God Beyond Our Personifications, Images, and Idols: a sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Christ Sophia pastorDawnLuke 1:47-55, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, John 1:6-8, 19-28
View the readings Readings: here

O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb, O Come, Christ Sophia, Midwife Divine Now Calls Us and O Child Within The Christmas Scene

Listen to the sermon here

As is our custom, during the season of Advent we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the Light. Together, in that sacred darkness we hear the voice of the one who cries to us from the wilderness. John the Baptist strides across the Advent stage to point us toward the One who is, was, and evermore shall be the Light. Each of the four Gospels highlights the plaintiff cries of this strange, wildman who shouts to us from the wilderness, which inhabits the darkest recesses of our collective consciences.  According to the gospel storytellers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John this harbinger cries out warning everyone to repent, to turn around, to prepare the way for the One who is coming into our midst.  

No one knows who wrote the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We can say that Jesus’ disciples did not write them. The names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were given to the books long after they were written. Scholars tell us that the gospel known as Mark is the oldest, written sometime after the year 70, Matthew and Luke are dated somewhere between 80 and 90, and the Gospel according to John was written anywhere between 90 and 120. Last week I told you about the horrific context in which these gospels were written. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 war between Roman and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” The scale of destruction was staggering. According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”.  Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the one, true God, and refusing to worship the various caesars and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords.

In the midst of this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising with the destruction of the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism; both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written in the midst of this apocalypse and born of the pain of YAHWEH’s people. The Temple dominates the story of Jesus because the Temple had been destroyed by Rome when the gospels were born. Continue reading

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

women Matthew1

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

PREPARE THE WAY FOR OUR GOD! Become the Prophet Crying FOR the Wilderness! – a sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent when John the Baptist Cries

BCsunsetI didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted.  The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things, I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet.  All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.

I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months.  I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot.  My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as they supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other.  I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure. 

Anyway, we were driving along the road.  It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia, just a few clouds.  You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out.  Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same.  Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach.  When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance.  Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face.  She positively glowed with happiness.  Valerie wore a similar expression.  I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said,  “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?”  This only confused me more.  What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening? 

Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird.  Happy, glowing, smiling people make me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear.  What were they on?  And then, I saw it.  For the first time in my life, I saw it.  It had been there before.  But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing.  The colours were overwhelming.  It almost didn’t look real.  It looked like someone must have painted it that way.  It was magnificent, a work of art,  the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!

If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be.  No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before.  I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all.  Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this.  Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there.  Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach.  At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling  of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home.  I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence.  That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone.  In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.

I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.

You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.

I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.

jokulsarlon-glacier-lakeTake a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland.  You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror. Continue reading

Gestating in Darkness: a sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

gestatingThis sermon included quotes from James Carroll’s book “Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age” Carroll’s book is a splendid exploration prompted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question “Who is Jesus for us today?”

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8. Our sermon hymn was “God Is Within”, Text by George Stuart to the Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos = All Through the Night

Listen to the sermon here

While the world out there is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we here in the church embrace the season of Advent. Our Advent worship invites us to slow down so that we can take a journey into the darkness. Last week, I talked about the importance of darkness in the birthing process; for the seed needs the darkness of the earth to germinate and grow just as surely as we humans need the darkness of the womb to develop. So, as we prepare ourselves to give birth to the Christ, I invite you into the darkness precisely because in the darkness gestation happens and gestation gives rise to birth.

This Advent, our liturgy’s lectionary, the prescribed readings for worship in most mainline congregations, turns to the Gospel According to Mark. All year long, except for a few Sunday’s a reading is selected from the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel of Mark was written in the darkness. We don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Tradition did what tradition often does and this writing was attributed to Mark because it was customary for important writings to be attributed to an important person.  The technical term for this is pseudepigrapha; a fancy way of describing the ancient practice of attaching the name of an important person to a piece of writing to ensure that that piece of writing garners some of the respect the name has acquired over the years. That’s why even though the four gospels were written long after the disciples of Jesus were around, each of these gospels bears the name of an Apostle. The gospels were not written by the disciples of Jesus. Scholars tell us that the Gospel according to Mark was written sometime after the year 70. That’s at least 40 years after the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth. Continue reading

For Christ’s Sake! It’s Not About God! – a sermon on the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25: 14-30

RiskThere’s a story that pastors like to tell. I think I first heard it when I was in seminary. It’s the story about a preacher who was leading a children’s sermon. This preacher told the children all about how squirrels gather nuts and hide them away for the winter. He explained to the children how important it was for the squirrels to store up nuts while they were available so that they’d have something to eat when the cold weather arrived. When he was finished, the preacher asked the children if they knew what his lesson about the squirrels was. One small child raised her hand, and she said, “I know, I know, it’s all about God.” The preacher was a little surprised, because he wasn’t talking about God at all, so he asked the little girl why she thought the lesson was about God, and she said, “because you’re the pastor and it’s always about God.”

Unfortunately, many of us have the same reaction when we hear Jesus’ parable of the talents. After all, it’s a story from the Bible, and Jesus told it, so the master handing out the talents must represent God. The only problem is, the master in Jesus’ parable is a real jerk! The kind of jerk, I for one, wouldn’t waste my time trying to worship.

The story says that the man gave the talents, which represent a huge amount of money, to his slaves. If the master in the story is God, then God must be very greedy indeed; expecting massive financial returns, without even bothering to communicate that expectation to the slaves. Fortunately for the first two slaves, they manage to double the master’s investment and the third slave managed to keep the master’s initial investment intact but couldn’t quite manage to earn any interest at all. Now, even given, the precious little I know about the stock market, I’d say the master had nothing at all to complain about. The master entrusted all he had to slaves, and they might have lost a great deal of money on their investments, but they managed to make their master richer than the master had a right to expect.

Let’s do the math. A talent represents about 15 years salary. Most scholars suggest you use a figure of $50,000 per year–times 15, that’s $750,000.00 per talent. So to the first slave the master gave 5 talents, that would be about three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars toady. To the second slave, the master gave two talents, that’s about a million and a half dollars today. To the third slave, the master gave, one talent; and that’s about $750,000.00.

According to the story this master had quite the reputation; upon the master’s return the third slave explains why he was so cautious with the master’s money. “Sir, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” According to the master’s reputation he is a thief who isn’t above taking what doesn’t belong to him. The third slave was prudent with the master’s money and did what was considered appropriate in the ancient world were banking methods were crude at best, and many people buried treasure for safekeeping; The third slave didn’t loose so much as a penny of the master’s money, and despite the fact that two of the his slaves have just returned to him an additional 7 talents, that’s a whopping great profit of about 5 and a quarter million dollars. Just imagine, that three of us managed to make our boss 5 and a quarter million dollars on an initial investment of 6 million dollars, that’s a return of 75%, well I don’t know where you do your investing but 75% profit is nothing to sneeze about. But instead of rewarding the trio, this master doesn’t deny his own reputation for reaping where he doesn’t sow, and he takes the talent from the fearful salve and gives it to the one who already has ten talents, and then declares that: “to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” As for the fearful slave who played it safe, the master calls him worthless and orders that he be “thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If this were all about God, then to say that God is harsh would be an understatement indeed. If this were all about God, then why in the world would anybody love God? For who can love such a cruel master? But more importantly, if this cruel master is God, then Jesus’ is describing a god that cannot be compared to the God Jesus boldly calls ABBA. For Jesus’ Abba would never be so greedy as to steal from another’s labour, nor would Jesus’ Abba take from the one who has the least, nor threaten to cast out the least of Jesus’ brothers for the crime of taking care of the gift that was given to him. Such a view of God is inconsistent with all that Jesus’ taught about Bod. So just because Jesus told a story, it doesn’t mean the main character in the story is necessarily God. Continue reading

Islam 101 – session 3

Adult Education at Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Before we begin the Living the Questions series “The Jesus Fatwah” we are familiarizing ourselves with the basics of Islam.  Join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15am. 

 

“Makarios” – Blessed, Happy, Fortunate, EVOLVED – a sermon for All Saints’ Sunday

All Saints’ Sunday readings:  Contemporary reading:  “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson, Gospel:  MATTHEW 5:1-12 – extensive quote within the sermon from evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould – the hymn sung before the gospel is “I Am the Dream” words: S. Curtis Tufts, Music: Rick Gunn

Listen to the sermon here

Our Gospel reading has often been called the Beatitudes. It is traditional to read the Beatitudes on All Saints’. Some years we read the eight Beatitudes as they have been passed down to us from the anonymous gospel storyteller known as Matthew, who sets Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  But this year is the year of Luke, so we read this anonymous storyteller’s version of the Beauties which appear in Jesus’ sermon on the Plain.  But whether it’s the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain what has been passed down to us is a description of the important characteristics of those who are blessed. There are all sorts of ways to interpret the word “makarios” which was translated into Latin as “beatus” the word for “blessed,” “happy, or “fortunate.” Today, I’d like to offer you another way of interpreting the Greek word “makarios”. “makarios” contains the Greek word “karios” Some of you will recognize the word “karios”,

here in Canada the mainline churches work together within the organization that bears the name “karios”. Karios is the organization through which we work together to achieve justice in Canada and in the world.  The name Karios was chosen because it is one of the Greek words for “time”, a special kind of time, the opportune time, or the supreme moment. Karios is used in the scriptures to mean that time when all is well, when people are making the best use of their time, when there is harmony or peace among people, or peace with God. Karios can also be used to describe the time when it is clear that the Divine has somehow visible right here and right now. Karios is sacred time. “Makarios” is related to Karios because a person who achieved “makarios” was said to be a person who had moved beyond the constraints of time and space. Continue reading

All Saints – Giving thanks for the Divine in One-another!

All Saints’ Day is a day for remembering.  The word saint simply means “holy”. In the New Testament, all those who believe and were baptized were referred to as saints. It wasn’t until round about the third century that the church began using the word saint to refer to those who had been martyred for the faith. Over time these martyred saints were held up for veneration and people used to pray to them to intercede on their behalf. I’m not going to go into all of the institutional abuses that led Martin Luther and the later reformers to abolish the veneration of the saints. Except to say, that while the Reformation put an end to the veneration of the saints in the protestant churches, it did not abolish the concept of sainthood.

Within the mainline protestant denominations, we use the term in much the same way as it was used in the New Testament to describe the faithful. We talk about the communion of saints to describe all the faithful who have gone before us who now rest in God, together with all the living who walk in faith. So today as we celebrate the saints, we give thanks for all the faithful those living and those who have gone before us.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Joyce of Belfast. St. Joyce who in her own way taught her children to love God and to pray always. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Joyce of Belfast, my Mom, who was the first to teach me the Lord’s Prayer, and who puts flesh on Christ’s command that we love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

Today I remember and give thanks for the life and witness of St. John of Wales, whose life in the church as a choir-boy was followed by long years of self-exile and whose keen wit and lack of patience with hypocrisy instilled in me a desire for honesty and integrity in the articulation and living of the faith. I give thanks for St. John, my Dad, whose open heart has stretched his discerning mind and enabled many to see the humour in this God-given life we live.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Valerie of Ladner. St. Valerie so loved and feared God that she dared to reach out and invite a wayward soul to come and worship God. St. Valerie sang God’s praise, rejoiced in the communion of saints and helped a young friend find a home in God’s holy church. And so toady, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Valerie, my high school friend, who was the first to invite me to come and worship God.

Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Wilton of Lunenburg. St. Wilton loved God all the days of his life and served God with gladness and distinction. St. Wilton went far beyond his call as pastor, he opened up the scriptures to those who eagerly sought the truth of God’s Word with love and dedication and he went on to inspire a diligence to scholarship that nurtured the faith of so many young people. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Wilton, my first pastor, who taught me to be uncompromising in my study of the scriptures, and steadfast in my love for God. Continue reading

What if we won’t ever really understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until we understand that God is dead? – a Reformation Sermon

Listen to the sermon here

All over the world, Lutheran churches celebrate the earth-shattering events that were set in motion on October 31st 1517, when a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Luther challenged the most powerful institution that his world had ever known. Luther shook the very foundations upon which the reality of his fellow humans was based. The power of the Holy Roman Catholic Church rested upon an interpretation of reality that envisioned a God who sits in judgement upon a throne in the heavens, a God who commanded a quid pro quo relationship with HIS subjects; a God whose determination to tip the scales of justice was so precise that he sent HIS only Son to die as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity, a God who used the sacrifice of that Son to somehow atone for the sins of every man, woman, and child who ever lived; saving them from the wrath of this God who had no other choice but to condemn sinners to eternal torment in the fires of hell, a God who established the church on earth to oversee the administration of the atoning power of Jesus death upon the cross, a church so powerful that they could sell you a piece of paper called an indulgence that would whisk you or your loved one out of the pits of Hell and up, up, up into the willowing, billowing, soft, gentle fluffy whiteness of Heaven, so that you could spend all of eternity basking in the Glory of your Father in heaven’s presence. These indulgences were more valuable than gold and it’s no wonder that the Church was able to sell them like hot-cakes, pardon the pun, and yes, I’m been sarcastic in my telling of this tale. Yes, history is more complicated than I’m telling it right here and right now, because I’m trying to make a point. The selling of indulgences was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abuses the church on earth and in heaven. Continue reading

Weeds Upon the Altar – a sermon in celebration of St. Francis of Assisi

On this the last Sunday of the Season of Creation we celebrate the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Gospel text was Matthew 6:25-28

Listen to the sermon here

Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once God asked me to join God on a walk

through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed God lingered a bit longer

before any face that was

weeping,

and before any eyes that were

laughing.

And sometimes when we passed

a soul in worship

God too would kneel

down.

I have Come to learn:  God

adores God’s

creation.

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!

Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,

I have Come to learn: 

God adores God’s

creation.

Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers.  Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God.

Francis was born into a wealthy merchant family and spent his young life striving to become a knight by actively participating in the completion between Italian cities to dominate the emerging capitalist system. Francis learned like each one of us must learn that acquiring things, amassing wealth, competing for power, these things cannot ever bring us peace. And so, Francis renounced things, gave up his wealth and powerful position in Italian society, and walked away from the competitive capitalist system.

Francis even went so far as to challenge the Church’s teachings about how to be a Christian. For centuries, the Church taught that the best way, the truest way to be a Christian in the world was to follow the example of the early followers of the Way that we find in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Continue reading

“Who Do You Say I AM?” – Jesus IS? – part 3of3

This interactive sermon is the third in a series of sermons responding to the question “Who Do You Say I AM?” Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here

The sermon is divided into two sections and the audio includes the readings as well as the songs. you can listen to the sermon here

“Jesus IS?” Section ONE: Questioning

We cannot un-know what we have learned. In the past one-hundred years biblical scholarship has exploded.  In the halls of academia, in the seminaries of mainline denominations the quest for knowledge about Jesus has born so very much fruit. Now thanks to the explosions of the information age, information that was once reserved to the carefully initiated, is available to everyone. Wander into your local bookstore, or turn on your computer and you will discover more information than any one person could ever digest on the subject of Jesus. And yet, despite more than 2000 years of scholarship, theologizing, speculating, preaching, and teaching, the question, put on the lips of Jesus by the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew, remains a daunting question to answer. 

“Who do you say that I AM?”  This is a question designed by the storyteller to evoke a response from the listener. “Who do you say that I AM?” Our individual responses to this question are tinged by all that we have been taught, by our families, by the church, by the culture in which we live, by the communities to which we belong, by the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the documentaries we have watched, the lectures we have listened to. Those of us who have stayed behind in the church, long after the vast majority of the population have left, we have been trying to answer questions about Jesus have learned so much about Jesus.  But rather than help us answer the question, what we think we know about Jesus, has left us tong tied.

“Who do you say that I AM?”  The way in which we answer questions about the identity of Jesus matters in a world where so many of the answers that have already been offered continue to misrepresent the man who lies at the heart of Christianity. These days, what passes for Christianity often stands in direct opposition to the teachings of the man Christians profess to follow. The idol worshipped by millions depicts Jesus as a super-hero God, sent to die as a blood sacrifice for sin.  This idol has co-opted the story of Jesus the man who steadfastly refused to take up violence against his enemies. Worshippers of this idol seek the companionship of a personal saviour, sacrificed violently for their personal sin, while they turn their backs upon Jesus’ the man’s personal quest for peace through justice for all.  Worshippers of this idol follow a saviour who encourages them in their personal quest for happiness in this world and the next.  All too often, this personal quest for happiness, results in the oppression and suffering of others, requiring the followers of this idol to embrace violence.

“Who do you say that I AM?” The way in which we answer this question has implications for the way in which we live in the world. “Who do you say that I AM?”  – a human, a seeker of justice committed to non-violent resistance to oppressive systems, willing to give everything to achieve peace, peace for all.   A teacher offering insights into a way of being in the world that embodies LOVE. Or a super-human, blood-sacrifice, who demands obedience and conviction to a carefully crafted story designed to ensure that your tribe wins the battle to create a new world order, where your tribe wins not only in this life but in the next. “Who do you say that I AM?”

Section Two: Imagining

“Who do you say that I AM?” Before we can say who Jesus is, we must imagine who Jesus was.  David Steindl-Rast reminds us that, “religions start from mysticism. There is no other way to start a religion.” Steindl-Rast  compares this mystical experience “to a volcano that gushes forth…and then…the magma flows down the sides of the mountain and cools off. And when it reaches the bottom, it’s just rocks. You’d never guess that there was fire in it. So after a couple of hundred years, or two thousand years or more, what was once alive is dead rock. Doctrine becomes doctrinaire. Morals become moralistic. Ritual becomes ritualistic. What do we do with it? We have to push through the crust and go to the fire that’s within it.”

The fire that sparked Christianity is Jesus. The red-hot experience of the living breathing Jesus, bubbled up out of out of the mountain that  Judaism had become. Like red hot lava Jesus flowed through the towns and villages of first century Palestine sparking a revolution that has long since cooled. We are the inheritors of the dead rock formations that lie scattered about us.  If we are ever to push through the crust to experience the fire that lies within, we will need to have the courage to shatter the idol of Jesus that Christianity has fashioned out of the rock. That means imagining who Jesus was when the fire ignited so that we can determine who Jesus is, here and now, in this place and in this time.

 “Who do you say that I AM?”  Let’s begin where it always begins in ancient literature, let’s begin with the name. The name given to the experience of whatever it is that lies at the very source of reality. YAHWEH – I AM WHO I AM. The ancient name given by the Hebrew people to their experience of the Divine. I AM – from the verb to be… God – IS

The question put on the lips of Jesus by the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Matthew “Who do you say that I AM?” echo’s the very I AM that this same Jesus depicts in a whole new way.  It is all in the name.  Sadly, we’ve missed the fullness meaning of Jesus’ name. Jesus was known by two names in the ancient world. Can anybody tell me what those names were? ……Yeshua ben Yosef  …. Yeshua bar abba … Joshua  =  God is Gracious or God Saves

      Yeshua ben Yosef = Joshua son of Joseph

      Yeshua bar abba   = Joshua son of abba the name Jesus used for God

      Joshua – salvation a man or a god

      There in lies the question – Jesus divine or human?

      “Who do you say that I AM?”

      Last Sunday I talked about how the Creeds have shaped us. The Apostle’s and the Nicene Creeds were created in the 4th century after the life of Yeshua ben Yosef, or Yeshua bar Abba by the powers of the Roman Empire to ensure that there would be a consistent view of Yeshua throughout the emerging church. That consistent view served the Empire well and went a long way to solidify the idol of Jesus Christ that continues to pervade our culture.  So, let’s set aside the creeds for a moment and respond to the questions of Jesus’ identity in ways that give us a glimmer of the fire that gave birth to a way of being in the world.

“Who do you say that I AM?” conversation

Where two or three are gathered in my name

I AM there in their midst.”

 

I AM IS in our midst.

 

I AM WHO AM

IS

in our midst.

The experience of the I AM

burned so brightly in

Yeshua

May that flame burn brightly

in, with, through, beyond us.

 

Who Do You Say that I AM? part 2 – Matthew 16:13-28

This sermon is the second in a series of three sermons responding to questions about Jesus’ identity. You can explore the part one here

Part Two of this exploration of Jesus’ identity includes three reflections interspersed throughout the liturgy. The audio picks up the liturgy as the congregation is remembering our old friend Jesus by singing an old hymn that evokes our personal histories with the character Jesus. You can listen to the songs as well as the reflections here 

Reflection 1:            Remembering.

Can any of you remember the first hymn you ever learned? (responses)

 “Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.”

What about the first prayer you ever learned?

(responses)

“Now I lay me down to sleep.”

“Come, Lord Jesus.”   graces

“The Lord’s Prayer”

“Psalm 23”

For those of you who were raised in the Lutheran Church, think back to your confirmation classes, do you remember learning the Creeds? I never went to church until I was 15.  I was considered too old for confirmation class. So, I received private instruction from my pastor. I remember weeks and weeks spent learning both the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds. Remembering those creeds still influences the way I respond to the question that the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call “Matthew” puts on the lips of Jesus:  “Who do you say that I AM.”

I remember, a few years back, when Emily Eastwood was helping us in our struggle to move the wider church to be more inclusive. Emily, insisted that the only way to reach out to those on the other side of the argument was to tell our story. Stories have the power to move us. Stories well-told can move us beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves. So, Emily encouraged each of us to learn how to tell our own stories. Emily taught us to be able to tell our stories about being gay, or knowing someone who is gay, or about changing our minds about homosexuality.  Emily, insisted that we needed to be able to tell our stories in about 3 minutes. We were encouraged to seek out folks who we suspected might be among those who were working to limit the roles that LGBTQ folks in the church. In just 3 minutes, our personal stories were told. These stories humanized the issues that divided us and indeed divided the church. Putting a face on the pain made the issues that we were debating, more than just theological, they made them real, immediate, and personal. By moving out beyond the boundaries established by doctrine we could touch the pain caused by doctrine.

Remembering all those weeks of learning the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which were designed by their 3rd and 4th century authors to answer, once and for all, all the questions surrounding the identity of the man we call Jesus, I can’t help but see the young woman that I was, reciting week after week, year after year, the doctrinal response to this pivotal question. For years, no for decades, my answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I AM?”  was bound up in my belief that the Creeds had answered the question: “Who do you say I AM?”  All you need to do is remember and believe.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Or the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit

and the virgin Mary

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate’

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

I remember trusting and believing the answer to all my questions was Jesus. I remember trusting and believing that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God who came down from heaven, suffered, died and was buried. I remember believing that Jesus died for my sins. I remember believing that because God was gracious HE sent Jesus to die so that I might live. I remember believing that this grace of God was all I needed to understand who Jesus was and is. I remember believing that Jesus’ death upon the cross was necessary so that I could live forever. I remember believing that I knew exactly who Jesus was. I remember knowing without the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

I remember eagerly eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ trusting that: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

I remember knowing who I knew Jesus was. I also remember my doubts. I remember worrying about the character of a God that I knew, because I am Lutheran after all, I knew God’s grace. But I could not, no matter how hard I tried, reconcile the notion of a loving and gracious God, with a God who could devise a plan to save me, that included the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son. I remember my doubts. Doubts squashed by doctrine.

I remember the very day that my dear pastor, the same pastor who had taught me the Creeds, dear Pastor Ernst invited me to join a Bible Study. Some of you may remember the old, Word and Witness program. Three years of intensive study of the Bible. A study based on the materials that seminaries were teaching prospective pastors. Pastor Ernst said I was too young for the program, but he thought I might just like to give it a try. Once again, I was the only one in the class. I remember well the day I learned the Jesus may not have said all the words that were clearly printed in red in my bible.

I remember the day I learned that the writers of the gospels were not actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; not actually eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus. I remember the questions that began to flow freely from my lips.  I remember the freedom of asking questions that were beyond the carefully set boundaries of the Creeds. I remember the freedom. Continue reading

Augustine of Hippo – August 28

The feast day of Augustine of Hippo is a good time to recall what St. Augustine had to say on the literal meaning of Genesis:
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (from Augustine’s commentary on Genesis: “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” (translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J.; two volumes; Newman Press, New York, 1982; pages 42-43 of Volume 1)

Who Do You Say that I AM? part 1 – Matthew 16:13-20 and Romans 12: 1-8 – a sermon

Listen to the sermon here

“Who do you say that I Am?” For most of my life I have been trying to figure out who I think Jesus was and is. Your very presence here on a beautiful summer morning, suggests to me that many of you have also tried to figure out who Jesus was and is. From time to time, I suspect that most of us have believed that we have worked it out; that we know just who Jesus is. But Jesus, just like every person we have ever known and or ever loved, Jesus keeps changing on us.

The Jesus I knew when I was a child was little more than an imaginary friend. “Jesus loves me this I know!” “Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes! Jesus loves me!” not because the bible tells me so, but rather as my friend and biblical scholar Harold Remus always insists, “because my Mommy told me so!” When I was a kid the knowledge that Jesus loved me, earned Jesus the role of my imaginary friend. Later, when I was a teen-ager looking for more love than my family could give me, I found my way into the Church and discovered, “What a Friend I have in Jesus! All my sins and griefs to bear!” The idealism of my youth turned my imaginary friend Jesus into my radical friend Jesus who understood my passion for justice, and lead me into deep friendships with folks who were determined to practice what Jesus preached, as we proudly sought to be the kind of people that “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Sadly though, after 25 years in the church, I found myself as a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, with the keys of the kingdom jangling in my pockets, firmly believing that Jesus was and is, the: “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It has taken years for me to get to know Jesus as something other than the sacrificial lamb of God. I stand in a long line of priests and pastors known as the Apostolic Succession. According to the story that comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew: Jesus handed the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, the rock upon which the church was founded, and in doing so Jesus handed over the authority to bind and loose in heaven. For generations, this passage has been interpreted by the Church as the establishment of the priesthood. The Apostle Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and becomes the first gate-keeper precisely because possession of these keys give him the power to decide just who will and won’t be forgiven. Generations of priests have been called and ordained, and thereby entrusted with the keys to the kingdom, holders of the power to forgive in Jesus name. When a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ presides over the rite of public or private confession, we grant forgiveness of sin, in the name of Christ. We have the keys to the kingdom of heaven. WOW… Continue reading

Beneath the Surface: What difference does it make how we interpret this little story? – a sermon for Pentecost 10A – Matthew 14:22-33 and 1 Kings19:9-18

After a splendid month-long vacation, I have returned to work as two mad men toss rhetoric into the ether that is designed to to strike fear of a nuclear holocaust into the hearts of people everywhere. Looking at  Sunday’s readings:  1 Kings 19:9-18 in which Elijah hears the still small voice of God and Matthew 14:22-33 in which Jesus walks on water. Somehow, this sermon that I preached three years ago seems appropriate to repost so as to encourage us all to look beneath the surface of what we see, hear, and read! Shalom… 

Listen to the sermon here:

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks, who decided to practice meditation together. So, 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?” 

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the Gospel according to Matthew’s story of walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter we too have precious little faith that we or even Jesus for that matter can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text 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. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, many more monks than simply two to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two 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. One of those many monks is the ancient theologian known simply as Origen of Alexandria who lived from about 185 to 254 and who left behind a body of work which provided the Church with a way of approaching the texts of Scripture which nourished the lives of believers for generations. Indeed, Origen’s approach to scripture only fell out of fashion among protestants in the last 200 years or so. To put a long story short, Origen believed and taught, as have generations of theologians since Origen that the stories in Scripture have various layers of meaning. The first layer is the literal meaning, or surface meaning which is designed by the writers to reach those who are uninitiated or uneducated about the ways in which the sacred texts function. Beyond the literal meaning lay a deeper meaning, indeed Origen taught that beyond the simple literal meaning of the biblical the seeker of wisdom would find layers of deeper meaning. For centuries, the Church followed Origen’s views of scripture teaching the simple literal meaning to the masses while reserving the deeper layers of meaning for the initiated often referring to these deeper layers of meaning as the mysteries. While the masses were busy getting on with life, the religious professionals dug deeper and deeper into the mysteries eventually creating a church hierarchy that firmly divided the uninitiated from the enlightened. Obviously, I’m giving you the abbreviated version of this long and complicated story that goes much deeper; I am if you will simply pointing you toward a stone that lies below the surface of the water upon which we seek to walk. Hidden beneath is a method of exploring scripture that relies on symbols, myth, illusion and most important of all, allegory.

Origen and generations of theologian who came after him understood that the stories of scripture had many, many layers and relied on symbolic and allegoric methods to touch our imagination and inspire in us a way of being in the world. Sadly, perhaps in the beginning out for expediency’s sake, but eventually to preserve its own power over the masses the Church began to rely more and more on the simple literal meaning of the text. Indeed, the church reserved the mysteries to such an extent that it can be said that the hierarchy by and large hid the deeper layers of the text so well that even some members of the hierarchy forgot about the symbolic and allegorical methods of interpreting the scriptures. The hidden mysteries might well have remained hidden if it had not been for the fact that so many other mysteries have been uncovered by humanity regarding the natural world. Human knowledge has expanded by leaps and bounds and you and I live in a world where information is at our finger tips; most of us carry devices in our pockets which can unlock more mysteries that we can keep track of in the recesses of our memories. The reality is that these little devices can now unlock the deeper mysteries that the church once kept hidden for the initiated. The insights gleamed from historians, theologians, and clergy which once remained tucked away in the halls of academic institutions or in seminary libraries, are now available to one and all. Every line of scripture every jot and tittle have been carefully examined and re-examined and we know have so many interpretations that no-one of us can claim to be an expert in the field. We are all once again simply seekers of meaning. But there are a few of us who have dedicated their lives to the study of the deeper meanings and we here at Holy Cross have had the privilege of one who has come to be know the as one of the leading New Testament Scholars in the world and it is Dom Crossan who I’d like to point to as our second monk on the bank who has the power to point us toward a stone beneath the surface that might just enable us to find our way upon the sea so that we too might walk on water toward this character Jesus. Continue reading

Make some noise and let the walls come tumblin down! – a sermon for York Pride: Joshua 6:1-5

Listen to the sermon here

Earlier this week, I drove down Main Street. Main Street is all dressed up for Pride. On the lampposts, you can see beautiful rainbow banners announcing the York Pride Festival. I must tell you that I was so overcome by the sight of these Pride banners that I had to pull over and have a little cry. The sight of these banners flapping in the wind for all to see may seem totally unremarkable to some people. But to some of us, the sight of those banners moves us beyond words to tears that spring from a very deep place within our soul; tears that reflect so many emotions born of pain, defiance, struggle, isolation, relief, hope, and joy! As I wept, I couldn’t help but marvel at how very much has changed since I first began to become aware of who I am.

I was only ten years old in 1967, when Pierre Trudeau declared that, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I was too young to understand the news in 1968, when Canada decriminalized homosexual acts. I don’t remember being aware of the Stonewall riots that erupted in 1969. As a teen-ager in the 1970’s, what went on between consenting adults was something seldom talked about. It wasn’t until the early 80’s when the reality of the AID’s epidemic drove conversations about homosexuality into the public square, that I began to pay attention to the cause of gay rights. Living in Vancouver and working in the travel industry, I lost friends, good friends, to a disease that devastated the gay community. Later as I began to allow myself to understand who I am, I remember trying and failing to find the courage to march in Vancouver’s Gay Pride parade. I don’t know what frightened me more, being seen at the parade or seeing myself for who I am. Fear is a long, long way, from pride. So, it took me longer than I care to admit to summon up the courage to participate in the pride parade in 1986. Later as I was preparing myself to become a pastor, I had the very good fortune to fall in love. Falling in LOVE is a very empowering experience. But falling in LOVE in 1997, when your church says things like “love the sinner, hate the sin”, well let’s just say, that when I was called here to Holy Cross in 1999, it wasn’t just fear that kept Carol and I quiet on the subject of our relationship, it was the reality that if I said anything at all, I wouldn’t survive as a pastor for very long. “Don’t ask don’t tell,” was the unofficial policy of the ELCIC. So, you didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. Newmarket, I was told was a conservative town. Well a lot has changed over the years. Many of us worked for a very long time at considerable cost to change the policies of our government and our church. The benefits of equal marriage in Canada, and full inclusion in the Evangelic Lutheran Church in Canada are life-changing and I confess that there are days when I still feel like pinching myself. “Can it actually be true? Can I actually be married to the woman I love and still be a pastor?”

The relief and the joy of being who I am without fear of persecution, makes me proud not only of who I am, but of who you are, who we are as a community and as a country. My pride runs deep and so it is a joy to see how very far we have come. Sitting in my car weeping, I couldn’t help but marvel at the courage of so many people who paved the way for us. Those banners on Main Street and all the happy pride-goers yesterday, and all of us gathered here today to celebrate, we have so much to be thankful for. But I can’t help remembering a conversation with someone who will remain nameless. This person insisted that she, “loves the gays”, but she just wishes that they wouldn’t make such a big deal out of everything. She just couldn’t approve of gay pride. “I mean really, why do they need to flaunt their sexuality in public the way that they do. Can’t they just keep it to themselves.”  This person went on to declare, “I don’t flaunt my heterosexuality in public.”

Well her inability to flaunt her heterosexuality in public was all too clear. Her sexuality was very clearly suffering from her inability to see beyond all the stuff she’d ever been taught about her body;

sadly, I suspect that most of the stuff that had her so tightly wound up she must have learned from the church. For centuries our public institutions, all too often encouraged or justified by the institutional church, confined generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and straight people in closets so dark that we could none of us see who we are.

One of the blessings that we religious types have is a plethora of metaphors and stories that were created to liberate people from prisons of our own making. One of the stories that I have always loved is this morning’s first reading from the book of Joshua. I can hear that old spiritual, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come tumbling down,” each and every time some uptight, repressed individual begins to complain about those gay’s and their parades. The very idea of the children of Israel, those ancient Hebrew migrants, persecuted and excluded marching and hollering all around the mighty city of Jericho, with its walls erected to keep the riff raft out, well the metaphor is too perfect.  I can see it all now day after day, people making an ungodly racket. The sound of the shofar’s loudly blasting a radical tune. I’ll bet there was dancing and singing and hootin and hollerin. No wonder those walls come a tumblin down.

The scriptures are full of stories created to provide hope to the downtrodden, the oppressed, the persecuted, the suffering, the outcast, even the sinners. Yes, the walls may be tall, the structures that keep you out may be entrenched, but make enough racket and you’ll see those walls crumble. So, today I give thanks to all those rowdy folks who marched in spite of the fact that the walls erected by our society to keep them in the closet seemed insurmountable.  Today, I celebrate all the brave pride-goers who brought the walls of injustice down so that we can be all that we are created to be without fear. It has been a long and difficult struggle, and our pride celebrations inspire such joy. So, we sing, we dance, we make noise and yeah, we flaunt our sexuality in public! And I’m guessing that the gay rights movement has liberated more than just the LGBTQ communities. I’m guessing that our straight sisters and brothers have learned a great deal about who they are. I’m pretty sure that liberation and freedom from sexual repression are indeed a blessing that more than just a few of us are grateful for. The reality that we a wonderfully and beautifully made, creatures of mysterious and sublime wonder is a blessing of unfathomable joy.

So today, we celebrate who we are! But with each and every utterance of, the words “Happy Pride!” we cannot forget that our joy is tinged with sadness for all our sisters and brothers around the world who continue to live and die in fear. The Pride movement is still in its infancy.

We have come a long way. But we have miles to go and so many more wall to break down; walls that will require a whole lot of noise before they come tumblin down! We are blessed to live in a place where we can be who we are and love one another without fear of the state. Sadly, there are still places here where some of us are afraid to hold hands. There are places where some of us fear to go. We will need to do a whole lot more marching. We will also need to make a great deal of noise so that our government opens gaps in our walls so that we can provide sanctuary to LGBTQ refugees. We will need to make a great deal more noise so that hate-filled states like Chechnya will stop the killings and Malaysia will stop the public floggings. Those of us who remain in the Church must continue to make a whole lot of noise so that our institutions repent the abuses of our past and stop the abuses that continue to be perpetrated in the name of Jesus. We must do our best to join our voices to the voices of those outside our walls so as to hasten their crumbling. We must open up dialogues and we must tell our stories so that the LOVE that lives in us can inspire hope as it breaks down walls. We must remember that the one whom we profess to follow this Jesus fellow, is the one who said over and over again, “Do not be afraid. Have no fear!”  The very one who reached out beyond the confines of the walls established by the structures and institutions of his day, to love his neighbours. The same one who insisted that God is LOVE.

So, as we celebrate today, we do so mindful that there is more noise for us to make and hopeful that as we make that noise together the walls will come tumblin down. Happy Pride everyone! May the LOVE that is God empower all of us to be all that we are created to be.

 

 

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity, Our Congregations Shrink???

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.

Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!

On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.

Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains. Continue reading

Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here! I AM right here! – a sermon on Eternal Live – Easter 7a – John 17:1-11

Listen to the sermon here

Last Saturday, Carol and I were at a family gathering at which all our grandchildren were present. Saturdays are usually sermon preparation days for me.  So, Saturday events can be challenging as I tend to be more than a little distracted because a sermon is never finished until it is preached. I have this habit of going over it and over it in my mind, tweaking and revising. At one point during this gathering, I found myself in a room with my three-year-old granddaughter Audrey. Audrey was chattering away showing me all her toys. My mind clearly was not where it should have been because suddenly Audrey leaned in close, grabbed my face between her two little hands and said, “Excuse me Gran, this is important, I need you to pay attention.” There’s nothing quite like the ire of a three-year-old to bring you to attention. With my head in a vice-grip, Audrey announced with great flourish: “I’m here! I’m right here!”

Suitably chastised, I awoke from my distractions and replied, “I know, I know, there you are Audrey! There you are!”

My darling Audrey released me from her grip and gave me one of her tight, tight, hugs and together we set about exploring all the wonders that surrounded us. Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here!  I AM right here! Over and over again this week, Audrey’s words have awakened me from my distractions.

“Abba, the hour has come! Glorify your Only Begotten that I may glorify you, through the authority you’ve given me over all humankind, by bestowing eternal life on all those you gave me. And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus, the Messiah.”….“and this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God.”

For years, I thought of eternal life as a quality of time and I confused eternal with everlasting. It is only in the past decade or so that I have understood the real meaning of eternal, is limitless. Limitless, by definition, cannot be time-bound. Limitless has no beginning and no end. Limitless is not a quality of time.

So, if eternal life is not about life everlasting, then what exactly might the gift of eternal life be? One of the qualities that I have come to understand is the limitlessness of grace, which comes to us as an integral part of life. The gift of breath itself is pure grace. Thirteen billion years of evolution have resulted in the cosmos producing human life and each and every breath we breathe is pure gift. We are living breathing, walking, talking, loving, miracles. The breath that flows through us, enlivens us, and empowers us.  This breath is the Spirit of all life, that emanates from the One who is the source of our being. The eternal quality of our life, of all our lives is knowing; knowing. To know, is to experience deeply. The ancients understood this as the essence of what it means to be human; to know.

The storyteller we call John, puts into the mouth of Jesus words that I am only beginning to know, to experience deeply. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God.” The words translated from the Greek as “to know” are the same words used in the scriptures to describe the intimacy of love-making. This is eternal life, to know, to make love to God. Eternal life is a quality of living that shares a deep intimacy with the One who is the source of our being. Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here!  I AM right here! Knowing the presence of the I AM the ONE who IS wakes us from our distractions.

This week as I went about my tasks, I kept hearing,  “Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here!  I AM right here!”  Knowing the I AM, is a daunting way to be. As I helped to tend our garden, I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the flowers and the birds.  The sheer magnitude of creation’s beauty awakened me to the intimacy and wonder of the love-making in which the Source-of-All that IS engages in with Creation all day long. The eternal quality of living draws us into this intimacy, in ways that can inspire such joy.

But this eternal quality of living can also draw us into a LOVE that pierces our hearts. As the reports came in from Manchester, I was overcome with emotion. Little girls not much older than my precious Audrey, caught up in an explosive rage that tears at the very heart of our souls. Memories of walking through Victoria Station, past Manchester Arena flooded my mind, and as the pain and anger rose in me, threatening to move me toward the kind of rage that fosters hatred, suddenly I heard, “Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here!  I AM right here!”

Beyond the words, I saw an image of the ONE who IS the Source and Ground of Being weeping like a prodigal parent tormented by a wayward son whose twisted sense of life, turned him into a killer. Eternal life is not all sweetness and light. Limitless LOVE demands a kind of attention that opens us to the pain of all those with whom we share this precious gift of life. LOVE-making is a kind of knowing that can break our hearts just as surely as it can cause our hearts to race with a passion for intimacy. To know the Sacred, the Divine ONE is to see LOVE weep, to feel the pain of violence, oppression, and greed.

The temptation is to look away, to protect our fragile hearts, and fill our days with distractions, to flee from eternal life, from this knowing that brings such intensity.  Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here!  I AM right here! I AM here. YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM. I AM here.

This gift of eternal life, this knowing, this love-making, is intense. Such deep intimacy with the ONE who is the Source-of-All-Being is not for the faint of heart. But this intimacy, this Eternal life, makes the flowers smell so very sweet, and the birdsong sound so sublime. Excuse me, this is important, I need you to pay attention. I’m here!  I AM right here! I AM here. YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM. I AM here: rejoicing, weeping, longing, singing, dancing, grieving, shouting, playing, living, breathing, waiting, touching, dying, rising, laughing, crying, feeding, loving, in, with, through, and beyond you. I AM here!

To approach intimacy with the One Who Is Was and Every More Shall Be LOVE, is life eternal. To make LOVE with the Sacred, the Divine, the HOLY ONE, is life eternal. Life without limits. Light beyond Light. Light that penetrates our distractions. A light that shines on the beauty and the pain of life; all life with an intimacy that opens us to a way of being that is eternal. I AM here. YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM.
May you know, may you experience deeply,
the power and the intimacy of eternal life,
here and now,
now and always
as you awaken to the LOVE that is God,
our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.

 

New Life and the New Story a sermon for Easter 6A

In God We Live pastorDawnThree years ago, when Acts 17:22-31 last came round in the lectionary, I had the distinct pleasure of baptizing our grand-daughter. This sermon welcomes her to this grand journey of life that we travel as companions. The sermon begins with an adaptation of a  creation story by by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith. the readings were included Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:14-21

             

As nearly as we can figure out, little Audrey’s journey to the baptismal font began some 13.7 billion years ago. Audrey’s journey, like all our journeys began with a bang!

“In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness. The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across eons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend. Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball. It was the greatest explosion of all time! An eruption of infinite energy danced into being.  It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity. The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being.  The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies. Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars! Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars. Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements.  Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars.  These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life. With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration. Molecules clustered together to form living cells! Later came the algae, and then fish began to inhabit the waters! Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky.  Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too. This is our story. The story of our beginning, our cosmology.” (Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith)

This great cosmic journey is bigger that we can even begin to imagine. The vastness of millions, some say billions of galaxies of which we are a part, challenges the abilities of our minds to comprehend. We gather her in this infinitesimal part of the cosmos because we are convinced that at the very heart of the cosmos lies the Reality that we call God. A Reality beyond our abilities to express. This Reality is a MYSTERY that down through the ages, all those who have looked up into the night sky or held a newborn in their arms, have been fascinated and perplexed by. The attempts of all those who have gone before us to comprehend, express, or explain have fallen so far short of capturing the essence of the Being who called all being into existence. How do you express the inexpressible? How do we begin to speak of that which is beyond, the beyond and beyond that also? From the earliest cave drawings, itched in in wonder at the MYSTERY, our ancestors have tried to capture in art, poetry, literature, drama, song, and dance the hints of the Mystery that sustains all life. But all our attempts be they simple sculptors or grand theologies pale in comparison to the Reality we so long to know and understand. As incapable of description as we are, each season of creation sends us back to the drawing board as we attempt to capture the beauty that surrounds us. Each new life that comes into our midst and each parting death causes to wonder and marvel at the complexity of our existence. No one can hold a baby in their arms and not be amazed at the miracle of life. No one can hold a hand as a body breathes it’s last and not wonder how or why and even where or who we might be. At the very heart of all life there is Mystery.

For those of us gathered here in this place the overwhelming evidence of the ages convinces us that the Reality at the heart of the cosmos, the One we call God is LOVE.  In response to that LOVE we gather together to in love so that we might also be love; love for each other and love for the world. In the evolving complexity of our cosmos, we see over and over again the miracles and wonders of life spring forth and we can’t help ourselves but respond to the LOVE which sustains all life. From time to time, individuals have appeared who have opened windows into the Reality of the ONE we call God. These individuals live their lives in ways that enlighten us on our journey.

We gather here in this place to remember Jesus of Nazareth a person of wisdom and integrity who lived and loved in ways that opened us to the LOVE of God in ways that inspire us to live fully and love extravagantly so that all may know LOVE.  Jesus was confronted by the harsh realities of failed attempts to live beyond love. Born into poverty and oppression, Jesus refused to respond to the cruelty of a world where hatred and greed had taken hold and insisted upon living in ways that might usher in a new Reign of Justice and Peace in a world where military might and violence prevailed. Jesus refused to take up arms against the powers that be, and insisted that peace could only be achieved through justice; for when everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough justice, enough love, then and only then can there be peace.

Evolution is a difficult and messy business. Humanity does not evolve without error or pain. When we lose sight of the Reality that lies at the heart of our existence, when we fail to love as we have been loved, our journeys and the journeys of those around us become infinitely more difficult. Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest. Our best scientists have warned us not to misinterpret evolution’s natural selection as being about the strong shall survive. More and more we are beginning to understand the role of co-operation on a cellular level as the building blocks upon which a species changes and survives. Modern evolutionary science points to social co-operation as key to survival. Social co-operation is if you’ll allow, akin to a primitive form of love; a building block if you will to LOVE.

It should come as no surprise to any of us who are on this grand journey of life that every major religion in the world has at its core the wisdom that has commonly become known as the Golden Rule: do on to others as you would have them do onto you. Jesus, who was after all a Jewish rabbi, expressed the Golden Rule in terms his Jewish audiences would have understood from their own sacred scriptures: Love God with all your heart, with all strength, with all your mind and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Jesus lived and died for love. The powers that be believed that execution would stifle this love, but Jesus lived so fully and loved so passionately that the love he lived for did not die. And so, we gather here, trusting that the LOVE we have experienced on our journey is akin to the LOVE that lies at the very heart of the cosmos; trusting that in that LOVE we live and move and have our being. And we look at the world around us and see that only justice can bring the kind of peace in which our love can thrive. So, we seek to achieve that peace by ensuring that everyone has enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough work, enough joy, enough love. Like Jesus we seek peace through justice for all. Continue reading

Multi-coloured Meanings of those Red-letter Words in John 14:1-14 – Easter 5A

coloured pencilsWay back when I first began going to church, I had one of those bibles…and I dare say many of you have probably had one too…I had a red-letter bible. For those of you who’ve never had one, a red-letter bible is a bible where all the words of Jesus are printed in red and for a long time I actually believed that if it was printed in red, then Jesus actually must have said it and there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Christians who still believe that if they are printed in red they are the actually words of Jesus.

When I first began reading the New Testament, many of those red-letter words were difficult to read. The 14th chapter of the Gospel according to John was just one of the many texts that I read with great trepidation. “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.” These particular words in red led me to believe that my family and most of the people I loved, were doomed, because they didn’t believe in Jesus. So, you can imagine my delight when I went to a young adults’ retreat and one of the pastors told us that just because words are printed in red, it doesn’t mean that Jesus actually said those words. I remember going back to my home parish and asking my pastor why he never told us about the things he was taught at the seminary about the words of Jesus and I can still hear him answering, “Most laypeople aren’t ready to hear that. It would destroy their faith.”

It’s an old argument amongst the clergy. It’s as if some of, “them” whoever “they” are, believe that the world as they know it will come to an end as they know it if they were to let lay-people in on the secrets of the trade. Should we or should we not teach laypeople about the historical critical methods that we all learned in seminary. When I say we all learned, I’m talking about the vast majority of clergy from the mainline denominations, like the Lutheran church, the Anglicans, the United Church, Mennonites, even Roman Catholics, and I dare say more than a few Baptists. We all learn the historical critical methods that academic scholars have been perfecting over the years. But the sad truth is that very few of us actually teach the historical critical methods that we have learned when we get into the parish. Many of my colleagues still argue that either laypeople aren’t ready to hear it, or that they don’t want to hear it. Either way, they’re not about to start preaching it from the pulpit and run the risk of destroying people’s faith. Besides, the folks who clearly don’t want to hear any of it just might run them out of town.

I’ve never really understood this attitude. I think perhaps the fact that as a layperson I was relieved to hear that Jesus didn’t actually say all the stuff that’s printed in red. So, from the beginning, I’ve always tried to teach the historical critical methods that I have learned to apply to my own study of the bible. Continue reading