TSADIYQ: So Much More than Mere Righteousness! – Amos 5:23-24

Years ago, when I was in the business of developing package holiday tours, I traveled on a junket to the city of Lima which was sponsored by the government of Peru. The Peruvian government tourist office was trying to convince the travel industry that Lima was about to become the hottest destinations for North Americans. I had never been to Peru before, but based on what I knew of the conditions in Peru, I strongly doubted that Canadians would be flocking there in great numbers. The now defunct Canadian Pacific Airways, had just opened up a new air route to Lima and it was my job to put together holiday packages for the airline. These government sponsored tours are designed to showcase a destination in its best light. So, I was not surprised when we were quickly hustled out of the airport in luxurious limos and taken to the best hotel in the city. That night after a magnificent meal we were briefed by the government tourism officials on what we could expect to find in the streets of Lima. During the course of our briefing, we were warned that from time to time during our stay we would undoubtedly run into “the odd beggar or two.”

The odd beggar or two? That phrase struck me as odd at the time.  But now it fills me with shame as I remember passively listening without comment. We were instructed not to let these beggars bother us. We were assured that many of them weren’t nearly as bad off as they looked and that we shouldn’t allow them to play on our sympathies and spoil our stay in Lima. According to our guide, begging was a way of life for most of the people who lived on the streets and if we showed them any courtesy, they would only try to take advantage of us. We were also warned to leave any valuables in the hotel safe. Wearing jewelry of any kind was strongly discouraged by our government guides.

The next morning as we prepared for our sightseeing tour, my assistant John and I, we dutifully deposited our valuables into the hotel safe. Before we left the hotel, John, who’d been on a few of these junkets with me in the past, asked me if I had enough change. John knew that our guide’s instructions about giving money to beggars would have, as usual, fallen on deaf ears. John didn’t like the idea that no matter where we were, if someone asked me for a handout, I always tried to oblige. John insisted that giving money to beggars sends out the wrong signal. He insisted that if you give money to one, then you’ll have to give money to all of them, and there’s no way that you can solve a beggar’s problems with a few coins, let alone deal with the problems of all the beggars who’ll jump on the gravy train. John and I had long since stopped arguing about the matter. We’d worked together for a long time, and we’d agreed to disagree, besides I was his boss, so rather than try to argue with me John just sort of looked out for me and tried to make sure I didn’t get myself into too much trouble. I had assured John that I had enough small change to see us through the morning, but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught from the homeless children of Peru.

It only took about ten minutes before my pockets were empty. When I ran out of coins, I was stunned when John took over where I left off. In the past, John had always managed to stick to his guns, but these kids somehow managed to get to him. It’s difficult for North Americans to understand how small children can be allowed to roam the streets. The poverty is beyond comprehension. I don’t remember much about the city of Lima. I couldn’t tell you anything about the tourist attractions which we visited. But I can still remember the pain and desperation in the eyes of the children we encountered. At lunch, John and I filled our pockets with left over bread and bits of cheese, which we gave to the children who accosted us outside the restaurant. John kept blaming me for starting something that we had no hope of finishing. But despite his insistence that we adopt a tougher stance, it was John who hustled over to the shop across the street and bought several loaves of bread, which he distributed, to a small band of kids who followed us the rest of the afternoon.

As we headed back to our hotel, I think both John and I took some consolation in the knowledge that for at least a few hours, the little band of kids who were following us, had food in their bellies. We were discussing the relative merits of buying these kids dinner, when a boy, who couldn’t have been more than about ten years old, came around the corner and blocked our way. Before John could do anything, the boy grabbed me by the arm. John was about to reach for the boy’s shoulder, but something in the boy’s appearance stunned John into stillness. The oozing sores which covered most of the boy’s face were revolting. It was as though this child was actually rotting before our very eyes. Before John or I could recover from the horror of being in such close proximity to septic human flesh, the boy reached for the silver necklace which hung around my neck. I had tucked the silver cross which hung around my neck inside my shirt so as not to attract attention to it. But as the boy took hold of the chain, the cross was revealed. The boy hesitated for just a moment, and the two of us exchanged a glace which contained such sorrow. And then in a flash, the boy, the chain, and the silver cross were gone.

I wasn’t too upset about the loss of a cheap silver chain and the cross was something which I had picked up in a flea market in London. So, all in all, I wasn’t out more than about twenty bucks or so. But John was livid.  He was furious and nothing I could say or do would calm him down. What upset John the most was his conviction that by stealing a cross the boy had crossed a line which was unforgivable. As John saw it, the moment of hesitation meant that the boy actually knew what the cross represented and then he stole it anyway. Peru is a largely Roman Catholic country and as John saw it, this kid had to know that what he was doing was wrong. The fact that this kid might have been starving wasn’t any kind of excuse as far as John could see. In John’s world, some lines should never be crossed, no matter how desperate you are.

Word of our altercation on the streets of Lima, eventually got back to our government guide, Mano, who, tried to understand John’s indignation over the theft of a cross, but somehow his heart just wasn’t in it. Mano did his best to explain the desperation of the children who live on the streets. But when John’s anger could not be consoled, Mano asked us if we’d like to see where most of these kids come from. So, the next morning Mano took John and I to a landfill just outside of Lima. There in the garbage of the city was a world I will never forget. Men, women and children living and dying in the decay and the filth of the city. Children, toddlers, poking around in the garbage trying to find something to eat. The smell and the stench of the steaming, rotting garbage was indistinguishable from the smell and the stench of the rotting children.

In that stinking mess, we saw things which still have the power cause me to weep. John, without speaking a word, began to empty his pockets. But there was no way that he or I could even begin to make a dent in the need. By the time we returned to the car we had quite a following. With no more cash left, we were desperate to get out of there. And yet, surrounded by such human need and overwhelmed by human stench, we stood by the car paralyzed by despair. Mano encouraged us to get in the car, but we just stood there, and we listened as the children tugging at our clothing and they begged us. They tried to get us to give them something, anything which would help them to survive. It was then that John took off the gold chain which hung around his neck. I couldn’t help noticing the gold cross which hung from that chain. John reached out to littlest of the boys and placed the treasure in his hands. Neither of us said a word on our way back to the hotel.

It wasn’t until about three weeks after we returned home that we actually talked to each other about our experience. John was having a difficult time reconciling what we did for a living with the weight of human need. Somehow helping to organize holidays for wealthy North Americans just wasn’t enough for him anymore. Six months later, John enrolled in teachers’ collage. He can’t help all the children, but he can and does help wherever and whenever he can. John is a righteous man.

For years the well-known phrase in the Book of the Prophet Amos, annoyed me. According to the story, Amos hears the annoyed voice of YHWH say, “Spare me the racket of your chanting! Relieve me the strumming of your harps! Instead, let justice flow down like a river, and righteousness flow like an unfailing stream.” (Amos 5:23-24) I could always relate to the longing to let justice flow. But righteousness was something I had little or no appetite for. In my mind, the idea of righteousness was always associated with the holier than thou crowd of self-righteous religious types. I had no desire to see righteousness flowing like an unending stream. The WISDOM of our Hebrew ancestors was hidden from me by the limited translations which I had always been offered of the Hebrew word tsadiyq. The common way our English word righteousness has come to be understood fails to capture the rich meanings of tsadiyg. In Hebrew and indeed in modern Judaism, tsadiyg goes so much deeper than mere righteousness. Tsadiyg is a way of being in the world which embodies the LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY we call, “God.” For to practice tsadiyg is to seek ways of helping people in need. Tsadiyg is to be generous with your time and resources, to be charitable. Tsadiyg to be known not for your religious piety or self-righteous concerns, but to be famous for outrageous acts of generosity, kindness, and indeed charity. Charity, the word itself is an old-English word which comes from the Latin Vulgate’s translation of the Greek word, agape, which means LOVE. To be tsadiyg is to be LOVE in the world!

When I think of my old friend John’s outrageous act of charity, I know full well that his momentary act of desperation was irrational and in the end it probably did very little to change much of anything by the world’s standards. It could even be argued that it would be perfectly reasonable for me to respond with self-righteous indignation considering John’s initial reaction to my own feeble attempts to respond to suffering. Over the years I have heard all sorts of reasonable, some might even say righteous arguments, about why charity is futile. Many of us will refuse to give charity, arguing that we must get to the heart of the matter and solve the problems behind the suffering. Which brings us to the deepest meaning of the word tsadiyq, which is to seek justice. Justice, the kind of justice which Jesus embodied with his very life. The kind of justice which Marcus Borg described as “distributive justice.” Or as John Dominic Crossan puts it, “justice is when everyone has enough.” Tsadiyq is not an either-or way of being in the world. It’s not charity or justice. It’s both and. Charity and justice. Tsadiyq is outrageous acts of generosity. Charity if you will which is after all LOVE. Tsadiyq is also seeking justice. The kind of justice which concerns itself with distributing the blessings of Creation in ways which ensure everyone has enough. Justice which is in the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public. Charity and justice are not either-or propositions, they are tsadiyq, a way of being LOVE in the world. Which brings us right back to righteousness.  Righteousness an English word which comes from an earlier English word, “rightwise.” There’s WISDOM at the heart of righteousness.  HOLY WISDOM Herself, the ONE our Hebrew ancestors speak of as dancing at the birth of Creation,  the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Let it be said of us that we embody tsadiyq, that we seek ways to be generous, charitable and outrageous in our efforts to serve others, that we are seekers of justice, so that all may have enough, that in our efforts to embrace tsadiyq we are rightwise in our desire to be LOVE in the world, so that justice may flow down like a river, and righteousness flow like an unfailing stream. Let it be so among us.  Let it be so.  Amen.

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METANOIA the First Words Out of Jesus’ Mouth – Mark 1:14-15

Metanoia is one of my favorite words in all of Scripture. Metanoia is also one of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. In the very first chapter of the first gospel written sometime after the year 70, by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark, the story of Jesus begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordon, followed by a brief allusion to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness.

In all of this, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller’s Jesus remains silent, speaking not a word until the verse 15thverse of the first chapter, where we are told that John has been arrested and Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Listen to the first account of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth, when Jesus’ proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” That’s it.  That’s all there is to it.  Jesus’ first words, according to the first of the four anonymous gospel accounts. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!”

After giving us this first proclamation of Jesus, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller immediately moves the story on by taking Jesus for a walk down by the Sea of Galilee in search of some fishers to whom Jesus speaks his next words, “Follow me!” and you know how the rest of the story goes.

Sadly, very few of us seem to pay much attention to the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia.  Such a beautiful word.  Such a monumental beginning. Metanoia if only we could hear the blessing Jesus offered humanity, with this wondrous commandment, metanoia. Sadly, this magnificent commandment metanoia has been abused over the centuries. Tragically, translators have for far too long, offered us a severely limited translation of metanoia; a translation which fails to capture the richness or the beauty of metanoia.

For far too long, far too many of us have been stuck in our ways, the very ways from which Jesus was trying to set people free. We have been stuck in our ways but the little, limiting, restrictive, incomplete, dare I say, ugly translation of the word metanoia. Repent. Repent, I say. Repent! Repent, look it up.  Worse yet, Google it. Repent, let me quote Google for you, Repent means,  “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” Google even uses it in a sentence: “the priest urged his listeners to repent.” Can it be that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were: “feel or express sincere regret or remorse”? Well, I’m sure that there are all sorts of people who believe that we must repent if we want to follow Jesus. But as for me, I’m not buying it.

Did you ever notice how very often the little English word “repent” is followed by a dire warning designed to inspire fear? Repent or else something terrible is going to happen to you!  The number of times the little word “repent” is used to inspire fear and trembling in the name of Jesus, makes me wonder why so many of Jesus’ would-be followers have forgotten Jesus’ instructions about fear itself. Why is it that so many Christians are so well versed in the Ten Commandments, or the Greatest Commandment but so very few of us are as well versed in the top commandment? By top commandment, I mean the commandment most often cited in our sacred Scriptures. The commandment, “Do not be afraid,” appears 366 times in the Bible. As they say in Ireland, “366 times that’s once for every day of the year and once for no reason at all.”  “Do not be afraid.” In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, we hear first the voice of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” say it again and again, and then Jesus says over and over again, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus is positively pre-occupied with the notion that we should not fear, have no fear, fear NOT! So, why are so many of Jesus’ followers so willing to choose fear? Fear is not Good News! Fear wells up from the darkest regions of our psyche and limits our capacity to be all that we are created to be, precisely because fear makes us obsess about our own self-interests and limits our ability to see beyond our needs to the needs of others. Fear limits our ability to co-operate with others and co-operation is the only hope for humanity.

There’s a story from India which sheds light upon the darkness of our fear. People have told this story for several thousand years. It’s about a man who was condemned to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. The man was warned that if he made the slightest movement, the snake would be on top of him, and he would surely die. So, the man stood in the corner of the cell, directly opposite to where the snake was, and he was petrified. He barely dared to breathe for fear of alerting the snake to his presence. The man stood stiff in the corner. He was actually petrified all night long. The next morning, as the first rays of light began to come into the cell, the man was scarcely able to make out the shape of the snake, and he said to himself, “I am so lucky that I never stirred once during the night. But as the sun rose higher, when the full force of the light came into the cell, the man could finally see that the focus of his fear wasn’t a snake at all. It was nothing more than an old rope.

In so many of the rooms in our minds, there are harmless old ropes thrown in corners. When our fear begins to work on us, we convert those old ropes into monsters, who hold us prisoner in the bleakest, most impoverished rooms of our minds. Outside of these rooms there are glories waiting for us, but we remain transfixed and sometimes even paralyzed by our fears. For far too long now, the old rope of repentance has inspired fear in far too many people and humanity is not the better for it.

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia, a Greek word made up of two Greek words: “meta” which means, “beyond” and “noos” which means “mind”. Metanoia is a full rich phrase which can be translated in many ways, ways beyond the fear-inspiring word “repent”.  Metanoia is an invitation to move beyond your current way of thinking. Metanoia is an invitation to think new thoughts.

Theologian Ron Rolheiser moved me beyond my own ways of thinking about metanoia when he described the first words out of Jesus’ mouth as a pun on the word “paranoia” also from two little Greek words “para” to be beside and “noos” for mind. To be beside one’s mind is the Greek for madness. Today the word paranoia is used as a diagnosis for the irrational fear that people are out to get you. Rolheiser interprets the first words out of Jesus mouth as an invitation away from paranoia and into metanoia. Or as Jesus and the prophets before him continuously proclaimed, “have no fear,” “do not be afraid,” or “Fear NOT!” 366 times.

Metanoia, come out of your fearful mind, move beyond fear, think new thoughts. “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand!” The basileia ton theou, the reign of God, the kin-dom, the family of DIVINITY is Good News because it is at hand. Peace through justice is at hand, right here and right now, DIVINITY’s Reign of peace through justice, is within our grasp, through our hands, and our minds, and our dreams, beyond our fear. If we will only metanoia and believe the Good News! If we will only move beyond our current ways of thinking, beyond our fear-induced notions, beyond our paranoia, beyond ourselves, to LOVE. LOVE the greatest of the commandments. Let us metanoia, move beyond our fear to LOVE, so that all may know the kin-dom of the DIVINE MYSTERY we call God, the ONE who is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.

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Sermon: BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound Welling Up Within

My first conscious memory of hearing the BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound, the still small voice of DIVINITY happened on a sojourn into a Thin Place during a summer camping trip when I was just 13. My family had travelled to the west coast of Vancouver Island to what was back then, a mostly unknown treasure. Pachena Bay is by far one of the most beautiful places in all of creation. These days hikers on the Pacific Rim trail often begin or end their hike by camping at Pachena Bay. But way back then; the bay was only accessible by the most treacherous of logging roads. And there was no official campsite back then. You simply asked the members of the First Nation for permission to pitch your tents on their land. As a result of this splendid isolation, we spent several weeks as the only family camped in this idyllic bay.

One of the main attractions at Pachena Bay were the pods of whales that are attracted to the bay. Pachena Bay with its warm Pacific waters, heated even more by virtue of its shallow depths, attracted schools of salmon, ling cod and halibut, who make up a veritable smorgasbord for the pods of whales, that continue to visit the bay to this very day. One quiet afternoon my brother Alan and I were playing on the shore. Our parents were sound asleep when the whales arrived. I’m not sure how many whales entered the bay. Our count was based on the number of spouts that emanated from their blowholes. So, there could have been half a dozen or there could have been only one whale. Anyway, we did what any self-respecting kid would have done in our position. We jumped into the rubber dingy, and we paddled as fast as we could, determined to chase whales. Now, the dingy wasn’t totally inflated on account of the leak that it had sprung the day before. So, it made it difficult for us to work up much speed. But I must tell you, when that first whale jumped up out of the water, and we saw the tell-tale signs of those white patches on its side, we moved faster than you’d think two kids in a slowly deflating rubber dingy ought to be able to manage.

Killer whales. These days they are called orcas. But Alan and I, we knew exactly what they were, and they certainly weren’t beautiful orcas to us. They were big giant killer whales, and we knew that we were their lunch. Suddenly, one of those magnificent monsters rubbed up against the bottom of our dingy. I went headfirst into the ocean, and I sank like a stone. The underwater sight of two killer whales caused me to open my mouth to scream and water rushed into my lungs. I knew I was about to drown. That’s when I heard the small voice. It was a very quiet little voice deep down inside of me, at least I think it was inside of me. The small voice within my very soul said only one word “Swim.”

And swim we did all the way back to shore. When our heartbeats returned to normal, we decided that we’d made a clean escape and we chose not to share the adventure with our sleeping parents. As frightened as I was, I was determined to get close to these magnificent beasts. So, the next morning I rose early, and as the mist was rising over the water I paddled out toward the mouth of the bay and waited. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in the presence of something much larger than myself. As a whale gently brushed the underside of the dingy, a strange calm came over me and I was not afraid.  It was as if my whole being was alive. One of the whales rose out of the water and as she came crashing down, I marveled at the magnificence of this beast. After what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, the whales moved on and I was left to clumsily put words onto the depth of my experiences, in what the ancient Celts would call a Thin Place; a place where the lines between the ordinary and the sacred are thin, and we can see, feel, touch, hear the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. 

There’s a story in the Hebrew Scriptures which resonates with me in light of some of my own experiences in Thin Places, in the presence of MYSTERY. You’ll find it in the first Book of Kings. (1 Kings 19:1-12) It is about a prophet named Elijah, who was struggling to understand the will of the they knew as YHWH, the HEBREW name for the MYSTERY we call God, which can be translated as I AM, WHO AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE or the GREAT I AM. Our HEBREW ancestors, JESUS’ very own kin, understood the MYSTERY which we call GOD, as the verb TO BE, for this MYSTERY IS BEING itself.  Anyway, poor old Elijah suffered in his quest to bring the WORD of YHWH to his people and in the midst of his turmoil, Elijah was lost and fearing for his life.   As the ancient storytellers weave their tail, Elijah was familiar with the voice of YHWH, so much so that he dared to argue with the voice.

One day, Elijah demanded of the voice, “I have been very zealous for YHWH God Omnipotent. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death by the sword. I am the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me, too.” Elohim (that’s an ancient Hebrew word which we translate simply as God or Lord.  The word literally translates as EL – the generic term for a god, put together with the feminine form of the word for “majesty” – so clearly “LORD” is not a correct translation for ELOHIM the God who is described as more than one QUEEN?) But I digress. “ELOHIM,” the GOD who is the feminine plural of MAJESTY, said to Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWEH, for YAHWEH is about to pass by.” Imagine the MYSTERY, which is the I AM, the very essence of BEING is about to pass by. Our Hebrew storyteller paints such a vivid picture of the Thin Place in which Elijah stands. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWEH’s power—but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire—but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice.”

“A still small voice.” Our English translations do not do the HEBREW justice. For after the fire came a BAT KOL. BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND or as some translations put it the DAUGHTER OF A VOICE. ELOHIM the MYSTERY which IS the god known by our ancestors as the GOD who IS the feminine plural of MAJESTY, the ONE Elijah knew as YHWH, the ONE who IS the verb TO BE, the I AM, this ONE comes to Elijah in the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND.

Have you heard Her this DAUGHTER OF A SOUND? Back when I was just 13, I didn’t really have words to describe what was happening, but the experience was so vivid that over the years I’ve often traveled back to those moments of wonder. It was as if I was connected for the first time to all that I could see and to more than I could see. I felt a strength within, and a power envelope me, and even though, it overwhelmed all my senses, I was not afraid. I had a confidence which goes beyond words; a confidence which began with one WORD, a word uttered by the BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND, which spoke a still small word from within me. A kind of assurance that I was an intricate part of something so much bigger than myself. The colours of the bay were more vivid than before, and it was as if I could actually taste the contours of the mountains. I felt held and cared for in a way which defies explanation because it is beyond words and yet grounded in the WORD which welled up within me. All too soon, the experience ended, and I was left feeling like I’d travelled beyond the bay to a place beyond time itself.

It would be years and years before I could put a name to where I’d been, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I had encountered the HOLY in that DAUGHTER OF A SOUND, who spoke within. The HOLY, the MYSTERY, the DIVINE, the ONE we call “God.” Years of reflecting on the various times in my life when the BAT KOL, the still small voice, the Daughter of a Sound has welled up within me has led me to a word which I believe comes close to describing the ONE whom I encountered all those years ago, the ONE who I long for to this day, the ONE who grounds me in this life….that word is LOVE. LOVE in which I live and move and have my being, ONE with all that IS LOVE. LOVE which lives in, with, through and beyond you and me, speaks to us in a still small voice, the BAT KOL. May the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND speak within you and be heard within you, so that you may know the power of the BAT KOL and embody LOVE in the world. SWIM.  BE. For you are ONE with the LOVE which IS BEING itself. BEING BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF.  Amen.

View the full BAT KOL Worship Video below

DABHAR the ISNESS of DIVINITY the CREATIVE ENERGY of WORD and DEED

Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.

I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.

Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?

That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. 

It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land.  Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.

I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.  

I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years.  I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.

Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.

“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS.  It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS.

Our ancient Hebrew ancestors had a word for this ISNESS; a word that is inadequately translated into English as “The WORD”.  But the Hebrew word DABHAR means so much more than “The WORD”. In Genesis the word DABHAR is used to describe the compelling creative energy which brought Creation into being. The word DABHAR is the “word and the deed” of the CREATOR of all that IS; the compelling creative energy which set the Cosmos in motion. In the beginning was the DABHAR and the DABHAR was with GOD and the DABHAR was GOD. The DABHAR, the creative energy, the word and the deed, DABHARed light and sky, and it was good. The DIVINE MYSTERY, went on DABHARing and this compelling creative energy created all that IS, WAS, and ever shall BE. We live and breathe and have our being in this very ISNESS that is all that IS and ever shall BE. This Creation IS, and in this ISNESS we are held, and touched, loved, caressed, and moved to be all that we are. Creation is the sacred DABHAR the WORD and DEED of the ONE which IS.

I remember standing on top of Creation, absolutely still except for the breath breathing in me. All around me I could feel the CREATIVE ENERGY of the meadow, the movement of the mountaintops which lay below me, and the dance of the sky, and the BREATH, the RUACH of it all that IS caressing me, holding me, touching me, moving in me, LOVing me as it went on creating, DABHARing beyond me.

It is an awesome thing, this DABHAR, this WORD and DEED, this CREATIVE ENERGY, this ISNESS which we call God. You don’t need to go up to the top of a mountain, you just need to let the words, the images, the symbols, and all the distractions fall away and simply BE. BE in the presence of all that IS. BE in the presence of all that IS. The beauty of all that IS, the LOVE which IS, IS in, with, through, and beyond you, DABHARing and DABHARing, now and forever.  Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY.

View the Full DABHAR Sunday Worship Service below

 

RESPECT! – Learning from the Seven Grandfathers

I can hear them, even now, their voices wash over me like a gentle breeze. My Grandad’s stern, crisp, Belfast accent. My Nannie’s sweet playful, almost wistful Northern Irish lilt. My Gran’s sing-songie Welsh tones. The three Grandparents I knew, and I adored, whose voices echo even now across the years, over the miles, across many waters, along this shore, prompting me with the values which were instilled in them by their grandparents. Not the least of which was the insistence that I, we, you, all of us must respect our elders. Back then, in the exuberance of my youth, I didn’t think much of the values my own elders tried to impart to me. I do remember thinking that their warnings about respecting my elders, was just their way, as my elders, of making themselves heard. Now, with my own youth and exuberance spent, the reality that I am now older than they were when my Grandparents claimed for themselves their right to be respected, I wonder if I’ve done enough to instill the values my Grandparents instilled in me, in my own grandchildren. When they stand on the shores of this majestic lake, will my voice float across the waters and if it does will the values of my elders, still be heard, so that they too will one day be able to claim for themselves the right to be respected?

This beautiful water which carries the echoes of my elder’s wisdom to me, was named by the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, Ouentironk. Ouentironk is the Anishinaabe language, and it means Beautiful Water. From the Anishinaabe elders, generation after generation have heard the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers waft across the waters of Ouentironk; teachings imparted to ensure that each generation could discover for themselves the ways to live in peace; peace with the land, peace with the waters, peace with their neighbours, peace in themselves. The teaching of the elders which insists that, “To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. To know Love is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have Respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation.  Truth is to know all of these things.” Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, seven sacred teachings imparted from one generation to the next, values carefully chosen to remind each generation to judge their own actions by considering how their actions will impact the harmony of generations to come.

Standing here on the shore of Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water, I cannot help wondering if generations to come will know the beauty of this water or will the ways of those of us who are settlers in this land, and the ways of our elders, will they continue to destroy the harmony of generations to come. I know that my elders held little respect for the elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. I know that the values of my own elders failed to instill in me much, if any concern for the harmony of generations to come. It is oh so telling that our own congregation’s celebration of National Indigenous Sunday does not include a single Indigenous person. While I’d like to blame the corona-virus lockdown for this, I cannot. A very big part of settler privilege is the shameful reality that most settlers, we live our lives isolated from Indigenous Peoples. The harmony of our own generation remains unrealized as a discordant cacophony rages in storm after storm. We settlers have grown weary of the discord as each storm rages: pandemic fears, accentuated by the news of systemic racism, followed by waves of nauseating grief revealed by the discovery of 215 tiny bodies, callously tossed into an unmarked grave, and the haunting reality of untold numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women. There was no time to hunker down in our small socially distant boats, before the storm of Islamophobia raged once again, sweeping away members of three generations of a family.

What will the generations to come hear from us, their elders, when they stand on this shore? What harmonies will echo down from our generation to the next, and the next, and the next? Can we settlers sift through the sins, the crimes, the abuses perpetrated by our elders and underscored by our indifference. Can we sift through these to discover some wisdom in the teachings of our past? Can we settlers listen and learn from the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers? Can we move from the discord of our white, settler privilege to harmonies which will ring true to those who suffer the pain we have wrought?

From our ancestors, we proclaim a gospel which tells the tale of a teacher and his students caught in the waves raging storm. The confident teacher, lies sleeping upon a cushion in their small boat, his students terrified that they are about to drown, wake their teacher, demanding of him, “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re going to drown?” Their teacher awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the raging waters, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind dropped, and everything was perfectly calm.

This sacred story, told down through the generations of our ancestors, now rings in our ears. Sadly, in our socially distant boats, with storms of the pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, raging all around us, we see ourselves as the demanding followers of the Teacher, left with no other choice but to wait for some sleeping teacher to wake up and save us, by magically commanding the raging waters to “Be still.” It is as if we have failed to learn anything at all from the very Teacher, we expect to save us. We settlers who profess to follow our Teacher, refuse to learn from our most revered elder, who insisted that he and the CREATOR of storms are ONE. We have forgotten the language of story itself and failed to embrace the power of metaphor to carry us beyond the storm. Jesus lived and died proclaiming the Wisdom of his own elders, which insisted that we are created in the image of our MAKER, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, empowered with such wonderous creativity and capable of unfathomable destruction. Jesus, our Teacher, insisted the only way to achieve peace was through the harmony which comes when we LOVE one another, for we are created in the image of the ONE who is LOVE and that same LOVE lives, and moves and has being in the world in, with, through, and beyond us. Yes, Jesus calmed the storm, and everything was perfectly calm. But Jesus didn’t let his students rest. Disturbed by their failure to do anything to save themselves, Jesus demanded to know, why they were so frightened?  “Have you no faith?”

Have we no faith? Tossed about by the raging storms of pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, have we no faith in the creative powers which live in, with, through and beyond us? Are we content to confine the powers of LOVE to a long-ago Teacher, even if that Teacher tried with his very life to teach us that the LOVE which created us, lives in us? Our Teacher, Jesus lived to  show us how to use the power of LOVE to save ourselves? Our saviour is not out there, or up there, or back there in the past. Our saviour is the ONE who IS LOVE, and that ONE, that LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Calming the raging storms, creating the harmonies of justice which in turn creates the very peace we long for. This is our work. We are called to embody the very LOVE which created us to be LOVE in the world.

But in the turmoil of so many raging storms, where do we begin? I hear my own Grandparents’ voices encouraging me to respect my elders and I wonder if perhaps, respecting my own elders means seeing them in the fullness of their humanity and recognizing that all too often the choices which they made leaned heavily into humanity’s destructive powers and not into humanity’s creative powers. As each generation evolves, we need to learn from our elders, even as we learn from our own experiences. So that, we can develop wisdom which we might impart to the generations which follow us.

Jesus, our beloved Teacher, insisted that the most important rules he learned from his elders were to LOVE our CREATOR and to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves, Jesus then went on to insist that even our enemies are in fact our neighbours, and went so far as to insist that we learn to love our enemies. So, let us respect our elders by seeking ways to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves. Surely, our LOVE for our neighbour must include learning to LOVE our neighbours’ elders as well.

So, let us look, on this Fathers’ Day to the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, who as the sacred story goes, gifted the generations which followed them with seven Teachings which even now echo across this Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water. Listen to the sacred teachings of the elders of our sisters and brothers: “To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom. To know LOVE is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. Truth is to know all of these things.”

Seven teachings may seem like a tall order for those of us who are only beginning to embrace our calling to be LOVE in the world, especially when so many storms are raging all around us.

Where do we begin? Like the students in Jesus’ boat, I want to know which teaching of the elders is the most important. Alas, to our shame, in our congregation there is no Indigenous teacher of any generation among us to instruct us on how to begin. So, let us begin with something we hold in common with our Indigenous neighbours, respect for our elders. Let us begin with Respect: as the Indigenous Elders insist: “One of the teachings around resect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. When we meet someone for the first time, we form an impression of them. That first impression is not based on respect. Respect develops when one takes the time to establish a deeper relationship with the other. This concept of respect extends to all of Creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal –in order to receive respect, one must give respect.”

We must get to know our Indigenous sisters and brothers so that together we can develop respect for one another. Sadly, far too many of us settlers have entered into relationships with Indigenous neighbours only to use them to try to assuage our guilt, or to teach us how to do better, or to solve our problems for us. This is not respect. We settlers, we have homework to do. Knowing requires learning, learning requires careful study, humble listening, discipline, taking risks, the courage to make mistakes, looking foolish, owning our guilt, and acknowledging the pain we encounter in the people we are longing to know. Only when we learn the respect which comes from really knowing the other will we be ready for the difficult work of reconciliation.  As the Indigenous Elders insist, the truth is, Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth these are teachings which go hand in hand. To have wisdom” they insist, “to have wisdom one must demonstrate love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.”

The Grandfathers’ warning to each successive generation insists that, “You are not being honest with yourself if you use only one or two of these teachings. Leaving out even one of these teachings means that one is not embracing the teachings. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive ourselves or others.”

My hope, my prayer for my own generation is that each of us might wake up in our socially distant boats to embody the power of LOVE which lives and moves and has being in, with, through, and beyond us, and rise up to command the storms raging around us, by the power of our LOVE  to “Be Still. Peace.” Then we can set out onto the shores of this new emerging future which stretches before us, resolved to respect our elders, all of our elders by getting to know our neighbours in ways which foster respect for the gifts of our CREATOR. So that together, we might learn from one another to LOVE our CREATOR with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. For, in loving our Indigenous neighbours we will come to know the wisdom passed down to them from their elders, who knew the wisdom of judging their own actions by trying to imagine the impact their actions might have on the generations which follow them. Surely, in our shared, common humanity, our concern for those who follow us will give us the courage to work with one another to foster the harmonies of justice, so that peace may break out among us and for generations to come the beautiful water of this Ouentironk might carry the echoes of our cries, “Peace, Be Still!” to the generations who follow us. Let it be so. Let it be so now and always. Let it be so.  Amen.  

View the full National Indigenous Peoples Sunday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Every Child Matters!

Since the news of the discovery of the unmarked mass grave in which the remains of 215 children were buried, I’ve listened as various politicians, commentators and even friends have used words like: unbelievable and shocking. Unbelievable and shocking? I wonder? I wonder how there can be anyone who has lived in Canada for more than a decade or so, who can honestly claim to be surprised, let alone shocked at this news. Royal commissions, government inquiries and survivors have been testifying for decades about the horrors of the residential school system, the sixties scoop, sexual abuse, neglect, torture, murderers, disappearances, deaths, and generational trauma. If we are surprised, shocked or can’t believe it, I suspect we have only ourselves to blame. I am a settler in this land, and I expect that many of you are settlers as well. Our histories as settlers are intertwined with the histories of the families of all those many children who suffered for generations; children who paid the price for our privilege, children who even now continue to suffer the effects of intergenerational trauma. We have known for a long time now. This news should not shock us, precisely because it is so very believable. We’ve known it for far too long to be excused from our own ignorance.

Echoes of this tragedy first began to reach me some fifty years ago. I went to school, high school, on the West Coast in a small town called Ladner. Today, Ladner is pretty much a suburban bedroom community from which people commute to their jobs in the city of Vancouver. But back in the early 1970’s, Ladner was just a small fishing village. It was a terrific place to go to high school; that’s if you were white and middle-class. I don’t really know how it was for the handful of folks who weren’t part of the white-privileged majority. Looking back on it now, I can see that minorities were marginalized.

I remember when I was in grade ten; a new girl showed up in our classes. Shirley, we were told, came from somewhere way up north, in British Columbia. I remember our homeroom teacher introduced Shirley as, an Indian who had travelled south for her education. We were told that there weren’t any high schools where Shirley came from, so she had to leave her family behind and come down to Ladner all by herself. Shirley was boarding with a family in Ladner.

About all I can remember about Shirley’s first days with us is the unusual way that Shirley dressed. Back then there was a sort of dress code; we all wore the same stuff; blue jeans, which dragged on the ground, and both boys and girls wore the same kind of white tee-shirts and you just had to have the latest thing in footwear: a name-brand pair of leather sneakers. We thought we were so cool, with our anti-style look, which in our rebellious naiveté we didn’t realize was actually a style in and of itself. But Shirley didn’t fit in. Shirley wore clothes which we openly mocked as “stylish.” I remember that all her cloths looked new and expensive, as if someone had taken her out and bought her an entire wardrobe of old people’s cloths; and by old people I mean 30 somethings. Shirley just didn’t look like one of us. But that didn’t really matter because Shirley wasn’t one of us and so we never included her in anything that we did.

I remember a social studies class in which the teacher asked Shirley to tell us about her life in Northern British Columbia. The tale that Shirley told us about the reservation on which she lived was unbelievable to our young, ignorant, ears. Shirley claimed that she had been forced against her will to leave her family behind and travel all by herself to live with a family that was only interested in the money that the Indian Affairs department paid them for her room and board. She said that her parents would be thrown into jail if they didn’t allow her to be taken away. She said she’d run away several times, but that she’d always been caught and then they would punish her family because she’d missed so much school. So, she claimed that her family hated living on the reservation. Shirley told us that it wasn’t safe on the reservation because most of the men drank. My classmates asked all sorts of questions, but there was something in the way they asked the questions which made it clear that none of us believed a word Shirley was saying. How could any of this be true? Nobody would ever take kids away from their families by force. We refused to believe that parents could be thrown into jail if their kids don’t go away to school. Besides, why would our government send you to a school so far away; why not just send you to a school nearer the reservation so that you could go see your folks on weekends? Shirley and an answer for that: according to her the government picked schools that were far away so that the Indian kids wouldn’t just run away from school and head back home. The only way home for Shirley was on an airplane and the government only gave her two tickets a year. Besides there was nothing to do on the reservation. So, she might as well stay south. Even if she hated it. When the teacher asked Shirley about conditions on the reservation, Shirley spoke really softly about there not being enough water and food to go around. One of us said, “that was because they spent all their money on booze and cigarettes.” Shirley began to cry, and the teacher abruptly ended the conversation. Later in the cafeteria, there was a lot of conversation about the lies we were convinced Shirley had told us. We simply did no believe a word Shirly said. I refused to believe her at all. I mean really, in my young mind, I thought, this is Canada after all. Canada is a great country, a good place. My parents brought us to Canada because it’s the land of opportunity. To my shame, I remember thinking, if Shirley’s people were having a tough time, it was not our government’s fault. I believed they had only themselves to blame. I believed this because I was taught that all we had to do was to work hard and we would get ahead. My culture insisted that they, those Indians must not care enough about the way they live to bother to improve their life. I was raised to believe that Canadians are good people; we’re not racist. My ignorance was matched only by my arrogance.

I had a naïve understanding of this country. I was taught to look at Canadian history through rose-coloured glasses. I was taught about the honour and gallantry of the early settlers of this land, hard workers one and all; good honest people who’d left the hardships imposed on them behind, in their homelands so that they could build lives for themselves here in Canada. I was not taught, and I knew nothing of the world which Shirley described. We weren’t taught anything about broken treaties, or the abuses perpetrated by the Indian Affairs Department, and we’d certainly never heard about the travesty of residential schools. The conditions Shirley tried to tell us about and the circumstances in which she found herself sounded unbelievable to us. So, we assumed she had to be lying. Ignorance and denial were not just our collective responses to Shirley’s story, in my heart of hearts, I chose to believe my own culture, never once considering that Shirley even a culture of her own. None of us stopped to consider the dignity of the First Peoples of this land. None of us even imagined the wisdom of Shirley’s elders, or the beauty of her sacred stories.

So, the good people of Ladner, myself included, we continued to marginalize Shirley. Her story was too unbelievable, and we were too incapable of seeing beyond our carefully constructed version of reality. But Shirley’s story as unbelievable as we found it; her story pales in comparison to the countless stories of those children who were scooped up and forced into the residential school system.

Nearly fifty years have passed, since we refused to believe Shirley. In 1996, the last of the residential schools was finally closed. Since then, we’ve all been told countless stories of sexual abuse, torture, neglect, violence and death. When I consider the courage, it took for Shirley to tell her story, only to be met with our refusal to believe, I can’t help but marvel at the steadfast courage of the countless survivors who have testified over and over, again and again only to be met by justice delayed.

So, this week as we all gaze at all the memorials which have cropped up all over this land, all those tiny little shoes neatly lined up in rows, 215 little lives, tossed aside to make a way for settlers to walk, I wonder: do we finally believe it? In our grief, will we let the truth of their little lives transform us? As we weep, will we finally listen and actually hear the stories of survivors? Will the generational trauma of our indigenous sisters and brothers penetrate our ignorance, denial, arrogance, self-righteousness, or worse yet, our indifference? What form will our confessions take? What shape will our penance turn into? What sacrifices will we offer for the sake of justice? What tangible fruits will emerge from our promises to do better? I don’t know, how we will learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. But I do know, that if those little lives mean anything to us, at all, then, in the name of ALL that IS HOLY, we must, urgently learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

May the GREAT SPIRIT in whom we are ONE, move us beyond our tears, beyond our grief, beyond our pain, beyond memorials, so that the wounded may heal, even as we, the wounders learn to embody the LOVE which unites us all in the work of justice. Amen.

VIEW the full SERVICE of LAMENT Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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

This week, as the Church prepares to celebrate Trinity Sunday, the question “Where is the church’s attention focused” becomes even more pertinent as we look ahead to resuming in-person worship. What parts of the church will be buried with lockdown and what will be born out of lockdown. This sermon was preached on Trinity Sunday 3 years ago. I offer it here to my colleagues who are preparing for this Sunday…??? What are we prepared to midwife into being???  

Sermon Notes:

–      Where is the church’s attention focused?

  • Skoda – think of the skoda as the focus of the church’s attention???

  • While our focus is upon our doctrine’s, or style of worship, our buildings, or generally preserving the instructional church, our neighbourhoods have been changing right before our eyes and we have failed to notice
  • How much attention do our concerns about the church distract us?
  • What changes in our neighbourhoods have we failed to pay attention to?
  • Van changing to a taxi?
  • Scooter changing to a pair of bicycles?
  • Lady holding a pig
  • The entire landscape has changed!
  • Skoda is one of the oldest car companies in the world – Skoda has been around since they first began building automobiles
  • The old Czechoslovakia
  • Sold primarily to Eastern block countries
  • Nobody really wants a skoda – they are cheap, unattractive cars – the image of the Skoda is tied up in a time when people weren’t free to buy the cars of their dreams and had to settle for a skoda
  • Much like the image of the church
  • There was once a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus 

Continue reading

Pentecost Sunday Sermons

I Can’t Breathe!

Is the Church dead? or Can these Bones Live?

Not Yet Christians: Pentecost/Confirmation

Dream Dreams

God In Between

The Spirit in Our Midst

Pentecost: a Human Phenomenon

Beyond Tribalism – Preaching a 21st Century Pentecost

Celebrating Pentecost in the 21st Century

Pentecost Tongues Aflame with the Prayer attributed to Jesus

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

As the Pandemic Rages, REFUSE to be COMFORTED!

This week from the safety of my privileged isolation, I became inconsolable, as the world’s sorrows penetrated the safety of my lockdown. I was drawn into our world’s sorrow by the news from India. In my comfortable living-room, I watched the death of a mother in a crowded, ill-equipped hospital. As this mother slipped away, one of her sons begged for medical care for his mother, while two of her sons desperately administered CPR. When the doctor finally arrived, she took the mother’s pulse and in seconds the sons were wailing in grief as the doctor confirmed that it was too late. The son who had begged for help, began wailing, shouting, screaming, and rocking back and forth, inconsolable, in his grief. Holding my breath in a hopeless attempt to hold back my tears, I felt myself rocking back and forth with this grieving son, and words of scripture rang in my ears. Over and over again I heard: “…Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more…”

On this Mothers’ Day, Rachel’s tears are magnified by the tears of millions. Millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, grandparents and children are weeping and like Rachel they refuse to be comforted. As the third wave of this pandemic ravages our planet, there is lamentation and bitter weeping and like the biblical Rachel, there is power in the sorrow of those who grieve. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Rachel refuses to be comforted.

The prophet Jeremiah alludes to this matriarch of Israel, the mother of Joseph, weeping over an event which happened generations after Rachel’s death on the road to Bethlehem. Rachel’s tears are for the descendants of her children’s, children’s, children who have been carried off into captivity by the forces of empire. In the Christian Testament, the anonymous gospel storyteller we know as Matthew, summons up Rachel’s tears as his response to the Slaughter of the Innocents by the forces of yet another empire.

Confronted by the horror of unspeakable tragedy our tears flow, we weep, we wail, we rock back and forth, and we refuse to be comforted, for there is power in our sorrow; a power all too often muted by the comforts heaped upon us by the powers of yet another kind of empire; a financial empire the likes of which the world has never seen before.

I know full well the need we all share right now, not to let the overwhelming suffering of millions consume us in a flood of tears. If we dwell upon just a few of the millions upon millions of tragedies happening all over the world, we run the risk of drowning in our own tears. There’s a good reason for our individual psyches to be working so overtime to distract us from sorrow. It is no wonder that our collective hearts and minds distract our very selves from the pain and the suffering. Occasionally, a tear or two escape when the suffering comes too close to home, and compassion gets the better of us. But as the song says: “tears are not enough.” Ever so quickly, our privileged lives grant us the comforts of home which sooth and sap the power of sorrow to move us beyond the safety of our splendid isolation. What few tears flow, are quickly dried, our fears are quelled, our compassion is muted, and we return to our new normal of coping with, while complaining about the inconvenience of lockdowns. Perhaps a prayer wells up in us; a remnant of a long-rejected belief in the grand-puppeteer-sky-god; a just in case kind of prayer, there’s no harm in trying, kind of prayer, even as our minds scream, “Hopes and prayers are not enough to face the magnitude of sorrows!” But if the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God is not pulling the strings, how then do we face the suffering?  What comfort is there in a MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also? If we let the tears flow, what power will save us from drowning in a sea of despair?

I remember the breathlessness of the weeping man wailing in sorrow for his mother who could not breathe and now I too must catch my own breath, as the image of the almighty-puppeteer-sky-god’s void functions like a vacuum within me. I am not sure I have the courage to refuse to be comforted. Give me that old time religion, so that I can find comfort and breathe freely again. As the wailing son’s tears threaten to overwhelm me, I find myself gasping, gulping huge breathes, breathing as deeply as I can as if my own intake of life-giving air can support his desperate need for comfort. Form long ago, another voice calls to me from the wonderings, pain, and fears of our ancestors; an unfamiliar voice, a voice muted by the seekers of comforts. Her voice is not the voice of comfort. Hers is the voice of DIVINE MYSTERY, known to our ancestors as SHOPIA, named for WISDOM, her story is recorded in the WISDOM Books of the Hebrew Scriptures as she cries out for wisdom. In the midst of our world’s suffering, I hear a thin echo of her words:

“Doesn’t SOPHIA call? Doesn’t UNDERSTANDING raise her voice? On the hills along the road, at the crossroads, she takes her stand; beside the city gates of the town, in the gates themselves, SOPHIA cries out, “Women and men, people of everywhere, I’m calling out to you! I cry to humankind! You who are simple, learn to make sound judgments! To the foolish among you, use your common sense! Listen closely, for what I say is worth hearing, and I will tell you what is right; for my mouth will speak the truth, and my lips hate to lie. Everything I say is right; none of it is twisted or crooked. All of it is plain-spoken to those who understand, clear to those seeking knowledge. Accept my lessons in place of silver, and knowledge in place of gold; for SOPHIA/ WISDOM outsparkles jewelry; anything you desire cannot compare to her.”  (Proverbs 8:1-11)

Those are the words of SOPHIA, the feminine voice of God in the Book of Proverbs. These words, crafted as a hymn to WISDOM by our ancestors in the midst of their own crisis, call to me like a voice, the voice of the MYSTERY who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us. Perhaps you can hear it too; the voice of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, calling from deep within, speaking not words of comfort, but demanding wisdom. The suffering millions, their tears flow in rivers which cannot be stemmed by our desires for comfort. Only WISDOM discerned in, with, and through the LOVE, which is DIVINTIY dwelling in, with, through, and beyond us can move our suffering world beyond the placating comforts of wealth and privilege toward the kind of healing which restores wholeness.

In the midst of all our suffering, let us offer our strength to the quest for wisdom. Let us refuse to be comforted at the expense of our neighbours. Let us wail when leaders refuse to waive patens for vaccines. Let us refuse to talk of budgets, deficits, and the need to store up our treasures. Let us scream at the horror of national, regional, tribal or self-obsessed interests being put before the interests of our neighbours. Let us mask-up and stand up in the face of ignorance. Let us cheer on the difficult choices of those who have carefully, generously, bravely, sought the wisdom of science together with compassion. Let us shout on behalf of those whose voices have been drowned by their tears. Let us listen to the cries of the grieving. Let us open ourselves to the power of our sorrow and refuse to be comforted until the tears of the suffering millions are dried with the compassion of the MYSTERY of the ONE which IS the LOVE, living, working and LOVing in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the sick, comfort the dying, and feed the poor, so that justice and not tears can begin to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Let it be so. Let it be so among us. Let it be so.

VIEW the full WORSHIP VIDEO below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Be kind. Just be KIND! – Pluralism Sunday

On this Pluralism Sunday, I am mindful of the dangers of misunderstanding progressive christianity’s celebration of pluralism. Christianity’s sad history of being co-opted by imperial colonialism has left far too many christians living under the delusion that all religions will one day merge into one great world religion. But pluralism is not about giving up the wonders of individual religions nor is it about creating uniformity among religions so as to create one world.  Pluralism is the belief that people of different beliefs can coexist, learning from one another, caring for one another, respecting one another, celebrating one another, and hopefully learning to love one another.

Perhaps, the wise prophet Mahatma Gandhi captured the essence of pluralism best, when he said, “I came to the conclusion long ago that all religions were true and that also that all had some error in them, and while I hold by my own religion, I should hold other religions as dear as Hinduism. So, we can only pray, if we were Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu; but our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should become a better Hindu, and a Christian a better Christian.”

Years ago, when I still languished under the mistaken belief that, God had a master plan to make all the world Christian, my primary responses to people of other faiths were characterized by fear, suspicion, and not very subtle arrogance which came from my belief that I had found the one true faith.

With gratitude and humility, I can now look back upon a relationship with a Hindu woman who embodied Gandhi’s desire that we hold all religions as dear as our own. I was just twenty years old when I met Jiera and although we didn’t know one another for a long time, Jiera managed to challenge me to become a better christian. We were working together at a large, international, department store on Regent Street, in the heart of London. We both worked in the Food Courts were there wasn’t much time for pleasantries. But Jiera never let that stop her from being not only pleasant to unpleasant customers, she went out of her way to be kind. Jiera insist that, “There’s always time for kindness.”

Jiera was my immediate manager; while I supervised a group of eight young women, women much like myself, temporary workers, intending to stay just long enough to earn enough money before resuming our travels. Jiera was in it for the long haul, already a young mother of three beautiful children of her own, she soon became the surrogate Mom to those of us who worked for her. Jiera’s kindness made her easy to love and a joy to obey, as each of us did our best to please her. It didn’t take long for us to become a family, with Jiera chiding us to care for one another. 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

Tomorrow at Holy Cross, we will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. For those of you looking for a sermon following the Revised Common Lectionary, this sermon from 2018, explores those readings.

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”. Continue reading

Reflections on Psalm 23: Words Revealing MYSTERY

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I am delighted to be joined by the members of Holy Cross’ Worship Team as we reflect together upon our experiences with the 23rd Psalm. We begin with a familiar translation of the Psalm. Our own reflections are punctuated by Rabbi Jamie Arnold’s translation from the original Hebrew.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

For most of my life, the words of the 23rd Psalm, as they were translated and interpreted by the authors of the King James Version of the Bible, have been with me, here and here. When I was just ten years old, we moved to Newmarket and lived here less than a year. It was a lonely year.

My brother and I were what we called back then, latch-key kids, which meant that we pretty much took care of ourselves while Mum and Dad had to work. I vaguely remember a brief friendship with a girl who lived down the street, who had the audacity to invite me to join her for a week of Vacation Bible School. Never having attended church, I had no idea what to Vacation Bible School was. Nevertheless, my parents’ discouragement about church, was all the encouragement I needed to want to attend. There was something exciting about the independence of striking out on my own, without parental encouragement, to explore the goings on at this place my parents avoided; indeed disparaged. I remember very little about that week except for the ongoing lessons of a gifted teacher who taught us the 23rd Psalm. I say taught us, but it would be more accurate to say, that he imprinted the 23rd psalm on our memory-banks, where it remains to this very day. I remember a sense of confusion about the meaning of these strange words. I remember feeling their weight, their importance, as if they were to be treasured and remembered because of their power. Power which my ten-year-old mind equated to the only other thing I had ever memorized, my twelve-times-table. If I could only capture those words, the way I’d captured the twelve-times-table, the power of numbers stored in my memory, would pale in comparison to the power of these magic words. I remember the teacher carefully explaining that these words together are poetry and that it is important to memorize poetry because poems are alive; they are sacred living words.  At the time I had no idea what the word “sacred” means, but like the strange and mysterious words of the poetry of the psalm, the word “sacred” sounded mysterious and so filled with wonder.  So, I stored the word “sacred” away as a precious gift. Over the years the sacred gift of Psalm 23, graciously given by wise teacher, has over and over again, filled me with wonder and opened me to the power of MYSTERY.

The King James Version of the 23rd Psalm, lends itself well to the mysterious power of poetry. Recently, I discovered another version of the 23rd Psalm translated from its ancient Hebrew origins by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Rabbi Arnold’s translation adheres to the original Hebrew and like the King James Version captures the mysterious power of poetry to reveal the SACRED. Earlier, I invited the members of our Worship Team to briefly reflect upon their most vivid SACRED encounters with the poetry of the 23rd Psalm. What follows is a reading of Rabbi Arnold’s translation wrapped around some of our Worship Team’s reflections. Rabbi Arnold’s translation of the 23rd Psalm, which he calls:

Six Verses of Refuge (Equanimity) begins, “A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the Guide by-my-side, I want for nothing… Continue reading

The Peace of Being ONE – Luke 24:30-48

I don’t know about you, but as we here in Ontario face the third wave of this devastating pandemic, the moments when I’m able to safely get out into CREATION become more and more precious. So, this morning, I went out in the brisk spring air hoping to forget about all the bad news which keeps flashing across our screens. So, let me try to give you a brief glimpse of my morning walk. Indulge me as I take you just down the road from my living-room to the shores of Lake Simcoe, where the wind is blowing, and the spring rain is gently falling.

.  .  . see the video .  .  .

As I walked along the lakeshore this morning, I was reminded of another lakeshore far, far, away, where the wind was just as fierce, and the rain was even more intense as I walked by this other lakeshore. Listening to the gentle waves of Lake Simcoe, I was transported back in time, through the decades and on that distant shore I could still see my twenty-year-old self, my Australian traveling companion, two Swiss women, an American, a German, a Bahamian, and a Japanese guy.

We were a strange lot, gathered together by chance, as each of us backpacked our way through Europe in search of adventure. “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond.” We’d met on the train to Fort William and together, we headed out on foot to the youth hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond. Now, I’m sure it has changed a great deal since we trudged along on a cold, ever so cold August day in 1976. Back then there was only a single cart lane leading to the youth hostel. We didn’t see any people along the way, and we weren’t sure we were going in the right direction. Most of us were caught up in our own thoughts, or too tired from our travels, to make conversation. But not Japanese Guy, who simply wouldn’t shut up.

He was positively annoying. There we were on “yon bonnie banks” leaning into the beauty which surrounded us, longing to be swept away by the majesty of it all, and this guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough for us to escape into the wonder of our surroundings. I kept hoping that he’d “tak’ the high road” so I could tak’ the low road” and we’d “never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” But alas, we were stuck with each other.

I tried lagging behind the others, humming softly to myself. But Japanese Guy, he saw this as some sort of invitation to hang back for a one-on-one conversation. His questions didn’t let up. He wanted to know: Where was I from? How long I’d been backpacking? Why did I choose Scotland?  Was Scotland what I thought it would be? Did I imagine it would be so cold in August? On and on went his questions. My abrupt answers didn’t manage to clue him into the fact that I didn’t feel like talking.

When even my rude, unfriendly behaviour could not silence Japanese Guy, I ran to catch up with our companions, so that they too could share in the burden of unwelcome conversation. When we finally arrived at the hostel, we all spent the evening avoiding Japanese Guy.

The next morning, we were reunited over breakfast and it turned out that we all had the same plan to climb Ben Lomond. For those of you who dinnie kin, a Ben is what the Scots call a mountain. Ben Lomond is just under a 1,000 meters high with about a dozen kilometers of trails to the summit. We were young and the Hostel Manager assured us that we could get to the top in about five hours, have enough time for a quick lunch, and then hike back down to the hostel in time for dinner. Continue reading

GOD: Dead or Alive?

Traditionally, the Second Sunday of Easter is the day when the church commemorates the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas’ reaction to resurrection. Now, the New Testament is full of parables like the parable of Doubting Thomas. Allow me, if you will, to draw your attention to a different parable, one outside of the Bible: “The Parable of the Mad Man” was first told in 1882. More recently, it appeared in 1969 edition of Time Magazine, which bore the title, “Is God Dead?”  

The Parable of the Mad Man goes like this: “Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”  As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus, they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you.  We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.

But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now?  Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?  Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time?  Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?  Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?  That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?  There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last, he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard.  This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”

Some of you will already know that this Parable of the Mad Man, was written by Friderich Nietzsche. One of the characteristics of a parable is that it surprises us with a truth which we already know. God is dead and we have killed “him!” I think perhaps that Nietzche’s Mad Man was right, “God” the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied, wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god is dead, and it is we who have killed him. This image of god has been sacrificed on the altars of reality. All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god which we once worshipped and adored.

For most of my life the personification of what we call “God” was the only way I had of knowing anything of the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. I can truly empathize with the followers of Jesus who huddled together in the upper room. In my imagination, this parable takes place in a ghostly terrifying darkness. While it is so very tempting to lock the door against the unknowns lurking in the darkness, there is a line in the Parable of Doubting Thomas which makes me wonder. Not “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what this means?” But “wonder” in the sense of “Oh my God!” as in “How wonderful!” or “How inspiring.” The line in the parable which causes me to wonder, wonder, wonder, is on the lips of Jesus, when asks and then insists: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Like Thomas, I suspect many of us continue to long for a vision of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we can see and touch. Say what you will about the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god, this was an image we could certainly wrap our minds around. Peering into the darkness and the sheer vastness of the Cosmos, it is impossible to wrap our minds around the ONE in whom the Cosmos has being. Faced with the enormity of the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, I can certainly understand why our ancestors insisted that no one can look upon the face of God and live. Shut the front door and let me languish here in the darkness of this upper room, with my too small image of a puny god; a god I can mold and shape and worship without fear.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Faced with the vast, awe inspiring darkness of the Cosmos, it can be difficult to catch glimpses of tangible markers to guide us. Squinting into the abyss of unknowing, I can’t help thinking about the women who stared into the darkness of the empty tomb. The darkness of the Cosmos, like the darkness of the empty tomb, can send us racing back to the safety of a familiar room, a hide-out where we can shut the door and nurse our fears. Or the darkness can be for us, a place where resurrection begins, as the birth pangs of a new way of being give way to new life. Peering beyond the wounds inflicted by our personifications of the ONE who is more that we can begin to imagine, can we begin to touch and be touched by the LOVE which is the SOURCE of everything? Can we begin to feel the power of DIVINTY which is so much more than our personifications? Do we have the courage to put ourselves in the embrace of the SPIRIT which pulses, evolves, moves, shakes, and brings into being all that IS? Inspired by this SPIRIT, dare we begin to see DIVINITY finding expression in the likes of Jesus? Might we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus a way of being which is capable of transcending fear, so that we too might become LOVE. For being LOVE is what resurrection is?

The LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God is beyond our ability to imagine or express, but that L LOVE lives in, with, through, and beyond us. Death cannot limit LOVE. For no matter how many times this cruel world tries to destroy LOVE, LOVE will live again, in, with, through, and beyond all of those who embody LOVE. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Our too small personification of God is dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality. But, do not be afraid. Death will not have the final word.

Out of the darkness, LOVE springs to life. LOVE lives even in us, even in our woundedness. LOVE, which is the SOURCE of all, lives and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe, believe the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Resurrection happens when we are that LOVE in the world! LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us!  Alleluia!

View the full Worship Video for the Second Sunday of Easter below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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

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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

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

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

Still Longing for Resurrection! – John 20:26-31

One year ago, our worship the Second Sunday of Easter was online because we were locked down. Today, is the first day of a stay at home order and this sermon about Jesus’ followers being locked in in fear in an upper room, seems appropriate. We are blessed that this current lockdown contains the hope of vaccines.  Stay safe. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESURRECTION: Can This Be Real?

The word resurrection is not a word which gives up its meaning easily. Far too many preachers and theologians have tried to use words to express the meaning of resurrection. But mere words, are incapable of rendering meaning from the word resurrection. The best way I know of wrestling meaning from a word like resurrection is through a story. I know I have told this story before. But as my Irish Nannie would say, “Sure if a story is worth tellin once, then it’s worth telling again.” This story of resurrection dates all the way back to my first year as a pastor, when I naively believed that the right words could save me.

It wasn’t my first visit to Anna’s home, but it was my first visit to the home of someone who had just died. In the driveway, I crossed paths with the doctor who had signed Anna’s death certificate. We recognized one another from the few times which our visits to the house had overlapped. I stared with envy at the doctor’s medical bag, “at least she has some real pain medication in there.” All I had in my bag was a bible and my tiny, little travel communion kit. Just some cheap wine and a few stale wafers. I envied the doctor with her knowledge, her pills, her medicine and her skills. The doctor sighed, “Oh thank-God you’re here! They’re a real mess in there.”

As I stood there, wondering how to respond, I remember wishing the doctor had something in her bag of tricks which could give me the courage to enter the house. I felt like a fool. What was I supposed to do? I felt as useless as I did upon my first visit with Anna. A parishioner had called me just a few months earlier, “Could I go and visit a friend of hers who was dying? Cancer.” she said, “It won’t be long now. She’s being cared for at home; she wants to die at home. She used to go to church and now as the end draws near, she wants to reconnect. Would I please go to see her?” I knew I was out of my depth from the moment I hung up the phone. I thought this is it. This is the real stuff of being a pastor.  This is where they discover that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. Leading worship, preaching, and teaching is one thing, this, this is something entirely different. But my parishioner was insistent, as she described her friend Anna. “Pastor, you’ll never guess, Anna was once a Lutheran.

Yes, she went to Sunday School, Confirmation, and had her kids baptized, and even taught Sunday School. But since they moved to Newmarket, they had fallen out of the habit of going to church.  Anyway Pastor, she really needs to get close to God right now, so I told her you would come. You will go and see her won’t you, I know she’s not a member, but she really needs to get things in order before she goes.”

Standing there in the driveway feeling like a fool, I said good-bye to the doctor and tried to get myself to go inside the house. The black van in the driveway signaled the presence of the funeral home; there to collect the body. Her husband welcomed me at the door, fell into my arms and said only, “It is almost finished; they’ll be gone soon.” He motioned to the stairs and I got the impression that he wanted me to go up. I expected him to follow me. I was wrong. I entered the familiar room. Anna was still lying there. She looked much the same as she had when I’d seen her the day before. I’d like to say she looked at peace, but she didn’t. Her face was frozen in the same tortured expression, I’d seen the day before. The gentlemen from the funeral home stopped what they were doing and quietly stepped out of the room. I guess they thought I needed some privacy, and I was grateful for the moment to think. You see, I love words and I was convinced that words would save me. I’m a preacher and a teacher and words are my friends. Words help me to figure things out. Words help me to make meaning out of events. Words give me the stories which give shape to the meaning which I try to make out of the stuff that happens. But standing there in that room, words failed me. There was only silence. 

After the silence became unbearable, I shot up a prayer to the faraway god, up there in the sky, “You got me into this! Tell me what to do. Tell me how to help. Where are you when I need you?” I went out into the hall were wordlessly the gentlemen from the funeral home were about their business and in just a few moments the body was gone. I was sitting in the living room listening to her husband recount the details of Anna’s final moments, when their daughter burst through the front door. After many, many tears were shed it was decided that I should accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home the next morning so that she could see her mother. Anna’s husband insisted that the body they had taken away was not Anna; Anna had left sometime during the night. Anna’s daughter wanted to kiss her mother good-bye. She was angry that they had not waited for her arrival before taking her mother from her. Before I left, I reached into the bag of tricks which lurk somewhere in the back of my mind and I remembered the words of a wise seminary professor, who taught us that storytelling helped us to make sense out of life, and while there is nothing that can make sense out of death, a few good stories can make the pain bearable. Stories, my professor would say, are a good a way, as she had ever found of beginning the healing process. So, before I left, I made arrangements to accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home, and I encouraged Anna’s husband to invite members of the family to come by for tea, or a meal, or even a few drinks, just a small get together where they could tell me stories about Anna, and we could begin to plan her funeral.

The next afternoon, I accompanied Anna’s daughter to the funeral home. They had done a splendid job of preparing her body. She looked tortured, somehow. Anna’s daughter reached for my hand, squeezed tightly and leaned into me. Her whole body began to tremble as she wailed and sobbed. Over and over again I heard, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”  And I am ashamed to say that I was grateful that it was Anna’s daughter and not me that was echoing these words, over and over again. I had no words, no idea what to do, what to say, how to help. It took some time, but her sobbing began to subside and was replaced by something more daunting as even more questions began to leap out of her. “What will I do without you?” “Where are you Mom?” “How can I go on without you?”  “Why, why did you have to leave me?” For once I was glad, I had no words. No words only silence with which to reply.  Question after question met only with silence until suddenly, Anna’s daughter announced, “That’s not my mother. My mother is not here.” We left together in silence.

When we arrived back at Anna’s home, we heard laughter coming from the living room. Eight, nine, maybe ten people, some of them I’d met on previous visits, all laughing and telling stories, stories about Anna. It wasn’t long before her daughter joined them.  A glass of wine was thrust into my hands; there was bread and cheese on the coffee table, and casseroles in the oven. Apparently, the neighbours didn’t need words, just practical care filled loving actions. As we shared a meal, we remembered Anna. When the meal was over, Anna’s husband said, “I wish Anna was here, she would have loved this!” One of the guests disagreed, she insisted that Anna would have been mortified to be the center of attention, which sent the whole group of us into gales of laughter, at the thought of Anna being mortified on the day of her death. Gallows humour. Before I left, I had collected enough words and stories to do Anna proud at her funeral.

As I said my good-byes Anna’s husband asked me if I had a favorite flower. It had been a long, hard winter, and I told him that at this time of the year, I was longing for spring to finally arrive. So right about now, tulips are my favourite flowers. “Perfect” he said, “Tulips it is.” Then came more stories about how much Anna hated the flowers that professional florists concoct for funerals. Everyone it seems had a story about Anna going on and on, at some funeral or other, about how horrible these contrived funeral bouquets looked. Natural, hand-picked flowers lovingly arranged by friends and family, that’s what was called for. Anna’s husband insisted that, “as the pastor is longing to see some sign of spring, tulips it is!” So, everyone was instructed to bring tulips.

At Anna’s funeral, there were tulips everywhere; more tulips that you can imagine. It was beautiful. Tulips lovingly arranged by those who loved her. The tulips and the stories got us all through the funeral of a woman who died much too young. The tulips and the stories helped us to begin the task of making meaning out of the death of a loved one. The tulips and the stories did not take the pain away, nor did they explain the pain away, and they certainly didn’t change the fact that Anna was dead, or that her family would have to go on without her. The tulips and the stories did help us to begin to make meaning out of her death. Together we wept among the tulips and we wept in the midst of the stories and together we began to find words and to make meaning out of death.

“Woman. Why are you weeping?” “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I do not know where they have put the body.”  “What am I going to do? What will I do without you? Where are you Mom? How can I go on without you? Why, why did you have to leave me?” “Woman. Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?”  She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

If only, all those we have lost and will lose could appear to us and comfort us in our grief. The followers of Jesus were bereft. Their beloved Jesus had been taken from them, tortured, and executed by their enemies. They had placed all their hopes and dreams in Jesus. Jesus had taught them a whole new way of being in the world. Jesus had lived in such a way, taught so challengingly, loved so fully, that in Jesus they had seen an image of God which turned their whole lives upside down. Jesus’ way of seeking peace, not through violence but through justice, opened them to new possibilities. They had dared to dream. They had hope in the face of oppression. They had been willing to follow Jesus into battle. But when Jesus had insisted on living what he preached, most of them had fled in fear, and the horrible truth of their abandoning him, the reality of their failure was more than they could bear. It is almost impossible for us to imagine because we’ve read it in the bible, which reads much like those professional bouquets of flowers at funerals, designed to provide answers to the unanswerable, all tied up with neat little bows. Generations of arrangers have taken the stories which have been told, as followers and lovers of Jesus struggled to make some sense out of his death. Generations of interpretations upon interpretations of those stories make it seem as though everything happened just thus and so, neat and tidy. Resurrection happened just like that, in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus died. He was not there. They didn’t know what they were going to do. They wept. They trembled.  They were consumed by grief. Huddled together in an upper room, terrified that they too would soon be killed. Suddenly, after only three days Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia! Resurrection all tied up in a neat little bow. The perfect bouquet. Smell the flowers and all will be well. I wonder.

I wonder. People do wonder you know. That’s how people are. They wonder. Questions. Questions. Questions. What’s going on? What are we going to do? Words. Words. Words.  Anna’s grieving loved ones wove their stories of Anna in and out of the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die, will live.”  Words familiar words, designed to help us to make meaning. For the followers of Jesus, there were also words, familiar words designed to help them make meaning. In Jesus, his grievers, had experienced God as LOVE. Surely, God would not stand idly by and allow their enemies to take Jesus from them. Surely, LOVE itself could not be destroyed by the powers of evil. Surely, their God, the ONE in whom they live and move and have being,

surely God who Jesus had taught them is LOVE, surely LOVE would not abandon them. Surely LOVE would live on. Questions, questions that have no answers. Questions for which words always fail us. Questions we just can’t help answering with words. Words which are designed to comfort and to satisfy. Words that when all is said and done, fail and leave us with more questions. So, if God is LOVE and we experienced that LOVE in Jesus then, where is Jesus? Will we ever see Jesus again? Will we ever see LOVE again? Will the LOVE that lives in us die? “Woman: Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?” “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

We can’t help ourselves when love dies, we keep hearing and seeing that love all around us. It is as if our beloved is right here, in the midst of us. We hear them call our name. They mean so much to us. In the presence of our beloved, we were transformed into the best of ourselves. To hear them call our name…ah…the sheer beauty of their presence. Perhaps they can tell us. Perhaps they know the answers.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to him and said, “Rabboni! –which means “Teacher.”  Jesus then said, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God.”

Are they here?  Are they real? Am I imagining Jesus? What is happening? I don’t understand. The followers of Jesus could still feel the impact of his being on their lives. When he spoke, Jesus’ words challenged everything they knew or believed they knew. When Jesus acted, his actions turned their world upside down. When Jesus loved them, they knew the power of LOVE. When they saw Jesus’ love others, even their enemies, they saw a power in Jesus which was so much more than they could put into words. It was as if Jesus embodied the very LOVE which lies at the heart of everything. When Jesus spoke, scales fell from their eyes and they saw things which they’d never seen before. And now, now that he was gone, they could still hear him, they could still feel him. And in seeing him and feeling him, all their hopes and all their dreams of a better way of being in the world still seemed possible.

What was happening? Could this be real? It certainly wasn’t neat and tidy. Not with the Romans threatening to annihilate them and the religious authorities demanding that they just shut up and stop causing trouble. But they keep hearing his voice and feeling his presence, and the words, Jesus’ words, continued to challenge everything. Jesus’ presence continued to turn their world upside down. What was happening? Could this be real?

Even Jesus’ enemies were touched by his presence. Even Jesus’ enemies were being challenged by his words. Words designed to help us make meaning. Words which when all is said and done fail us. So, we turn to more words, other words and craft our stories so as to comfort us. And still the words of Jesus challenge us. And still the presence of Jesus continues to turn our world upside down. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of Jesus, can this be real? Our questions echo the questions of the first followers and lovers of Jesus. Our stories build upon their stories, which were built upon the stories of the ones who had gone before them. None of these stories are neat and tidy. None of these stories can tie everything up in a pretty bow so that we can present the perfect bouquet which will heal all our pain and answer all our questions. They are just handpicked, slightly askew, bouquets which contain such beauty that we cannot take our eyes of them. They do not answer all our questions, but the really beautiful ones, the ones like tulips after a long, cold, winter, they can capture our imagination and give us the courage to ask our questions and struggle to make meaning of those things which are beyond words. Things like life and death, and resurrection.

About five years after Anna died, I ran into her daughter in the grocery store. I mean it, I actually ran into her. Our shopping carts collided. We laughed when we realized that each of us had a couple of bunches of tulips in our carts. “Somewhere Mom is smiling,” Anna’s daughter insisted. I agreed and added that it had been a long, cold, difficult winter and the tulips looked so beautiful I just had to take some home. Anna’s daughter nodded and agreed that winter is brutal. She was really looking forward to spring and the tulips would certainly give her hope. Suddenly, the toddler in Anna’s daughter’s cart shouted, “Who’s that?” Her mother said, “This is Pastor Dawn, she is a friend of your Grandma Anna.” “And who are you,” I asked the beautiful little girl. “I’m Anna! I’m free.” Whether it was free or three it was all the same. This beautiful little girl shared her grandmother’s eyes as well as her name. In her eyes I saw the reflection of Anna’s story, her stories, and her love. After we said our goodbyes, I went back to get more tulips. In Anna’s absence, I felt her presence. Anna lives. Anna lives in little Anna, and her daughter and in me, and now she lives in you.

Friends, this has been a long and difficult year. Isolated and fearful, we have felt one another’s absence. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of LOVE. Can this be real? Are these tulips real? You bet they are. As real as the challenges we experience in the stories we tell. As real as the LOVE we feel in even in the absence of one another. As real as the LOVE which lives and breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us. In Jesus absence, his grievers felt LOVE’s presence. LOVE lives. LOVE lives in you and in me.  LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Jesus Is Fully Human: Good Friday Sermon – Mark 15:32-47

I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, together with all the horrendous moments which have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus’ plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Now, maybe that’s because most of the Hollywood films depicting the crucifixion that I have ever seen show Jesus looking up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God, who’s somewhere up there in these movies.

Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries, as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died. Questions about Jesus’ death have left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries. Why did Jesus have to die? Now, I’m sure that in pulpits all over the internet, preachers are struggling to help our listeners and our viewers cope with the realities of the violence which murdered the ONE we seek to follow. I can tell you that I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers which have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can almost recite chapter and verse of the various theories which have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I could tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the doctrines of the fall and original sin and our need for reconciliation. I could recount various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then they proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. 

The atonement theory which we are all probably too familiar with, is western Christianity’s favourite: the penal substitutionary sacrificial atonement theory. How’s that for a moniker? Popularly expressed as: “Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin.” Or “Jesus died for me. ” Or “Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sinfulness.” The theory of the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus lies at the very heart of so much of what you and I have been taught about Jesus. It also lies at the heart of so many of the reasons which people give for rejecting Christianity. And why wouldn’t they? I mean really, who wants to worship a God who sets his, and I do mean his, sets up his creatures up in a beautiful garden and warns them, “you can eat anything you like; only don’t eat this fruit over here, no this is the fruit of knowledge and you mustn’t eat this.”  We all know if you put a child in a room full of toys exactly where that child is going to go. So, Adam eats the forbidden fruit because everyone knows it is the sweetest of all fruit and for the crime of being human, Adam and his lovely wife Eve are cast out from the garden because God is ticked. According to the Apostle Paul, because Adam sinned, we are all tarred with the same brush. We are sinners and the only way we can get back to the garden is

if somebody pays the price for our sin with blood. So, Paul sets Jesus up as the new Adam, and casts the story of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. Paul’s Jewish listeners understood sacrifice. Jewish audiences understood the death in terms of the Passover sacrifice of a lamb, while gentle Romans, schooled in Greek thought, understood the sacrifice of scapegoats who were offered up on behalf of the people to placate the gods. It worked for Paul and later, Augustine would add his ideas and the notion of original sin. The fall, and our need of a sacrifice would lead Anslem to weigh in with his scales of justice and have Jesus tip the scales in our favour by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin. It was the kind of logic which worked for centuries to keep the followers of Jesus in line, convicted by their sinfulness and looking to Jesus to save them from the wrath of God by climbing up there on the cross to die in order to placate an angry God. Sure, Luther came along and challenged the angry God stuff, which the church was using to keep the people in line. Luther’s theology of grace is indeed a thing of beauty. It softens God. For we are indeed wicked sinners in need of forgiveness and so God who is gracious and merciful becomes one of us; takes on flesh in the form of Jesus and dies to set us free from our sin.

We could spend the rest of the day exploring the answers which have been developed over centuries to explain why Jesus died on the cross. But I dare say, no matter how many hours we spend tracing the details of these answers, some questions will remain. We all know what happens when the answers don’t quite answer our questions; that’s where faith comes in.  If it doesn’t make sense, if you don’t quite get it, don’t worry just have faith and believe.

Maybe that’s why Jesus’ question from the cross continues to echo so loudly in me, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Maybe if I just had enough faith, I wouldn’t hear Jesus’ question quite as loudly as it rings in my ears, in my heart and in my mind. My God, My God why have you forsake Jesus? I mean really what kind of god, gets ticked off at children for doing precisely what children do? What kind of god allows their wrath to so overwhelm them that the only way they can be satisfied is if somebody pays the price!!! What kind of god sends their own child to pay that price?

I know, I know, there are those who will try to remind me that maybe just maybe Jesus was God and that Jesus dying on the cross was actually God dying on the cross. They will try to convince me to see that God is so gracious that God, God’s-self is willing to die for us. But why? Why does anyone have to die, let alone God? What is this god trying to convince us of? Does God think that some divine suicide is going to convince the world to join hands and sing kumbya? Well, it’s 21 centuries and counting and I don’t think it’s working.

So, the question remains, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I don’t have an answer to this question. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pat you on your sweet little heads and tell you, “There, there dear ones. Just have faith and God will take care of you. All shall be well.” I can only respond to Jesus’ cry, by making it my own question. My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can’t we end these endless cycles of violence? Why do we keep crucifying you? Over and over again? When I have the courage to allow the echoes of Jesus’ cry permeate my very being it hurts and there is pain, and loneliness, confusion and a distinct feeling of fear. What if we really are abandoned? What if we are all just left here to squirm on our various crosses; wounded by our encounters with the world? My God, My God, Why?

When echoes of Jesus’ plea become our own; when we take up our cross and make that horrible journey to Golgotha and feel the pain as we are wounded by the world and hoisted up upon the cross from which we can see the violence, the poverty, the disease and the madness which surrounds us; when we too cry out, “My God, My God, why?” then and only then can we begin to look beyond the religious platitudes which have protected us from the realities of our humanity. It’s taken some 14 billion years for us to arrive at this moment and it is an amazing moment. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but humanity was not created in an instant. Humanity has been evolving for millions and millions of years. There are no perfect creatures back in there in the past who fell from some perfect garden. We are evolving and part of the reality of our evolution is that it is a messy undertaking. We have evolved into creatures who are capable of such great goodness and creatures who have the capacity to do great evil. Our evolution has involved some of the most horrific evils. All around us we can see the evidence of the destructive power of our human nature. All around us we can see the evidence of the magnificent power of our nature to do good. We have gazed into the farthest reaches of the universe and we have plumbed the depths of depravity. We know that God is not up there in the sky like some grand puppeteer controlling our strings. We have learned so very much about the man Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and died in such a way that humanity has been, and continues to be changed by his teaching, his life, his death and his ability to live on. In this the great information age we are no longer held captive by the powers that be. We can dig and dig, learn and study, question and theorize for ourselves. We are free to explore the wonders of Creation,

free to examine the life and teachings of Jesus, of Moses, Mohamed, Buddha, and Confucius and so many other great humans. The sacred scriptures are open to us and we can read for ourselves the Gitas, the Upanishads, the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Quran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, together with the wisdom of the ages. We are not confined by the logic of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to articulate his own struggles with Jesus’ question. Nor are we bound by the legalisms of Anslem, who balanced Jesus’ questions with the sensibilities of his generation. Even though some of us bear his name, we are not Luther, oppressed by the powers of the church struggling to comfort the afflicted by convincing them of God’s grace by offering God up as a sacrifice. And we are certainly not like so many people today willing to check our brains at the door in order to protect our fragile faith. We have been up and the sky and know that God is not sitting up there on a throne.

So, let us feel the echoes of Jesus’ question resonate in the core of who we are. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Let Jesus’ question move us to a deeper questioning of our own. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn/t until I set myself free from the idols which have been made of God that I began to let Jesus’ question resonate in me. When we allow ourselves to question, then we can begin to know Jesus. Not the theological construct of Jesus, but Jesus the Jewish man who preached the urgent need to establish the kin-dom of God on Earth; the need for Justice for all people; Jesus, the inspiring and courageous man, in whom those he met could see the depth of the DIVINE PRESENCE in human form. Jesus did not believe that he had to die in order to win God’s forgiveness. We only have to read his parables about God’s mercy to know that he did not believe in a vengeful God, or a God who dispensed justice measured against our sin. Jesus would not have told people to walk in relationship of utter trust with God, if Jesus believed that God was withholding forgiveness from people because of Adam’s sin.

Jesus died a shameful death on a cross because that was where his life, his teaching and his preaching took him. It’s where his passion for justice took him. He accepted the consequences of what he stood for. He did not see himself as a grandiose, other-worldly god-figure striding the heavens and the Earth setting everything right between God and a sinful humanity. Jesus was a courageous Jewish man who gave the best possible human expression he could to the gracious, life-giving, compassionate, DIVINE PRESENCE alive within him.

We are told in the gospels that Jesus taught with authority. We can presume that this was not the sort of authority the temple priests and the legal experts from Jerusalem exercised, but the authority of someone who lived what he preached. Jesus was a man who knew the pains and the struggles of the human condition. Jesus demonstrated in his own pain and struggle that it was possible to hold onto belief in the utter goodness and graciousness of God, and to trust the presence of God, whatever the darkness. Jesus lived in integrity to the fullest extent possible. Jesus did what many others have done and continue to do: he stood up for what he believed and accepted the consequences. Jesus final journey to Jerusalem was precisely that. Jesus knew that in the face of such a corrupt, violent regime, he was about to take a stand for justice which would set him at odds with evil and he was willing to take that stand. Jesus was willing to die for what he had lived his life to exemplify. The human condition and human systems of control and governance led Jesus to his death, not a God ruling from the heavens.

Life took Jesus and tested him. Jesus’ struggle to be fully human in the face of all that life dished out can be heard in Jesus’ plea from the cross, when we remember the very nature of the God whom Jesus proclaimed. The Abba to whom Jesus’ teachings point is not some far off distant God up there, or out there; but in here, in you and in me. Jesus declared, “I and Abba are one.”  “If you have seen me, you have seen Abba.” Jesus embodied God and pointed to God who dwells, in, with and through us. Jesus believed and taught that the DIVINE PRESENCE is in all people. Jesus’ insight about the here and now reality of God’s PRESENCE in people is missed when we contemplate Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin.

When we look at Jesus’ human integrity, his courage, and his faithfulness, we can begin to see the SPIRIT of DIVINITY in this human being. When we honour the reality that Jesus was human like us, we can begin to understand that the very same SPIRIT of DIVINITY is active in our lives when we struggle for justice, when we struggle to be good, to be courageous, to take a stand, to bear suffering and disappointments, to be faithful to what we know to be true, to be just, to be loving. Jesus’ way of dying reveals the extraordinary capacity of the human to rise above evil and pain and struggle and fear.

As I said before, when I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined Jesus looking up to the heavens to ask God why? But seeing the face of God in my sisters and brothers of all faiths and of none, I realize that I need to let go of this image of the crucifixion which I have turned into an idol. What happens if we imagine that Jesus, knowing full well that the DIVINE PRESENCE lives and breathes and has its being in all of Creation, in each and every one of us, can we then begin to see that Jesus didn’t look up and cry, but looked out to the people around him and cried? What can we see in the image of Jesus looking out at his executioners, appealing to the SPIRIT in them? Looking out at the jeering crowds and beseeching the SPIRIT in them? Looking to the women who were gathered below, and crying to the DIVINE PRESENCE in them? Shouting to those who abandoned him and fled he knew not where, pleading to the DIVINITY in them: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

When we begin to understand that our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, we can perhaps see Jesus’ plea from the Cross as a cry to the SPIRIT that Jesus knew in himself and his sisters and brothers and yes even in his enemies. When we begin to understand that the SPIRIT lives and breathes in with, through and beyond us, can we begin to hear Jesus’ plea from the cross as a plea to the DIVINE PRESENCE in us. Can we hear the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross as the embodiment of all those who have cried out from far too many crosses, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” hoping against hope to stir the SPIRIT in their fellow human beings?

Can we begin to hear in the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross the utter sadness, desperation and misery at humanity’s failure to give expression to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God? Can we look beyond the idols we have worshipped for so long; see past the theories and conjectures, and actually begin to feel not for ourselves and our own failures, but for Jesus and every other sister and brother in whom DIVINITY lived and breathed and see the suffering and death which has been wrought because of humanity’s failure to give full expression to the LOVE which dwells in, with, through, and beyond us? For the sake of the Jesus, who gave such beautiful expression of DIVINITY, and for all those who in giving expression to LOVE have picked up their crosses, can we listen to their cries and work together to give expression to the God who is LOVE? If we cannot hear Jesus’ cry; if we cannot hear the cries of the countless millions of those who have been forsaken, abandoned, tortured, abused, left to die, then all the sadness of this Good Friday and every day, is for naught.

As we weep for Jesus, let us hear the cries of everyone who looks to us and cries: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Let the awesome responsibility of responding to their cries for justice, peace, mercy and love, stir in us so that the LOVE who dwells among us, can find expression in us. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?

View the full Good Friday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Maundy Thursday: Once Again We Must Worship Together and Yet Still Apart

How could we have imagined last Maundy Thursday that a year later we would be preparing to commemorate Maundy Thursday in a lockdown which feels like a year-long season of Lent.  But here we are preparing to worship together and yet apart.  Several followers of this blog asked me to repost last year’s Maundy Thursday service. So, I post it now, trusting that soon, and very soon, we are going to be able to worship with real, live, three-dimensional humans!  Check back this Thursday – our Maundy Thursday worship will be posted by 6:30pm. We’ve learned a thing or two about creating worship videos over the course of the year! Stay safe!

From Maundy Thursday 2020:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Order of Service HERE

 

Jesus Is NOT the Answer to All Our Questions

I remember arriving in high school, at the tender age of thirteen and longing to learn all of the answers. So many of us were trained that way as children, to believe that growing up meant learning more and more answers. Looking back at that eager, young girl, it amazes me how sponge-like I was, soaking up more and more facts in my quest for answers. The essence of that child still lives in me now. But so does the joy of knowing that each answer brings with it dozens and dozens more questions, as I live into the reality of my unknowing. But back then the questions had only one purpose and that was to arrive at an answer. And it wasn’t until I encountered MS Wadell, my grade-seven science teacher, that I began to acquire a taste for the questions themselves. MS Wadell, it was 1970 and I had never met a “MS” before, MS Wadell brought with her a not-so-subtle feminist critique of the answers which were offered by the curriculum and it wasn’t long before we began setting aside our desire to learn the answers to the prescribed questions.

MS Wadell challenged us to ask different questions; questions the established school curriculum, never encouraged us to ask; questions which often went unanswered, questions which took on lives of their own within our very being. I confess that a good many of those unanswered questions I took with me right into my first year of seminary some twenty-three years later; still convinced that if I could only learn the answers, I would finally grow up. Fortunately, a wise seminary professor challenged the quality of my questions, insisting that the set of questions which I was working with, were incapable of helping me to move from my current position.

Alas, as we embark upon our annual Holy Week journey, I hear many of the questions which waylaid me in the wilderness echoed in the pleas which are sent to me from people searching for answers.  In the wilderness of this pandemic Lent, perhaps it is to be expected that there’d be so many more people seeking answers. If my inboxes are anything to go by, many of you are hoping that I might use my Palm Sunday sermon to set you up with more than a few answers to your questions. Some folks have even reached out with answers of their own. And it is tempting to use this opportunity to give you whatever answers I have been able to distil from my own place of unknowing. However, I’ve noticed something about all of the questions which have been sent in to me and all of the answers if I’m honest, they have something in common. They appear to project a theme not well served by the answers I might offer. A theme which challenges the answers of the various institutional teachings of the “Church,” answers which we all learned in various ways, answers which have left so many of us stuck, precisely where we are, feeling neither in nor out of the faith to which we once clung to. Stuck here, clinging to “that old, rugged cross,” unable “to cherish it,” no longer hoping “to exchange it some day for a crown,” because the answer on offer, that we “love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain” doesn’t have the power to move us any closer to the ONE we long for, the ONE who IS BEYOND our once cherished answers. So, our “Hosannas” have a hollow ring to them, a once more for old time’s sake kind of  plea, “hosanna, hosanna, hosanna,” save us, save us, save us, from simply through the motions to placate our sense of nostalgia. I suspect that my beloved teachers were on to something when they encouraged me to abandon the same old questions because the same old questions aren’t up to the task of moving us beyond the wilderness into which we have been banished by our persistent questions; questions, which not even the wisest of answers can move us beyond.

So, as it is Palm Sunday, and Holy Week stretches out before us, let me suggest that we put down all our cherished questions and step aside from the answers which may or may not satisfy us and stick with our Hosannas for just a few moments. Hosanna from the Hebrew which means to save or to rescue. Here in this moment in time, I invite you to take a deep breath and consider for yourself what you long to be saved from. What do you desire to be rescued from? No judgement. This is not a trick question. And there is no “correct” answer. Just an honest inquiry. Is there something you need to be rescued from, right here and right now? Is there a reason for you to shout, “Hosanna!” If nothing comes to mind, how about the people you care about? Is there someone who you would dearly love to see rescued? If no one comes to mind, how about the planet? Is there some part of Creation which you hear crying out to be saved?

Our ancestors gifted us with a story about a reluctant messiah, a saviour who heard the collective cries of his people for salvation from the burdens of violence, greed, poverty, oppression and grief which separated them from their dreams of liberation, freedom, justice and the sheer joy of living. The apparent wisdom of this powerful story lies not in any answers to the peoples’ shouts of “Hosanna,” but in the reluctant messiah’s refusal to provide the particular answers the people thought that they wanted to hear. In our story, the people cry out for a Messiah, a Saviour who will parade into the center of their abuse like the super-heroes of their daydreams, or the conquerors of their nightmares. The people believed that the answer to their longings was a super-hero who would ride to the rescue, conquer their enemies, through violence and carry the day in ways which would put them on top. But our reluctant Messiah refuses to give the cheerers in our story the answers that they are pleading for. Our Saviour offers instead a splendid piece of street theatre which mocks the very answers which were on offer, leaving in their wake not just trampled palm-leaves but a broken pathway to perceived victory. Our reluctant Messiah responds to the cries of “Hosanna” with answers, which inspire a whole new set of questions. The gift of this story is given to us by our ancestors, not to put an end to all our questions, but to set us free from offering up the same old answers to the same old questions, so that liberated from nostalgia, we might shout new questions which have the power to move us beyond our lethargic malaise to find the courage to venture into our unknowing. Remember if you will your own “Hosannas” those you uttered for yourself, those you cried out on behalf of others, and those you shouted out for our planet.

Now, imagine if you will, just for a moment that a messiah has set you free from all your cherished questions and answers. Liberated to a place of your own unknowing, what can you see? What can you do? How can you help? Are there questions to be asked? New answers to be revealed?

Hosanna!  Hosanna! Hosanna! No need to wait for a messiah. For just as Jesus refused to be his people’s messiah and freed them to be all that they needed to be to be LOVE in their world, Jesus is NOT the answer to all of our questions. For LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY lives and moves and has BEING, in, with, through and beyond us and we are free to move beyond our tightly held questions and answers, free to move into our roles as messiahs of one another. Listen for the Hosanna’s being shouted out to you and use your freedom to respond with LOVE. For we are created by LOVE and of LOVE, which is God, to be LOVE, here and now, to one another, indeed to all of Creation. Let us hear today’s “Hosannas” as our call to liberation from all which separates us from ONE another, so that all may know justice, freedom, joy and peace. Let us hear today’s “Hosannas” as our call to resurrection! Let it be so.  Let it be so.  Amen.

VIEW the FULL Palm Sunday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service