Sermon: NATIVITY – a parable born in the darkness of trauma.

For the past few weeks, as the seemingly endless atmospheric rivers have flooded my beloved British Columbia, I have watched in horror as familiar towns and neighbourhoods have been inundated with unprecedented flooding. I spent more than 20 years of my life living along the delta land created by the mighty Fraser River and not once, has that blessed river ever visited such devastation upon my neighbours. As we struggle to grasp the enormous impact of something which up until now, most of us never heard of, one atmospheric river after another dumps record shattering amounts of rainfall, day after day, and week after week. It is as if atmospheric rivers have unleashed the tears of our Mother the Earth and there is little we can do to comfort her. Watching the devastation climate change is inflicting upon our privileged neighbours compels us to expand our gaze to include our less privileged neighbours in distant lands, who are being forced to flee their homes with nowhere to go and precious aid being offered. The recent failure of COP20 in Glasgow to achieve any significate response from collective governments causes my own tears to flow.  I am reminded of the ancient words of our ancestor Paul who wrote in the letter to the Romans:

“We know that the whole Creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the SPIRIT groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Alas, my patience has worn thin and I’m not sure I even know what to hope for let alone how to hope that Creation’s groaning will finally move individuals, nations, corporations, and indeed our whole world to respond with significant change to heal the wounds we have inflicted on our Mother the Earth.  

During the season of Advent, we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the LIGHT. Sometimes, the present darkness causes me to despair for even a hint of LIGHT. Today we join our ancestors who embarked into the darkness of Advent, equipped with parables created by long forgotten ancestors, in which generations have seen LIGHT. While many may ask: What can a parable of unborn hope in the first century, offer us in the 21st century? I invite you to listen as together we seek LIGHT for our own times, in this present darkness. Listen to the Gospel Parable created by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke:

“Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the HOLY SPIRIT. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does this visit come to me? That the mother of my SOVERIGN comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the HOLY ONE.”

Is this a charming little story fit for little more than the pageants of a bygone age? Or is this a parable with power to reveal LIGHT in our present darkness? Perhaps only the darkness in which this parable was created can provide the answers which will LIGHT our own darkness. No one knows who created this parable. The author is anonymous, the name Luke was assigned to the gospel long after it was created. We do know that the unknown creator of this parable, wrote his Gospel account sometime between 70 and 90CE. That’s 40 to 60 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps two are three generations had passed; two or three generations of reflecting upon the life and death of Jesus.

The context in which our gospel-storyteller wrote down his parable was as dark as it gets; a darkness which can only be described as horrific. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 a vicious war between Roman Empire and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”.  

Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the ONE, true God, refusing to worship the various caesars, and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords. During this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people into surrendering. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising by the destroying the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism, both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written during this apocalypse. Our sacred stories were born of the pain of a traumatized people.

Sadly, we Christians all too often read the gospel accounts without any reference to the horror of the Jewish War, which dominated the lives of the gospel-writers. Historians tell us that the view of Jerusalem after the year 70 would have included ten-thousand corpses hung on crosses, surrounding the Temple Mount. Out of such darkness the four gospels were born. Each of these four gospels navigates this darkness in a very particular way.

Try to imagine for just a moment that you are wandering around the ruins of Jerusalem a decade or so after the destruction of the Temple. All your life you have looked to the Temple and the Holy of Holies as the dwelling place of YAHWEH your God. Your religious practices, your cultural life, even the economic structures on which you rely all revolved around the Temple. You cannot think about or imagine YAHWEH without referencing the Temple. The Romans have destroyed the Temple. How could this happen? Why did YAHWEH allow this to happen? Why are you and your kinfolk being punished? What could your people have done to deserve this?

You are not alone in asking these questions. The rotting corpses of those who came up against the mighty Roman Empire fill your nostrils with the stench of defeats so enormous that the unspeakable crosses your mind: “Where is God when God’s dwelling place is destroyed?” “Has YAHWEH abandoned the children of Israel?”  “Why else would God let the Romans execute Jesus?”

Some of Jesus’ followers began to doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. They would have been taught what Jesus had been taught. They would have heard of Jesus’ teachings about non-violent resistance. They would have heard of Jesus’ insistence upon justice for the poor and the marginalized. They would have heard of Jesus’ claim that the reign of God is at hand. They would have been taught of Jesus’ insistence that they love their enemies as well as their neighbours.

Perhaps in the midst of the carnage which their enemies had wrought, Jesus’ teachings began to look less attractive. The Temple lay in ruins and Jesus had been executed. Jesus had insisted that He and the Father are ONE, and that as much as you do onto the least of these you do on to me.

In the teachings of Jesus, they were challenged to see the CHRIST in one another. Jesus taught them that God dwells in and with them. For the gospel storytellers Jesus would take the place of the Temple, for in Jesus, YAHWEH lived and breathed. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw the ONE whose Way of being in the world could deliver them from the Romans, even as the Temple lay in ruins. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw their MESSSIAH, their CHRIST, the ONE in whom YAHWEH dwells. In the destruction of the Temple, the followers of Jesus discovered what they had always known, that YAHWEH cannot be contained in a place because the HOLY ONE IS within and around them.  

From within the darkness of the crisis flowing from the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism inspired the Jewish people to seek God not in a place but in the life of the people, as they began to turn more and more to the Torah to inspire them to encounter the DIVINE in the stories of the people and in their collective struggle to live. The Jewish people looked to the life of the people and discovered the WISDOM of YAHWEH in their midst.

As Rabbinic Judaism thrived, Christianity inspired the followers of Jesus not to seek DIVINITY in a place, but in the life and teachings of Jesus who they heralded as the CHRIST, the WISDOM of God embodied in one of them. Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, two religions born of shared darkness, destined to follow parallel paths which would often intersect with tragic consequences.

Almost two-thousand years have passed since the birth of these two ways of knowing and relating to the HOLY ONE and once more darkness surrounds us. Peace through justice, the promise of Shalom continues to elude us. As we wander in the darkness, we cannot help but notice the rotting corpses of our own crisis. Millions die needless deaths as a result of greed and hatred. The poor cry out as we privatize and monetize the gifts of the Earth and line our pockets with treasure extracted from the weak and the powerless. The oppressed cry out for justice as we militarize the keepers of peace and shots ring out while the judgments of our power structures leave those whose skin is not lily white breathless. Fear abounds as we extort wealth from whole populations guarantying the birth of terrorists who perpetuate horrors the likes of which make the Roman Empire appear meek.

Wars and rumors of wars rage on, as the Earth suffers the ravages of our abuse; atmospheric rivers rain down Earth’s tears flooding both the privileged as well as the powerless. The ice-caps melt, the oceans rise, lands buckle and slide, and children are taught to fear the sun. Injustice, oppression, poverty, disease, racism, hatred, form the contours of our self-centered flailing in the darkness.

Just like our Jewish forebears and our Christian ancestors we look for a Messiah, a Saviour to rescue us from the crisis we have wrought. Where is God? Has YAHWEH abandoned us? We look to the heavens, but God is not there. The temples we erect to house God are dominated by the very evils which inspired the crisis Creation is enduring. God is not there? Where is God? Science and reason have exposed our images of God as mere idols unworthy of our worship. In this darkness, we long for a saviour to rescue us from our very selves.

Like our ancestors who endured the crisis of the Temple’s destruction we too must seek new meanings from old revelations and open ourselves to what is happening all around us so that new WISDOM can be born in us. We have been blessed with the WISDOM of the HOLY ONE who dwells among us. The sacredness of Creation in all its many expressions cries out to us like John the Baptist, repent, turn from your ways, repent, and prepare the way for our GOD.

In the midst of our darkness, we are learning so much about the nature of reality. Science is teaching us about the realities of the Cosmos and revealing things our ancestors couldn’t even begin to dream of.

When God is no longer a person up there in the sky, where is God? When God is no longer personified in ways which can be controlled and manipulated by the powerful, who is God? When we stop creating images of God which are mere projections of ourselves, what is God?

I believe religion is an art form. Like all art, religion takes practice if it is to live and grow and find expression in ways which inspire truth, beauty, and justice. Like all art, religion’s truth and beauty is judged by a religion’s ability to inspire us to live life more fully. So, let us look to our Christianity and judge this art form by its ability to inspire us to live more fully, to love more deeply, and to create peace through justice in all the Earth.  Religion, like any art form, when it is practiced well, inspires us to live, to love, and to create. Let us judge our practice of the art of Christianity by Christianity’s ability to inspire abundant life on Earth by caring for Creation, by reflecting the LIGHT which sines in the darkness.  Let us judge our images of DIVINITY by their power of our imaginings to inspire life, love, and peace through justice, as we work together to comfort and heal the Earth. 

YAHWEH survived war’s destruction of the Temple. The LIGHT will survive science’s destruction of our personifications of DIVINITY.  The HOLY ONE is not confined to a place. Nor will DIVINITY be held captive to our various personifications of the MYSTERY which is LOVE. The SOURCE of ALL that IS, the ONE which lies at the very heart of reality, the DIVINE MYSTERY which nourishes, grounds, and sustains us, will survive our inarticulate, often misguided practice of religion.

The HOLY ONE, lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond all of Creation. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, that which we call the CHRIST, has the power to save us, if we open ourselves to the reality that CHRIST, is born in us when LOVE abounds. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, the ONE we call the CHRIST, has the power to inspire the abundant life which our human nature, indeed that all of Creation longs for. So, let the LOVE gestating in darkness leap for joy within us. Let us care for one another, as we heal the Earth so that LOVE is born in us. Let the LIGHT of LOVE, the ONE we call the CHRIST find glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond us. Where is God in the darkness we have wrought? God, which is LOVE is here. Right here.  Right here. Right now. In you, and in me, and in all our sisters and brothers. Let us reflect this LOVE in our lives. Let there be LIGHT. So, that we might practice the art of Christianity in ways which will inspire abundant life in all of Creation. Let LIGHT be born in us. Let CHRIST be born in us. Do not be afraid. For the ONE who is coming is far greater than all our images, personifications, and all our idols. The ONE who is coming is CHRIST the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, who from the beginning of time has found glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond Creation. The ONE who is coming is the LIGHT we need to see in this present darkness. The LIGHT is the LOVE which lives and breathes and loves in, with, through, and beyond us, inspiring abundant life in all of Creation. Let us reflect this LIGHT as we comfort, heal, and LOVE our Mother the Earth, for even in our present darkness LOVE leaps for joy in you!

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Annunciations from the Margins

Greetings favoured ones! I begin this series with a little annunciation in the style of the Angel Gabriel, “Greetings favoured ones! As Advent begins, we begin our explorations of what I am calling “Parables of DIVINITY.” Parables are stories designed to turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions. Advent is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the parables told by our ancestors about the MYSTERY of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Now, I am often asked if the parables we tell during Advent are true. By which my questioners usually mean, “Did these parables actually happen the way the bible says they happened?” To which I always respond, “ABSOLUTLY! They are most certainly true!” I then add the words of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, who would insist, “I don’t know if these things happened the way they are written in the bible. But I do know that they are true.” Our Parables of DIVINITY series begins with a splendid parable in which truth is revealed. It is the kind of truth which has the power to turn our carefully held assumptions inside-out and upside-down. Unfortunately, the radical nature of our first Parable of DIVINITY has been domesticated and simplified, dumbed down, and rendered mundane and inoffensive. Inoffensive that is except for the matter of that tiny little word which is the victim of so many inaccurate translations. If only the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Matthew hadn’t made such a rookie error when he translated the Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah into Greek, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do. You see whoever this Matthew was, he certainty didn’t pay enough attention when he attempted to use the words of Isaiah to describe Mary of Nazareth. Instead of doing his homework, Matthew relied on the work of previous male translators who mansplained a simple Hebrew noun into Greek which resulted in a young woman named Mary ending up as a perpetual virgin. I kid you not. These gentlemen translators managed to take the Hebrew word for a  “young woman” mistranslate it into Greek as “virgin”, and the anonymous guy we call Matthew either never bothered to check his Greek Septuagint, or for reasons of his own, he decided that Mary was a not just a young woman but also a virgin and years later the Church, and I’m talking about the Imperial Church of Rome here, they added the perpetual part and before long, women everywhere have had to deal with the glorification, or the vernation, and objectification of virginity. But I digress. Insane notions tying virginity and motherhood up in a neat bow while tying women up in knots is a subject for another sermon. 

What I want to talk about today are two Parables of DIVINITY, which I’m calling “Annunciations from the Margins. “Annunciation” from the Latin verb “annuntiare” which can be translated as “to announce” or “to proclaim” or my favourite translation, “to bring tidings.” Usually during Advent, these tidings are thought of as “tidings of great joy.” But not all tidings are joyous. Especially when those tidings are delivered to people who live in the margins of society. Before we deal with the familiar parable of the Annunciation of the YOUNG WOMAN Mary, I’d like to remind you of the first Annunciation parable in the Bible. Now some of you may think I’m talking about the parable of Hannah which is found in 1st Samuel. Probably because Hannah’s Song finds expression in Mary’s Magnificat.  These are parables we’ll get to later in Advent. For now, you’ll have to cast your minds all the way back to the book of Genesis to discover the first Annunciation parable. Genesis 16 to be exact. Listen to this marvelous translation of the parable of the Annunciation of Hagar. You remember Hagar from the story of Sarah and Abraham. Our parable takes place back when Sarah went by the name Sarai. By the way, Sarai is a Hebrew name which translates as “my princess” or as I like to think of Sarah it can also be translated as DININITY’s Princess. As you no doubt remember, Hagar was the woman Abraham turned to when DIVINITY’s Princess could not conceive a child. Like Sarah, Hagar would become the mother of nations. But as our parable begins the women are estranged and Hagar has run away, she’s taken flight. Listen to the Annunciation of Hagar:

“Now the messenger of the ALL-SEEING GOD found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And the messenger said, “Hagar, slave girl of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?” And Hagar said, “From my mistress Sarai am I fleeing.”

The messenger of the INSCRUTABLE GOD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and subject yourself to her.” The messenger of the WELLSPRING OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Greatly will I multiply your seed, so they cannot be counted for multitude.” Then the messenger of the FOUNT OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Look!  You are pregnant and shall give birth to a son, and you shall call him Ishmael (meaning GOD hears), for the FAITHFUL ONE has heard of your abuse, He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live in the sight of all his kin.” So, Hagar named the LIVING GOD who spoke to her: “You are El-ro’i”; for she said, “Have I really seen GOD and remained alive after seeing GOD?”

Sometimes I forget that Hagar and not Moses is the first to be heralded by our ancestors for having seen DIVINITY and lived. Hagar a woman living in the margins, in slavery, fearing for her life, flees for her life and she sees DIVNITY and she lives. Hagar the name itself is of Arabic origin and can be translated as “stranger” or “forsaken” or “one who flees”. Remember when reading parables, especially Parables of DIVINITY, pay attention to the names, they will reveal truth to those who listen carefully. Hagar is an Egyptian slave whose position in the household of DIVINITY’s Princess is marginal. The announcement of her pregnancy may or may not be good news. It all depends upon what position you are in, and Hagar’s parable sets her squarely in the margins of the society in which the parable is set. Indeed, it could be said that the character Hagar’s subsequent role as mother of the nations of Islamic people continues to set Hagar and her descendants in the margins of many of the communities in which we live.

Continue reading

Advent and the Quest for the Perfect Christmas – Luke 1

Recorded on the First Sunday of Advent 2018

Let me begin, good friends, by addressing you in the same way that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we know as Luke addressed his congregation, for I trust that each one of you are indeed “Theophilus”. LOVER of GOD from the Greek words: “theo” which means “God” and “philus” which means “lover”.

Dearest lovers of God, welcome to the Gospel according to Luke. ‘Tis the season for the first two chapters of Luke which read much like a Broadway musical. While others may have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events exactly as they were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses, the anonymous, gospel-storyteller that, for the want of knowing his or her actual name, we call Luke, has put together an opening to his portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in the grand style of Jewish midrash, with a cast of characters aptly named to put his audiences in mind of some of the Jewish people’s greatest heroes; a real blast from the past with a view toward a new kind of future. Over the years, those who have heard Luke’s account have added the musical score which includes Zachariah’s “Bennedictus,” Elizabeth’s “Hail Mary” as well as Mary’s “Magnificat”. And that’s just in the first chapter!

The Gospel we call Luke came into the life of the Christian community in the late 9thor early 10thdecade of the Common Era, or some sixty years after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. It opens with a magical birth story never intended to be viewed as history. Let me say that again. It opens with a magical birth story that was never intended to be viewed as history. The story is filled with supernatural signs: angels that sing, fetuses that communicate, a virgin that conceives and even a post-menopausal pregnancy. It is the author of Luke’s attempt to capture in parabolic language the essence of who he thinks Jesus is – namely the one through whom God can be experienced.

Like I said before, the author is unknown to us. The name Luke was given decades, perhaps centuries after the book was actually written. All we really know about the author is that heby his own admission, was not an eye-witness to the events of Jesus’ life. We know from his own writing that he wrote excellent Greek; a feat only accomplished by the most highly educated people of his day. Based on the way he wrote, and the phrases he used, experts have concluded that he was in all likelihood a gentile convert to Judaism who then became a Christian. By his own account, he is writing not an accurate detailed account, but rather, an account that will make theophilus, the lovers of God, believe. His account takes the form of a series of short stories; short stories that are easily dramatized. Some, New Testament scholars believe that these stories were told over and over again in dramatic ways; ways designed to hold the interest of their audiences. Continue reading

The Season of Advent

At Holy Cross, our Advent will take us a different path this year. We will not be locked down like last year, so in-person gatherings will be possible. Alleluia! We will also continue to offer pre-recorded videos online.  Our path will see us travel not along the route usually mapped out by the Revised Common Lectionary but on a new route. A route provided by the work of the Hebrew Bible Scholar and Episcopal priest Wilda C. Gafney in her newly published “A WOMEN’S LECTIONARY FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH”.  Our readings will be loosely based on Gafney’s suggestions and the translations of scripture will be hers. I have chosen themes which will function as signposts along our way. These weekly signposts will guide our exploration of the PARABLES of DIVINITY which have nourished generations of Advent travellers.    

PARABLES OF DIVINITY

ADVENT ONE:  Annunciations from the Margins

ADVENT TWO:  Gestating in Darkness

ADVENT THREE: Magnifying DIVINITY

ADVENT FOUR:  Birthing DIVINITY 

For more information visit http://www.holycrosslutheran.ca

ONE with the LOVE which permeates the Cosmos! – John 1:1-5

Years ago, a good many years ago in fact, when my life as an adult had only just begun, I was backpacking around Europe, and I began to hear people talk about the land of the mid-night sun. Now, talk of the mid-night sun always took me back to my childhood memories of my Dad reciting the Robert Service poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee. As a kid, this Canadian epic always sparked my imagination, as I dreamed of those, “strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.” for “The Artic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights”… and on and on it goes spinning a which always fills me with glee as I warm my soul by the heat of the cremation of Sam McGee, wondering about all the other strange things done in the mid-night sun. So, when the possibility arose to actually travel up to Narvik in Norway to see the mid-night sun I was off. My rail-pass covered all of Scandinavia, which before I had the opportunity to ride the Scandinavian rails, I had only seen on distorted maps which made it look ever so small in comparison to Canada’s vast land mass. The distortion of maps deceived me into believing that it would be a short trip from Bergen to Narvik. Little did I know that in 1977 it would take me almost three days to travel the more than 1,000 km; a trip which included disembarking over and over again to lend a hand to the conductors as we worked together to clear the tracks of snow.

It was an epic trip on which my once innocent 20-year-old self learned to swig akvavit like a Viking. As the train finally pulled into Narvik, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It was barely nine o’clock and the sun was already beginning to set. Alas, the sun does indeed shine at midnight in the summer months, but in Norway summer does not include the month of August. Disappointed I resigned myself to abandoning our plans to camp on the hillsides which envelope the port of Narvik. Fortunately, the youth hostel was full, and we were forced to hike up and out of town to find a suitable spot to pitch our tents. As we toasted ourselves by the fire, my mind wandered back to the Cremation of Sam McGee and I wondered, if I’d ever learn what strange things are done beneath the mid-night sun. Continue reading

Ach! Away and Give My Head Peace! – Mark 13:1-8

When I was a child and being particularly annoying, there’s an Irish expression which I remember many of the adults in my life would hurl in my direction: “Ach away and give my head peace!” These days I find this expression rising in me, over and over again, as a sort of prayer which has taken on a mantra-like quality. “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”Over and over again this week, this manta has welled up in me as I have attempted to sooth my anxious self. COP26 … climate danger … global warming… fossil fuel lobbyists … politicians . . . blah, blah, blah… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Remembrance Day … war dead…post-traumatic stress disorder, . . . Ethiopia . . . Afghanistan. . . a new American civil war. . . wars and rumours of war… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Truth and reconciliation. . . unmarked graves. . . no safe drinking water . . . compensation lawsuits . . . spiralling suicide deaths… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” COVID. . . covid-idiots . . . anti-maskers . . . rising case counts . . . booster shots . . . vaccine shortages . . . family divisions . . . “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”

Alas, this week not even Jesus would give my head peace. For as we approach the end of the Church year, our lectionary offers us a reading from the book attributed to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, we call Mark, and I am thrust into commentaries about the end of the world! Continue reading

The World Comes to an End Every Day! – Mark 13:1-8

As we near the end of the Church Year, our lectionary turns to texts about the end of the world. Three years ago, when this text came up, we had only just begun posting video recordings of sermons…the world has ended many times since then. It happens every day…but back then we had no idea what lay before us..and yet…here we go again…

It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate.  It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.

Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died. Continue reading

Lazarus: It’s All in the Name! – John 11:32-44

As some prepare to celebrate All Saints Sunday and are struggling with the gospel reading, I have been asked several times to repost this sermon from 2018. I will be dipping into the parable of Lazarus again on Sunday, may the communion of saints continue to call us out from our tombs!

WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.”  and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.

Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.

For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress.  I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”.  I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!

How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear! Continue reading

Captain Kirk and His Merry Band of Billionaires! Mark 10:35-45

This week, two events stand in stark contrast to one another. As different as night and day these 21st century events are brought into focus by the first century story which just happens to be the assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday. While the first century story told by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark, sees the sons of Zebedee, jockeying for coveted seats at the right and left hand of Jesus, our 21st century story portray the contrasting circumstances of wannabe-astronauts blasting far above our planet with scarcely a thought for the 150 million or so who will slip into the depths of poverty before this year ends. Somehow, the flight of the billionaire Bezos phallic Blue Horizon thrusting its five privileged passengers across our screens will capture more attention from those of us who are wealthy enough to own screens, than the roughly one and a half billion men, women, and children who are consigned to live in poverty.

Today, is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Today is the 35th annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. But I suspect that like the sons of Zebedee, who earned renown by jockeying for privileged positions, the powerful images of an aging Captain James Kirk and his merry band of billionaires will earn far more renown than the 150 million poor souls who are about to slip into poverty as a result of the COVID pandemic.

The unknown gospel-storyteller which we call Mark, captured something of the pathetic human condition of hubris when he wrote: “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus and said, “Teacher we want you to grant our request.” ‘What is it?” Jesus asked. Said the sons of Zebedee, ‘See to it that we sit next to you, one at your right and one at your left, when you come into your glory!’ Jesus warned them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the dup I will drink or be baptized in the same baptism as I?’ ‘We can,” James and John replied. To which Jesus responded, ‘From the cup I drink of, you will drink; the baptism I am immersed in, you will share. But as for sitting at my right or my left, that is not mine to give; it is for those to whom it has been reserved.’ When Jesus’ other ten disciples heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority are domineering and arrogant; those ‘great ones’ know how to make their own importance felt. But it cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you, those who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The PROMISED ONE has come not to be served, but to serve—to give one life in ransom for the many.”

I don’t know about you but when that giant phallic ship was trusting into the wild blue yonder, I became somewhat indignant. I mean who in the hell believes that billionaires ought to be allowed to engage in a giant pissing contest disguised as a space race? Think about it, Jeff Bezos net worth is estimated at just shy of 200 billion dollars. His Blue Origin may not be able to penetrate as deeply into space as Elon Musk’s Space Ex, but his thrusters are straining just enough to catch up with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Boys and their toys the put downs come, pardon the pun, a little too easily. The number crunchers tell us that Bezos hubristic space jaunt cost him 5.5 billion dollars for 4 minutes in space, which kinda makes a ticket on Branson’s Virgin Galactic sound like a bargain. For a mere $450,000 dollars you could join these daring old men in their flying machines.

Excuse me if I sound a little too indignant but jockeying for a seat during a global pandemic is more than a little tone deaf, when according to the United Nations, yet another 150 million or so people will be plunged into poverty this year, swelling the ranks of the global poor to over one and a half-billion people, over half of which are children. I can certainly identify with the disciples in the story who became angry with the sons of Zebedee for jockeying for seats alongside Jesus in the next world, when the forces of Empire in this world continue to suck the life out of the poor.

I’m not so sure however, that Jesus’ response to his disciples’ indignation is all comforting. Perhaps Jesus sensed that even their anger was a type of jockeying for position, when he insisted that, “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The PROMISED ONE has come not to be served, but to serve—to give a ransom for the many.” Sure, it is easy to scoff at billionaires squandering their ill-gotten gains on momentary flights of fancy. But like the indignant disciples of old, do we actually see the role we are playing in this race to escape the limitations of our one and only planet? The colossal profits we offer up to billionaire’s are not simply the result of corporate greed. Our very own lifestyles, demand what they are selling. If you are watching this on a screen, chances are that your own wealth far exceeds the expectations of billions of people struggling to survive on this planet. You and I are the wealthiest followers of Jesus who have ever walked the Earth.

Today, on this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, how many of us will satisfy ourselves with righteous indignation rather than sacrifice? Forget for a moment the layers of interpretations offered by generations of Jesus’ followers who have interpreted that little word “ransom” as some sort of cosmic escape clause offered by Jesus as a way out of the trials and tribulations of life on this planet. Think for a moment.  Try to hear the word “ransom” not with ears blocked by centuries of perverse theological atonement theories. Think of ransom as a way out of captivity to Empire. What might we wealthy followers of Jesus be prepared to pay to serve the needs of those held captive to the financial empire of our time? Do we have the courage to serve? To climb down from our lofty positions of wealth and privilege in order to serve the poor? To free the captives? To feed the hungry? Do we have the courage to hear the word ransom as sacrifice? A sacred offering of for the sake of life here on this our one and only planet, a planet capable of nourishing life for all of Earth’s inhabitants?

I know it is much easier to poke fun at billionaires and lay the blame for suffering at the feet of self-serving fools. But those fools made their billions serving us, satisfying our desires, fortifying our comforts, delivering our lifestyles to our doorsteps. As we recall the trusting of impotent rocket ships escaping for mere moments the confines of the empires we thrive in, do we have the courage to see our own hypocrisy? Do we have the courage to drink from the cup which Jesus offers to all who profess to follow him? Are we prepared to make sacrifices in order to ransom those who suffer the indignities of the hell we have created here on Earth for the one and a half billion people held in the captivity of poverty? Or are we afraid that stripped of the security which our wealth affords us, our privileged positions will disappear, and we too shall find ourselves dependent upon the goodness of others?

I don’t mind confessing my own fear. The numbers, they are staggering. Faced with the needs of so very many, what can I do? I am after all just one person after all is said and done. I’m afraid that sacrificing more than just a pittance of my own wealth and privilege won’t accomplish much more than landing me among poverty’s captives. So, let me just cling to what I have accumulated and pay lip-service to the need for sacrifice. Or better still, let me cling to the promise of a Saviour who will carry us out of this world and into the next, at no cost, free of charge because Jesus paid the ransom for my soul.

I’m pretty sure that the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark had no idea that Jesus’ life and death would be portrayed by the powers of empire as a ransom to be paid to the very MYSTERY which Jesus insisted is LOVE. Christianity’s utterly loveless atonement theories about substitution and payment, arguing down through the centuries about whether this ransom is paid to God or to the devil insult the very memory of the rabbi himself, whose death saves us not from the wrath of God, but rather from ourselves. Jesus lived and died giving his life to ransom us from ourselves, from our fears, so that free from the captivity in which our fear has confined us, we might walk freely away from our own self-centredness. Jesus poured out his life in the service of LOVE. As the embodiment of LOVE, LOVE ensures that Jesus never dies. For the LOVE expressed in the life and death of Jesus lives in you and in me.

Not even our fear, even fear expressed in domination, greed, hatred and violence, not even fear of death, can kill the LOVE which lies at the very heart of all that is, and rises again and again, whenever and wherever, arrogance is ransomed by humility, fear is ransomed by courage, hatred is ransomed by kindness, violence is ransomed by justice, war is ransomed by peace, greed is ransomed by generosity, and self-centredness is ransomed by service to others. This dear friends is what it means for you and me to sit at Jesus’ side. To be ransomed from our very selves, ransomed from the fear which holds us captive to empires built on the backs of the poor. In LOVE, we are ransomed from our fear, ransomed from our arrogance and ransomed from our self-centredness, set free to trust the MYSTERY which is LOVE so that we to might live the way of LOVE, so that we might be LOVE in the world, here on this planet.

The eradication of poverty lies not in our efforts to escape the challenges of life in this world, here on this planet. The eradication of poverty is the work of LOVE in the world, this world, here and now, on this wonderful bountiful planet, upon which there is already more than enough to nourish abundant life for all. Justice is what LOVE looks like when LOVE is unleashed here on Earth. Let us offer a sacrifice in the form of embodied LOVE. Let us be LOVE in the world, by fearlessly serving the poor. Let us be reckless in our LOVing, Grounded in our service, outrageously generous in our ransoming life on this planet. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

View the full Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

The Blessing of Infectious Joy! – Thanksgiving

The rain outside has stopped. The air outside is cool and damp. The overcast grey sky promises that there is more rain to come. It is what some would describe as a dreary day. But I love even these grey days of autumn, for the cool air, for the damp grass, the vivid greens and the changing colours of the leaves remind me of long wet walks, warm fireplaces, and hot soup. As one season changes into another, I am at this moment preparing to fly away to Vancouver to visit my family for Thanksgiving. But before I leave, I have this sermon to offer you as the miracles of technology allow me to celebrate Thanksgiving in two places at once. As always, I begin with the scriptures assigned for Thanksgiving Sunday. But I don’t get very far, just a few verses into the reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel who encourages his people with these words: “Rejoice, Children of Zion! Rejoice! Be glad in YAHWEH your God, who sends you rain—the autumn and spring rains as of old—and a new spring crop. The threshing floors will be heaped with grain, the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that were eaten away.   The prophet then goes on to list the various plagues of locusts which infest the land. But I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blanks about the plague which has infested our lands. Just as the people are left reeling from plagues of locusts, the prophet exclaims, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Be glad, in YAHWEH who sends you rain.

On this Thanksgiving, let me echo the prophet of old, by saying, “Rejoice dear ones!  Rejoice in the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.” Rejoice in the splendid autumn rains which come to us as gifts from Creation which bestows such bountiful harvests upon us that our cups overflow with wine and our tables are teaming with food. Rejoice because the scientists have gifted us with vaccines and once again all over this land families may gather to feast together. Rejoice for life is good and sweet.

Rejoice for even though we have many challenges to meet, today is a day for feasting and rejoicing. This overcast grey day and my imminent departure to Vancouver reminds me of the beauty of West Coast rainy days. Sometimes the monotony of rainy Coastal days can make the inhabitants of Vancouver as dreary as the dark clouds laden with the heaviness of the endless damp, cool, dark days. There is one damp and dreary day in Vancouver which stands out from all the other damp and dreary days for me. The rains had been falling for weeks on end. There was a sogginess to life which robbed people of their smiles. We just dashed about in the rain, hoods on, umbrellas up, heads down. That’s how I raced to catch the bus to work every morning. And once onboard, the moist air fogged up the windows and together with most of my fellow passengers I would doze in and out of consciousness as our bus carried us from the suburbs into the city to our jobs. I had been riding that very same bus for about two years.

Week in, and week out the very same passengers would board at the very same stops and settle into their seats and doze off or bury their heads in books. No talking.  It was way too early for talking.

We all got off at the same stops each morning to spend our days in offices. Then at six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus to doze off once again, until the bus let me off at my stop, so that I could make the mad dash through the endless rain to my car so that I could head for the warmth of home. 45 minutes to work and 45 minutes home from  work that is if you were luck and the traffic didn’t make it longer. We travelled in relative silence, and gloom. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of our daily travelling companions. But words were reserved for sunny days, when people found the energy to exchange pleasantries. It was as if there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day and yet, we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it. But on this one particular dull, depressing morning, in addition to being tired, I was also wet; soaked right through. The wind was really blowing so I carried my umbrella in vain. Unable to open it, I had to rely on my hood to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water seeped through my jacket. When I finally climbed onboard, the windows were totally steamed, obscuring the view of the darkened wet world through which we travelled. I was determined to ignore the damp and so I settled in for what I hoped would be a short nap before we reached the city.

I was just managing to doze off when the bus screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of the passengers were recognizable. I’d seen them hundreds of times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a cheery, “Hello!” him I had never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me and proceeded to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.

The young man, continued to fuss with his umbrella. He explained in a loud voice that the umbrella was a gift from his sister, and he hoped that it wasn’t ruined. He asked the gentleman seated beside him if he could help him fold his umbrella. The somewhat flustered gentleman proceeded to fold the umbrella without a word. When the task was completed, the young man thanked the gentleman and asked him what his name was. He said he wanted to be able to tell his sister, who the nice man was, that had helped him with his umbrella. Without revealing his name, the gentleman assured the young man that it wasn’t necessary to thank him.

The young man, proceeded to break all the unwritten rules, and said that his name was Michael and then he told us all that he had never ridden on this bus before.  He usually had to get a bus that went to the city in the afternoon and then he would get a ride home after dinner with his sister. But on this day, he would begin to work full days at his job. So, he had to catch this bus in the morning darkness. Michael went on to tell us that the bus we were riding in was much nicer than the one he usually caught. He decided that this bus must be a new bus and weren’t we lucky to get to ride on a new bus. Then Michael took off his hat, held it out in front of him so that we could all see it, and declared that he was the luckiest person in the world because his mother had bought him this wonderful hat which kept his head dry. Now Michael went on to tell us all sorts of details about his life. At first people managed to listen without responding. But as Michael went on describing his wonderful life, people found that in spite of themselves they were drawn into the conversation.

As we approached the tunnel which normally causes traffic to back up in rush hour, it was clear that there must have been some sort of accident in the tunnel. It was going to be a long commute. There would be no escaping Michael’s enthusiasm. Before long we all knew that Michael worked in the mail room of a securities company. He assured us that this security company was a safe place to work because they didn’t take care of the safety of people. They just took care of pieces of paper which were called stocks and bonds and they were very important. Michael told us just how much he loved his job. Having a job was the best thing in the world. Before he had the job, he didn’t have any money to help his parents. But now he had enough money to help his parents and lots and lots of money left over besides. Michael told us that he was really lucky because he worked with really nice people who took good care of him and let him do all kinds of fun jobs. Michael began asking his fellow passengers if they too had jobs and one by one the people around him began to tell him and indeed all of us where they worked and what they did.

Michael was full of enthusiasm for the various jobs we did. He even managed to be excited when I told him that I worked in an accounting department and my job was to count things. Michael said he was very good at counting.  He had learned how when he was just a little boy. He liked counting

And he thought that it would be great fun to be able to count things all day long. He sometimes was allowed to count supplies in the supply cupboard, and he really liked doing that. At some point on our journey, Michael began to speak about the weather. Michael loved the rain. He told us how important the rain was and how wonderful it was that it rained so much in Vancouver. Our trees could grow taller and bigger than trees anywhere else and our flowers they just loved all the rain and there was so much food in the stores because the rain helped the vegetables to grow. Michael’s joy began to infect us all.

People smiled at one another. People began to speak and to respond to Michael’s joy. Some of us even waved at him when he got off at his stop, telling us all to have a good day and that he would see us all tomorrow. On that day and on every other day that I rode the bus with Michael, I was reminded, whether I liked it or not, of the beauty and the wonder of life. Somehow, Michael managed to pierce our dullness. Michael was able to make us forget that his behaviour was inappropriate; that he was intruding on us, or that the timing was all wrong, that he was breaking all of our unwritten rules. Michael burst into our lives and interrupted our routines, and in the middle of a dull, damp, and dreary funk, he reminded us of how truly blessed we really are. Michael’s daily reminders challenged us all to remember our many blessings.

So, on this grey day, as I anticipate some wet Vancouver days in my immediate future, I remember Michael’s joy and I just couldn’t help myself, joy filled my heart, and my own widening smile caused me to rejoice and be glad! And so I shared Michael’s story with you so that you, dear one might rejoice with me. Rejoice and be glad in the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Yes, we have challenges aplenty. COVID has not left us. And yes, there will be sadness on this Thanksgiving day for some. The world is full of people in need. But rejoice I say, for we are richly blessed.  Blessed to be a blessing. Rejoice and be glad. Rejoice and feast on the bounty of our tables and in the joy of our families and friends. Rejoice and give thanks for this good day. And when the feasting is done, loosen your belts and settle in for some rest and relaxation however you take your rest. whether its football, a book at a fireside chat. Relax and be of great joy because each and every one of us has a job waiting for us when the holiday is over. There are people out there who need us to be LOVE in the world. There are injustices to be tackled, needs to be met, lonely people to be comforted, and peace to be made. Rejoice and be glad, for as my friend Michael would say, we are the luckiest people in the world. We have a job.

Rejoice and be glad! Give thanks for life is full to overflowing. Rest and relax. Then give thanks again. For we have great jobs to do. May we always remember just how blessed. I hope that each of you may know the kind of joy which my friend Michael exuded each and every day.  May we always notice each and every blessing as it comes. May we always take the time to cultivate gratitude. May our gratitude always infect others with joy. Rejoice and be glad, for this day, and every day is a gift we can share with one another. So, let us share our gratitude and bring joy to the world, by loving lavishly, living fully, and being LOVE in the world. Thanks be to all that IS HOLY!

View the full Thanksgiving Worship Video below

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Are We Being LOVing Enough With All That We Have? Matthew 6:25-29

A sermon for the Celebration of St. Francis

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. To celebrate the Feast of St. Francis I just had to come out here into the beauty of Creation. Just look around!  Isn’t this spectacular? Let’s take a moment to focus our attention on these beautiful flowers! Yes, I am well aware that these flowers are blooming weeds. But aren’t they simply beautiful? Take a good look. In this spectacular season of autumn weeds are everywhere. You can’t go for a walk, or a drive in the country without being confronted by the existence of fecund weeds; weeds flowering and seeding, so that next year more and more the existence of weeds. Weeds flowering and seeding so that next year more and more weeds will sprout up. Creation is alive with the miracle of weeds. Out here in the magnificence of it all, I am reminded of the words of St. Francis who wrote:

“I think God might be a little prejudiced. For once God asked me to join God on a walk through this world, and we gazed into every heart on this earth, and I noticed God lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping, and before any eyes that were laughing. And sometimes when we passed a soul in worship God too would kneel down. I have Come to learn:  God adores God’s Creation.”  

I hope that we all learn as Francis did that the CREATOR of all that is, simply adores Creation. As a splendid miracle yourself, I hope that when you looked into the mirror this morning, you recognized yourself as the beautiful miracle of Creation which you are! Perhaps you may have looked into your mirror and saw yourself not as a beautiful flower. Maybe when you look in a mirror you are tempted to dismiss yourself as just an ordinary weed. Well, we can’t all be lilies of the field. What a dull place the world would be if we were all just lilies, flapping around in the breeze. Each of us, like these amazing, beautiful flowering weeds, each one of us has our own particular beauty to bring to the miracle which we call Creation. Weeds, lilies, chrysanthemums, golden rod, roses, delphiniums, or these wildflowers each and everyone have their own particular beauty. Their individual existence is a miracle in and of itself, collectivity they sway back and forth in the fields as testament to the miracle that Creation exists at all. Billions and billions of years of ever-evolving particles to create just one variety and so far, cataloguers of plants tell us that there are more than half a million varieties of flowering beauties. Look at the birds of the sky, from the lowly crow and the much-maligned Canada Goose to the magnificent eagle and the beautiful blue-jay, they are each and every one miracles.

Now close your eyes, if you will, now remember your own face in the mirror this morning; a little tired perhaps, slightly haggard, or ravishingly, excitingly, beautiful, that face of yours is a miracle. There’s not another one like you in all the world. Similar perhaps, in the way flowers and birds resemble one another. But there is no one out there like you. You are a unique miracle. Take a long deep breath and soak in the truth of your splendour. For as beautiful as these flowers are, and these woods are, as exquisite as a bird is in flight, as lavish as our Creator has been in adorning Creation, we humans are unique miracles. We humans are endowed by our Creator with adornments which don’t just bloom today and are gone tomorrow for we are capable of such great goodness, such wonderful creativity, even as we are capable of doing immense harm.

Just think for a moment about the multitudinous miracles of life upon this miraculous planet upon which we are blessed to live.  This sacred Earth, teaming with life and beauty, is a miracle beyond comprehension. The vastness of blessings with which we are surrounded, overwhelms the challenges life brings our way. We are blessed with riches beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. The Earth lavishes her inhabitants with more than enough to satisfy our needs. Our cups are over-flowering with blessings. The extravagance of our CREATOR cannot be captured in words or by our greed. As much as we concern ourselves with storing up the bounty of the Earth, Creation continues to confound us with miracles. Beauty, the kind of beauty which calls forth the LOVE out of which each and every one of us was created. For GOD is LOVE and in the words of Julian of Norwich, “We are not just made by GOD, we are made of GOD.” The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives in, with, through, and beyond us. That miraculous, unique face you see in the mirror every morning is made of LOVE, to be LOVE. That same LOVE which is DIVINITY constantly allures us to be the LOVE we are created to be, so that each of us can blossom into LOVE in the world.

We are called to be like weeds, growing LOVE here, there and everywhere. St. Francis is famous for many things, but of all the words ever written by or about Francis which rings true to me here in the midst of so many blessed miracles, is the question Francis asked himself over and over again, “Am I being loving enough with all that I have?” “Am I, are you being loving enough with what you I have? .. with all of what you have?” Our MAKER has sown the seeds of LOVE all over this planet; so much so that the plethora of our blessings goes way beyond our ability to number. Are we being LOVing enough with all we have? Are we sowing the seeds of love like the extravagance of the SOWER that IS the SOURCE OF EVERYTHING?

St. Francis insisted that “It was easy to love GOD in all that was beautiful. He wrote that the lessons of deeper knowledge tough instruct us to embrace all things in God.” The Apostle Paul described our MAKER as the “ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.” This means that we are all in DIVINITY and DIVINITY is in all things. Embracing GOD, LOVING GOD, requires us to see DIVINITY in all things, which means LOVING Creation, all of Creation, each and every blessed thing upon the Earth, the weeds, the flowers, the insects, the birds, the trees, the sisters and brothers of every tribe and nation, the good, the bad and yes even the ugly, friend and foe alike. This is our calling. This is the promise of the peace we long for. In the spirit of St. Francis let us bid one another peace. Let us be LOVE in the World. Thanks be to all that is HOLY.

View the full Worship Video below:

Click here to download the Order of Service for the Celebration of St. Francis

Without Truth There Can Be No Reconciliation!

On this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, I too must revisit the truth of my own prejudice and privilege. Forgive me, but I cannot remember her name. Staring back through the mists of time, I can however remember the pain in her eyes. More than four decades have passed since I lived and worked in Vancouver’s East End. I was young, young and foolish, young and carefree, young and adventurous, and young and callous. In my early twenties, I was still trying to figure out who I was. So, I was in no condition to understand who she was. How could I know? None of us knew…right? We didn’t know. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

I did know Jesus back then. Some might even say that I was obsessed with knowing Jesus. I went to church every Sunday and I hung out with church people. Not common behaviour for kids in their twenties. The God I knew and worshipped back then was the “Father.” The Father Almighty. I was young, the world was my oyster. My future stretched out before me. I knew that my work in the travel industry was only temporary; just a means to an end, a way to make money so that I could spend that money enjoying life. At the time, I was working in an unglamorous part of the wholesale travel industry packaging holidays, to Mexico and Hawaii. We used to joke that it wasn’t exactly brain surgery, just bums on seats, just filling every plane our company chartered with warm bodies so that they could get away from Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-soaked winters. Bums on seats, anybody could do the job; day in and day out filling airplanes, it was positively mind-numbing work.

The company I worked for occupied an entire three-story office building on the northern edge of Vancouver’s East Side, which at the time was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Back then, the gentrification of the East-End which Expo 86 and then the 2010 Olympics brought, couldn’t even be imagined. Good upstanding middle-class people avoided the poverty of the East-end, unless of course they were young like me, and then the depravity of the neighbourhood was kind of a badge of honour. So, we braved the streets on our way to dance the night away in the clubs which sprang up on the edge of the East-End, where rents were cheap, and the cops had so much more to worry about than the kind of mischief which we got into. I lived and worked in the East-End and saved my money for the life which stretched out before me.

I wish I could remember her name. But the pain in her eyes, those dark mournful eyes, that I will never forget. I’d warned her more than once. It was against the rules. She was hired to clean our offices. She was to go about her work and make sure that she had the place spick-and span, ready in time for us when we arrived in the morning, and then she would be on her way. But time and time again, I’d find her lingering, long past the time she should have been gone, she’d still be there lingering and talking on our telephone. She was our cleaner, she had no business using our phones. Remember, back then mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction movies. I was the newly minted supervisor of the reservations department. It was to me that the staff came to complain about the untidy conditions in the staff room. If she spent as much time doing her job as she did sneaking around making phone calls, we wouldn’t have to put up with the unwashed mugs in the sink. I warned her repeatedly, but she just wouldn’t listen.

My boss told me to fire her; but I was young, and I’d never fired anyone before. Besides, I thought I knew better. I thought, wouldn’t Jesus want me to give her just one more chance. Forgive me, I thought I could save her. I wasn’t planning to save her for Jesus or anything as crass as that, oh no, I was going to save her from herself. I was going to redeem her from her lazy self and see to it that she kept her job. Forgive me, I did not see my racism for what it was. The phrase, “I didn’t know” rises in me even though truth demands that I confess, I must have known.

Back then, in my world of privilege there were no aboriginals, no indigenous people, just plain old Indians. She couldn’t have been much older than I was at the time, but her face was haggard by a life I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But I was young, and I thought, I knew it all, and I knew if she didn’t shape up, I’d have to ship her out. Out onto the streets of the East-End where she could join her sisters; she’d probably end up turning tricks like the rest of them, if I didn’t save her from herself. Forgive me, I really had no idea what I was thinking or what I was doing, or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I like to excuse what I remember by claiming that my youth was the problem. I don’t like to see my thoughts or my actions for what they were.

I took her into my office, this woman whose name I have forgotten, and I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to use the company phones for personal calls. She was there to clean and nothing more. She was very apologetic. She begged me not to fire her. She tried to explain that the phones in the rooming house where she lived were always out of order and she couldn’t afford the payphone and she only made calls that were local. I held my ground. Her excuses did not sway me. She’d just have to stop using the office phones. She had to understand that she’d lose her job if she couldn’t follow the rules. I was only trying to help her or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I never asked her who she was calling. It never occurred to me that her need might be more important than the rules. I had to be firm. I had to show my boss that his faith in me was not miss-placed. I might have been young, but I wasn’t going to let this “Indian” pull the wool over my eyes. This Indian’s eyes filled up and I sunk back into my chair, somehow undone by the thought that tears might be about to make an appearance. Remembering who I was back then, I suspect that I may have shot up a prayer to the “Father” silently asking for the strength to do my job.

Looking back now at the young woman that I was, I can’t help wondering what the woman I am now could possibly say to that earnest young thing, to break her out of the shell she was so carefully encased in. I try to tell myself that I was a product of my culture, trapped by the prejudices of generations of imperialism. I had absolutely no idea who that woman was who toiled away as the office cleaner. Sure, I recognized her as an Indian. But back then, I didn’t know then that, native women who left the reserves lost their status as Indians and thereby forfeited their rights. I recognized that she was a woman, but I didn’t know that based on her age, she may in all likelihood have suffered the indignities of the residential school system which basically kidnapped children from their families and held them captive. The very system which afforded me such privilege, was designed to wipe any trace of their culture from the minds of indigenous children or to put it in the words of our own government, “to kill the Indian in the child.”  

I recognized that she was our cleaner, who probably made less than minimum wage, but I had no idea that she was trapped in an endless cycle of poverty from which there wasn’t much possibility of escape. I did recognize that she was a human being, but in my arrogance, I believed that if only she’d pull herself up by her own bootstraps, she’d be able to keep her job and maybe one day be able to make something of herself. I was as determined to be firm but kind. It was for her own good that I warned her that unless she applied herself to the work at hand, I’d have no choice but to let her go. Forgive me but I didn’t know or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I wish I could go back and do it all differently; but that’s not how life works.

The crimes of our past haunt us, and we must learn to live with the consequences. Those deep, dark, tear-filled, eyes peer out, they peer out at me from my distant past. Today, I, we, know so very much more than we once did and still we have so very much more to learn. The horrors which continue to be revealed have exposed the deep wounds in our nation and in the nations of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We may like to remember it with rose coloured glasses, excusing ourselves by claiming ignorance, or youthful inexperience. But reconciliation requires the truth.

We settlers must confess that the foundations of our privilege include the horrors of genocide, stolen lands, residential schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and the lack of safe drinking water, together with our compliance, denials, and arrogance. We settlers must learn to listen to the stories of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We settlers must learn to see all those tear-filled eyes which peer out from our past, present and futures. We must listen to and learn the truth behind those tears. We must also be prepared to confess our truth; all of it, known and as yet unknown, all of it. For without truth there can be no reconciliation.

Today, I look back on the young woman that I was, and I can forgive her for being arrogant, stupid and unknowing. I can even forgive her for her faith in the great big Father in the Sky to whom she prayed for forgiveness, trusting that He had everything under control and there was no work for her to do. We’ve all come a long way from the days when we called our sisters and brothers Indians and passed by not caring about the horrors of our history or the travesties of the present. We know that the LOVE which we call, “GOD,” lives, and breathes, and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. We know that the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality finds expression in us. We know that the deaths of our sisters are an abomination. The plight of our Indigenous sisters and brothers is Canada’s great shame. It is also the shame of each and every settler who continues to prosper as a result of the privilege we so blithely take for granted. We can turn away, or we can simply offer up a prayer to the Great Sky God, and hope that somebody somewhere does something. Or we can allow the plight of our sisters and brothers to move the SPIRIT which lives in us to find expression in our actions.

I wish I could remember her name. But I cannot remember her name. I can see her deep, dark, tear-filled eyes. Her eyes cry out to me from my past. Her eyes continue to cry out to me as I recall her truth. A few days after I told her to stay off the office telephones, I over-heard her tell one of the other women who we worked with, that she had moved to the East-End to search for her daughters. Two of her daughters were missing; vanished without a trace. She worked as our cleaner, she lived in a rooming house, she embraced the poverty of the East End in a desperate search for her daughters. Two daughters who had left their home searching for a better life in the city.

4,000 murdered and missing women and girls, and over 2,000 of those cases remain unsolved to this day. 4,000 murdered and missing women and girls. That’s a very big number. Numbers mean something; two, two, missing daughters. One is far too big a number for us to comprehend when it comes to imagining the loss of a daughter; two is a number that would destroy must of us. 4,000 Stolen Sisters is a number that is more than we can bear; more than we can tolerate, more than we can ignore, and yet we know that that number continues to grow. More than 1,300 unmarked graves at residential school sites and we know that that number is going to grow. More than 60 Indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water. The suicide rate among Indigenous peoples is 3 times that of settlers! The truth is disturbing. And so many of us are tempted to look away. Reconciliation requires truth.

Our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers have so much to teach us. But it is not enough to leave the truth-telling to others. We must search our own hearts, our own minds, our own stories to discover our truth, to learn from our past mistakes, to discover our own complicity in the pain of our neighbours.

Today, on this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, churches all over the world are also celebrating the Season of Creation’s theme, A Home for All. A Home for All in this “O Canada our home and stolen land.” Much needs to happen before this home we love is a safe, equitable place in which all people may thrive. We must begin with the truth about our home. We must confess the truth of our past and present so that the future ushers in justice and peace for ALL in this home we share.

May the ONE who is LOVE, find expression in with through and beyond us, so that we can become LOVE in the world, LOVE in our communities, LOVE in our lands, LOVE in right relationship with ALL our sisters and brothers. Let it be so. Let it be so among us and beyond us. Let it be so now and always. Amen.

View the full Truth & Reconciliation Worship Video below

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Who Could Blame Us for Longing to Go Home to Life Before COVID? Rev.21:1-5a

This is not the Homecoming Sunday we were hoping for. This is not the home we had hoped to be worshipping in this morning. We had high hopes that once we were all able to be vaccinated, that we could return to worshipping together, in person, in our sanctuary. But once again the numbers are going in the wrong direction and many of us are dreading what might happen now that schools have opened once again. So, out of an abundance of caution we are not returning to the home that our sanctuary was for us. The home of our longing continues to allude us, so how can we call this Homecoming Sunday?

Longing for a home that I cannot return to is a familiar feeling for me. For I have spent a great deal of my life longing for a home I could never return to. To say that my family moved around a lot when I was a kid would be a massive understatement. Sometimes it felt that every time I became comfortable enough to think of a place as home, we were on the move again. Moving from house to house, country to country, school to school, classroom to classroom, left me longing for what was once home. I was always the new kid in school. Being the new kid in unfamiliar surroundings is not a pleasant experience. The stress of new surroundings and unfamiliar ways, not to mention strangers to get to know, could be unbearable at times.

The stress played itself out in the form of a recurring nightmare which continues to show up as we navigate the ups and downs of these strange pandemic challenges. The nightmare is always the same. I’m breathless from running away from some frightening experience. I arrive at what I believe to be the front door of my home. The door is the only thing which ever changes in my nightmare. Sometimes its blue, sometimes its red, sometimes its green. Recently it was a mostly glass door, similar to the one in the front of our church. Somehow, in my dream I always know that beyond the door I will find relief from the pressures of the newness in which I find myself. Beyond the door, no matter what the colour, beyond the door I will be safe.

Now rowing up we were latch-key kids. For those of you too young or too privileged to remember, latch-key kids, we were the children of families where both parents worked. So, we fended for ourselves when we got home from school. So, that we wouldn’t lose them, we carried the keys to our home on chains around our necks. In my stress induced nightmares, I arrive breathless at my new front door, take the key from around my neck, so that I can let myself into the safety of my home, only to discover that the key never fits into the lock because the key which I carry is always the key to the last house that I lived in. Unable to enter my new home, I awake filled with anxiety. The best word to describe this anxiety is homesickness; a longing for home, for familiarity, a longing for what was.

This nightmare has become all too real as so many of the places and events in which we once felt at home have changed so very much. The unfamiliar contours of our new reality seem to be relentless. Who could possibly blame us for longing to go home to life before COVID? During these past eighteen months it has been one change after another. So much has been lost. So many connections have been severed. Too many people have died. Institutions have fallen. Business have closed. Relationships have suffered. Some churches have not survived. And maybe worst of all, grief has been suspended until someday when we can all grieve together in-person. Here we stand outside the door of a whole new world, longing to return to what was.

We are not the first to stand in the precipice between the kind of world where we felt at home and a new world of unfamiliar challenges. I am reminded of a writer who also worked out their anxiety about the future. We don’t know his or her name, but tradition has named this writer John the Elder, or John the Divine, or John the Theologian. I like to call him, “Johnny” to differentiate him from Jesus’ beloved friend John. Johnny was a follower of Jesus’ Way of being, who wrote the Book of Revelation at the very end of the first century. Some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and about 30 years after the Romans had destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem and reduced the city of Jerusalem to ruble. We don’t know how Johnny ended up on the Island of Patmos, which is between Greece and Turkey. We do know that life for the Followers of the Way was fraught with dangers the likes of which makes COVID seem like a picnic. Surrounded by enemies, Johnny tended to write in code, to protect his meaning from all but fellow Followers of the Way. Sadly, Johnny’s cryptic code style has led to all sorts of abuses of the text of Revelation over the centuries. Not the least of which is the misunderstanding perpetuated by fundamentalists who insist on reading the Book of Revelation as a prediction of the end of the world. Martin Luther was not fond of the Book of Revelation and seriously considered leaving it out of his translation of the Bible. In the end, Luther opted to put the Book at the end of his version of the Bible, where it remains to this day.

Revelation can be best understood not as a prediction of the future, but as a description of the end of one world and the beginning of another. Johnny was writing to an endangered, marginalized people in hiding, whose world had been turned upside down by their oppressors. Revelation invites people out of the world they know and into a new world. Listen to the way Johnny invites his fellow followers of the Way move into the new world by describing his dream.  

John the Elder writes: “Then I saw new heavens and a new Earth. The former heavens and the former Earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, Beautiful as two lovers on their wedding day. And I heard a loud voice calling from the throne, “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind!” God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be now more, for the old order had fallen.” The ONE who sat on the throne said, “Look! I AM making everything new!” (Rev.21:1-5a)

On this Homecoming Sunday, I suspect that many of us, myself included, are not quite ready for the new world that awaits us. We are longing for the familiar of what was. Some of us are prepared to burst into the new world which awaits us determined to reestablish what once was; to set things up the way they were, to get back to what we fondly refer to as “normal”. Others of us are tempted to hunker down, and wait until it is safe, so that we can go back to our old ways of doing and being, once the all-clear is sounded. If you are anything like me, you’re teetering on the edge, not knowing exactly what to expect, and anxious about what lies beyond our longings for the familiarity of home. I feel like the latch-key kid I once was, I’m homesick for what was and anxious about what is to come. I just want to go home. I want to go home and I’m not sure that any of the old keys hanging around our necks can get us there.

A long time ago, I told a very wise friend of mine about my recurring nightmare. My friend Henry is a very wise Jewish Rabbi, who is also a licensed psychotherapist. So, he knows more than a thing or two about dreams and anxiety. After asking me a few questions about my recurring nightmare, Henry suggested that I try summoning up my nightmare as a daymare. Now, I’d never heard of a daymare, so it took a while for Henry to convince me that I should try to walk around inside my nightmare in the middle of the day to see what I might discover. I agreed on the condition that Henry would come with me into my daymare.

We began by talking a little about the various anxieties which were creating my stress. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at a very large formidable, black door. I reached for the key which hung around my neck and just like always the key didn’t fit. Henry invited me to toss the key away. He insisted that the key I was clinging to belonged to my old home and it was not the key which I needed. I protested that I was so homesick that maybe I should just try to find the door which my old key fit into. Maybe if I found the right door, I’d finally be able to go home. Henry asked me, “Where are you when you have your nightmare?” At first, I didn’t understand, “I’m running away.” “No,” Henry insisted, “not what is happening in your nightmare. But where are you actually dreaming your nightmare? Where are you?” I still didn’t understand. So, Henry gave me the answer, “You are at home in your own bed. You are already home. You are already safe.” Then Henry told me to go to the window and look outside and he asked, “What can you see?” I saw people, some unfamiliar, some familiar, some old friends, some new friends, some strangers, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw familiar places, unfamiliar places, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw all sorts of things, places, and people I’d never seen before. Henry told me to come away from the window, in my dream. “Look at the door. You don’t need that old key to get into your home.  You are already inside. Inside your new home. Open the door, open the door and go outside.”

That other dreamer, Johnny, he understood, the voice he heard in his dream, said it loud and clear: “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind! God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The old keys we’re clinging too, we don’t need them anymore. We’re safe, in our HOME, which is the ONE in, whom, we, live and move and have our being. There’s a whole world out there, full of people who have been forever changed, full of new and unfamiliar ways of being. One thing remains the same, whether we are worshipping online, or gathering in parking lots, vaccinated, wearing masks, in-person or mediated over technology, we are already home because we’ve always been home.

Our old keys may not fit the locks. But the ONE who is our HOME, is making all things new. Look around, look out the window, open the door. Welcome HOME! HOME to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being! Our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself – HOME!  Amen.

DOWNLOAD the HOMECOMING Order of Service click here

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Catching Glimpses of YAHWEH’ Backside – Exodus 33

A while back, I traveled up to Owen Sound for the funeral of a young colleague who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. During the two-and-a-half hour drive I couldn’t help wondering what life is all about. The stunning reality of the death of someone so young reminds us just how very fragile life is. 

As I drove north, the weather began to turn. So, by the time I reached Blue Mountain the wind was really howling. Driving along the shore of Lake Huron I could see waves rising. I’d been driving for over an hour, so I decided to pull over and take a walk before the rain began. Staring out over Nottawasaga Bay toward the vast grey horizon, I felt very small and insignificant. My mind wandered as my face was pelted by the sand which was kicked up by the wind. The sensation of the sand hitting my face awaked me to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return. As my mind wandered, I caught sight of a small tuft of tall grass bent over by the force of the wind. The long grass embodied my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind pummelling it with sand. I thought about the RUACH, the WIND, the BREATH, the SPIRIT of DIVINITY, the power and the majesty of the RUACH as it blows where it wills.

Pelted by the wind, the sand, and the reality of death, the fragility of my own being struck me to my core as a deep, loud, “No!” rose up from my inner being. It was as much a plea to the RUACH as it was a staunch denial of the reality of fragility of life. “NO!” I shouted into the horizon. But the RUACH, the wind and the sand threw my “NO” back in my face as my tears mixed with the rain which began to fall. The wind must have changed direction because when I looked back at the tuft of fragile grass it was standing tall even as the rain’s intensity increased. I took a long, deep, intake of breath. It was as if the very RUACH of DIVINITY entered my being. I wiped my tears and the rain from my face, straightened my spine and walked back to the car ready to face the reality of our mortality, strengthened by the knowledge that I had encountered MYSTERY; the MYSTERY which is the source of ALL.

The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories. So, we plumb the depths of our scriptures,   parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality. Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses are the stuff of truth. We human creatures just can’t help wondering. How did we get here?  Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about, speculating on the nature of our CREATOR.  Story after story has been told; stories which weave in and out between our experiences and our wonderings, what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are imaginings. The best stories, the ones which captured our imagination and stimulated our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories so profound that they just had to be written down. Elevated to the realm of the sacred, these wonderings took on the qualities of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some have sought to defend these stories with their very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identity between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred truths. So afraid have they become that they have tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the divine ramblings of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD,” whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some even claim that between their lines lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another.

From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. All Moses wanted to do was to see GOD in all of GOD’s glory. Moses, who as the story goes, had been talking with GOD for years, he’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinsfolk, the lives of his people on those conversations. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory. Who can blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost, homeless, and afraid. Hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere. Moses had the stone tablets; GOD’s law, written in stone a gift for this people who’d followed him out into the wilderness. Imagine: they followed Moses out into the wilderness all because Moses had heard GOD speak. Right there from out of the flames of a burning bush GOD called out to Moses. The GOD of Moses’ ancestors spoke, and a promise was born, the promise of liberation from slavery, of deliverance from oppression, the promise of a land; a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Such a promise required more than just the ramblings of a burning bush; such a promise required a name. Who was this GOD speaking from the flames? Moses said to GOD, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The GOD of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is GOD’s name?’ what shall I say to them?” From that burning bush came the sacred name when his GOD said to Moses, “YAHWEH.” I AM WHO I AM. YAHWEH. I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE.

YAHWEH the sacred name of GOD, so sacred that Moses and his people would never utter it. So sacred that even after they’d told their stories for generations, they’d punctuate the name of GOD with only a silence; a long pause where people could breathe the name within themselves. YAHWEH. YAHWEH. So sacred that when it came time to write down their sacred stories, they didn’t write the whole name of GOD. Just the consonants were enough to evoke the sacred name, Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey. Over the generations, the people forgot how to breathe the name of GOD, and so the scribes, hinted at the vowels so that the breath of GOD continued to emanate from GOD’s people. But as the tribes fought over the details of the story, the sacred code of silence failed to evoke the breath of GOD and even though from the burning bush GOD was said to have declared, “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations,” the peoples of GOD, forgot the sacred name. So, the scribes replaced the sacred code of silence with bold letters which included the vowels and once again the name YAHWEH was heard when the sacred stories were told. YAHWEH, I AM WHO, I AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. It says it all, GOD IS. GOD WILL BE. NOW and FOREVER.

This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you want more? Surely, we can understand why Moses asked for just a little more? There’s no harm in asking, so good old Moses gave it a whirl: come on, just once show me. “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the MIGHTY ONE said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the HOLY NAME, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” said the MIGHTY ONE, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  And the MIGHTY ONE continued, “See there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” And so, Moses caught but a glimpse of YAWEH’s backside. Just a glimpse mind you. But isn’t that how it always is? Just a glimpse. Just a glimpse of DIVINITY here and there for our GOD SHALL BE WHO OUR GOD SHALL BE. We must let the glimpse be enough. But oh those glimpses.

When I arrived at the funeral, I was greeted by friends and colleagues as we began the task of preparing ourselves to pay our respects and give thanks for the life of one of our own. In the faces of friends and colleagues I caught glimpses of the ONE WHO IS the SOURCE of our being. In their tender embraces I felt the grace and the compassion of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD.” Later in the stories we told one another the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, soothed and nurtured us. Sitting around a table breaking bread with one another I felt a deep, heartfelt, “Yes!” rising within me. “YES!” I raised a glass, and I gave thanks for life. Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of DIVINITY. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of DIVINITY’s backside. For now, all we see is a glimpse of DIVINITY’s glory.

But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. So, close your eyes.  I mean it, close your eyes. There, look closely. Can you see a glimpse of DIVINITY in your mind’s eye? The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the first time, gazing into the wonder you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem that told your whole life in just a few carefully chosen words, there’s the hand of DIVINITY. Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride her bike all by herself. She’s growing up so quickly. Do you see right there behind her, there in the shadows watching her, if you look closely, you see the arms of DIVINITY ready to catch her. Look at him he thinks he knows it all, there he goes with the keys to your car, in the screech of tires can you hear it, it’s the sound of the LOVE, which is DIVINIY trying to catch up with him, trying to keep him safe. Listen carefully can you hear it, it’s ever so faint, the rattle of her last breaths makes it hard to hear. But if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the RAUACH, the SPIRIT breathing alongside her as she breathes her last breath, YAHWEH. YAHWEH. As you struggle to leave the room, wondering how you can ever find a way to say good-bye, good-bye Grandma, good-bye Grandpa, good-bye Mom, good-bye Dad, good-bye my love, if you lean back, you will feel them, embracing you, the arms of DIVINITY holding you in LOVE. Look there, GOD is in that smile, the smile that says I’ve known you so long and yes, I still love you even if you drive me nuts, there in the gleam in your lover’s eyes, can you see the glory of the LOVE which is DIVINITY? Gaze out into the fields and see, there amongst the wildflowers, there dashing by through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see DIVINITY’s backside.

There’s truth in our stories, sacred truth; truth in our myths, in our wonderings, our musings and our longings. Between the lines, beyond the page, in, with, through and under the words, there’s truth in questions and questions in truth and through it all dances our GOD who is LOVE, YAHWEH. If you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe the wonder, the beauty, the magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are. So, proclaim YAHWEH’s glory! Let the DIVINITY of your imagination, myth and story, take on flesh and dance with your memories of YAHWEH’s backside. Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to the splendor of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call GOD, YAHWEH. YAHWEH the GREAT I AM, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.  Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

 

SHALOM – EIRENE – PEACE NOT just a noun! Peace is a verb!

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting which portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings.

One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, which perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace, and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner. However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains as well. But they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is also a state of mind, a way of being, a way of doing which breaks out amid turmoil.

A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace.  Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the dangers, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places. Peace is a way of being, a way of doing in a world which all too often, appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace.

SHALOM, a Hebrew word and EIRENE a Greek word, both of which we generally translate as peace. Well, our modern understanding of peace often begins and ends with seeing the word PEACE simply as a noun. But both our Hebrew and our Greek ancestors understood SHALOM and EIRENE as both a noun and perhaps more importantly as a verb. Sadly, we all too often read the word “peace” only as a noun describing the absence of conflict, war, violence, trouble, or unease.

While the word SHALOM as a noun does indeed refer to the absence of these things, it also refers to the presence of completeness, or wholeness. SHALOM and EIRENE are not just nouns, they are also verbs. In Hebrew, SHALOM is understood as the verb “to make complete,” “to repair” or “to restore,” or “to make whole.”

Our ancestors understood that life is complex. Life is a multitude of complexities, relationships, and situations. When something is out of alinement or missing, our SHALOM breaks down. When warring parties or nations are out of alinement, and war breaks out, peace is made not just by refraining from violence but by attending to what is missing in the relationships, attending to the well-being of one another, and working together for one another’s benefit. That means for the benefit of people who were once our enemies.  

When the anonymous gospel-storytellers who heralded the birth of Jesus as EIRENE, they did so because Jesus’ followers saw Jesus as the restorer of wholeness, because he brought PEACE not only among the nations, tribes, and families, Jesus brought PEACE with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us all. Jesus said,

“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. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.”

If you listen to the news or tune into the media of any kind, you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. We all know that there is no peace in Afghanistan, which although it dominates the news, it is just one of many nations which has no peace. We also know that our profit driven greed and self-centeredness is at war with the Earth. The only planet we have. The ravages of climate change versus the almighty dollar and our reluctance to repair and restore, to make whole our relationship to the Earth, are writ large across our news screens.

As followers of Jesus, we are called “to peace,” which is to repair, to restore, to complete, to make whole. To peace, it is a daunting task. But the restoration, the completeness, the PEACE we long for requires us to understand PEACE as more than just a noun describing a state of being. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, needs us to embody these words as verbs, by restoring, bringing, making SHALOM, making EIRENE, making PEACE. But in our own state of incompleteness, in the absence of SHALOM in our being, we are afraid. Afraid of putting ourselves on the line. Afraid to follow Jesus into our Jerusalems. Afraid to trust our own power to resist. Afraid to say no to our overlords. Afraid to abandon the powers empire. Afraid to risk what’s ours. Afraid of the storms which rage all around us. Afraid of trusting the PEACE which is within each of us. Afraid to put our faith in a God who IS LOVE. We are afraid of the unfamiliar. We know the contours of commerce, with its violence and unfettered greed. We’ve grown accustomed to the suffering. We trust the untrustworthiness of the powerful. We learned to live with the evils of our systems. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know. And yet, the image of that mother bird tending her nest among the rocks and ravages of the storm continues to compel us. The promise of peace breaking out in our chaos, the desire for wholeness continues to allure us. Jesus’ commandment to: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  continues to inspire us.

The PEACE you have left us with dear Jesus, may not be the kind of peace the world gives, but surely it is the kind of peace which calms all fear? “Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” SHALOM the kind of PEACE which surpasses our understanding breaks out when together we find the courage to set aside all fear. Jesus said, “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.” Come oh GOD who IS LOVE. Dwell with us, in us, through us, and beyond us. Let the hopes and dreams of our ancestors move in, with, and through us. Do not let our hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. Let peace break out in the most unlikely of places. Let us begin by recognizing the PEACE which lies within. Paying attention to this gift of PEACE within us empowers us to love our enemies by tending to their well-being, so that friend and foe alike can be restored, made complete, and made whole. Let the PEACE which lives within us empower us to be peacemakers, doers of peace, bringers of peace, lovers of peace, restorers of wholeness. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, in the name and for the sake of the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.  Amen.

View the full Worship Video below.

Afghanistan: Bear Witness We Must!

When I was in my early twenties, I was so much more adventurous than the pastor who stands before you. Still foolish enough to believe in my own ability to meet any situation I stumbled into; I travelled the world seeking all the excitement which life might bring my way. More than once, I ventured into worlds beyond my meagre capacity for wisdom. With a reckless spirit, a rail-pass in my pocket, a backpack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars’ worth of travelers’ cheques, yeah, travelers’ cheques. That’s how long ago it was. I had several hundred dollars of travelers’ cheques tucked into my wallet, when I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. Despite my youthful vigor, I was tired. Several months of backpacking in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head to Greece, where previous visits had taught me, the living was easy. I longed for the warm sun, the blue skies and the equally blue waters and the promise of a cheap place to rest.

As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Hannia on the Island of Crete. I knew that in Crete I could find work. I planned to mix a lot of relaxation and fun with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean. As the train rattled through Austria towards, what was then, Yugoslavia, it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness. I remembered my previous journey by car through Yugoslavia and how, at the time, I had marveled at the diversity of this strange little country. I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as their ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra-modern section of the city of Belgrade, the showcase of the dictator Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all, and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade, with its towering buildings and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in this Yugoslavia.

I was awakened by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train, they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the correct papers and that my backpack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, the guns and the uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty-two years. He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa which I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language using unfamiliar alphabet. The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I could comprehend what was happening, I was being escorted off the train. I was shaking so badly that the young men on either side of me had to hold me up. I’m not sure if my feet even touched the ground.

After a long, lonely wait in a drab, windowless room, a woman entered. In broken English she told me that my visa was not in order. “NOT in order! NOT in order!” She kept repeating it.  I gathered from what she was trying to unsuccessfully to explain to me, that my passport contained the visa from my previous visit to Yugoslavia but was missing an official exit stamp. She demanded to know why there was no exit stamp in my passport. “NO EXIT STAMP! NOT in order! Needless to say, I could not explain. I told her that I had only spent a little over a week in Yugoslavia the year before and then gone on to Greece. I told her that I didn’t know that an exit stamp was necessary and that I couldn’t understand why the Yugoslavian consulate would have issued my current visa if my paperwork was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. “NOT in order! NOT in order! EXIT STAMP!” Continue reading

Sermon: Are You a MYSTIC Too? Genesis 28:16-22

Awe came upon me one hot August night when I was only 17 years old. That night there was supposed to be a particularly amazing meteor shower. So, about a dozen of us, we headed down to the beach, where there was boardwalk, to sleep out under the stars. It was a fabulous night. No adults were there to tell us what to do. So, we were trying on what it would feel like to be an adult ourselves and to do what we wanted, when we wanted. We had good friends to talk to. There was swimming after dark. We had an illegal campfire to make us feel just a little bit afraid that someone might catch us doing something a little beyond our abilities. It was a brilliant night. We laughed and we played, and we solved all the problems of the world, but we never saw a single meteor.

Around 3 o’clock in the morning we finally settled down to sleep. I’m not sure what woke me up. But I do remember looking up and seeing nothing but stars, and when the first meteor streaked across the sky, rather than waking up my friends so that they could see what I was seeing, I just lay there watching as streak after streak stretched across the darkness. I knew in my head that these were meteors, but it was as if the stars were putting on a show just for me. I’d never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Suddenly the Cosmos, was more than just a backdrop of my imagination. The Cosmos was there, right there in all its glory. It was the most beautiful display of cosmic grandeur. I was totally overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Far from feeling small, I felt like I was big enough to reach out and touch the stars. It was wonderful. There were moments when I felt that I wasn’t the only one doing the watching. There I was lying below the sky, looking up, feeling strangely at peace. For the first time, it felt as though I was actually being watched and seen. I was being seen and I was being known by something bigger than the sky.

In a sea of a billion galaxies, I felt the CREATOR of all that IS, surrounding me. The gentle sea breeze seemed to caress me, and for the first time in my life, I became conscious that I am part of something far larger than myself and I felt my heartbeat begin to quicken. Serenaded by the heavy breathing of my companions, I began to wonder about stardust, about breath, and wind, and about this thing called the SPIRIT, and I knew that somehow the heart of what I was staring into was miraculously related to the heart that which was beating so quickly in me. And the tears flowed, and I knew such joy. It was as if the Cosmos itself had opened up inside of me, and for the first time I knew who and what I am. I also knew somehow, deeply knew, that the breath in me and the SPIRIT at the heart of the universe that was exploding before my eyes, is intimately ONE.

I remember my joy was tinged with a kind of fear, because I knew that this was bigger than anything I’d ever been able to imagine, and I wondered if my head was about to explode. I remember laughter rising within me, which I suppressed because I didn’t want my friends to wake up and find me deliriously happy, like some kind of crazy person. I knew I’d never be able to explain the joy I was feeling. Nothing had ever filled me so full. I had no words with which to explain my experience. I still don’t have the words to describe this mystical experience. I felt as though my whole being was going to burst open because the joy, and love which I felt simply could not be contained. Over the years, I have returned to this experience to try to put into words an experience which is BEYOND words.

For a long time, I used the word “God” to describe what I was experiencing. At the time I remember thinking that GOD had better ease off just a little or I was going to entirely loose the plot. GOD was too much to take in. I wasn’t sure I could take much more, when suddenly; the sky began to change its hue. I was conscious of colour behind me. Don’t ask me how you can be conscious of colour, I just was. I was afraid to look toward the colour, because I knew that behind me the Sun would be rising, and if tiny meteors streaking across the sky could do what they did to me, I wasn’t sure I could handle the magnificence of the Sun rising. I closed my eyes, and in the darkness of my own mind, I felt the power of GOD overwhelming me.  

In the Book of Genesis, there is a powerful story about one of our ancestors named Jacob. The story takes place after Jacob has tricked his father into giving him the blessing which according to their custom, should have gone to his older twin brother Esau. Jacob has just left home and is travelling through the desert when he sets up camp for the night. Jacob takes a rock and uses it as a pillow. During the night, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a ladder, which stretches from the ground all the way up into the realm of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God. The Hebrew text uses the unspeakable name for God – YAHWEH – a word so sacred that the Hebrews did not speak it, a word which translates into English as “I AM WHO I AM!” Messengers of the DIVINE MYSTERY were travelling up and down Jacob’s dream ladder. Jacob could see the MYSTERY standing over him and from the HOLY ONE Jacob received the knowledge that his descendants would be as numerous as the specks of dust on the ground; spreading out all over the Earth and those descendants, that’s us, we, Jacob’s descendants would see ourselves as blessed by our ancestor Jacob. From the DIVINE MYSTERY, Jacob knew that the HOLY ONE would never leave him. Then Jacob woke and said, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” He was filled with trembling and said, “How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than the dwelling place of God; this is the gate to heaven! Jacob rose early the next morning and took the stone which he had used as a pillow and set it up as a monument and he anointed it with oil. Jacob named the place BETHEL “House of God” saying, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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