Feed the Wolves – a sermon for St. Francis Sunday – Matthew 6:25-30

It has been a very strange week. Many of us, indeed not just us but people all over the world have been transfixed by the goings on with our neighbours to the south. Not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the full array of bombasity dressed up like fair play. Portrayed as a “he said, she said” fight for the truth, judgements are being made, that expose the fearsome truths of human tribalism. From the security of our various cultural silo’s, we have born witness to a wrenching polarization of our culture that threatens to tear us apart one from another. If only the wisdom of Solomon could be trusted to prevent us from ruthlessly tearing in two the tightly woven fabric of what is left of the fair-play that we struggle to raise up.  Emotions have risen to the surface and exposed the rot that permeates our precious hierarchal structures. White privilege and male dominance have been laid bare and the pain of that exposure has triggered more pain.

This week several women have reached out to me to weep again over wounds so deep that they fear the tears will never end. The word “triggered” has taken on a whole new meaning, as vibrant memories seared upon the minds of survivors ricochet with such intensity; an intensity that rips those of us who have experienced the pain first hand. I still can’t believe the power of such memories to tear through us afresh.  

I have listened as women have wept, and their tears have opened the wounds we share. We have seen the angry of the privileged blaze across screens, as powerful men bare their teeth and threaten dire consequences.  Anger has been stirred on both sides, and unlike Solomon, I don’t possess the wisdom to dispassionately judge who should win and who should lose. My anger burns in me like a white-hot fury and I cannot see beyond to the beauty of the lilies in the field. Ah sweet Jesus, if only the memory of the future you envisioned for us, could calm our fears.

To those of you who haven’t been watching, or won’t watch, or cannot watch, and encourage those of us who can’t help but watch to simply turn off and tune out, well you may be right. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is to simply refuse to engage the madness that is transpiring. Just turn it off and walk away, move on and look at the beauty that surrounds us. The leaves are putting on a much better show as they begin their bursting forth into a beauty that is far worthier of our attention than the muck-raking display that constantly demands that we watch.

I was reminded this week of an old native story, a story that brought me some respite from my anger and frustration. I’ve read that it is a story first told by our indigenous sisters and brothers. It’s about a boy and his grandfather:

One day the boy says to his grandfather, “How is it you never seem to get upset?  Don’t you ever feel angry?”His grandfather replies, “I sometimes feel there are two wolves inside me, each of whom fights to tell me what to do.  Whenever something angers me, one of the wolves is full of fire, and wants to attack and act nasty. The other is calmer, thinks clearly, and makes better choices. But they’re both always there.And the boy asks, But if they are always fighting, how do you know which wolf is going to win?”  The grandfather answers, The wolf who wins is the one I choose to feed.”

Our angry wolves have been well-feed this week and there are a few great feasts just waiting to be served up in the weeks to come. But surely that doesn’t mean that I have to feed my angry wolf? There’s a very big part of me that sees the wisdom of this old story and I am sorely tempted to starve my own anger. Indeed, I had resolved to do just that, turn it off, tune it out, pretend it isn’t happening, walk away, enjoy a more beautiful autumn view. But alas, this is St. Francis Sunday, and another wolf has caught my attention; and yes, it is an angry wolf demanding to be fed. Continue reading

Life is a Gift – LOVE is the point! a sermon for Homecoming Sunday

Homecoming Sunday provided an opportunity to welcome folks home with roses and ice-cream. Readings from Mark 12:28-34 and 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13.  I am indebted to Brian McLaren’s book The Great Spiritual Migration for inspiring me to explore what it might mean to be a church that focusses on learning together how to be LOVE in the world. 

Technical difficulties prevented us from filming the sermon. The audio recording is provided below (here)

On this Homecoming Sunday, I wanted to welcome you home with flowers. Aren’t they beautiful. I love roses. Roses always remind me of my Granda and my Mom. I have this vague memory of my Granda tending his roses. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old. I remember watching him ever so lovingly prune his roses. My Granda was a very austere man.  Austere is a kind way to put it. Other people might use other words to describe my Granda. You might say he was mean; some people would go so far as to say he was nasty. But I was his first grand-child and I always knew that my Granda loved me. Granda also loved his roses. The earliest memories I have of my Granda are of watching him tend his roses.Even though I was just a little girl I knew not to bother him when he was tending his roses. The ice-cream helped me learn to be patient. I can still remember patiently watching my Granda prune his roses and then after each and every rosebush had been lovingly cared for, my Granda would finally turn his attention to me. Granda would take me by the hand and we would walk to the shop and Granda would buy me an ice-cream.

I can still see my Granda, who was not the kind of man that often showed his gentle side, I can see him gently licking the ice-cream with such a smile of pure delight. Granda loved his ice-cream. I know it sounds strange, but that ice-cream melted is grumpy old heart. That ice-cream opened him us just enough so that he could play with me. I learned to love my Granda over ice-cream; ice-cream and roses.

I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect that my Mom must have had some equally loving moments with Granda because my Mom also loves roses and she loves ice-cream. We moved around a lot when I was growing up. Feeling at home is difficult when you move as much as we did. So many different houses over the years were turned into homes partly as a result of my Mom efforts. One of those home-making efforts included the planting of rose-bushes.

I’m not much of a gardener myself. Carol is the gardener at our house. Carol picks out the kinds of flowers that get planted at our house. But if you look closely, in one of our flower beds you will find a small rose-bush. My attempt to make our house a home.

Home is the place where we are first loved. Home is the place where we learn how to LOVE. When asked by a religious authority to explain what is the most important law of all the laws, we are told that Jesus said,  “Our God is one. You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this:  ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment great than these.”

LOVE is the Way. LOVE. It sounds simple. LOVE. But LOVE is anything but simple. LOVE is the Way.  LOVE God, LOVE your neighbour as you LOVE yourself. Jesus sifts centuries of religious seeking, religious teaching, and religious practice and reveals what is most import LOVE.

LOVE is such a simple word. And yet, anyone who has ever loved knows that LOVE is also a word that can be one of the most complicated, challenging, misunderstood, difficult, intimate, spectacular, passionate, gratifying, mysterious words we have. LOVE God. LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE our selves. LOVE is the Way. LOVE is the Way that Jesus taught. LOVE is a Way of being in the world. LOVE is the Way of being that Jesus was passionate about teachings with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind. LOVE was Jesus’ Way of being in the world. LOVE is the Way that Jesus taught his followers; a Way of being in the world that was perceived as a threat by the powers that be. Continue reading

Progressive Christianity and the Church?- BRUNCHtalks 9

Together, learning to be LOVE in the world! As we explore the connections between Progressive Christianity and the Church, Brian McLaren’s question: “What if Churches became schools of LOVE?” provides insights into the church’s task to become communities where we can learn to become the most LOVING version of ourselves. This is the last of our BRUNCHtalks for this summer. We have explored what it means to be Progressive in approach: Christ-like in action. 

You can find the all the slides from the presentation for this BRUNCHtalk here

Click on the link to listen to the audio only – here

 

Six Marks of a True Religion – Brian McLaren

religion defineBrian McLaren briefly describes the work of religion which harkens back to both the etymology and the “literal” definition of the word itself. Proving once again that, the more-than-literal meaning of the word religion points to a broader understanding. Recorded last month at Greenbelt. Enjoy!

The Future of the Church: Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and David Lose

future churchA conversation with Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and David Lose recorded Oct. 7, 2013, and hosted by Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., during the Celebration of Biblical Preaching.

Today! Now Is the Time! – Brian McLaren

brian_mclarenWhat God is up to today is not just for us. “God is as devoted to Muslims, Hindus and Atheists as to Christians.” Brian McLaren’s contributions to the Lenten Preaching Series at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis challenge Christians to move beyond narrow Christian notions of discipleship.  recorded Feb.27-28 2013

Listen to a podcast of the evening lecture here

A Case for God – Brian McLaren

God who?Speaking at St. Paul’s (Nov.2012), Brian McLaren reflects on A New Kind of Christianity as he makes his own “case for God”. 

Open to the MYSTERY

“Infinity always gives me vertigo and fills me up with grace.”

 Bruce Cockburn

 

In pondering MYSTERY we are always indebted to those who have gone before us.

What follows relies on the work of Brian McLaren and process theologian James Murray

A while back, I went to a lecture given by Brian McLaren. Brian McLaren is one of the leaders of what is being called the Emerging Church Movement, which is a movement that is trying to articulate a new kind of Christianity for the 21st century. McLaren told us a story about a friend of his named John who lives in South Africa.

John is a very wealthy successful Zulu who belongs to a Pentecostal church that preaches what is called the prosperity gospel. This is movement that insists that if you have enough faith God will see to it that you prosper and become very wealthy. Well John belongs to a very large Pentecostal church in South Africa that has tens of thousands of member. John is a very wealthy and successful businessman.  And in John’s church if you are rich you gain entry to the inner circle of the pastor and you are called an Armor Bearer.

But after being involved as an Armor Bearer for many years John becomes disillusioned. John says,  “I’m rich but a whole lot of other members of the church who are good faithful people are poor.”  These folks have been doing everything the pastor has taught them to do and for some reason God just isn’t rewarding these poor folks with riches. The pastor keeps laying hands on them and they are not getting rich. It’s worked for me, but I just can’t figure out why it’s not working for them.” So John starts to have doubts about the prosperity gospel and he is deep in doubt.

A couple of years ago John comes to his friend Brian McLaren and he tells him that he has decided to put his faith to a test. John announces that he is going to read Richard Dawkins book the God Delusion. Now for those of you who haven’t heard or read about Richard Dawkins, he is an atheist who has written several books on the fact that God is dead or just an illusion and that people of the 21st century should just get over it. So, John says he’s going to put his faith to the test and read the God Delusion and put it all on the line.  John says that, “If I become convinced by Richard Dawkins, I will give up my faith and become an atheist.”

So John starts reading, and he’s just going to put it all on the line. It’s sort of a good Pentecostal test.  And John tells his friend, “Brian, I’m a good Pentecostal and I know how to hear the voice of the Lord.  And one morning I was taking a shower and the Holy Spirit spoke to me. And the Spirit said, “This man Richard Dawkins speaks the truth.”

So John says to his friend, “Brian what do I do with this? I know the voice of God and God has told me that Richard Dawkins is speaking the truth.”

Well John is a good businessman and he doesn’t have much formal education, but he wants to figure this out. And he says to his friend, “Brian I just had to live with this terrible paradox in my mind. That God has told me that Dawkins is speaking the truth. And months went by and I was in turmoil about this.” And then he said, “It gradually began to dawn on me that the God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is the God that the missionaries brought to my people. And it was a white god and a colonial god and that god was used to justify putting all of my people in a position of subservience.” And he said that, “It gradually began to dawn on me that Richard Dawkins is killing a god who needs to be killed.” And he said, “The strangest thing happened after this, I found myself loving Jesus Christ more than ever. Because I realized that Jesus was trying to reveal another vision of God, a vision other than the God who kills and destroys and dominates and judges.”

In Jesus’ parable: “people never put new wine in an old wineskin. If they do, the new wine will burst the skin; the wine will spill out and the skin will be ruined. No, new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. People never want new wine after they’ve been drinking the old. They say, ‘We like the old better’.”

Jesus reveals a vision of a God who is beyond our tribal instincts and understandings; a vision of a God who is beyond our fears. And yet, all too often we prefer the old God better. We long for the supernatural being out there separate from the world who from time to time intervenes in the world; that old God who is out there and who can’t be known directly, but only believed in; that old God who sits waiting on a cloud for us to die so that he can judge us and forgive us and reward us. We like the old wine better than the new wine.  And we have these old wine skins so we try putting the new wine that Jesus brings in those old skins, hoping that they will contain it. But the new wine burst the skins and pours out all over the place.

It’s the 21st century and nobody uses wine skins anymore. Why last year when we toured the vineyards of Niagara we learned that nobody’s using cork anymore. The best of the new wine comes to us in screw-top bottles. We’ve moved on and we’ve learned all sorts of things about creation, and that knowledge of creation has expanded our vision of God in ways our ancestors could never have imagined. It’s time to let the old vision of God die.

It’s time to open ourselves to what Christ has and is revealing to us about a vision of God that moves beyond our fears; a vision of God that is reflected in the cosmos as we are beginning to understand it; a vision of God that enhances our knowledge of God and calls forth a spirituality in us that sustains us in our daily living; a vision of God that helps us to experience God.

By peeling back the layers of the tradition of the Church, by unpacking the generations of theological doctrine, scholars are beginning to see a vision of God that Jesus spoke of. The new vision revealed to us in Christ, is one that reflects the reality that, “God is in the world and the world is in God and God is more than the world.” This is a vision of a relational God; a God who is intimate with the world.

We may long for the all-powerful King God, who with the stroke of his arm imposes his will upon the world, but who among us can be intimate with such a god. Is such an all-powerful God even capable of intimacy or would it be like you or I trying to caress an amoeba.

The ancient mystics found in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures the vision of God that Jesus lived and died to reveal. They found a vision of God with us, who is compassionate and directing, using our freedom and responsibility, and calling us to use these for the good of others as well as ourselves. A vision of God that emphasizes that, although God is always an important factor in what happens, God does not control history. God is in us and we are in God but we are also members one of another, and our lives are interwoven with the wider natural context of creation as well.

God’s power is relational power as opposed to unilateral power. Unilateral power is by nature coercive—imagine the old god, the cosmic moralist, and ruling like an absolute king. This image is of a God who gives, but does not receive; acts but does not listen; demands but does not compromise; this image of God makes spirituality difficult because it ignores our identities as God’s beloved creatures, it ignores our desires.

The vision of God that Christ reveals is of a God whose power is relational, a God who gives, but also receives, acts but also responds, has a vision but is open to change and transformation. Christ reveals an image of God who creates and gives freedom and creativity to creation. Freedom and creativity are intrinsic to each of us and relational power works to value that by offering a dream or aim to each of us. The future is created out of response and anticipation. The idea of relational power is dependent on diversity, actually welcomes diversity, and offers novelty to each nano second of experience.

Christ’s image of God affirms that God has a vision, appropriate to each moment of experience and, in the broadest sense, for the vast expanses of planetary and cosmic history. God is omnipresent, in all things so there are no God forsaken places. In each moment God presents the world with possibilities. God calls us into God’s dream of the future; a dream of peace and justice and peace for all God’s creation.

If we are in God then what we do matters.  What we do and who we are impacts God. What we do can limit God, but can never defeat God. For in each moment the dream is revised and offered back to us. We can refuse but God does not stop, for there are some who listen and they will guide us. God leads us by persuasion and Christ empowers us by expanding our freedom to be what God is calling us to be, and the Spirit lives and breathes in with and through us.

All of creation is interconnected and intimately related to the Creator.  This expansive vision of God cannot be stuffed into the old wine skins of the institution. New ways of worshipping, new ways of praying, new ways of understanding will move us beyond the old image of God which has soured and turned to vinegar in those old wine skins.

Images of God are but pale reflections of God. Worshipping images of God is a problem as old as time itself.  Such worship has an ancient name. It’s called idolatry. We are called to worship God, not a pale reflection of God. So, our worship will always be incomplete for we peer through a glass darkly. So let us worship with humility, trusting Christ to show us the way.  Let us worship together, mindful that our words and rituals will fail to capture the wonders and mystery of our God, but open to the possibility that together we might capture a glimpse of God or feel the touch of God, or hear the love of God, or recognize the gifts of God as we worship together.

Let us always be prepared to let an image of God die. For we are a people who claim the power of resurrection and we know that in death there is new life. God will come to us again and again, touching, caressing, nudging, persuading, cajoling, imploring, healing, soothing; sometimes shouting, sometimes whispering, often just embracing.

God will be who God will be.  YAHWEH.

Our images of God will come and go, but God remains steadfast. The new wine that comes to us in the life of Christ brings us a foretaste of the feast to come; a taste that reminds us of our connectedness to God and to one another; a sacred connectedness.

So let our prayers open us to the reality of that connection. Let our deeds reflect the confidence that our freedom to act can change the world. Let us be about ushering in the reign of God that Jesus taught. A reign of justice and peace, where each one of God’s children is treasured as God’s beloved.

Let us live with confidence trusting that God is the source of our being.

Let us walk together trusting that God is the ground of our being.

Let us be all that we were created to be.

Jesus said over and over again, in words and in deeds: “Do not be afraid.”

So let us have the courage to drink the new wine that Christ offers and if it tastes a little strange to our palates, drink again, let the flavor move us to a new understanding, a new way of relating, a new way of being.

Let us open ourselves to the reflections of God that are all around us – open ourselves to the God who lives within us.