost Didn’t Recognize Her – a sermon for Easter 3B – Luke 24:36b-48

emergencyMy most memorable journey on the road to Emmaus was taken behind the wheel of a 1981 Oldsmobile, Cutlass, Brougham. I loved that car. It was a thing of beauty. It was a gift from my home congregation so that I could travel back and forth across the country to and from seminary. Despite its propensity to guzzle gas it was the perfect combination of power and elegance. It had the most amazingly plush interior with every imaginable power amenity of its day. It handled like a dream and even though I loved driving that car, neither it nor I faired well on our journey on the road to Emmaus. Five weeks into my Clinical training at the Grand River Hospital and I’d just completed one of the toughest weeks of my life when I set off for Emmaus. Clinical Pastoral Education is what the Church calls it but seminary students have other names for it, like boot camp, torture or hell. Twelve weeks of on the job training in a busy hospital combined with daily psychotherapy, group sessions, and sleep deprivation. It’s all designed to help seminarians put two years of academic study into practice before sending them off on a yearlong internship. Ask most pastors about their Clinical Pastoral Education and they’re likely to sit you down and tell you story after story about how intense an experience it was. Many of my colleagues will tell you that it almost broke them into little pieces, or that it almost destroyed their faith, or that they didn’t think they’d survive, or how they never thought that it was possible to be that scared or insecure for that many hours every day. Boot camp, torture, or hell, it all depended on whether or not you were able to get any sleep or if the demons you faced on the wards managed to destroy whatever self-confidence you might be able to muster.

The week before I set off on the road to Emmaus, wasn’t as bad as all that. I felt like I was just beginning to get the hang of things. I thought that the worst might be over. I’d managed to conquer my fear of being called Chaplain and being expected to help people who were sick, in pain, in distress, or dying. Why that week I’d even managed to help one or two of my patients. Those nagging doubts that haunted me during the first month of Clinical training were beginning to fade. It was becoming easier to believe that God was there in the midst of all the turmoil. I thought that maybe just maybe I could do the job and the terror wasn’t quite so intense when my pager went off. I remember saying to a colleague that maybe we’d be able to get through our Clinical training without coming up against the inevitable crisis of the faith that so many of our fellow students had warned us about. I wasn’t even nervous about having pulled the short straw for the long-weekend shift. 72 hours as the on-call emergency chaplain for the entire hospital. I felt like I was ready; that with God’s help, I could face anything that came my way.

I wasn’t particularly nervous when my pager went off and I calmly dialed the operator who announced that there’d been an MVA and six patients were on route; two of them were vital signs absent. MVA – Multiple vehicle accident. Vital signs absent = that usually means dead, but only a doctor can actually pronounce death so patients without vital signs are transported to the hospital before being pronounced dead. Continue reading

Believing in the Resurrection is not the point! – sermon – Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31 – Mya Angelou – Still I Rise

Readings included 1 Corinthians 15 & John 20:19-31 – between the readings we watched Mya Angelou preform her poem: Still I Rise – you can view the video here
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen in us!  Alleluia! So, Christ is Risen!  So, What??? What can it possibly mean to you and to me, that a rag-tag bunch of Jesus’ followers gathered together in an upper-room and talked about their experiences of Jesus and decided that not even death could extinguish the life that they experienced in Jesus?  What difference does it make to you or to I that Christ is risen? The truth is that it can make absolutely no difference what so ever. Now there are a whole lot of people who will tell you that the important thing about resurrection is that you believe it.  Those same folks absolutely love the story of doubting Thomas. So, every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of doubting Thomas as a kind of inoculation against Thomas’ disease. I sometimes think that the designers of the lectionary were trying to build up our resistance to doubt. Having problems believing in resurrection? — Well don’t do what Thomas did, don’t doubt, because you’ll be proven wrong.  Jesus is alive, the wounds in his hands proved that to Doubting Thomas, so have no doubt about it the resurrection happened!  Believe in the resurrection!

The trouble with believing in stuff is that belief can make absolutely no difference what so ever.  I can believe in justice for all, but unless I’m prepared to seek justice, to be fair, or to resist injustice, it makes absolutely no difference what so ever that I believe in justice.  We can shout, “Christ is risen!” all we want but unless we are willing to live it, the resurrection means very little at all. In order to live the resurrection, we need to begin practicing resurrection.  In order to practice something, we need to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, or what it feels like. Most of us have seen resurrection with our own eyes. Many of us have experienced resurrection in our own lives. The trouble is most of us would hesitate to label what we have seen with our own eyes as “resurrection.” We hesitate to call something we have seen or experienced in our own body as resurrection. It’s long past time for us to move beyond “believing in resurrection” so that we can actually rise up.

Nearly 70 years or so after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John told a story of resurrection. According to this story, a bunch of rag-tag Jesus followers were huddled together in fear. Their beloved leader had been brutally executed by the powers that be and they were terrified that they would be next.  Paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened that gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. Continue reading

Easter: 50 Days to Celebrate the Practice of Resurrection! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

Looking ahead to 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

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection!

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection?

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 yearns for?

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas

A Way to Understand the Resurrection – Richard Holloway

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness – a sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Practicing Resurrection pastordawnOur first reading was the traditional gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter in which we heard the story of Doubting Thomas for John 20:19-31. This was followed by a video in which Richard Holloway retells the story of Peter’s denial and the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. You can view the video here . This was followed by the gospel reading from John 21:15-20

Listen to the sermon here

It has been said that, “The shortest between a human being and truth is a story.” It has also been said that the greatest story ever told is the story of resurrection. Like all really good stories, the story of resurrection has been told over and over again as storytellers attempt to convey the truth. We have heard Easter’s story of resurrection so many times that you would think the truth of resurrection would be obvious to us all. Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar story. Some of us have been shaped by this particular story. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about this story. Some of us have rejected this story and filed it with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from this story convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear this story because it takes us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with this story until it releases all the truth that it harbours in, with, and between the lines which calls us toward a new way of being that we long to embrace. I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with this familiar story determined to get from this ancient tale not just truth but an inkling of the Divine who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories.

The gospel storyteller who we know as John tells Easter’s resurrection story in a particular way, determined to reveal the truth that dwells in him and among the people with whom he dwelled. One of the things that we 21stcentury truth-seekers are particularly fond of is deconstructing stories. We love to take stories apart, dissecting every line, examining each and every detail, each and every word so as not to miss a single nuance of the author’s intent. We are also skilled in the imperfect art of attempting to place stories back into their historical context so that we can establish exactly what was going on in the first century lives of the story-teller and his listeners. We look to the historical context in the hope that we can determine the original meaning of the story. Convinced that history can tell us what the story-teller cannot, we wrestle with the facts, as best as we can determine them, so that we can be sure that the truth we thought we knew is more than just the summation of our mistaken interpretations.

Together, we have wrestled with Easter’s story of resurrection and together, I must say that we are pretty good wrestlers. We have deconstructed this story, we have applied the historical-critical method, we have approached it from all sorts of angles and employed the best 21stcentury scholars to aid us in our struggle to wrestle the truth from the piles and piles of dogma, which have been heaped upon it. But this morning, I’d like to approach Easter’s story of resurrection from the perspective, not of wrestlers determined to find the truth, but rather as people touched by the story itself. But even though we are not going to wrestle, like Jacob of old, we run the risk of being touched and even wounded by the truth as the Divine One is revealed and we are compelled by our wounds to walk in a different way. Continue reading

LOVE Is Risen! – a sermon for Easter Sunday

A couple of kids were taken to church on Easter Sunday by their grandmother. These kids hadn’t been to church since their grandmother took them to the Christmas pageant. Angie was six years old, and her brother Joel was four. Joel giggled, sang and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had had enough. “You’re not supposed to talk out loud in church.” “Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, “See those two men standing by the door? They’re hushers.”

Little bobby and his family travelled a long way to have Easter Sunday lunch at his grandmother’s house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served.  When Bobby received his plate, he started eating right away. His Father tried to stop him:  ‘Bobby, wait until we say grace,’  ‘I don’t have to,’ the five-year-old replied.  “OH yes you do Bobby!” his Father shouted, ‘We always say a prayer before eating at our house.’ ‘That’s at our house,’ Bobby explained, ‘but this is Grandma’s house, and she knows how to cook.’

A new pastor was visiting in the homes of her parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door.  Therefore, he took out a business card and wrote ‘Revelation 3:20’ on the back of it and stuck it in the door. When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, ‘Genesis 3:10…’ Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter…Revelation 3:20 begins: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ Genesis 3:10 reads, ‘I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked.’

A Baptist pastor was in the middle of the children’s sermon. The pastor, asked the children if they knew what the resurrection was. Now, I know that you have to ask questions during children’s sermons, but I also know from bitter experience that asking children questions in front of a congregation is not only tricky, it can be downright dangerous. When this pastor asked the children if they knew what the resurrection was, a little boy raised his hand……..The pastor called on him and the little boy said, “I know that if you have a resurrection that lasts more than four hours you are supposed to call the doctor.”

I have a confession to make: I seriously considered just standing up here on this glorious Easter morning and simply telling you joke after joke and trying my best to make you laugh. There’s this ancient tradition of telling jokes at Easter. Legend has it that joke telling at Easter became a popular way of imitating God’s ability to get the last laugh on the power that tried to destroy Jesus. I mean, it’s April Fools’ Day, after all, and even if my joke-telling makes a fool out of me, at least my playing the fool is in keeping with the day!

But, even though it is tempting to play the fool and just keep telling you jokes, I suspect that there might be one or two of you who expect me to talk more seriously about resurrection. By now, I hope that most of you already know that I don’t believe that resurrection is about the physical resuscitation of a corpse. I’ve preached on and on about how I take the Apostle Paul seriously when he says that talk of a physical resurrection is stupid. That’s 1stCorinthians chapter 15 – which you are all capable of reading for yourselves if you don’t believe me. Resurrection is about something so much more miraculous than the resuscitation of a corpse. So, let’s leave theology and doctrine for another day. Don’t worry, Easter lasts for 50 days. So, there will be plenty of opportunities for us to explore the theological implications of resurrection. Today, on this glorious Easter morning, let’s do what our ancestors were so good at doing when it comes to Easter, let’s not try to explain resurrection, instead let me tell you a story about resurrection. Continue reading

Moving on from the Tragedy of Good Friday

When tragedy strikes, we have this innate need to know the facts. What happened? It is as if the facts about what happened can save us from the horrendous impact of the tragedy. Tell us the facts. Tell us what happened: where it happened? when it happened? how it happened? Give us the facts and we will be able to figure out why it happened. If we figure out why it happened we can make sense of the tragedy, we can put the colossal impact of the tragedy into context. Once we put the tragedy into context we can get some perspective on it and begin to manage it, so that we can move on from the tragedy.

So, what are the facts? Well, what happened is, they executed Jesus. When? close to 2000 years ago. How? They nailed him to a tree, trusting that the weight of his body would in time cause his body to shut down in the most horrendous way. These are the barest of facts. In the nearly 2000 years that have passed since the tragedy of one man’s execution at the hands of a cruel Empire, we have been given many more facts about this particular tragedy. Indeed, we have been given facts, stories, legends, myths, conjectures, creeds, rituals, testimonies, and sermons about this particular tragedy. Whole libraries exist full of books written over 20 centuries trying to make sense of this tragedy, trying to put the horrendous details into context, giving us all sorts of perspectives and still we cannot make sense of this tragedy, let alone move on from it. So, we gather together, and we ask ourselves, Why? Continue reading

LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! – with links to previous Easter Sermons

Easter sermons – click on the links

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

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is risen indeed – SO WHAT! Today, we gather to proclaim that the LOVE that we call God is more powerful than death. On Good Friday, we gathered here in this sanctuary surround by images of death. I had posted all sorts of photographic images of the kind of human failures that proclaim the power of death; images collected from the news of the day. On these walls, hung examples of human failure – graphic representations of the reality that the embodiment of LOVE, which is what we call Christ, continues to be crucified. The crucifixion did not happen once and for all when Jesus, the embodiment of the LOVE that we call God, was executed by the powers that be.

Today, over and over again, the embodiment of LOVE dies at the hands of the powers that be. The embodiment of LOVE, which is what we can the Christ, continues to be crucified each time LOVE is impoverish, starved, bombed, executed, imperiled, tortured, neglected, murdered, or forsaken, by the powers of death; powers that put selfishness, greed, indifference, and lust for power above LOVE. And so, on this Good Friday you would have seen examples of modern crucifixions in which the Earth was being ravaged and abused by our greed and indifference, animals driven out and killed by pollution and climate change, children starving in parts of the world we would prefer not to think about, First Nations people suffering without adequate housing or drinking water, homeless people neglected on our streets, war-torn ravaged villages, and a collection of modern martyrs who like Jesus, have been crucified as a result of their passion for justice. These disturbing images formed our Stations of the Cross as we lamented so many crucifixions. 

 After our Maundy Thursday service when we’d finished remembering Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another, I hung the evidence of the death of embodied LOVE upon these walls. One of the images, reduced me to tears. I suspect that the image that undid me, lies in each of your minds because this image was beamed all over the world. Continue reading

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

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! 

Teach Us to Pray! To Whom Shall We Go? Pray Without Ceasing! – Giving Up God for Lent 5 – Luke 11, John 6, 1 Thessalonians 5

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!

Part II

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!  

Part III

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.

Part IV

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!