On Ash Wednesday, Let Us Revel in the Knowledge that We are Dust and to Dust We Shall Return

Ash Wed. 2014 Mortality

On Ash Wednesday, we dare to speak the truth. We speak the truth not in the refreshing light of the morning but in the cold darkness of a winter’s night. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We will die. We are mortal beings and so our lives will end. Our culture has taught us to deny death. Even our funerals have become celebrations of life. But life without the reality of death is lived cheaply, shallowly, in a half-sleep always pushing away and denying reality. So, on Ash Wednesday let us revel in the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Revel in this knowledge because it liberates us!

On Ash Wednesday, the realty that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves is born out in the knowledge that we are stardust, elements of the universe molded together over eons, molded together by a force bigger than we can even begin to imagine, a force we call God, whom we have come to know is LOVE. LOVE breathed into the timeless elements and from the dust our ancestors emerged. Each one of us lives and breathes and has our being as a result of the confluence of so many miracles we shall never be able to count. The LOVE who is God lives and breathes in with through and beyond us.

I have only words to describe the brilliant beings that each of you are. The splendor of what has emerged from the dust and what shall return to the dust is magnificent. That magnificence is made all the more spectacular with the knowledge that it is fleeting. The knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return liberates us from delusions of grandeur for we know that this spectacular, magnificent, life that we are currently experiencing will end and we shall die. There’s an Irish expression that I have come to love, it translates from the Gaelic into something like: “We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years and we have only a short time here; a brief collection of moments. If that isn’t motivation for each and every one of us to live everything that is within us, then perhaps we have already died.

So, much of what passes for life in the 21st century is merely a distraction from the reality that we shall die. Preoccupied by our distractions we forget that we are part of something so much bigger than our minds can grasp. Each one of us was billions and billions and billions of years in the making and each and every molecule of who and what we are will continue to be for billions and billions and billions of years to come.

Who and what we are is beyond our ability to comprehend. We are part of something so much bigger than we can imagine. This small part of that reality this little piece that we call our life is a precious part of reality. If there is a sin that we must all confess, it is the sin of a life unlived. Our overwhelming fear of the unknown causes so many of us to settle for less. We cannot know what or how eternity shall unfold so we settle for something smaller, something more manageable and we live within the confines of what makes us feel safe. We dare not risk the temptation to wonder at the enormous reality of which we are all a part. We dare not begin to imagine how infinitesimal our time in this part of reality shall be. So, we settle for less, less wondering, less imagining, less dreaming, less reality, less life, and yes even less eternity.

On Ash Wednesday, the liberating knowledge that none of the distractions that make us feel safe can separate us from the truth that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, ought to at the very least empower us to live fully, here and now. On Ash Wednesday, we sit with the power of our own death to return us to the dust from whence we came. We spend a few moments mourning the missed opportunities, the failures and the pain and we talk a long, slow, deep, cleansing breath; a breath that reminds us of the first breath, the ruach of which our ancestors spoke, the breath, wind, spirit, that first breathed life into our dust-formed self; the breath, wind, spirit, that breathes even now, in, with, through, and beyond us, and we trust that that breath, wind, spirit, ruach comes from the Reality that lies at the very heart of all that is, the reality that we call God, the reality that we know is LOVE.

In and out we breathe, trusting that the One who is LOVE will breath in, with, through, and beyond us so that when our life here comes to its inevitable end, all that lies Beyond the Beyond, and Beyond that also will receive our dusty selves into the LOVE which is God.

Such freedom. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Such liberation. Let us live fully, here and now, savoring each and every moment of this wondrous life. Let us not settle for anything less than the magnitude of each and every moment. For we are dust, molded and shaped by LOVE, for LOVE, and to the dust we shall return. We are part of something so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. We are wonderfully and fearfully made, fit for life, here and now. We shall all die, return to the dust and there are billions and billions and billions of years to come. Our part in those years is a mystery; a mystery beyond our ability to begin to imagine.

Embrace eternity if you dare. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return and rejoice in the freedom that the knowledge of our death brings; the freedom to live fully here and now. Let it be so, dear friends. Let it be so!

Ash Wednesday homilies:

Evolution – There’s No Going Back here

Embracing Mortality: a reflection here

Stardust here

We Are ONE here

 

Shrove Tuesday – Such Frivolity!

ShroveTuesdaylrShrove-Tuesday, at whose entrance in the morning all the whole kingdom is inquiet, but by that time the clocke strikes eleven, which (by the help of a knavish sexton) is commonly before nine, then there is a bell rung, cal’d the Pancake-bell, the sound whereof makes thousands of people distracted, and forgetful either of manners or humanitie; then there is a thing called wheaten floure, which the cookes do mingle with water, eggs, spice, and other tragical, magical inchantments, and then they put it by little and little into a frying pan of boiling suet, where it makes a confused dismal hissing, (like the Lernean Snakes in the reeds of Acheron, Stix, or Phlegeton) until at last, by the skill of the Cooke, it is transformed into the forme of a Flip-Jack, cal’d a Pancake, which ominous incantation the ignorant people doe devoure very greedily.  John Taylor, English poet (August 24, 1580 – 1654)

Shrove comes from the old English word shrive = to shrive is to be absolvedshrove following confession.  Those who have received absolution are the shriven.  The priest who dose the shriving is the shriver. The shriven would feast using up all the foods that were avoided during Lent.

The practice of feasting is not complete without revelry and merrymaking. Many of the rules of acceptable behaviour are  set aside so as to ensure that a “wild time” is had by all:

  • Men dressed as women and women dressed as men (Prussia 15th century)
  • Football was played with wild abandon in the streets to ensure that windows were broken and gardens disturbed
  • Dancing in long meandering lines through the streets was encouraged
  • Church clipping:  clasping hands and surrounding the church
  • Jokes were told
  • Magic usually forbidden was preformed
  • Skipping (usually forbidden) was encouraged with up to ten people skipping together using the same rope (considered scandalous at other times of the year)
  • Fortune telling was allowed
  • Dancing was encouraged on church property!
  • Children were encouraged to mock their elders!
  • Tricks were played on members of the clergy.
  • Clergy decked in all their finery engaged in races.
  • Little boys and girls went from house to house knocking on doors and then running away.
  • Water was poured over the heads of officials.
  • Unspeakable things were done to chickens.
  • Eggs were tossed.

Pagan Roots:  the grand battle between Winter and Spring

  • Masks were worn to scare Winter away
  • the pancake is the symbol of the sun
  • music and revelry frightens Winter and Welcomes Spring
  • Church bells were rung at odd times to confuse Winter
  • Skipping made the earth more fertile
  • Boys and girls were encouraged to sneak away together so that matches might become inevitable.
  • Sledding down snowy slopes on Shrove Tuesday encourages the land to be fertile.

Did you know?

  • The faithful once believed that it was advantageous to hang one’s laundry out on Shrove Tuesday because chances were that the laundress having just received absolution, hanging laundry in a town full of folks who had just received absolution was sure to mean that the whites would dry whiter than white!
  • Certain works were forbidden on Shrove Tuesday: mending, sewing, hair combing, rope twisting and grindstone milling. Disobeying these bans will bring about summer storms, winds will rip off roofs, chicken will scratch in gardens, meat will have worms and fingers will swell.
  • Carnival = fare well to carni = meat

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are? – reflecting on Transfiguration

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Readings:  Exodus 32:1-6, Matthew 17:1-9. Listen to the sermon here

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, I found myself studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done here on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach to you about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. Then two things happened on Thursday that transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Where once my images were shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the experiences I had on Thursday have transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of God beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. The first thing that happened on Thursday, happened not just to me but to the whole world.

You see on Thursday, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”

NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…

As I struggled to wrap my brain around the reality of what has been discovered, our little grand-daughters came for a sleepover.Audrey is three and Evelyn is two and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I’d almost forgotten all about Trappist 1 when I found myself leaning over little Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler.   After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level.  Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.

Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. Continue reading

Transfiguration Sermons

transfigurationSermons for Transfiguration Sunday:

Beyond the Veil: a story of Transfiguration here

LOVE Transforms here

Looking Back at the Way Forward here

You Have the Power to Transfigure the Face of God here

Transfiguration Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song here

 

We Are ONE: Deep Within the MYSTERY We Call GOD

we-are-oneReadings: Ephesians 4:1-6; 1Corinthians 12:12-27; Acts 17:22-29

Between the readings we were treated to a performance of Neil Bertram’s  “Theory of Relativity” performed by Amelia DePiero, Rachel Miller, Linda Condy, Gary Curran, and Kyle Merrithew, accompanied by Marney Curran. This dynamic piece set the tone for the sermon’s exploration of MYSTERY.

Listen to the sermon Here

Theory of Relativity by Neil Bertram – lyrics

“There is one body and one Spirit,” “The body is one,” “God is the One who gives everyone life, breath-everything.” These words attributed to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament echo an even more ancient notion of Oneness. For thousands and thousands of years, in various cultures and religions, humans have shared an intuitive sense of oneness. Indeed, it could be said that this innate notion that our individual stories are part of something bigger than ourselves lives in each one of us.

My own relationship with this idea of “Oneness” with all that is and ever shall be dates back not to the bible, but rather to some old Trixie Belden mysteries. As a little girl, I remember devouring Trixie Belden mysteries. Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and even the Hardy Boys gave way to Agatha Christie mysteries, followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries, giving way to John la Carre mysteries of international intrigue. You just can’t beat a good P.D. James murder mystery.  These days I don’t have a lot of time for mystery novels so I satisfy my lust for mystery with great British TV dramas. American TV mysteries tend to be too easy to solve. Nobody does murder like the Brits, so whether it’s Midsummer Murders, Broadchurch, Inspector Morse, Wallander, or the latest incarnation of Sherlock, count me in. I like nothing better than a TV mystery that you can’t figure out until the last few minutes of the show when all is revealed. Clever, ingenious, solutions, to devious mysteries that keep you guessing, lead you up various garden paths, and delight you with one wrong turn after another, only to dumbfound you with the final reveal; now that’s entertainment. Continue reading

The Power of Love: a sermon for Epiphany 7A – Matthew 5:38-48

love enemies erlander

This sermon is a departure from my usual style; a teaching sermon, working without a manuscript. Using Keynote various images where projected to assist in setting the context for Jesus teaching on non-violent resistance. My a reflection on the creative and transformational power of love explores the tactics of empires that dehumanize enemies. The two video presentations in the Keynote point to the power of seeing the humanity of our enemies. The audio of the sermon is included below as is the Keynote that accompanied it.

The ideas in this teaching sermon were developed into a sermon on the text that was preached on Remembrance Day and can be read here

Listen to the teaching sermon: 

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We Have Enemies, And So, We Pray: a sermon for Epiphany 7A on Matthew 5:38-48

NowSince I was thirteen years old, I have borne the mark of my enemy. It’s faded quite a bit over the years, but if I look carefully I can still make out the marks left behind by, let’s call her, Betty Cherie’s teeth.  Way back in the eighth grade Betty Cherie and I fell afoul of one another. I don’t really remember what it was that started the whole thing.  It was one of those grudges that only thirteen-year-old girls can hold onto with any kind of tenacity. All I can remember is that Betty Cherie and I hated each other and the whole school knew it.

One afternoon our rivalry reached the point of war. I still cringe when I remember it. After all I was thirteen and I should have known better. I’d like to say that she started it. But, I honestly don’t remember how we got ourselves to the point were we were to meet each other in the playground to fight it out. Our adolescent duel took place in full view of the student body. We met at high noon, out behind the portables, out of sight from the teachers. It began with two sworn enemies pushing each other around. There was some hair pulling, I think I even got in a punch or two before she bit me. Continue reading

Preparing to Preach on Jesus’ Teaching on Non-Violence: Matthew 5:38-48

In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount provides a distillation of the teachings of Jesus; teachings Jesus lived for, teachings that eventually made Jesus so dangerous to the oppressive Roman Empire that they executed him as an enemy of the state. The very heart of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on non-violence.  I can think of no better way to begin my own preparations to preach on this crucial text than to look to the work of the great Walter Wink.  I will always be indebted to this amazing teacher for all that I have learned and continue to learn from him. The videos below comprise the various parts of a lecture that Wink offered on the subject of Jesus’ teaching on Non-Violence. For anyone who aspires to follow Jesus this lecture is a must see. Wink’s books are well worn friends that I have often thumbed through to find more than a nugget or two to enable me to teach anew something that I have long since come to know as a result of Wink’s excellent work! His enlightening trilogy: Naming the Powers, Engaging the Powers, and The Powers that Be along with Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way should be at every preacher’s fingertips as we proclaim Jesus’ radical way of being in the world.  Follow this link to a sermon based on these resources.

Living Between the Old Story and the Emergence of the New Sunday: Evolution Sunday sermon

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On this the 208th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, progressive Christian communities celebrate Evolution Sunday

Readings from Thomas Berry and John 10:10 can be found here

I am indebted to the work of Richard Rohr for several insights found in his audio recordings of lectures entitled “The Sermon on the Mount”

Listen to the sermon here

 

D.I.V.O.R.C.E. – Tammy Wynette and googling biblical texts? – a sermon for Epiphany 6A

Aquinas purposeReadings included: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Thomas Aquinas’ “Otherwise the Darkness’ (pictured above) and from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:21-37 

Listen to the sermon:  

I must confess to you all, right here and right now, that I thought I was so clever a few weeks ago when I decided in my ever so finite wisdom that we should spend the season of Epiphany delving into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Sure, Jesus never actually preached the Sermon on the Mount, but it does represent a first century distillation of the teachings of Jesus. Whoever it was who wrote the Gospel according to Matthew put together a compilation of Jesus greatest hits and the Sermon on the Mount represents the teaching that Jesus died for. The Sermon on the Mount is the very heart of who Jesus of Nazareth was and so those of us who seek to follow Jesus in the 21st century ought to at the very least know what’s in these passages of scripture. So, I told you all that we’d take advantage of this unusually long Epiphany season to work our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Apart from the Beatitudes which function as the introduction of the sermon, these passages of scripture rarely come up in our three-year lectionary cycle of gospel readings. I thought I was so smart when I came up with this idea. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of the past five weeks of preaching on Jesus’ teachings. Well, Monday morning I got my comeuppance. Clearly, I’d forgotten all about today’s reading when I came up with this ingenious plan. Mondays are my day off, but sometimes I sneak into my office just to get the wheels in motion. I did a double take when I read these verses. I didn’t come out of my office for a couple of hours.

What was I thinking? But I told myself not to panic. If I stayed calm, I’d find a way through this mess. So, I picked some lovely hymns, thinking if nothing else Marney could lead us in some beautiful singing and you might forgive me for dragging us all into the hell fire and damnation that I was pretty sure these texts were going to take us to.

Tuesday morning, I thought I’d better check hat other preachers have said about these texts. Well, apart from some pretty conservative preachers, it was pretty slim pickings. Liberal and progressive preachers tend to leave these texts alone; most of the commentaries lead you back to the first reading from Deuteronomy and suggest sermons on the value of choosing life.  Most Lutheran resources suggest the preacher fall upon God’s grace as the only solution; and Lord knows a few years ago, I might have taken that option…back when I still believed that we were all fallen sinners in need of God’s unmerited grace to save us from the punishment due to us under the law. But I’ve moved so far away from the doctrines of original sin and atonement theories that this particular option although appealing would sound somewhat hallow coming from me. So, even though I suspected that in the end, I’d fall back on grace, it couldn’t be the kind of grace that gets handed out by some super gracious, super-natural being up there in the sky. So, I began wondering what a progressive does with this text once we’ve located grace not in the hands of a super-natural being, but as a quality that permeates creation. Well it was clear that most of the progressives I was consulting just avoided the problem of these texts altogether. So, I consulted a few of my progressive colleagues around the world to see if they could help. But most of them had seen this one coming and had opted for the second option for the gospel reading for this the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany and they are preaching on  a relatively tricky piece from the Gospel according to John and have enough problems of their own. One colleague, who no longer uses the prescribed readings, just laughed at me for not seeing this text coming while there was till time to do something about it. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep on Tuesday night. Visions of the fires of Gehenna danced through my head as I argued with Jesus. By Wednesday, I was feeling desperate. Continue reading

We do not grieve like those with no hope. – a sermon for Epiphany 5A

hope-we-do-not-greive-pastordawn-com-pages-copy

Readings included: Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
1 Thessalonians 4:13 & Matthew 5:13-20
Listen to the sermon here

Like the poet Mary Oliver, “Sometimes I grow weary of the days, with all their fits and starts. I want to climb some old gray mountains, slowly, taking the rest of my lifetime to do it, resting often, sleeping under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks. I want to see how many stars are still in the sky that we have smothered for years now, a century at least. I want to look back at everything, forgiving it all, and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know. All that urgency! Not what the earth is about! How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only. I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts. In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.”

It has been a crazy few weeks; weeks in which the unthinkable has become the norm. We had a few months to prepare ourselves for the inauguration of a leader that most of us had allowed our minds to relegate to the level of a cartoon character. We allowed the swooping waves of hair above the orange hue to help us laugh our way into believing that this fool would be controlled by wiser heads. Then in swooped a darker, more menacing character to firmly place white-supremacy clearly within ear-shot of a man all too willing to abandon common decency in favor of wild conspiracy theories. As tragic as the travel ban is/was/maybe who knows, just thank your lucky stars you’re not the one trying to decide if your skin is the right colour to grant you safe passage while the question of your eligibility is decided in the courts. As distressing as it is to contemplate the individual hardships of refugees, there was some consolation in the reality that we here in Canada are not like them.

We are not Americans. Their troubles may impact our lives in various ways, but we are not like them. We are a welcoming people. We are a multicultural culture. We are a peaceful nation. We are a sane people; sane enough to recognize the need for sensible gun laws. We are not a violent people. We welcome refugees. We “tolerate” people of all faiths and of no faith.   The noise coming from the south, was just that, chatter, that we can turn off, tune out, or shut down any time we “grow weary of all their fits and starts.” “We can wander outside, to see how many stars are still in the sky.” We know in our heart of hearts, “All that urgency!” it is “not what the earth is about.

From sea, to sea, to sea, we feel safe, some might say, smug, in our assurance that the “universe is unfolding as it should.” So, we did our best to put the travel ban into perspective. We trusted that wiser courts would prevail. We resolved to grin and bear it. “Have a nice day.” we said.

“Have a nice day.” And then, it all went horribly wrong. Our nice day turned into tragedy and the unthinkable act of a deluded young man wrenched us from our delusions of immunity from the madness that threatens to encroach on our notions of our treasured reality. It can happen here. It can happen here. It can happen here. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. Not in Canada. Not here. It’s too much. I can’t even… Continue reading

You Are the Salt of the Earth Oh People!!!

One of the joys of this blog is the community that gathers here in this virtual space. I am so richly blessed by your feedback, encouragement, and challenges!!! Thank-you so much for the comments, emails, cards, letters and even donations to Holy Cross Lutheran Church which underwrites the blog. Recently, a regular follower of this blog responded to the audio of Sunday’s sermon by sending me a link to the video below and encouraging me to post it! She encouraged me to challenge those of you who appreciate these blogposts to consider making a donation to Holy Cross Lutheran Church to encourage them to continue their generous support of this blog. While I generally shudder at the idea of asking for donations, I know that the good folks at Holy Cross have given generously to ensure that the progressive theology expressed on this site continues to shine a light on new ways of articulating Christianity!  So, if you’d like to help out, consider clicking on the link for Holy Cross’ address and do it old-school via a cheque and snail-mail. Thank-you for supporting the many ministries of Holy Cross. Let it shine!!!

Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK – A Very Salty Trio: a sermon for Epiphany 5A

Gandhi on Sermon on the Mt copy

Rereading this sermon from 2014, I am struck by the power of Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK’s saltiness to address our current need for seasoning! In the wake of the tragedy at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City and 45’s racist travel ban, we must heed Jesus call to be salt! Sunday’s readings included Matthew 5:1-12, “What Jesus Means to Me by Mahatma Gandhi (found here) and Matthew 5:13-16. The full text of the Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can be found here. 

Listen to the sermon here:

Like most people my age, I remember the days when families had only one television set and when I was just a kid, it was a black and white television. When I was eleven or twelve, we got one of those new-fangled colour TV sets. Back then kids functioned as remote controls; Mom and Dad decided what we watched. How else would I have seen all those grainy black and white documentaries? My parents were hooked on history and as a result my brother and I were introduced to some pretty incredible characters by way of those old grainy black and white films Many of the documentaries were about the majesty of the British Empire that dominated much of the world in those old grainy days. I can still remember being impressed by a little man, wearing what looked like a diaper and causing quite a commotion wandering around Britain and talking about home rule. I remember how excited my father was when the film showed this little fellow Gandhi talking to some striking Welsh miners, encouraging them in their fight against the mine-owners. It was the beginning of a long love affair with a giant of a man.

Back then, I loved reading biographies so the next time I was in the library I picked up three biographies about Gandhi and I’ve continued to read and watch whatever I can get my hands on about the life and teachings of Mohandis K. Gandhi. It was reading about Gandhi that caused me to take my first serious look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Up until then, I didn’t know much about the teachings of Jesus. We didn’t go to church, so what I knew about Jesus I’d picked up by osmosis; growing up in a Christian culture meant, I knew who Jesus was, but very little of what he taught. But reading about Gandhi, I discovered just how much of an influence Jesus had been on Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. I knew that Gandhi’s methods had brought the British Empire to its knees, so I began to wonder about Jesus’ methods. You’ve got to remember when I was a kid, the Vietnam war was raging and the world was under constant threat of mutual annihilation as the American and Soviet empires threatened to blow us all into oblivion. Non-violence was more than just an intriguing idea; back then non-violence sounded like a life-line.

And so it was, that my interest in the life and teachings of a non-violent revolutionary from India, sent me scurrying to find the little Bible that I’d received as a gift from the Gideons when I was in grade five so that I could read Jesus’ sermon on the mount. I’d read that Gandhi had said that, if all he knew of Christianity was the Sermon on the Mount he himself would be a Christian. I had been told that we were Christians, but other than Christmas and Easter, I had no real evidence of my Christianity.

It has been said that Gandhi read both the Sermon on the Mount and Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita every day. He is reported to have said that “Much of what passes for Christianity today is a negation of the sermon on the Mount.” Gandhi asked, “Isn’t it is more important to do what Jesus wants us to do than to call him “Lord, Lord?”

As a faithful Hindu, Gandhi was unwilling to accept Christian dogma, but in Jesus, Gandhi recognized a great prophet; a prophet who pointed beyond himself to a world in which non-violence was more than just a dream, non-violence was necessary in order that men and women could live together in peace in order that they might live in union with God. In the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi discovered something that those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus so often miss or deny. The church, the very institution that Jesus’ teachings gave rise to, has for centuries left the salt out of Jesus’ teachings and offered up a flavorless dogmatic dish aimed at pleasing the palates of the powers of Empire to which it has been tied for centuries. As a result, the followers of Jesus all too often forget Jesus call to be the salt of the earth. Sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of the treasures we possess. Continue reading

Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with Our God – But Not Too Humbly! a sermon for Epiphany 4a

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Readings: Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12. Listen to the sermon here

“In the Far East, the emperor was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”

One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story.  She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully.  Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.  After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.  By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.  Six months went by — still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however.  He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. Continue reading

More than Just the Be Happy Attitudes: a sermon for Epiphany 4A

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-12

Listen to the sermon:

jesusThe beatitudes, from the Gospel According to Matthew have become  so very familiar to us that they have almost lost their ability to touch us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  Blessed, blessed, blessed, yeah, yeah, yeah, we know, we know, we’ve heard all before. So, tell us something we don’t know.

These twelve verses are from the introduction to what’s known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. A sermon that strikes fear and trembling into the hearts of any preacher worth her salt. I remember hearing that it’s insane to try to preach on Jesus’ sermon, after all it is the greatest sermon ever written. It has been said that preachers shouldn’t even try to preach on this, because it is in and of itself a sermon. We should simply read it and then sit down. Jesus is the preacher; he has said it all. He has said it like no has ever said it before or since. This sermon is the heart of the Christian message. It is what Jesus is all about. Blessed be the name of Jesus. Hallelujah! Pass the bread and wine and we’re ready to face the world as followers of Jesus. Continue reading

The Beatitudes and the Power of One: a sermon for Epiphany 4A – Matthew 5:1-12

sad EckhartMost us us have heard the words from Matthew 5, known as the Beatitudes, so many times that we can recite them from memory. Indeed, the Beatitudes are at the very core of our Christian tradition. But there is a danger in our familiarity with these words because it allows us to distance ourselves from them as we relegate them to some idealized notion of some unattainable goal.

I have studied these words many times and I do not believe that Jesus intended these words to become a prescription for how to be a better Christian. So, I won’t be encouraging anyone to be poor in spirit, to mourn, or to be meek in the hope that they might gain the kindom of heaven, or be comforted, or inherit the earth. While hungering and thirsting for righteousness is in and of itself a good thing, along with being merciful, pure of heart, and peace-making, all of which I heartily encourage. However, these attributes or beatitudes are not a prescription for holiness or wholeness.

So, if Jesus wasn’t prescribing the beatitudes from atop the mountain, what was he doing? Well, there’s an old storytellers’ ploy that I’d suggest in order to better understand Jesus words. The ploy doesn’t have a name, but most of us are very familiar with the trick. It’s the one where you tell an unfamiliar story alongside of a very familiar story in the hope that the unfamiliar story will help to shed some new light on the words of the familiar story. The unfamiliar story is taken from Bryce Courtenay’s autobiographical novel “The Power of One.” The Power of One was are into a movie about twenty years ago, so the story may be somewhat familiar. Continue reading

In the Wake of Trumpism, Progressive Christians Must Not Be Nice! – a sermon in response to the Jesus call, “Come Follow me!”

alice-in-wonderland

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I never in a million years dreamt that I would begin a sermon by quoting not the scriptures but Alice in Wonderland, but…“The time has come” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—of cabbages and kings”

To say that the last couple of days have been unusually, would be an understatement of epic proportions. Suddenly, it is as if we are all following Alice in Wonderland and together the world has gone through the looking glass and we find ourselves in a strange new world, were up is down and down is up, facts no longer matter, the way forward has a strange orange hue about it, and I can’t quite see a path through to reality. Everywhere I look the darkness appears deeper and darker than I ever imagined possible. Just when I think I have seen a glimmer of light to guide me, the orange hue blinds me with its outrageous, narcissistic, bellicose, outpourings of hubris, designed to lead us all up the garden path. For days, I’ve felt strangely uneasy. I don’t know where to turn, how to feel, or what to do and there is nowhere, I mean nowhere, I can flee to; nowhere to escape the darkness of this strange new world.

As my stomach churned at each outrageous upheaval of basic human decency, and I felt in every fiber of my being the impending dangers, as we all bore witness to the abandonment of common sense, as the Mad Hatter tweeted his demands that we all believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” It is true dear friends, the leader of the so-called free world is a mad hatter who is going to make America great again. Welcome to wonderland, a strange world where a man in a read baseball hat, a thrice bankrupt, reality tv celebrity, comb-over, lives in a world oblivious to reality and we all now live in a wonderland not of our choosing but rather in his peculiar dream; a nightmare in which, just like Alice’s Wonderland we find ourselves falling, spiraling downward into the rabbit hole to  a world where, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be wat it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

My memories of the story of Alice’s boat ride down the river are distant and vague, I can’t for the life of me remember how when, or how she emerged from her voyage. These past couple of days, I’ve tried to imagine Jesus walking along the shore calling me to abandon my own small boat. I can just about hear Jesus calling me, “Come follow me.” But I can’t quite seem to imagine where Jesus will lead us. I want to abandon my small boat, but today even the shore looks treacherous.

So, bobbing up and down, my queasiness increases as I struggle to hold down the bile that keeps rising up in me. I thought I was doomed to ceaselessly bobbing up and down in this upside down wonderland, and then I through the light of my own white hot anger, I began to see beyond the topsey-turvey madness that threatens to become our new normal. My anger was inspired by a sermon I did not hear but was directed to by a colleague whose anger was whiter and hotter than my own. It was a sermon delivered on Friday morning by the Reverend Robert Jeffress at a very special worship service attended by the mad-hatter himself. It was the sermon that the orange, self-aggrandizing, braggart, heard immediately before taking the oath of office that would give him the football; I’m talking about “the football” the one that launches not a game but the horrendous destruction of all that we hold dear upon this planet; the nuclear codes were in his possession when the mad hatter was treated to a sermon the likes of which cause me to tremble, tremble, tremble….

According to the Washington Post and I quote:

“The sermon was delivered by Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, who compared Trump to the story of the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel.

Israel had been in bondage for decades, Jeffress explained, and the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God did not choose a politician or a priest but chose a builder instead.

The first step of rebuilding the nation, Jeffress said, was the building of a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack.

“You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress said in his sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C.

Nehemiah, according to the biblical account, completed the project in 52 days. Why was Nehemiah so successful in building the wall and rebuilding the nation?

Jeffress said that Nehemiah refused to allow his critics to distract him, noting how some people still don’t believe Trump will succeed in his agenda.

Nehemiah, Jeffress said, had two antagonists named Sanballat and Tobiah. “They were the mainstream media of their day,” he said.

“They continued to hound and heckle Nehemiah and spread false rumors while he and the Israelites were building the wall.”

He noted that Nehemiah answered his critics by saying: “I’m doing a great work. . . . Why should I stop the work and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). Trump’s work, he said, “is a work far too important to stop and answer your critics.”

Nehemiah faced setbacks, Jeffress noted, including an economic recession, terrorist attacks from enemies and discouragement among the citizens.

“The true measure of a leader is what it takes to stop him,” he said.

“And knowing you, I believe it’s going to take a lot to stop you.”

Jeffress said Trump has assembled an “unbelievably talented group of advisers” and has Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, “a great and godly man.”

“Mr. President-elect, I don’t believe we have ever had a president with as many natural gifts as you,” he said.

But, Jeffress said, “we need God’s supernatural power.”

He said Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated with Americans and that “Psalm 33:12 gives us the starting point for making that happen: ‘Blessed — great — is the nation whose God is the Lord.’” Unquote.

JEEZZZES H CHRIST!!! Suddenly, the bile rose in me, only now, I refuse to stifle it. I am angry. I am angry that the scriptures have been transformed into succor for a narcissistic, megalomaniac, whose dreams and visions threaten all that I hold dear. Now I know that there are those among you who might counsel me to calm down. Well that’s just not going to happen. Living in the land of the shadow of death, the light has dawned and I happen to believe that anger, I’m talking about hot, vivid, piercing, anger is the only light that people who are living in darkness have available to them at this moment in time. I ain’t about to calm down. In fact I hope that I can provoke or tap into some of the anger that’s gotta be rising in so many of you right about now. You see, I can hear Jesus call us, and I hope that you too can hear Jesus calling us from the shore to abandon our small boat and follow him. Continue reading

Following Prostitutes and Christ – a sermon for Epiphany 3A – Matthew 4:12-23

Vancouver's east endWhen I was in my early twenties, I grew weary of sharing space and I decided that I wanted an apartment all to myself, despite the fact that I couldn’t really afford an apartment all to myself. But I was determined and that’s how I ended up living in a very rough neighborhood in the east end of Vancouver. My parents weren’t’ very happy about the neighbourhood and worried about the unsavory characters that lived in the run-down building where I found a spacious one bedroom apartment that I could just about afford. The apartment was just a couple of blocks away from the office where I worked, so I was able to walk to work. I ignored all the warnings of my family and friends and I convinced myself that I could handle anything that came my way.

In my heart of hearts I was rather pleased to be living in such a poor rough and tumble neighbourhood. I was young and foolish and the neighbourhood was exciting. Every Sunday I would make the trip back to my home church in the suburbs. Sometimes I would make a second trip out during the week to attend a Bible study. Like so many young people, I was harsh in my criticisms of the elaborate life-styles of my elders. At bible studies, I was always bringing up the plight of the poor and the oppressed and challenging people to do something. Various members of my own family often accused me of being a bleeding heart liberal. I wore their criticism with a certain amount of pride, convinced that I was living out my beliefs.

Although I walked to work each day, I didn’t know any of my neighbours, until one morning I was surprised by a knock on my apartment door. I wondered how anyone would get past the lock on the front door. So, I peered through the peephole and was relieved when I saw a young woman at my door. I unbolted the door and in swept Brenda. Brenda was all smiles and laughter as she explained that she and her roommates were out of coffee and she wondered if I might be able to lend them some coffee.  When I explained that I had just used up the last of my coffee making my own morning brew, Brenda told me not to worry, she and her roommates would be happy to join me. When Brenda returned, she introduced her roommates, Janice and Sue and we all sat down together for our morning coffee. Continue reading

WHY: by Nina Simone in honour of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Recorded on April 7, 1968 – just three days after the assignation of Dr. King, recorded live at the Westbury Music Fair. There’s a rawness to this performance that speaks volumes. The song was written by Nina Simone’s bass player Gene Taylor.

It’s not about a messiah, it is about each one of us working together to overcome the things that separate us! – a sermon on the birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

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First Lesson: “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” – Martin Luther King – here

Second Lesson:  From “Love Your Enemies” – Martin Luther King- here

Gospel – John 1:29-42

Listen to the sermon here