When you no longer imagine the LOVE that we call God as an elsewhere-god, a personified deity who manipulates creation to fulfill our wishes, what becomes of prayer? Our BRUNCHtalks continue to explore what it means to say we are “Progressive in approach: Christ-like in action.” Some technical oversights meant that part two of our talk was not recorded. However, part one is intact and you can view the video of Richard Rohr on Prayer as A State of Communion here which lead us into part two’s discussion.
When last this text appeared in the lectionary, it was, as it is this weekend, a holiday weekend here in Ontario. So, in the midst of our relaxed worship, I decided not to preach the sermon I had written and simply spoke briefly in response to the video animation which was shown after the reading of the Gospel John 6:24-35. You can watch the video: The Stonecutter here and listen to the recording of my comments here. The sermon which I prepared but did not preach is printed below.
Following the video The Stonecutter (1960) Japanese Folklore view here
Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Food that endures for eternal life: WOW! Talk about satisfying. Who wouldn’t want some of that? Who isn’t hungry for food that does not perish but lasts for eternal life? No wonder the people cried out to Jesus. “Sir, give us some of that.” To which Jesus replied, “I AM it!” It’s clear that were not talking about ordinary food here. Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
But isn’t hunger and thirst the very stuff of life? Isn’t hunger, thirst, desire, longing, yearning, the very thing that drives us all? Don’t we all hunger for a better, fuller, more satisfying life? Don’t we all want to feed that emptiness that lies within? Aren’t we all looking for something?
If I were to try to tell that ancient Japanese fable in our modern Canadian context what might it sound like? You’re driving along in the car, widows open, listening to some tunes thinking hey look at me, I’ve got it pretty good, when all of a sudden a guy pulls up along side of you in a beautiful in a sleek e-type jag convertible, woe! If I could afford a car like that, just think about how great it would be to pull away from all the other traffic, the wind blowing through my hair, wouldn’t that be great. Well you save your pennies and you finally get the car of your dreams, and your driving along and you see this house, not just any house, but the most beautiful house in the neighbourhood, and you know there’s just got to be a pool in the backyard, and you wonder maybe, just maybe there’s a Jacuzzi in one of the dozen or so rooms and you know that if you could come home to a place like that, well then you’d be really happy. So you work hard and you scrimp and you save and one day, you get your hearts desire and you turn the key in the lock an all of a sudden your living in the house of your dreams. But there’s the pool to clean, and the gardens to maintain, and a lot of rooms that need dusting and you see that your neighbours have a pool boy, a gardener, and a housekeeper and you know if you could only afford to hire some help then you’d be happy. You know that with just a few more bucks in your bank account you’d be happy. So, you wish and you wish and one day you win the 649 and you have millions of dollars, several beautiful cars, lots of staff to keep everything ticking over, and no one to share it with.Continue reading →
Moving beyond the sacrificial interpretation of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to explore a progressive way of following Jesus. Jesus’ way of being provides hope for 21st century christian communities who embrace the LOVE we meet in the stories about Jesus that have been handed down to us. Can christian communities provide a space where people can gather together to learn how to love? Our BRUNCHtalks continue to explore what it means to be “Progressive in Approach: Christ-Like in action!”
I am indebted to the work of Origen of Alexandria, John Dominic Crossan and Peter Rollins for providing a deeper understanding of the stories of Jesus’ Feeding of the Multitude and Walking on the Water. You can listen to the sermonhere
There’s a story from the Zen Buddhist tradition that I love, and I know that I’ve told before. But like all really good stories it is well worth repeating. So, there are these three monks, who decided to practice meditation together. They went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he tow walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks he too returned striding upon the water. The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”
When I peer back through the mists of time to the miracle stories that have been handed down to us, I feel like that third monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. So many interpretations of the miracle stories continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we nor Jesus are or were super-natural beings. Such interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, many more monks than simply three to guide us. But let me draw your attention to three of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us were the stones are so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading →
Can a first century understanding of Hell and Heaven free Christianity from its obsession with the next life and our cultural nonsense about heaven and hell? Exploring a progressive approach to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth opens us to a Way of being in the world that is eternal now. Our BRUNCHtalks continue to explore what it means to be “Progressive in Approach: Christ-Like in action!”
Sadly, the plight of refugees has worsened since these readings last came up in our lectionary. I repost this sermon to inspire others to continue to speak out for sanctuary. Three years ago, I chose to extract two readings from the lectionary to reflect upon sanctuary for refugees. Splitting the prescribed gospel text into the first and second readings and using the epistle text as the Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, Mark 6:53-56, Ephesians 2:11-22. The video which was shown during the sermon, along with the English translation, can be viewedhere, listen to the sermonhere
Come away with me. To the Apostles Jesus said, “Come away with me, by yourselves to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile.” It’s summertime, and we are blessed to live in a land of remote places where we can rest awhile. Come away with me to someplace more remote could describe so much of this great land. Vast stretches of trees and rocks, open prairies that stretch for miles, epic shorelines where waves crash roll in from open seas, long winding rivers, tall majestic mountains, open tundra, ice covered land and sea that stretches farther than the eye can see. Come away with me to someplace more remote where you can rest a while; we are positively spoilt for choice. Come away with me to someplace more remote, to the lake, to the riverside, to the park, to the beach, to the woods, to the prairie, to the mountains, to the great white north. Come away with me to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile, each one of us has our favorite spots; places where we can find sanctuary from the cares and woes of life.
Sanctuary is such a beautiful word. Sanctuary from the Latin: sanctum, sanctus, sacred or holy. Sanctuary – a holy place, the word has come to mean a place of safety. We are so very blessed with sanctuaries- safe places where we can hide away from the cares and woes of life, sacred places, holy places, places that revive our very souls.
Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile. Jesus says this to his new appointed Apostles right after they had returned to him from the big bad world into which Jesus had sent them to proclaim the good news. The Apostles came back to Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught, and Jesus said to them, “Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote and rest awhile.” So many people wanted and needed them. So many people were coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So, they went away to a deserted area. They sought sanctuary so that they could rest. Most of us take sanctuary for granted. We have our safe places, our sacred places, places where we can rest, recharge our batteries, get ready for what lies ahead. From the safety of our sanctuaries we know that the world is still out there, needing us, wanting us, calling upon us. But we have the luxury of time and place and we take our rest. We live in the second largest country in the world – over 4 million square miles. We also have one of the smallest populations in the world. This is a very big, very empty country. There are just over 34 million people in Canada. That’s just under 9 people for every square mile in Canada. Such a vast empty country, most of us are crowded down here in the south, but even along our southern border there are so many places where we can drive for miles and miles and not see another person. Finding remote places in which to seek sanctuary is not a difficult task in this vast country of ours.Continue reading →
In our third BRUNCHtalks, we continue to explore what it means to be “Progressive in Approach: Christ-like in action!” Focusing upon a progressive approach to Christianity, we look to the Way of Jesus to reveal ways of being Christian in the 21st century.
The beheading of John the Baptist is an unusual subject for a beautiful summer morning. However, from time to time the lectionary takes us where we are reluctant to go. Our readings included: Mark 1:1-11, Mark 1:14-15 and Mark 6:14-29
I can’t exactly tell you how it felt after a wonderful week of summer vacation to return to work on Wednesday morning and discover that there was a beheading on the menu for this morning. I was sorely tempted to forget about the prescribed reading for this particular morning. I mean, who among us has the stomach to gaze upon John the Baptist’s severed head on this gorgeous summer morning? We could all be relaxing on our various patios and sun decks enjoying a leisurely breakfast, listening to the birds sing, tending to our gardens or catching up with friends. I’d much rather head up to the lake for a swim than contemplate the fate of a radical like John the Baptist. Summertime and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high! At first, I thought just crank up the tunes and maybe our love of singing together will get us through and help us to ignore the horrors of the main course. But the image of John’s piercing eyes staring up from my imagined silver platter made each hymn-choice seem trite. So, I opened up my sermon files to see what I’ve done in the past when this horrendous gospel reading has come up. It turns out that I’m rarely here at this time of the year. I’m either at convention or on vacation and some other preacher has had the privilege of this particular main course. Oh, there’s one sermon that I preached years ago, but when I read it, I couldn’t help wondering what I was thinking; I told a cute story about bears in the mountains being dangerous and moved on to insist that Jesus wasn’t some cute cuddly teddy bear, but a wild radical bear who if taken seriously is far more dangerous than any wild bear we might meet in the woods. It wasn’t a bad sermon really, but I just couldn’t bear to preach it a second time. So, I started playing around with other readings. I thought I’d find something more fitting for a lovely summer morning; maybe preach on the beauty of creation and encourage us all to enjoy the pleasures of life. But John’s eyes wouldn’t stop looking up at me from the banquet table, taunting me to prepare the way for our God. I tried to avoid his gaze by promising to do him justice when Advent rolls around and the lectionary goes on for 3 consecutive Sundays about John the Baptist, but John’s severed head sent my mind to the Garden of Gethsemane and I ran into that Jesus fellow down on his knees begging to God to spare him, to take this cup from him and I couldn’t help hearing John in the background yelling, “You brood of vipers as we tried to enjoy this beautiful morning. So, here we are sisters and brothers, gathered around the table with the vision of a main course served up on a silver platter, encouraged by the traditions of the church to partake of the radical fare that lies staring up at us. Prepare the way for our God. Now we could prepare the way simply by exploring the text.Continue reading →
The second in our summer series of BRUNCHtalks explores what it means to be “Progressive in Approach.” We are still experimenting with the format. The video has been edited to include a portion of the event. Several of the video’s we watched during the event are included in the video along with keynote slides. BRUNCHtalks will continue at Holy Cross throughout the summer – Sundays @ 9:30am.
Whenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem even more puny. While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. How might a progressive approach to religion enable us to expand our images of the Divine MYSTERY?
BRUNCHtalks have begun! We are exploring a new way of gathering, in what will be a kind of progressive Christian laboratory. The video is an edited version of our gathering that was filmed using a stationary camera. We are learning as we go. Have a look and feel free to add a comment. Our goal is to spend summer Sundays learning new ways to articulate what it means to say we are: Progressive in approach: Christ-like in action! Click here to view the notes that form an outline of the gathering.
Religion is above all else an art form. Religion begins with awe and wonder and -and moves into the realm of story as we try to express our experiences of awe and wonder. Some of us tell the stories with words, some with music, some with painting, or sculptor, others tell the story in dance, we humans are creatures who find, interpret and express meaning. Like all artforms religion takes practice Religion is never quite perfected.Religion evolves as the artform is reinvented over and over again. The root of the word religion is “l i g” lig, which is also in the word “ligament.” It means to connect, to join together, to unite, to bring everything together in one body or one wholeness. The little word “re” simply means “again.” Religion is a word that means to re – connect, to put together again. Religion is about binding us together into ONENESS with the ONE who made us. Religion is about connecting us to God, to Creation, and most importantly to one another. We re-connect through the various religious artforms that express the who, what, why, and the how of who we are. Imagine what it might mean to practice the art of re-connection from the perspective of Progressive Christian Religion.
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number and there became a great nation, mighty and populous.” So, mighty and so populous that some of our ancestors wandered all the way to Northern Ireland. As a child in Belfast a long time ago, longer than I care to remember, so long ago that life was very different than it is now. Life in Belfast during the sixties was simple. We didn’t have much. Life was simple and basic and so many of the things that we take for granted, simply didn’t exist back then. Looking back on it now, I suppose you could say that we were poor. The truth is, we may indeed have been poor but I never knew it. Back then “the troubles” were reigniting in Northern Ireland as protestants and Roman Catholics began to slip back into their old violent ways. Looking back, I realize that the poverty and violence of Belfast in the 1960’s made it a tough place to raise a family. So, it makes sense that my family would leave Belfast as what today we would call refugees, fleeing both economic hardships as well as the threat of violence. But as a child in neither knew nor understood the realities of our migration. Nevertheless, arriving in Canada was just like arriving in the “Promised Land.”
On this Canada Day weekend, I can still vividly remember my first full day in Canada, even though it happened so very long ago. My Mother, my brother, and I arrived at the old Malton Airport. I don’t have any actual memories of walking across the tarmac, but legend has it that it was snowing on what should have been a spring day. I do have memories of my very first car-ride. I can still see the massive 1957 Plymoth. It was the first car my family ever owned and it had these huge fins at the back that were taller than I was at the time. The back seat was positively enormous and riding back there, I was thoroughly convince that my Dad had struck it rich in Canada.
We pulled into the parking lot of the tallest building I had ever seen and Dad announced that we were home. He pointed out a balcony way up on the fourth floor and said that this was our flat.Then we climbed aboard an elevator. I had never been in an elevator before and I was amazed at the skill with which my father took charge of the controls. When the door magically slide open, we walked down a long hallway to arrive at our front door. I can still see the gold numbers on the door, “407”. We must be rich indeed, if we had good on our front door. I could hardly believe my eyes when Dad opened the door. I remember the shiny wood floors, the brand new furniture, and the big TV set.
As we toured the rest of the apartment, I simply couldn’t speak. This new home looked nothing like the homes I was used to. What’s more inside the kitchen stood a sparkling white refrigerator. I had never seen such a thing. All I remember is that this refrigerator had magic powers that allowed us to keep food cold. Visions of ice-cream must have danced through my head. Just imagine the marvelous ability to be able to keep ice-cream in your very own kitchen. No more walking to the corner shop or waiting for the ice-cream man to pass by.Ice-cream right there as cold as you like in your very own home. It blew my tiny little mind!Continue reading →
The raging storms are all around us!The tumultuous winds are raging, churning up the waters and tossing us about in traitorous seas. Our small boats are tossed to and fro as massive waves heave us left and right. The roaring winds create upheavals, which leave us cowering in fear, trembling as we struggle to meet each wave that carries with it the potential to destroy the few planks of wood that have been hewn together to carry us upon the changing sea which holds both the promise of sustenance and the threat of oblivion within the darkness of its depths. With each crash upon the hull our fear raises, and the ferocity of the storms intensify. Frightened, clinging to life as we are tossed from one danger to the next, we cry out into the storm, convinced that only a power more intense, bigger, stronger, massive, beyond our abilities to even imagine can save us from being swamped in our small boats. We know that left to our own devices without the meager security offered by our small boats we will be overcome by the waves and drown in the very sea that we must rely upon to sustain us.
The raging storms are all around us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fears as we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters that lie ahead. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that drive us ever closer to wrecking our small boats hastily designed without thought to the perils which threaten to consume us as the monsters of the deep surface all around us. The weather forecast looks bleak as one storm after another rolls our way and we are so very tired. Tired of the winds of racism, which continue to blow despite our efforts to quell their intensity.
We have seen the power of racism that over and over again rises up in our midst. Some of us have learned to live in the almost silent breezes generated by our fear of the other. We have figured out mechanisms to quell the intensity of racism’s loathsome impact. We built lifeboats to carry us beyond the pain of the hatred that wafts in and around us, blown about by racism’s destructive currents. We know that there aren’t enough lifeboats to save us all so we jettison lives and turn away as others drown. We’ve grown accustomed to systems that allow us to deny their suffering as they flail about, trusting our lifeboats to protect us. Different seas have different others, but the lifeboats are crafted from the same materials. As racist breezes churn up the waters, poverty, disease and violence continue to howl and all the while, we are tossed upon the waves trusting that sleeping in the back of our lifeboat lies a power who if roused will protect us, save us, carry us safely to better shores.
Today, many of us are feeling more than just a little seasick. We thought we’d managed to quell the racism that once again howls in our midst. It’s a beautiful summer morning and we were looking forward to calm waters so that we can relax and breathe deeply in the warmth of our surroundings. But the winds of racism and violence have joined forces and blown the pain of children separated from their parents, lost and along languishing in detention centers, coupled with the knowledge that so many children continue to flee for their lives as wars continue to rage in far too many places. Even the imagining the pain, the fear and the dangers, threatens the stability of our lifeboats. We recognize the power of racism and violence to stir up the waters and so we comfort ourselves with the thought that these destructive winds are blowing in the south as if we here in the north are immune to the dangers that are blowing in the wind. We point to our American cousins as if they alone are the only ones in danger of sinking with their lifeboats weighed down by the presence of a raging orange fool whose tweet-storms causes new phrases to be added to our Orwellian lexicon: “tender age shelters”. Continue reading →
It certainly hasn’t been a great week for the bible! You can’t tune into any kind of media right now without hearing the Attorney General of the United States quoting the bible to support the draconian practices of the US Justice Department. It’s not the first time that evildoers have used biblical quotations to justify the unjustifiable and sadly, it won’t be the last time. On this Pride Sunday, we are all too aware of the age-old practice of weaponizing the Bible. I know that there are many people in the queer community who would like to abandon the bible all together. During times like these, I too struggle with the reality that the bible contains some pretty weird shit. But as annoying as some of the stuff in the Bible is, I know that there is some amazing wisdom that I’m not prepared to give up just because some throw-backs to a bygone era can’t seem to read beyond their own narrow mindedness. The current narrow-mindedness of the abysmal administration of our neighbours to the south serves as a case in point. While the bible does indeed say, that we should obey the law, if you read a little beyond the quote that was bandied about, you will find, just a few lines later that the bible also says, and I quote: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love never wrongs anyone—hence love is the fulfillment of the Law.”
Like any book, when you isolate a small section of text, and fail to take into consideration the full context from which that isolated section has been drawn, you run the risk of abusing the actual intent of the original authors. The bible is a collection of books, brought together over hundreds of years in order to create an over-arching narrative. Those of us who have found value in the biblical stories, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that evildoers do not get away with abusing people with quotes from the very Bible that seeks to set all people free from false narratives. Sadly, many of us simply don’t know many of the biblical stories that make up the over-arching narratives of freedom, of justice and of peace. This morning, I’d like to draw our attention to an all too often hidden gem of a story that is particularly relevant to us as we celebrate Pride in all that we are created to be.Continue reading →
My granddaughter Audrey is just four years old. A couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from Audrey’s mother Laurel about a conversation over dinner. Said four-year-old Audrey, “Who made the world?” Her mother Laurel responded, “God made the world.” To which Audrey asked, “Who is God?” Audrey’s Dad, Jeff is a lawyer responded with a marvelous answer, “God is an all-powerful spirit who is everywhere. He made everything including you.” My brilliant granddaughter Audrey took her father’s answer in her stride and just like a four-year-old does, she pushed her parents even further by asking, “Who made God?” Jeff and Laurel answered in unison, “You should really talk to Gran.”
While I chuckled with delight at my granddaughter’s ability to stump her parents, I couldn’t help hoping that they might have spared me the prospect of trying to answer the unanswerable question of the ages. Little Audrey’s line of questioning echoes the questions of all the generations that have gone before her. I suspect that her parents swerved her theological challenge to their answers in much the same way as generations of parents have, by passing the question back to the generation that went before them; perhaps hoping that there might be an inkling of an answer that they might have missed along the way. But even though as Audrey’s Gran, I have spent the better part of my adult life dwelling in Audrey’s questions about the nature of reality, when it comes to questions about who made us, and who made God, all I can really do is look back to the wisdom generated by the generations who have gone before me. Just like my granddaughter, each answer that I discover, only generates a deeper more piercing question that leaves me to cope with the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality, that which is beyond every answer, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also. So, this morning as we peer back beyond the beyond, we turn our attention to a story that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Genesis, the very name of this the first book of the Torah, genesis means the beginning. But don’t let the name of this ancient book fool you into believing that it will reveal the answer to age old questions. For we know that Genesis is but the beginning of a multitude of questions. Most of us have heard the answers that have been wrestled from Genesis so many times that we have already formed opinions about the stories in Genesis based on arguments about whether or not the creation stories are literally true. I have little or no interest in such childish arguments, as our friend Dom Crossan insists, it “is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” Let’s just agree that the mythological stories contained in the book of Genesis were told to symbolize the nature of reality.Continue reading →
The gospel reading prescribed for this Sunday (Mark 3:20-35) paints a daunting picture of the perceptions of the people of Jesus’ hometown. The folks who knew Jesus, including his family worried that he might just be “out of his mind.” This is indeed a contrast to the ways in which Jesus is typically portrayed. This is a dangerous Jesus who ran the risk of being perceived as deranged. In his book “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” Robin Meyers captures some of this danger when he points to Mary Oliver’s poem “Maybe” in which Jesus’ “melancholy madness” is seen by his fellows as more dangerous than a storm. Safely ensconced in our imaginations, Jesus is rarely allowed to threaten the status quo to which we cling for dear life. Are we prepared for the stormy waters that would be stirred up should we take Jesus at his word? Maybe…
We have all heard the axiom: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” An axiom is a premise or a starting point of reasoning so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” or this old chestnut: “You should not mix religion and politics” Failure to adhere to the logic of accepted axioms is unsettling.
A long time ago, when I was but a teenager – back in the by gone days of yore—I remember believing beyond a doubt that all I needed to do in order to be successful in life was to learn. I figured any problem in life could be solved merely by studying the problem, figuring out the possible solutions, eliminating incorrect ideas, reviewing past solutions, anticipating possible outcomes and factoring in the various laws which apply to the subject, and arriving at the correct answer. Studying, the facts in a reasonable way, analyzing the various emotions that might arise, and determining what was best possible outcome for the largest number of people; this rational approach was the key to success in life. I resolved to learn all that I could about how people had done things in the past in order that I might succeed in the future.
It helped that I was a history buff. History and English were my favorite subjects in high school and I excelled in both. Math and science, I struggled with; biology and geography I could manage, but algebra, physics and chemistry just about did me in. But I wanted to go on learning and it was made clear to me that if I could not master high school math and science, I wouldn’t be able to go on to university to study anything. So, I worked hard not to learn math and science but rather to pass all the math and science tests.
It wasn’t easy! Physics was just about the end of me. Not only was I incompetent when it came to learning the lessons of physics, the teacher couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag; and besides he was just about the meanest marker in all the world, so I figured I was doomed. So, you can forgive me if I took a little pride in the fact that I actually got around to going to university as what they call a mature student. I didn’t actually go to university until I was 32 years old. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to make it through my first year, because in addition to all the subjects that I was wildly interested in, I was required to take a science class…but that’s another story. I was enrolled in a general arts program, majoring in religions of the world, with a minor in psychology. The subject matter in most of my classes was absolutely fascinating and I even remember being grateful to my high school physics teacher for drumming Newtonian physics into my non-scientific brain. You see little Isaac Newton went a long way in the study of theology. It turns out that when you are studying theodicy which is a fancy word for the reason behind the fact that God appears to let bad things happen and evil prosper; well when it comes to theologians trying to explain why God acts the way God does, there’s a whole branch of theology that figures God out using the rules of Newtonian physics. Although I didn’t learn much science in high school, I certainly did learn Newton’s laws of motion. So, I could understand how Newton’s explanation of how the physical world worked, was applied by theologians to explain why God let bad things happen in the world; even to good people. God wasn’t causing bad things to happen we were, because as everyone knows Newton’s third law of motion is an axiom, which is absolutely true; a fact beyond challenge, and I knew because not only did I memorize it to pass the test, but I actually thought I understood it. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Zippiddy do da! there you have it. When two objects interact, the size of the force on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.
A little knowledge of Newton and you can solve the problem of evil in theology. The bad stuff isn’t God’s fault. The bad stuff happens to good people, not because God is testing them, or because God is capricious, or because God is powerless to act. Bad stuff happens because people who are not good do bad stuff and their action creates more bad stuff. The theology proof asked us to imagine Newton’s mechanized view of reality, by thinking of a pool table. One ball is bad, very bad, that one ball’s badness hits a good ball with force, and that good ball is compelled to move, hitting another good or bad ball it doesn’t matter, one ball hitting another ball with force, has a ripple effect, the ripple effect isn’t chaos, it’s the nature of reality, the way things were originally created, and what is necessary is for enough good balls to use good force as apposed to bad force in order for justice to prevail.
Now it’s been a while, so I’m making a bit of a hash of this, but I hope you get the idea that I thought I was figuring it all out, wrapping my brain around theology; beginning to understand how a good God can let bad things happen to good people. It was the nature of creation itself that was getting in the way. God could still be considered good even though bad stuff happened, because God was not responsible for the bad stuff, we were with all our bashing about on that pool table. It sounds ridiculous now. But at the time it was like being hit with a blinding light; an epiphany of sorts. God didn’t cause bad things to happen, but because of God’s commitment to our free will God would not intervene, but God’s goodness compelled God to be there with us as the bad forces were hitting us. I even figured out that Jesus was thrown into the mix because all those crashing balls were causing so much pain that God was compelled not to intervene directly but to set an example of goodness in the midst of evil; an example that we could look to and follow, so that with enough good people exerting enough good force we could create an equal and opposite reaction of goodness. It was all slotting into place. Here was a theory about God which used reason and logic to arrive at the goodness of God, while demonstrating the need for Christ, and a way forward out of the pain of bad forces and onto a table where the force of goodness was matched with more goodness. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Stop all the bad forces with goodness. Everybody get together try to love one another right now. Love, love, love, all we need is love. Love is all you need.
I was delighted with my new understanding and they way in which the God I was learning about fit so nicely into the Newtonian world view as I understood it. But remember the axiom I began with: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. One day, during a second-year course in which we were studying the patristic explanations of the cross, we were arguing about the relative merit of a God who would demand human sacrifice when my carefully constructed vision of God was blown sky high. My defense of the goodness of God was challenged by a kid who had more than a little knowledge and whose broader knowledge of science just about robbed me of my sanity as I watched my carefully constructed vision of the goodness of God fall into the abyss. “Sadly,” this kid said, “Sadly your argument for the nature of divinity is constructed on a false premise.”
Try to remember the summer of 69. Pierre Trudeau had only been in office for a year. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The Vietnam was raging. Chappaquiddick and the Manson Murders dominated the news that summer. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The Beatles’ Album Abbey Road was number one. Sesame Street debuted on Public television while the Brady Bunch debuted in prime time to compete with I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched. In that last beautiful summer of the 60’s, 350,000 young people flocked to a farm in upstate New York for the three-day musical extravaganza that was Woodstock.
My family moved to Vancouver that summer and I turned twelve; too young to be a flower child of the sixties, but old enough to become a fan of the music of the sixties. Not many of us knew about Woodstock while it was happening. But when we found out, many of us wished we’d been there. Over the years millions of people have claimed that they were at Woodstock, despite the fact that the site could barely manage to accommodate the 350,000 thousand who did attend. News didn’t travel so quickly in those days. Woodstock may have captured the imaginations of millions but that was almost a year after the event when record albums began to hit the shelves.
Back then one of my prized possessions was my small transistor radio, which I held up to my ear so that I could listen to all my favorite tunes. The quality of the sound was abysmal. So, if you liked a song you heard you just had to rush out and buy a 45, for less than a dollar. I remember lining up to buy a copy of the number 1 tune that summer: Sugar Sugar by the Archies. But if you really liked a singer or a group, then you would have to save your money so that you could plunk down $5.00 for an LP, shot for Long Playing Album. That summer I spent weeks saving my baby-sitting money, about .25 cents an hour so that I could get my very own copy of The Fifth Dimension’s latest album, The Age of Aquarius. I was dancing and singing, “Let the Sunshine” and dreaming of becoming a teenager. Back then it took a whole year for the music from Woodstock to begin to seep into the culture. And so it was long after the summer of 69, that I got my very own copy of the quintessential album of the Woodstock generation: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà vu. I wore that album out. Our House, is a very, very, fine house! Teach your children well! Helpless, helpless, he…lpless! And then there was the best song on that album. Joni Mitchell may have written the song called Woodstock, but it took Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to make it timeless.
Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, Tell where are you going?
This he told me
Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
I must have listened to that song a thousand times trying to learn the lyrics, but try as I might a line from the chorus eluded me. I just couldn’t figure out what they were saying. Do you remember the chorus? We are stardust, we are golden, We are ???? what was the next line? We are stardust, we are….something, something, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. We are stardust, we are golden… We are ….billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. Well, then can I walk beside you?
When I finally figured out the lyrics, I was no wiser, I was lost…I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were on about. But it sounded good!!! So, I kept playing and I kept singing.
Over the years, I’ve hummed and sung along, trusting that we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. And longing for a simpler time, when I was young and still believed that Adam and Eve had once frolicked blissfully in the pristine garden of Eden, and if we could only recapture the innocence of that garden all would be right with the world. I remember as a teenager, hearing sermons about Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, as the start of it all. Something went terribly wrong; if only Eve hadn’t have listened to that snake and if only Adam hadn’t listened to Eve, then evil wouldn’t have entered creation and we’d all be able to frolic in the garden with God. If only we could get ourselves back to the garden, Jesus would not have to suffer and die for us: “For we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved God with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. And so for the sake of your Son , Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in our will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.” Week after week, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, I grew to understand that I along with all of humanity am in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Because Adam and Eve fell from grace, the stain of that original sin marks me as inherently sinful.Continue reading →
From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design, Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline… We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known, And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone. Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks & shells are found; Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground. The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks. Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.
There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night, Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light. Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will, Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars, The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars. We may watch and study or may shudder and deny, Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.
By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur, How the living things that are descend from things that were. The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies, These tiny, humble, wordless things — how shall they tell us lies? We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring. The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing. Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife, Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.
And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made, Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand. The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand. Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed, The truth has left its living word for anyone to read. So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled. Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.
Skoda – think of the skoda as the focus of the church’s attention???
While our focus is upon our doctrine’s, or style of worship, our buildings, or generally preserving the instructional church, our neighbourhoods have been changing right before our eyes and we have failed to notice
How much attention do our concerns about the church distract us?
What changes in our neighbourhoods have we failed to pay attention to?
Van changing to a taxi?
Scooter changing to a pair of bicycles?
Lady holding a pig
The entire landscape has changed!
Skoda is one of the oldest car companies in the world – Skoda has been around since they first began building automobiles
The old Czechoslovakia
Sold primarily to Eastern block countries
Nobody really wants a skoda – they are cheap, unattractive cars – the image of the Skoda is tied up in a time when people weren’t free to buy the cars of their dreams and had to settle for a skoda
Much like the image of the church
There was once a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus
Nicodemus represents the religious establishment
Our story is told in a time when people were not free to choose their religion – the idea of being or believing something other than what the religious establishment told you went against the established norms
People couldn’t change from one set of beliefs to another, from one tribe to another, without suffering enormous consequences
As a powerful member of the Parisees, Nicodemus, a member of the ruling Sanhedrin, – think Bishop or Arch-Bishop at a time when religious leaders ruled society
Nicodemus comes by cover of darkness, sort of skulks into the presence of Jesus in order to find out what all the fuss is about
Jesus tells this powerful member of the Sanhedrin that everything he stands for, the wisdom of the ages, all the religious doctrine, all the institutional power, his tribes status quo – everything that Nicodemus considers truth, must be cast aside
“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus is being asked go back to the very beginning! To begin again, to see the world, to see God in a whole new way
Nicodemus cannot or will not
Today, churches and members of churches are in much the same place as poor old Nicodemus – all that we hold dear is being challenged by the world around us
“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kin-dom of God.”
Like Nicodemus we have blinders on, we have been so focused upon preserving all that we love about the church, a church that like the skoda, no body really wants.
Who wants an unattractive cheap car?
A cheap car that burns fuel that threatens the very survival of our planet
Who wants a dying, old, cheap, church, a church whose doctrines have contributed to the violence and abuse that haunts the psyche of its members,
Who wants to be part of an old dying church?
The good news is that the old church will die – the symptoms of the disease that is killing the church are all around us
The good news is that the church will die
But just like Jesus, death will not have the final word!
Death could not kill the teachings of Jesus
Death could not kill Jesus’ dream of the kin-dom of God, the dream of a Way of being in the world that ensures that everyone has enough
Death did not kill Jesus’ dream of peace through justice
We are a people who lay claim to the power of resurrection to keep the dream alive
Like Nicodemus, our focus upon maintaining the status quo, our desire to hold on to the things we love about the church, this focus may have blinded us to what has been going on for decades
I am indebted to Jim Kast-Keat, a pioneering preacher who inspired me to open this sermon with the video below. I am also indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for teaching me more that I can articulate with words. His excellent book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic opened the Gospel According to John in ways that have helped me to see aspects of the Divine to which I was once blind. Much of the sermon consists of extensive quotes from chapter 9 of Jack’s book.
Readings: John Chapter 2 and John 3:1-17
Watch the video below carefully before reading or listening to the sermon the sermon below.
Listen to the sermon:
So, before tackling the story of Nicodemus, I want to toss two balls into the congregation. The first ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents something all too familiar, biblical literalism. We know all too well that this particular ball has been distracting the church and most of the western world for the past few centuries. The second ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents historical biblical criticism. This particular ball is newer. It’s only been seriously tossed about for the past couple of centuries, but it is a really serious contender for our attention. But these balls have acquired a rather rhythmic bounce that tends to mesmerize us. Add to that these other balls the balls of church doctrine and theological dogma and before you know it we are so distracted that we forget what game we were trying to play in the first place as we try to keep up with the various passes made by players that have taken on a professional edge that leaves us watching from the sidelines unable to focus one of them.
None of these balls commanded the attention of the early Christians. They simply weren’t interested in taking the scriptures literally, nor were they particularly interested in the historicity of the scriptures. As for doctrine and dogma, well they were left to the professionals who only came to town on those unpleasant occasions when the league needed to ensure that it’s franchises continued to rake in enough money to keep the game on a sure footing. The scriptures, like all sacred writings, were about so much more than words scribbled on a scroll. The scriptures, like all scared writings, are about the mysteries of life. But these balls have been served up for us to play with and literalism and concerns about historical accuracy have done a magnificent job of distracting us from what really matters in these texts. Our fascination with the details of the fight-patterns of the balls that are tossed around whenever the stories in these texts play through our lives, have caused us to miss so many moon-dancing bears over the years.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love tossing these balls around and over the years I’ve learned to play ball with the best of them. But when a moon-walking bear dances onto the court, at the very least, we ought to notice the bear’s moves because the only way we’re going to learn to dance with these bears is by paying attention.Continue reading →