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.

Part of me thought, “Oh great a dozen hours with Japanese Guy,” who we’d only just begun calling by his real name, “Ichiro.”  We’d been on the trail for about an hour when Ichiro asked me about my name. “Is it correct that in English “dawn” can mean beginning or first.” I quite pedantically agreed that as the sun is the first thing to come up in the morning, I suppose you could translate “dawn” as beginning or first. “Were you named “Dawn” because you were the first?” Yes, I was indeed the first-born of my family.” “Then we are going to be good friends” Ichiro declared with a big grin on his face. I had to ask why? “Well because “Ichiro” also means first-born. We two are first-borns. We two are twins.” And so, it began. Hours and hours of a tough climb, filled with conversation with my new friend Ichiro.  As we ascended closer to the heavens, Ichiro’s questions became less annoying and more intriguing.

I don’t know how he got us there, but somewhere upon the slopes of Ben Lomond, we got onto the topic of religion. Ichiro is a Buddhist who is fascinated by Christianity, and I am a Christian who is fascinated by Buddhism. Ichiro’s questions inspired my questions and my questions inspired Ichiro’s questions and as he told me stories about the Gautama the Buddha, I told him stories about Jesus the Christ. By the time, we got to the top of Ben Lomond we were exhausted both physically and mentally. All of us just collapsed where we were and quietly marveled at the beauty of the sky. Surveying the clouds as they floated so closely by, I quickly fell asleep. I was awakened by a hunger in my belly. It seems that my travelling companions had also been napping. One by one we were all awakened by a hunger born of our efforts. We hadn’t planned it, but as we explored the contents of our day-packs we discovered that between us we had the makings of a feast, which we laid out on a blanket and just as we were about to tuck in, Ichiro asked if we would like to give thanks. A heartfelt grace was offered for everything from the beauty of our surroundings to the pain in our calves, which somehow were supposed to get us back down the Ben. And then our American friend, Joe, began to sing. You guessed it, Joe just couldn’t help himself: O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road. And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye, But me and my true love will never meet again, On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomand.” As we sang, I noticed that we all began to fill up with tears. Tears of joy, and tears of recognition. “For me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Looking back on those young people, I continue to be touched by a moment in time which will never come again. I can so clearly remember Ichiro gobbling up the bread we broke together, just like he gobbled up every answer to every question that he asked. I can still taste the various breads we broke up there on the mountain. It was a communion the likes of which makes your heart sing. And sing we did. It was a communion which even in these strange COVID times, when we are bereft of one another’s company; a communion which continues to nourish me.

“After sitting down with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, who immediately vanished from their sight.”

After sitting down with them to eat, we said the blessing and we broke the bread. In the breaking of the bread with Japanese Guy, my twin brother Ichiro was revealed. Ichiro a Buddhist who is fascinated by Christianity who taught me that Gautama the Buddha, like Jesus the Christ, taught his followers about compassion and peace, urging us not to be afraid and insisting that we are all ONE.

In the breaking of bread, two first-borns, recognized ONEness. It was a moment in time which will not come again. But it is also a moment which continues to nourish and sustain me. It is a moment in time that is sacred and eternal, for we are ONE. Like the Buddha, Christ points beyond self to the ONE.

Separated. Isolated. Filled with longing.  Hungry for one another. Wondering when the joy of one another’s company shall once again nourish us… It is so easy to fall into despair… And yet, if we take the time, to breathe, to reflect, to remember, to reconnect, to reach out the Earth in all her beauty in all her wonder, our MOTHER, the SACRED EARTH breathes with us, and moves us to the places and to the people who have fed us with the kind of nourishment which lasts a lifetime, feeding us again, and again, and again, as the wonders of CREATION works resurrection in us!

For LOVE, the LOVE which is DIVINE, rises again, and again, and again, in us, with us, and through us.  May we all know the peace that being ONE reveals. Moments in time which vanish oh so quickly, only to return again, and again, to raise us up. ‘Twas then that we parted, in yon shady glen, On the steep, steep side o’ Ben Lomond, Where in purple hue, the hieland hills we view, And the moon coming out in the gloaming. O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye, But me and my true love will never meet again, On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Moments in time. May all the blessings of your SACRED moments in time, nourish, ground and sustain you, as we journey through the coming days, weeks, and months as we do our best to move toward that grand and glorious day, when the pleasures of being ONE can be lived and breathed together, as we once again feast in the pleasures of ONE-another’s company. Now there’s a resurrection which will make us sing and even dance with joy! But for now, dear ONEs, may we all know the peace which being ONE reveals. Let CREATION stir resurrection in you. May you feast on your SACRED moments. May that peace nourish, ground and sustain you so that even from the confines of our isolation we can find the strength, courage and compassion to reach out to ONE-another and be LOVE in the world.

View the full Worship Video for the Third Sunday in Easter below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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!

View the Full Easter Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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

 

 

 

Time to Vaccinate Ourselves Against the Infection of Atonement Theology

From within this pandemic wilderness of Lent, we must prepare ourselves to enter our second Holy Week in lockdown. At a time, when so much of our focus revolves around the hope generated by the arrival of vaccines, it occurs to me that we would do well to remember to vaccinate ourselves against more than just COVID. Now is the time to vaccinate ourselves against the virus of atonement theology, which threatens to afflict our vision and restrict our ability to see Jesus.  I’m afraid that the various strains of atonement theology are about to infect our journey through Holy Week. So, before we are blinded by proclamations of blood-sacrifice, let us vaccinate ourselves, lest the infection of atonement theology forces us to look away from the realities of Jesus’ life and death, in favour of the blood-soaked wet dream of a god which is unworthy of our worship! Even though you may have already been vaccinated against the various strains of atonement theory, I suspect that the residue of such thoughts about Jesus still lingers and for the sake of our health, we could all use a booster shot to protect us from the very real possibility of rejecting Jesus altogether. Like many vaccines, the inoculation against atonement theory begins with a touch of the disease itself. So, to build up our immunity against atonement theory, let’s begin with a familiar dose of the dis-ease, to prime our own antibodies to resist atonement theory. 

Do you hear it? That familiar tune? “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Absolutely, I was there when they crucified my Lord. For so very many years, my affirmative answer to this quintessential Good Friday hymn was based on what the church taught me about the death of Jesus. I, like many “Christians”, was taught that Jesus died upon the cross to save humanity from sin. I was also taught that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. I was taught that I was born in sin, that sinfulness is part of what it means to be human, and that God so loved the world that “He” and I do mean “He” sent his only son to die, because someone had to pay the price for sin. This quid pro quo portrayal of “God the Father,” led me to the undeniable conclusion that I was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. My guilt, my shame, my sinfulness, compelled me to declare, “Yes! I was there when they crucified my Lord! I was there when they nailed him to the tree! I was there when they pierced him in his side! I was there when the sun refused to shine!  was there when they laid him in the tomb?” The sheer horror of my culpability in Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin, caused me to “tremble, tremble, tremble. I was there when they crucified my Lord.”

The doctrine of atonement permeated my being. So much so, that even though, I have long since stopped believing that Jesus died to save me from sin, the residue of atonement theories continues to cause me to tremble. Even though I have learned to look beyond the stories found in the scriptures in which various followers of the Way portray the crucifixion in ways which spoke to their particular communities, I still tremble. I have learned much about the motives of the various anonymous gospel-storytellers and I know that the weavers of the passion narratives, where not eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. I know that the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John, wrote his interpretation of Jesus’ execution more than 70 years after the event. I know that this anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John, lived in a community which had experienced the wrath of the Roman Empire and lived with the reality that the Romans had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and driven the Jewish people into exile.

Scholars have taught us that the fledgling community of followers of the Way had been driven out of Jewish synagogues and were at odds with the Jewish community. Scholars have taught us that the anonymous gospel-storyteller had all sorts of reasons for telling the story of Jesus’ death in a particular way, casting the Jews and not the Romans as Jesus’ executioners. We now know that crucifixions were carried out in the thousands by the Roman Empire as a means of striking fear into the hearts of occupied peoples. We know only too well, that the idea that the Jews would have shouted “Crucify him” is, in all likelihood, the storyteller’s attempt to shift the blame from the forces of Empire onto the Jewish people, the occupied people of Rome. We certainly know that the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Matthew has done an untold amount of damage by putting into the mouths of the Jewish crowd, the words, “Crucify him. His blood is upon us and upon our children.”

The deaths of millions of Jews, indeed even the Holocaust, can be directly attributed to Christian contempt for Jews malignly accused of being Christ-killers. And so, for years I sang, “I was there. It was I who crucified him. I who denied him.” in a vain attempt to point to a kinder, gentler, historically correct version of Jesus’ execution. And still, I “trembled, trembled, trembled.” Because it was my sin, our sin, from which we needed to be rescued. I could see myself there, watching from the sidelines, knowing full well that Jesus died to save me, and to save you. What my trembling self didn’t know, but now knows is that for centuries the atonement theory which cast Jesus as God’s sacrifice for sin, for centuries, this theory did not exist in the Christian Church. Indeed, the idea that Jesus was some sort of substitutionary sacrifice for sin was not fully developed until the 11th century.

I cannot and will not worship a God who demands a blood sacrifice for sin. Reading the accounts of the anonymous gospel-storytellers with eyes opened wide by biblical scholars, historians, and theologians, we’ve learned to read between the lines and beyond the page and the portrait of Jesus is being remembered in ways which reflect, not the traditions of centuries, but rather the possibilities of Jesus’ time and place. We are beginning to understand Jesus the man and this causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble, because Jesus the human being was a justice-seeker the likes of which the world rarely sees. Jesus steadfastly refused to take up arms against his oppressors. Jesus practiced a non-violent resistance in ways that impacted his people and worried his oppressors. Jesus knew God as LOVE and proclaimed that LOVE, even going so far as to teach people to LOVE their enemies. Jesus challenged the religious authorities of his day to see beyond the scriptures and embody the God which he defined as LOVE. Jesus claimed ONEness with God and called upon his followers to understand their own ONEness with one another. Jesus was anything but a pacifist. Jesus was an activist, an agitator who practiced civil disobedience in ways which got him noticed by the oppressive powers of empire. Jesus refused to avoid confrontation with those very powers. Jesus was political, always speaking out on behalf of the poor and the marginalized. Jesus threatened the status quo. Jesus threatened the economic system because it oppressed the poor and enslaved the wealthy. Jesus threatened the military might of the Roman Empire because of the needless suffering and death which was all around him. Jesus taught a Way of being in the world which encouraged his followers to live life abundantly, and to love extravagantly, pointing to a God who is LOVE.

I tremble just thinking about the kind of trouble Jesus stirred up. I tremble knowing that Jesus loved so fully that he was willing to take the ultimate risk because he believed that death could not conquer LOVE. I believe that Jesus embodied that LOVE, the LOVE which we call “God.” I also believe that death could not conquer the LOVE which Jesus embodied and that in remembering Jesus, we experience the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY which we call “God.” When I remember Jesus’ embodiment of the LOVE which IS DIVINE MYSTERY, I see a full human being who had dreams of what might be; a person who dared to imagine that people could be set free from the ideas and images about God which enslaved them.

I see in Jesus, a person who understood that every act of human kindness connects us with the LOVE which IS DIVINE MYSTERY.  In Jesus, I see a person who loved so greatly and taught so clearly and courageously that people were able to see in Jesus the embodiment of the very God which Jesus and his rag-tag bunch of followers defined as LOVE, and that this LOVE lived on in the LOVE that Jesus’ followers were able to embody beyond Jesus’ death. And so, I tremble, tremble, tremble. I tremble because I know that the crucifixion of the embodiment of LOVE is not over. We are surrounded by crucifixions. Just as surely as Jesus died upon the cross, those who follow the Way of Jesus, the Way of justice and peace, those who embody LOVE, continue to be tortured, battered, abused and hauled up upon crosses and executed by the forces of violence and death, the forces of the empires which continue to enslave us. The crucifixion didn’t happen once and for all, way back when. LOVE is crucified over and over again as the ways of empire, the ways of greed, violence, war, and death exact their punishment on the innocent victims of our world. LOVE is crucified all over again when calls for peace through justice go unanswered.

LOVE is crucified all over again in the countless lives which are destroyed, by our lust for power and our quest for stuff. LOVE is crucified all over again when Creation is scarred, wounded and poisoned by our arrogance and greed. LOVE is crucified again and again, when we fail to see the face of God who is LOVE in our sisters and brothers of every clan and race and tribe. And so, I tremble, tremble, tremble, because I know that I am there when they crucify my LOVE. I am there, all too often, lurking in the background as they nail LOVE to a tree. I am there, all too often, when I fail to embody the LOVE which IS DIVINE MYSTERY, when I do not speak out, or act up, but cling not to the cross, but to the comforts of the status quo. I am there each and every time and it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

How about you? Where you there when they crucified our LOVE?  If you tremble at the truth of the death of LOVE in so many places, in so many ways, over and over again, please try to remember Jesus; a person who steadfastly refused to confront violence with violence, a person who embodied the LOVE which is God and gave his life to setting people free, a person who pointed beyond himself to the ONE who is LOVE itself, a person who trusted that LOVE is eternal, that LOVE lives beyond death. Remember Jesus and look beyond the crucifixions to the power of LOVE to live beyond the grave. Remember Jesus and see the power of LOVE to transform fear into hope and hope into new life. Let us remember that we were there when they crucified our LOVE, and we will be there when LOVE rises from the tomb. Oh, yes this causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. We’ll be there when LOVE rises from the tomb!

View the full Worship service for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Transfiguration Sermons

transfigurationSermons for Transfiguration Sunday:

More than Just the Transfiguration of Jesus! here
LOVE Transforms here
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are? here
Looking Back at the Way Forward here
You Have the Power to Transfigure the Face of God here
Transfiguration Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song here
Just an Old Fashioned Love Song/Truly, Madly, Deeply here
Transforming into something more beautiful here

 What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the Body of Christ? – Mark 1:21-28

Listen to the audio only version here

Recorded in 2018

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are the Holy One of God.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark, puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, and now we have to deal with them; or do we? I’ve been struggling all week with today’s assigned gospel reading. I was sorely tempted to change the reading. I usually only put our Contemporary readings in the service bulletins. But, let me confess, the only reason I put the full text of today’s reading in the bulletin, was to ensure that I didn’t cop out and change the readings. If it’s in the bulletin for everyone to see, we have to use it and I can’t just ignore it.

I remember, a few years ago, running into an old friend from high school, who was surprised to discover that I had become a pastor. He said to me something like, “you always seemed to have your head screwed on back in the day. How can you stand all that hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo?” His words have haunted me as I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with this text.

Hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo indeed! The dictionary defines hocus pocus as “meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening. Hocus pocus actually came into usage in English from a Latin phrase that would have been familiar to everyone who has ever heard the Mass in Latin: Hoc est corpus meum which means “This is my body.”

According to the dictionary, mumbo jumbo is defined as: “language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment.”Or: “words or activities that are unnecessarily complicated or mysterious and seem meaningless”

The anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of Jesus preforming what sounds very much like an exorcism certainly seem meaningless to our 21st century minds. Last week, after I we did a bible study instead of a sermon, one of you commented that they never see any of the stuff I pointed out, when they read the bible by themselves, that’s why they don’t read the bible anymore. “It’s too complicated! I don’t know the history, so it just confuses me.” So, when I started preparing today’s sermon, I thought here we go again, more complicate and misleading words.  What hocus pocus must I preform to reveal the body of Christ to the body of Christ? What am I supposed to do with this unclean spirit? I was so tempted to just exorcise this demon from our worship. Sure, I could find all sorts of commentaries and sermons that went on and on explaining away this unclean spirit as some sort of victim of “mental illness.” Which when you think about, this is one way to deal with the reality that most of us, dare I say all of us, don’t really believe in demonic possession and don’t want to have anything much to do with someone who goes around the country preforming exorcisms. Twenty-first century, Canadian followers of Jesus tend to ignore the first century stories about demons and exorcisms.

As tempting as it is to explain the demon in this exorcism away as a suffer of mental illness, I’m not convinced that that helps us any. Because if the “unclean spirit” is mentally ill, then, the story asks us to believe that Jesus had the power to heal the mentally ill simply by commanding the illness to “Be silent and come out.” OK, we all know that that can’t happen, right?

So, in the spirit of the great New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, “why did the writer of this text tell this story the way he told this story.” What was the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark trying to say to his first century audience? We all know by now that there’s usually lots going on between the lines of the gospel texts. The stuff between the lines is what keeps people like me employed. It is after all my job to read between the lines.  So, let’s move beyond the words on the page and venture beyond the literal to see what we can discover in the more-than-literal interpretation of this text. Continue reading

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening.

Epiphany-Wise+WomenAn Epiphany Sermon, preached in 2008. I had just read “The First Christmas” by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Our congregation played host to Dom Crossan a month before I wrote this sermon. So, Dom’s insights run through this effort. But the heart of this sermon beats as the result of a sermon preached by Bruce Sanguin a self-proclaimed evolutionary christian who is a United Church Minister (Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver). I had the privilege of meeting this modern mystic while on sabbatical this summer and his compelling way of unlocking the scriptures using the wealth of the christian tradition together with the insights of modern science and psychology borders upon the poetic. This sermon was anchored by Sanguin’s words (Epiphany 2007). Sermons are a “live” event. So, this manuscript is an approximation of what was actually preached.   

Just five days before Christmas (2008), The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Doctor Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion started a firestorm.  During a BBC interview, His Grace was quoted to say that the story of the “three wise men is a legend”. The Archbishop was also heard to say that he remained unconvinced that there was indeed a star that led the legendary trio to the birth place of the Christ Child.

If that wasn’t enough to send folks off the deep-end, it has been revealed that the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church The Most Reverend Doctor Katherine Jefferts Schori, who just happens to be the first woman elected primate in Anglican history, has fanned the flames of the fire-storm by sending out what has been judged by some to be an incendiary Christmas card.

I downloaded a copy of the offensive card, so that you could see for yourself. HerEpiphany-Wise+Women Grace’s choice of card has offended the good deacons of Ft Worth Texas who claim that their Primate’s actions defy explanation. As you can see the wise folks depicted on this image look a lot like women. Can you imagine the nerve of the first woman primate! How could she be so bold as to select such an offensive image? Leave it to straight talking Texans to set things straight: for despite the audacity of the Primate, the Texans have pledged to “stand for the traditional expression of the Faith.” Continue reading

LOVE Story: You are the LIGHT of the World!

Maybe it’s because I’ve directed too many Christmas pageants, but whenever the Feast of Epiphany rolls around and I hear the story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus, I don’t think of three kings at all. No visions of regal visitors decked out in their finest riding atop camels guided by a star for me. Just memories of little boys, decked out in colourful shiny bathrobes which threaten to trip them up, giggling and roughhousing, with their cardboard crowns all askew. Of all the little boy kings that I’ve tried to corral, one of them stands out from all the rest. Perhaps I remember him so well because he was so little that we couldn’t have him knell at the manger for fear that he would disappear into the hay and our audience would only see two Wise Guys paying homage. Or maybe it was the speed with which he dashed in and out of the gang of shepherds who threatened to trip him up with their crooks. But I really think it was the ingenious way he solved the problem of his lost gold, which makes little, Jay, stand out from all the other little boy kings, for me.

Little Jay’s mother, like all the mothers of all the kings, was responsible for creating a facsimile of the gift her wise son would bestow on the baby Jesus. Unlike some of the feeble efforts which I’ve seen over the years, Jay’s gift of gold was a cut above the rest. Inside an elaborately carved box, which his Dad had picked up on his travels to the Middle East, Jay’s mother had placed upon a bed of statin a carefully created block of wood wrapped in golden gift paper. It positively sparkled. It must have impressed Jay, because he was forever opening up his box to show his fellow cast-members his treasure, his gift.

During the dress rehearsal, Jay’s performance was perfect. Jay positively perfected the art of gazing up at the makeshift star which hung above the altar, just east of our makeshift manger. When he arrived at the place where the newborn baby Jesus was, who just happened to be a little girl that year, Jay strode right up to her mother Mary and opened the box containing his treasure and proudly announced his gift of gold for the newborn king. They, whoever they are, they say that if the rehearsal doesn’t go well then, the performance will be wonderful. So, I was more than a little worried when our dress rehearsal went off so splendidly because that could mean only one thing, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to a performance where things went wrong.

Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, on the morning of his big performance, somewhere between his home and church, Jay lost his golden treasure. All he had was an empty box when he showed up at his father’s pew wailing because all was lost. Jay had no gold to give to the baby Jesus. Little Jay was overcome with grief over the loss of his gift of gold. What could he possibly do? There was no time to go home and make another gold bullion. The nativity play would be ruined. All was lost.

Jay looked everywhere he’d been. He couldn’t find the treasure he was expected to give to the baby. It was not where he had left it.  So, Jay’s Dad did the only thing he could do, he dug down deep into his own treasure to find a gift to give to the baby. He opened his wallet and looked at the bills; money, perhaps a few twenties would do the trick; modern gold? And then he saw it; the most treasured possession of all.  It was a bit battered from the time it had spent in his wallet, but it was after all his most valuable treasure; so, he placed it in Jay’s box so it could be given to the newborn baby Jesus.

When the time came, Jay bowed regally before the babe and tiny little Emma smiled up at him, as he proudly lifted the lid of his beautifully carved box and offered up a treasure which lay inside. The audience couldn’t see what I saw, but it was a treasure more valuable than gold. For nestled there upon a bed of satin, was a slightly worn photograph of Jay. What gift could be more precious that the gift of one’s self? We spend too much time looking to the heavens convinced that our treasure lies there waiting to be bestowed upon us by some king in the sky. The truth rests more securely, closer than we have ever imagined. Our treasure cannot be found looking up into the heavens. Our treasure lies deep inside of our being. For you dear ones, you are the LIGHT of the world. So, shine. Be the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, in the world!

LOVE Story: The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On this the Twelfth Day of Christmas, some of us have already packed up their decorations. But some of us, we are holding off until after tomorrow’s, Feast of Epiphany, when we celebrate the arrival of the wise ones, who came bearing gifts. Now, I’ve heard some express their disappointment that this year our COVID-muted Christmas celebrations haven’t quite satisfied their longings. Sometimes our expectations get in the way of what is.

There’s a story about a little boy who wanted desperately to meet God. The little boy knew it was a very long trip to where God lives, so he packed his suitcase with some tubes of Smarties and some cans of Coke, and he set off on his quest to meet God. When the little boy had gone half a mile or so, he met an old woman.  She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons.  The boy sat down next to the old woman and he opened up his suitcase.  The little boy was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry. So, he offered her some of his smarties. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled at the little boy.  

Her smile lit up her whole face. It was so lovely, the boy wanted to see her smile again, so he offered her a drink of Coke. Once again, the old woman smiled at him and the little boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than just a few steps, he turned around, and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. The old woman, she gave him her biggest smile ever.

When the little boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of pure joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy declared, “I had lunch with God.” And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on his mother’s face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties with God.”  And before her son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected.”

As you pack your decorations away, I hope that they remind you of the many DIVINE encounters you have enjoyed during these twelve days of Christmas. If not, might I suggest, you pack up some smarties and maybe a few cans of coke, don’t forget your mask, and then go out, for I’m sure the DIVINE ONE would be happy to see the DIVINITY which lives in you.

Herods Aplenty, But the Days Grow Longer and WISDOM Abounds – John 1:1-9

They say, whoever they are; they say that “hindsight is 2020.” 20/20 vision is a term used to describe “normal vision.”  In other words, you can see with clarity those things which are 20 feet away. Well, looking behind me at 2020, I would not describe what I see as “normal” and I am barely even beginning to gain some clarity of vision on all that we have been through. For weeks now, people have been expressing their desire to see the back of 2020. There was a kind of collective eagerness to have 2020 behind us. Surely, 2021 has got to be better than the year we’ve just experienced. The coronavirus pandemic with its endless lockdowns and quarantines overshadowed and even intensified the economic and environmental crisis with which 2020 began. Good-bye and good riddance to the old year and let’s just ring in this new year hoping that 2021 will be better.

But there wasn’t enough champagne in any of our celebrations to fool us into believing that a new calendar year was going to solve anything at all. Here we are 2020 behind us and 2021 stretching out before us and still we are being warned, over and over again that the darkest months of this pandemic are still to come. Yes, there are vaccines on the horizon. But we still, don’t really know when or how this pandemic is going to end. We do know that it is going to take a long time before we can gather together, take off our masks, and embrace one another again.

Today is the tenth day of Christmas, so there are only two days left to celebrate the arrival of what the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John heralds as “the LIGHT which shines in the darkness, a LIGHT that the darkness has never overtaken.” On Wednesday the celebration of Epiphany will take over where Christmas leaves off and I can’t help but wonder about the nature of the LIGHT which will illumine our darkness. As we embark on what promises to be a very dark winter, my spirit resonates with myth which has brought comfort and challenges to generations. I feel a bit like those WISDOM-seekers of old, trudging through the darkness with nothing but the promise of LIGHT to guide me, as a look over my shoulder convinced that Herod is still chasing me. Only unlike the three wise guys, I know where this story is going. I know that the LIGHT is guiding them to the most unlikely of saviours. No mighty king, no avenging warrior, no powerful potentate, not even a magic genie who could grant their wishes, just a helpless newborn which has barely begun to draw breath. And yet, it is this very breath from which our ancestors drew hope. Over and over again, from one generation to the next, a helpless tiny child has been heralded as the LIGHT of the world.

Looking back beyond 2020, to a hindsight which surveys generations, I can almost see clearly into that stable of old, to see the breath of that child, rising like up and up and up into the cold winter, offering the hope that we are not alone in the darkness. Emmanuel is the name our ancestors gave to express this hope; the DIVINE MYSTERY, the CREATOR of all that IS, Emmanuel – God with us.

It’s cold out here. But winter has only begun and it’s gonna get a lot colder. The lake, it will freeze. Soon, l be able to walk out onto the ice, if I dare to brave the elements.  Now, there’s a story which I’ve often thought about when I’m trying to find the courage to venture out into the cold darkness of winter. It is a story that ought to be told out here under the overcast skies which are pregnant with snow. It’s about Admiral Richard Byrd, who was an explorer, who travelled into the frozen north seeking wisdom. Listen to what Byrd wrote, near the north pole: Byrde writes: “I paused to listen to the silence. My breath crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. My frozen breath hung like a cloud overhead. The day was dying, the night was being born-but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless.  Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of the silence-a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord.  It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instant I could feel no doubt of (humanity’s) oneness with the universe. The conviction came that that rhythm was too orderly, too harmonious, too perfect to be a product of blind chance-that, therefore, there must be purpose in the whole and that (humanity) was part of that whole and not an accidental offshoot. It was a feeling that transcended reason. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; (humanity) was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night.”

Admiral Byrd paused to listen to the rhythm of the silence and his own breath opened him to the revelation of the DIVINE ONE who lies at the very heart of our BEING. We do not need to travel to the north pole. We do not need to follow a star. We don’t even have to venture out on to some thin ice. We need only to pause for a moment so that we can see, feel, touch and know the DIVINE ONE we call God, who comes to us in the rhythm of our breath and in the guise of a helpless baby. The ONE we seek, the ONE who has the power to save us, the ONE who lies at the very heart of our BEING, the ONE we call, “God,” is EMANUEL, with us, living and breathing in, with, through, and beyond us.

Yes, it is cold. There is darkness all around us and herods a plenty. But the days have already begun to grow longer. The good news dear friends, is that between us we have all the WISDOM necessary to outwit any Herod, whether that Herod be a pandemic or the grief which this pandemic has wrought.

Follow the LIGHT where-ever the LIGHT may lead us, for there is WISDOM in the Stars just as surely as there is WISDOM in you.  Deep beneath the snow are the beginnings of new growth. Spring will come. Deep within you lives the SPIRIT of WISDOM. So, breathe deeply of the LOVE which IS the MYSTERY that we call God. Breathe deeply of the ONE who IS LIGHT and LOVE, and EMANUEL, with us. Breathe deeply of the WISDOM within and we shall be the LIGHT of the world.

View the full Worship Service Below

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

LOVE Story: The Messiah Lives Among Us

There’s an old Jewish story, I can’t remember where I first heard or read it. The story is now deep in my bones. It usually surfaces in me at some point during the Twelve Days of Christmas, reminding me of the hope which springs forth from the manger. Once upon a time, there was a monastery with a long history of commerce and a thriving spiritual community. But as time wore on, fewer and fewer villagers visited the hallowed halls of this monastery. Fewer people turned to the monks, who inhabited the monastery, for advice. Even the sale of their famous wines began to dwindle. The abbot began to despair for his community. “What should they do?” he wondered. They prayed daily for guidance, but the brothers only became more dispirited. The monastery itself reflected their mood, becoming shabby and untidy. At last, the Abbot, hearing that a wise Jewish rabbi was visiting, swallowed his pride and went to visit the rabbi to ask for his advice.

The abbot and the rabbi visited for a long time. They talked of their respective religions, and the fickleness of human nature. The abbot explained his problem to the rabbi and asked him for advice, but the Jewish sage only shook his head and smiled. As the abbot sadly departed, the rabbi suddenly rose and shouted after him, “Ah, but take heart my friend for the Messiah lives amongst you!” 

All the way home the abbot pondered the rabbi’s words, “The Messiah lives amongst you.” What could he mean? Did the Messiah live in the abbey?  The abbot knew all the brothers very well. Could one of them really be the Messiah? Surely, he, the abbot, was not the Messiah?  Was it possible? Upon reaching the monastery the abbot confided the rabbi’s words to another brother, who told another brother, who was overheard telling another brother. Soon the whole abbey had heard the news. “The Messiah lives amongst us!”

“Who do you suppose he could be?” As each brother speculated on who the Messiah could be, his view of his brothers began to change. Brother Louis no longer appeared simple, but rather innocent.

Brother Jacques was no longer uncompromising, but rather striving for spiritual perfection. The brothers began to treat each other with greater respect and courtesy; after all, one never knew when he might be speaking to the Messiah. And, as each brother discovered his own words were taken seriously, the thought that he might become the Messiah would cross his humble mind and he would square his shoulders and attend his work with greater care, and he started acting like a Messiah.

Soon the neighboring villages began to notice the change which had come over the monastery. The brothers seemed so happy. Villagers flocked to the monastery and were energized by the spirit of the Brothers. And so, the SPIRIT grew, and the monastery flourished. As each new brother was welcomed, the question arose, “Could he be the Messiah?” Apparently, this monastery still prospers today, and it is often whispered both within its walls and in the surrounding towns that the Messiah lives amongst them.

LOVE Story: Tell Us About God???

There’s a story which I love to remember during the twelve days of Christmas simply because Christmas is the time to remember just how much promise arrives in the form of a newborn baby. I first heard this story from a very wise seminary professor and since then I’ have heard Marcus Borg and Parker Palmer tell it. I’m not sure that this story actually happened, but I am absolutely sure that this story is one-hundred percent true!

It’s a story about a three-year-old girl who was the only child in her family, when her parents announce that they are having a baby. The little girl is excited by the prospect of having a new baby sister or brother. Now, it seemed to the little girl like it was taking for ever, but eventually the day comes when her Mom and Dad go off to the hospital for the birth. When her parents arrive home with her new baby brother, the little girl is simply delighted. They hadn’t been home for more than a couple of hours, when the little girl tells her parents that she wants to spend some time with the new baby, in the baby’s room, alone, with the door shut. She’s absolutely insistent about the door being shut.

Her parents are none too sure about this idea of leaving their precious new bundle alone with their three-year-old daughter. They know she is a good little girl, but they’ve heard about sibling rivalry and they’re not too sure about taking this risk. As they were debating the idea, they remember that they’ve recently installed an intercom system in preparation for the arrival of the new baby. They realize that they can let their little girl have her wish, and if they hear the slightest strange thing happening, they can be in there in a flash to rescue their newborn. So, they let their little girl go into the room alone.  They close the door behind her. They race to the listening post. They hear her footsteps move across the room. They imagine their little girl standing over their baby’s crib, and then they hear her say to her two-day-old baby brother, “Tell me about God. I have almost forgotten.”

At Christmas, we are, all of us, that child, standing over the baby’s crib hoping against hope that the newborn baby will tell us about God; maybe because we have almost forgotten, maybe because we don’t believe, maybe because we want to believe, maybe because we’ve lost hope, maybe because we are endlessly curious, or maybe simply because T’s the season for hoping against hope that the child will tell us about the MYSTERY which we call God, because we have almost forgotten.

The COVID-Grinch Cannot Steal Christmas!

There’s no Christmas tree in our sanctuary this year. We knew that come Christmas, we would not be able to gather in person to celebrate, so we didn’t put up a tree. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss the tree until I recorded last Sunday’s worship video. I was standing in this empty sanctuary, just me and the camera and I couldn’t see the beautiful Advent decorations. All I could see was the empty corner where our tree usually stands. It reminded me of a scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I’m old, so I’m talking about the 1966 cartoon, where the Grinch steals Cindy Lou Who’s Christmas tree. Staring over at that empty corner, it was as if the COVID-Grinch has stolen so much of what we hold dear about Christmas. The COVID-Grinch has stolen our family gatherings, and our crowded Christmas Candlelight Communions and no tree for us this year. So, I’m left standing here like a Who from down in Whoville whose crying “boo hoo.”

Back in the 60’s when the Grinch stepped up his antics, artificial trees were all the rage. Those early artificial trees were about as life-like as the flat animations in that old cartoon. But still people couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I remember our family’s first artificial tree. It may have been our first, but unfortunately, we had it for most of my childhood. That hideous artificial tree is what turned me into a real tree enthusiast. That poor excuse for a tree consisted of a center pole which looked like a broomstick. The pole was painted green and holes had been drilled into it where these metal branches adorned with what I can only describe as short pieces of green tinsel were poked in.

Every year, my parents would haul out this artificial monstrosity and erect it in our living room so that we could decorate it with our treasured bobbles. Needless to say, the trauma of this hideous artificial monstrosity caused me, once I was old enough to pay for them, to insist on always having a real tree. No artificial trees for me! Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a real tree. Except for that one year, when I was broke. I was sharing an apartment with four roommates who were also broke. We simply couldn’t afford a real tree. One of my roommates had the bright idea that we should check out the local charity shop to see if they had any cheap artificial trees which we could afford. Now it was just a few days before Christmas, so the pickings were slim in the charity shop. An exasperated salesclerk explained to us that all they had left were some odds and ends, as she directed us to a bin full of mismatched artificial tree-limbs and told us we could help ourselves to whatever we wanted. Inside that bin were all sorts of fake tree branches representing the various artificial tree fashions of the previous decades. There were fake pine branches made of wires and some made of plastic. There were even branches reminiscent of my family’s hideous green tinsel tree, and a few silver tinsel branches of that same genre. Perhaps the most offensive branches were the ones which were coated with some sort of white crusty stuff, no doubt designed to simulate snow. Very few of the fake branches looked related to one another, let alone looking anything remotely like a Christmas tree. But one of my roommates found a fake tree trunk, which looked suspiciously like a broomstick. He insisted that we could easily attach some branches to it, add a few bobbles, toss some tinsel on it and Bob’s your Uncle, a Christmas tree would be born out of this bin. Thinking that he was joking, we decided to join in the fun and proceed to gather together the most offensive of the branches. We were going for the ridiculous look.

I don’t really think that we actually intended to bring our insane selections home. We just sort of got caught up in the madness. Madness is the only way I can explain the monstrosity of a tree that was erected in our living room. There was nothing beautiful about our creation, except of course the laughter with which we created it and the LOVE which that monstrosity bore witness to as we danced in jubilation around it. At one point, I’m not sure if it was the insanity of our excuse for a tree, or maybe it was the wine we consumed creating it, but we actually attempted to reenact a scene from the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” for in fact the Grinch cannot steal Christmas. I will never in all my days, forget the joy which we had standing around pretended to be a bunch of Whos from down in Whoville chanting: “Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores, Welcome Christmas.”

A couple of days ago, Carol and I came into this sanctuary to change the paraments from Advent to Christmas. For a while all I could see was the empty corner where our tree ought to be. All I could see was what was missing. I know that this Christmas many of us will have difficult seeing beyond what is missing. Who can blame us? This is a Christmas like no other we have ever experienced. So, much of what we love about Christmas, simply will not be here. There will be empty corners, empty places where you usually sit, and worst of all empty chairs at Christmas tables. It isn’t easy to see beyond what’s missing. It is as if there is a wall separating us from the Christmas of our longings. That wall is reinforced by so much of we are hearing and seeing in the media. Our screens are bombarding us with dire news. It is so very tempting for us to stare blankly at our screens. And as the wall gets higher and higher, we sink deeper and deeper into despair.

As Carol and I continued to decorate this sanctuary, my attention was shifted from the empty corner to the creche. It isn’t in its usual place this year. We wanted to make it easier for the camera to capture it as we were recording this service. As I look upon the scene which symbolizes the myths which have sustained generations, a gap appears in the wall and I can begin to see beyond the darkness to the LIGHT which continues to glimmer with hope.

So much of the world’s attention is captured each and every day by stories of scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness. Our focus is captured by images on screens which dominate our conversations, our thoughts, our beliefs and even our way of life. Each story which portrays scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness as the way life is, was, and ever more shall be, generates fear. Our fears re-enforce the wall, which leads to more and more actions based upon the principals of scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness, and the wall just becomes more and more impenetrable as our fears feed upon one another.

As I look upon this nativity scene, it is so very tempting to linger over sentimental trivialities only to forget the subversive nature of the parable which is symbolized by this idyllic scene. For this parable which has sustained generations is the very anthesis of our fear. The parable which sustains us right here and right now denies the very foundational blocks upon which the wall of fear is built. Whereas our wall of fear is founded on the principles that life is all about scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness, the symbols of our foundational parable, point us beyond our fear to the reality that our lives are a gift and LOVE is the point.

Life is a gift born not out scarcity, but out of the abundance of Creation. A simple walk in the woods on a snowy evening is more than enough to shift our focus from notions of scarcity to glimpses of the magnificent abundance with which we are blessed. I’m also pretty sure that the mere fact that there is a vaccine on the horizon, is not the result of competition, but of co-operation. I also know that greed won’t get that vaccine into the arms of enough people to move us beyond this pandemic. In order to vaccinate enough of the world’s population, rich countries like ours are going to need to be extremely generous, outrageously generous.

Tonight, this nativity heralds the birth of LOVE, and points us toward the reality of the passion of a person who understood that scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness create fear. Jesus lived and died to proclaim that beauty, truth, and goodness is in abundance all around us. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and live it abundantly.” Abundant life is characterized by our generosity, our cooperation, and our passion; our passion which gives birth to LOVE.

Abundant life does not mean life without fear, nor does it mean that scarcity, competition, greed, and selfishness do not exist. Living life abundantly means not allowing these things to be foundational to our lives. When we live life abundantly, what is beautiful, true and good, nourishes us so that we can be generous, cooperative, and passionate in the way we encounter our fear. Living life abundantly means seeing beyond the wall built by our fear. In practical terms it means noticing that there is no tree in our sanctuary this year and being able to see the blessing of our technology which empowers us to find new ways to be LOVE in the world. It means missing our families and being grateful that we have families to miss. It means being stuck at home and being grateful that we have a home to be stuck in. It does not mean ignoring the realities of evil, or the tragedies which surround us, or even the empty chairs at our dinner table. It does mean grieving, for to grieve is to have LOV-ed. It is that LOVE which will nourish us, so that we can see beyond our pain to the LIGHT which continues to grow; the light which is fueled by beauty, truth, and goodness, guiding us to respond to scarcity not with fear but with the realization of the abundance of blessings which continue to flow all around us, to respond to competition not with a fear of losing, but with cooperative alternatives, and to respond to greed and self-centeredness, not with fear but with generosity and compassion for our neighbours.

Tonight, this nativity points us to the birth of the ONE who lived passionately proclaiming that abundance, generosity, co-operation, flow out of beauty, truth, and goodness, to create LOVE, the LOVE which will comfort and restore us; a LOVE which resurrects our passion for life.

Christmas is a holiday, a HOLY day in which we celebrate what is good about the world. Our celebrations will not deny the suffering which is going on all around us. Our celebrations, if we let them, will empower us to see our suffering in the context of the abundance of blessings which come to us each and every day.

Yes, I do miss our tree. I miss all of you filing this sanctuary with song. I also know that a long dark, difficult winter stretches out before us all. But I trust the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being to give us the strength to meet this winter not motivated by our fears but empowered by the passion inspired in us by the abundance of goodness, truth, and beauty which surrounds us. So that we can see beyond our fears. So that we can discover new ways of being LOVE in the world.

As I look upon that nativity, I can see beyond the sadness, longing, and fear, to the beauty of the candlelight. And even in the silence of this empty sanctuary which is bigger than this building; this sanctuary in which we live and move and have our being, is a LOVE beyond my fear, a LOVE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also.

So, wherever you are watching this, whatever your circumstances may be, do not let the COVID-Grinch steal your Christmas. For not even the COVID-Grinch as despicable as it may be, not even this can steal Christmas, because LOVE is about to be born in us.

May you each of you see beyond the walls built of fear to the LIGHT which continues to glow. May that LIGHT help you to see the abundance of blessing which are all around us. May you rejoice in the gift of your life, so that LOVE may continue to grow in, with, through, and beyond you. “Welcome Christmas, fah who rah-moose. Welcome Christmas, dah who rah-moose.” Let us live this LOVE-given gift of life abundantly. Merry Christmas.

View the full Christmas Eve Worship Video below

Download the Order of Service click here

 

LOVE Story: “The baby that was borned was God!”

Not so very long ago, a young woman, let’s call her Dora, short for Doreatha, which comes from the Greek phrase “gift from God.” Dora spent most of her childhood dreading Christmas. Christmas in Dora’s family was a volatile affair. Dora’s father never needed much of an excuse to drink too much.  Most of the holidays were consumed by the fallout from his excessive drinking. After far too many devastating Christmas Eves which ended in tears, Dora figured out that the best thing she could do to protect herself from the trauma of her family’s gatherings was to stay away from home on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, Dora was blessed with friends from church who regularly welcomed her into their home each Christmas Eve. Beth and Michael had three small children the youngest of which, little Sophia, was Dora’s goddaughter. With her family of choice, Dora new exactly what to expect on Christmas Eve. First a trip into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, which they would trim together before sitting down to a traditional feast, followed by Michael’s dramatic reading of the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. When the children were safely tucked into bed with dreams of, well not so much sugarplums dancing in their heads, but rather visions of packages which would magically arrive whilst they slept, Dora and Beth would slip out quietly to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight communion service.

Well, one Christmas Eve, Dora found herself alone in the house trying to amuse her goddaughter Sophia, who was very, very, unhappy. Her parents had decided that the unusually cold weather, together with the deep snow, made the conditions far too severe for a three-year-old to trudge through. Sophia and Dora were given the task of getting the living room ready to receive the Christmas tree. Sophia was not pleased at all about being left behind. But it didn’t take long for the boxes of decorations to catch her attention. All through the Advent season, little Sophia had been learning the Christmas story. As they tackled the sorting out the decorations, Sophia began to regale Dora with her own version of the Christmas story. As they unpacked the shepherds, wise guys and angels, Sophia told Dora how: “Once upon a time, before they had picture books or televisions, there wasn’t anything fun to do, because there was no Santa to bring anybody any presents. And there weren’t any cars, so Mary who was going to have a baby, had to ride on a donkey and Joseph walked because he had longer legs. And they walked and they walked all day long until it was dark and then, when they got where they were going, they were very hungry, but there wasn’t any food, so they went into a stable, where they talked to the animals until they weren’t hungry anymore. It was dark but they weren’t afraid because there was a big star shining up in the sky so they could see what was happening. And soon it was time for a big surprise. But not the kind of surprise that Santa brings, this was a really big surprise.”  Sophia’s eyes lit up as she told Dora about this big surprise. She said, when the animals fell asleep, “then the baby was borned.”  Sophia asked Dora, “Do you know who the baby was?” Dora played along, asking, “Tell me, who was the baby who was borned?”  Sophia climbed up onto her lap and whispered into Dora’s ear: “The baby was God!” With that, Sophia jumped down and began to dance around the room. Rarely is the good news told with such earnest appreciation for the amazing surprise. Continue reading

Jesus’ Birth Story: A Radical, Subversive Parable

Well, here we are facing the darkest of winters. Rising death tolls together with the reality that we must wait many more months before the vaccines will make it possible for us to gather together in person. So, on this the final Sunday of Advent, with most of us needing to forgo our regular Christmas celebrations with loved ones, here I am on your screen with nothing but a story to give you hope, love, peace and joy. I have only a story to comfort us all in the darkness in which we have ben gestating for months, for practically all of this year. But I do not appear here to proclaim just any story. For generations, people have insisted that the story of the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus’ birth narrative heralds the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth, God incarnate, fully divine and yet fully human.

However, not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus’ birth can’t even claim to be unique. Historically, Jesus’ birth story is just one in a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it is our story. A story that we tell over and over again at the expense of other birth stories which are just as great. It is not all that difficult for the cynics to buttress their denials about who and what Jesus was, simply by Googling the “greatest birth story ever told”, selecting one or two of these greatest stories and putting them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as simply one story in a long line of ancient birth stories.

Allow me to demonstrate by using just one of these ancient birth stories. There are so many to choose from, so let’s use the one which predates the birth of Jesus by only 60 years, when Julius Caesar had established an Empire the likes of which the world had never seen before. Gaius Julius’ prowess on the battlefield was matched only by his cunning in the senate and together these powers had won him the title of “Caesar.” But as great and marvelous a leader as Julius Caesar may have been, history tells us that he and his wife were not blessed with children so eventually Julius appointed his niece’s son Octavian to be his heir. It is Octavian’s birth story that the Ancient Romans claimed was the most amazing birth story ever told. This birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth.

Octavian went down in history by his nickname. I should really say by his imperial name, for as the Emperor of Rome, Octavian became known as Augustus Caesar and it is his birth narrative that was the greatest birth story ever told, according to the Romans. Augustus is Latin, for “one who should be praised or worshiped.” Caesar means Emperor. The legends surrounding this praiseworthy emperor of Rome are truly astounding. Born just 60 odd years before the birth of Jesus, it is said that Augustus was a son of god twice over. For not only was he the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who when he died, was by virtue of being the ruler of Rome declared by his people to be a god, legend has it that Octavian’s mother had a dalliance with some god or other. It seems that on the day Octavian was born his mother had a dream that she was raised up to the sky and her intestines were spread all over the earth.  His father also had a dream that the sun rose and set on his dear wife’s womb. Well, when the priests were consulted about these dreams, it was decreed that little Octavian must be the progeny of a god.  But which god you may ask, well ancient sources are blurry on the subject, some say it was Jupiter himself, others suggest his father was the god Mars.  

The poet Virgil gives us a pretty clear indication of just who Octavian, known as Augustus, was in the eyes of his people.  For it seems that on the very night that Augustus Caesar was made Emperor a strange star appeared in the sky. When Romans described the appearance of the star in the sky they said, “We saw the son of God, aka Julius Caesar, ascending to the right hand of God the father, Zeus.” The people believed that this was a sign that Julius Caesar’s spirit was finally able to leave Rome and head off into the heavens, blessing the reign of his great-nephew Octavian, aka Augustus, as he went by displaying a magnificent star in the sky. Writing of Augustus’ actual birth, Virgil’s poem insists that, “Augustus would be a divine king, the one the world had been waiting for, the one who would bring salvation to all the earth, freeing the people from fear and establishing a universal empire of peace.”  

If the truth be told, Augustus Caesar did live up to his birth legend. After all, as Emperor he did establish the Pax Romana and peace was upheld in his empire. He did it by conquering and terrorizing the conquered. Pax Romana was known as “peace through victory.” Once you were conquered by the Romans, you had better behave yourself peacefully or they’d publicly execute you so as to set an example to your kinfolk. It was just as Virgil said, and I quote: “Caesar is the Son of God.  Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus. Augustus is reigning in the fullness of his glory; the entire empire resounds with the sound of the advent proclamation.”  Does any of this sound familiar? Such an august man/god as this requires a birth narrative which heralds the arrival of the Saviour of the world.

Imagine what it must have been like for the early followers of the man Jesus of Nazareth; a peasant, rabbi, radical, and disturber of the peace, executed as a political threat to the Pax Romana. The followers of the Way knew that their beloved leader was the embodiment of the antithesis of Caesar; for everything which Caesar was, Jesus was not! Jesus of Nazareth went to his death insisting that peace through victory was no peace at all. Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the radical notion that peace, true peace can only be established and maintained through justice. Peace, true peace, is the result of everyone having enough. Jesus called for the kind of distributive justice, which ensures that the poor and the powerless, the marginalized and the despised have all they need in order to live in peace. It was such a radically dangerous notion that the powers that be could not let it live. So, the Romans did what the Romans always did when the Pax Romana came under threat, they nailed the radical, peace disturbing, rabbi to a tree and let him hang there until he was dead.

The only problem with their plan was Jesus’ dream just wouldn’t die. The dream of this new kind of peace, this peace through justice, which Jesus had called the Reign of God, simply would not die in the hearts and minds of this itinerate preacher’s followers. Jesus’ dream of the Reign of God lived on. Years later; decades later, in fact a whole generation later, when one of this Jesus fella’s followers sat down to write the account of Jesus’ life, he did his best to find a way to ensure that the dream would never die. And so, to this day, the dream lives on thanks in part to the writing of an unknown scribe who wrote down what the people were saying and teaching about the dream, long after this Jesus of Nazareth was gone. We don’t know who wrote it, tradition has called him Luke, but no one really knows who it was. We do know that this persuasive writer employed a style of storytelling which Jesus was particularly fond of himself. Jesus of Nazareth persuaded people to change their way of being using a type of story called a parable. A parable is a story which uses elements which are very familiar to the listeners. A parable takes familiar elements and uses them in ways which turn the listener’s perceptions upside down. One minute the listener is on familiar territory and in the next minute everything the listener thought they knew is turned upside down and a new way of imagining the world is revealed. The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we call Luke was clever; clever enough to know that any great person worthy of belief or praise must have a great birth story.

So, if a birth story is what it takes for listeners to know the truth and to believe, then let me give you the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s birth parable which is worthy of the one who proclaimed a different kind of peace.  You may have your peace through victory, but the Prince of Peace of whom I speak; now there is a Saviour worthy of praise.  Son of God, you bet, but were as Octavian might have been born of noble birth, the kind of Saviour I’m talking about was of the people, born as the apostle Paul declared, “born of a woman”. Not anyone special, her name was Miriam, and lord knows there are Miriams everywhere just like her. This Miriam was just a slip of a girl, not more than about 12 or 13 years old. We don’t know exactly how she became pregnant; people talked about her and about Jesus as if there was something a little dubious about the way in which it happened. But then in the Pax Romana, young girls fell pregnant all the time and Miriam wasn’t from a noble family. But they were righteous enough to find a good man to take her on, even though he knew that she was pregnant. It was as if he’d seen it in a dream and so this man, this man let’s call him after that dreamer of old, let’s call him Joseph, it was like he had a dream or something of how things should be. Anyway, no matter what the powers that be threw at them, they coped, even if it meant travelling down to Bethlehem the city of the great King David to be registered. So far from the halls of power, so far that it might have been an outbuilding on the edge of a city, amongst the poorest of the poor, a child was born.

A star, you bet your life there was a star. Right up there in the sky above the place where he was born, and the star was so big and so bright that the powerful came and bowed down before the baby who would become the hope of the poor. Finally, good news for the poor and the oppressed, the marginalized and the despised, good news for unto you is born in the City of David a Saviour who will be the Prince of Peace, who will bring peace on earth and good will to all.

Yeah, here’s a birth story like no other. Here’s a birth story about humble origins, about margins, about poverty, about struggle and oppression, about simple people living their lives as best they can and accomplishing great things. The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we call Luke has created a subversive birth parable. A parable in which Jesus, not Caesar is born of a virgin and is the Son of God. The trouble is after 20 centuries, you and I hear “born of a virgin” and “Son of God” as unbelievable church doctrines. But in this parable, these are not doctrines but subversive political statements. They are declarations that Jesus embodied a different kind of god. In Jesus an oppressed and marginalized people experienced a radically different vision of the DIVINE, a vision which turned the whole idea of the DIVINE upside down. Caesar offered a vision of a god who is born in a mansion. But this new vision of the DIVINE was born in a manger. Caesar is a god who enslaves. CHRIST is a god who sets free. Caesar is a god who lives with the oppressors. CHRIST is a god who lives among the oppressed. The stories of Jesus’ birth are subversive parables designed to say a big NO to the powers of Empire; to turn the world we thought we knew upside down and point to a new way of being in the world.

The stories of Jesus’ birth represent a politically subversive call for us to enlist in a cause where we care for our neighbour, look out for the stranger and embrace the flesh and blood of those who are suffering, oppressed, persecuted, starving, homeless, those who have no voice. Christmas itself is a call to embrace the parables of Jesus’ birth as our call to turn the world as we know it upside down and usher in a new way of being in the world; a way of being that rejects the horrors of Empire and embraces the kind of justice that gives birth to peace.

Forget your grand and glorious birth stories. You won’t find the DIVINITY you seek in the halls of power. The DIVINITY you seek, is out there in the muck and mire of the world, in the stuff of life. The peace you hunger for won’t come from the rich or the powerful. They are too busy defending their power and holding on to their wealth. The peace you hunger for will only come at the expense of the powerful. And for those of us who are rich and powerful; that’s rich enough to have screens on which to watch this, for us peace we long for requires that we sacrifice our wealth and power. The peace we long for will only come when our love inspires us to share. The peace we hunger for will only come when everyone has enough. Peace through justice is the only kind of peace that has any power to satisfy, to last. If you are looking for a god worthy of your worship, look not to the powerful. Look to the power of god that lives and breathes in you; the divine power that drives your hunger for justice and peace. It was born in you and it lives in you and it lives in you.

Who is this one heralded as the Prince of Peace? Jesus of Nazareth, who had a dream of peace which he proclaimed as the Reign of God; a reign which would see to it that the rich are sent away empty because they already have enough, a reign in which and the hungry are filled with good things, a reign where justice and not victory is the way to peace. A reign dreamed of and embodied by a poor peasant, a radical rabbi, who the powers that be could not abide, so they killed him hoping to put an end to his dream. But the dream will not die. Resurrection is the rebirth of this dream, over and over again, in the hearts, minds, and lives of the followers of the ONE whose birth we celebrate in the midst of darkness. This dream will be born again, and again, even in the midst of this pandemic as the poor and the oppressed, the forgotten and the neglected, the sick and the dying continue to long for LOVE, right here, right now.

Let the dream of Jesus be born right here and right now, in you. Let it be said of you that you lived this dream; that the dream of the Reign of God, a dream where justice leads to peace, a dream where LOVE conquers all; a dream where joy is found in the LOVE, we share to warm the darkness.

May the LOVE which is DIVINE be born in, with, through and beyond you. Let it be said of you that you, that you too are a Child of God, a Princess, or a Prince of Peace, a Mighty Councillor, Emmanuel, God with us. BE Joy to the world!

Watch the full Worship Service here

Download the Order of Service click here