I had all but decided not to post my regular sermon resources for Holy Week. It seemed somehow inappropriate, in these surreal days, to look to previous sermons for inspiration. However, after various followers of this blog got in touch to inquire as to when they might expect to find posts for Holy Week, I have relented. Blessings upon your Holy Week preparations.
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“Can these bones live?” It’s a bit of a stretch to compare physical distancing and self-isolation to the valley of dry bones. If you are watching this, chances are you are safe and warm. The ability to shelter in place, or to self-isolate is a blessing afforded to the privileged. Mindful of our many blessings, we still cannot ignore how we are feeling right now. Our bones may not be dry, our hope may not be gone, and we are not doomed. But many of us are longing to return to our lives. In many ways if feels like we are in a Valley of Dry Bones, and I long to return to the life l knew.
For many of us it has been about two weeks since we began to seriously distance ourselves from one another. Stay at home orders have physically separated us from our families, friends, neighbours, work, our congregations and in many ways our lives. I don’t know about you, but his enforced separation has brought with it all sorts of emotions. In the scrambling to discover new ways of staying connected, I neglected to allow myself the opportunity to do the very thing that as a pastor, I often counsel others to do. I wasn’t paying attention to how and what I was feeling. I confess that there was a big part of me that was afraid to feel; afraid that given half the chance, my feelings would cause me to curl up in a ball, assume the fetal position and weep.
Weep for all that we have lost.
Weep for those who are suffering.
Weep for those who are dying.
Weep for the dead.
Weep for the healthcare workers.
Weep for the children.
Weep for the people of my congregation.
Weep for my loved ones.
Weep for myself.
I was doing a pretty good job of keeping busy, tending to what needs doing and then I sat down to write this reflection. The words, “Jesus wept.” unbound me and my tears began to flow. As I wept, I tried to figure out, why? I know that this, whatever this is, this too shall pass, and I know that all shall be well. So, what do I have to cry about?
It wasn’t until the tears subsided that I began to recognize that what I am feeling is grief. In all sorts of online conversations this week, people have mentioned “that uneasy feeling that I can’t quite figure out.” People have described having a “foggy brain” or the inability to focus or to concentrate.” I particularly resonate with those who have mentioned a “low-grade, stress headache.” I now suspect that these are the tell-tale symptoms of grief.
Grief comes in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Our world has changed so rapidly, and we all know that there will be many more changes before this is over. We may not know what is coming, but we know it’s coming. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to fall. We know that this too shall pass. But we also realize that things have changed, and many things will never be the same again. The loss of the everyday stuff that we all took for granted, our economic fears, the loss of connection, all these things are hitting us all at once and we are grieving. As we imagine what our future holds, we experience what is known as anticipatory grief. There is more to come and even our primitive minds know that something bad is happening, something we may not be able to see. Our sense of security is under threat.
Waves of grief can overwhelm us. Grief can cause us to deny our reality: the virus won’t affect us, it’s just like the flue, don’t worry. Grief can make us angry: how long do we have to stay home? Grief can make us strike bargain: If I stay home, follow the rules, me and mine, we’ll be ok. Grief can make us sad. Grief can also help us to accept what is happening, feel our feelings and help us to hope. It has been said, by the grief experts that: acceptance is where the power lies. But the thing about grief is that it comes in all sorts of waves, following no specific rhyme or reason. One minute we are able to accept what is happening and the next moment we are in denial, or sad, or striking bargains.
Underlying all our grief is fear. Fear constricts us, binds us up in ways that make life impossible. Bound by fear, feels to me like being trapped in a tomb. Jesus says, “Lazarus come out!”
Lazarus is the Greek for the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means: “the one who God helps. In this parable of the raising of Lazarus, Lazarus is us, for each one of us is “the one who God helps.” By God I don’t mean a personified, super-hero, out there, or up there. By God I mean the ONE in whom we live, and move and have our being; the ONE who lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us. By God I mean the one who is in here, and the ONE who IS beyond here; BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.
One name for this God of whom I speak is CHRIST. When I read or hear the words “Jesus wept”, I know that CHRIST wept, just as surely as I weep, for our tears are CHRIST’s tears. In the words of St. Paul, we do not grieve as ones without hope.
I keep hearing “Stay home! Stay safe!” Yes, this is good advice. But please be kind to yourselves. Be gentle with yourself. Take time to grieve. Feel what you feel. Weep when weeping comes.
We grieve as ONE, for there is nothing in heaven or on earth, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God, no virus, no isolation, nothing in life or in death, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. This too shall pass. All shall be well. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears.
Soon, we shall hear Jesus’ call, “Lazarus come out!” and we shall emerge unbound free to live and be LOVE in the world. For now, our hands are CHRIST’s hands. So let, us be CHRIST in our care for one another. Resurrection, just as surely as springtime, resurrection is coming. Let it be so. Let it come soon.
Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells a story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journalist looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist, she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”
The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home, and I have a cup of tea, and I come back and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from all the earth.”
The journalist is intrigued and asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”
For many of us, social distancing, has created a wall between us and separated us from our lives. Bumping up against this wall over and over again, our noses can almost smell the fear filled mortar which oozes from the newly laid brickwork.
This week people have asked me to pray for them. But many more people have asked me, “to whom shall we pray? Most of us learned to pray to a faraway-sky-god and we were taught that faith meant believing that the faraway-sky-god was waiting around to answer our prayers.
As the news gets bleaker and bleaker and the danger draws closer and closer, our loved ones, our livelihoods, and our lives are threatened. So, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing for a personified-parent-god to be the super-hero who come to our rescue? And so, we pray and sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall.
Earlier this week, a well-intentioned priest sent some of my colleagues and I an urgent message urging us to combat COVID-19 by praying without ceasing and then he quoted the words of Jesus: “That is why I tell you, keep asking and you will receive; keep looking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted.”
If asking and knocking could save even one person from this virus, I would not get off my knees. And, I suspect that I would have a great deal of company down there on my knees. The problem with telling people to pray, or promising people that you will pray for them is that so many of us learned to pray to an image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that fails to capture the magnitude of the CREATOR of all that IS. We were trained to look up to the heavens as we beseeched a god who we cast in the role of a cosmic superhero, ready, willing, and able to intervene on our behalf. Our prayers were crafted with a transactional mindset which perceived life from a dualistic perspective: either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, answered or unanswered prayer. You either believe in God or you don’t.
Slowly, as we have learned more and more about the nature of reality, our longing to connect with the Source of All reality has caused us to expand our images of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As the CREATOR OF UNIVERSES shakes off our way too small superhero costume, we are left standing among the snakes and scorpions, and yes, the virus, wondering: to whom shall we go? how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray? I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE, to whom, or how do you pray in a crisis such as this?
We were trained in the art of transactional prayer, I believe, so do this, help me, save me, help them, save them. But what if prayer is not transactional but transformative? If prayer is transformative and not transactional, then we don’t need the super-hero god to reward our prayers by giving us whatever we ask for. If you, with all your short comings, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the MYSTERY, who is the DIVINE, give. How much more, well how about the transformative power of the HOLY SPIRIT?
Jesus does not promise a successful transaction as our reward for persistent prayer, but rather the HOLY SPIRIT herself. The transforming power of the SPIRIT is ours. For the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, breathes, the very breath of the DIVINE, the SPIRIT, the RUACH breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us.
What if the transformative power of prayer opens us to the presence of the ONE in whom we have our BEING? What if prayer is a way for us to open ourselves to the persisting presence of the DIVINE which permeates the universe; a way to be open to a universe that is saturated with the sacred? What if prayer is a doorway to consciousness; a practice to strengthen our intention to work toward the answers to our prayers? What if prayer doesn’t change a thing? What if the power of prayer is its potential to change us? What if prayer opens us, breaks down our walls, opens doorways, points us toward the connections we so long for? What if prayer helps us to see clearly, to pay attention, to connect, to care about our neighbours, to welcome the stranger, to seek justice, to be merciful, and to love extravagantly? What if prayer is the way to recognize the ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us?
What if our intentional, traditional, formal prayers are not the main event but rather a spiritual practice, an educational tool designed to prepare us by reminding us who we are and what is important about each moment. So that we can live more deeply and compassionately connected to the DIVINE, to Creation and to one another? In other words what if what we have always thought of as prayer is just the beginning, an opening up, into being the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God? What if prayer is transformative? Our lives have changed so very much in the past week. We can only imagine what is going to happen next week or next month. We can respond to these changes with fear and try to find a super-hero to save us. Or we can let our prayers open us to transformation.
Let us pray without ceasing. That is to say, let our prayer be our striving to live these moments in loving relationship to the HOLY ONE, in loving relationship to our neighbours, all our sisters and brothers, and in loving relationship to ourselves. Transformative prayer is our living, loving, and being in which, we relate to one another giving and receiving the LOVE that is the MYSTERY that we call God.
Jesus we are told was fond of telling one story to shed light on another story. So, in the SPIRIT of Jesus, let me tell you a story that sheds light on our Gospel story.
Once upon a time there was a wise old woman who lived in a small village. The children of the village were puzzled by the woman’s great wisdom, her gentleness, and her strength. One day a few of the children decided to test the old woman. They just couldn’t believe that anyone could be as wise as everyone claimed this old woman was. They were determined to prove that the old woman wasn’t very wise at all.
One day the children found a baby bird and one of the boys cupped the bird in his hands and said to the other children, “All we need to do is ask the old woman whether the bird I have in my hands is dead or alive. If she says the bird is dead. I will open my hands and let the bird fly away. If she says the bird is alive, I’ll crush it in my hands, and she’ll see that the bird is dead. So, the children, went to the old woman and presented her with this challenge. “Old woman,” the boy demanded, “Is this bird in my hands dead or alive?”
The woman became very still, studied the boy’s hands, then she looked carefully into his eyes. “It is in your hands whether the bird will live or will die.” The wise old woman smiled, and repeated the wisdom from within, “It is in your hands.”
Each one of us holds within our hands the transformative power of the SPIRIT. It’s in our hands! So, as you wash or sanitize those powerful hands of yours, pray without ceasing. As you practice physical distancing, pray without ceasing. For with every act of compassion, you are praying. Pray without ceasing so that we might be opened up to a way of being in these challenging days, a way of being that opens us up to the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God! Today, and in the coming weeks and months may all our fears be transformed into compassion so that we may be LOVE in these ever-changing moments. Let it be so. Amen.
My questions are adapted from and inspired by John Shelby Spong’s exploration of prayer in A New Christianity For a New World (chapter 11)
If you miss the livestream, we will upload worship to this site in the afternoon.
Social Distancing does not have to mean Spiritual Isolation. Join us as we seek connection with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.
Pastor Dawn Hutchings, Marney Curran, Eric Schultz and Andrew Slonetsky will bring worship to your home. We will broadcast from the church sanctuary as we practice social distancing.
We abandoned the regular lectionary our readings were Matthew 11:28-30; Colossians 3:12-17; and Mark 1:29-35 you can read them in our service bulletin, found here
It was almost five years ago now, and I can still see her smile. It was a beautiful smile; a smile which I often return to in my mind’s-eye. I have long-since forgotten her name. But her smile, I will never forget. It was a smile which she brought to me every day for about a week. A smile that calmed me, soothed me, at a time when my fear was at a fevered pitch. I had travelled to Vancouver to be at my Mother’s bedside. Mom was deathly ill, and we weren’t sure that she was going to survive. Standing there, looking down at the woman who nursed me through all my childhood illness, I felt so very helpless. Even though I am a pastor, and I have been trained how to visit the sick, visiting my Mom, I was simply her daughter.
Helpless and afraid, just standing there or sitting there, waiting for the doctors and nurses to heal my Mom. Every morning the smiling woman would come into the room and she would sooth my fear. All it took was her beautiful smile. Yes, she was on the hospital staff and yes it was her job to come in every morning to take my Mom’s food order. But she wasn’t required to be so very kind. Her kindness went beyond her smile. I could hear her kindness in her voice and feel her kindness in the patient way she tried to coax my Mom into ordering something to help her to get stronger. I could hear her kindness when she turned her attention away from my Mom to focus on me. “You should go for a walk. Get some fresh air. You’re no good to your Mom, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Her kindness, was not part of her job, not required of her, but like her smile, her kindness soothed my fevered fear and dove away the demons long enough for me to recognize her as my Sister, and to capture a glimpse of the LOVE she embodied. Our ancestors tell us that Jesus had the same kind of power. I don’t know if he eased fevers or drove away daemons with a smile, but I believe that kindness had a role in Jesus’ ability to bring healing.
On Friday, I found myself in a grocery store. It was as if we all spiked a fever at the same time. Some of us were trying to keep our selfish demons at bay. Yes, there were more than a few who were completely possessed by demon. But on the whole, our polite Canadian instincts managed to keep us relatively civil. But our civility was sorely tested as we searched for an easy way out of the grocery store. I witnessed a few ugly moments. I also saw many kindnesses. Strangers helping one another. Strangers sharing information. Strangers expressing dire warnings. You could almost feel the fever rising.
Driving home, I remembered the last time she gifted me with a smile. She had very kindly convinced my Mom to try ordering a dinner, when she turned to me and explained that she was going to be off work for a few days. But that I shouldn’t worry about my Mom because she had left a note with the nice young man who would be there for the next few days. She had told him to take good care of us and she had explained that my Mom needed extra help with the menu. Then she placed her hand on my arm and gave me that beautiful smile of hers, and it was as if the fever finally left me. In the kindness of a woman whose name I cannot remember, I was embraced by the LOVE in which we all live and move and have our being.
Over the next few weeks and months we are all going to experience more than our fair share of fevers and we will be visited by fearful demons. This pandemic threatens all of us and it threatens those we love. Our fevers and the fevers of our neighbours will require as much kindness as we can muster. The demons that are lining up to haunt us will only be driven off by LOVE. Now more than ever, is the time for each one of us to, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “clothe (y)ourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances we have against one another—forgive in the same way God has forgiven us. Above all else, put on LOVE, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Let CHRIST’s peace reign in (y)our hearts since, as members of one body, we have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the WORD of CHRIST, rich as it is, dwell in you. Instruct and admonish one another wisely.”
We don’t have to smile. We don’t have to be kind. We can let our demons run wild. We can infect one another with fear and let the fever continue to rise. Or we can take strength from one another, trusting that the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being IS LOVE.
Dear sisters and brothers, beloved, when all is said and done, and COVID-19 becomes a but a memory, let it be said of us, above all else, we put on LOVE and clothed ourselves with compassion, with kindness, gentleness and patience. Let us embody the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, so that all the world may know the healing power of the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.
Readings: Thomas Aquinas “EMBRACE THAT” found here
St. Teresa of Avila “DESIRE YOU” found here
Gospel of John 4:1-42 found here
Watch the video below which was shown in worship after the reading of the Gospel: The Woman at the Well (below) and then listen to the sermon.
I did not know her. She had been calling the church for years and I had been responding to her calls for help for, I’d say about three years. But I did not know her. She was just another woman down on her luck who needed help to buy food for her family. She would call, almost every other week and because she did not have transportation, I would drive over to whatever hovel she and her two boys were living in. But I did not know her. She was just another woman who couldn’t seem to get her act together and so she relied on hand-outs from the church to supplement her social assistance. Whenever I went over to wherever it was that she was living, she would always invite me in and I would always agree, but just for a moment, I’d tell her I was very busy and I had other places to go and other people to see. But the truth is, the places where she managed to find shelter always smelled so band and I usually just wanted to be on my way so that I could escape the odors that permeated the filthy apartments in musty basements. Her various homes were so depressing that I could not bear to sit down. She would always offer me tea and I would always politely refuse, claiming that I’d just had a cup, thank-you very much. I did not know her.
I suppose I did not want to know her. Maybe I’ve met too many women just like her. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe the thought of becoming immersed in the sinkhole of sadness that is her life was just too much to bear. So, I’d just smile and give her a handout. I’d learned a long time ago not to ask too many questions; her problems were more than our meager resources could handle. I’ve been down that road before, so I’d hand over the grocery vouchers and indulge in some small-talk. I did not know her. I did not want to know her. Continue reading
There was a commercial that a while back on the TV and each time it came on, I couldn’t help myself, it made me smile and if I let myself, it made me laugh. It was a collection of scenes in which lovely little babies laugh. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh and before you know it you’re hooked and you just can’t help yourself you are laughing too. Laughter is a great tonic! Laughter is good for the soul! And yet, for some unknown reason we tend to exclude laughter from our religious life. Religion is serious business and so we don’t laugh much in worship. There’s a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that served as a warning sign for me as I was preparing this sermon. “NOT YET TICKLED” writes St. Teresa, “How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved—hurry.” The thought of being tickled by the DIVINE is delightfully refreshing.
I must confess that I don’t spend much time laughing with God. Listen to this quote from the writings of St. Teresa: “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” “What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did Christ. “Love” which is Teresa’s name for God. “Love once said to me, ‘I know a song would you like to hear it?’ And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy Me.” Enjoy Me. What a different place the world would be if we could only hear God beseeching us, “Enjoy Me.”
We are a serious lot we Christians. Duty, responsibility, guilt, and consternation have left us precious little time to “Enjoy!” We’ve got things to do, stuff to learn, values to instill and standards to uphold, so we’ve put enjoyment on the back-burner. After all, God is far too high and mighty to be trifling with, we daren’t laugh in the presence of our God. And yet, God continues to tickle us. Over and over again, with the most absurd wonders, and we can’t help ourselves, but smile. Creation is so full of laughs. Life is so funny! And church, I mean, whenever I think of the ridiculous things we get up to in church, well its enough to make you laugh until you cry. So to those of you who insist upon personifying our Creator, don’t you try to tell me that the Creator of all that is or ever shall be, the one who is responsible for creating humour itself, doesn’t just roar with laughter at the stuff that we get up to. So, isn’t it just possible that when it comes to laughing babies, God has plenty of scope for delighting in us? Surely, laughter is one of the most sublime forms of prayer? We ought to lighten up and enjoy our time with God. Cause lord knows, serious people are all well and good but who wants to spend time with a bunch of folks who can’t enjoy a joke.
So with that said, let’s turn to this mornings Gospel reading. This story is a real tickler! But in order to get the jokes, you’ve got to know some of the stuff the insiders knew. It’s a bit like trying to understand British humour, sometimes you don’t quite get the joke, if you don’t know something about life in Britain. The Gospel of John is full of stories that play on the local humour of Palestine in the first century. This story, about the Woman at the Well is full of double en-ton-dras. Indeed, this story is so outrageous that when the powers that be were sitting around deciding which books would make it into the New Testament, The Gospel of John almost didn’t make the cut. This story was far too racy and I mean racy in both senses of the word, this story was about race and it was far too risqué for the likeings of the religious authorities who were functioning as the thought police for the early church. So, sit back and allow yourselves to be tickled as I let you in on the jokes. Continue reading
This is not the sermon which I planned to preach this morning. On this International Women’s Day, I planned to preach about the unnamed women who walk with Jesus. I was going to riff off of the Leviticus text (Lev.15:19-30) which outlines the way in which women have been cast out from the temples of power simply for being women. Shedding blood comes naturally to women. But for millennia men have feared the life-giving abilities of women so much that they have judged the natural functions of our bodies as unclean. I planned to tell you about my own experiences of being cast out from the holy of holies. I was going to use my story as a way of celebrating just how far women have come in my lifetime.
You see when I was just seventeen years old, I was elected to the Church Council of my home parish. It was the late nineteen-seventies and the liturgical renewal movement was beginning to make its way through congregations. In my home parish it was decided that Council members would function as Worship Assistants. For the first time the pastor would have an assistant to help serve communion. For the first time in the life of our church laypeople would serve communion and pronounce the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
I say laypeople, but I should really say laymen. You see, even though I was serving on Church Council, the pastor told me that the time wasn’t quite right for me to be a Worship Assistant. At first, I thought it was because I was too young. But then one afternoon, my beloved pastor told me that women were not permitted behind the altar. I had only been attending church for about two years, and I’d never learned about this particular rule. Imagine my surprise when my pastor explained that I couldn’t go behind the altar because in the Bible women were not allowed into the holy of holies because of our monthly cycles. I could not be a worship assistant because I could not stand behind the altar.
I was going to use that little story to make the point that the church has come a long way. You see, all the while my pastor was telling me that I couldn’t, the church already was. In 1976, Pamela McGee became the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in Canada. Today, I planned to preach a sermon in celebration of all the unnamed women whose faith has propelled them to move beyond societies attempts to limit their participation. I planned to celebrate the women who have been ordained in Canada these past 44 years. Daughters of this church whose faith gave them the courage to reach beyond the limits carved out for them by the taboos and fears which all too often defined them. Daughters who even though they bleed, they saw Jesus out there and decided to follow.
Well that’s what I planned to preach about and then I began receiving communications from York Region’s Public Health department. Listening to York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, I learned a new phrase: social distancing. Social distancing, suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation of our reading from Leviticus. In the course of this past week, we have all been learning not to touch one another. Indeed, we are not supposed to touch our own faces. Fear has birthed all sorts of new taboos as we try to navigate our new reality. If only blood were the cause of these taboos. But alas, miniscule droplets have become the basis of so much fear that there isn’t a drop of sanitizer to be found in any of our stores. Continue reading
Way back when I first began the formal process of becoming a pastor, the church committee responsible for helping people become pastors, recommended that I get a “spiritual director.” Among the many pieces of paper that the candidacy committee gave me, included both a definition of what a “spiritual director” is and who I might approach to be my “spiritual director”.
I remember three things about the church’s recommendation:
- A spiritual director walks with, guides, encourages and challenges people to deepen their relationship with the divine.
- A spiritual director is someone whose wisdom is derived from their own deep relationship with the divine together coupled with formal theological education.
- The spiritual director is someone in whom the candidate for the ministry of Word and Sacrament can place their trust.
Although, I was blessed to know several people that that I trusted who might be able to walk with me, guide, me encourage me, there was only one person who I could trust to challenge me; I mean really challenge me. The problem was, I wasn’t actually sure if Henry’s theological education was quite what the church had in mind. Nevertheless, I decided to ignore that particular detail as I proceeded to invite Henry to serve as my “spiritual director”.
I had met Henry years earlier when we both were working for a package tour operator. Henry was responsible for graphic design and we worked together to produce some pretty snazzy travel brochures. At the time, I thought Henry was a little odd. He was older than everyone in the office. Henry came from Brooklyn and looked very much like the stereo-typical Jewish rabbi. I’m talking full black beard, black clothes, and a yarmulke. Turned out, Henry looked like a typical Jewish rabbi because he was a Jewish rabbi. Henry was working as a graphic designer to put food on the table for his family while he took a long-deserved break from serving as the director of a Jewish Yeshiva. Henry and I became fast friends.
Ours was a strange sort of friendship. Most of our conversations comprised of a series of questions without answers. I’d ask Henry a question, to which Henry would respond with an even deeper question, which would inspire and even deeper question with which I would be compelled to respond; it was kinda like dancing with ideas. Years later Henry would teach me that our dancing was actually an ancient form of the Jewish art of pilpul used by Talmudic scholars to get to the very heart of the sacred mysteries. It took me years to realize that Henry had become my spiritual director long before I ever asked him to formerly take on the role.
It turned out that Henry had studied at one of the best rabbinical schools in New York and was an accredited to be a “spiritual director”. Somehow, despite the urging of the church to select from their list of suggestions, I managed to get my candidacy committee to approve Henry as my spiritual director. To this day, I think the committee members over-looked the fact that Henry is Jewish, only because Henry offered to serve as my spiritual director without me having to pay him the going rate, which back then would have cost me way more than I could afford. As it turned out, Henry’s direction was priceless. So, many of the treasures that Henry shared with me continue to shape and direct me to this very day. Continue reading
On this the first Sunday of Lent the powers that be designed our lectionary so that the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures and our Gospel reading would speak with one voice. Sadly, the powers that be have used the myths about Eve to set Jesus up to save us from the church’s idea that all humans need to be saved from original sin. A while back, I said to a group of Roman Catholic Women Priests, that I would never read Eve’s story in public without provided the listeners with the information necessary to hear the story as it was written rather than how it is miss-remembered. So, before I read the second creation story which is found in the Book of Genesis, let me remind you of some of what has been forgotten about this story.
(see the video for the unpacking of Genesis 2:15-25 and Genesis 3:1-7 – the song we sing between and after the Genesis reading “Mother Eve Chose Love of Knowledge” which can be found in “Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action” by is Jann Aldredge-Clanton, with composer Larry E. Schultz – verse 1 between the readings and verses 2 & 3 as our Acclamation)
Sadly, the spirit of the mis-remembered Eve continues to walk with Jesus. Generations of Jesus’ followers have forgotten all about Eve. The church has failed to teach Jesus followers about Eve the giver of life and the seeker of knowledge. The church has stripped Eve of her power to breathe life, and her wisdom in seeking knowledge. The church has offered up a miss-remembered fallen woman, a temptress, to be punished over and over again. Eve has become the cross women must bear in our bleeding and in our birthing. The church has offered Eve up as if she is little more than a doctrine, the doctrine of original sin; a doctrine born of the fall and served up by Augustine in the fourth century to solidify the church’s role as the arbitrator of salvation. The trouble is there was no fall. We are not fallen creatures. We were never perfect creatures who fell from grace. For there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. Jesus never said a word about the fall or about original sin. Yet, generations of church hierarchies have offered Jesus up as a sacrifice sent to save us from “the Fall”.
During the Season of Lent, we are encouraged to repent. Repent comes from the Greek, Metanoia – which means to turn around or to change your way of thinking. It is long past time for us to re-member the story of Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Everything and repent, change our way of thinking. By portraying Eve’s quest for knowledge as a “Fall from Grace” the patriarchal church hierarchy has spawned leaders who have created and maintained systemic misogyny for generations.
Just listen to the words of the Church Fathers spew their venom: Clement of Alexandra reflecting on Eve’s story insisted that: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” No less a figure than Tertullian himself proclaimed that, “Women were the reason Jesus had to die on the cross; they were the “gate to hell,” and a “temple built over a sewer.” Saint Augustine wrote, “Men by themselves are the image of God, while women are not, they are merely men’s helpmates.” Saint Albert the Great, preached, “Women have faulty and defective natures; their feelings drive them to evil while reason drives men to good. Women are by nature, lying, deceptive creatures; one must be on guard against every woman as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil himself.” Saint Thomas Aquinas proclaimed, “Women are defective and misbegotten. “ The mystic John Chrysostom wrote, “Amongst all the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.”
Now I know that some may shake their heads and insist, that the church has long since given up misogyny. I will confess that I struggled with the idea of this Lenten preaching series on the Women Who Walk with Jesus, precisely because I too want to believe that we have come a long way baby. But then news of yet another male member of the privileged church fathers serial sexual abuse of women came to light. The recent confession by the L’arche foundation about Jean Vanier guilt, is sad but it is not shocking, not even very surprising. Those of us who are among the “firsts’, the first generation of women to serve as pastors, are not surprised by the depths of misogyny that continue to spawn snakes. It will take more than a generation or two of women in positions of power to affect the necessary repentance. Changing an institution’s systemic misogyny requires more than simply changing our way of thinking about women. We must repent, turn around and change the way we act not just how the church acts towards women, but how we women think about ourselves.
I can’t help but wonder how different the church, indeed the world would be if the church had not miss-remembered Eve. I dream of a church in which Chavah, Eve, Mother of All Living, walks with Jesus breathing life into our quest for wisdom., with Chavah, Eve, the Mother of All Living walking with Jesus perhaps we can learn to look to Eve’s decision to choose knowledge over blind obedience and begin to celebrate the rights of women everywhere to choose, with Chavah, Eve, the Mother of All Living walking with Jesus, perhaps we can begin to celebrate women’s bodies rather than abuse them.
I dream of a church and indeed a world in which young girls will naught be taught to see their own bleeding as a curse but as the miraculous gift of potential new life. I dream of women and men who follow Jesus’ example of reaching out beyond the lines drawn by the religious establishment, or cultural expectations. I dream of a world where young girls and boys will be raised to imagine the DIVINE as our ancestors did, El Shaddai, The Breasted ONE. I dream of a church where we can once again see the humour and the humility in the stories our ancestors told. Humour and Humility, both words come from the same root as the word humus – which means earth. For we are, when all is said and done, both women and men, simply Earth Creatures.
So, let us always re-member our common earthiness. May the Breasted ONE who breathed life into us, female and male, continue to breathe in, with, through and beyond us. May the spirit of Eve the Mother of All LIVING, continue to walk with us, as we seek the knowledge and the wisdom to follow Jesus, with humour and humility. Amen.
A long time ago, when I was just a young woman, I think I was about 22 or 23, still young enough to believe that all the answers to all my questions were out there somewhere, just waiting for me to discover. I was a serious young woman full of serious questions, always pondering the meanings of thins – big things like life and death, goodness and evil, love and hate, sickness and health, sin and forgiveness, God and no-god. I truly believed that if I actually applied myself to my questions, I would be able to discover the answers. It was the pursuit of particular answers that lead me into the wilderness of the desert.
Now, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are real deserts in British Columbia. You will discover one of those deserts as you travel between Ashcroft down to Merritt. They’ve improved the roads since then, but back in the day that particular route was quite the challenge. Mind you, it didn’t help that I was driving an old beat up 1969 Austin 1100, that had no business being on mountain roads, let alone mountain roads that wound their way through a desert. Now if you don’t know what an Austin 1100 looks like, picture an old Austin Mini; an 1100 is only slightly bigger than an Austin Mini, and my old 1100 was purchased for the grand sum of $300.00. About the only thing this car had going for it was my faith in it to take me places.
On this trip, I had loaded my little car down with all sorts of camping equipment along with several plastic milk jugs that held a gallon of water each, because the car’s radiator had a nasty habit of overheating. The woman that I am know, looks back on the young woman that I was, and I can’t help wondering what possessed me to head out into the desert in that stupid little car. I can almost see myself sitting on the side of the road waiting for the radiator to cool down, so that I could risk loosening the radiator cap, to fill it up with cool water so that I could travel another hour or so, before it over-heated again.
To say that I was young and foolish, would be an understatement. But I was also, adventurous and inquisitive. I had traveled into the wilderness to do some thinking. I needed to find some answers. I had some decisions to make; decisions, that at the time, felt like life and death. I truly believed that some time away by myself would guarantee me the kind of peace and quiet I needed to discover the answers to my questions.
Sitting there, on a rock, hoping against hope, that the 95 degree heat from the blazing sun would be enough to guarantee that any rattle snacks would remain tucked away in some distant shade, I couldn’t believe that I’d been driving for two hours without seeing another car on the road. I was out there in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where I had intended to be. I had travelled into the wilderness to find a place where there were no distractions, so that I could apply myself to finding an answer that I desperately needed. You see, some stuff had happened in my life; stuff that had lead me to doubt the god that over the years I had come to love.
Looking back, I think that I went out into the wilderness looking for a sign; a sign that God existed. My faith in the God who lives out there somewhere, who from time to time hears my prayer and decides to intervene in my life, my faith in that God, had been fairly strong, right up to the point where some really tough stuff started to happen to some folks I cared a great deal about, and no matter how long or how hard I prayed, the great Sky God that I had been taught to worship, simply refused to show himself. So, I decided to take a page or two out of the bible and follow Jesus right out into the wilderness to see if God would show up. Sitting there on a rock, roasting in the hot sun, as the tumble-weeds tumbled by, I wondered what I would do, if I discovered that God wasn’t really there. What if it was all just wishful thinking? I desperately wanted to meet the god that I’d been taught to believe in to be there in the wilderness. Isn’t that why Jesus wandered out into the wilderness of the desert? Surely, he didn’t go out there to meet the devil? Or did he? Maybe Jesus went out into the wilderness to meet his demons.
Over the years, I’ve learned enough about the anonymous gospel storytellers to know that their stories are more than just history. I’ve learned to read beyond the words that have been handed down to us, to ponder the multi-layered texture of meanings that lie hidden waiting to be discovered. The storytellers’ careful crafting of their tale of Jesus time in the wilderness uses images and illusions that harken back to earlier stories of Moses leading the people of Israel into the wilderness where they spent not 40 days, but 40 years forming themselves into the nation that would go on to inhabit the promised land. In the wilderness, Jesus encountered his own demons. I can well imagine Jesus contemplating his own future and realizing his own desires for power were actual temptations that would distract him from his overriding desire to embody a new way of being in the world. A quest for power would have seen Jesus giving the people what they wanted a leader who could feed them with bread and everything that bread represents, wealth and power; the kind of power that would enable them to fight their Roman oppressors. The temptation to be the kind of messiah that the people wanted was Jesus’ temptation.
In the wilderness, alone with his desires and temptations Jesus fought his personal demons. According to the gospel storytellers, Jesus didn’t conquer his demons, “The Devil awaited another opportunity.” As the storytellers follow Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond, the temptation to forsake the new way of being in the world that Jesus embodied, in favour of being the kind of messiah that the people wanted continues to haunt Jesus. Jesus steadfastly refuses to take the mantle of power that so many would have handed to him the power to form an army the likes of King David, to rise up and violently resist the tyranny of Rome. As tempting as it may have been for Jesus to become the people’s messiah, Jesus summons up the courage to be a new kind of messiah. Jesus chooses to embody a posture of non-violent resistance to evil even though he knows full well that such a posture against the Romans could get him killed. Jesus refuses to give into his fears, trusting that even death cannot defeat the LOVE that he chooses to embody. Continue reading
Giving Up Theories of Atonement for Lent in Favour of Listening for God’s Laughter here
Facing Our Demons here
Awe and Wonder: A Lenten Practice here
Lent: Letting Go of Our Tightly Held Piety to See Our Need of Confession here
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know here
Giving Up God for Lent? here
What a Joke: These Stories Never Actually Happened! here
Don’t Give Up Chocolate, Give Up God for Lent here
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Tonight, we pause to remember our reality.
Reminding people that we are all going to die is a daunting task; a task made even more daunting by our modern practices of denying death.
Tonight, we set aside our culture’s denial of death and we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Our impending death has always been, and this side of the grave, will always be with us.
I believe that we push away thoughts about our own death simply because we do not know precisely how or when we shall die. In the face of such unknowing, we feel helpless and for some of us, that helplessness provokes our fear.
Our fear is precisely why we need to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. For in the remembering fear itself can turn to dust.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to Dust. Earth to Earth.
Earth dust. We are part of something far bigger than we can ever begin to imagine.
Earth dust. Particles assembled in a 14-billion-year-old adventure; a MYSTERY born out of stardust. WOW!
Tonight, we pause to take notice of our eternal REALTY; for we are stardust!
Eternally begotten, of ONE BEING with our CREATOR.
The Irish poet and mystic, John O’Donohue writes this about death:
“Maybe at death, there is a very beautiful meeting between you and yourself, and then you go together into the invisible kingdom where there is no more darkness, suffering, separation or sadness, and where are you are one with all those that you love in the seen world and in the unseen world. Death in that sense is a time of great homecoming, and there is no need to be afraid.”…
“If you could interview a baby in the womb, a baby that was about to be born, and the baby asked you what is going to happen to it and you said, “You are going to go through a very dark channel. You are going to be pushed out. You are going to arrive into a vacant world of open air and light. The cord that connects you to your mother is going to be cut. You are going to be on your own forevermore, and regardless of how close you come to another, you will never belong in the way you have been able to belong here.””…
“The baby would have no choice but to conclude that it was going to die! Maybe death is that way too. As it seems that we die from inside the womb of the world, we are born into a new world where space and time and all the separation and all the difficulties no longer assail us. We are coming home!”
O’Donohue’s words point us away from our fear of death toward our hopes for death. So, tonight, let me suggest that these Ashes may be for us, transformative ashes; ashes of transformation.
May our fear of death be transformed into hope.
As we begin our Lenten journey, we are encouraged to “repent.” This word “repent” comes to us from the Greek word, “metanoia” which can be translated as “to turn around” or “to change our way of thinking.”
So, tonight may these transformative ashes help us to repent, to change our way of thinking about our death. May these transformative ashes transform our fear into hope.
May we be transformed from fearful beings, into hope filled beings, who rejoice in our eternal reality. For we are part of something so much bigger than we can ever begin to imagine.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to Dust. Earth to Earth. Stardust to Stardust.
This too shall pass.
In the twinkling of an eye we shall all be reborn.
And all shall be well. All shall be well. For we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Eternally begotten, of ONE BEING with our CREATOR.
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck. And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen. Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase. The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.
Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.
Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck. It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.
When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee.
Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago. She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart. Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy. Is that right?”
Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”. Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gently, but firmly said: “Let it go, child. Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)
In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament. Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure. My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness. Continue reading
Embrace Your Mortality in MYSTERY here
I long to spend time in this “secret place” where God IS – reflecting on Ash Wednesday’s strange Gospel text – Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21 here
On Ash Wednesday, Let Us Revel in the Knowledge that We are Dust and to Dust We Shall Return here
Evolution – There’s No Going Back here
Embracing Mortality: a reflection here
We Are ONE here
Beyond the Veil 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
This week, we find ourselves studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. But then, I remembered to look beyond my theological perspective and low and behold what I discovered transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.
My own images have been shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, peering beyond myth, has transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of DIVINE MYSTERY beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. What our species has learned about the Cosmos impacts our images of the DIVINE in ways we have scarcely begun to articulate.
A while back, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”
NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…
Struggling to comprehend the reality of what has been discovered, I remembered o leaning over my little two-year-old granddaughter Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler. After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.
Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. 40 light years. That’s how long it would take you to travel to the newly discovered Trappist 1 system. According to Google, travelling at a speed of 15 miles per second, it would take us just about 12,770 years to travel one light year. 12,770 years, that’s close to the entire history of humans since the dawn of civilization to travel one light year and to travel 40 light years, well it would take us about half a million years. That’s about twice as long as humans have existed on earth. Talk about beyond. Vastness beyond my mind’s ability to comprehend. And yet, staring into the night sky, or peering through the darkness to the outline of my beloved granddaughter’s little face, I can almost touch the face of God. Like all the generations who have gone before us, the energy that permeates all that is, this LOVE that Creates over and over again, this LOVE that brings forth life in all its glorious dimensions, this radiance which pervades all that is, this ISNESS that bursts forth in, with, through, and beyond the cosmos, this IS, that we call God, reveals ITSELF in the splendor that IS all around us. When I think back to our ancient forbearers wandering around in the wilderness, desperate for a sign that they were not alone and forsaken, I can almost hear the confusion of those who demanded to know the presence of the one who lies at the very heart of reality. Continue reading
On this the 211th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, progressive Christian communities are preparing to celebrate Evolution Sunday
Readings from Thomas Berry and John 10:10 can be found here
I am indebted to the work of Richard Rohr for several insights found in his audio recordings of lectures entitled “The Sermon on the Mount”
How many of you remember your very first day at school? When I think back to my very first day at school my memories are disjointed, filled not with words but with images and emotions. The over-riding emotion that floods my memories of my first day at school is excitement. I started school in Belfast, Northern, Ireland when I was only four-and-a-half years old and to this day I can still feel the excitement. So, many things happened that day and I can see flashes and images in my mind’s – eye, but in her in my gut I can feel the excitement. I remember the contours of the schoolroom and I can feel the excitement of wondering which desk would be mine. I don’t know about you, but my memories of the desks are quite vivid. I’d never in my short little life seen anything quite like a desk and to be told that one of them would be mine. Well I just couldn’t wait to find out which one.
Back then, in Belfast, in the olden days, there was no kindergarten; at the tender age of 4 ½ I was enrolled in P1 – primary one and in primary one we had desks that had chairs attached to them, and a lid that went up and down. When I sat down at my very own desk, I opened and closed that lid over and over again, wondering what on earth I would be given to put inside the desk. It was so exciting. I began imagining books, maybe they’d give us books. I can still feel the excitement I felt at the very idea of placing a book inside my very own desk; I couldn’t wait.
My desk was absolutely perfect in every way except for one. In the top right-hand corner of my beautiful desk there was a hole. I looked around at the other desks and sure enough each one of them had the same kind of hole. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the holes were for. I wanted to ask the teacher, but I remembered feeling like I should keep quiet, so I waited, and I waited for the teacher to tell us what the holes in our desks were for, but she never said a word. So, the first thing I did when my father picked me up from school was to ask him why all the desks at school had holes in them. My Dad knew absolutely everything there was to know about everything and sure enough he knew exactly what those holes were for. Ink. Inkwells. Every desk in my class had an inkwell built right into them. So, what’s ink? And, what’s an inkwell? That very afternoon I learned about quills made of feathers, dipped into ink so that you could write letters. Dad was a fountain of knowledge about writing with ink.
That night I went to bed dreaming about quills, and feathers, and ink; lots and lots of lovely ink, and writing, writing lots and lots of words. School was going to be great! I couldn’t wait to get my quill. I dreamed a pretty pink feather. So, you can imagine my disappointment when the next day at school, after being told that we were going to learn how to print, because printing comes before writing, and I simply couldn’t wait, as the teacher announced she was going to give us slates and chalk which we could keep in our desks. Slates and chalk. I had a slate at home. We even had some chalk. When would we get feathers? At that point I would have settled for a plain old black feather, but slates and chalk, what a disappointment. I never did get a quill. We never even got the fabled fountain pens that my Dad spoke of with fondness. Eventually, we did get a pencil and some paper. But pens had to wait until P3. My slate was wonderful, and I did learn to print using the little broken pieces of chalk that we shared.
Right now, the image of my two-year-old grand-daughter begging me to lend her my iPad and imagine what wonders her fist day at school might bring. My old slate was about the same size as this iPad, but the wonders that my little granddaughter can access on this device make that old slate seem so very primitive indeed. It has been said that you and I have experienced in our lifetime more changes that any other generations before us and I expect that our grandchildren will experience even more changes that we can begin to imagine. Continue reading
She had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying she thought she ought to have a pastor. I was summoned to her bedside. I was afraid. I had been told that she only had a few weeks before “the cancer would take her,” not that she would die, but that “the cancer would take her.” No one used the word death or said that she was going to die. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task. No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.
I went to Sophia’s bedside every day. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. No pat answers or trite platitudes if you please, just the facts. I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts that I possessed might not sustain us on our journey. It didn’t take me long to figure out that she’d spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she’d grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se but someplace heavenly, perhaps like Paris in the springtime. She so loved Paris in the springtime. If only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who appreciate the finer things of life. Life, would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.
One morning, I stopped by the bakery that Eduard had on Main Street and picked out the most Parisian looking pastries I could find, then I swung by a coffee shop and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down and asked me to heat up some milk so that we could have lattes. It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster. Our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men all fell at her feet. Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried.
After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. It was cold and wet in London. Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come and be his love. Over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg, where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children. By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps. It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans. By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and I had gone from being a suspected bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us.
“What will become of me?” Sophia pleaded. I told her that the doctors would see to it that there was no pain. That wasn’t what she meant. “What will become of me? Will there just be darkness? Or Will I see a bright light?”
“I don’t know?” was all I could honestly say.
Sophia was patient with me. She asked me if I thought there was more to life or if death was the end. “No religious platitudes please. Just the facts.”
“I don’t know Sophia. I believe that we live and die in God and that God is LOVE and in LOVE we have nothing to fear. All will be well? I trust that in death we fall into the LOVE that IS God.”
Sophia took my hand firmly and confessed, “I’m afraid.”
I did not know how to comfort her, so I asked, “What are you afraid of Sophia?”
“Not of dying! Good God no! I’m not afraid of dying.” Sophia insisted, “I’m afraid of being forgotten. Who will remember me?”
Yesterday, I was struggling with this sermon. I’d been reading about our gospel text for hours and hours trying to figure exactly what to say to you about the line in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which kept jumping out at me. “Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled.” Some translations say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Mourning has fallen out of fashion these days. People don’t like to talk about mourning. They’d rather celebrate life than mourn a death. “Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled.” Continue reading
He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”
One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully. Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by — still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. Continue reading