Persistent Woman: Mother Earth – Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32:22-31

Our worship took a different form as we listened to the cries of Mother Earth using some clips from the documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. Turns out that Mother Earth is a persistent woman which we discovered when we wrestled with the SACRED ONE.  Two reflections instead of a sermon. You can follow along with the bulletin found here

Reflection: Luke 18:1-8

When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.

Jesus told a parable that has become known as the “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. The parable is actually about a “Persistent Woman.” As we listen to the parable I’d like you to imagine this persistent women is the personification of our Mother the Earth and the unjust judge, well that’s you and I, we are the unjust judge.

Reflection:  Genesis 32:22-31

When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.

Some say that Jacob wrestled with an angel; an angel is the word that means a messenger from God. Some say that Jacob wrestled not with an angel, a mere messenger from God, but with God herself. Some say, the Earth is in God and God is in the Earth. Some say, that the Earth is God’s body. Surely, we can all agree that the Earth is sacred.

The sacred Earth is crying out to us. Each one of us must wrestle with this sacred messenger; with the DIVINE ONE of which we are also a part. Wrestling with the sacred is never easy. Not everyone is up to the task. Many will simply roll over in the night, hoping that the sacred messengers, or the DIVINE ONE herself, will simply go away and leave us alone. Some will no doubt find themselves overwhelmed by the messenger, overwhelmed by the immensity of the task of wrestling with such an infinite complexity. Others will resign themselves to their apparent insignificance and accept the paralysis which comes in the darkness.

I’m reminded of a story about Martin Luther who when asked what he would do if word came from an angel, a messenger from God that the world was about to end. Legend has it that Luther insisted that if he was convinced that the world was about to come to an end that he would plant a tree.

Plant a tree. Such defiance, such hope, such faith in the future, gifts such as these are what every wrestler needs so that they may engage the DIVINE.

Wrestling with the sacred will exhaust us, frustrate us, wear us out and maybe even leave us wounded. The reality of this sacred wrestling is that it will forever change us.

May you be blessed in the darkness by Messengers to wrestle with.

May the wounds of the struggle change you in ways you can scarcely begin to imagine.

Like our ancestor Jacob, may you see the face of God and live.

May we all see the DIVINE ONE, in the sacredness of the Earth, and live together in the shalom, the peace that comes when all God’s creatures hobble away from their careless ways of being, forever changed by the blessing of our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.

This Persistent Woman Is Wearing Me Out – a sermon on Genesis 32 and Luke 18:1-8

wrestlingBefore I read our Gospel text I took a few moments to reflect upon the story from the Torah that was our First Reading (Gen.32).  I showed the short film below which was created by Jewish scholars to help rabbis teach the stories of the Torah to young children. I use this video to teach the stories of the Torah to our Confirmation students. I think it is important for those of us who follow the teaching of the Rabbi Jesus, to pay attention to the way in which the stories that spoke to Jesus continue to speak to Jewish people here and now. Watch the video and then listen to the sermon here 

Our Gospel reading comes to us from a story told by an anonymous writer named Luke, who tells a parable that he attributes to the Rabbi Jesus: According to Luke: “Jesus told the disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and not losing heart. “Once there was a judge in a certain city who feared no one—not even God. A woman in that city who had been widowed kept coming to the judge and saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a time the judge refused but finally the judge thought, ‘I care little for God or people, but this woman won’t leave me alone. I’d better give her the protection she seeks or she’ll keep coming and wear me out!’” Jesus said, “Listen to what this corrupt judge is saying. Won’t God then do justice to the chosen who call out day and night? Will God delay long over them? I tell you, God will give them swift justice. But when the Promised One comes, will faith be found anywhere on earth?”

I too have met this tiresome, troublesome, annoyingly, persistent widow who constantly cries out for justice. This woman won’t leave me alone. I must confess that I would rather not have this woman clamouring at my door! Each and every time I encounter this woman, she goes on and on, she wears me out! I cannot go anywhere without seeing this woman. She is everywhere. Pointing to her oppressor and demanding justice. She is on the radio in my car as I go about my business. She is on my computer screen as I try to keep up with the news of the day. She is in my living room as I try to relax flipping channels seeking respite from her persistent cries for justice. She appears in my facbook feed, and tweets at me from my phone, I cannot escape her cries for justice. I am sick and tired of this annoying woman. I cannot escape her shouts for justice.
I’m not sure that anything at all can be done to secure justice for this annoying woman. Too much time has passed. There are no witnesses. Boys will be boys. She needs to forgive, forget and move on. Why doesn’t she just leave me alone. There’s nothing that I can do for her. There’s nothing I want to do for her.
I have my own troubles. People to see, places to go, things to do. If only she’d leave me alone. Her persistent cries for justice have begun to haunt me and not even sleep gives me respite from her persistent cries for justice. If only she’d stop going on and on and on and on about her oppressor, about the injustice that has been perpetrated against her.
Maybe if she would just shut up about it, I wouldn’t have to wrestle with her in the night. Round and round we go, pinning one another down, she demanding justice, me pleading for peace. This wrestling over things beyond my control is wearing me down. I’m starting to wonder who this woman thinks she is. Hell, I’m beginning to wonder who I think this woman is. In the darkness of the night I sometimes wonder if this persistent, complaining woman, is just some trumped up version of myself. In her eyes, I sometimes think I see a glimmer of something far too familiar, something ugly, fearsome, unpleasant, and lurking in my own memories. In the wee hours before dawn, I think I can actually see myself in her.
But no, I’m not going there. We are not going there. Women all over the world don’t want to go there. Defenseless, innocent, naive children all over the world we dare not see them in the face of this persistent woman.
And then, just when I think that I have her pinned down and I’m about to wrestle something anything out of this insane encounter, the light begins to dawn on me, as I realize that there in the face of this persistent woman is the ONE in whom we all live and breathe and have our being; the ONE whose name eludes us.
I awaken to the realization that this place where we have all been, this place where we cannot escape is indeed Peniel, for here and now, in the face of this persistent woman, in the face of every persistent woman, indeed in the face of every persistent man, woman, and child, crying out for justice we have seen God face to face. It isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always what we want to see or where we want to see it, but it is the face of the ONE that we call God; the face of God shouting, crying, pleading, for justice.
Wrestling with the persistent, pleading, ones who continue to demand justice from me, I rise wounded from Peniel – the place where I know that I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared. Limping away, forever changed, knowing that the wound that changes the way I walk in this world is the blessing given to me by those who have the courage to cry out for justice. Transformed by this wound I begin to see that I am at one and the same time both the judge who has the power to create justice and the one who cries out for justice.
In this Peniel, is  where ever and when ever we have the courage to look into the face of another and see the face of God, and our lives have been preserved. We cannot walk away from an encounter such as this without responding to the ONE in whom we see the face of God, with justice. Whether our role in this life long wrestling match is that of the judge or the seeker of justice, may we see God face to face.

Gratitude for the Great Fullness of Life Is Only the Beginning – Thanksgiving

A couple of years ago, I began experiencing chest pains, nausea, and cold sweats. As these are signs of a heart-attack, I went up to the local walk-in clinic and soon there-after I found myself sitting in the emergency room. The doctors and nurses were convinced that I was in the midst of what they now refer to as a “heart event”. While awaiting some further tests, my mind raced to all the worst possible scenarios that I could imagine. Fear was my over-riding emotion. Fear that my heart was failing. Fear that decades of not putting my health first was catching up with me. Fear of what my future might hold. Fear of impending medical procedures. Fear of not being able to work, to pay our bills, especially our mortgage. Fear of turning into some sort of invalid. Fear that my future was being taken out of my control. Fear that I was getting old long before I expected to.

There is nothing like an emergency room to strike fear into your heart, especially when the pain that drove you there is throbbing in your chest. So, by the time I’d spent several hours enduring various tests, I thought I was ready for anything. That is until a young doctor who looked like he was about twelve years old walked into my cubicle. A part of me wanted to ask this child-doctor to go find a grown-up doctor, because this was serious business and I wanted to talk to an adult. Fortunately, I managed to suppress my ageism.  You cannot even begin to imagine my delight when the child-doctor pronounced his diagnosis. Gallbladder. No heart-attack. A severe gallbladder attack. These kinds of attacks are quite common in people who have recently managed to lose weight.  My reward for loosing 50 pounds was an afternoon in the emergency room.

I couldn’t believe my luck. I begin thanking everyone and everything for my extremely good fortune. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to medical science. Thanks be to my heart. Thanks be to the child-doctor! Thanks be for the opportunity to do better in the future. Thanks be for a future! I wept with joy! A gallbladder attack is a wonderful thing. A gallbladder attack is not a heart attack. I could go home. I could go back to work. I could pay the mortgage.

All my worst fears were gone. I would take this as a warning to never ever take anything for granted. When I went outside, everything looked so beautiful. It was as if I had awakened from a nightmare. I was so very grateful that I promised myself never again to take my health for granted, never again to take life for granted, never again to forget what a precious gift life is. From now on, I was going to pay attention to the wonders of this amazing gift of life. Continue reading

Faith: A little dab’ll do ya! – Luke 17:5-10 – World Communion Sunday

Today all over the world, churches of all sorts of denominations will gather to celebrate communion. World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to embrace the embodiment of the infinite variety that exists in within the communities of our fellow Followers of the Way.  Today, we uphold the reality that no matter how communion is celebrated we Followers of the Way are all companions. For to be a companion is to literally share bread together. The word companion is made up of two Latin words, “com which means “with or together” and “panis” which means “bread”. To break bread together is to be a companion.

Humans began engaging in the sacred act of breaking bread together generations before Jesus embraced the sacred act of sharing a meal together to strengthen the bonds of companionship among his followers.

How many of you remember the very first time you participated in the companionship of communion? I suspect that for many of us are of an age where we can remember when are communion practices were less inclusive than they are today.  For several generations many mainline denominations tried to limit communion to those who had been “properly” instructed in the “meaning” of communion. In Lutheran churches children often had to wait until after they were Confirmed in order to be welcomed at the table. Back then, Communion wasn’t so much celebrated as it was endured as a sort of ritual reward for penance. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the somber communion rites of the past. But, I suspect that many of us still carry the residue of less than life-affirming theologies that taught us to view Communion as a sort of ritual that needs to be endured as a way to remember a “blood sacrifice”, a kind of quid pro quo for our sinfulness.

I can still remember my very first communion. It was, for all sorts of reasons, a life changing experience. Fortunately, for me my first Communion was free from the trappings of penitence. There was little or no thought of a blood sacrifice for sin. You see, my first Communion happened by way of what some would call an oversite or an accident, but I think of as a grace-filled DIVINE blessing.

As I’ve told you before, I did not grow up in the Church. My family’s experiences in Belfast had shown us the worst that the Church can offer and so, my brother and I were never encouraged to go anywhere near a Church of any kind. We were baptized as infants as a kind of insurance policy and I never darkened the doorway of a church until I was fifteen years old. I was an incredibly lonely teenager. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, country to country, school to school; always on the move. I learned very early not to make friends with people because if you make friends it is so much more painful when you have to move away.

Longing and loneliness were predominant emotions that characterized the deep homesickness of my younger self.  Looking back to my younger self, I can see a little girl who was homesick for a home she never really knew because when you move about as much as we did, no place ever feels like home. Eventually all you can feel is this deep longing for something you cannot quite name. So, one day, at the tender age of fifteen, a new acquaintance that I was tempted to turn into a friendship, invited me to come to church with her. Continue reading

Ubuntu: A Person Is A Person Through Other Persons – Luke 17:5-10 – The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Ubuntu -- pastordawn.com

colemansListen to the sermon here: 

In his book, “The Orthodox Heretic”, Peter Rollins creates a parable which he calls “Finding Faith.”

According to Pete, “There was once a fiery preacher who possessed a powerful but unusual gift. He found that, from an early age, when he prayed for individuals, they would supernaturally lose all of their religious convictions. They would invariably lose all of their beliefs about the prophets, the sacred Scriptures, and even God. So the preacher learned not to pray for people but instead he limited himself to preaching inspiring sermons and doing good works. However, one day while travelling across the country, the preacher found himself in a conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. The businessman was a very powerful and ruthless merchant banker, who was honored by his colleagues and respected by his adversaries. Their conversation began because the businessman, possessing a deep, abiding faith, had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself to the preacher and they began to talk. As they chatted together this powerful man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. He spoke of how his work did not really define who he was but was simply what he had to do.

“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “And in my line of work I find myself in situations that challenge my Christian convictions. But I try, as much as possible, to remain true to my faith. Indeed, I attend a local church every Sunday, participate in a prayer circle, engage in some your work and contribute to a weekly Bible study. These activities help to remind me of who I really am.’

After listening carefully to the businessman’s story, the preacher began to realize the purpose of his unseemly gift. So he turned to the businessman and said, ‘Would you allow me to pray a blessing onto your life?’

The businessman readily agreed, unaware of what would happen. Sure enough, after the preacher had muttered a simple prayer, the man opened his eyes in astonishment. ‘What a fool I have been for all these years!’ he proclaimed.  ‘It is clear to me now that there is no God above, who is looking out for me, and that there are no sacred texts to guide me, and there is no Spirit to inspire and protect me.’

As they parted company the businessman, still confused by what had taken place, returned home. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs, he began to find it increasingly difficult to continue in his line of work. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, rather than a man of God, he began to despise his work. Within months he had a breakdown, and soon afterward he gave up his line of work completely.

Feeling better about himself, he then went on to give to the poor all of the riches he had accumulated and he began to use his considerable managerial expertise to challenge the very system he once participated in, and to help those who had been oppressed by the system.

One day, many years later, he happened upon the preacher again while walking through town. He ran over, fell at the preacher’s feet, and began to weep with joy.

Eventually he looked up at the preacher and smiled, ‘thank you, my dear friend, for helping me to discover my faith.’”

In a parable handed down to us from our ancestors in the faith, Jesus’ disciples ask him to “increase their faith”. It is a request that I believe many of us can identify with for who among us has not at some point or other asked for the gift of more faith? If only we had more faith we would be able to believe and if we could believe we’d have the courage to  cope with whatever crisis is overwhelming us. If we could only believe, we’d be able to understand why, or how, this or that. If we could just believe strongly enough, we’d have the courage to risk, to speak out, to stand-up for, to open up to, to ask for, to go on, to do something. If only we could believe in God, believe in the life death and resurrection of Jesus, believe in the power of the Holy Spirit if only we could get it all straight in our heads we’d be able to tell all the world what it is we believe. In the meantime, we’ll just keep on struggling to believe.

For years, and years, I used to believe that what was necessary was to just believe. So, I struggled to understand what all those “I believe statements” that the church, the community of believers asks its followers to make.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ,

his only Son our Lord,

he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, died and was buried.

He descended into hell.

On the third day he rose again,

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Over and over again, in liturgies, Sundays after Sunday, the church; the institution of the faith, offered me the opportunity to stand among the faithful to declare what it is that we believe. Whether it was the Apostles or the Nicene or heaven forbid the Athanasian creeds, the Church made it very clear exactly what it is that we are supposed to believe in order that we might number ourselves among the faithful. The very word “creed” itself, was handed down to us from our ancestors creed from the Latin “creedo” which translates into English as “I believe”. Continue reading

Hell Is Here On Earth – Luke 16:19-31

1 percentFor those of you who are working on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, here’s a copy of a sermon I preached a few years ago.

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was quite young and like most young people I didn’t have much money so I lived in some pretty weird places. I once shared a house with a bunch of people that I met working in the travel industry. I didn’t know them very well when I first moved in but as the months dragged on, I got to know some of them better than I would have liked. There were five of us living in a four-bedroom house about a block from Spanish Banks in Vancouver. The house’s proximity to the beach made up for some of my roommates’ shortcomings and the rent was cheap.  So, even though I didn’t like the idea, I didn’t kick up much of a fuss when one of my roommates brought home a puppy.

Now there are those people who would argue that all puppies are cute, I just don’t happen to be one of them. Besides this thing was a Doberman and I don’t care if it was cute, I don’t like Dobermans. I was trying to convince my roommate David that he couldn’t possibly keep a Doberman in our house, when two of my other roommates showed up and quickly became besotted with the creature. One of my roommates when so far as to insist that the puppy was the cutest thing she had ever seen and that we simply had to keep it. While she was hugging and kissing the puppy, David got quite annoyed and pulled the puppy away from her and insisted that this dog was not going to be a pet. He declared that we needed this dog to grow up and be a guard dog, and if that was going to happen then we needed to start treating this dog as we meant to continue.

I had no intention of sharing a house with a Doberman, let a lone a guy who wanted to have one as a guard dog, so I started looking for another place to live. Before I moved out of that house, I had the unfortunate opportunity to watch David as he tried to train his puppy. First of all, David had to give the dog a name and it had to be a name that would instill fear into people, so that’s how the puppy ended up with a name like Vader, as in Darth Vader.  None of us were supposed to cuddle the dog or pat the dog or play with the dog. That was just fine with me. But one of our roommates, Ellie was forever getting into trouble for treating the puppy like a baby. So, David insisted that Vader be chained up outside. A few months after I moved out of the house, I went back to visit and discovered that even Ellie was afraid to go into the backyard because Vader was actually turning into a viscous guard dog. She told me that David had been leaving Vader chained up for longer and longer periods of time and no one in the house would dare to go out into the back yard to feed Vader. I found out from the others that even though they’d tried to get David to pay more attention to Vader, he insisted that it there was nothing wrong with the way he was treating Vader. For months David left Vader chained in the backyard for days at a time and as the dog got bigger and bigger, the three roommates that were left in the house with David became more and more afraid of the dog and eventually they had to insist that David move out.  A few months later, I heard that David and Vader had parted ways. It seems that Vader had taken a chunk out of David’s arm and David had to have the poor creature put down. For some reason Jesus’ parable about Lazarus reminded me of Vader the Doberman. Continue reading

You Are More Powerful Than You Think – Cosmos Sunday – Psalm 139

In our ongoing celebration of the Season of Creation, today we shift our focus to the Cosmos. Usually, the word “cosmos” conjures up starry images of far distant constellations. Staring out into space can make us feel small and insignificant. But on this Cosmos Sunday, I’d like us to move us from our usual perspective of the cosmos. Perspective is a powerful tool, especially when we contemplate our place in the cosmos. You see the word “cosmos” refers to the entire universe, every dimension of time and space, spiritual and material. The cosmos includes the glittering galaxies that are so distant that we must peer at them through sophisticated giant telescopes as well as the deep domains within each minute molecule which we can only peer at through the lenses of sophisticated giant microscopes.

In addition to the material dimension of universes, the cosmos also includes the dimensions of time, our imaginations and of the spirit. Take a cube of sugar for example. Scientists tell us that you could fit the entire human race into the volume of single sugar cube; that’s right all 7 billion of us in a single tiny sugar cube. Something about the emptiness of matter that is beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend.

The cosmos is both infinitely large and infinity small. None of our telescopes and none of our microscopes can actually capture the vastness of the infinitely large nor the infinitely small, we must rely on our imaginations for this perspective on the cosmos. Staring out in the night sky can make you feel very small. Looking around the Earth, which is in and of itself a small planet can make you feel small and insignificant. But as the psalmist insists, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Hebrew word that is translated as fearfully can also be translated as awesome. Your very being is so very wonderful that it inspires awe. Awe and wonder are the very first religious impulses. Congratulations, for you are awesome, tremendous, wonderful. And yet, so often we can only see ourselves as small in relation to the cosmos; small and insignificant, small and powerless.

I remember, once long ago, when I was feeling so very small, insignificant and powerless. I was only ten years old. My Grandfather had a way of belittling people that was crushing. Granda had been taunting me over something I had said. The adults had been talking about war in the Middle East. The year was 1967, the year of the Six-Day War. I was just ten and didn’t understand the details of what was happening. But I did understand the drills we went through at school. Those of you of a certain age may remember hiding under your desk as we practiced what we would need to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Somehow our wooden desks were supposed to offer us some sort of protection. It was madness. A kind of madness that all of us, even the adults in the room all bought into. Continue reading

LOST: Done That! Been There! – Homecoming Sunday – Luke 15

They say, whoever they are, that “you can’t go home again.” You can’t go back to a place you once called home because in your absence that place will have changed. I remember, travelling across the world and needing desperately to return home. I’d been travelling for several months and I had intended to stay away for many more months. I was in England when doctors informed me that there was a tumor lodged between two of the bones in my foot that needed to be removed. I can still remember the doctor telling me that there was a distinct possibility that the tumor was a malignant cancer. Suddenly, home seemed like the only place in the world I wanted to be. Even though I was already in the city of my birth, I knew without a doubt that Birmingham was not my home. The only trouble was, that during my travels my parents had moved from the one town to another. Even though the place where my family was living was familiar to me, it was not the home which I had left behind. So, when I arrived at my parents’ new home, everything felt very different. Perhaps the most important change was in me. I was not the starry-eyed young woman that I once was. The future was suddenly very uncertain. Fears that I had never ever had to deal with, were suddenly part of who I had become. But I was home and even though home was the last place I expected to be, home was the only place I wanted to be. So, I set about trying to feel at home in what was for all intents and purposes a very different home than I had hoped to come home to.

When I think about Jesus’ parable of the lost on this Homecoming Sunday, I can’t help wondering how many of us here at Holy Cross feel like we have come home to a different church. Now, I know that many of us haven’t really been away but bear with me for a moment so that we can explore the contours of the metaphor of coming home. All of us carry with us, all sorts of images of what we want and need the church to be. Some of us long to return to an image of the church as it was at a particular time in our lives when we felt at home in the church. Some of us long to come home to a church that was full of particular people, or to a church that sang certain songs, or worshipped in certain ways, or comforted us with particular ideas, or inspired us with certain hopes. Others of us, long to come home to the church of our dreams, a church that never really was, but a church that we are convinced we would feel very at home in. You know the kind of church home I’m talking about, a place full of people who are exceptional, a place filled with inspirational activities, a church that accomplishes stuff, important stuff, vital stuff, a church that has absolutely no financial worries at all.

There’s an old gospel song that comes to mind:

There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood

No lovelier spot in the dale

No place is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the vale

Whatever the contours of the church of your longing, I suspect that the most important ingredients that make up the church of your longing revolve around the people.  A church is not a church without the people and one thing I’ve learned about people, is that people are complex creatures. Take that lost child, the one who is known as the prodigal, no matter how you look at this parable, one thing is clear, the child that returned to his home, was not the same child that left his home.

Think about the other lost child, the one who can’t quite seem to share his father’s enthusiasm for his brother’s return. That lost child, is not the same person as the one who went out into the fields in the morning, the child who thought his future was secure, is no longer the same child as the one who returned to find his Dad throwing a lavish party for his wastrel of a brother, whom he believed he’d never have to contend with again.

Then there’s the Dad, who certainly isn’t the same person that he was before his youngest child left him behind. He’s not even the same person that his older child left that very morning. Nothing stays the same. We are all changing, all the time. Is it any wonder that it is so very easy to get lost? Looking in on this parable, I can see myself in each of these three lost souls. I’ve certainly messed up in ways that make me want to tell the younger child, “Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt.”

I’ve also lost people, for all sorts of reasons that have left me miserably longing for their return. So, I can see exactly why the lost father, who let’s face it played a pivotal role in both his children’s angst. I mean, that child would have never left if the Father hadn’t acted the way he did and as for the older child, well how could the Father forget about him? Why didn’t he even bother to invite his eldest child to the party? We’ve all messed up in our dealings with people, enough to cause us to lose them. We can all relate to the kind of longing for the lost that would cause us to throw a party if they ever returned. Continue reading

Lighten Up! – Luke 12:22-31

“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body. Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?”   Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! When we try to understand a biblical text, it is helpful if we keep in mind three particular contexts. The first context to keep in mind is the context of the story itself. What is happening in and around the characters in the story itself. The second context to keep in mind is the context in which the storyteller tells the story. What is happening in and around the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke. The third context to keep in mind is our own context. What is going on in our lives and in the lives of the communities in which we live?

So, let’s begin by looking at the context of the story itself.  Jesus is speaking to his disciples. The year is somewhere between 30 and 33 of the Common Era. The place is Palestine, a far-flung province of the Roman Empire. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are a conquered people, living under the oppression of a foreign power. The people to whom Jesus is speaking have no power. They are being persecuted, oppressed, and terrorized.    Life is difficult. There’s a very thin line between life and death and the people to whom Jesus is speaking understand that by listen to this rebel Jesus they are risking death. All Jesus’ listeners really have is hope, hope that one day their Messiah will rescue them from their cruel taskmasters.

Fast forward about 60 years or more to the context in which the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke tells this story. Conditions have deteriorated. The Jewish people have rebelled against their Roman oppressors and they have been crushed. The Temple, the very heart of who they are as a people, has been destroyed and much of Jerusalem along with it. Both Jews and the followers of the Way have been driven out into the wilderness as outlaws. Historians tell us that after the rebellion Rome inflicted abominable terrorism upon the people of the once proud Jewish nation. The smell of rotting flesh was very familiar, thousands upon thousands were crucified as enemies of Rome, their corpses left to rot upon makeshift crosses. For the Followers of the Way life was worse. Excommunicated from the synagogues they met in secret fearing not only the Romans but their Jewish neighbours as well.

Fast forward to today. What is going on around us as we hear this story? Well, there’s a crazy orange megalomaniac sitting in the most powerful office the world has ever known. We are told that this powerful buffoon has seriously contemplated exercising his power to nuke hurricanes. All around us the dangers of climate change are being felt as winds blow, and sea-levels rise.  Money, money, money is the order of the day as we all scramble to ensure that we get what is ours.

So, we are busy people. We are well informed people and we know more about what is going on in the world than any other generation before us. We are stressed out and we don’t know what to do first.  And so, we come to church, seeking what? guidance? solidarity? comfort? inspiration? or maybe just a little distraction from the stress of it all. But even here we can’t relax because here too we are met with stress inducing challenges. Churches are closing all over the place. The once mighty flagships of our own Lutheran church have already closed, and our beloved little Holy Cross is struggling to survive. There are just a few of us left and we are finding it more and more difficult to meet our challenges. In all three contexts to which this story speaks, there is so much for people to worry about.

Indeed, in all three contexts the temptation to despair is immense. To all three contexts, Jesus says the same thing: LIGHTEN UP!  “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.  Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!  Lighten up!

Look around. Look at the beautiful people who are here. Look at where we are. We live in one of the best places on earth! We are richer than the vast majority of people on this planet. We have wealth beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. We have this building! We have each other. There are no oppressors on our doorstep waiting to torture us. The first followers of the Way would have loved the opportunity to worship in such a fine place as this.

We are all relatively healthy. Most of us live very comfortably. So why is it so difficult for us to hear Jesus say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying!

I know, I know, it is easier said than done. It is so very difficult not to worry when we are so stressed out. Stressed out. Think about that phrase for a moment. I don’t remember my parents ever complaining about stress. Being “stressed out” is a condition of our age. We have become masters of the art of catastrophizing. We can awefulize a situation faster than a Roman centurion could grab his sword.

I know I’ve said this many times but think about the way we greet one another. “Hi how are you?”  What is the most common response to this simple question? “I’m busy.” We have become obsessed with our own business and it brings us precious little pleasure. When we tell someone we’re busy, they usually respond with something like, “you think you’re busy. let me tell you how busy I am.” We no longer human beings we are human doers, obsessed and stressed out by all the stuff we need to do and all the stuff that we aren’t doing. It’s no wonder that we catastrophize and awefulize all day long. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy this life of ours.

Take the weather for example. We are entering a spectacularly beautiful autumn. The weather has been fabulous around here.  And yet, all this week instead of remarking on how lovely it is outside, people insist on awefulizing the weather. “Winter’s coming.”

“Yeah it may be lovely now. But winter is coming.”  It’s as bad as Game of Thrones, “Winter’s coming.”  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Doesn’t matter that winter can be beautiful. Doesn’t matter that we all enjoy the luxury of beautiful centrally heated homes. Most of our cars have heated seats. I even have a car that will heat my steering wheel. Heck we have cars. We won’t have to trudge here on snowshoes. Nevertheless, we moan winter is coming.

There are lunatics running the world. Churches simply can’t survive in our modern world.           We are fighting a losing battle. People these days are spiritual but not religious. So, we huddle together and we do what everyone else is doing these days, we catastrophize and we awefuize because winter is coming. These days seems as though worrying is the only way we connect with one another. So many of our speech patterns revolve around our stress. Take a moment to step out of yourselves and pay attention to how and what we are saying to one another. The experts say that the average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day. How many of your 60,000 thoughts are negative? How many of the conversations we have with one another lean into your fears? Think about social media? How many posts or articles do you read that strike fear into your hearts?  Global warming may not be as big a problem as global whining.

To all of this catastrophizing and awefulizing Jesus insists:  “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.”  “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up! To which I’m sure you may be thinking, “Easier said than done.”

Don’t get me wrong our problems are real. But can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single hour to your life?   Lighten up. Let’s try to be spiritual but not religious. One of the best definitions of spirituality that I have come across recently comes from the social researcher Bene Brown, who writes, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us,

and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”   To which I say, in the spirit of Jesus “Lighten up dear friends.”

If we can connect to one another in ways that do not begin with catastrophizing and awefulizing, perhaps we can begin to gain a sense of perspective that will not only bring meaning to our lives together but may just remind us of the many things we love about one another. I know we have all sorts of challenges in our little church. It is difficult not to worry. I stay up nights worrying about our life together as a community.

One of the things that I have come to believe is that if the only level at which we can connect with one another is through our worries, we will lose any desire that we may have to connect in the first place. We need to connect in ways that remind us of our many blessings and inspire us to share our blessings.I’m hoping that we can begin by stepping out of ourselves and looking at how we talk to one another. If we try to become witnesses of our own behavior. Think about what we are thinking. Are we leaning into fear? Are we connecting through negative language? Are we connecting through misery?

The best way I know how to step outside of myself is with humor. When I hear Jesus say, “Do not worry!” I hear him say it with an Irish lilt. “Sure, what da want to be worrying about. Have ya taken leave of yer senses? What good is worrying going to do ya? Look at the birds – sure they’re not worried. Look at the flowers – they can’t worry. Look around the birds can fly. The flowers are lovely. How stupid you to be worrying in such a place as this? Stop worrying.”

Now as lovely as an Irish lit is, I can still find something to worry about. And it doesn’t quite make me laugh. And laughter is what is called for because laughter is one of the deepest surest ways that humans connect. So, the other day, I was wondering how we get from worrying to laughter. Now I’m not a comedian. So, I’m not going to try to joke us out of our troubles. But I am a student of human behavior and apparently, it’s almost impossible to take someone seriously if their wearing one of these.  (put on a Red nose).

“Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.” “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!

Okay, this might work better if we all wear a read nose. (distribute red noses)

As your go through the week and you find yourself slipping into catastrophizing or awefulizing or even just complaining, put on your read nose.  And say: “Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about your body.”   “Can any of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life?” Look at the birds! Look at the flowers! Stop worrying! Lighten up!

We have all sorts of challenges to deal with. If we can put our challenges into perspective and connect with one another without catastrophizing or awefulizing, together we can meet whatever challenges come our way in the LOVE that IS the ONE who nourishes grounds and sustains us in the beautiful life, in this beautiful place, in these wonderful times.  For we are after all is said and done, a spiritual people.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”   Therein lies our hope. Lighten up! Look at the birds. Look at the flowers. Remember the CREATOR of ALL that IS created the duck-billed platypus. So, laugh a little.

 

 

 

 

 

Entertaining Angels: Hebrews 13:1-3

Hebrews 13Readings:  Luke 14:1,7-14; Mechthild of Magdeburg’s “The Flowing Light of the Godhead”; Hebrews 13:1-3

Listen to the sermon here:

I am often reminded of the fact that one of the most basic parts of my job of being a pastor is pointing out the sacred. Most of what I do revolves around noticing when we are in the presence of the HOLY, the MYSTERY, the ONE who is so much more that we are, the LOVE that lies at the heart of all that IS. My job is to point to the sacred ONENESS, the LOVE that many call GOD and say “there,” or “here,” or “now,” “don’t miss IT.” All too often we find ourselves in the company of angels, messengers of the LOVE that IS God, and we don’t even notice it.
For the most part we humans can’t quite grasp the magnitude of the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality and so we do what humans always do: we personify this ONEness, or we use symbols and metaphors to indicate the presence of the sacred in our midst, and we tell stories. Stories that include burning bushes, ladders into the sacred realm, shepherds, lost coins, all sorts of symbols and metaphors that point to the ONE who IS. We have told some of those stories so often that the REALITY of the MYSTERY that these stories were created to bring down to earth, seems ever so distant and far away, lost in the mists of time. The REALITY that so many call God has been cast out there far away beyond our reach. So, week after week, I try to bring the stories, symbols and metaphors a little closer to the world that we inhabit so that you might be able to see in your own stories the angels that you have entertained without even knowing it. 
In October of 1977, when I was twenty years old. I was young and adventurous. With a rail pass in my hand, a back pack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars worth of American Express Travellers cheques in my pocket, I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. I was tired. Several months of back-packing in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head for Greece, where the living is easy, where the warm sun, blue skies and equally blue waters held the promise of rest and relaxation.
As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Chania on the island of Crete. I knew that on Crete I could find work. So, I planned to mix a lot of rest and relaxation with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean. As the train rattled through Austria, towards what was then called Yugoslavia, it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness. I remembered my previous journey, by car, through Yugoslavia and how at the time, I had marvelled at the diversity of this strange little country. I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as their ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra modern city of Belgrade; the showcase of what was then Tito’s communist regime.I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor people in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade with its towering sky-scrapers and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in Yugoslavia.
I was awakened from my dreams by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the right papers and that my back pack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, guns, and uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty years. He carefully read over the Visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa that I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar alphabet.The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I knew what was happening, I was being escorted off the train. I was shaking so badly that the young men on either side of me had to hold me up. I am not sure that my feet even touched the ground. After a long lonely wait in a drab windowless room, a woman entered. In broken English she told me that my visa was not in order. I gathered from what she was trying unsuccessfully to explain to me, that my passport contained the visa from my previous visit to Yugoslavia, but was missing an official exit stamp. She demanded to know why there was no exit stamp in my passport. Needless to say, I could not explain. I told her that I had only spent a little over a week in Yugoslavia the year before and then gone on to Greece. I told her that I didn’t know that an exit stamp was necessary and that I couldn’t understand why the Yugoslavian consulate would have issued my current visa if my paper work was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. After several fruitless attempts to try and get her to tell me what I was supposed to do, I found myself in a small room. Its only window was reinforced with bars.
In the darkness of a Yugoslavian holding cell, I sat down and I began to cry. I cried like I have never cried before or since. I was terrified and my sobbing was uncontrollable. After a while I became conscious of a sound that did not come from me. “Susssssssssh.”
I realized that I was not alone in the darkness. Someone else was in the room with me. In the shadows, I could make out the shape of a woman. My sobbing began to subside as she continued, “Shussssssh.” The woman began to pace back and forth in our tiny room and gradually her shusssh turned into humming. She hummed unfamiliar tunes that somehow managed to calm me. Occasionally her humming would turn to singing. She sang softly and quietly and my sobbing began to ease.
In the shadows I could not tell how old she was. Her hair was long, dark and curly. She wore a plain cotton dress, ankle socks and a beaten up pair of shoes, whose laces flapped back and forth as she paced. It took only a few hours for my travelling companion to contact the British Embassy, sort out the mess and secure my freedom. The sunlight was just beginning to find its way into our room when my captor arrived to release me. As I left, I took a close look at my roommate. I smiled, hoping that she would understand my smile as gratitude for her kindness. Her tender sounds had calmed me and helped me through one of the darkest nights of my life. She returned my smile and added a wave of her own. Then the guard roughly escorted me out into the bright lights of the customs house.
Before I boarded a train that would take me safely out of Yugoslavia, I thought that perhaps I should try to help my roommate. Maybe I should try to find out why she was being detained. Perhaps I should try to help her get out. But this was not a place that welcomed questions and the warm sun of Greece beckoned me. And so, I boarded the train and I left. My few hours of captivity – I chalked up to just one more adventure on the road and I rarely thought of my room-mate again. Continue reading

The Moon-Dancing Bear and the Bent Over Woman: Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 13:10-17

nightsky moonPrior to the reading of the gospel the congregation took the Awareness Test.

View it yourself here

Listen to the sermon here

“Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you. Before you were born, I dedicated you. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

I have this distant memory of walking along a sidewalk. I couldn’t have been more than five years old. I was bent over watching intently, determined not to miss a single crack in the sidewalk. Step on a crack – break your mother’s back. A silly childish rhyme. A wild idea placed into the mind of a child. An idea that kept me hunched over and focussed upon cracks in the sidewalk. So focussed upon a silly childish rhyme, that even my body was hunched over and my vision was restricted, so restricted that I didn’t even the see the telephone pole that jumped out in front of me and smacked me in the forehead, sent me crashing to the ground and left me with a bump the size of a robin’s egg.

Do me a favour, stand up and bend over. Without straightening your back, take a long look around. How far can you see? Can you see the piano? Can you see the banner’s hanging on the wall? How well can you see out of the windows? Do you see the sky? Ok, straighten up. How much more can you see?

When I was a child, my vision was restricted by a silly childish rhyme that used a fearful idea to direct my focus. Just now the posture of your bodies physically restricted your vision. Earlier, when we viewed the Awareness video, the instructions about where to focus, restricted your vision and most of you missed the moonwalking bear that pranced across the screen. Bent out of shape, crippled by ideas, traditions, fears, prejudices, allegiances, peer pressure, or narrow focussed lenses, our vision can be restricted to such an extent that we are blind to what is going on around us. Obstacles to our progress can actually jump out in front of us and knock us down or out. 

I’d like us to focus for a moment on the very narrowness of our focus. How bent out of shape are we as a result of who we are and where we live? How does our history shape the way we see reality? How does our education impact the way we see? How does our family history restrict our vision? How do the things we were taught to believe about God narrow our view of the Source of our existence? How do the stories we have been told narrow our focus? How does our status as privileged, mostly upper-middle-class Canadians narrow our focus and leave us blind to the realities of life in the world around us? What might it take to help us stand up and talk a good look around us? How many Moondancing Bears have we missed? Continue reading

The Bent Over Woman – Luke 13:10-17

bentover woman1It was hot. Already the sun had parched the earth. The air was still. The ground beneath her feet radiated the heat. She was tired. Earlier she had thought about staying at home. Her weary body could use a rest. All week long she had toiled in the heat of the sun. On this Sabbath she longed to rest her crumpled, aching body. She tried to ignore the weakness she felt. She had suffered long and hard. She couldn’t even remember when or how she had become so weak. Over the years, her weakened spirit had left her body bent and crippled. The evidence of her heavy burdens could be seen in her crooked spine. She was ashamed of her appearance.

It had been eighteen long years since she had stood straight and tall. She vaguely remembered running when she was a child. She ran everywhere back then. She ran faster than anyone else in the town. She loved to run. Running made her feel free.

Her mother used to warn her not to run. Her mother tried to stop her. But she was so full of life. She wanted to see everything. She wanted to do everything. She wanted to go everywhere.

Her mother warned her not to be so curious. Her mother tried to keep her busy. Her mother tried to keep her out of trouble. But it was no use, no matter how many tasks her mother gave her; she always managed to find time to explore. She had so many questions. She wanted to know how things worked. Life was so very exciting. She dashed from one adventure to the next. She ran everywhere, everyday. Except of course on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath she walked. She walked with her family to the synagogue. She loved to go to the synagogue. As her father and brothers took their places at the feet of the rabbis, she sat quietly with her mother and sisters and the other women and girls in the back of the synagogue. She listened carefully as the men and boys talked.  Continue reading

Commemoration of Saint Mary: Was Mary a Virgin or Was Mary Raped?

pregnancy test

Mary Pregnant? St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, NZ)

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus or as it is still called in the Roman Catholic Church The Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary into Heaven. This enigmatic  woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. So on this festival day I this re-post this sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.  

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square.  Continue reading

I’m a Doubter Not a Believer – Preaching on FAITH – Hebrews 11:1-16, Pentecost 9C

Preaching on Luke 12:32-40 and Hebrews 11:1-16

doubters welcome“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom” So begins the gospel reading for this coming Sunday. But I am afraid and my fear is not about the the thief who this text insists may break into my house or that the HUMAN ONE is coming at some unexpected hour. No, my fear is wrapped up in my desire to pay little or no attention to the second reading prescribed for this Sunday from the letter to the Hebrews: Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. Because of faith, our ancestors were approved b God. By faith, we understand the world was created by the word from God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible…..”

Do I have faith? Do any of us have faith? For that matter: What is faith? According to Hebrews faith “is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to hear Jesus words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.”  Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to believe. So I wonder: Do I have faith? Do I have the faith that makes it possible for me to believe? Do you? Do any of us?

I write this as one who finds it difficult and sometimes even impossible to believe much of anything. I am a doubter by nature. Doubting is part of who I am. I know that there are those who are more inclined to believe and I am envious of believers. I envy those who are sure and are able to find comfort in the Scriptures. For a very long time I was ashamed of my inability to believe. I often sat in church and wondered if I might just be a hypocrite. I wondered if someone who had as many doubts as I have belongs in the church.  So, I tried to conquer my doubts by studying the Scriptures. Continue reading

Hosea: the Coronation Street of Ancient Israel

A Sermon on the Book of the Prophet Hosea

Coronation StI am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for his insights into the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Without Jack’s thoughtful portrayal of Gomer, I would not have recognized her as the Leanne Battersby of her time. Also, thanks to Marcus Borg for his definition of the verb “believe”!

Listen to an older version of this the sermon, interesting how our god-language changes over the years:

I must confess that I am one of the millions and millions of people across the globe who enjoys a guilty pleasure about five days a week. It’s a habit that began back when I was but a wee child. From time to time, circumstances have forced me to give up this guilty pleasure, but over the years, as technology has improved I’ve been able to indulge myself on a more regular basis than I would have thought possible back when I was just a little girl and only able to enjoy this pleasure during the summer holidays. Now a days, I can delay my indulgence to a convenient time. So about 5 times a week, I find myself relaxing in my favourite chair with a mug of tea, ready to enjoy a episode of my favourite soap opera.  

Continue reading

What if Prayer is NOT Transactional But IS Transformational? – Luke 11:1-13

Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells the 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 journal 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 have a cup of tea and I come back, and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.” The journalist is intrigued, and she 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!”[1]

The old man’s frustration is one that I think we can all relate to when it comes to prayer. Sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall. And yet, we pray. Marcus Borg insisted that there are two things that most humans have in common. Borg wrote that, “Most humans have a deep longing for connection; a deeper connection to the DIVINE, to the sacred, to one another, to creation.” and “Most humans have a deep longing to make the world a better place.” Perhaps it is our longing for connection together with our longing to make the world a better place that provide our impetus to pray. So, is it any wonder that our desire to connect to the DIVINE MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS, should leave us frustrated?

Today’s gospel text has frustrated me for years. Over and over again, in my prayers I have asked and felt no connection. I have looked and not found. I have knocked and the door hasn’t been opened. It is as if I am up against the wall penned in by a multitude of snakes and scorpions, and there is no door anywhere in sight.

Author Anne Lamott insists that the two best prayers that she knows are: The first: “help me, help me, help me” and the second “thank-you, thank-you, thank-you”. Prayers of gratitude, most of us can handle. I suspect that for many of us the source of our greatest frustration comes from the “help me, help me, help me” kinds of prayer. For who amongst us has not prayed fervently and persistently only to experience the frustration of what seems like a vast, unresponsive, emptiness?

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 whom 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 that 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 wondering:  to whom shall we go? how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray?

As I wrestled with today’s gospel text, I despaired of ever finding answers to my own questions about prayer. I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE and yet still long for a connection to the ONE who IS the GROUND of ALL BEING, then how, what, or why do we pray? I found myself wishing that my vacation started this week instead of next week, then I wouldn’t have to deal with this text. It wasn’t until I realized that my questions were blinding me to the words of the text. As I read the text over and over again, some might say as a kind of prayer, seeking to find, longing for connection, there it was in the words on the page.

Jesus said, “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. What parents among you will give a snake to their child when the child askes for a fish, or a scorpion when the child asks for an egg?”

My dualistic mind was forming questions that were transactional. Ask/receive, seek/find, knock/open. My questions about prayer were born out of a view of prayer that I thought I’d long since moved away from. I was trapped in an either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, believe or not believe, God or no-God, dualistic mindset and so my questions about prayer served only to build the kind of wall that caused my prayers to fail to provide even the remotest possibility of connection. My questions had become the very snakes and scorpions that I had hoped to avoid. Continue reading

Preaching on Prayer: Shush!

BATH QOLIn this coming Sunday’s gospel reading Luke 11:1-13, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. As a pastor I have been asked to teach people to pray. Each time I have been asked to teach someone to pray I have cringed inside because I do not feel up to the task. For some reason the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” keeps playing in my mind. I keep telling it to, “Shush!” so that I might hear the “bath qol” but the daughter of a sound eludes me. Below is a portion of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject of prayer. If nothing else, it reminds me to shush!

I began this sermon by asking the congregation to sing from memory the old hymn: I Come to the Garden Along. Feel free to sing it to yourself!

I think my earliest memory of prayer is a distant memory I have of skipping along the sidewalk chanting a familiar refrain: “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Most of us can remember a moment from our childhood when a superstition was instilled in us that caused us to perform some ritual in order to placate the unseen power that could determine our fate. Whether it was avoiding cracks, or walking under ladders or black cats, we were trained from an early age to believe that there were powers out there that could determine our future.   Continue reading

lambs among wolves – Luke 10:1-16

…the prescribed reading for today (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)  is a little strange because it is chopped up into pieces…and leaves out several verses that to most ears sound more than a little judgmental. Without the omitted verses is a difficult reading that is seeming bereft of “Good News”. So, as is often the case when we deliver bad news, I’m going to ask you to sit down and take a few deep breathes. ….ready?

…the text continues with Jesus saying to the 72:  “If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say,  “We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near. I tell you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than the fate of such a town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! And woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes! It will go easier on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. As for you, Capernam, will you exalt yourself to the skies? No, you’ll be hurled down to Hades! Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the ONE who sent me.”

Jesus has sent out seventy-two of his followers to proclaim that the reign of God is near. Two by two those who have learned at Jesus’ feet are sent to proclaim a new way of being in the world. Furthermore, Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the world with nothing, no knapsack, no sandals, and perhaps more importantly, with no purse; no money with which to provide the essentials. Like lambs Jesus sends his followers into the midst of wolves.

Lambs in the midst of wolves is a strange metaphor. I know a thing or two about lambs. I helped to tend a flock of sheep for about 8 years. While there were no wolves in the area, there were coyotes, and I can tell you that no self-respecting shepherd would expose vulnerable lambs to wolves. Jesus would make a crappy shepherd. Leaders are supposed to protect the ones they lead. Yet here, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Luke, has crafted a story that casts Jesus in the role of a reckless leader who demands an equally reckless vulnerability from his followers.

What we know about the gospel-storyteller that we call Luke is that he wrote close to the end of the first century. Some 50 to 60 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth; a time when the full force of the mighty Roman Empire was being brought to bear upon the Jewish people and upon the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. During this time both Jews and followers of the Way lived in fear for their lives. The very idea of venturing out into the world would have struck fear into the hearts of all those who knew the ferocious power of the Roman Empire. Wolves would have seemed timid when compared to Rome’s cruelty. Yet, in our story Jesus sends his followers like lambs into the midst of wolves? Totally unprepared. Totally vulnerable. Totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who this story characterizes as wolves.

Now, I will confess that all this week, as I was studying this text, I saw myself as a lamb. But I have to say that this story didn’t make much sense to me until I began to see myself as one of the wolves.  It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a lamb. Images of myself as a small child, a wee little lamb, helpless and vulnerable were easy to conjure up. Memories of my own childhood migration from Belfast to Canada reminded me of the ways in which my own family depended upon the kindness of strangers when we arrived in a strange land. I don’t really think my Mum and Dad were very well prepared for the journey that we undertook as a family. But thanks to all the help we received from the people who had gone before us and the strangers we met here in Canada, we did all right. Continue reading