Yes please Jesus! I’ll have some of that peace you’re offering!

This past week I attended the Festival of Homiletics. Like so many events, this year’s Festival of Homiletics was a hybrid event, so rather than travel to Denver, I was able to attend the Festival online and wallow in the wisdom of some renowned preachers. I must confess that I registered for the event, out of a sense of loyalty to my profession. COVID has dealt a huge blow to so many organizations, and every registration helps, besides an old preacher like me, can always use some new ideas. Unfortunately, the theme of the festival did not bode well for my enthusiasm for the event. But come Monday morning, coffee in hand, I tuned in from the comfort of my home-office, even if my expectations were lowered by the festival’s theme, “After the Storm: Preaching and Trauma”

I remember scoffing to myself, “those Americans sure do love the drama of a trauma,” as I steeled myself for the inevitable sensationalizing of the multitude of traumas, we’ve all experienced over the past year. I was unmoved by the idea of spending a week going back over the turmoil created by COVID, antivaxxers, white supremacy, climate change, war in the Ukraine, economic woes, and the impending demise of Roe versus Wade.

But preachers, we are trained to approach our homiletical task, with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. So, even though these days it is the bible in one hand and our device of choice in the other hand, the news of the day is part of our stock and trade. So, I expected the endless list of the world’s traumas to dominate the dozen or so sermons and lectures, because life’s traumas loom large in our business, and Lord knows this year has been a doozy. What I didn’t expect was the wallop which hit me as preacher after preacher pierced the armor which I’ve been wearing since COVID first showed us its ugliness. What I didn’t expect were the endless floods of tears, as I heaved my way from one ugly cry to the next.

In between the sermons, the lectures, and the workshops, I found myself adding my own Canadian traumas to the colossal list of trauma: the unmarked graves of indigenous children, the hatred and division inspired by the truck convoy, the floods, and melting ice-cap, and our own brand of political divisions, not to mention the reality of church closings of congregations whose demise was hastened by endless lockdowns, together with my own concerns about the future of this beloved congregation.

I knew if I let myself, I would dissolve in the puddle of tears my own trauma was creating. So, I added more and more armor to my weary soul and resolved to cut it out. For after all I had work to do. So, with my shield in hand, I girded my loins, dried my tears, steadied my breath and read this week’s assigned gospel so that I could begin my own preparations to preach today. Trauma be damned, I’m not going there!

So, hear the words of our gospel as it is recorded by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John: “Judas—not Judas Iscariot—said, “Rabbi, why is it that you’ll reveal yourself to us, and not to the whole world?”                    Jesus answered, “Those who love me will be true to my word, and Abba God will love them; and we will come to them and make our dwelling place with them. Those who don’t love me don’t keep my words. Yet the message you hear is not mine; it comes from Abba God who sent me. This much have I said to you while still with you; but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom Abba God will send in my name, will instruct you in everything and she will remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful. You’ve heard me say, “I AM going away but I will return.” If you really loved me, you would rejoice because I AM going to Abba God, for Abba is greater than I. I tell you this now, before it happens so that when it happens you will believe.” (John 14:23-29)

The gospel of our God, thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY. It was all I could do to hold on to myself through one of the ugliest cries I’ve allowed myself in a very long time. When my heaving was done, all that was left was my own “Yes please…” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Yes, please Jesus, I’ll take a big dollop of peace, right now if you please.

I know, I know, I’m the preacher and my job, my calling, my vocation, is all about proclaiming the very peace which Jesus promises. But just like you, just like our fellow humans all over the globe, we have been traumatized and traumatized people, don’t find it easy to discover the peace they long for. How can we? No amount of platitudes, or pretty words, or charming sentiments, or skillful articulations, or even powerful sermons, can heal the wounds of the traumatized.

I did learn something new about trauma from a festival workshop lead by a preacher I admire. From Nadia Boltz-Weber I learned the phrase “complex trauma”. Complex trauma describes the condition of those who have been exposed to multiple traumatic events over the course of a long period of time. For more than two years now, we have all been exposed to multiple traumatic events, which have allowed us precious little peace in the midst of our world’s turmoil. People suffering from complex trauma can experience what some call “emotional flashback” in which you have intense feelings that you original felt during the initial trauma, such as fear, sadness, despair, guilt, or shame.

Some of the symptoms of complex trauma include difficulty controlling your emotions, periods of losing attention and concentration, physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness chest pains, and stomach aches. Prolonged exposure to multiple traumatic events leading to complex trauma, if left untreated can lead to complex traumatic stress disorder.

Now I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I a trained psychologist. I am but a lowly preacher who is tasked with helping the afflicted find a little peace. That’s peace period, not peace of mind.  Alas, the peace which I am tasked with proclaiming is the peace which Jesus promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace.”

As I said before, “yes please Jesus!  I’ll take a double dose of that peace. If you please!” But the news didn’t get any better this week. There are more unmarked indigenous graves, war rages on in the Ukraine, our political divisions continue as our own right-wingers mimic our American neighbours, the floods and fires of climate change are eclipsed by yesterday’s storm damage, not to mention the vivid images of monkey-pox on our own doorstep. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace.” Where Jesus? Where? Where can we find this peace you speak of? Where is this peace which is not like the worlds peace.”  We’ll take it. We need it. Please where and how can we find this peace.

Late last night, I despaired of ever finding this peace. The bulletins were already printed, so it was too late to change the gospel reading. So, I did what a preacher is trained to do, I looked at the other readings assigned for this day. There in the 16th chapter of the book of Acts, I was reunited with an old friend, Lydia. Lydia is one of the many Mothers of Christianity. Lydia is the first European convert to Christianity. Lydia is the founder of the church at Philippi. Lydia is described as a “God fearer, a worshiper of God and a dealer in purple. According to the story in Acts, two men Paul and Silias, meet a woman and end up going home with her. Scandalous thou this may be, Lydia a professional businesswoman, of considerable means, is discovered down by the riverside. You see Paul and Silas had traveled to Philippi to proclaim the gospel. As self-respecting Jews they looked first for a synagogue. But in order to have a synagogue you need 10 men to gather for prayer.

Alas, without ten men, the synagogue would be closed. So, the woman who wanted to gather for prayer would meet down by the riverside. After Paul and Silas proclaim the gospel, Lydia invites them to her home. Imagine two strange men invited to a woman’s home? Out of such a scandalous event the church at Philippi is born.

As I reacquainted myself with Lydia’s story, two things jumped out at me. The riverside and the colour purple. Visions of Celie and Shug from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, come to mind, and I hear Shug quietly declare, I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” To which Celie asks, “It (God) just wanna be loved like it say in the Bible?” To which Shug responds, “Yeah Celie, everything just wanna be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”

The riverside and the colour purple. The beauty of the Earth and LOVE. Therein lies the peace which the world with all its trauma cannot give.  The peace which surpasses all understanding. Down by the riverside, in the meadows, the forests, the fields, the mountains, the beauty of the earth and in the LOVE we have for one another it is there where we shall find the peace to heal our wounded souls.

In the friendship, in the companionship, in the LOVE we have for the Earth and for one another, its LOVE itself which provides the peace we long for.

Early this morning, as the Sun was beginning to rise, I sat down to write this sermon, and I could hear the birds singing. The doves were coo cooing as I remembered the peace which comes as pure gift from Creation herself, together with all the peace which has been created by the LOVE of friends, family, neighbours, and LOVERS. And I remembered that peace is not just a noun describing a state of being which we long for. Peace is also a verb, a way of being in the world which moves us to be LOVE in the midst of whatever trauma the world dishes up. LOVE is the peace we long for.

LOVE is our peace. Yes please and thank-you very much for being the LOVE which is the peace our world longs for. Let us be that LOVE. Let us be the LOVE which heals all trauma. Let us be that peace. Shalom, dear ones. Shalom.

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Adaptation Is NOT Enough! We Must Be Transformed! John 13:31-35

During these past two years, we have had to adapt to an awful lot. If you’d have asked us just three years ago, how we would cope if we had to lockdown in our homes for months and months on end, we couldn’t have imagined how we would cope. But somehow, we all managed to adapt to the isolation, working from home, the masks, the technology, the fears and the disappointments.We found ways to cope with a life-threatening pandemic by adapting to changing circumstances.

Humans are blessed with the ability to adapt to our surroundings. We are blessed and we are also cursed. Adaptation allows us to make adjustments to our behaviour in order to cope with changing realities. But adaption can also allow us to continue relatively unchanged. For those of us who live as the wealthiest Christians who have ever walked this planet, the privileges we claim for ourselves, allow us to continue our lives in relative security provided we adapt ever so slightly to our changing circumstances. And therein lies the curse of adaptation. Adaptation allows for the maintenance of the status quo. In the grand scheme of things, the fundamental realities of our lives haven’t been transformed by the monumental challenges of a life-threatening pandemic. Sure, we may have tweaked a few things, but we are still the privileged few on this planet and our planet, the only home we have is still careening toward becoming largely uninhabitable. We are clever enough to understand that the status quo cannot hold, and we are adaptable enough to carry on without being transformed by the reality that our behaviour is threatening the survival of billions of people. We have largely adapted to the terrifying realities of climate change without letting the facts transform us.

I used to put my faith in the intelligence of our species to adapt. These days, I’m beginning to see that the intelligence of our species may only be able to help us adapt, when what we need in order to survive is to be transformed. Transformation of the way in which we live threatens the status quo, and without threatening the status quo, we won’t be able to adapt quickly enough to survive. To date human intelligence is failing us. The facts, we are all well versed in the facts, and we have all, myself included, chosen to tinker with a few minor adaptations, rather than seriously engaging our need for radical transformation of the status quo. So, I have to ask what it will take for us to open ourselves to the possibility of the radical transformation necessary to meet the challenges which are raining down upon us.

Status quo – the existing state of affairs – has been good to those of us who live privileged lives here in Canada, and if you are watching on a screen somewhere other than Canada, then believe me you too are privileged. Our wealth makes it possible to take time out in our day, to come here, or to turn on a screen, and spend some time contemplating that which is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. The luxuries we enjoy, afford us the time, the space, the tools, and the company of like-minded individuals to explore the MYSTERY with. We are all richly blessed.

Blessed enough to have the wear-with-all to maintain the status quo longer than the vast majority of our siblings on this planet will be able to. Today, lots of privileged people, just like us, all over the world, will gather like us to listen to the Gospel reading which is proclaimed on this the Fifth Sunday of Easter, which comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John, who writes:

“Once Judas left, Jesus said, “Now is the Chosen One glorified and God is glorified as well. If God has been glorified, God will in turn glorify the Chosen One and will do so very soon. My little children, I won’t be with you much longer. You’ll look for me, but what I said to the Temple authorities, I say to you: where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment:   Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples:  that you truly love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, Judas has just left the room, and we all know what that means, Jesus is about to be betrayed, the status quo will not hold. Jesus is about to be executed by the forces of empire. Jesus is a smart guy. He knows full well that the status quo will not hold. Jesus knows he is going to die. He tells the people he loves, “where I am going, you cannot come.”No amount of tinkering with adaptations will suffice. Jesus proposes total transformation. “I give you a new commandment:   Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples:  that you truly love one another.”

Love one another. It sounds too simple to our ears. Love one another. We have prettied love up, with hearts and flowers, for so long that we have forgotten the power of LOVE to transform everything. In the recesses of our imagination, we piece together the story of what LOVE looked like for the followers of Jesus, as if it were some fluffy-cloud world in which they lived. We imagine that it was easy for them. In our mind’s eye we see those happy-clappy christians, smiling as if they haven’t a care in the world, welcoming strangers, and being LOVE and it is all so peaceful, so beautiful, so groovy, with all those hearts and flowers, who wouldn’t be able to just peace out, man. “LOVE one another” doesn’t seem to measure up somehow at least not the hearts and flowers kind of love, the impotent, easy, lovin of we privileged few; the kind of love which demands adaption without transformation.

This cannot be what a man on his way to his execution was calling for. Jesus spent his life teaching people about the kind of LOVE which is beyond the hearts and flowers pretty love, we privileged few are fond of. Cornel West describes this kind of LOVE as JUSTICE, when he says that, “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public.” Justice is what makes the LOVE which Jesus commands transformative. Justice transforms and without justice we cannot be the LOVE humanity needs us to be in order to transform the status quo into a Way of being which is life-giving.

Now for those of you, who aren’t convinced that talk of LOVE can save us, who’d rather fight facts with facts, well let’s take a long hard look at the status quo: This week, I’ve been devouring a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called, The Ministry for the Future. The novel takes its name from an international agency set up by the Paris Agreement to concern itself with the people of the future.

The book is laced with facts about the status quo. Stanley Robinson writes this:“Possibly some of the richest two percent of the world’s population have decided to give up on the pretense that “progress” or “development” or “prosperity” can be achieved for all eight billion of the world’s people. For quite a long time, a century or two, this “prosperity for all” goal had been the line taken; that although there was inequality now, if everyone just stuck to the program and did not rock the boat, the rising tide would eventually float even the most high-and-dry among them.

But early in the twenty-first century it became clear that the planet was incapable of sustaining everyone alive at Western levels, and at that point the richest pulled away into their fortress mansions, bought the governments or disabled them from action against them, and bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized better time, which really came down to just the remainder of their lives, and perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling optimistic—beyond that, après moi le deluge.

A rational response to an intractable problem. But not really. There was scientifically supported evidence to show that if the Earth’s available resources were divided up equally among all eight billion humans, everyone would be fine. They would all be at adequacy, and the scientific evidence very robustly supported the contention that people living at adequacy, and confident they would stay there (a crucial point), were healthier and thus happier than rich people. So the upshot of that equal division would be an improvement for all.

Rich people would often snort at this last study, then go off and lose sleep over their bodyguards, tax lawyers, legal risks—children crazy with arrogance, love not at all fungible—over-eating and over-indulgence generally, resulting health problems, ennui and existential angst—in short, an insomniac face plant into the realization that science was once again right, that money couldn’t buy health or love or happiness.

Although it has to be added that a reliable sufficiency of money is indeed necessary to scaffold the possibility of those good things. The happy medium, the Goldilocks zone in terms of personal income, according to sociological analyses, seemed to rest at around 100,000 US dollars a year, or about the same amount of money that most working scientists made, which was a little suspicious in several senses, but there it stood: data. And one can run the math.

The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 wats of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. The society’s members then tried living on that amount of electricity to see what it was like: they found it was by no means a form of suffering; it was even reported to feel more stylish and meaningful to those who undertook the experiment.

So, is there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training peopled and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough and everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education.

Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things (I just listed) and your children will have them too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security.If one percent of the humans alive controlled everyone’s work, and took far more than their share of the benefits of that work, while also blocking the project of equality and sustainability however they could, that project would become more difficult. This would go without saying, except it needs to be said. To be clear, concluding in brief: there is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which on one can rise. Enough is as good as a feast—or better. Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader.”

I am struck by the way in which Stanley Robinson lays out the facts, transforming our perceptions of the status quo, into a vision of reality which sounds so much like, the basileia ton theon, the kin-dom of GOD which Jesus taught a new kind of status quo in which everyone has enough. This basilea of DIVINITY, this way of being LOVE in the world, is not the kind of justice which can be achieved by merely adapting, this kind of justice requires transformation. We have been richly blessed. By we, I do not mean, we privileged few. The Earth’s blessings are more than enough for everyone.Today, here and now, LOVing one another, requires the kind of justice which is transformative.

Listen again to the transformative cry for justice: “I give you a new commandment:  Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples:  that you truly love one another.” We, my friends, we have been richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Let us be transformed. Let us be justice, so that all may know in us, the LOVE which transformative.

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Tabitha! Arise! LOVE DIVINELY Intertwined!

Sure, when you are blessed to have a Mom who is from Belfast, it is almost impossible to be a literalist…so it t’is. Like people everywhere, people who’re from Belfast, have their own way of speaking the Queen’s English…so they do. An the way they talk’s enough ta make ya think twice before you’d ever make the mistake of takin the written word literally. Sure it twas m’ Belfast Mommy, who prepared me well to make a living searching for the more than literal meaning of a story…so it was.  For if I was to take the words in the story of the resurrection of Tabitha literally, I can hear my Mom saying, “Ach away and give your head a shake, catch yourself on, you wee melter.”

Let me break that down for you. “Ach away.”  Now you might guess that “ach away” means “go away”, or you might confuse “ach away” with the American “get otta here” and ye’d be close, but no cigar, for “ach away” means just the same as another Belfast phrase, “come here, wait’ll a tell ya. That’s right in Belfast, “come here wait’ll a tell ya” and “ach away” mean the same thing.

“Ach away and give your head a shake, catch yourself on you wee melter.” Well now, why don’t we give the second part of this a go, literally:  “give your head a shake.”  Go on. I mean it, “give your head a shake.” Well, all you who actually gave your head a shake, you might actually be a literalist because you see when my Belfast Mom, says, “give your head a shake” what she actually means is, well how shall I put this, 

Canadian’s might use a very common Anglo-Saxon curse word in front of the word off, in this case, one of those words that would have prompted me Mom to send me for a bar of soap. I’ll just have to trust that you get my meaning, cause I’m not going to use the Canadian equivalent, not in church…and so. So, what about the next one, “catch yourself on”. Anybody know how to take that one literally? No you can’t actually catch yourself on, so even if you wanted to you can’t take that one literally… so ya can’t. Catch yourself on simply means, wise up…so it does.

Ok we’re almost there, “Ach away and give your head a shake, catch yourself on you wee melter.”Come ere, and blankety blank yourself, wise up, “you wee melter” any ideas? I’ll give you a hint “wee” in Belfast can mean anything at all, and nothing in particular. But “melter”, well you don’t wanna be called a “melter”. Melter simply means that you are annoying…so it does.  So, when I tell you that words, especially words which people have bothered to put down on the page, believe me when I tell ya, words have a more-than-literal meaning… so they do.

Sadly, there are more than a few we melters who insist upon scundering me to no end…so the do. Scunder, scundering, one of my favourite Belfast ways of saying that to take the words of any story literally is just plain scundering…so it tis. That is to say depressing. Sure tis so depressing when people settle for the literal meaning of the words, so, ach away and give your heads a shake, catch yourselves on and don’t be wee melters, because I’m about to read you a Gospel story, in which we are about to discover, the more-than-literal meaning of the story of the Resurrection of Tabitha or is it Dorcas?

Our Gospel comes to us from the ninth chapter of  Book of Acts, which scholars tell us was written by the same anonymous gospel-story-teller who wrote the book we know as Luke. 

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple, a woman named Tabitha—“Dorcas,” in Greek—who never tired of doing kind things or giving to charity. About this time she grew ill and died. They washed her body and laid her out in an upstairs room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter with the urgent request, “Please come over to us without delay.”  Peter set out with them as they asked. Upon his arrival, they took him upstairs to the room. All the townswomen who had been widowed stood beside him weeping, and showed him the various garments Dorcas had made when she was still with them. Peter first made every on go outside, then knelt down and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, stand up.” She opened her eyes, then looked at Peter and sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her to her feet. The next thing he did was to call in those who were believers—including the widows—to show them that she was alive. This became known all over Joppa and, because of it, many came to believe in Jesus Christ. Peter remained awhile in Joppa, staying with Simon, a leather tanner.” (Acts 9:36-43)

An so, there you have it, the Gospel according to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The miraculous story of how the Apostle Peter raised a disciple named Tabitha from the dead. You all know that when someone is dead, that’s it, they are dead. Well in Belfast dead doesn’t mean what you think it means. If my Mommy were to say something is “dead on” she’d be telling me that “it’s not a problem.” And being dead isn’t a problem in this story because Tabitha is about to stand up. Ah, but give your head a shake because this story was written in Greek and the word for stand up, sit up, rise up, is the very same as the word we translate as “resurrection.”

And you can catch yourself on, if you’re saying to yourself, “there’s about as much chance of a person standing up after they’ve actually been dead as there is of little green men from outer space landing on Wayne Drive. Or, maybe you’re the generous type and so you say, “don’t be too hasty, it could happen if the person wasn’t really dead. I mean maybe Tabitha’s friends got it wrong and she just appeared to be dead.” Catch yourself on, the story says that Tabitha died, then her friends washed her body and laid her out in an upper room. Then since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter who was in Lydda and they asked Peter to head back to Lydda which was about 10 miles away.

That’s a 20-mile round trip on foot with a walking speed of about 3 miles per hour, it would take at least 7 hours. She was definitely dead the situation was anything but dead on. According to the story Peter sends everyone out of the room, knelt down and prayed and then said, “Tabitha, stand up.” And she did just that. The story of the raising of Tabitha is one of those stories which we wouldn’t believe for a second if it wasn’t in the Bible. I suspect that when it comes to stories from the Bible, most of us don’t really believe that they happened exactly the way the Bible says they happened. Or do we? Stories like the raising of Tabitha make many of us uncomfortable. Because it’s stories like this which make the bible so difficult to deal with.

According to New Testament scholar Marcus Borg: “In the last half century, more Christians have left the church because of the Bible than for any other single reason.” Biblical literalism which despite popular opinion is actually a modern and not an ancient approach to scripture, has boxed many 21st century minds into a proverbial corner from which the only escape is to reject the Bible as a source of wisdom. From the very beginning of Christianity, the Scriptures have been understood as a complex mix of historical, metaphorical, allegorical, and symbolic writings which reflect the relationship between the CREATOR and Creation. It is only in about the past 200 years or so that people begin insisting that the bible must be accepted as the literal factual historical truth.

The stories about Creation found in the book of Genesis are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sinking the beliefs of the faithful. Unable to check their brains at the door, many Christians have simply refused to cross the threshold of the church and disengaged from even trying to relate to texts that appear locked in a mindset that is trapped in a bygone age. The predominance of Biblical literalism has left so many Christians desperately clinging to the Bible fearing that if one single portion of the text is determined not to be the literal factual truth then the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and their faith will be lost. 

And so, the arguments about the truth of the Bible have come to overshadow the wisdom which is to be found in the sacred texts and in some stories positively bulges between the lines of the scared pages. Sadly, the preoccupation with the literal factual truth of scripture has become a distraction which has kept too many people from exploring the more-than-literal truth and the wonders of metaphor, allegory, and symbol have been lost to all but the brave few who dare to challenge the lopsided literal approach to truth. So, let’s just give our heads a shake, wise up and start from the beginning.

This story begins in Joppa, which today is known as the cosmopolitan city of Jaffa. Jaffa is a city on the coast of the Mediterranean and when the Acts of the Apostles was written at the turn of the first century, Joppa was every bit as cosmopolitan as Jaffa is today. A first century audience would have heard in the name Joppa a clue to alert them to the fact that the followers of Jesus were venturing beyond the predominately Jewish area of the Roman Empire. In Joppa, the followers of the way would encounter a very gentile society where questions about mixing with non-jews were similar to the questions Catholics and Protestants used to raise in Belfast.

Joppa was the city from which the prophet Jonah set out for Tarshish on his ill-fated journey to escape the will of the ALMIGHTY. And for this reason alone the name Joppa conjured up images of a city on the outer edge or the boundary of the Jewish faith. But I’ll return to the notion of boundaries in a moment.  

Now, I’ve told you before that whenever you are dealing with an ancient text, names matter. Just as surely as the name Adam literally means Earth, or Abraham literally means father of nations, or Jesus which comes from Joshua literally means YAHWEH, names are important. YAHWEH which literally means I AM WHO I AM. Everything is in the name. And just in case you forget to pay attention to names,  the writer of Acts spells it out for you in both Aramaic and in Greek when he introduces the woman named Tabitha which he tells us is Dorcas in Greek— so let me tell you that Dorcas literally means gazelle.

Gazelle a word that literally comes from an older Arabic word for “LOVE” is the name given to that splendid creature we sometimes call an antelope. Gazelles are very common in the Middle East especially the variety which has become known as the dorcas antelope, which literally means “the love, love.” But wait it gets even better. Because the writer of the book of Acts would have known just as well as his listeners that the mere mention of a dorcas antelope would have conjured up images of religious controversy. 

Gazelles you see inhabited a strange sort of boundary when it came to Jewish dietary laws. A gazelle is four-footed cloven-hoofed animal which chews its cud. This puts the gazelle in a category known as “clean” which means that it could be eaten. But because the gazelle is not a domesticated animal, it could be hunted and eaten, but it could not be sacrificed in the temple. Wild animals could not be eaten in connection with any religious rite. The gazelle which inhabits the land on the boundaries of the cities and towns, living on the fringes of civilization was hunted for its meat, and although it was deemed clean and therefore it was permissible to eat a gazelle, a gazelle is also wild and so it needed to be kept well away from any religious ceremony, because a gazelle could not be consecrated. 

Now, I realize that I’m running the risk of losing some of you with too much detail, so let me give you a clue here. The early followers of the Jesus were in a quandary as to how to deal with gentile converts. Could they sit down to a meal and eat with the uncircumcised and risk ritual impurity? Could they let the uncircumcised come to the table? In addition to bringing up issues of ritual purity the gazelle would have also provoked images of something, or should I say someone far more crucial to the Jewish listener. I told you before that the word gazelle literally means LOVE.

So, who else was called LOVE? GOD is LOVE right? Well in Jewish art the gazelle is used as a symbol for YAHWEH. But even more interesting than that, the gazelle was also used to illustrate the life-giving aspect of YAHWEH. In a culture where the majority could not read, pictures were used to represent the details of the faith and the life-giving aspect of YAHWEH which is LOVE were depicted by images of the gazelle. Now there’s so much more that I could tell you about the symbol of the Gazelle, but I simply don’t have time and yees’d be tell me to catch me-self on, or worse to give my head a shake.

Suffice it to say that the writer of Acts was determined that his listeners did not fail to see that, and I quote, that “Tabitha—that is Dorcas in Greek” is named for YAWHEH who also inhabits the boundaries, the margins of the Jewish faith. By giving the name in both Aramaic and in Greek the author practically hits us over the head with the fact that this woman symbolizes something far greater than we can even begin to imagine, for she bears the name of YAHWEH who is LOVE.

So, if you need to limit her to being an actual living breathing human being who, if you traveled back in time you could take a picture of her and say “here she is,” then you are going to limit yourself to the literal truth, and you will fail to see the more-than-literal truth that this story is trying to tell us and that my friends is scundering. The author has set his listeners up for a story which expresses more than words can tell. Need I remind you that the literal meaning of metaphor is that which is “beyond words”. Meta means beyond and phor means word, metaphor means to carry beyond the words.

So listen up, you are about to hear a metaphor about Joppa a town on the boundaries of Judaism where Jews and Gentiles mix and the lead character in the story is Tabitha—Dorcas in Greek who is by her very name both Aramaic and Greek the product of the mixing of races and religions, whose very name represents a creature which inhabits the fringes of civilization, and is by nature both clean and unclean, acceptable and yet not acceptable, and whose very name symbolizes YAHWEH who is LOVE.

Clearly this story is so much more-than-literal. So let me give you one more fact to throw into the mix. The antelope has horns and in the Middle East the Dorcas Antelope uses its horns to dig for water. Water is the stuff of life. Indeed, the early followers of Jesus referred to Jesus himself as the Living Water.

Tabitha—Dorcas in Greek is described as a disciple who never tired of doing kind things or giving to charity. She represents the gentile convert to faith in the Jesus’ Way of being, who at the time inhabited the fringes of the early communities of Followers of the Way. At the very time when Jesus’ Jewish followers were debating the inclusion of the gentiles, Peter is called upon to raise this gentile convert from the dead. To demonstrate her value to the community the townswomen showed Peter (whose name literally means rock, indicating that he is the rock who will serve as the foundation of the community). The women, show Peter, the fruits of Tabitha’s faith. In the various garments which she wove together, Peter sees all the evidence he needs, to weave gentiles and Jews, women and me, slaves and free together.

And so, he tells everyone to go outside, then Peter kneels down and prays. Turning to the body, Peter said, “Tabitha, stand up.” And here the first hearers of this story would have heard the echo of an earlier story in which Jesus uttered the words, “Tilitha cum”. Which actually means “little girl stand up.” And just in case you missed it, the literal meaning of the word which gets translated into English as resurrection also quite literally means “stand up”.

And low and behold Tabitha opens her eyes. Opening her eyes, they would have been catching themselves back in the day, because they all knew that gazelles with eyes open…mean life!  DIVINE life! With her eyes open, our text says Tabitha “sat up” but in the Greek the word is the same for as the word for “stand up” or resurrect. DIVINE life is restored to a gentile convert. This story is not about the resurrection of an individual. It is about much more than that. It is about the gift of DIVINE life being extended beyond the boundaries of Jewish religious life.

And just in case you still don’t get it, the writer of Acts tells you in the last line of today’s lesson that, “Peter remained awhile in Joppa, staying with Simon, a leather tanner.” Now in case you missed it, Simon was Peter’s name before Jesus gave him the name Peter. And if you still don’t get it, this Simon is described as a leather tanner. Now every self-respecting Jew would have known that contact with a leather tanner makes you ritually impure because tanning leather requires contact with corpses which is a definite no no if you’re an observant Jew.

And so, the writer of Acts sets up his listeners for the next story in Acts, which describes Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and Peter’s dilemma about what the followers of Jesus can and cannot eat, and who they can and cannot eat with. And just in case you’ve forgotten Peter’s vision, suffice it to say that LOVE wins out in the end. LOVE, antelope, gazelle, Tabitha, Dorcas, YAHWEH are all intimately and DIVINELY intertwined to reveal the very nature of our CREATOR who breaks all our boundaries so that we can dwell in LOVE with all our neighbours.

That dear friends is the more-than-literal truth about the raising of Tabitha. As for me, I don’t know if this story actually happened this way, but I do know that this story is absolutely true! God is LOVE and LOVE traverses and triumphs over boundaries. So, catch yourself on, wise up, you wee loves and be the LOVE your mothers raised you up to be.

I am indebted to Rick Strelan’s excellent essay “Tabitha: The GAZELL of Joppa” published in 2019 in the Biblical Theology Bulletin: Journal of Bible and Culture – follow this link for more details:  here

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Of all the things I have missed these past two years, Communion didn’t even make the list.

These past two years have been challenging in many ways. Today, I’d like to focus on a challenge which in the grand scheme of things, may seem insignificant. For some of us who have chosen to gather in community to celebrate the MYSTERY of the LOVE we call GOD around Word and Sacrament, the challenge of participating in the Sacraments has brought with it some interesting revelations. Technology helped us with the Word part of worship.
Indeed, congregations all over the planet have managed in various ways to traverse the steep learning curve of technology which has empowered them to proclaim the WORD in worship in new and innovative ways. And while two years of worshipping primarily online has provided some interesting revelations about the way in which we experience the WORD in worship,

I’d like us to turn our attention both here in this sanctuary and indeed, out there among those of you participating online, to some of the disturbing revelations about the Sacrament of the Eucharist which have come to light after two long years of abstaining from the Eucharist. I say abstaining because for two years during which we were only able to worship in-person for a brief period last fall, we didn’t celebrate Communion. Even when we returned to in-person gatherings, on March 20th, we didn’t resume the celebration until just 3 weeks ago on Easter Sunday. So, in two years, we, here at Holy Cross have only celebrated Holy Communion twice.

Speaking only for myself, I have to confess that while I desperately missed gathering in-person to worship with this congregation in the flesh, I really didn’t miss celebrating Communion. I know that many worship leaders made different decisions during lockdown and discovered various ways to celebrate Communion over the internet. While we briefly considered using those individual plastic sealed containers of a sip of wine and a thin wafer, the idea of all that packaging, left much to be desired.

And yes, I have absolutely no difficulty understanding that the SPIRIT is not bound to the physicality of our sanctuaries and indeed can work wonders over the internet, I must confess that I just wasn’t feeling the need to give it a try. It wasn’t until Easter Sunday and the challenges of celebrating Communion safely with all the COVID protocols in place, that my own faith in the power of Communion was severely challenged. So, as word reached me this week, of several of our members testing positive for COVID, even though I know that they were infected elsewhere, and that over time we are all going to be infected by OMICRON, I had to ask myself and eventually our Worship Team, should we continue to take the risk of celebrating Communion.

It wasn’t until I allowed myself, to actually listen and hear the words repeated in the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s story of Jesus celebrating breakfast with some of his followers. Writing some seventy years after the life of Jesus, our gospel-storyteller sets a scene in which Jesus, repeats words which speak to me, challenging me to actually taste and see the goodness of the LOVE we call GOD. When speaking to Peter, you remember Peter the friend of Jesus who, when push came to shove, when it really mattered, Peter is the one who betrayed Jesus not once but three times, Jesus sits Peter down by the lake, and not once, not twice, but three times, Jesus puts Peter in his place. In my sacred imagination, I can see the two friends sitting on the lakeshore, and I like to think that Jesus invited the friend he called his Rock to sit upon a rock, and ask not once, not twice, but three times, “Peter, I thought you were my rock, but all things considered, I have to ask, do you love me?” I can see Peter visibly shrivel sitting there remembering what he did and didn’t do or say. “Yes Rabbi, you know I’m your friend.”

It is Jesus’ response which speaks to me now, “Then feed my lambs.” In my sacred imagination, I’m right there on the adjacent rock shrivelling along with Peter, when Jesus asks again, “Do you love me.” I hear the words, “Care for my sheep.” and again I hear Jesus insist, “Feed my sheep.” Yes, I know it’s my imagination speaking to me. Yes, I know I’ve entered the realm of metaphor. You are neither lambs nor sheep and I’m certainly not Peter, and all the New Testament scholars I love and respect, insist that the historical Jesus didn’t actually say these words. Like Peter, I have all sorts of reasons for denying Jesus. Not the least of which is the fact that this world-wide pandemic ain’t over just yet, and I, we together, we have a duty of care, and feeding people remains a risky endeavour.

So, on Friday, I met with our Worship Team and we talked about the challenges of safely celebrating Communion. It was a good conversation, a conversation when I learned that I am not alone in wondering why? So, we tweaked our protocols, and I was encouraged to consider celebrating Communion in one kind, that is to say distributing the bread but not the wine, because passing wine around brings with it safety challenges, and after all, breaking bread together ought to be enough for us to experience the visible tangible means of GOD’s grace. So, we decided, loosely that we would remind one another that the word companionship comes from the French pan for bread, com means with, companions are those who break bread with one another. I confess that I was prepared to leave it at that.

But in my sacred imagination, I kept hearing Jesus say, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Not just once, not just twice, not just three times, on and on it went, until finally I crumbled.
As the solid rock of my avoidance crumbled, I finally began to see what I didn’t want it to be revealed.
So, let me confess to you my beloved community, both here in the room and online, the truth is of all the things I have missed these past two years, Communion doesn’t even make the list. Once the truth was revealed to me, after I dried my tears, I had to ask myself, “Why?”. Why haven’t I missed Communion?

Over the course of my life in the Church, the Sacrament of Communion has fed and nourished me in ways I can’t even begin to count. Yes, my understanding of the Sacraments has changed over the years.
Long gone are the notions of Communion as a sombre penitential act of remembering Jesus as a sacrifice for sin. Over the years, I came to understand our Lutheran theology about celebrating the sacrament as a visible, tangible means of GOD’s grace. Not a blood sacrifice but a celebration of the gifts of bread and wine with the understanding that the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and under the visible and the tangible elements so that we can taste and see that our GOD is good.

Over the decades, of celebrating the Eucharist, which literally means “thanksgiving”, I have been nourished, grounded, and sustained by the companionship created over this meal. Yes, as my theology changed, and I gave up the notion that Jesus was a human sacrifice for sin, rejected the idea that humans were once perfect and fell from grace, and indeed fixed my gaze beyond the notion of a personified deity, the words of the sacrament challenged me to find new ways to express our place in the Cosmos. The reality of the DIVINE MYSTERY responsible for setting the Cosmos into being, juxtaposed to a little piece of bread and a tiny taste of wine, did indeed challenge my sacred imagination as I struggled to enter ancient metaphors so that I could taste and see that the MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, is indeed good. Let’s just say, our little ritual Communions began to feel all too puny a celebration to carry all that.

The last two weeks of trying to celebrate communion with COVID protocols have left me hungry for better ways to taste and see that the MYSTERY is indeed good. So, with Jesus’ words ringing in my sacred imagination, I did what I usually do when faced with a problem which I cannot resolve. I tried to read my way out of the reality that I haven’t really missed communion. Surely, I’m not the only one, who is struggling with Communion. Surely, somebody wiser than I am, has seen something which I cannot see. So, I scoured my bookshelves, until I came upon a book which actually arrived there just before the first lockdown. At the time, Communion was the last thing on my mind, we had bigger problems to be unravelled. The book is entitled, “Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century” – by R. Alan Street. It sounds very dry. But Jesus kept going on and on in my head, so for the love of Jesus, I began to read, if only to drown out my doubts, screaming in my head, in the guise of Jesus. I reminded myself that those first century followers of Jesus had so much more to worry about and they managed to be nourished by Communion. I might as well learn how they fed one another.

Well, right here on page one, in the very first sentence, I was hooked, when I read this: “…the Lord’s Supper of the first-century CE was an anti-imperial praxis. Whenever early Christians met for a communal meal they saw themselves as participating in subversive non-violent acts against the Roman Empire.” What! Holy Communion, the Eucharist as a subversive non-violent act against the Roman Empire? Well, let me tell you I have devoured this book and it has fed me, even as it has created a hunger in me for more. Pass the bread. More wine please, and while you’re at it send the fish my way, I’m starving, starving I say, famished for some of that old-time religion. But don’t give me any of your comfort food. Just some basic bread, wine, and if you happen to have it some fish would be fine too.

Those first century followers of the Way certainly knew how to throw a supper. Not even our church potlucks come close to the resistance they served up back in the day. Do me a favour, open your historical imaginations, and travel back in time with me to the first century. We only have time for a brief visit. But trust me we will be going back for more and more in the weeks ahead.

So, here we are let’s say at the end of the first century. Jesus was executed by the state as a criminal almost 70 years ago, that’s about 3 and a half generations ago. Much has been said about Jesus. Not much has been written, besides you probably can’t read anyway. The Romans have been making your life a misery and you liked what you’ve heard about Jesus. You’ve joined the struggle and you’re a part of the resistance to the domination of the Empire. It isn’t easy to risk your life but you can’t see any other way to resist than to through your lot in with the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. To keep your strength up you get together, a crime in itself, but you get together with the members of the resistance to participate in a subversive non-violent act against Rome. Rome dominated and kept its citizens in line by any means possible. Those didn’t just include tyranny, brutality, terrorism, and civic events designed to mold their citizens into acquiescence.

One of these civic events was the Roman banquet. Roman banquets were designed to do more than feed the body, they followed a formula which enforced patronage, together with a strict hierarchy. They would begin with a meal, at which only those invited could attend, and were seated according to their place in the Roman power structure. Slaves and women had no place around the table. The meal lasted about ninety minutes, followed by a libation. A libation was a kind of toasting. Wine was poured out for the gods, of which CAESAR was supreme. With raised chalices those in attendance would proclaim, CAESAR IS GOD! The toasting was followed by a three hour symposium. The symposium included storytelling, mostly about the triumphs of Rome, entertainment, music, sport, magic, and jokes. All designed to uphold the values of Rome and solidify one’s place in the Empire.

Now follow me to the home of a prominent follower of the Way, where we are getting together to encourage one another to resist the forces of the Empire. We’re going to take that Roman banquet idea and turn it upside down. First, we shall eat our fill. Remember food insecurity was rampant at this time, people were starving. We are going to pool our resources and everyone regardless of class or wealth is going to eat their fill. Forget about whether you are a slave or free, Jew or a Gentile, man or woman, you have a place at the table, we are all equal at this mean.

Oh, and there will be a libation. But you don’t have to worry about toasting CAESAR! We will raise our chalice and proclaim that Jesus and not Caesar is our GOD! And yes there will be a symposium. Stories will be told. We will sing songs of protest. We will hear from our WISDOMKEEPERS and we will dream together, strategize together, and we will be nourished for the struggle which lies before us.

Now, move from your historical imagination and come with me into your prophetic imagination, the place where we dream dreams about what can be. Imagine if you will, a banquet in which we gather to resist the forces of the empire in which we are hopelessly entwined. A banquet where everyone is equal, everyone has a place at the table. A banquet where the hungry are fed with good food. Yes there will be a libation. We will raise our glasses to proclaim that LOVE is our GOD. We will drink a toast to justice as the way to peace! We will declare that the Earth is our home and not our property. We will toast justice seekers and peace makers and not powerbrokers and warriors. We will declare that generosity and not greed is our way. We will toast all that makes us ONE.

And then the symposium will begin. Stories will be told of resisting our lesser angels, songs of protest will be sung, our WISDOMKEEPERS will reveal truth as they teach us to reverence Creation, care for the Earth and feed everyone who hungers. There will be music. There will be dancing. There will be art and beauty and wonder. We shall all taste and see that the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being is GOOD.

Suddenly, my desire to resist is creating hunger-pains, and once again I need to taste and see. I hope that as we continue to follow Jesus Way of being in the world, we can once again learn to taste and see, for life is so very GOOD. I pray that our feasting together will nourish us in our struggle to resist, so that all may know the LOVE which is DIVINITY.

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When It Comes to Resurrection, We Look For What We Have Been Conditioned to See! – John 20:19-31

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Tis the season of “resurrection.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned after nearly a quarter of a century of preaching on the subject of resurrection, it’s that when it comes to resurrection, we look for what we have been conditioned to see. Just like Thomas, who had the good sense to doubt the resurrection, most of us have been conditioned to look for the physical resuscitation of a corpse; a bonified, pardon the pun, a bonified, actual physical body, complete with wounds and all. Sadly, far too many of us have been conditioned to look for what we have been conditioned to see instead of what is all around us, if we could only see beyond our conditioning. Perhaps a story will help us move beyond what we think we’re looking for to actual miracle of resurrection. I’ve told this story before, but then haven’t we all heard the story of Thomas, every Easter.  The story I want to tell you comes from the Irish author Frank McCourt’s autobiography entitled “Tis”.  McCourt was a schoolteacher, and he tells this story about a particular class in which he was challenging the assumptions of his young students. The story begins with a familiar nursery rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the king’s horses and all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  McCourt asks his young students to tell him what’s going on in this nursery rhyme.  The hands are up like a shot.

“Well, like, this egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics, you know you can never put an egg back together again. I mean, like, it’s common sense. McCourt asks: “Who says it’s an egg?”

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

“Where does it say it’s an egg?”

McCourt’s story forces me to confess that for most of my life, I believed that Humpty Dumpty was an egg; a magical egg to be sure, with a face, and legs, and hands, a jolly fellow, but an egg none the less. The truth is Humpty Dumpty was not an egg. But let’s just leave Humpty Dumpty up there on the wall for a while, and shift our focus to today’s story, from the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John.

For a very long time, the story of Jesus’ appearance in the upper room where his followers were huddled in fear, conditioned me to focus my attention upon Jesus’ wounds, Thomas’ doubts, and back again to Jesus’ wounds, and then to Thomas’ belief. Occasionally, I was able to hear Jesus say, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  For far too long, my conditioning caused me to see this story as the story about casting away doubts and believing in Jesus’ physical resurrection.  But there is more going on in this story than just the literal words on the page. However, in order to see more we must try to see our longing for the physical resuscitation of a corpse as the product of generations of conditioning designed to have us believe in a certain way, that is to say to believe in spite of our doubts.

Today, it is Easter Sunday for orthodox Christians. In both Ukraine and in Russia a wounded CHRIST is struggling to rise from death. Today, it doesn’t matter how CHRIST rose nearly 2000 years ago. Today, it only matters that CHRIST rises in us, rises in the people of Ukraine, rises in the people of Russia, rises in people wherever they are, who long for peace. Today, during this season of Easter, our doubts about the possibility of resurrection are not as important as our doubts about the possibility of peace. Today, in the midst of colossal violence, it is long past time for us to see beyond our conditioning about what to believe about resurrection so that we can focus our attention on practicing resurrection.

This story with which we have been conditioned to look at the issues of our doubts about the resurrection itself, was written in the midst of colossal violence, violence which had escalated in the 70 years since the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. This story was written by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John some 70 years after Jesus’ death, some twenty years after the Jewish war with Rome in which the Empire destroyed the Temple, raised most of Jerusalem to the ground, and sent Jews and the followers of Jesus into exile. Our gospel-storyteller wrote his story within a deeply wounded community to provide the much need hope for their own resurrection.

According to this story, a bunch of rag-tag Jesus followers were huddled together in fear. Their beloved leader had been brutally executed by the powers that be and they were terrified that they would be next.  Paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened which gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. I believe that the anonymous gospel-storyteller wrote his story the way that he wrote to address the fears of the people of his community. According to the story, paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened that gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. It wasn’t about believing in resurrection it was about practicing resurrection. Ever since they began to practice resurrection, people have been trying to figure out exactly what may have happened. What could have changed these bumbling, terrified, betrayers, abandoners, who seemed to be always getting things wrong, into a bunch of leaders who began a movement that spread throughout the Empire within their own life-times and then based on the power of their witness, spread throughout the world and continues to nourish and sustain millions of people from generation to generation?

Now there are those that insist that it was the power of Jesus having been physically resuscitated from the dead that motivated his followers to change their lives and the lives of millions who have come after them.  But we live in the 21st century and we have access to all sorts of information that the generations who have gone before us did not.  Our friend, Dom Crossan makes the point that, “it is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”  I believe that in order to understand the power of this particular story of resurrection we must move beyond simplistic literal explanations and open ourselves to the more-than-literal symbolic – dare I say it, spiritual understanding of resurrection. It is long past time for us to move beyond arguments about a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ body.

Let me remind you that a generation before our anonymous gospel-storyteller wrote his account of Thomas’ doubts, somewhere around the years 50 to 53,  the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian followers of the Way, that such questions about physical resurrection were in fact “stupid”. That Paul didn’t much care about a physical resurrection ought to give us the courage to see the notion of a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse for the late first century development that it was.

So, let us forget about what we have been conditioned to look for in order to see what needs to be seen, today in the midst the violence in which our world seems incapable of forsaking. What can we see in the wounds which are depicted in this story? Jesus suffered the worst of his world’s violence.

Yet the story of Jesus’ Way of being in the world continued to be present among those who sought to live as Jesus lived. Death, not even violent death at the hands of a powerful empire could keep Jesus’ commitment to compassionate resistance to the forces of empire from those who longed for the Shalom of the Reign of GOD which Jesus proclaimed with his life.

The basileia ton THEON, the Empire of GOD, the GOD which Jesus knew as ABBA, a LOVING PARENT, the basileia ton THEON, the Reign of the GOD that IS LOVE, where justice and not violence creates the kind of peace in which everyone has enough to live the abundant life Jesus insisted he came to give to the world. “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.”

Abundant life, where everyone has enough to live fully, love extravagantly, and be all that they are created to be, this is the basileia ton THEON, the REIGN of DIVINITY, the Empire of the LOVE which is GOD.

Abundant life is the Shalom we long for, for without justice there can be no peace, and without peace there can only be abundance for some and not for all. Can we now look beyond what we have been conditioned to see, and see the wounded CHRIST standing in the middle of fearful followers, a vision of the impact of violence, saying, SHALOM, “Peace be with you!” Can we look beyond what we have been conditioned to see the ONE wounded by violence bidding us peace?

Yes, I have my doubts about the possibility of SHALOM, especially now as we peer into the abyss which are the horrors of Ukraine, Syria, Myanmar, and countless other places where injustice has bred violence the likes of which seems unstoppable. I don’t much care about silly arguments about Jesus rising from the dead unless those arguments lead us to a place where we ourselves can claim the power of resurrection to create a hunger for SHALOM, a passion for the justice which creates peace. Just like the people in the story, I want to be transformed by the story of Jesus; transformed from someone who cowers in a place of safety, filled with fear and doubts, into a powerful member of a movement to create peace through justice.

We will never know what actually happened two thousand years ago, we will always. But we do know that whatever happened it transformed a people hiding from the endless violence into courageous followers of a Way of Being in the world which death could not destroy.

When I read the accounts of those early followers of the way who abandoned the tomb of the upper-room to gather together to build communities of compassion it is clear to me who was raised up by images of resurrection. The followers of Jesus were lifted up from a crouching or cowering position as they boldly proclaimed what they had learned from Jesus. The followers of Jesus stood up and got on with the business which was begun by Jesus. The followers of Jesus began to understand themselves in a whole new way.

The Apostle Paul wrote:  “We who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” When followers of Jesus in the first century and in the twenty-first century talk about the resurrection of Christ, we are proclaiming that death did not have the last word in the Jesus story because his followers were raised up to be his body right here, right now. When we say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead, we are proclaiming that no matter how dead someone may appear to be, no matter how dead we may feel, new life is always possible. Practicing resurrection begins when we huddle together refusing to let our fears entomb us. Practicing resurrection happens when we gather to build communities of compassion. Resurrection is not a solitary endeavor. Practicing resurrection requires that we gather sharing our gifts, talents and treasure for the good of all. Practicing resurrection happens when we empower one another to rise.Practicing resurrection happens when we build communities of compassion that live fully, love extravagantly, and empower people to be all that they were created to be.

So, fellow followers of the Way, if Humpty Dumpty wasn’t an egg what was she? Anybody??? What we all missed is what was there all along, Humpty Dumpty you see was a cannon. The nursery rhyme dates back to the English civil war, when the Royalists were being attacked by the Parliamentarians, they put their faith in the size of their cannons, one of them was so large it went by the name Humpty Dumpty, which at the time was a term used to describe fat rich guys. The Royalists placed their biggest cannon on the wall which surrounded the city of Colchester. Somehow the Parliamentarians managed with their smaller cannons or battering rams to shatter the wall and the cannon, Humpty Dumpty came tumbling down, shattered, irreparable. And all the kings horses and all the kings men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Violence, how long will we put our faith in violence? The Parliamentarians victory may have looked like the way to peace, but it was no peace at all, it was as Dom Crossan puts it, just a lull in the violence. History should have taught us by now that that justice and not violence is the way to peace.

Resurrection is not about the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Resurrection is about the wisdom and the courage to proclaim with our lives that Jesus’ vision of the Reign of LOVE continues to rise in us. So, let us see the wounds inflicted by violence, and practice resurrection. Let us be resurrection by practicing resurrection, that is by resisting violence, resisting injustice, so that the Reign of LOVE ushers in the peace we long for the SHALOM which is abundant living. Peace be with you. Shalom dear ones. Shalom.

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My GOD, My GOD! When Will the Violence End?

My GOD, My GOD, why? On Good Friday, it is so difficult to know where to begin. My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? The Hebrew Psalmist’s cry ought to be enough. My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me? But on Good Friday, which is anything but Good, it is my own selfish cry, “My GOD, My GOD, WHY?” which seems like as good a place as any to begin. But then there is nothing “good” about Good Friday, not even where we begin, which is of course in agony.

So, let us not begin with the “MY” part of this plea for answers, but with the “GOD” part. “GOD” such a little word for the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of ALL this IS, WAS, and EVER MORE SHALL BE. The MYSTERY in which we live, and move, and have our BEING, the MYSTERY which has BEING in, with, through, and beyond us. The MYSTERY responsible for the creation of the Cosmos and therefore the ONE which must BE  BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also;

certainly the ONE beyond any and all words, any of us can utter. This ONE is the ONE to which when all is said and done, when the worst of all possible things happens, this is the ONE to which each of us cry, which in and of itself, make us all ONE. My GOD, My GOD, why?

And so, like his ancestors before him, and those who will follow in his wake, when the worst of all things happens to him, Jesus cries out, “My GOD, My GOD, why?” So, let the reality of the MYSTERY of our GOD, move us beyond the details articulated with mere words, so that we might catch a glimpse of the WHY of it ALL. Why death? Why not just any death, which must come to us all, but why such needless death, at the hands of ourselves, why such violent death? My GOD, My GOD, why? Why violence? Violence the word we use to describe the physical force used to cause injury, damage, or death. Violence we can define.  Violence we can know. Perhaps more importantly, violence we can feel. We can feel it when it is applied to our person and worse yet we can feel it when it rises up in us. Violence is all too familiar for violence too has the power to make us one; one in the perpetration of violence, one as we perish from violence inflicted upon us, and one in our fear of violence. Violence disturbs our peace and violence motivates our desire to become strong enough to resist the violence of others. No wonder our ancient ancestors imagined the MYSTERY responsible for Creation as super-heroes powerful enough to save them from violence. My GOD, My GOD, why?

My GOD is bigger than your GOD. My GOD’s violence can defeat your GOD’s violence. My father can beat your father. My GOD will not forsake me. And if your violence is stronger than my violence, it is not because your god is strong than MY GOD, for surely therein lies the despair which leads only to madness, the kind of madness in which we are consumed by our fears. Within our fear is where violence gestates. Surely, any defeat is not down to the power of our GOD, but rather to some offence or other we have given to our GOD, who because of such an offence our GOD has chosen to forsake us. And there you have it, our need to placate the POWER of the ONE who IS. What can we offer to placate the anger of such a ONE? What will return our god to our side, ensuring our victory? What can we mere mortals offer to make atonement with the HOLY ONE?

Questions, heaped upon questions, as one violent tragedy leads to another. Our historians, our archeologists, and our anthropologists can point to the sacrifice of humans to the gods, here, there, and everywhere. Sacrifice which literally means to make holy, “sacrem facere”. To restore to wholeness our relationship with that which is BEYOND our words. So, it is beyond the words themselves to the stories handed down from one fear-filled generation to another that we must turn with the same old question, My GOD, My GOD, why? Why have you forsaken me? us? In favour of them? Our Hebrew ancestors tell the story told to end the violence born of fear’s attempt to sacrem facere. It is a story told by the WISDOM bearers of old to put an end to human sacrifice.

Abraham the Father of nations, learned the difficult lesson of the ONE who IS BEYOND our fear, YAHWEH, the Great I AM, the ONE who will BE. It is a story which was told to put an end to human sacrifice, in which the son Isaac is spared the violent death, the making holy by the offering of a life, the spilling of blood, to placate a DIVINITY which has no need of sacrifice. But the WISDOM of moving beyond our fear, beyond our primitive attempts to placate the ULTIMATE POWER, which the most precious things we can offer, life itself, upon the altar of our fear, the WISDOM of forsaking violence as the answer, was stillborn, killed in us by the very fears which gave it birth.

So, another story is born. A story designed to turn our ways of thinking upside down. A parable if you will. The parable of Jesus. Not a parable told by Jesus. But rather the parable of Jesus. The story of a life and death, for you can’t have one without the other; the story of a life and death told to put an end to making violence holy, the end of the sacrem facere of violence.

As the story is told, over and over again, the GREAT I AM, the FATHER of FATHERS, is cast as both the recipient and the giver, indeed even as the instigator of an act so horrendous in its violence that surely will put an end to making violence holy. For even if the myth of Abraham and Isaac, a myth designed to carry the truth that violence cannot make our fear holy in order to create peace.

For the ONE who we call GOD cannot by refusing such a sacrifice convince us to put an end to human sacrifice, perhaps in the sacrifice of GOD’s own beloved son, we can see the inability of such violence to make anything HOLY. So, the parable of Jesus is told over and over again. A parable created to put an end to violence. A parable in which Jesus lives within the brutality of violence refusing to become violent while all the while pointing to the I AM as ONE who has no need of our sacrifices. For Jesus came not to participate in violence, but that we might have life and live it abundantly. Life and not death.

The choice is ours and we have made it. We choose not Jesus’ life but his death, glorifying the violence, once again we offered blood to placate our GOD. Despite Jesus’ insistence that violence is not the answer. Despite everything Jesus lived for in every act of non-violent resistance, we refused to see that for Jesus, justice is the only way to make things holy.

Justice and not violence is the only way to peace.

In glorifying the violence which killed Jesus, we cannot see the parable of Jesus; a parable designed to move us away from sacrificing human lives to violence born of fear.

Look beyond the violence to the life of Jesus and you will see a human-being struggling to move beyond the notion that violence can save us from what we fear most in life, only LOVE can do that. For if the life of Jesus teaches us anything it is that LOVE conquers fear. Jesus embodied that LOVE, insisting that, “I and the Abba, the Father, are ONE.” You and I and the LOVE we call GOD we are ONE, nothing can separate us from this LOVE, not even death.

The parable of Jesus is the story of a life which embodies LOVE, the LOVE which continues to allure us beyond our fear, beyond our violence, beyond death itself. Jesus saw a DIVINITY which was more than the sum of our fears. Jesus called us to a vision of the HOLY which invites us to forgo violence as the answer to our fear, a vision of the HOLY which offers justice and not violence as the way beyond our fears into the peace we long for.

Like all parables there is a twist, a moment when our expectations are turned upside down. Along the way, Jesus embodies LOVE, calls for justice as the way to peace, and steadfastly refuses to resort to violence no matter how fearful his oppressors become. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE gives us a glimpse of LOVE’s life in the world. This parable of LOVE in the flesh opens us to the possibility of a new way of being in the world.

The WISDOM is clear, justice must prevail if we are to live beyond our fears. But Jesus’ way of being makes us nervous. For who are we to challenge the power of empire, the biggest baddest perpetrators of violence are all around us? We fear for Jesus’ life. We are afraid that we cannot embrace what Jesus taught us. We long for a superhero to save Jesus from our fear. My GOD, My GOD, why? Jesus the perfect one, why does he have to die? Our fear looms large, and our god becomes small, smaller than the vision of Jesus. Jesus’ vision of the ABBA with which we are ONE, is too much for us to bear. For if we are ONE with the DIVINE then it is we who have forsaken Jesus.

The parable does its work, but we are afraid, so we forsake the parable. We confine the power of the myth so that the truths it reveals can be managed.

We are afraid to embody LOVE, to forgo violence, to seek peace through justice, to be LOVE in the world. So, our fears echo the shouts of those who would “Crucify him. Crucify him” and once again Jesus is sacrificed to placate the gods we have become. The parable of Jesus takes us into the darkness of our very selves, as LOVE dies in us, sacrificed to our fears. The parable of Jesus leaves us with but a glimpse of peace, pointing as Jesus does to a MYSTERY beyond our fear, beyond the power of death itself.

My GOD, My GOD, why? Until we see that we are in GOD and GOD is in us, we will not see that we are the ONES to whom Jesus cries, My GOD, My GOD, why have you forsaken me?  Will death have the final word? Can LOVE rise in us? My GOD, My GOD, when will the violence end? My GOD, My GOD when will we put an end to violence born of fear? My GOD, My GOD, why have we forsaken Jesus?

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Our Focus and NOT Judas Betrays Jesus As We Tell the Story on Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday marks a turning point, not only for Holy Week, but also for the way in which Christianity functions in the world. For quite some time now, I have been struggling to pinpoint just where Christianity went wrong. I confess that for years now, I’ve conveniently pointed to the year 312, when the emperor Constantine formally adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is a convenient scapegoat, partly because we can point our fingers and say, There, right there the followers of a passionate, non-violent, radical resister, to the domination of empires, right there by imperial fiat, these rag tag communities of non-violent resisters were transformed into a new kind of empire; an empire that would go on to create the Doctrine of Discovery, justify violence, and plunder the planet so that it could dominate the power structures of countries, nations and lands all over the globe. Right there, with Constantine, that’s where it all went wrong.

If only this were that simple, then all we’d need to do is dress Constantine up as a scapegoat and drive him from our midst. After all, Holy Week, of all the days in the Church year, Holy Week provides so many opportunities for scapegoating. However, despite the reality that Christianity was indeed joined in unholy matrimony with the forces of empire by Constantine, the impetus for this coupling can be seen in the betrayal of LOVE which occurred on the very night which Christians commemorate each and every Maundy Thursday.

Now, before you pounce upon another scapegoat, let me assure you that I’m not pointing to the betrayal of Judas Iscariot as the one responsible for Christianity’s getting into bed with the domination forces of his day. Sadly, there are more betrayers on Maundy Thursday than we can ever begin to count. For it is our focus which betrays us. It is our focus which betrays the teaching and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We who call ourselves Christian, and so many who went before us, touting their love for Jesus, we took our eyes off the “maundy” and there began our betrayal of everything Jesus lived his life to teach us.

When I ask people what Maundy Thursday is all about, the majority of good, faithful, followers of Jesus respond with sentences which include the phrase “last supper.” Which is of course correct. The anonymous gospel storytellers we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have provided the followers of Jesus with various accounts of the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his followers shortly before he was executed by the Empire for disturbing the Pax Romana. Out of those different accounts, the followers of Jesus adopted ways of remembering which were ritualized. Sadly, only one of these Last Supper rituals developed into a sacrament. Even more tragically, all too often this particular sacrament is “celebrated” as a sacrifice, complete with a scapegoat, or should I say a sacrificial lamb, whose blood is spilled in the minds and hearts of worshippers again and again and again.

Imperial Christians, that’s us, we who enjoy privileges established by the domination forces of various empires which have used Christianity as a sort of opiate of the masses, we have been betrayed by generations who have fixed their gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence. Indeed, lest we fall into the trap of scapegoating those who have gone before us, let us also remember our very own betrayal, for we too have fixed our gaze upon the myth of redemptive violence and we taken our focus off the “maundy” of that long ago supper, “maundy” from the Latin word for “commandment.” As the story is told, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: LOVE one another. And you’re to LOVE one another the way I have LOVED you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly LOVE one another.”

That we should “LOVE one another” is not a new commandment. There were many before Jesus, and many who came after Jesus who commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus’ commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us.  Which begs the question:  How exactly did Jesus love? According to the story, which is told on Maundy Thursday, Jesus didn’t just tell those gathered around the meal to “LOVE one another” Jesus embodied LOVE in a way which demonstrated the way LOVE works in the world.  The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John puts it this way: “Jesus realized that the hour had come for him to pass form this world to Abba God. He had always loved his own in this world, but now he showed how perfect this love was.  The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus—knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God—rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with the towel that was around his waist. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Rabbi, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” Jesus answered, “You don’t realize what I AM doing right now, but later you’ll understand.”

By washing the feet of followers, Jesus humbles himself and provides an example of service that exemplifies how we are to carry out his new commandment that we love one another. And so, on Maundy Thursday, some churches participate in the ritual of washing one another’s feet as a way of embodying Jesus’ new commandment. But let’s face it, a ritual only sporadically embodied once a year doesn’t really have the same power as a ritual which became a sacrament and is now embodied again, and again, and again. There are very few people in the world who would identify Christians as foot washers. Christians are however identified as consumers of the body and blood of the Lamb of God.

Two rituals were born at Jesus’ last supper, but only one became a sacrament. Our focus upon ritual sacrifice would not be such a betrayal of Jesus’ new commandment if it were not for the way in which doctrines of atonement have cast the sacrament of the meal, the eucharist, Holy Communion as a sort of commemoration of a violent bargain struck with a violent god. I am well aware, that Communion can be and is often celebrated as a thanksgiving, or celebration of LOVE, but far too many of us have focussed our gaze on the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as the ultimate scapegoat, the divinely ordained blood sacrifice. I can’t but help asking what ought to be an obvious question: What might christianity have become with a focus on foot washing? Could foot washers have embodied Jesus’ new commandment in such a way as to create a more humble christianity; a christianity less palatable to empire?

We will never know the answer to this question. But we can ask it anew. What if we 21st century followers of Jesus, shifted our focus away from the myth of redemptive violence and toward the embodiment of LOVE? Imagine if you will, a community humble enough to wash one another’s feet, sitting down to a holy meal. What might we become if we allow the story of the last supper help us to understand that it is our focus and not Judas that betrays Jesus? As foot-washers instead of scapegoaters, might we learn new ways of embodying Jesus’ new commandment to LOVE one another? Might shifting our focus help us to see new ways of being LOVE in the world?

All things considered; I can’t see the ritual of foot washing becoming a sacrament any time soon. Not unless we are prepared to imagine what foot washing might look like here and now, in our day, in our time. Imagine all the opportunities a shift in our focus might reveal. What might Jesus’ new commandment look like in the face of the empires in which we are entwined? Can you see yourself embodying LOVE as you do whatever you can, whenever you can to tend to the needs of your neighbour, to care for even the betrayers you encounter, or to humbly open yourself to ridicule for the sake of LOVE?

We know all too well, that the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well. Our world is rife with the impacts of violence. But it is not just out there in the world that violence lives. It is in here (within me). For I too am compelled by the alure of violence as a solution. Violence is alive in me, and it lives in you.

So, as we anticipate the events we will commemorate tomorrow, Good Friday, I hope we can see that it is violence which will kill LOVE, and more importantly, it is LOVE which dies not just on Good Friday, but each and every time that violence triumphs. Whether LOVE is crucified on a cross, or in the streets of Ukraine, or the jungles of Myanmar, or in the darkest reaches of corporate empires, or in the palatial homes of the rich and powerful, LOVE is crucified over and over again.  LOVE dies, and it is LOVE which lies in the grave of our being, in need of resurrection.

But death will not have the final word. For we do not live as ones without hope. LOVE dies. LOVE will rise. LOVE will live again. So, let us remember Jesus’ last supper.  Let us remember, trusting that there nothing in heaven or on Earth which can separate us from the LOVE which is DIVINITY. May the power of the ONE which allures us into LOVE, shift our focus so that we can see beyond the violence, beyond the death of LOVE, to the resurrection of LOVE as we learn to embody Jesus’ new commandment to LOVE one another.

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We are the messiahs! – Palm Sunday

Earlier this morning, a child was baptized. I do not know all the details of his baptism. But let me tell you what I do know. Little Lev was born on March 10. Little Lev was baptized this morning, on the one-month anniversary of his birth. Little Lev’s baptism took place at Saints Peter & Paul Garrison, Catholic Church in Lviv, Ukraine. Little Lev is our brother in CHRIST, as are the proud members of his family who paused as they were leaving the Church, just long enough to speak to a Canadian reporter, who up to this point had been interviewing Father Stephan Sus about his work in Lviv.  In the midst of the chaos, which is Ukraine, Father Stephan spoke about life. Five funerals yesterday, a wedding and a baptism this morning. Father Stephan is from Kiev, where he hopes to return soon.

But for now, he is busy, tending to the needs of our sisters and brothers in CHRIST. Father Stephan spoke about the ways in which life continues even in the face of what he described as “the evil of our enemies” who “want to destroy the people” who “want to destroy the peace of Ukraine.”

Father Stephan described his work helping to “receive migrants to Lviv” having coffee with mourners, tending the cemetery, providing meals for those in need, comfort to the wounded. Father Stephan spoke about continuing with what he called, “existing life here during the war.” Existing life, like Little Lev’s baptism. He reminded us that “children are being born and couples are getting married.” He said, “we are trying to live because we understand that to be alive is to be strong to fight this evil which wants to destroy life.” Father Stephan is our brother in CHRIST.

This is not the sermon I wrote to preach this morning, not on this particular Palm Sunday. For the past two years, our Holy Week commemorations have seen us locked down inside our homes. We have waited a long time to be able to gather here in this place, to return to “normal” if you will. Much has changed over the past two years. Today, we are living a new kind of normal. We have grown accustomed to the changing realities of COVID and the divisions various public health precautions have inspired among us. Our new normal has been shattered this past month by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the shock of the daily images of destruction and slaughter which invade our screens each and every day, even that is becoming normal. I confess, my own desire to look away from the daily bombardments to shield myself from the images of blurred out bodies lying in the once suburban streets, which look very much like our streets.  This has become routine, a kind of normal for us. So, I try to limit my exposure to the news in order to preserve my own mental health. I check in each morning. It has become a bit of a routine. I turn on the news.  I allow the horror to touch me, just for bit, and then I move on with my day. War in Ukraine has found its way into our normal routines.

Today, marks the beginning of a break in our normal routines as we embark upon the week which we call Holy. For centuries, Christians have marked Holy Week by tracing Jesus of Nazareth’s journey to Jerusalem, bearing witness to the events which lead up to Jesus’ execution. We begin today with the joyous celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, knowing that it will lead his, betrayal, his arrest, torture, his trial, and his execution. So, here we are bearing witness to a parade which happened nearly 2000 years ago. A parade in which our brother in CHRIST, Jesus of Nazareth publicly demonstrated against what New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan calls the incredible “drag of normalcy.” Life in the first century had its own sense of normal. Jerusalem had been occupied by the Romans for decades, and the routine cruelties of Empire were normal. The celebration of the Passover happened against the backdrop of this oppression. The Empire demonstrated its power by exerting additional hardships during a time when pilgrims flocked to the city to commemorate the pass over, where their ancestors were delivered from yet another oppressor.  Rome’s military might was on full display.

It was also normal for some people to rebel against the status quo. So, the religious authorities, they flexed their own muscles in order to keep the people in line. All in all, it was a normal kind of celebration, despite the violence of Empire. Even though in their heart of hearts the people longed for a messiah to save them from their oppression. A messiah the likes of King David, who would ride in with majesty and strength to put down their oppressors and lead them to victory. And along comes Jesus, moseying into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. No military might. Resisting the temptations of violence and yet still turning the heads of the crowd if only for a moment. And we all know how it will end. Rome will do what empires always do, they will crush Jesus, make an example of him. Jesus will become an instrument of their terrorism. The people Jesus longed to awaken to a new way of being will not just turn their heads away, they will join in the crushing because Jesus threatens their own status quo. How dare he expect them to change their ways now! The have spent their lives accommodating the evils of empire. They’ve made their peace with violence; they have put their faith in power, in strength, and in might. Soon, so very soon, they too will cheer on the executioners, the powers that be. Crucify him!  Crucify him! Crucify him!

It’s perfectly normal. Totally expected. Over and over again the strong, the powerful, the violent, stomp all over the weak, the powerless, the idealistic dreamers, who dream of a different way of being in the world. So, why are we here? Why do we choose to bear witness to a parade which demonstrated that resistance to violence is a dead end? Why do we still talk about resisting violence when we know that it leads to death? I expect that we are here for all sorts of reasons, many of them quite normal under the circumstances. Some of us are here looking for company as we navigate our new normal. Some of us are here out of a sense of longing for the way things used to be. Some of us are here just because it’s Sunday and that’s what you do on Sundays.  But I hope that in each of us, deep down, we are also here because we are sick and tired of normal. I hope that somewhere inside each of us there is pent-up desire for a messiah, a saviour, who will hear our Hosannas and save us from the incredible drag of normalcy.

I hope that some of us are here to access hope for a new way of being in the world!  A way that resists that pull into the normalcy of violence. I hope that the reality that even though the powers that be threw everything they had at Jesus, perpetrated the worst kind of violence upon him that is humanly possible, even though Jesus died up there on that bloody cross, death did not have the final word. Jesus’ dream of peace through justice, of a world where everyone has enough, and greed is replaced with generosity, and shalom becomes a reality, Jesus’ dream never died. Death did not and will not have the final word. The hope for resurrection is waiting to burst forth.

This morning, our little baby brother, Lev was baptized into this hope. In the midst of all the violence, our brother Father Stephan, spoke about the support the Ukrainian people feel from the people of Canada, from North America and from Europe. It would be perfectly normal for us to turn our backs, to walk away, to get on with our lives. Especially, when the pundits keep telling us that it is only a matter of time, Russia will win this war. They have the military advantages.

Our brother, Father Stephan spoke this morning about his sadness yesterday at the five funerals for those who did not survive the violence. Father Stephen insisted that, “despite the sadness, we are living as a people who still have hope. We are not hopeless,” he went on, “but those who live with hope, hope in victory, hope that we will continue our life, hope that we will stop the war.  Every funeral for us,” he said, “but also a moment for sadness and also a moment for hope. We are as a faithful people, in providing these funerals, we hope that one day we will meet our friends, our guys, our military, in the heaven we would together be. But now, during the funeral we are feeling responsibility that we have to follow their example and do all these good things which they show by their life, defending our country, defending the people, and dignity of human beings, the people in this war.”

A perfectly normal thing for a priest to say. I felt myself slipping back into the myth of redemptive violence, longing for some of that military might. But then my brother Stephan became the voice of hope, when he insisted, “We never stop to repeat that our hero’s never die. It means that they are living forever. Why because they never stopped to love, they laid down their lives to love this world, to love the people, to love their neighbours, and I think against all this hate, and evil which we see in the faces of our enemies, we are trying to be a people who are ready to love.”

Ready to love against all this hate, and evil. Father Stephan’s words ring out as the answer to our Hossannas. For we are the messiah. The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives and moves and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. As for the faces of our enemies, Jesus’ dream that we can see in the faces of our enemies that they too are our sisters and brothers in CHRIST, this dream is our hope for resurrection.

Today, we can see the cross on the horizon, and there will be many more crosses ahead. There will be more violence, and more death. This is the normal state of affairs in our world. But this morning our little brother Lev was baptized into the Body of Christ. This morning, in Russia little sisters and brothers were also baptized. We do not live as ones without hope. Let the hosannas of our little sisters and brothers, friends and foe alike, let their hosannas ring in our ears and move our hearts to be LOVE in the world.

LOVE is not yet the normal way of being in the world. There are crosses which must be endured.

But death has not and will not have the final word. For we live in hope. Our hope lies in the not yet and already here Reign of LOVE in which justice and not violence is the way to peace. We live in hope by living lives, unafraid to be messiahs, bearing LOVE as we encounter the crosses of this world.

There are many crosses in sight and many more crosses beyond our sight, but there are many, many, many, more resurrections ahead. Resurrection will happen each and every time LOVE is brought to life in the world, in the tending of the sick, harboring of the homeless, healing the wounded, and seeking justice for the oppressed, and most of all in loving our neighbours and most of all in learning to love our enemies. This is the work of messiahs. Responding to hosannas, wherever and whenever we hear people crying out for LOVE. Let us be that LOVE in the world. Here and now. Amen.

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Parables of Loss Through the Lenses of Resistance – Luke 15

So, the thing about stories, really good stories is that they have a life of their own. I suspect that most of us have heard these parables of loss so many times that it is the many and varied of interpretations of these parables, which tend to stick with us, rather than the details and circumstances under which these particular parables were born and raised. I’m guessing that in vast majority of the interpretations of these parables, the shepherd, the woman, and the father are usually identified as a symbol for the MYSTERY which we call GOD.

But if this MYSTERY really is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, and we are in GOD and GOD is in us, then every character in every parable you have ever heard is in GOD and GOD is in every character. Now this doesn’t really present much of a problem with the first two parables of loss. We can wrap our heads around GOD embodied in a shepherd, and even GOD embodied as the woman who losses her coin. We do tend to point to those characters in order to personify the MYSTERY. So that it’s not just the characters’ actions which are pointed to as the workings of DIVINITY, but the characters themselves are viewed as stand ins or symbols of GOD Himself or Herself.  When we do see ourselves in the story we are usually the lost the lost sheep or the lost coin and we take comfort in the reality that no matter how lost we may become GOD the supernatural being, out there, or up there, will find us. But when we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY, the CREATOR of the Cosmos, and try to imagine the ONE WHICH IS the GREAT I AM, WHO I AM, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, YAHWEH as so much more than a person, well the idea of a shepherd, or a woman, or even the father who loses his son, these mere personifications begin to lose their ability to symbolize the MYSTERY.

So, today I’m inviting you to stop trying to identify the DIVINE MYSTERY as an individual person in these parables. I also want you to resist making the story all about you. Don’t try to see yourself as a character in the story. You’re not a lost sheep, or a lost coin, or even a lost child. It’s not all about you. Let’s try to focus on what is actually happening in the story.

If we begin with what is actually happening in these parables, we will have to confess that these parables of the lost and the found are simply outrageous. If we fix our gaze upon the surface, we limit the power of these parables to do what parables are designed to do, to turn worlds and lives upside down and inside out. These parables have an air of foolishness about them, if we see them as simple stories told by Jesus about the way a personified god loves us.

Surely, Jesus can’t be pointing to the GREAT I AM, the MYSTERY which we call GOD and saying that GOD is a fool. For: Only a fool…. Would leave ninety-nine sheep to look for one lost sheep. Only a fool…Would leave the ninety-nine unguarded: to wander aimlessly, to be ravaged by some unknown predator, to fall prey to who knows what. Only a fool would leave to search for the stray who might be wounded, damaged, dying, not interested in being rescued. Only a fool…Would risk a reputation as a wise shepherd, a careful guardian of the known and secure, to seek one lone sheep.

Only a fool…Would find. Would restore, would be a shepherd, foolish enough to care enough to save the lost, the wandering, the lonely, the one outside the bounds of the flock. Only a fool…Would sweep and sweep and sweep, leaving her purse unguarded, to search for one lone coin. Only a fool…Would search and look and scour and puzzle, bend and peer, lift and move everything, to find a single coin. Only a fool… Would resist the contentment, the satisfaction of a purse fat with nine shiny, weighty coins. Only a fool… Would rather be relentlessly looking – for one small, lone coin when nine, known and countable, are all that are really needed. A small but secure fortune in hand. Only a fool… Would fret about the loss of a small insignificant coin. Only a fool…Would know the joy, the absolute delight of finding — what really isn’t needed. Only a fool would rejoice with such extravagance. Only a fool would be such a steward as this.      Only a fool would welcome home with joy and abandon a wayward child who had used, rejected, dishonoured, and then returned only to try to use them again. Only a fool, would run head-long, open armed to kiss such a wayward fool, extravagantly bestow more household treasures, and expect the faithful to join in the rejoicing.Only a fool, would cajole the self-righteous, indignant child to join the celebration.

So, if Jesus isn’t describing the characteristics of a personified deity, is Jesus actually teaching us how to embody the LOVE which is DIVINITY here in the world? These parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons, point us in a direction of a way of being in the world characterized by foolish and passionate abandon. What is the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke trying to tell his community with these parables? Did Jesus really believe that people ought to forsake everything they have in order to find the one thing they have lost?

Is the anonymous gospel-storyteller really saying that Jesus taught his followers to risk everything they have in order to find the one thing they have lost? Remember how many times these parables must have been told before they were written down. Remember the precarious nature of the lives of the people who first heard these parables. Why did they repeat these stories over and over again? Remember those first gatherings of the people who followed Jesus’ teachings met in secret because they feared for their lives. The occupying Roman forces not only publicly executed their teacher as a warning to any of Jesus’ would be followers, The Roman Empire, crucified as many dissenters as they could catch. Historians tell us that those roads which all lead to Rome, those roads were dotted with thousands of crucifixion sites. Thousands of rotting corpses were left nailed to crosses in order to terrify the masses into submission. The magnitude of loss was positively unbearable.

If we take off our rose coloured glasses, and pick up a pair of lenses permeated with the desire to resist persecution, violence, and the forces of Empire, these parables have the potential to inspire the kind of passion necessary to recover the one thing which is lost, justice. Justice without which there can be no peace. We can only begin to imagine the magnitude of what a conquered, oppressed, suffering people has lost.

But I suspect that justice, the kind of justice which ensures that everyone has enough so that everyone can live in peace, is something worth leaving behind everything you have in order to pursue. I suspect that even offering all you have to a wastrel and a scoundrel is worth a shot if it means finding peace.

I suspect that pulling brothers together who have genuine axes to grind is the kind of recklessness that is worth the risk,  if those siblings can learn to work together to pursue justice.

Contemplating the miracle that these parables survived, were told over and over again, written down and preserved by people persecuted by empire, I have to believe that they are more than nice little stories all about how we should live.They have to be more than mere speculation about the character of YAHWEH, casting the CREATOR of ALL that is, was, and ever more shall be as a fool.

Because when you look at the shepherd, the woman, and the father in these parables, they come do come off as reckless fools, unless they are risking all that they have for the sake of something worth risking everything for.

These parables can’t just be about a lamb, or a coin, or even a couple of squabbling children. Nor can I believe that Jesus saw YAHWEH, the GREAT I AM as a fool.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the systems of domination and the pain inflicted by the unjust empires of our world. The reality of the systems in which we are intimately entangled is being played out on our screens. The injustice of it all explodes into our living rooms day after day. My own desire to resist the urge to respond to violence with violence weakens with every report of the injustices perpetrated as innocent lives are lost. I’m in real danger of losing my ability to follow Jesus on what appears to all the world to be the foolish path of non-violent resistance to empire. Not if it means risking all that we have for the sake of Jesus’ vision of peace through justice.

Sometimes, when I manage to muster up my courage and try to view these parables of loss through lenses of resistance, I can begin to feel a kind of reckless abandon welling up in me, inspiring the kind of passion, which tempts me to take leave of my senses, to risk everything for the sake of what is currently being lost. I can also hear the voice of reason condemning me as a fool. None of these parables is the stuff of everyday loss.  I don’t think that Jesus, or his followers, or Luke, told these parables in order to teach their listeners about the character of YAHWEH.

Think about it, Jesus can’t have being trying to teach us that the DIVINE MYSTERY was a reckless fool. Nor were they trying to teach us to live as reckless fools. For none of us can do this kind of relentless, reckless abandon constantly. But I can, even now hear these stories told to inspire resistance to the violence and injustice of empire, for the sake of justice and peace. Living lives of reckless abandon is untenable. Jesus’ vision of the BASILEIA ton THEON, the Empire of DIVINITY, is not the world we live in.

The EMPIRE OF DIVINITY is not yet here. But there are times. There are times when … risks must be taken. Times when we must leave all that we have, all that we know, in order to seek, to find and to restore the lost, the abandoned, the wayward, and yes even the self-righteous religious types.

Yes, the shepherd should have been guarding the 99. Yes, the woman should have been content with her 99 coins. Yes, the father should never have trusted his sons with all that he had, and when his lost son showed himself to be untrustworthy, he shouldn’t have been welcomed with open arms, and as for the faithful, self-righteous son, well sometimes justice demands that we abandon the rules, if we are to achieve peace.  Sometimes boundaries must be crossed in order to achieve justice.Peace-making requires risk-taking, and the reckless abandonment of some things we hold very dear.

When I can bring myself to read these parables through the lenses of resistance, I can begin to tell these stories as a call to resist. Resist making the characters in these parables all about us. Resist looking for a saviour in these parables who will find us and put everything back together for us. Resist reading into the parables a too small personal shepherd, woman, or father to act the part of a too small recklessly, foolish god. Resist the distractions of all that we have, all our treasures, our land, our homes, all the trappings of the empires in which we are entangled. Resist the empires to which we have lost the justice which has the power to create peace. Resist with reckless abandon, our fear of the very passions which flow from the LOVE which is the MYSTERY which allures us onto the pathways of justice and peace. Resist the illusion that finding what we have lost will be a sweet, harmless, story. Recklessly abandoning the status quo, is never sweet, never harmless.

The BASILEIA ton THEON may not yet be the world we live in, but the BASILEIA ton THEON is already here. They not yet but already here EMPIRE of DIVINITY is here in every stranger who welcomes a refugee, in every aid worker, doctor without borders, in every reckless fool who risks it all for the kind of justice which makes peace.

We don’t have to travel to Europe or Afghanistan, or Syria, or Myanmar to catch a glimpse of the EMPIRE of DIVINITY, for the not yet REIGN of LOVE is already here. You can catch glimpses of this LOVE resisting the violence of domination systems, in every champion of the environment, every compassionate advocate for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. You can see it in the reckless passion of justice-seekers fighting for affordable housing, equitable healthcare, and food security.

Jesus’ vision of peace through justice, what he called the BASILEIA ton THEON, the Empire of GOD, is the already but not yet SHALOM we long to find. It is the vison of the foolish who are prepared to risk it all for the sake of what we have lost, the SHALOM we long for. And each and every time we find what has been lost is a time for celebration. Especially when what was lost is restored.

So, when you catch a glimpse of the REIGN of LOVE, celebrate and as you celebrate remember to invite others into the party. What shalom there will be as SHALOM is restored through justice. When the peace which is lost breaks out and the lost, the forsaken, and the forlorn greet one another with open arms and go into the feast to celebrate, for what once was lost is found. Embrace the HOLY foolishness which lives, in, with, through, and beyond you. Risk it all for the sake of LOVE.

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There Is So Very Much We Can Do! – Luke 13:1-9

“I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke places these words on the lips of Jesus, and I have no difficulty believing this story of Jesus’ response to those who were grieving the tragedy of the deaths of the Galileans whose blood had been spilled as the result of political violence. “I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” This is as true now as it was then. We shall all come to the same end unless we change our ways.

“Change our ways.” This phrase is translated from the Greek word metanoia – and I’ve spoken about metanoia many times — it is all too often translated simply as repent. Sadly, our understanding of the English word repent, is scarcely capable of capturing the depth of meaning in the Greek word metanoia. Taken at its most literal, the word metanoia means to turn around, to go another way. In first century Palestine, metanoia was often used to communicate the need to change the way you think, the way you see things, they way you respond to things, the way you act. To do things differently, to change our ways. To go beyond the mind you have, the way you think and respond to life or to change our ways. Unless we change our ways, we will all end up like the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their own sacrifices in the Temple.

Pontius Pilate, the appointee of the Empire which dominated the people in the lands it invaded with an iron fist. Pontius Pilate, so wicked that even his own Roman over-lords couldn’t stomach his abuses. So vile was Pilate, that even the powers that be in Rome were forced in the end to relieve him of his post and summon him back to Rome to face charges, for what today, we would call war crimes.

The Galileans of which Jesus’ spoke are believed to have been, the news of the day, the latest victims of Pilate’s cruelty, pilgrims to Jerusalem murdered on Pilate’s orders, their blood spilled as a public example to obey the Empire. Did they deserve their fate? The oppressed peoples of Palestine certainly didn’t believe so. They were good people, pilgrims fulfilling their religious obligation to visit the Temple, publicly displaying their piety. Then murdered in the public square, in front of the Temple, no less. A violation of everything the people held dear. Such good people, they surely didn’t deserve to die.

Why do bad things have to happen to good people? I don’t know about you, but that question resonates a little too well for me, right now. It rises from deep within my very core, causing my entire body rock back and forth. I’ve recognized this question rocking the bodies of others several times in the past few weeks. Most vividly of late in a young man, a boy really, a boy forced to grow up, far too soon. He’s kneeling before the butchered body of his mother, head in his hands, his whole body rocking back and forth, his mother’s blood running in the bombed-out street of a far-off town in Ukraine. His pain beamed around the world and into our own living-rooms, and it caused me to rock back and forth with him.

Why. It is a question on the lips of countless sisters and brothers all over the world this very morning. A question rocking the bodies of countless millions grieving, those who are grieving  the spilling of blood and the oppression in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Myanmar, in Ukraine and in countless other locations all over the world. “I tell you, we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.” Metanoia. Metanoia. Metanoia. You would think we would have learned by now. How much more innocent blood must be spilled before we learn that we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.

Hypersonic. Hypersonic missiles.  I’d never even heard of hypersonic missiles until just a few days ago. Nor had I thought much about NORAD recently. Remember NORAD? I’m old enough to remember those drills in school where we were taught that in the event of a nuclear attack we should hid under our wooden desks. We laugh at it now. It was as a child in school crouching under my desk, that I learned the acronym NORAD. North American Aerospace Defense Command. This week, the Canadian Commander General of NORAD warned us all about the treat of supersonic missiles something I’d never heard of before. But he warned us of this threat, these missiles which he predicted might lobbed in our direction. Then he came in with his clincher:  the reality that we have no way to stop them. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bad things it seems can happen even to good, upstanding, peace-loving Canadians. Albert Einstein is often credited with having lamented that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. Metanoia! “We’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.”

I know. I tried not to do this. This should be a day of celebration. It’s been two long years of pandemic isolation, and here we are together, in the flesh. It’s the first day of spring. We should be celebrating. We should be jumping for joy! We should be filled with the excitement as we anticipate what the future holds. And all this preacher can offer you is a warning. No wonder, churches can’t attract people back into their buildings. I could sugar-coat all of this. I know colleagues who do.  No talk about what’s happening in the world. Let us pray.  Let us just bow our heads and pray.

Maybe our prayers will stop us from rocking back and forth in despair. I too would like something more to offer Jesus saying, “you’ll all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” That’s the thing about truth, we know it deep within the very core of our being, that place where the rocking back and forth begins. The place where our “Why?” questions are kept. Deep within us. We know that unless we change our ways blood will continue to be spilled.

We also know that there are so very many of our ways which need to be changed in order to end the violence. Justice is a difficult taskmaster. Peace, real peace, the shalom Jesus lived for, demands armies of justice-seekers in order that peace can break out all over the planet. There’s so much to do. We are enmeshed in systems, in ways of being which demand the oppression, the poverty and the inevitable spilling of blood of innocents. What can we possibly do to achieve justice in the kinds of empires of domination in which we continue to live, and move, and have our being? We are but a handful of people. What can we possibly do?

Well, it turns out that there is so very much we can do. For we are wonderfully and beautifully made, capable of such astonishing deeds of compassion. Millions and millions of us have mobilized, armed only with our desire to offer comfort and support. About a million people a week have fled their homes in Ukraine. Their neighbours in Poland, Romania, Moldovia, Hungry, and various other places, they have opened their arms in welcome, offering shelter and comfort. Millions and millions and millions of dollars have been offered to meet humanitarian needs.  They may have escaped the media’s attention but aid agencies, continue to mobilize colossal responses to the needs of those who are suffering in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and countless other places were innocent people are suffering from the oppression and violence perpetrated by the empires in which we are enmeshed.

Yes, the needs are many and the workers are few. But we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We can shrink in despair, or we can roll up our sleeves, join together, pool our wisdom and our resources, and tend the vineyard. That’s what prayer is. Prayer begins with our “why?” moving deep within us. Prayer flows through our tears and rocks our bodies in ways we have the power to ignore and the power to respond to with action.

Yes, the suffering is immense. Yes, the injustice, the oppression, the hatred, and the greed seems insurmountable. Yes, it is tempting to offer up a few prayers, post something positive on social media, wear a ribbon, and then shake it off, move on to the next thing, comforting ourselves with the idea that we are only one person.  What can we possibly do in the face of so much suffering in the world? We can do? What can we do?  We can do what we all too often do; we can allow ourselves the luxury of turning away. We can turn away and we can resign ourselves to the fact that we can’t change and so, yes we too shall perish. Or we can refuse to accept that we are less than splendid creatures. Billions of years of evolution resulted in the creation of our species. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

We can do so much more than we are doing. We can change our ways. The MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of REALTY lives, and moves, and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. We are intimately connected to one another in ways which will take more than our lifetimes to comprehend. We are in the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE and this LOVE which is DIVINITY is in us. Each one of us is a beautiful expression of the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE. The SPIRIT of LOVE has been at work for billions of years finding expression in the wonders of Creation. Right here and right now, this LOVE is expressed in, with, through and beyond us, seeking justice and making peace.

Unless we change our ways, we will perish. So, might I suggest that we begin by changing up our questions a little. How about instead of “why” we begin to ask “what?” What will people learn about the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY when they encounter us? What LOVE will they discover living in, with, and through us? What justice will they see us seeking?  What peace will they see us making? When people encounter us, “What” expression of DIVINITY will they encounter us?

Don’t like the question “what?” Then ask, “HOW?” How can I embody the LOVE which is the SOURCE of all being, right here and right now? How can I become the answer to my prayers? How can I become the answer to their prayers? Maybe now is not the time for our questions. Maybe now is the time for us to change our ways, so that no more blood needs to be spilled. We, together with all those we are intimately connected with, we are the answer to our prayers, to our questions, to our longings for justice and peace.

There is so very much more that we can do, right here and right now. Let us join our efforts to the efforts of the countless millions who are right now, seeking justice, right now making peace. Yes, there is lots of work for us to do. More work than we can even begin to imagine. But when we begin to understand that LOVE finds expression in us, LOVE which is beyond our ability to even begin to imagine, finds expression in us, then we begin to see endless possibilities.

There’s a mishmash of quotes attributed to the Talmud which has been going around these days, which has become for me an answer to, the seemingly endless work which lies before us. It goes like this, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon the work.” The good news is we are fearfully and wonderfully made, capable of changing our ways. So, let us metanoia, now. For we have a whole lot of LOVE in us and a whole lot of LOVing to do. Metanoia, now. Be LOVE in the world. Now.

As war rages on, the racism we do not want to see in ourselves continues to flow out of our tribalism.

The images of the horrific war in Ukraine together with the prescribed readings for this second Sunday in LENT have me thinking about tribalism. My first temptation was to ignore the first reading from Genesis. I was not planning to include it in our worship because we have all born witness to far too much bloodshed as our sisters and brothers of Ukraine are relentlessly attacked, killed, and wounded by our sisters and brothers of Russia. This week, I have heard the word unimaginable uttered by pundits and friends alike and each time it is expressed I want to scream, “this bloodshed is all too imaginable! Indeed, this bloodshed is part of the foundational imaginings of our very own tribes.  We need not look farther than the Book of Genesis to soak ourselves in our own bloodthirsty imaginings!”

The story which will be read in worship services of most mainline Christian church this very Sunday is a foundational myth about the patriarch of the world’s three powerful religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Our foundational myth from the 15th chapter of the Book of Genesis, goes like this: the word of YAHWEH came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram!   I AM your shield; I will make your reward very great.” Abram said, “But my Sovereign, My God, what good are these blessings to me, so long as Sarai and I will die in disgrace? My only heir is a foreigner who lives in my household, Eliezer of Damascus. Since you have given me no offspring,”  Abram continued, “An attendant in my house will be my heir.” Then the word of YAHWEH came to Abram and said, “This person will not be your heir. Your heir will be of your own flesh and blood.” Then God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can! As many as that, you will have for descendants.” Abram believed YAHWEH and God accounted it to Abram as righteousness. YAHWEH the said to Abram, “I AM YAHWEH who brought you from UR of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” Abram asked, “Sovereign God, how am I to know that I will possess it?” God answered Abram, Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”Abram brought all of these, cut them in half, and place each half opposite the other—except the birds, which he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell over Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram:  “To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadomonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Aorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18)

Here ends the reading. This is not the Gospel. Not because it is the first reading. But because it is not good news for anyone at all. There’s something about those bloodied, split, rotting carcasses which sealed the deal between God and Abraham  that makes me wonder about the nature of the god we have projected into the heavens and ask: “Have we evolved at all?”

This foundational myth portrays the MYSTERY which we call “GOD” as a god who promises to “His” “Chosen People” a deal which reduces this god to little more than a churlish player in humanity’s game of tribal rivalry. I am aware that in the evolution of humanity tribalism has often served us well.  I would even go so far as to agree that tribalism continues to serve us well.

New people to meet can be exciting or it can be frightening. Taking comfort with your own people is wonderful. But taking too much pride in your own kind is dangerous. One minute you’re cheering for your team the next minute you’re hurling insults at the other guy and one too many insults and the next thing you know you’re at war.  A little tribalism is a good thing, but how much tribalism is too much? Tribalism is a basic human survival instinct. Tribalism is lodged deep within our psyches. It has been from the very beginning of time. Tribalism is part of our primordial selves. Tapping into this basic human instinct can mean the difference between survival and death. Tribal thinking exists on almost every level of human life, from the international to the local, from the congregation to the denomination, from the denomination to the religion. Attack a human on any level and that human will resort to instinctive behaviour. When threatened humans have two basic instincts, fight or flight and the choice between the two often comes down to tribalism. If you have enough people to back you, you’ll probably choose to fight. Not enough people and you’ll probably choose flight.

Humankind has evolved a great deal over the centuries, but we haven’t evolved very far from our basic instincts. You don’t have to scratch a fan too deeply to find the primitive tribal mentality. Tribalism is seen in the way we portray our rivals. Sporting competition is all well and good, but when tribalism is carried to its worst possible conclusion, wars beak out. Tribal feeling is then exacerbated in times of war, and tribal propaganda is used to dehumanize our enemies to make it easier to hate or to kill without any qualms of conscience. We don’t kill human beings in war; our victims are not someone’s child, spouse, or parent. No one kills either, the Huns, the Krauts, the Japs, the Nips, the VC, the insurgents, the fanatics, the fascists, or the terrorists. Of late, we have begun to hear our Russian sisters and brothers described as monsters.

There is within us all a basic, dominant, intrinsic fear of those tribes different from our own, a predisposition to be on guard against them, to reject them, to attack and even to kill them. This tribal tradition arises out of our deep-seated survival mentality, and it feeds something at the heart of our insecure humanity. We are tribal people to our core.

Far more than we will consciously admit, the religions of the world including Christianity rise out of and sustain our tribal thinking.Religions are all too often, very deep expressions of a tribal mentality which worships a tribal god. Our foundational myth, is the story of Abram a wandering Aramaean, who is about to become the father of many nations.

Abram has a vision; a vision in which his god promises to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky if Abram only promises to worship YAHWEH as his only god. To seal the promise YAHWEH enacts an ancient tribal custom, common in Mesopotamia. Centuries ago, in the days of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, custom dictated the appropriate manner in which a bargain was to be sealed. When two parties entered into an agreement, a covenant, they would take a bunch of good-sized animals, slaughter them, sever them into halves, clear a path between the pieces, and require that each partner to the agreement walk between them as a sort of self-curse. Kind of like: “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” By passing through the severed bodies of the animals, each partner says, in effect, “May the same thing happen to me if I do not keep my word.”

The whole thing sounds so very barbaric to our modern ears. But this story is part of the foundation of the narrative which begins the narrative of YAHWEH’s covenant with the self-described “chosen people.” The last two verses of this story are not usually read in church.        The crafters of our lectionary leave them out; perhaps because they are so very offensive. But I would argue that we must include them because it is important for us to remember that tribalism permeates our foundation myths.

“When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram: To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

The Promised Land, the land which this image of the DIVINE promised to the chosen people was not some vacant lot somewhere, waiting for inhabitants to come and enjoy the bounty of milk and honey which flowed there. The Promised Land was inhabited by many tribes; tribes who worshipped other gods. And there have been wars and rumours of wars in the Promised Land from that day to this. The image of YAHWEH painted by this story is not a particularly glorious one if you are anything other than the Chosen People. The Kenizzites the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephiam, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites, rue the day YAHWEH chose the descendants of Abram over them.

This image of a tribal god is offensive to our modern ears. We much prefer the more evolved image of God which Jesus paints in the gospel text for this Sunday. “Jerusalem,  O, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings—yet you refuse me! “ (Luke 13:13-35)

This MOTHER-HEN-GOD is a far cry from the YAHWEH of Genesis.  Sadly, this MOTHER-HEN-GOD is rarely imagined, let alone embodied by Christianity. Except perhaps when Christians, resort to a kind of “my tribe is better than your tribe” kind of one-upmanship which points to Jesus’ portrayal of the ABBA as a kinder gentler version of Judaism’s violent GOD. Forgetting all the while that Jesus is, was, and ever more shall be Jewish. Not to mention the fact that this Jewish Jesus is hailed by the vast majority of Christians to be the blood sacrifice sent to appease their very own image of the DIVINITY, as a scapegoating, Father willing to send his own beloved son to be murdered. Not to mention the part about this particular tribal image of the DIVINE goes on to insist that every tribe must believe in their version of events, or their very own Father God will toss them into the fires of Hell where they will be burn in torment for all eternity. This all out rejection of the MOTHER-HEN-GOD must be maintained at all costs in order to ensure obedience to the tribal hierarchy, the domination system which so many churches embody.

Don’t.  I know that right about now, you are tempted to point to some other tribe of Christians and condemn them. Those ones not us are the churches which cling to primitive theologies while absolving your very own tribe’s theology of any error. The temptation to see only the best in ourselves while condemning the worst in others is in and of itself indicative of a kind of tribal mentality which does not serve humanity well.Tribalism may well have been an asset in the human struggle to survive during our early evolutionary development. But there is a primitive dark side of tribalism which feeds on our fear and stunts our evolution. Unless these destructive aspects of tribalism are transcended, a deeper more compassionate, peaceful, humanity cannot be realized. We cannot transcend what we fail to recognize.

At this moment in our collective history, it is possible to recognize the role of tribalism in the war Russia is inflicting upon the people of Ukraine. Even as Putin insists that Kiev is the birthplace of Russia, he can also insist that Russia acts with impunity because the Ukrainians have deviated from his own Russian tribal narrative which sees Ukraine moving toward western notions of democracy. This threat to Putin’s tribal insistence upon compliance is further acerbated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s perceived defiance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s claim of authority.

Religious, political, economic, ethnic, cultural, and military expressions of one tribe verses the religious, political, economic, ethnic, cultural, and military expressions of another tribe propel the whole world toward the possibility of the kind of violence which is propagated on the threat of mutual inhalation. As our worst fears escalate our desire for peace, we in the West are quick to recognize an affinity with the religious, political, economic, ethnic, and cultural expressions of the Ukrainian people. So, we quickly mobilize everything we deem to be safe for us to mobilize in order to offer comfort and support to Ukraine, while never once recognizing the ways in which our own tribal instincts have been aroused.

While I’d like to believe that we, you know our tribe, we Westerners, especially we Western Christians, and most especially we progressive christians, we have risen above our tribal instincts. But then I remember the reality of the plight of the woman of Afghanistan which has slipped from our radar, and it causes me to tremble. My trembling increases when I realize my very own failure to express any tangible aid or comfort to the starving millions, who face even more dire consequences as the result of this war.

What is it about those tribes which fails to compel me to weep in the way the fleeing Ukrainians can? I must confess that I am racist. I do not want to be racist. But I can find no other explanation to our current reality than the racism which inevitably flows out of tribalism. And so I tremble. Just like the words of that old American spiritual, which we sing every Good Friday. I tremble, because once again, over and over again, LOVE is crucified by tribalism.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should not be consumed by the plight of our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. We should celebrate the tribalism in us which evokes kinship and compassion. We should do everything in our power to provide aid and comfort to our Ukrainian sisters and brothers.

What I am saying is that we should also do everything in our power to provide aid and comfort to our Afghani, our African, our Syrian, our sisters and brothers in Myanmar, and yes everything we can to provide aid and comfort to our Russian sisters and brothers. I’m not there yet. I still hesitate at the thought of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. I have much to learn about what LOVE for our enemies looks like. But if humanity has any hope at all of becoming all that we are created to be, we must learn that it is not either this tribe or the other tribe.

Escaping our destructive tribal mentalities and the inherent racism which flows from tribalism is not an either-or equation. Being LOVE in the world calls us into a both-and equation as we struggle to LOVE our enemies in ways which benefit this tribe as well as that tribe. Transcending the destructive racism which flows from tribalism cannot begin until we confront the racism which we do not want to see in ourselves.Once recognized we can begin to transform our behaviours and be about the task of being LOVE in the world.

The three world religions which look to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as the founders of our faith, bear a special responsibility to transcend our tribalism; for Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic religions undergird the very tribalisms which rely on the acquiesce of our religious institutions. Our primitive images of the CREATOR continue pose an imminent danger to our planet as tribes and nations parade around the world proclaiming with their lives that our god is bigger than your god. Sadly, our collective images of the MYSTERY we call GOD have failed to represent the CREATOR of all we hold dear in ways which foster peace. Recognition of our failures is the only way we can begin to transcend the destructive aspects of our various tribal practices. Each of us must begin where we are, in our own tribe, embodying what our tribal allegiances proclaim: that the CREATOR of all that is and ever shall be, the MYSTERY we call GOD, according to the revelations we hold dear, is BEAUTY, JUSTICE, and LOVE.

So, if you feel a particular kinship affinity for the people of Ukraine, you must embody the BEAUTY, JUSTICE, and LOVE which has been revealed to you in the life, teachings, and death of Jesus by doing whatever you can to provide aid and comfort to the people of Ukraine. Celebrate the aspects of tribalism which contributes to our evolution as humans, the tribalism which allures us into UNITY. Empathize with the victims of this war and then do something, anything, and everything you can, for we are richly blessed. As our Jewish sisters and brothers believe, teach, and embody, we are blessed to be a blessing.

As you embody LOVE for those who have evoked this strong tribal affinity in you, challenge yourself. Ask yourself, why these and not those. Recognize the destructive aspects of tribalism which motivate you.Challenge yourself to see and then transcend the racism which flows out of our tribalism. I’m learning that the only thing worse than a racist is a person who fails or refuses to see the racism which lives in them. The destructive aspects of tribalism which foster racism in us do not serve humanity. They only serve our fear while creating even more indifference and violence.

We who are privileged to live in safety must challenge ourselves to transcend the racism which motivates both our indifference and our compassion by challenging ourselves to also provide aid and comfort to a tribe we feel no affinity for. We must empathize with the victims of war, all wars, and then we must do something, anything, everything we are able for them, those others, the ones we feel little or no affinity for. For we are richly blessed and as our Islamic sisters and brothers proclaim with their almsgiving, charity is pleasing to the DIVINE, for the DIVINE is charitable. Charity comes from the word which means LOVE.

LOVE is of the DIVINE, so be LOVE, for you are made of the DIVINE. You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to do something. We are called to be LOVE in the world, LOVE to the members of every tribe, every nation, clan, and people. We are blessed to evolve into the embodiment of the MOTHER-HEN-GOD embracing, enfolding, tut tutting, cluck clucking, as we gather together the of the children of the DIVINE to provide aid and comfort to every tribe and nation.

So, you LOVEly chickadees, grow a pair.  Wings that is. The HOLY Wings which will embrace every tribe and nation in LOVE. Be that LOVE in the world.

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Too many Hollywood movies tempt me to flirt with violence, as I yearn for some secret agents to just take him out!

This week, I have been transfigured by the face of CHRIST, not glowing on a mountaintop, but weeping. It is an image which will not leave me. This weeping CHRIST plays on an endless loop in my mind unravelling my carefully constructed images of the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the LOVE we have the audacity to call “GOD”. The endless loop projects many faces of CHRIST. The first face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Father who is struggling to say good-bye to his young daughter. The second face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Child rubbing her eyes in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of her own tears. The third face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Mother holding back her tears as she embraces her little family. My words are not up to the task of describing CHRIST weeping in this way. So, I invite you to see for yourselves. If you cannot bear to look upon the face of CHRIST, that’s ok. Just stop this video and take a moment or two to pray. Pray deeply, reverently, and then fast-forward to the music. view on video

It wasn’t until that young Dad buried his face in his daughter’s chest that I recognized the face of CHRIST. I had been watching the media reports for days, not really believing that war was imminent. I confess, I was in denial. After two long years of isolation, I have learned how to block out the world. Whenever the news became more than I thought I could bear, I just switched it off. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all must take care of ourselves. But lately, the news has encouraged us all to begin to emerge from our pandemic protocols. Bit by bit, hope has begun to build upon hope as we look forward to Spring when we call launch forth into fuller more robust living. Sure, we know there are still problems in the world. We know we still have work to do. But for a brief time, our longing for Spring stirred expectations in us which heralded better times ahead. There was no room in my wildest imaginings for thoughts of war. In my bleakest moments, I could imagine the worst. But I refused to believe that it would go as far as war. It was just politicians doing what politicians do, rattling sabers like little boys, stomping their feet, and insisting on their own way. Surly, even Putin will come to his senses. Concessions will be made, and war averted.

As tensions escalated and our world held our collective breath, the fragility of the peace we cling to, the peace built through military might, and threats of violence and mutual annihilation, this illusion of peace was threatened by the ambitions of a powerful oligarch obsessed with delusions of restoring tribal supremacy for his once mighty nation. And then, just like that, we were back there, back in the unthinkable darkness our parents spoke about, the darkness of war in Europe. I could feel the temptations to violence rising in me. Surely, the Americans have an agency for this. Too, many Hollywood movies, inspired me to flirt with violence as I yearned for some secret agents to take him out. One clear shot and Putin would be gone. Sacrifice one for the sake of the many. I thought, or hoped, sometimes even believed that the myth of redemptive violence could no longer tempt me. Alas, if only.

I’m a child of my times. I expect people to act. I expect things to be resolved. I expect solutions. I expect that whatever needs to be done will be done quickly, so that I can get back to normal. If that means violence, well maybe I’m not the pacifist I claim to be. If a few well-placed bullets could reunite and restore that little Ukrainian family, maybe Jesus was wrong about non-violent resistance. Maybe Jesus was wrong about justice as the only way to peace. Maybe if we are unwilling to fight, all we can do is join our tears to the tears of that little Ukrainian family. That’s the loop which has been playing round and round in me, all week long. I don’t know how to stop this loop from playing. I don’t have any solutions to offer you. I share these tears with you knowing full well that tears won’t put an end to war, nor will they end our constant reliance upon violence to maintain a fragile peace.

It wasn’t until this endless loop exposed the presence of yet another face of CHRIST that I begin to be transfigured. Suddenly, in the tears of that little Ukrainian family, I began to see the tears of generations of weepers. In my mind, I saw old black and white faded images of other little families. But there were no tears to be seen. Perhaps photographers of old avoided them, maybe people back then were better had holding those tears back. In those sepia images of sad, forlorn, frightened faces. Some walking away to become refugees, joining the endless flow of the displaced. Some were staring vacantly through time, like the tens of millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death during the Holodomor by yet another brutal Russian dictator. Others, they looked confused and terrified as they are loaded on board trains. Generations beyond any camera’s reach, each with their own pain. Pain and suffering perpetrated by our species’ vain conviction that violence is the way to peace. In the tears of that little Ukrainian family, I began to see yet another face of CHRIST, a face I had refused to see before. The face of CHRIST which must be seen if we are to end this madness. I confess, that I can’t quite see CHRIST in that face yet. Hell, I don’t want to see it. His eyes are too beady. His expression too smug. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I must learn to see the face of CHRIST in my enemy. Vladimir Putin created in the image of the DIVINE.

Can we ever learn to see the face of CHRIST in one such as him? I don’t know. I do know that the followers of Jesus held dear their vison of Jesus, in whom they saw the CHRIST. In Jesus they saw CHRIST. So much so that they confessed their desire to stay with Jesus in the splendor of that mountaintop. There far away from their world, they were could safely worship Jesus. With visions of a grand and glorious past they were free from the dangers of the violence being wrought upon their world by the forces of the Roman Empire. The ravages inflicted by Rome were as horrendous as any barbaric acts of war the world has ever seen. I can see on that endless loop little families in Jerusalem, fleeing to the safety of the countryside, passing endless crucifixion sites.

The safety of the mountaintop must have been glorious. No wonder Jesus took Peter, John, and James up there to pray. They all knew the dangers of traveling to Jerusalem. It was so good to be there, where they could see in Jesus the face of CHRIST. But Jesus did not let them linger for very long. There was work to do. Jesus’ way did not include taking up the sword to achieve peace.

Jesus was steadfastly committed to non-violent resistance to the abusive powers of empire. Jesus’ Way of being in the world rejects the myth of redemptive violence. Followers of the Way are called to reject the myth of redemptive violence. Jesus’ Way of being insists that justice for everyone is the only way to peace.

Justice will exact our tears. But they will not be tears cried in vain. These tears will wash away our illusions of a quick fix and wipe away our delusions that by violently enforcing the status quo we can create peace. Peace is created by through the difficult work of LOVE, LOVE which is embodied when justice and not violence becomes our way of being in the world. Peace begins with non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance is dangerous. It can be deadly. Jesus experienced that. Not all of us are up to the challenges. So, let us begin with our own lives, our own daily challenges, let us strip ourselves of our own entanglements with violence. As for seeing the face of CHRIST in our enemies, let us try. Let us do everything we can possibly do to challenge our own assumptions, to see beyond our own violent tendencies, our own selfish desires, and slowly, painfully slowly learn to love our enemies.

I’m not talking about some Pollyanna notion of passivity in the face of violence, and I know that we are not going to solve our addiction to violence anytime soon. I know that we won’t solve it in time to save Ukraine. But we must honour the suffering of generations, by doing something now, so that generations from now little families won’t have to cry all over again. We must put aside our expectations of a quick and easy fix and settle in for the difficult generational evolution of our species.

As for that little Ukrainian family, what do we do in the wake of their tears? Well, for now, we weep. We join our tears to theirs and when we have no more tears to cry, we roll up our sleeves and we do what we can to help them. We are smart. We are privileged. We are blessed with riches beyond the wildest dreams of the generations who have gone before us. We have technology and access to wisdom. We must put all our many blessings to use, to seek justice where-ever we can whenever we can.We can’t do it all and we can’t do it alone. But we can do something, and we can work together.

We can be transfigured by the face of CHRIST which is revealed to us through the tears of all who suffer the ravages of injustice. Sure, it would be nice to just sit here in the relative comfort and safety of all that violence has built and maintained for us. But we have seen the face of CHRIST, and CHRIST compels us, through CHRIST’s tears, to go out from the safety of our lofty positions, down into the violent world to be the LOVE which creates peace through justice.

There is one more face of CHRIST which I would like you to see. It is not a lofty mountaintop vision. But it does have the power to transfigure. It was recorded Saturday morning, after a rocket exploded in an apartment block in Kiev. I’m convinced that it will not be difficult to see the glorious face of CHRIST in this:  view on video

That beautiful, glorious embodiment of CHRIST is singing these words: “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom,” She has courageously begun the difficult, painstaking, slow work which lies before her. May we be transfigured by her courage to do our part to turn her mourning into dancing. Let us begin the difficult, painstaking slow, work of wiping away every tear from the eyes of our sisters and brothers. Let us be LOVE in the world. Amen.

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Yes! I Do Deny the Resurrection! I Suspect that You Do Too! – 1 Corinthians 15

I can’t begin to tell you how often well-meaning and not so well-meaning “Christians” quote to me the 15thchapter of Paul’s first letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth.  I say quote to be polite, which is generally not the way these “Christians” impart these words of Scripture to me. Some will hurl the text at me in ways which communicate their anger, their disgust, and in some cases their hatred of me. While others deliver the words in boldface type punctuated with lots of exclamation points. So, when I was preparing for this worship service, I confess I was tempted to leave out the reading from 1st Corinthians 15 which is prescribed for this particular Sunday by the Revised Common Lectionary. But then I looked at the readings assigned for next Sunday and discovered that, yet another section of 1st Corinthians 15 is included. So, rather than side-step the subject of resurrection, I decided to include both readings today. Even though I know full well that by doing so, I will undoubtedly open myself up to the wrath of those who would have me confess and repent the error of my ways.

So, let me get to the point, so that those who like nothing better than to use the Bible to bludgeon anyone who dares to stray from their narrow understanding of the text, they can simply hit ALL CAPS in their keyboards, without having to read any further. Let me say it right up front: “Yes, I do deny the resurrection!” I deny the resurrection.  Furthermore, I suspect that you do to.

In my sacred imagination, I can see the Apostle Paul smiling and nodding. You see Paul was skilled in the ancient art of rhetoric and would recognize my own rhetoric for what it is. Inflammatory rhetoric is a method of speaking designed to capture the attention of those upon whom it is inflicted. Listen for yourself to the skilled rhetorician Paul, who employs the tactic well in the reading assigned for this Sunday, by the powers behind the Church’s Revised Common Lectionary. Paul addresses the squabbling Followers of the Way in Corinth this way: “Tell me, if we proclaim that CHRIST was raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead then not even CHRIST has been raised.  And if CHRIST has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless—and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless. Indeed, we are shown to be false witnesses of God, for we solemnly swore that God raised Christ from the dead—which did not happen if in fact the dead are not raised.  Because if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiful of all the human race. But as it is, Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Ah Paul, you sure know what you’re doing! Rile em up!  Get their attention and then, deliver your point! Your rhetoric is sublime! I take my hat off to the master. Alas Paul, if you’d been there when the Church was cutting up your letters to be delivered in snippets on Sunday mornings, I can only imagine what you might have said, when they decided to cut you off in mid-stream. Why they decided to cut your off before you made your point, well that’s a sermon for another day. My point is Paul was just warming up. But if all you hear is, this reading, then surely, my denial of the resurrection numbers me among, as Paul would say, “the most pitiful of all the human race.”

So, let’s skip ahead to next weeks reading, when Paul makes his point. Listen carefully. You don’t want to miss Paul when he’s worked himself up to his point. Ready: “Perhaps some will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question! The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. When you sow, you do not sow the full-blown plant but a kernel of wheat or some other grain. Then it is given the body designed for it—with each kind of seed getting its own kind of body. Not all flesh is the same. Human beings have one kind, animals have another, birds another, and fish another. Then there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Heavenly bodies have a beauty of their own, and earthly bodies have a beauty of their own. The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.”

There’s more, lots more, but let’s just stop and catch ou breath. “Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question!”  My oh, my, oh my… In my sacred imagination, I can see Paul sitting up from his letter writing and nodding as if to say, “there that out to stop those endless arguments about the resuscitation of a corpse.”

Alas, the power of Paul’s rhetoric has waned over the centuries. The irony of having Paul’s rhetoric used as a bludgeon by those who insist on a physical resuscitation of Jesus corpse, well the irony is lost on most Bible thumping fundamentalists who have engaged me with their own brand of humourless rhetoric.

Let me attempt to be kinder than the Apostle, whose willingness to call his opponents “stupid”, I do not share. The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Scholars tell us that the letter was written between the years 53 and 57. That’s at least 20 years before the Gospel according to Mark, 30 to 40 years before the gospels according to Matthew and Luke and probably nearly 50 years before the Gospel according to John. The writings of the Apostle Paul contain the earliest writings that we have on the subject of the Resurrection. Paul’s understanding of resurrection was good enough for those early followers of Jesus’ way.  Paul’s description of resurrection does not conflict with our 21st century inability to accept the suspension of the natural order of the Cosmos.

The Apostle Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection. As a Pharisee, Paul believed in the resurrection of the dead and certainly he believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But as for our question about an actual physical body, Paul insists that this is simply a stupid question.  For heaven’s sake, when you sow a seed into the ground and it bursts forth into new life, that new life doesn’t come in the form of a seed, it comes to life as a plant! Not all bodies are the same! The Apostle Paul did not need there to be an actual physical resuscitation of a corpse in order to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. To ask the question of whether the resurrection is true, and to mean by this that only a resurrected corpse constitutes such proof, is to impose the standards of the modern mind upon a pre-scientific culture of myth and magic.

The dualism of body and soul was a Greek idea, for the Jews there could be no resurrection without a resurrection of the body. After all, could one rise without a body to rise in? What we refer to as the soul was a foreign concept to first century Jews.  So the question about the kind of body the risen Jesus had was, as Paul puts it, quite simply, stupid. “There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies.” Not all bodies are the same. The question of a physical body makes no sense to the ancients. Christ was alive to those early followers.

Paul insists that there are natural bodies, which he equates with earthly bodies what we would call physical bodies and there are spiritual bodies which Paul equates with heavenly bodies. According to Paul, the earthly body; the physical body must die in order for the heavenly or the spiritual body to be born.  “A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up.” The spiritual resurrection which Paul describes gave birth to Christianity, within the Jewish context. It wasn’t until Christianity moved beyond Judaism that it came into direct conflict with the Greek understanding of reality, which insisted upon the dualism of body and soul. Faced with the task of communicating the gospel, the early followers of the risen Christ, began to articulate experiences of the risen Christ in ways that the Greek influenced Roman Empire could understand giving rise (pardon the pun), giving rise to the question of a physical resurrection.

At this point, we would do well to remember that CHRIST is not Jesus last name. Jesus existed within time whereas the CHRIST exists in and beyond time. Theologian Richard Rohr reminds us that “the CHRIST is the Christian code word for REALITY. Jesus reveals CHRIST. Resurrection is a statement of how reality works. Physics teaches us that nothing dies, everything is transformed. Jesus, the archetypal human, in which DIVINITY is embodied, confirms that human life, does not die, but is resurrected, transformed.

OK, if you’ve stuck with me this far, you are probably beginning to wonder how exactly you, or I deny the resurrection. You would be correct to conclude that I do believe in resurrection. I like the Apostle Paul, do not believe in the resuscitation of a corpse. So, how is it that I deny the resurrection. Well, I deny the resurrection in the very same way as I suspect you deny the resurrection. My friend and radical theologian Peter Rollin says it much better than I ever could. Pete said it this way, and I couldn’t agree with him more: “I deny the resurrection of CHRIST every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of CHRIST when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.  However,” Pete goes on, “there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of CHRIST.”

Pete’s words remind me over and over, and over again that Jesus lived and died embodying the CHRIST which is the DIVINE LOVE which rises in with through and beyond you and I, again, and again, and again.

Yes! I do deny the resurrection and I’m guessing that you do too! So, I’m trusting that it doesn’t much matter whether or not you or I or anyone believes or doesn’t believe in the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. What a stupid argument. What matters is that LOVE rises. The LOVE which is the SACRED MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call “GOD”.

By the way, there’s much more in Chapter 15 of Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus’ Way in Corinth. I proclaim these words from Paul’s conclusion to the chapter at every funeral I have ever presided over. When all the rhetoric is said, and done, I lean in close to the beloved ones who have gathered,  and I proclaim the same truth which Paul proclaimed, and the science of REALITY confirms to us: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?””

Let us affirm the resurrection by living as Jesus lived, embodying the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY. Let LOVE live in, us, through us, and beyond us, for now as always, LOVE lives, LOVE dies, and LOVE rises, again, and again, and again. Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY! Amen.

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GOD IS that which can be known of the UNKNOWABLE

This week, while trying to figure out why so many scientists are so excited about the James Webb Telescope, I tried to learn some basic facts about the Cosmos, which my tiny brain continues to struggle to understand. My quest for understanding begins with light, which as a theologian struggling to write a sermon in this Season of Epiphany, when Christians are busy celebrating the LIGHT which came into the world at Christmas, is as good a place as any to begin. Apparently, there are different  kinds of light. Light which is not visible and light which is not visible. I was only dimly aware that there are different kinds of light, so you may already know how difficult it is for me to comprehend the intricacies of science. So, let’s take it slowly, there’s light that is invisible to the human eye and there’s light that is visible to the human eye. The invisible light is known as infrared and ultraviolet light. It turns out that even as we worship here and now, both visible and invisible light emitted shortly after the big bang this, light is finally arriving in the form of invisible light.

I know science is hard for some of us. So, let me put it in words you may be more familiar with, In the beginning, the CREATOR said, let there be LIGHT and LIGHT was. Boom, they call it the Big Bang, and then LIGHT in all its glorious forms, a spectrum, some of it we can see and some of which, until recently we couldn’t see. But soon and very soon, thanks to a telescope which was launched on Christmas Day. I know, scientists with a sense of irony gathered in French Guiana to watch the James Webb Space Telescope launched into space. The Webb Telescope has been dubbed the successor to the Hubble Telescope. Where the Hubble Telescope could only view visible light, the Webb Telescope will capture information through infrared light.

Now here’s the part where my ability to comprehend wanes, the Webb Telescope will be able to sear farther back into time, capturing information from “ultraviolet and visible light emitted during the epoch when the very first galaxies formed is now arriving in the form of infrared light, after being stretched or ‘redshifted” by the expansion of the universe.” Suffice it to say, the largest, most powerful, telescope in history is about to blow our minds, revealing information which will shed light on the origins of the Cosmos. Scientists will be unraveling information from a device capable of enabling our species to look back in time to the genesis of our Cosmos.

The fabulous thing about the scientific method is that it is a way of thinking which enables us to confirm, deny, or revise our theories about the nature of reality. In this ever-evolving Cosmos our theories about what is and isn’t true, these theories evolve based on a theory’s ability to hold up in the face of observable evidence.

A wordsmith like myself takes great delight in the origin of the word “theory” which comes from the same Greek words from which we get the world “theology” – theo is Greek for the MYSTERY we have come to call, “GOD” and “logos” is Greek for “word” or “reason”. The combination of these Greek words came together over time to evolve into the verb “theoria”  to watch and contemplate or speculate ideas and reasons about the nature of what we see. We humans are ever so fond of theorizing about the nature of the REALITY in which we live, and move, and have our being.

According to scientists we need to prepare ourselves for the epiphanies which are about to require us to confirm, deny, revise, and even develop new of theories about the origins of the Cosmos. Theologians, those of us who are fond of speculating on the nature of the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being are also about to have our minds blown.

This amazing new telescope has me thinking of an old telescope I once helped a wise theologian set up in a field almost thirty years ago. Friends and I, living, working, and dreaming on a hobby-farm come retreat center, invited a wise old man to spend some time expounding on theology which he had developed during his decades of being a pastor, chaplain, theologian, educator, and amateur astronomer.  Fritz Norstad arrived ready to share his wisdom with us wearing a t-shirt with the words, “Old Age and Cunning, beats youth and exuberance every time!” and it was love at first sight!

The plan was for Fritz to deliver a lecture after dinner and then when darkness arrived Fritz would guide our attempts to star-gaze through his old telescope. In the afternoon some of the children and I were swept up by Fritz’s joyous presence. The children couldn’t get enough of Fritz as he mesmerized them with stories which always ended with children rolling in the grass with laughter. But it wasn’t all fun and games, Fritz employed the children to help him cart his telescope out into the field to get it ready for the evening’s activities. A deal was being negotiated that would see the children stay up long past their bedtime in exchange for some silence during Fritz’s impending lecture. But before the deal could be sealed, one of the youngest of the children managed to push his way up close to Fritz, as if on a mission to secure some understanding of what was going to happen, long after he should be in bed. Little three-year-old Justin, his eyes wide open, pointed to the telescope, and in a voice filled with wonder asked, “Do stars come out of there?” When the other children’s laughter died down, Fritz took Justin’s hand and placed it on the telescope and said, that if Justin could stay awake long past his bedtime, not only would he see stars, but through the telescope he would see the very face of GOD. Needless to say, all of the children were quiet during the lecture, except for the parts where Fritz elicited gales of laughter form all of us. And when the time came, little Justin was the first among us to see stars come out of the telescope as we stared into the very face of GOD.

Over the decades which have transpired since that spectacular summer’s night, I have often peered into the Cosmos rejoicing in the memory of the awe and wonder of an enthusiastic child who, thanks to the wisdom of a wise, old, theologian, began to see the face of GOD in the beauty and the majesty of the Cosmos. It wasn’t just wisdom which Fritz shared with us; it was LOVE. Not the hearts and flowers kind of love, but the LOVE, which is cosmic, so deep and vast that it not only permeates all that is; it is also the SOURCE and SUSTAINER of all that is. The kind of LOVE we see all around us as we live and move and have our being in the ONE Jesus life and teachings taught us is LOVE.

The LOVE which the Apostle Paul describes in the First Letter to the followers of the Way in Corinth where he writes:  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

How many of us have the courage to seek the face of DIVINITY, the ONE which is LOVE? As for our theories and theologies, they too will come to an end, for we know only in part, and the partial will come to an end.

In her latest book, “The Primacy of Love” scientist and theologian Ilia Delio quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who insisted that: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces.” Writes Delio, “By declaring love a cosmological force, Teilhard indicated that love is an energy ‘present from the Big Bang onwards, though indistinguishable from molecular forces.  In his poem ‘The Eternal Feminine,” Teilhard speaks of cosmic love in the voice of wisdom,” WISDOM SOPHIA: “‘I am embedded in the force field that is driving the cosmos towards greater novelty, towards greater integrity, and eventually towards greater consciousness.’”

Like little Justin, I can’t help wondering, not “Do stars come out of there?” but rather, “From where does LOVE come?” Like the scientists who created the Webb Telescope, I what to know where it all began. Like the theologians who dared to question Who, What, Where, Why, How, I have questions of my own. Looking up to the wonders of the Cosmos, out there at the beauty of the Earth, yes of course, I see the face of LOVE in the REALITY of which we are a dynamic part. I see the face of LOVE in the faces of sisters and brothers whose presence has touched me, molded me, shaped me, and in the faces of those I’ve yet to meet, I pray I’m wise enough to see the face of LOVE. I have plenty of evidence upon which to base my theories and theologies when it comes to the dignity and grace of my fellow humans to know that every one of them bears the face of LOVE when they love one another. What I all too often fail to know is that I too am the face of LOVE when I love.

For LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond me just as surely as LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond you. We are made of the stuff of stars, cosmic bursts of the LIGHT which is LOVE. We were created by LOVE, out of LOVE to be LOVE. Only when we can feel the face of LOVE shining out from us can we be all that we are created to be, the living embodiment of LOVE in the world.

Remembering the child, I was way back then, in a field far away watching stars come out of a telescope as the face of DIVINITY shone in, with, through, and beyond children gathered around an old telescope, I can hardly wait to see the epiphanies which will come out of our human desire to know the unknowable. I can’t remember who said it, but it rings true in me, “GOD is what is known of that which is unknowable.” What I know of the DIVINE MYSTERY we call GOD is that GOD is the LOVE in which the Cosmos continues to evolve, and I for one don’t mind a bit that to know this LOVE, I will inevitably have to put away some treasured theologies and theories as I continue to grow into the ONE in which, I live, and move, and have my being, the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED and BREATH of LOVE.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is LOVE.”

So, peer though the light no matter how invisible it may seem. Look and see that you are the face of LOVE, here and now, in this time, in this place, you are the incarnation of LOVE. Embody the LIGHT and let it shine! LOVE comes out of you! LOVE which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, BREATHE of LOVE, now and always, Amen. Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY!

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TODAY! Set free from a Three-Tiered Universe!

Yesterday, I travelled out onto the frozen surface of Lake Simcoe. Somehow, these long busy days working in my office at home, while we all do our best to cope with what we hope will be the last tidal wave of this pandemic, somehow this created a longing in me, strong enough to push me out on the ice despite the -23º which threatened to rob me of my breath. So, longing to escape the confines of my cozy isolation, out onto to the ice I trudged, as the cold air sharpened my vision. It didn’t take very long before the many layers of clothing, with which I had hoped to insulate myself from the dangers of the cold, failed to keep me moving very far into the expanse of white snow drifts which glistened as the Sun’s glorious rays danced incapable of warming much of anything but my heart. Standing beneath a clear blue sky, looking out towards the horizon, I tried to breath in some of the vastness which stretched before me. Alas, such a deep breath choked on the frigid air, as if my lungs rejected their own impulse to breathe, lest they themselves freeze as solidly as the lake beneath my feet. A momentary panic began to surface as my mind questioned the wisdom of standing on ice not knowing what lay below. How deep? How solid? How safe?

A quick glace toward the shoreline confirmed that I was well beyond where I would safely swim on a summer day and a strange sort of vertigo began to take hold over me. It was as if my body was teaming up with my mind to convince my spirit to abandon this peculiar excursion. Such a strange dualism to entertain on the surface of a frozen lake, beneath a clear blue sky, staring out at a horizon, I have all too often entertained. Ice and water below me, the Sun shining before me, and behind me the Moon rising, all holding me in the embrace of a Cosmos the likes of which exceeds the farthest horizon of my ability to comprehend.

Imagining the horizons of my ancient ancestors, I could see in my mind’s eye a familiar worldview, a three-tiered universe, complete with an omnipotent god smiling and then frowning down at me. Heaven above the Earth and Hell below, all depending upon a smile or a frown from the omniscient god, Himself confined to sit in judgement in a celestial realm from which He sent His Son, to save creatures of His own creation from their own depravity. I stomped my feet upon the ice in a vain gesture of defiance until my stomping evolved into a dance of freedom, as I gleefully celebrated our liberation from the captivity of a three-tiered universe.

Suddenly, the Cosmos reminded me that freedom from ancient ways of knowing does not mean freedom from REALITY. Indeed, it can mean freedom to BE in ways which affirm REALITY, the REALITY we long to know, the ONE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, this LOVE which we call “GOD”. No sooner than I felt the freedom of union with the DIVINE, than it was time to seek the confines of my car to warm up.

All week long, I have been emersed in the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke’s account of Jesus’ first sermon, in which Jesus declares that he has been anointed to bring Good News, and it wasn’t until my own frozen epiphany set me to dancing on ice that I actually noticed that part of the Good News of which Jesus speaks involves the proclamation of “liberty to those held captive!” Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller recounts Jesus’ words:

“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. He was teaching in the Galilean synagogues, and all were loud in their praise. Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his habit, Jesus stood up to do the reading. When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison— to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus. Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”  (Luke 4:14-21)

We are told by the gospel-storyteller that after his one-line commentary on the words of Isaiah, Jesus’ hometown congregation were so incensed that they decided to hurl him off a cliff. What could possibly compel Jesus’ friends and neighbours to consider homicide? This question has generated more than a few sermons of its own. That’s the thing with stories, one story, if it is even remotely engaging, that one story will inevitably lead to many more stories. So, I will not presume to answer for Jesus’ hometown congregation’s murderous intentions. I will only attempt to take you where this story took me out there on the ice of Lake Simcoe.

Exposed to the vastness of the Cosmos, it was the ancient story of a Three-tiered Universe that inspired not murderous intentions in me, but rather the euphoria of freedom from captivity to the limitations of our ancestors’ imaginations. Limitations which the evolving nature of our understanding of reality compel us to reject. For “GOD” is not safely ensconced in the Heavens and we do not need saving from our own depravity by a human sacrifice because there simply is no Hell below us. We are free from the captivity of a way of thinking which insists that we believe what our own experience confirms is no way to live in the very reality our ancestors were struggling to fathom. For we have been blessed with the ability to grasp so many more details about the Cosmos in which we live and move and have our being, than our ancestors could ever have imagined. Today, we, ourselves and our neighbours, no longer live captive to the contours of the very tiny universe in which our ancestors confined their thoughts.  

Today, like Jesus, we too can proclaim liberty to the captive minds and recovery of sight to those who have been blinded by ancient ways of knowing. The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within us!  The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within all Creation, permeating all of the Cosmos! The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is BEYOND Creation, BEYOND the Cosmos, even as it is in, and with, and through, all of Creation, all of the Cosmos. Infused, inspired, and incarnating as CHRIST’s body, as LOVE here and now in this place and in this time, we are anointed to this bring Good News to the poor and to free the captives! Free from images and idols created by the inhabitants of a universe of misconceptions, we can abandon lives devoted to a god preoccupied with judging our journey’s end, dispatching us to Heaven or Hell. We are free to live in the abundance of life here and now, in a Cosmos permeated by the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE. Free from misguided struggles to appease the idol god of our design, we are free to see beyond our blind self-centered desire for a life beyond this life, free to see the face of DIVINITY in our neighbours’ face, free to see DIVINITY in the majesty of the Cosmos, and in the beauty of the Earth.

Heaven is ours to create out of the hells we have made. We are free to imagine the grace of the MYSTERY capable of exquisite intricacy, unrelenting intimacy, magnanimous generosity, and evolutionary complexity; a MYSTERY which is the very embodiment of LOVE, the LOVE which is eternally becoming. We are free to seek, to know, and to become this LOVE in which we live, and move, and have our being. Our very freedom from ancient ways of knowing and being sets of a chain-reaction of freedom which can, if we let it, become Good News for the poor, as we finally begin to understand what Jesus knew all along, when Jesus insisted, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” For if Jesus and the ABBA are ONE, the Good News is that you and I and our neighbours, we are ONE with ABBA. I can hear them now, those held captive to by our ancestors’ limited understanding, I can hear them. They may not want to hurl me off a cliff, although some have wished me dead, or at the very least judged and punished by their god of eternal torment.

I can hear them tut tutting at the audacity of my taking such liberties with the Gospel. How dare I flirt with new ways of understanding REALITY, new discoveries about the Cosmos, new theories about the nature of human consciousness? How dare I posit a GOD who is LOVE? How dare I claim freedom from the old-man—in the sky-god only to embrace half-baked notions of a MYSTERY which is called LOVE, as if LOVE is the answer? How double-dog dare I? Well, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek let me blame it on a dog.

After warming myself on my car’s heating vent, I caught sight of sundog begin to emerge as the Sun was still setting. I fumbled for my phone and hopped out into the frigid air desperate to capture a photograph which has always eluded me. I failed to capture the sunset. Instead, I was blessed by two, I don’t know if they were my brothers or my sisters or one of each. I only know that they appeared to follow in my footsteps in the snow as they ventured out to the place where the Cosmos had made itself known to me. Our kinship warmed me as I imagined their delight at our Sun’s sensuous self-giving display as it set. They must have seen me gazing at them, or at least I like to imagine they did.  So, I waved and was gifted by their own energetic response.

There we stood, we three kindred creatures, waving together as ONE, held in a vast Cosmos touched by the MYSTERY which is the LOVE which permeates ALL that IS, including us, for we are ONE, ONE with DIVINITY. We are free to embrace this LOVE, to walk in this LOVE, and to be this LOVE. This, dear ones, is Good News indeed! Now, today, let us become Good News for the poor, let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE in the world! Let us be LOVE. Today!

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NO! I Do NOT Believe IN Jesus! – a sermon on John 2:1-11 – The Wedding at Cana

recorded on Jan. 20, 2019

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend that I was very close to during my seminary days. This friend has long since left the church. My friend asked me, “Dawn do you still believe in Jesus?” I remembered all the long conversations in seminary about believing in Jesus and at that very moment I had an epiphany of sorts. I hesitated to answer, because like all epiphanies, I recognized that if I let myself go to the place where my epiphany was pointing me to, I would be in very unfamiliar territory. My friend would not let me off the hook, “It’s a simple question Dawn.  Do you still believe in Jesus?”

“No.” I said, and my friend smiled, the way she used to smile when she scored a point against me in some theological debate. My epiphany was shedding light on what could prove to be a painful reality. After all, from where my friend now sits, outside of the church and beyond all the church’s teachings, belief in Jesus is kind of a non-negotiable bottom line for a pastor. From her perspective, I ought to be able to give an unequivocal, “YES” to her question.

“No.” I said it again. “I do not believe in Jesus.”

My friend’s smile seemed to shine brighter than my epiphany. It was as if she was already celebrating my departure from the church. Before she could welcome me to the place where she now stands, outside the church, I said it again. “No, I do not believe in Jesus.  But, ……….I do believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe Jesus. I believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said .I believe what Jesus taught. I believe that the way Jesus lived embodies a new way of being human. I believe Jesus when he says, “Do not be afraid.” I believe Jesus when he speaks about the MYSTERY that we call God. I believe Jesus when he insists that justice is worth dying for. I believe Jesus when he risks everything for the sake of his conviction that non-violent resistance is the way to achieve justice. I believe Jesus, the way he lived, the way he died, and the way he lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who follow his way of being human. I believe Jesus. I also believe that it doesn’t matter a whole hill of beans whether or not I or anybody else believes in Jesus. But it makes all the difference in the world and to the world that we believe Jesus, because at the core of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught is LOVE. LOVE God with all your heart, with, all your soul, and with all your mind and LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself; this I believe is a way BEYOND the kind of humanity that is always being consumed by itself. This LOVE moves us in to a new way of being. I believe Jesus’ call to look beyond our selfish needs, our selfish desires, our self-self-centeredness, and to move beyond our fears, to LOVE.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge between believing in Jesus and simply believing Jesus. Now I realize that some people would say that they don’t see much difference between believing in and simply believing.  Well that’s where the story of the Wedding at Cana is helpful. You see, so many people see the story about the Wedding at Cana as a miracle story; a story that proves Jesus is who people say he is. You either believe in Jesus or you don’t. You either believe in the fact that Jesus turned actual water into wine, or you don’t. You either believe in miracles or you don’t. Well, I believe the story of the Wedding at Cana, but I do not believe in miracles; at least not the kind of miracles that defy reality. I believe the story about Jesus turning water into wine. But I don’t believe that any water actually turned into wine. I believe the story, but I don’t believe that Jesus was some sort of super-natural being who  instantaneously changed water into wine. I believe the story, because the story points to the truth. Continue reading

Rest in the Grace of the Cosmos

Here we are again. Riding the wave of a worldwide spike. Separated from one another by our approaches to the oncoming rush of a variant which has so many of us isolating in our homes while others must venture out into the fray to keep things functioning, while still others are left to fend for themselves, out there, in the cold and cruelness of a world in which this wave is but the latest in a long line of viral injustice.  From behind the hoped-for protection of our masked façade we mumble our weariness. For we are tired. Tired of listening for news of this wave’s impact upon billions of us. Tired of being separated from all but a few of those billions. Tired of wondering, when, or how, or where this latest wave will take us. Who can blame us for trying to distract ourselves from tidal realities? Struggling to home-school, endless Zoom meetings, overdosing on news reports, bingeing endless entertainment, escaping down technology’s rabbit holes, or gorging on festive leftovers, these distractions of privilege are exhausting.

Yesterday, I sat here in the comfort of my living-room clutching a warm cup of tea as the sun sparkled through these windows, tempting me to venture outside into the Artic frigid air, wondering what I might say to offer you comfort, or inspiration as we ride this wave together and apart. The warmth of the teacup in my hands pulled me from my melancholic thoughts to remind me of the vast BEYOND. Upon this cup the imprint of a Starry Starry Night, and it brought words from the past into this moment. In my mind’s ear I heard the artist Vincent Van Gogh’s words urging me to look beyond myself. Van Gogh said, “When I have a terrible need of, dare I say religion, then I go outside at night and paint the stars.” Over and over again, a prayer welled up in me, “The stars, the stars, the stars.” As our Day Star glistened outside my window, sending LIGHT cascading around this room, I traversed galaxies in my mind’s eye squinted to see what lies beyond myself. “The stars, the stars, the stars.”  I prayed again and again, as the swell of the Cosmos caressed me with a tenderness beyond words. Longing to linger in the embrace of the ONE who is revealed in, with, through, and beyond the Cosmos, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, resting in the grace of the Cosmos. When the wet, cold, tea fell into my lap, I was refreshed, no longer feeling the need to gasp for air as the threatened pandemic tsunami continues its approach.  For I AM.  I AM held within the LOVE which is the DIVINE ONE.

Refreshed, restored, and empowered, I climbed the stairs to my office to read once again, the words which will be read in far flung places as christian communities celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Continue reading

Let 2022 Be Your Ode to JOY!

The myths recorded at the end of the first century about the birth of Jesus are a series of parables designed by their creators to challenge the oppressed followers of the teachings of Jesus to free themselves from the bondage of empire. One of the parables which make up this nativity befitting a great human, is the Parable of the Wise Ones. Wise Ones, sages from the East followed the star of their dreams seeking the one who would fulfill the hopes and dreams of many for leader who would embody the WISDOM necessary to lead the people out of bondage. Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Matthew recorded the Parable of the Wise Ones: “Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod; suddenly sages from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the one born ruler of the Judeans? For we have seen his star at its ascent and have come to reverence him.’  When King Herod heard this, he was shaken, and all Jerusalem with him; then calling together the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah would be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, by no means are the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod secretly called for the sages and learned from them the time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go, search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word so that I may also go and reverence him.” When they had heard the king, they left, and there suddenly was the star that they had seen at is ascent going before them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they rejoiced; their joy was exuberant. On entering the house, they say the child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and reverenced him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The gospel-storyteller weaves a parable for generations which draws us into the miracle of birth in the midst of challenging of times. The Parable of the Wise Ones is carefully designed to inspire communities of listeners who knew all too well the trials and tribulations which threaten every baby born into the turmoil of oppression and violence. In the parable, Jesus is portrayed as a child who will grow into a great liberator who challenges not only his own generation, but generations to come to live fully, no matter what the obstacles to freedom may be. The Parable of the Wise Ones, like all parables if we let them, when liberated from the misperceptions of history, has the uncanny ability to challenge us to embrace new ways of seeing reality. Ways which will liberate us from our fears, liberate us from oppression, and empower us to resist violence. The power of a parable’s ability to liberate generations comes from the hope which parables inspire.

The Parable of the Sages manages to challenge even the wisest among us to see beyond the challenges, beyond the threats of violence, beyond even the end of the gospel-storyteller’s story, which we all know is coming, for not even death can diminish the joy of new birth. For who among us, when the star stops over the place where the baby lay, does not feel the hope rising in us, when the sages, knowing full well the dangers surrounding the birth, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they rejoiced and their joy was exuberant.”

Their joy was exuberant! Joy the very emotion which inspires hope!  Considering the many challenges, the dangers, toils, and snares through which we have come these past two years, is it any wonder that we find ourselves longing to feel some joy? Joy to the world! Yes please!  We need a little joy in order to hope for liberation in this new year! What I wouldn’t give for a star to stop over the place where all the answers lie waiting to be discovered, waiting to free us, so that we can abandon our fear and live life abundantly, here, and now. That’s the thing about parables, you can’t take them too literally. Staring up into the heavens searching for a star to lead us, won’t bring us the joy we need to inspire the hope we need to free us from our fear, so that the promise of abundant life can be born again and again, and again.

I had almost given up hope of experiencing joy this Christmas until I was reminded of the gift of joy given by an unlikely creator of hope. I was watching one of those endless end of the year news programs. You know the kind of show that tries to sum it all up with a few segments which remind us of the momentous, almost forgotten, happenings of the year gone by. (click here to view the news segment) Well, it turns out that 2020, in addition to being an “annus horribilis” that’s the Queen’s Latin for “disastrous or unfortunate year,” 2020 was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. Needless to say, the planned celebrations were put on hold, and they remained on hold all of last year. Nevertheless, the news program decided to run their tribute to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as part of their year-end windup. Over the years, I’ve learned very little about Beethoven’s life other than the fact that this epic creator of music, lost his hearing and continued to compose music which is beyond compare. What I learned in the ever-so brief snippet, which is characteristic of so much news programming, is that in addition to losing his hearing in his late-twenties, Beethoven suffered from chronic lead poisoning, he may have had colitis, he suffered fevers and headaches which lasted for months. His health challenges became so unbearable that Beethoven entertained the idea of suicide. Choosing instead to live for his art, Beethoven contended with the political oppression, wars, and rumors of wars of his time. Living in Vienna, which was primarily a police state at the time, Beethoven chose to set to music the Friedrich Schiller poem Ode to Joy. As the final movement of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy may be the most famous revolutionary call to freedom ever created. Says conductor Marin Alsop, “it’s about coming to terms with challenge, strife, and struggle and deciding it is worth it.”

Beethoven tapped into the dejection of his fellow citizens to create a gift designed to keep the idea of freedom alive. The writing of the Ninth Symphony by a man who was deaf may just be the greatest act of faith in the reality of life’s worth! For Beethoven gave birth to the Ninth Symphony using his mind’s ear. Listen with your own mind’s ear and I suspect the power of Beethoven’s creation will still be able to stir joy in you. Marin Alsop insists that Beethoven’s loss of hearing may have liberated him from self-censorship. “He kept moving forward in terms of experimentation, in terms of taking risks.” With the Ode to Joy, Beethoven reminded his world, and continues to remind our world, that “even in the darkest of times there is potential for joy.”

I wonder what the numerus losses our world has experienced in the past two years may have liberated us from. What joys may we discover in this liberation? In the freedom from the way things were? In the discovery of stars to guide us? In the joy we allow ourselves to take in each new birth.

These 2020s may not be the roaring twenties of a bygone age but consider for a moment the enormity of the blessings we enjoy in this century. All around us there is potential for joy. The kind of joy which inspires hope, the kind of hope that creates abundant life. If we let it, 2022 has the potential to be our ode to joy, for we have all we need to create abundant life here and now. Not just for ourselves, but for all our neighbours. Yes, we do need to come to terms with our challenges, we need to understand the oppressive nature of the empires we serve, for only then will we be able to fully see life’s tremendous worth.

Friends, at your birth a star shone brightly in the sky and the sages who visited you, they rejoiced, and indeed their joy was exuberant. The wise ones in your life have given you many gifts. May their joy and your giftedness work wonders in you. For we have challenges to meet. Now is the time to claim the freedom of life without fear which is the joy of abundant life. May this new year bring you great joy! May this new year be the beginning of your ode to joy!  Your gift to the world! Happy New Year! Happy New Year!  Amen!

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You beautiful CHRIST-Child YOU!

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones

The old and the young

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear.

John Lennon’s almost mournful Christmas wish resonates in my very being this Christmas.  A few weeks ago, we were all looking forward to making up for last Christmas and hoping that this year Christmas would be Merry and that our New Year would be a good one without any fear. And here we are on this the Second Day of Christmas looking toward a New Year being told that we should be afraid, very afraid. So far the 20s haven’t exactly been the roaring 20’s which our grandparents enjoyed. 2020 and 2021 have challenged all, if not to be afraid, then at least be careful, very, very, careful. Celebrating in the midst of a pandemic which keeps rushing at us in ever increasing waves isn’t easy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled to feel all the feelings we long to feel at Christmas.Anticipation, Excitement, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love . . .

The other day, as I waited in a long line up to get my booster shot, I heard someone say, “This sure doesn’t feel like Christmas.” To which his companion said, “No matter how hard I try I just can’t get into the Christmas Spirit.” I almost wept as the woman in front of me shook her head and yelled, “Don’t worry Christmas will soon be over.” I managed to restrain myself from saying, “Ba Humbug!” But I certainly thought it.

Driving home with a sore arm, I remembered another Christmas long ago. That’s the thing about Christmas if functions as a kind of time machine to Christmases past. Way back then, I was struggling to feel all the feels of Christmas. I was young and very serious about my faith, and I wanted to feel something more than I was. I remember on Christmas Eve felling so melancholy that I cornered my Pastor in his office. I sat right down and told him that I was having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas. The poor man. To his credit he just smiled, closed the door, sat down, and listened as I poured my heart out about how nothing was really the same and how difficult I was finding it to get into the spirit of Christmas. I told him that this year it was as if something was missing, and I asked him if he thought I might be losing my faith.

He just smiled, and said that, “someday I would look back on this Christmas with the same kind of longing that I was looking back on previous Christmases.” He said that each of us has an emptiness deep inside which cannot be filled by the past. He went on to say that the emptiness couldn’t be filled by looking to the future either. He insisted that, our emptiness can only be filled in the present moment. He said that our emptiness is filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.

I honestly, didn’t understand a word Pastor Ernst was saying. I was very dissatisfied with the quality of his advice. It sounded to me that he was telling me to pray, to pray now in this very moment. Probably because back then I thought prayer was the answer to every question, so why wouldn’t I interpret his words as a call to prayer. But I’d already tried to pray, and it hadn’t made a bit of difference. If anything, trying to pray only made me feel worse. So, I thanked Pastor Ernst for his time and wished him a Merry Christmas.

As I left his office, I couldn’t imagine ever longing for this particular Christmas. Looking back on it now, what I wouldn’t give for a few more moments with old Pastor Ernst, for the passing years have proven him to be a very wise man, indeed. “Someday, you will look back at this Christmas with longing.” Each of us has an emptiness deep inside that cannot be filled by longing for the past or for the future. Our emptiness can only be filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.”

It has taken me years to understand the wisdom that Pastor Ernst shared with me. My understanding began that very afternoon. The preparations for the Christmas Eve Sunday School Pageant were in a state of pure bedlam. The madness wasn’t helped by the presence of the baby Jesus. Tradition dictated that the youngest member of the congregation be given the honour of playing the role of the baby Jesus. This particular baby Jesus was just eight weeks old, and according to her mother she suffered with colic. I had absolutely no idea what colic was, but there was something about the look in her mother’s eyes which compelled me to take the baby from her. I’d always been good with babies, and I was sure that I could calm her down, if I just got her away from the madness that was going on around us. The church had a little nursery attached to the sanctuary, so off I went with the baby Jesus in my arms. It took some doing but after some furious rocking in a rocking chair baby Jesus lay quietly looking up at me.  She was a strange little Jesus. She had the most striking red hair, and the most amazing green eyes. She frowned up at me as if to say, “Who are you?” Not wanting her to start screaming all over again, I rocked a little faster, it seemed the faster I rocked her the more content she became, ah colic. It took some doing, but finally the scowling baby Jesus smiled up at me. It was overwhelming. 

With the sounds of duelling shepherds and excited angels out in the narthex, I sat rocking this lovely little CHRIST child. And suddenly I was filled with the glory of God. Filled to over-flowing. Connected in some mysterious way to something so much bigger than myself. It was as if, in that little child all the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lay. At that very moment I held eternity in my arms.

I’m sure most of you are convinced that you will never look back with longing at this Christmas. Not unless you allow yourself to see the DIVINE MYSTERY in the faces of those you see here and now in these moments. There are CHRIST Childs everywhere, even in your very own mirror. For you are a beloved Child of the DIVINE MYSTERY.  In you the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lie. If you’ve been longing for loved ones, long gone, or far away, if you’ve been missing all the feels you were longing to feel, if you’ve been pre-occupied by what the future may hold, if you know an emptiness deep inside… It is time to stop and take a good look around you. 

Christmas time is a time to be present here and now. Christmas time is eternal time.  And it is true, the empty place inside cannot be filled by longing for what was or for what is to come. The empty place inside can only be filled here and now in this moment, by our God who inhabits eternity. The good news is that this is only the Second Day of Christmas, you have ten more days to be fully present to each moment you are blessed to be you. If you like, do a little dance, you know a dance like Ebenezer Scrooge did when he woke up and realized he hadn’t missed Christmas at all. Wake up to this moment and keep Christmas well. Rejoice for we are richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Born into the ONE who is the LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond us, CHRIST-Children everyone. And so, this is Christmas, time to live in this moment, you beautiful CHRIST-Child you.  Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY for life here and now!

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